The Mysterious Chinese Art Heists Across Europe

The Mysterious Chinese Art Heists Across Europe

I’m Kento Bento. This video is made
possible by CuriosityStream. Watch thousands of documentaries for free for 30 days at the link
in the description. Stockholm, Sweden. 2010. Passersby on the streets of the
capital were confused and scared. Several cars in and around the vicinity had lit up in flames, and
no one had any idea why. Police soon arrived on scene but they too were baffled
with what they saw. Now, several kilometers to the
west, on the outskirts of the city, a small group of masked men made their way across the grounds of
the Drottningholm Palace, the private residence of
the Swedish Royal Family. Their target was the
royal pavilion situated in the southern part of the complex, which displayed countless
works of historic art. Once there, the men forced their way in through the backdoors,
and went right to work. They smashed the protective display cases,
and grabbed whatever items they wanted. This immediately set off the alarm system,
which alerted the Swedish police. Now, despite the alarm,
the robbers remained calm, because they knew exactly
where the police were. The burning cars on the
other side of the city were in fact a distraction for
them set up by the robbers, and they had fallen right into the trap. Still, the police raced
towards the crime scene, but by the time they
reached the royal pavilion, the place was empty, the robbers were in and out
in less than six minutes. Upon inspection, sculptures,
chalices, plates and teapots, all invaluable items, were now missing from the permanent state
collection of art and antiquities; and this wasn’t just a huge economic loss, but a cultural one as well. It was later found out that
after fleeing the pavilion on mopeds, the robbers made
their way to a nearby lake where they were then picked
up by a white speedboat. Though from this point,
the trail went cold. Despite this, authorities
remained relatively optimistic, as, in situations like these, items tended to be
recovered sooner or later. Very few people are
actually prepared to handle such high-profile works, as the pieces are often
too difficult to sell. But what the authorities
failed to realize at the time, was that the culprits were
no ordinary criminals. Little did they know,
the Drottningholm heist was just the beginning. Five months later in Bergen, Norway,
masked men descended from a glass ceiling into the KODE Museum, grabbing
vases, imperial seals, and more. In 2012, in Durham, England, thieves
broke into a museum at Durham University stealing high-value porcelain
sculptures and bowls. That same month the museum at
Cambridge University was also hit. And in 2015, in Paris, France,
intruders smashed their way into the Château de Fontainebleau, the exquisite former residence
of the French monarchs with more than 1500
rooms full of treasures, making out with artifacts so rare they were considered the
masterworks of the royal chateau. Now at this point, with
this all set in Europe, you may be wondering why this
video is titled the way it is. Well, it turns out, the
heists shared a similar M.O., cars were lit on fire as
distractions for police, actions taken were clean and meticulous, getaway methods were often
identical, but, most importantly, the artifacts stolen were
all of a similar type. You see, the first heist, the
pavilion in Sweden on the grounds of Drottningholm palace,
was the Chinese Pavilion. The 56 objects stolen from
the KODE Museum in Norway was from the China Collection. Intruders broke into the Oriental
Museum in Durham University, England. And it was the grand Chinese
Museum that was targeted in the Château de Fontainebleau in France. In each heist, the robbers
set their sights on art and antiquities from China. In fact, it seemed they were working
from a very specific shopping list. They knew exactly what they
wanted and where each piece was located, and they
were willing to leave behind high-value objects
that weren’t on the list; like in the chateau,
they completely ignored the other 1500 rooms containing
many other priceless relics, as they weren’t Chinese. Interpol was put on the case as the crimes were clearly transnational; but
despite their investigation, the crime spree could not be stopped. In the years that followed,
reports of Chinese art heists continued throughout
museums across Europe. Now, the general feeling
in intelligence circles was that the criminals were
carrying out instructions from abroad as ordered jobs;
with the true mastermind far from the jurisdiction
of European countries. But who was this mastermind? Or masterminds? And why would they steal
so many documented works that can neither be legally
