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Avon and Somerset police are appealing for information after the men were seen by witnesses breaking into the museum and leaving in a dark-coloured SUV having smashed a first-floor window.

Several display cabinets were broken open to steal a total of 46 Chinese works of art. The pieces taken included a collection of small handling jades dating from the Yuan to the Qing periods, bamboo and bronze scholars’ objects plus a group of early Ming gold belt plaques. Pictured here is one of the missing items, a 13th or 14th century yellow and russet jade carving of a monkey holding a peach.

The objects had been part of the permanent collection since the museum was founded 25 years ago.

The theft follows a series of similar attacks on Chinese works of art collections earlier in the decade.

"Shocked and saddened"

Curator Nicole Chiang told ATG pictures of all the stolen items will soon be available to view on the institution’s website.

Chiang added: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the burglary as we are preparing for our 25th anniversary celebrations. Not only do the stolen objects have significant historical and cultural value, they also hold irreplaceable emotional value for our founder.”

DS Matthew Reed said: “Due to the items stolen and the speed of the burglary we suspect this to be a targeted attack with the artefacts possibly stolen to order. These items range in monetary value, but their cultural significance is priceless.

The thieves were witnessed entering the museum in Bennett Street at about 1.20am on April 17. Police have seized a white Ford Transit van which had been stolen from Ballance Street and was left at the scene. Officers are keen to hear from anyone who saw this vehicle being towed or moved overnight Monday 16 to Tuesday April 17.

Anyone with information should call 101, quoting reference 5218081649, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.