During a recent visit to Greece, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos discussed trade and foreign policy, and both countries have said that the trip will usher in a “new era” for diplomacy. The Guardian reported that Xi was also given a tour of the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Following that visit, Xi said in a statement that he fully supports Greece’s efforts toward the return of marbles from the British Museum in London. “Not only do I agree [with their repatriation] but you also have our support,” he said in a statement. “We, too, have our own [treasures] outside the country and are doing everything we can to get them home.”
Xi’s declaration follows the publication of human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC’s new book, Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure, in which he calls on the British Museum to return looted objects to their countries of origin, including marbles removed from the Parthenon by the Earl of Elgin at the start of the 19th century. Robertson writes that the institution “would be even greater if it washed its hands of the blood and returned Elgin’s loot.”
Greek scholar Luo Tong, who guided a tour of the Acropolis for former Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2008, told the Guardian, “In the east civilization sprang from China, in the west it sprang from Greece.”
In a statement, a British Museum spokesperson said that its collections “represent the whole world,” and that “the public benefit of the collection lies in its breadth, scale, complexity, and unity.”
“The Parthenon sculptures are a vital element in this interconnected world collection,” the statement reads. “The museum is committed to sharing this collection as widely as possible and working in collaboration with communities, individuals and institutions across the world. We have longstanding relationships with colleagues in Greece and have lent objects to various museums, including the Acropolis Museum.”