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Art pieces stolen from Beijing’s Forbidden City

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    This undated photo released by Palace Museum shows a cosmetic box made in 1950-1960. The box and six other art pieces made of gold and encrusted with jewels on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong, were stolen from an exhibit at China's famed Forbidden City, the heavily guarded former home of the country's emperors, Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Palace Museum)
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BEIJING >> Officials scrambled Wednesday to figure out how thieves 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 encrusted with jewels from a visiting exhibit.

It was the first theft in 20 years from the historic site, spokesman Feng Naien said, adding that security would be increased.

“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 here.”

Guards saw a suspect fleeing the scene by the Palace of Abstinence, a part of the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City, in the early hours of Monday but failed to nab him, Feng said.

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, which is on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong.

Two of the missing items were recovered nearby and were slightly damaged.

Feng said the entire Palace Museum will be checked to see if any other items are missing.

“Certainly we can only blame the fact that our work was insufficient for something like this to happen,” Feng said. “However, I hope that people will not lose confidence in the Palace Museum security because of this incident.”

Wang Xiahong, curator of the Liang Yi Musuem, refused to reveal the value of the stolen items which belong to Hong Kong art collector Fung Yiu Fai. She said that despite the theft, the exhibition would continue and other pieces would be added to the show, which is temporarily closed but expected to reopen soon.

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