Chinese police have nabbed 29 suspected tomb raiders, and retrieved a passel of valuable cultural relics in east China’s Anhui Province, Global Times reported.
Police in the city of Huainan discovered a clue in 2018, and later rounded up the tomb-robbing suspects that had ransacked an ancient grave dating back to the Warring States period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.) three times.
Among the 75 retrieved artifacts, 26 were classified as national grade-one cultural relics, according to Li Anlin, deputy mayor of Huainan and head of the city’s public security bureau.
Around 40 kg of explosives, 15 detonators and some tomb-robbing tools were seized, according to Huang Shengzhong with the local public security bureau, the report said.
Covering some 5,840 square meters, the graveyard is believed to belong to someone with the identity equivalent to a king of a state, and was labeled an important piece of the province’s cultural relics in 1981.
According to a report in the New York Times, the ancient practice of grave robbing has made a roaring comeback as the global demand for Chinese antiquities has surged.
With prices for some Chinese antiquities reaching into the tens of millions of dollars, a flood of amateur and professional thieves looking to get rich quick has hit China’s countryside.
While accurate figures are difficult to come by, the looting has resulted in the permanent destruction of numerous Chinese cultural heritage sites, the report said.
In 2016, China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage reported 103 tomb-raiding and cultural relic theft cases.
Experts believe many more cases have gone undetected. Between ancient and modern thieves, they say, up to eight out of every 10 tombs in China have been plundered. Provinces rich in Chinese imperial cultural heritage, like Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi, have been especially hard hit.
“Henan has pretty much been emptied,” said Ni Fangliu, the author of several popular books about tomb raiding. “There’s nothing left to steal.”
Officials say the problem is so pervasive that it has become nearly impossible to eliminate.
“It’s just like drugs in the United States,” said Zhou Kuiying, then deputy director of the Shaanxi provincial bureau of cultural heritage. “Even though the government bans tomb robbing, there are still many people who do it.”
For tomb robbers, the appeal is clear.
“One nice bronze from the Qin or Han dynasty can buy you a big house,” Ni said.