How to Successfully Fight the Illicit Trade in Stolen Art and Antiquities in Asia? Remove an Antiquated English Law from Hong Kong’s Legal System

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via Antiquities Coalition, December 2018: Prof. Steven Gallagher is the other co-convener on the session about Heritage Management Law and Policy in this year’s SPAFACON. Full policy paper in the link below.

The looting of art and antiquities from Asia is a problem exacerbated by continued demand. This is especially true in China, home to one of the greatest concentrations of millionaires worldwide, where a rapidly growing, newly wealthy class has entered the Asian art and antiquities market, escalating demand in an already thriving sector. Many Asian states that have lost and are continuing to lose cultural patrimony to looting and trafficking have introduced strict laws to combat the removal and unlawful export of art and antiquities from their jurisdiction. Transit and market states, too, have now implemented legal and regulatory frameworks, often based on international law, to deter citizens from dealing in looted art and antiquities or buyers from purchasing such goods when there is any doubt as to their provenance.

However, one of the world’s main markets for Asian art and antiquities, as well as a convenient and much-used transit hub, is a notable exception in having almost no laws intended to prevent this illicit trade: Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s legal and regulatory framework offers little protection for looted art and antiquities, and it retains one obsolete rule of law from its time as a British colony that may not only encourage buyers to purchase looted or stolen works, but also embolden those trying to construct false provenance to pass them through Hong Kong. This law is the rule of market overt, often referred to as a “thieves’ charter,” provided in Hong Kong’s Sale of Goods Ordinance. According to market overt, if someone purchases goods from a shop or market where they are openly on display and are of a type usually sold in such a shop or market, then the buyer acquires good title to the goods so long as they have bought them in good faith. This means that a buyer of looted art or antiquities from a shop usually selling art or antiquities in Hong Kong may resist any attempt by the losing party to recover their lost heritage, and may sell the pieces on to others who will also be safe from any action for recovery.`

Hong Kong has a reputation as one of the world’s leading financial and commercial centers, trusted because of rigorous regulation of its efficient financial and banking services, and confidence in its common law system. It is now also considered one of the world’s foremost Asian art and antiquities markets; however, the retention of an archaic and anachronistic principle of English medieval market law is baffling, especially when this principle has been abolished in the United Kingdom to prevent the flourishing of a “thief’s paradise.”

This policy brief explains some of the problems Asia faces with regard to looting of art and antiquities and loss of cultural heritage, and how Hong Kong’s legal and regulatory framework does little to prevent Hong Kong from being used as a market and transit state for illicitly obtained cultural patrimony. The brief recommends the simple repeal of section 24 of the Sale of Goods Ordinance to abolish the market overt rule in Hong Kong, as well as standardization of import and export laws between Hong Kong and China, strengthened law enforcement of antiquity-related crimes, and the inclusion of the art market in anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing provisions.

Source: How to Successfully Fight the Illicit Trade in Stolen Art and Antiquities in Asia? Remove an Antiquated English Law from Hong Kong’s Legal System – Think Tank

Digging up Hong Kong’s Qing dynasty past likely to delay development needed for its future

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via South China Morning Post, 08 June 2018:

The Urban Renewal Authority plans further excavation at the city’s last urban walled village, Nga Tsin Wai, which now faces an uncertain future after the previous discovery of historic foundations.

Source: Digging up Hong Kong’s Qing dynasty past likely to delay development needed for its future

Hong Kong history: the tunnels where Japanese hid from air raids in wartime – exploring one of the last vestiges of 4-year occupation

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via South China Morning Post, 01 March 2018:

Australian-born history buff Robert Lockyer leads tours of tunnels dug into Lamma Island by villagers the Japanese executed afterwards to keep their location secret; his explorations have also uncovered a Qing dynasty fort

Source: Hong Kong history: the tunnels where Japanese hid from air raids in wartime – exploring one of the last vestiges of 4-year occupation

Follow the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage #apconf2017

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The Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage is currently underway in Hong Kong until the end of the week. If you are on Twitter you can follow the proceedings with the hashtah #apconf2017 (or see the feed below)

Shipwreck found in 2014 could be HMS Tamar: preliminary report

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Find in Hong Kong waters thought to be scuttled British ship from World War II.


