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Is China's cultural heritage in jeopardy? Teaching activity.

As mentioned in the article, under the Convention on Cultural Property Act, other nations can request that the United States impose import restrictions on specific cultural property. A requesting nation must show that pillaging of the cultural property is jeopardizing the nation's cultural heritage. In making its decision, the executive branch considers the recommendation of a Cultural Property Advisory Committee, established under the Act. The committee is composed of 11 private citizens appointed by the president who have expertise in archaeology, anthropology, and the international sale of cultural property, and represent the public and private sector, local and regional institutions, including museums, and the public. As of March 2007, a request for an import ban from China is pending. In its request, the Chinese government has asked the United States to ban imports of any Chinese artifact made before 1912. During this activity, students will research and evaluate China's request and write a letter to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee supporting or opposing China's request.

Begin by reviewing examples of advocacy letters with students to identify their general characteristics. Examples can be found on the website of the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. (See the "Current Issues," section at YOU will find a letter about China's request; however, you will want students to come to their own conclusions, so choose from among the other letters available on the site. Note in your review of examples that these advocacy letters adhere to formal letter-writing conventions; demonstrate knowledge of applicable laws and existing conditions relevant to the actions being requested in the letters; and present facts to support the positions being advocated by the letter writers.

Have students individually research China's request. One place to begin is the "Public Summary" on the U.S. Department of State's International Cultural Property website. (See the "What's New" section at exchanges.state. gov/culprop/index.html.) Assign students to find a minimum of two additional credible sources from which they can collect facts to inform their decision making about their positions. Students should complete their research, reflect on it, and only then take a position on China's request. You will want students to take informed positions.

If students support China's request, their letters should present arguments and provide evidence demonstrating that the following conditions exist; if they oppose China's request, their letters should argue and provide evidence that the following conditions do not exist:

* Pillaging of the cultural property specified in China's request jeopardizes China's cultural heritage.

* China has already taken other measures to try to protect the specified cultural property; they have not adequately deterred pillage.

* The proposed import restrictions would substantially deter pillage, and new, less restrictive remedies would be insufficient.

* China's request is "consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes." (Public Law 97-466, Sec. 303 (a)(1)).

After students complete their letters, assign small groups of three students to read and discuss their letters. Make sure different positions are represented within the groups. Ask students to note similarities and differences in the arguments made in their letters.

As a whole group activity, discuss similarities and differences in student arguments within small groups, noting and capturing them on the board. Give students a few minutes to reflect individually on their original positions. Discuss the extent to which student positions may have changed after reading classmates' letters, discussing arguments in small groups, or, discussing arguments as a whole class.

Conclude by asking students if they believe well-crafted advocacy letters can influence policy decisions. Do they believe that individuals making policy decisions in isolation make different decisions than people who come together collectively to consider policy options as a group or "committee"? Why? Or, why not?

MICHELLE PARRINI is a program manager and editor for the American Bar Association Division for Public Education in Chicago, Illinois.
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Author:Parrini, Michelle
Publication:Social Education
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2007
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