The Past for Sale: China’s cultural heritage and the regional antiquities trade

Feb 27-28, 2017

The Past for Sale project was led by Larry Rothfield, Department of English, and Fiona Greenland, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago. It is a collaborative, multi-year study of the global trade in antiquities. China is one of our key study regions because the artifacts and ancient artworks of the country are popular on the global market, which also means, tragically, that they are vulnerable to looting and trafficking.

To bring attention to this threat to Chinese cultural heritage, the team initiated a documentary film focused on Hong Kong’s role in the antiquities trade. Setting the scene with a broad look at the city's history as an art emporium, the team interviewed Hong Kong-based scholars, art dealers, cultural heritage experts, and law enforcement professionals. Key sites of interest in the trade were filmed to explain why Hong Kong is such an important place for understanding the challenge of illicit activity creeping into the legal antiquities trade. The aim is to shed light on the factors that have allowed the illegal private sale of China’s cultural heritage, including western market structures and the increasing popularity of Chinese artifacts.

Special thanks to the following contributors for their great support in interviews and production of the documentary film:

  • Toby BULL - Senior Inspector, Hong Kong Police
  • Ted FISHMAN - Independent Journalist and Author
  • Steve GALLAGHER - Associate Dean, CUHK Law School
  • Stefan GRUBER - Associate Professor, Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University
  • Candice LEE - Founder and Director, Asia Week Hong Kong
  • Francis LI - Academic Director, Savantas Liberal Arts Academy
  • Jonathan STONE - Chairman and International Head of Asian Art, Christie's Hong Kong