British Museum goes viral as Weibo users demand return of cultural relics

The Chinese state-backed tabloid the Global Times has called on the British Museum to return Chinese cultural relics, sparking a viral topic on China’s Twitter equivalent Weibo.

“We formally request the British Museum to return all Chinese cultural relics acquired through illegitimate channels to China free of charge” the Weibo post from the Global Times read. “At the same time, we support claims for the restitution of cultural relics by other countries that have been looted by Britain, such as India, Nigeria, Greece, and others.” The post received over 45,000 comments, 95,000 shares, and 920,000 likes.

The post went on to call the museum a “microcosm of British colonial expansion” and suggested Britain’s reluctance to return the relics stems from a “sense of moral superiority”.

“The United Kingdom, which has a bloody, ugly, and shameful colonial history, so often stands on the moral high ground, dictating and interfering in the affairs of other countries…We suggest that the United Kingdom, before pointing its finger at others, should first settle its own historical debts.”

One of the article’s major criticisms concerns the “missing, stolen, or damaged” items taken from the museum, which was widely reported earlier this month. The Global Times said the incident debunks claims that historical artefacts are safest at the British Museum, branding this line of argument a “brainwashing of developing countries”.

The hashtag “British Museum, please return Chinese cultural relics free of charge” went viral on Weibo and has now been viewed over 200 million times. Weibo users supported the Global Times’ sentiment, with thousands commenting the four-character phrase 物归原主 meaning to return property to its rightful owner.

Some high-profile bloggers also noted the use of the word “please” in the original article. The Nanjing public security official Wang Haiding, who heads a popular Weibo account with 6 million followers, praised it as the “greatest goodwill of China as an ancient civilization”.

The British Museum houses 23,000 objects from China, including paintings, prints, jade, bronzes, lacquer, and ceramics spanning the Neolithic age to the present day. Some of China’s oldest surviving paintings on silk, including one dating back to 910 AD, are among the most prized pieces in the collection.

Its website features a section on “contested objects” including the Elgin Marbles, which it says were acquired by “entirely legal” means. The section does not make reference to any relics from China.


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