Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
One of the CCTV reporters visits the exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Photo: CCTV

It’s the US museum’s fault our terracotta warrior’s thumb was stolen, says Chinese state media

Broadcaster sent reporters and Chinese experts to Franklin Institute, where the thumb of one of the ancient relics was broken off and stolen


Chinese state media has blamed an American museum for allowing a 2,000-year-old terracotta warrior to be vandalised by holding a party there and not adequately protecting the ancient relics.

Reporters from broadcaster CCTV and two Chinese experts this week visited the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania where the warrior and nine others from China’s world-famous Terracotta Army are on loan.

They made the trip after an American man was charged on Friday with the theft and concealment of a major artwork after he allegedly broke off and stole the left thumb of the statue on December 21. He was released on bail by a federal court.

The terracotta warrior is estimated to be worth US$4.5 million, according to the FBI.

“Holding a party in the museum was really the catalyst for this theft,” according to a CCTV report on Wednesday.

Michael Rohana, 24, was attending an ugly Christmas jumper party at the museum when he made his way into the closed “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibition, where he took a selfie with the statue before allegedly breaking off its left thumb and pocketing it.

A report in the official Beijing Youth Daily on Sunday claimed the door to the hall had been left unlocked.

The only barrier between visitors and the display of ancient warriors was security tape, according to photos of the exhibition carried in US media reports.

After visiting the museum, state-run CCTV accused the US museum of not providing an adequate barrier around the exhibition.

“Some American museums put the emphasis on interactive exhibits. So museum-goers can get very close to the objects on display, and there are rarely special measures in place to protect them,” the report said.

It also questioned why it took the museum 18 days to discover the theft.

The Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre, which arranged for the statues to go on loan to the museum, has expressed its “strong resentment” over the incident, urging a heavy punishment for Rohana and asking the American museum to find out who was responsible for the security lapse.

A still from the CCTV report shows the terracotta warrior missing a thumb at the US museum. Photo:

The 10 life-sized statues have been on show in Philadelphia since September – the exhibition finishes next month – and are part of an army of about 8,000 clay soldiers, charioteers and horses unearthed in Xian, capital of northwestern Shaanxi province. The relics date back to 210-209BC and were created to accompany China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, into the afterlife.

At the museum in Xian where 2,000 of the warriors are on display, visitors are restricted from getting close to the statues.

In the United Kingdom, a group of 10 terracotta warriors on loan to the World Museum in Liverpool until October are on display behind partial glass screens.

It is not the first time a terracotta warrior has been damaged while on loan to an overseas museum. Back in 1983 at a museum in Japan, a visitor climbed over a fence, broke the glass cabinet housing the warriors and pushed over one of the 300kg statues, causing “serious damage”, according to a report in Shanghai newspaper The Mirror on Monday.

Japan’s foreign ministry apologised for the incident and paid an unknown amount in compensation.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: U.S. Museum feels heat over old soldier’s wound