China's traditional and fine art command an important part
of the country's rich heritage. Since ancient times, Chinese
society has cherished its excellence in the arts. The exportation
of traditional and fine art from China are protected by different
regulations and relevant restrictions.
The strict legislative framework of traditional art
Every country cherishes its traditional heritage, and China is
no exception. The country therefore keeps its legislative framework
on its treasures very strict. For example, a Memorandum of
Understanding between the U.S. and China was signed in 2009, where
the U.S. has agreed to restrict imports of all Chinese art made
before the end of the Tang Dynasty (907 AD).
The Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection
of Cultural Relics of 1982, which was recently amended at the
Third Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National
People's Congress on June 29, 2013, governs the conservation
and exportation of traditional art in China. Such exports are, of
course, prohibited but can be authorized upon State Council
approval. Chapter VI of the law also states that cultural relics to
be taken out of the country shall be subject to examination and
verification by the relevant authorities designated by the
administrative department in charge of cultural relics under the
State Council. Exhibitions of traditional art must also follow
How is fine art defined in China?
In Chinese law, the term art or art work
refers to works of art with an aesthetic sense created by artists
through the use of lines, color or other methods. This includes
paintings, sculpture, photographs and devices, and permitted
reproductions signed by their original artists in editions of less
than 2001. This definition does not include
mass-produced artistic handicrafts and cultural relics.
What about Chinese fine art export regulations?
The extent of government control over modern artistic activities
has been raising art merchant community concerns. The
Provisions on the Management of the Import and Export of Fine
Art, promulgated by the Ministry of Culture and Customs
General Bureau, came into effect on August 1, 2009, and gives the
right to government authorities to prohibit the import and export
of art if they include any content listed in the 11 categories of
its Article 5.
The 2004 measures (i.e. Administrative measures for the Business
of Fine Arts) had listed similar prohibited content, but the 2009
provisions add content which "deliberately tampers with
history or severely distorts history" (Article 5, section 9)
and language that "divulges state secrets" (Section 3). A
large scope of interpretation of the said article extends
government control on the censorship of fine art in China and its
What are the requirements for the exportation of Chinese
The approval of the provincial bureau of the Ministry of Culture
in the province where the export port is located is required to
export art out of China.
The exporting entity must apply to the appropriate Ministry of
Culture branch and submit various documents. It must be noted that
for Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing, the application must
be made to the bureau of Ministry of Culture directly at the level
of the concerned municipality under the direct jurisdiction of the
central government. A response will be granted by the relevant
authority within 15 days after receiving the application.
1 Article 1 of the Provisions on the Management of
the Import and Export of Fine Art of 2009
2 Article 5: Art works are prohibited from being imported
or exported if they contain content which:
(1) violates the basic principles of the Constitution of
(2) endangers the unification of the country, national
sovereignty or territorial integrity;
(3) divulges state secrets, endangers state security,
honor or interests;
(4) incites ethnic hatred, discrimination, or harms
ethnic unity or habits and customs;
(5) propagates or publicizes cults or
(6) disrupts social order or stability;
(7) advocates or publicizes obscenity, pornography,
gambling, violence, horror, or instigates crime;
(8) libels, slanders or harms the legal interests of
(9) deliberately tampers with history or severely
(10) harms public morals or ethnic cultural traditions;
(11) other content prohibited by laws, regulations and
3 effective as of July 1st, 2004.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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