National Administration of Cultural Heritage
Agency overview
Superseding agency
  • State Bureau of Cultural Relics
Jurisdiction People's Republic of China
Agency executive
Parent agencyMinistry of Culture and Tourism
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese國家文物
Simplified Chinese国家文物

The National Administration of Cultural Heritage (NCHA; 国家文物局) is an administrative agency affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People's Republic of China. It is responsible for the development and management of museums as well as the protection of cultural relics of national importance.[1][2]


After the Chinese Civil War, the State Bureau of Cultural Relics was established to protect relics and archaeological sites as well as help develop museums (though the agency languished during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution). Its cause was revitalized with the establishment of the State Cultural Relics Enterprises Management Bureau in 1973 to oversee the protection of cultural heritage and the State Bureau of Cultural Relics (SBCR) in 1988, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, as the encompassing agency for conservation of Chinese culture and heritage.[3]

The agency is responsible for over 500,000 registered sites of immovable cultural relics on mainland China. This includes 2,352 sites under national protection, 9,396 sites under the protection of provincial governments, and 58,300 sites under the protection of county or municipal authorities. In addition, 103 cities are designated as a "Historically and Culturally Famous City."[1]

There are approximately one million ancient Chinese relics on display in more than 200 overseas museums. The agency is pursuing the repatriation of these items via political, diplomatic, and international conventions. The Chinese government asserts that not only were these items taken immorally but illegally as well. A UNESCO document in 1995 states that cultural relics taken during wartime should be returned to their original countries.[4][5][6] Egypt has supported China's efforts to repatriate its historical artifacts since they share a similar history.[7]


In 2001, the National Gallery of Canada returned an arhat sculpture that was dated about 1300 years ago. This was the first time a museum voluntarily returned an item to the state agency.[8][9]

A guardian statue that had been looted from a Chinese tomb in 1994 was seized by U.S. customs agents. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Mary Jo White) filed a civil forfeiture suit under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, which led to the statue's seizure. It was returned in May 2001.[10][11]

In 2001, the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan, returned a rare Buddhist statue that was stolen from a public garden in the Shandong province.[12]

A rare bronze horse was purchased for 8.9 million US by Macau billionaire Stanley Ho who donated it to China.[13]

In 2009, an auction in France took place despite protests from the Chinese Government. Two bronze sculptures that were looted from the Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War were being auctioned. The purchaser, François Pinault, bought them and donated them back to China in 2013.[14]

An imperial Chinese gilt metal box appeared at an auction in Salisbury in 2011. It was sold for £400,000. In that same year, another relic (a yellow jade pendant carved as a dragon) sold for £478,000 at another auction in Dorchester.[15]

In April 2018, the Tiger Ying (a bronze water vessel) sold at an auction in the United Kingdom. The National Cultural Heritage Administration condemned the auction arguing it was illegally looted from China and demanded its return. The auctioneers did not comment on Chinese requests and the auction went ahead.[16] However, after some private negotiations, the Tiger Ying was returned and became part of the National Museum of China's collection in November of that year.[17]

The FBI Art Crime Team returned 361 cultural artifacts to China on February 28, 2019.[18]

A court in Milan Italy ruled 796 artifacts to be returned to China. They arrived in Beijing on April 10, 2019. Some of these relics include porcelain items from the Song and Ming dynasties.[19]

List of directors

English title Chinese title Term of office Notes
Zheng Zhenduo 郑振铎 December 1949 – October 1958
Wang Yeqiu 王冶秋 October 1958 – May 1970
Wang Yeqiu 王冶秋 October 1973 – November 1979
Ren Zibin 任资斌 January 1980 – May 1982
Sun Yiqing 孙轶清 May 1982 – March 1984
Lü Jimin 吕济民 March 1984 – April 1988
Zhang Deqin 张德勤 April 1988 – September 1996
Zhang Wenbin 张文彬 September 1996 – August 2002
Shan Jixiang 单霁翔 August 2002 – February 2012
Li Xiaojie 励小捷 February 2012 – October 2015
Liu Yuzhu 刘玉珠 October 2015 – present

See also


  1. ^ a b "Protection of Cultural Heritage in China". May 25, 2006. Archived from the original on February 20, 2012.
  2. ^ "Regulations Concerning the Management and Protection of Underwater Cultural Relics". Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  3. ^ "Dedicated to Great Wall Conservation". China Heritage Quarterly. April 21, 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  4. ^ "China Demands Return of Ancient Artifacts".
  5. ^ "9 Priceless Artifacts Museums Should Return to Their Home Countries".
  6. ^ Bowlby, Chris (February 2, 2015). "The palace of shame that makes China angry". BBC News.
  7. ^ "Egypt backs China's quest to repatriate its artifacts".
  8. ^ Kelly, Deirdre (April 12, 2001). "National Gallery to return artwork taken from China". The Globe and Mail.
  9. ^ "Canada Returns 1300-year-old Sculpture to China".
  10. ^ "Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) of 1983: Fact Sheet - Archaeological Institute of America".
  11. ^ "Looted Artefact to Return".
  12. ^ Sims, Calvin (April 18, 2001). "Japanese Agree A Stolen Statue Will Be Sent Back to China". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Tycoon to hand rare horse head back to China". Reuters. September 20, 2007.
  14. ^ "Two bronze animal heads, stolen 153 years ago, returned to China". Reuters. June 28, 2013 – via
  15. ^ 刘明. "Return of looted Summer Palace relic to China called for - World -".
  16. ^ "Vessel sold despite Chinese protests". BBC News. April 11, 2018.
  17. ^ "3,000-year-old, returned bronze vessel on display".
  18. ^ "U.S. Returns hundreds of artifacts to China after an Indiana man acquired them illegally". The Indianapolis Star.
  19. ^ "'Lost' Chinese artifacts repatriated from Italy".