A large metal object that was found in 2014 in the seabed near the Wan Chai coastline, along with other stuff that was discovered later, is very likely the wreck of HMS Tamar, a famous British troop carrier from World War II, a preliminary archaeological assessment report says.  According to a 41-page report that was…

Source: Shipwreck found in 2014 could be HMS Tamar: preliminary report

Hong Kong news stronger heritage protection laws

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Chinese University of Hong Kong law professor Steven Gallagher discusses the weaknesses in Hong Kong’s current heritage laws.

Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection
South China Morning Post, 25 July 2016

Many news stories have focused on disputes and issues involving Hong Kong’s “cultural heritage”.

Recently an underwater archaeology group discovered an ancient stone anchor and bronze cannons in the waters off Hong Kong and called for more government support for archaeological investigation. The demolition of Ho Tung Gardens and the delays caused to the Sha Tin to Central rail project by the discovery of the archaeological remains of a well at the former Sacred Hill in To Kwa Wan are still fresh memories.

High rents and greedy landlords have been accused of forcing out artisan workers and favourite food restaurants, representing loss of intangible cultural heritage. The issue of Queen’s Pier is also ongoing.

The body tasked with protecting heritage for us all, the Antiquities Advisory Board, has been criticised for being ineffective, weak and secretive, and the discovery of the remains of HMS Tamar is being ignored as much as possible.

Full story here.

Anchor and cannon found off Hong Kong

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Divers in Hong Kong discovered a large anchor stock and a cannon, the former dating to the Song Dynasty.

Hong Kong’s sunken treasure: ancient anchor and cannon reveal our rich maritime history
South China Morning Post, 19 July 2016

Two monumental artefacts were recovered over the weekend by a local diving group, marking a maritime heritage milestone for Hong Kong.

A diving team from the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group recovered an anchor stock – the upper part of an anchor – around Basalt Island, and a cannon off the coast of High Island. The anchor stock is believed to date back to the Song Dynasty, making it over 1,000 years old – Hong Kong’s oldest marine artefact.

“It’s important for Hong Kong’s [maritime] history because it’s evidence to show that Hong Kong is a location worth investigating,” Dr Libby Chan Lai-pik, senior curator at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum said. The museum is a sponsor of the Underwater Heritage Group.

“The anchor is proof that Hong Kong was perhaps quite advanced during the Song Dynasty in terms of water transport and commercial trade.”

Full story here.

Unearthed Chinese well in Hong Kong to be disassembled and relocated

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The future To Kwa Wan station, where archaeological remnants have been found. Source: South China Morning Post: 20141206

The ancient Chinese well uncovered during construction of an underground subway system in Hong Kong will be dismantled and moved to a nearby location, it has been decided. The discovery of archaeological remains during the construction of this line has been contentious, pitting heritage advocates against the the construction of the already-delayed line.

The future To Kwa Wan station, where archaeological remnants have been found. Source: South China Morning Post: 20141206

The future To Kwa Wan station, where archaeological remnants have been found. Source: South China Morning Post: 20141206

Preserved relics at future To Kwa Wan station ‘should tell story’
South China Morning Post, 06 December 2014

HK$10 million to be spent removing ancient well from future MTR station
South China Morning Post, 09 December 2014

Antiquities board chairman backs public access to MTR station relics
South China Morning Post, 09 December 2014
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Preserving Hong Kong’s subway archaeological sites will cost up to $700,000 more

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Source: South China Morning Post 20141121

But it looks like the government is leaning towards the cheapest option, which is to move the wells to another place.

Source: South China Morning Post 20141121

Source: South China Morning Post 20141121

Medieval well may be moved from To Kwa Wan station construction site
South China Morning Post, 23 November 2014

Saving ancient wells: money down the drain? [Link no longer active]
The Standard, 21 November 2014

MTR redesign in HK$4.1 billion plan to display relics at rail link
South China Morning Post, 21 November 2014

Let’s be less dogmatic on relics in Hong Kong
South China Morning Post, 21 November 2014
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