sold nor openly exhibited? Indeed, the majority of the stolen art never actually resurfaced,
increasing the likelihood that it ended up as part of someone or some organization’s private collection. As the years went by,
it seemed to be becoming one of the greater mysteries
in art, alongside Stonehenge, Banksy, and the case of
the second Mona Lisa. But upon closer inspection, the mystery of the Chinese
art heists began to unravel, as signs pointed to the involvement
of an elite group of individuals. But to fully understand this,
we first need to go back in time, back 160 years ago to the
end of the Second Opium War. Beijing, 1860. British and French
troops marched defiantly towards the magnificent Old Summer Palace, the main imperial residence
of the Qing dynasty. The men were ready for retribution, as a few weeks earlier
their comrades were tortured and murdered at the hands of
the Chinese while attempting to negotiate peace under a
prearranged flag of truce. When the Europeans reached
the palace grounds, they didn’t hold back, laying
waste to everything in sight. The Old Summer Palace,
known for its architecture, extensive gardens, and its numerous
art and historical treasures, was now being desecrated and pillaged. Sculptures, robes, jewelry,
vases, chalices, plates, teapots, and even Pekingese dogs,
a breed unknown to Europe at the time, were hauled away as trophies. This momentous event,
set a 160 years earlier, was in fact the original
Chinese art heist, perhaps the real greatest
art heist in Chinese history. Once the soldiers were done pilfering, they torched the palace grounds,
to the horror of the Chinese. Now the majority of the
loot made its way to Europe, ending up in the possession
of private collectors and royal families. Queen Victoria of Britain was even gifted the very first pet Pekingese
dog ever seen in Europe, which she brazenly named Looty. Over time many of these Chinese
relics (Looty not included) made its way to museums across Europe, including the Drottningholm
Palace in Stockholm, the KODE museum in Bergen, and the Château de Fontainebleau in Paris. Present day, China is one of
the countries that has suffered the most from the loss
of antiquities, and, in the past decades, has
managed to conjure a groundswell of national support for the
return of their cultural art. In fact, the Chinese government
has openly promoted efforts to repatriate works pillaged
during the Opium Wars, most notable the invaluable items
stolen from the Old Summer Palace. As a result, certain individuals
in China have now taken it upon themselves to lead the charge, bringing back China’s lost art,
piece by piece, no matter the cost. But who could this be? Who would have the resources
and dedication to pull off such a feat? Well, in 2016, China made
headlines for creating more billionaires than the United States for the first time in
history; the growth driven by self-made entrepreneurs
(many in the tech industry). It has now reached a point
where a new billionaire is minted in China every two days. For this new class of elites,
buying up Chinese artifacts, for inordinate sums of money,
has now become the latest hot trend; an opportunity to show off not
just their new-found riches but also their fervent patriotism. After all, the fate of
the nation’s plundered art from the royal residence of
what was China’s last dynasty, has been a focal point of national pride. In 2010, in a suburban
London auction house, a 16-inch Chinese vase
from the Old Summer Palace started with an inconsequential
price of $800,000, but ended half an hour
later with a final bid of $69,500,000, 50 times its estimate, the bidder an anonymous buyer from China. And this wasn’t unique. There was also the small
porcelain chicken cup which sold for $36 million, and a Tibetan silk tapestry
which sold for $45 million. But just swooping in
and purchasing artifacts left and right isn’t always possible. In many cases, the most
prized and rarest works of art never go up for auction, rather they’re kept at Western
museums, or held in private collections. So what happens when all legal
avenues have been exhausted? Well, there is the idea that
some Chinese billionaires are funding free agents to
retrieve these museum works. And instead of putting these
dubiously-acquired treasures up for display for all to
see, are understandably hiding them away in highly-secured,
climate-controlled warehouses. Though, not all may actually
care to play it so low-key; because with Chinese laws, from theft to intellectual property, being very different
from the Western world, the aforementioned issues
of selling or exhibiting these high-profile stolen works
may not be so problematic after all. There’s also the justification
