Chinese authorities have executed three people guilty of stealing 15 Tang Dynasty murals.">

Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
online news
Chinese Thieves Executed, but Loot Remains at Large February 2, 2000
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

Chinese authorities have executed three people guilty of stealing 15 Tang Dynasty murals from a museum in Liquan, a county in central Shaanxi province, eastern China. The three men, Li Shaoying, Gao Weibing, and Yuan Donglin, were assisted by three others in robbing the museum four times between 1992 and 1994. The executed men's accomplices received lesser sentences, as did a museum worker (one of the men's wives) who gave them the keys to the museum.

The 15 stolen murals were among 27 excavated in 1991 from the tomb of Wei Guifei, the favorite concubine of the Tang Dynasty emperor Taizong (ruled A.D. 626-649). Wei is known to have become empress after Taizong's wife died. Her tomb was situated at the southeast corner of the emperor's.

Chinese authorities are beginning to clamp down on antiquities theft, says Elizabeth Childs-Johnson, a specialist in Chinese archaeology and art history. The murals, she says, were "too much of a national treasure" for the crime to go unpunished. She adds that the executed men will "serve as examples to others" who would consider antiquities theft.

Shortly after the theft, the murals were sold in the southern city of Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, a notorious clearinghouse for smuggled antiquities. Only two of the murals have so far been recovered.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America