Chinese authorities are livid over the theft of a thumb from a 2,000-year-old terracotta warrior on loan to a US museum, calling for the perpetrator to be “severely” punished.
The ancient statue is valued at $4.5 million and considered a “priceless part of China’s cultural heritage.” It was on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute when the vandalism took place.
“We call on the United States to severely punish those who have done [this],” Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relic Exchange Center’s director told the Beijing Youth Daily, a state-run Chinese newspaper.
The warrior statues date back to 209 B.C., when the Qin Dynasty ruled China. The life-size statues were constructed to guard the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Now a UN world heritage site, they were discovered by a Chinese farmer in 1974 in Shaanxi province, according to the Franklin Institute’s exhibit page.
Delaware-resident Michael Rohana was arrested last week, US officials said, accused of stealing the thumb in December during an ugly sweater party hosted by the museum.
During the event, Rohana and a few of his friends entered the closed off terracotta warrior exhibit, and after his friends left, Rohana took a selfie with one of the statues, according to surveillance footage and court documents.
He then put his hand on the left hand of one of the warriors and snapped something off, the documents said. Rohana pocketed the warrior’s thumb and took it home with him to Delaware that evening.
A museum worker discovered the missing thumb on January 8, and the FBI Art Crime Unit began to investigate. Surveillance video helped lead the FBI to both the thumb and their suspect, Rohana.
One of the people who went to the museum with Rohana told law enforcement officials that on the ride back to Delaware, Rohana was bragging about sneaking into the exhibit and having a thumb from one of the warriors.
When FBI agent Jacob Archer went to interview Rohana and asked if he had anything “that he wanted to turn over to the FBI,” Rohana handed over the thumb, which was in the desk in his bedroom.
Rohana has been charged with theft of an object of cultural heritage from a museum, concealment of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen goods.
He was released on bail on February 13. Rohana did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Some Chinese social media users were scathing in their criticism of the museum and the United States for failing to take care of their country’s cultural artifacts.
“The warriors in Xi’an are kept far away from the public. How come the sculptures in Philadelphia are not displayed inside glass cases?” one user on Weibo said.
Others said the vandalism was ironic given the reputation Chinese tourists have gained for bad behavior on vacation. “It seems the Americans are guilty of that too. See how the tables have been turned,” said another Weibo user.
The Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relic Exchange Center plans to send two experts to the United States to repair the thumb, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.
Over the past 40 years, the center has organized about 260 exhibits around the world featuring the warriors, and there has never been a situation like this, an official told Xinhua.
Intern Yu Qiaoqiao contributed to this report