Yes, there are import controls for cultural property in China. Similar to export, there are two categories of control: cultural relics entry control and artwork import control.
For cultural relics, according to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics (revised in 2017), entry control is mandatory. Each temporary entry of cultural relics shall be declared to Customs and be reported to the cultural relics entry and exit examination and approval authorities for examination, approval and registration. Upon entering into China, the cultural relics temporarily entering will be sealed by Customs before they are handed over to whoever will present them to the cultural relics entry and exit examination and verification authority. After verifying and confirming the intactness of the Customs’ seals, the cultural relics examination and verification authority will mark a temporary entry label on every such cultural relic and get them registered and photographed. When such cultural relics leave China, the entry registration, the photographed records and the temporary entry labels will be checked and verified item by item by the examination and verification authority originally examining them, and only when there is no discrepancy, the cultural relics will be marked with exit labels and be granted an exit permit. Unless with exceptional approval granted by Customs and the competent cultural relics entry and exit examination and approval authority, the cultural relics temporarily entering into China shall not stay in China for more than six months. And, when cultural relics enter into China for welfare exhibitions at museums and other cultural relics-collecting entities within the cultural relics system, they shall fully comply with the Tentative Provisions for Administration on Exhibitions of Cultural Relics in China. According to the Provisions, the hosting museum or collecting entity shall make the application to the cultural relics administrative authority at the provincial level three months before the exhibition, and the provincial authority will, if approval is granted by it, report to the State Administration of Cultural Relics for verification. The following documents and materials shall be included in an application:
- the application form for exhibitions of cultural relics in China (including the catalogues of the to-be-exhibited cultural relics and the registration form of exhibits);
- the draft exhibition agreement (including the name, time, location of the exhibition, the catalogue of exhibits, the security, insurance, handover and transport of, and the use and protection of the intellectual property rights of the exhibits, the list of overseas personnel coming to China, exhibition costs, as well as the rights and obligations of both parties);
- legal instruments produced by the party providing the cultural relics, certifying the authenticity and legality of the sources of the cultural relics; and
- relevant background materials and credit certificates of all parties related to the exhibition. The application shall be submitted in one hard copy and one electronic copy.
If it involves any cultural relic made of endangered species as prescribed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, approval from the competent state authority shall be attached to the application.
Within two months since completion of the exhibition, the hosting museum or collecting entity shall submit a closing report to the provincial level cultural relic administrative authority for examination and verification, and submit the same report to the State Administration of Cultural Relics for filing.
If the exhibition-related entry control is not complied with, the State Administration of Cultural Relics may decide any of the following punishment, depending on the severity of the noncompliance: issuing a warning letter to the host, suspending the exhibition, or imposing penalties. In China, there is no legislation that allows seizure or confiscation of the cultural relics in case that any relevant law or regulation is not complied with.
During the examination and approval process, one of the key focuses is the legality and authenticity of the cultural relics involved. If the applicant fails to provide solid and explicit documents to prove the legitimacy and legality of the cultural relics, its application will very likely be denied.
For artwork, according to the Administrative Measures for the Operation of Artworks, prior written approval is mandatory for any import, or any show or exhibition with foreign artworks or foreign artwork creators involved.
The process and requirements for application for an artwork import are quite similar to what are requested for an artwork export, which are explicated in question 13. To obtain the approval, the following shall be submitted: the applicant’s business licence and foreign trade operator filing record; origin and destination of the artwork; and a catalogue of artwork and other materials requested by the approval authorities. Once approval has been obtained, the applicant must have the artworks cleared by customs. Artwork that is considered to do any of the following cannot be imported into China:
- violate the basic principles stipulated in the Constitution;
- endanger the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state;
- divulge any national secret, endanger national security or impair national prestige or interest;
- incite ethnic hatred or discrimination, undermine ethnic solidarity or injure ethnic customs or habit;
- advocate or disseminate cult or superstition;
- disturb the social order or undermine social stability;
- promote obscenity, violence or gambling, or abet the commission of a crime;
- insult or slander others or infringe others’ legitimate rights;
- deliberately distort or misrepresent history;
- harm social morality or jeopardise the national traditional culture; and
- be prohibited by laws or administrative regulations, or by the state.
The process and requirements for application for an artwork show or exhibition are slightly different. The following shall be submitted: the host or co-host’s business licence and foreign trade operator filing record, list of the foreign artwork creators or foreign exhibitors, the catalogues of the exhibits and other materials requested by the approval authorities. It normally takes 15 days for the authority to decide whether to approve or not, and a written approval will be granted if approved. The applicant then needs to complete Customs procedures by presenting this approval. If approval is not granted, the applicant will receive the explanation in writing.
No sale or promotion is allowed for imported artworks without an approval. The approval requirement does not apply to artworks personally carried or mailed by post into China with reasonable quantity, however, if the quantity exceeds what is allowed by Customs, then the approval shall be obtained before import. In addition, for artworks being imported for non-profit purposes such as research, academic reference, collection or welfare exhibition, the import approval shall still be obtained according to the Administrative Measures.
If the artwork import control is not complied with, punishments will be imposed, ranging from being ordered to correct the noncompliance, to a fine of no less than 10,000 yuan and no more than 20,000 yuan if the illegal turnover is less than 10,000 yuan; or a fine of no less than twice but no more than three times the illegal turnover if such turnover is 10,000 yuan or more.
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