Memorandum submitted by Sir Joseph Hotung
As a Trustee of the British Museum I fully support
the representations which have been addressed to the Select Committee
on behalf of the Trustees as a whole. However, I believe that
it may assist the Committee if I make a number of observations
on my own behalf both as a donor of funds to the British Museum
in the past and as a potential donor of objects from my own collections
in the future.
When I donated £2 million to the Museum
in 1992 to refurbish the Oriental Galleries my main objective
was to improve the lighting, so that the many people from all
over the world who visit those galleries would be able to view,
appreciate and enjoy the treasures which they contain to the fullest
possible extent. It never occurred to me at that time that the
objects permanently housed in those galleries might be "repatriated"
but had I known that there was even a remote possibility of this
happening I do not believe that I would have made the gift (or,
I doubt whether I would even have contemplated making such a gift).
Secondly, as a serious collector of archaic
Chinese jades and bronzes who would like his carefully assembled
collection to be kept as a whole, I naturally regard the British
Museum, with its existing repository of Chinese art (and the expertise
of its curators) as one of the prime possible recipients of a
future donation. If, however, a decision is made to return non-ethnic
objects to their places (or supposed places) of origin, then obviously
I can no longer seriously consider entrusting my collections to
the British Museum or, indeed, to any museum in the United Kingdom.
New acquisitions are the lifeblood of an institution
such as the British Museum, without which it can only atrophy.
In the present situation, in which museums and galleries in the
United Kingdom receive subventions woefully inadequate to fund
any meaningful acquisition policy, they will have to depend increasingly
on the gifts and bequests of private donors to expand their collections.
Any policy by which museums are deprived of important objects
in their collections to enable them to be "repatriated"
can only have the effect of deterring potential donors from giving
their own treasures from other countries to institutions which
may be unable to provide them with a safe and permanent home.
I would be grateful if this letter could be
placed before the Select Committee in due course.