Beijing is to set up an organisation to recover more than one million works of art abroad, including several in museums in Europe and North America, the Workers Daily reported yesterday. It said the majority of the works were in more than 200 museums in 47 countries, most of them taken before 1949. Xie Chensheng, an adviser to the National Cultural Relics Bureau, said the pieces left the country in three ways: seized during war, stolen by foreigners who had come to the mainland, or bought by them at low prices from warlords. The largest number of paintings are in museums in the major cities of the United States, while the British Museum in London and museums in Paris also have many fine paintings and pieces of porcelain. Japan is the home of the largest collection of inscriptions on bone and tortoise shell dating from the Shang dynasty (16th-11th century BC). Of about 200,000 such pieces from the Anyang area, 26,700 had been taken abroad to 12 countries, including the US and Britain, with 12,443 in Japan alone, the newspaper said. Last year Beijing demanded Britain return nearly 1,000 Chinese works of art in accordance with a United Nations convention on cultural works. The newspaper did not say whether the new organisation would recover the works by buying them or using political and moral pressure. Since the auction in Hong Kong of four pieces from the Yuan Ming Yuan palace in Beijing that were taken by British and French troops in 1860, the official media have taken up the issue with enthusiasm, with wide coverage of the exhibition of the pieces in Hong Kong and the preparations for their return to Beijing.