China-Japan relations

Japanese emperor urged to return inscribed Chinese relic

Campaigners say Tang dynasty relic in Imperial Palace in Tokyo was stolen by Japanese troops

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 4:55pm

A pressure group has demanded that the Japanese royal family return an ancient inscription it says was looted from China in the early part of the last century.

Tong Zeng , the chairman of the Chinese Association for Claiming Compensation from Japan, delivered a letter to Japan's ambassador to China calling for the relic to be handed back.

The inscription on a large piece of stone dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). It commemorates the emperor making the ruler of the then Bohai state a king. The association alleges it was taken by the Japanese from a district of Dalian in 1908 after the Russian-Japanese war.

The inscription was now at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the association said.

The group has been involved in numerous lawsuits, usually involving claims for damages after Japan's occupation of China in the lead-up to and during the second world war.

The case comes as relations between China and Japan have become increasingly strained over territorial disputes and the Japanese government's alleged lack of atonement for the country's wartime past.

"The evidence is clear and if the emperor returned the stone with the inscription it would help remove an obstacle between China and Japan and improve Sino-Japanese ties," Tong said.

"Otherwise, the estrangement will continue. I believe the emperor is wiser than [Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe on historical issues."

Tong said the association hoped to enlist the support of the government's foreign and cultural relics department to press its case.

Guan Jianqiang, an international law professor at East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, was quoted by The Beijing News as saying that it was normal practice for governments rather than civic groups to call for the return of cultural relics from other countries.

Tong said he was confident the relic would be returned. He was inspired by a similar successful action brought by the South Korean government against Japan in 2005, he said.