many have that since the items were initially
stolen from China, it can’t be considered a real crime; and by now returning the
artifacts to its homeland to be displayed, they are
somehow aiding its liberation. Now, all this may seem a
plausible-enough explanation, perhaps even likely, but billionaires aren’t
the only suspects here. In recent years, there
has been another popular idea circulating; one that puts
the culpability on an entity far greater and more powerful
than Chinese billionaires; and that’s the Chinese government, the implication being that
China itself is the one ordering the thefts from Western museums, and that they are in fact the
buyer of the stolen relics. After all, China’s communist
party has already made it clear that they want their
art back, with seemingly little care about the
methodology of their return. Certainly, they’ve
demonstrated no real concern or sympathy for the
museum heists in Europe. And in fact, apparently
one of the items stolen from the KODE Museum in Bergen, Norway, is now openly displayed at one
of China’s International airports in Shanghai. Police in Bergen did attempt
to follow up on this lead, but Norwegian authorities
higher up didn’t want to insult the Chinese with accusations, nor cause an international
incident, and so did nothing. Though if the Chinese government
is involved in all this, it would likely be through
their most powerful and most impenetrable
conglomerate, the China Poly Group. This state-run corporation
started as an offshoot of the People’s Liberation Army
as their arms-manufacturing wing, but has since evolved far beyond. Their varied pursuits now
include not just the peddling of missiles and weapons systems,
but international trade, real estate and, perhaps
most unexpectedly, the buying and selling
of art and antiquities. In fact, they run the
third-largest art auction house in the world, behind
Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Of the company’s headquarters
at the New Beijing Poly Plaza, The New York Times noted
the most unusual contrast of being able to buy a
painting on the third floor, and a missile system on the 27th. Today, they have declared
assets of a $140 billion, over twice the GDP of Luxembourg. So could the China Poly Group
be behind the Chinese art heists in Europe? Well, maybe. We already know they’ve been
running a global information network to locate and reclaim
lost antiquities that, as they put it, have been “illegally
robbed away by western powers”. Many might call this a
noble and just cause, although the countries
and cultures whom China itself has taken artifacts
from, through conquest, might have something to say about that. Now China Poly has not revealed
much about their retrieval program, and has not responded to public requests to elaborate on their methodology;
but they have outright denied any involvement
in the museum heists, calling the allegations nonsense. From the evidence, they
claim it cannot be inferred that there was even somebody
ordering the heists. Further, defenders of
China Poly have pointed out that during the robbery in Paris, not all the stolen artworks
were actually Chinese. One item in particular was of Thai origin, a replica crown of the King of
Siam’s given to Napoleon III in 1861; so why would the
Chinese government steal that? It’s clear there are still
mysteries left unanswered about the Chinese art heists, and perhaps we’ll never really know; such as the mystery of
the second Mona Lisa, whose very existence
has puzzled art experts for over a century. Why are there two
versions of The Mona Lisa? And is the one sitting
in the Louvre in Paris even the original? Now, if you want to
find out all about this, there’s an excellent
documentary breaking this down (similar to this video) that I highly
recommend you check out. It’s available right
now on CuriosityStream, a streaming service with thousands
of high-quality documentaries, created by the same guy
behind the Discovery Channel. So there’s The Mona Lisa Mystery
which you should definitely check out, but if you’re one of those people who doesn’t quite understand
how to look at art, or how to look at a painting (kinda like me who finds
it all a bit baffling) I’d also recommend this
12-part series called, well, “How to Look at a Painting”. Now if you love the Kento Bento channel, you’re almost certain to be
a lover of documentaries, and by going to right now, you can get unlimited access to the world’s top documentaries
and nonfiction series for a very reasonable $2.99 a month; better yet, by entering
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the Kento Bento channel. So please, go check it out. (funky upbeat music)

