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This is a sensitive question for museum professionals. Ivory sculptures are key archeological relics to understanding China’s history, such as the ivory goblet found in the Nanyue tomb. In 2010 The International Council of Museums helped China’s State administration of Cultural Heritage recover numerous illegally trafficked cultural relics, many of which were ivory sculpture, but this is cultural property.
Cultural property is not sold on the black market and meant to sit in some rich guy’s house, it sits on display in a public museum.
It’s important for museums to not avoid the issue but separate cultural relics from luxury goods, and adhere to the 1989 International ban on ivory trafficking. The best solution for museums is to tell the truth about the rise in elephant poaching, and also provide good information about the history of the art. Museums should also be careful not to allow illegally sold ivory in gift shops, and display proper permits for guests to see.
Guangzhou’s Daxin Ivory Carving Factory is the only licensed Ivory carving factory in the country, which still produces high end goods. The factory is an important part of local history, it’s been in operation since 1955. Their goods are available for purchase on their official web site.The question needs to be asked, does this factory still has business carving ivory in the 21st century?
China’s economic boom has taken the blame in international news for the rise in Elephant poaching. Though it’s important to recognize that the average salary of a college graduate in China is still less than 4000 RMB per month, ordinary Chinese are not buying these products. The rise in elephant poaching is fueled by greed and demand of a few wealthy and irresponsible consumers.
Many developed countries face similar ethical debates between cultural heritage and environmental responsibility. This is similar to bull fighting in Spain, whale hunting in Japan, and seal hunting by Inuit communities of Canada.
Like foot binding and other ancient traditions, Ivory carving should remain in the past. Guangzhou should not be known as the city where tourists buy souvenirs from elephant poachers.

Ever noticed commercial for Ivory Sculpture while riding the metro? It’s one of the most heated international debates connected with China’s economic boom.
Environmental Protection groups across the world know Guangzhou as a magnet for illegal ivory trafficking. According to the Shanghai Daily the two Asian cities with the largest Ivory seized are Guangzhou rent houses for live there and Fuzhou.Especially in the past two years. 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures, across the world.
Foreign media like the BBC documentary Ivory Wars make it seem as though Chinese authorities are not addressing the problem. Chinese law enforcement has taken serious measures. Last week I noticed an absence of ivory in gift shops around the Jade market. Sellers are more cautious, as they should be.
In March of 2012 a smuggler in Hangzhou was arrested with 10 kilos of ivory worth over 200,000 RMB. This was reported by the People’s Daily in Shanghai. Last month in Convention of International Trade and Endangered Species was held in Geneva, Switzerland a representative of the CITES Management Authority of China reported that in the past decade 30 Ivory smugglers have been given life in prison. Chinese authorities have not ignored the problem. In fact a new committee on illegal wild life trafficking has been established on May 12, 2012 led by Yin Hong.
Elephant poaching has devastated the wildlife across Africa including Kenya and Cameroon. In Gabon, President Abi Bongo set fire to a pile of nearly 5 tones of Ivory worth nearly 5.3 million US dollars on June 28th, 2012.This was a message to poachers, traffickers, and consumers.
If this seems extreme or offensive, think for a moment what China’s reaction would be if Pandas were hunted for their fur?
Addressing this problem is key to the future of China-Africa relations, where does this leave one of China’s Ancient Folk Arts?

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