Authorities are determined to capture and punish professional criminals who break into ancient graves and steal age-old treasures, as Zhang Yan reports.
Turning a corner near a cornfield in Dahan, a village in Tengzhou city, Shandong province, brings visitors to a stone monument bearing the words "Dahan Village Relics", alongside a 3-meter-deep pit that is part of a despoiled ancient tomb.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, 20 members of two criminal gangs raided the site four times in less than three months last year, stealing 229 cultural relics, comprising 169 bronzes and 60 jade items.
In recent years, police across China have investigated more than 2,000 cases of tomb robbing every year.
"We are facing a grim situation in the fight against tomb robbers and the trafficking of cultural relics," said Chen Shiqu, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau at the Ministry of Public Security.
He said professional criminals comb the country searching for ancient tombs and stealing the artifacts, some of them priceless, buried within. The rash of thefts poses a serious threat to the safety of China's national heritage.
"Cultural relics are not renewable and cannot be replicated. If they are destroyed, the country will lose precious[MG_SEO] items of historical significance," he said.
"To safeguard the nation's cultural heritage, we have adopted a zero tolerance attitude toward these crimes."
The surge in tomb raiding is the result of rising demand and the large profits that can be made from the sale of cultural artifacts.
Statistics provided by the Ministry of Public Security show that between June and August, police across China uncovered 351 crimes related to cultural relics, smashing 79 criminal gangs and arresting 545 suspects.
The operations recovered 2,715 items, including 64 Grade I relics and 140 classified as Grade 2, which are potentially worth billions of yuan, although officials declined to provide accurate figures for fear of alerting thieves.
While 225 of t欧美男人人有处女情节吗he cases involved grave robbing, 70 others were related to the theft of historical relics, along with 27 instances of trafficking and 29 associated crimes.