Comments (100)

  1. French words are hard to pronounce…

    You can watch thousands of documentaries for FREE for 30 days by signing up at & using the code “KENTOBENTO” at checkout.

    Help us with subtitles in your language!

  2. So from my knowledge, China was a weak nation at some point in time, which resulted in countless other countries stole their antiques and what not. Now declared theirs, now Chinese people have really just stole back whats rightfully theirs to begin with.

  3. This sounds like a gta mission

  4. The earth would've been a greater place today, if Europe, especially Britain, was taken from the world map 800 years ago. They created industrial revolution, started world war, plundered our lands like assholebastards and caused the most pollution. They now blame the rest of the world with snake tongue that we are responsible for global warming, forgetting that they created newtons and einsteins

  5. Honestly the Chinese government didn't steal they took their stuff back

  6. So to rob a museum successfully I go in the streets, set cars on fire, take all the items I want, then finally escape on mopeds and get a speedboat as my getaway. Also, I need to make sure I get the stuff I need in a time span of 4 minutes and also get a friend to listen to the police radios just in case they come unexpected and we get caught.

  7. I was 1 years old when this happened

  8. (4:49) 160 years ago..age 1860..1860+160=2020 , today = 2019..
    math: "am i a joke to you?"

  9. I love the "Im kento bento"

  10. Naming a dog that was pillaged from a chinese palace is pretty savage ngl.

  11. My 2 video takeaways:
    1. Well I guess Greece knows now what to do about the Parthenon marbles.
    2. And of course, when you think 'patriotism', you think of the disembodied communist fists of Stretch Armstrong!

  12. I can't believe Winne The Pooh would do such a thing.

  13. Basically Payday in real life

  14. As much as it sucks that a lot of this art was stolen by the Europeans, it was probably in safer hands given the cultural destruction China witnessed under Mao's Cultural Revolution.

  15. ffs its China back on their bs again

  16. Me n the boys doing the pacific standard heist:

  17. its pronuced "kin" not chin dynasty

  18. uhh… was it for religion?

  19. you just earned another subsciber

  20. That looty not included part made me laugh so hard 😂😂

  21. Maybe the robber of the heists wanna make extra money and stole the thai crown knowing some thai billionaire would buy it


  23. The guy was a SPY!

  24. I think it's the triad. Considering their devotion to traditions.

  25. So the British and french empire steal some shits from the qing chinese 160 years ago and now they took it back KEKW

  26. Love your intro, 10 seconds and you even put a ad in it. Props to you, no bullshit straight to the point.

  27. imagine stealing chinese artifacts then stumbling upon a dog

  28. Not to be a racist or anything but the three shadow figures were quite confusing. 9:10 I was wondering why would Sikh people get involved in Chinese heist. Never thought it would be the figures of Chinese government. Lmao

  29. It was China’s so taking it back to China is not a crime

  30. Honestly, the UK doesn't have any culture at all. Like even the crown jewel are from India and Fish and chips are greek.

  31. Like how he says auction

  32. The Robbers Were Made In China.

  33. I live 5 min away from Drottningholm in sweden

  34. Stealing what has been stolen makes it pretty reasonable.

  35. If your channel is on IMDB I’d rate you easy 10

  36. i guarantee the Red Guards destroyed a lot more cultural treasures than were stolen from the summer palace, during the cultural revolution. we should thank the europeans for keeping those treasures from those crazed Red Guards. at least the chinese can steal it back or at least buy in back in some cases now

  37. Im FroM SWEdEn AnD I NEveR heARd oF DIs cuz I LIve IN hELsiNGborG

  38. Why do they all look like the spy from tf2

  39. Plunderers steal a dog from palace.
    John Wick wants to know your address.

  40. Who would have thought that winnie the pooh was behind it


  42. 10:42 missile system? A missile system wow

  43. Steal item what once stolen

  44. they're just taking back whats theirs, respect for that.

  45. winnie the poo shopping list…

  46. If these artworks had remained in China instead of being pillaged to europe, it would have been destroyed in the cultural revolution.

