Police have arrested a man they said broke into China’s famed Forbidden City, the heavily guarded former home of the country’s emperors, and stole seven art pieces made of gold and jewels, state media reported yesterday.
It was the first theft in 20 years from the historic site, the tourist attraction’s spokesman Feng Naien (馮乃恩) said, adding that security would be increased.
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, on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong.
Two of the missing items were recovered nearby shortly after the theft and were slightly damaged.
State media said yesterday that police had caught a man called Shi Bokui (石柏魁) in an Internet cafe on Wednesday night who confessed to the robbery. The China Daily said some of the seven remaining stolen pieces were recovered, but did not give details.
Feng said on Wednesday that the entire Palace Museum would be checked to see if any other items were missing.
“For this to happen here shows us that, No. 1, we need to speed up the modernization and installation of our security systems,” Feng said. “No. 2, we need to investigate carefully and find out if we can implement better, more modern and more sophisticated security systems.”
Wang Xiahong (王夏虹), curator of the Liang Yi Museum, refused to reveal the value of the stolen items, which belong to Hong Kong art collector Fung Yiufai (馮耀輝). She said that despite the theft, the exhibition would continue and other pieces would be added to the show, which is temporarily closed, but is expected to reopen soon.
The museum’s deputy director, Ma Jige (馬繼革), told reporters he felt “very guilty and sorry” about the theft. He stood up and bowed to Wang in a show of remorse.
Karen Smith, a Beijing art curator and historian, said the theft was “a big loss of face” for the museum, but that it would probably result in much improved security at the sprawling landmark.
She also noted that the robbery targeted items of relatively low value and prestige, not the museum’s best-known treasures, such as its large collection of rare and delicate scroll paintings. Those pieces are undoubtedly much better protected, she said.
“If you were really going to go and steal something from the Palace Museum, there’s a lot more valuable things you could make off with,” Smith said.