Man charged over theft of Terracotta Warrior’s thumb from American museum

World Today

Sometimes called the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, China’s terracotta army has delighted millions of visitors both at home and abroad. Now, China is demanding answers after a 2,000 year-old terracotta warrior on loan to a U.S. museum was vandalized.

CGTN’S Toby Muse reports.

A thumb has been stolen from an ancient terracotta army statue worth millions.

It could be a Sherlock Holmes mystery – but authorities said they’ve already got their man.

The FBI said the crime took place in December at the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia where the statue was one of ten on loan from China. During a museum party on December 21st, 24-year old Michael Rohana is accused of snapping a selfie with the statue and then snapping the thumb off the statue worth $4.5 million.

Museum staff didn’t notice the damage until January 8. They called the police, and the FBI traced the thumb back to Rohana five days later.

Rohana has been charged with theft of an artwork from a museum, concealment of the artwork, and interstate transportation of stolen property. He is on bail, awaiting trial.

The Terracotta Army is more than 2,000 years old. It was discovered by farmers in Xi’an in 1974. Archaeologists said there are more than 8,000 such figures, but many remain buried in the dirt. They’ve been called – unofficially – the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Questions are now being asked about how Rohana got so close to the statute unsupervised—something that would be impossible in China, where they’re on display in large pits far from the reach of tourists.

When the exhibition opened last Autumn, the museum promised a unique experience.

“This is the closest that I can even think of anyone being to the Terracotta warriors in recent memory where you are only a few feet away,” said Mickey Maley, assistant director of Public Programs at the Franklin Institute, at the time. (The Franklin Institute did not return CGTN’s request for comment.)

The reaction in China has been one of anger and disappointment.

Victor Gao, who escorted President Richard Nixon to visit the Terracotta Army during one of his visits to China, said, “It’s a pity. It definitely shows the negligence on the part of the museum managements.”

“Legal proceedings I hope will soon start, and we will see the real truth of the matter and hopefully the person involved will receive due punishment and this also will serve as a deterrence,” he added.

The Shaanxi Province center that loaned the statues “strongly condemned” the vandalism and called on U.S. authorities to severely punish the perpetrator. The center will send two experts to repair the damaged statue.

Allison Miller talks about the theft of part of a Terra Cotta warrior that China loaned to a US museum

CGTN’s Susan Roberts talks with Allison Miller, an associate professor of Asian Art History at Southwestern University, about the desecration of a priceless Terra Cotta warrior China loaned to a U.S. museum in Philadelphia.