  47. No one:
    The chinese payday gang: Hippity hoppity your sh*t is now my propperty

  48. Romanian people with the help of Swedish people stole all of Stockholm’s money and now I learn about this aswell! Geez people sure do hate us…

  49. Seams the Chinese got culturally sensitive after they destroyed everything back home after the "cultural revolution".

  50. This is not trhu cus i live there

  51. little did you know…

    I was the mastermind behind all the masterminds

  52. Someone need to make a movie out of this…

  53. It’s like Carmen Sandiego

  54. I think there was a movie made about this. I forgot the name but it was definitely about a group of people stealing valuable stuff across the world and in Europe.

  55. When someone steals something in Massachusetts

    Me: WELL, TIME TO END crime-maker WITH MY ROBOTS

  56. The foreign invaders stole it first. We're taking back what's ours.

  57. Can't believe I'm saying this, but i symphatize with China for the first time.

  58. NUHHHH! THE DOGGOS!!!!!!! 🙀

  59. You make so much more sense than my honors science class teacher

  60. Xinny the Pooh wants to know your location

  61. China, i agree. Since the art displayed in Europe is not theirs, it should belong to you. Same with the Philippines arts and antiques, USA, ours is still ours. Good thing that we don't have a lot of rich Filipinos to do the heists.

  62. China: Openly displays something in Shanghai’s Airport

    Germany: Isn’t that from our museum?

    China: No it’s not it’s a replica. We do it all the time we just stared at it for a long time and copied it….

    Germany: hmmmm……

    China: Its not like you guys will get someone to see what it was made with

  63. Kento Bento opens his phone

    *You received a new message
    Xi Jinping: Hi

  64. When you can’t get enough of Chinatown

  65. Lika ifal du är svensk

  66. i like your content but your videos sound so scary ;___;

  67. It’s always Asian because they good at math and thinking of plans

  68. 7:04 "self-made" billionaires. Because the CCP doesn't have any input on who does and doesn't make it in China

  69. I am irritated of China. Fck them Stealing our Chinese art. Wtf, low life.

  70. Thieves stealing from thieves. What's wrong?

  71. So, All Hail Xi Jinping?

  72. YouTube was not there when these countries stole Chinese art [mostly] from China.
    Now they are stealing it back.
    Many Chinese businessmen n politicians already tried to buy them but in vain.

  73. This guy is so swift when he plugs his sponsor 👏🏽

  74. Make subtitle indonesia and you got many viewers like shiratori video

  75. This is way to go the west likes stealing. From land to life.

  76. The British took many things from Asia not only China but the kohinoor is also from india

  77. If the Chinese communist party and government did steal them I think they should keep it its theirs and it was stolen from them in the opium war which was caused by the British in the 18th century

  78. Your videos are great..

  79. Stop stealing other country's property then they won't have to steal it back

  80. The Guy on front of the video reminds me of Spy, from tf2

  81. China: * has cool thing *
    British: hey I want that cool thing
    China: no it’s MINE!
    British: but I WANT IT!

  82. the chinese also destriyed there own

  83. Oh i have a heist it was in america though 4 people walk into a bank as civilians they look around normally until they all leave one moved around to the camera room unlocks the door with a custom keycard kills the guard the other one waits outside the front with a big gun no one notices yet the 3rd moves around the back with a thermal drill and places it down know one still notices after this is all done they place a phone jammer and come in two immediately go to the bank tellers killing them the rest keep the other civilians in check the thermal drill is done at this point one places a ammo bag in the vault and starts sawing at the boxs inside the vault they got all this done in 15 minutes the american government nicked named the heisters Dallas, Chains, Hoxten, Wolf.

  84. smoothest sponsor transitions in the world

  85. Imagine seeing a kid watch this whole video.

  86. Hey it looks chinese.
    Thai Crown: …

  87. Remains me the CZ12 movie

  88. British stole things worth 45 TRIllION dollar from India one da'y those will also come back

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