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Thieves plunder historic treasures at Beijing's Forbidden City

Seven pieces of gold and jewel-encrusted art have been stolen from the heavily guarded historic site.

File photo of a pavillion inside the Forbidden City.
File photo of a pavillion inside the Forbidden City.
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong

CHINESE OFFICIALS ARE scrambling to explain how thieves broke into Beijing’s Forbidden City, the heavily guarded former home of the country’s emperors, and stole seven pieces of art made of gold and encrusted with jewels from a visiting exhibition.

It was the first theft in 20 years from the historic site, spokesman Feng Naien said, adding that security would be increased.

“For this to happen here shows us that, number one, we need to speed up the modernisation and installation of our security systems,” Feng said. “Number two, we need to investigate carefully and find out if we can implement better, more modern and more sophisticated security systems here.”

Guards saw a suspect fleeing the scene by the Palace of Abstinence, a part of the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City, in the early hours of Monday but failed to nab him, Feng said.

An investigation found that nine pieces – all small western-style gold purses and mirrored compacts covered with jewels made in the 20th century – were missing from the temporary exhibition, which is on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong.

Two of the missing items were recovered nearby and were slightly damaged.

Feng said the entire Palace Museum would be checked to see if any other items were missing.

“Certainly we can only blame the fact that our work was insufficient for something like this to happen,” Feng said. “However, I hope that people will not lose confidence in the Palace Museum security because of this incident.”

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Wang Xiahong, curator of the Liang Yi Museum, refused to reveal the value of the stolen items, which belong to the Hong Kong art collector Fung Yiu Fai. She said that despite the theft, the exhibition would continue and other pieces would be added to the show, which is temporarily closed but expected to reopen soon.

- AP

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