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The new guidelines, titled The Standard for Auction of Cultural Relics and Art Works, represent three years of research undertaken by the China Association of Auctioneers, a non-profit organisation commissioned in 2007 by the Ministry of Commerce.

The new regulations – described as a standard to be upheld rather than a change in law – are a response to what Zhang Yanhua, director of the CAA, termed the ‘disorder’ in domestic auctions and the wider desire to tighten up on issues of cultural heritage.

In recent years, China has vigorously pursued cultural relics that it believes were removed from the country illegally and has taken a number of measures to avoid any repeat of the mass export of artefacts that took place in the 1980s and the 1990s.

The Standard for Auction… covers all aspects of the auction process, including consignments, the formal terminology to be used in cataloguing and the archiving of auction records.

The new standards also reinforce a provision passed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in 2003 that requires vendors to supply auctioneers with a certificate of provenance and legal ownership.