Chinese Government Sues Villagers Who Found and Sold Ebony

a 30 meter long piece of ebony discovered, dug up, and sold by Chongqing villagers who have been sued by the government for selling state property.

a 30 meter long piece of ebony discovered, dug up, and sold by Chongqing villagers who have been sued by the government for selling state property.

From NetEase:

8 Chongqing Villagers Sell 30 Meter Long Ebony They Dug Up for 196k, Has Money Confiscated

Summary: Recently, the 196k yuan eight villagers in Chongqing city Tongnan county received from selling ebony was confiscated [by the government]. In 2012 October, Tongnang villager Wang X discovered a piece of ebony in the Fujiang River and collaborated with 8 other villagers to dredge it up. At the time, the local Cultural Relics Bureau received a report from Wang X and company, but they did not take [the ebony] because it was not a cultural relic. In December, the villagers sold the ebony for 196k yuan, with one person among them later handing over 14k yuan over to the Bureau of Finance.

A few days ago, the eight villagers in Tongnan county still can’t accept it — a year ago, they had drug up a piece of ebony 30 meters long from a local river way, sold it for 196k yuan, and everyone split up this unexpected bit of wealth. Now, the local Finance Bureau have brought a lawsuit against them in court, demanding that they remit this money. Several days ago, the court ruled in both the first and second instance [trials] that the villagers remit the money.

Sold the ebony and split the money

One of them handed over [their share] to the Finance Bureau

In 2012 late October, Tongnan county Qianjin villager Wang X discovered a length of ebony in the silt of the Fujiang River. He told eight fellow villagers including Kuang X about this. That November, the nine of them together used Kuang X’s excavator to dredge and dig up the ebony. The ebony was measured to be approximately 30 meters long.

Because it wasn’t considered a cultural relic, the local Cultural Relics Administration did not require that it be turned in after it was reported to them by Kuang X and company.

The nine contacted a buyer, and in December sold the ebony for 196k yuan. Among them, Wang X who had discovered the ebony and Kuang X who owned the excavator each received 49k yuan, while the remaining seven each took a split of 14k yuan and the driver of the excavator received 300 yuan.

Last year on January 16th, one of the people turned over their 14k yuan share to the local Finance Bureau, while the other eight haven’t.

County Finance Bureau sues

seeking 180k yuan

Not long later, the county Finance Bureau sued the eight people including Kuang X in Tongnan County Court, demanding that they remit the money totaling 180k yuan they split after selling the ebony.

The county Finance Bureau claims the ebony was discovered in the river way so its ownership should belong to the state.

The group including Kuang X believe there is no basis for the ebony belonging to the state, and even if ownership belonged to the state, it should still have to pay for the expenses incurred during dredging and storage.

Tongnan County Court in the first instance [trial] believed that the ebony came from nature, is considered a natural resource, is not considered within the scope of collective ownership stipulated by law, and is considered state-owned. Therefore, the county Finance Bureau, as a department managing state-owned assets, has the right to demand that the group including Kuang X remit the funds they split.

The court of first instance also believes that when the villagers dredged up the ebony, Kuang X used his own excavator to do the digging, while the other eight individuals also participated in the digging and storage. Therefore, [the amount to be remitted to the government] should have the cost of labor involved in the dredging and storage be deducted. The court determined that Kuang X should get 10k for his excavator and dredging expenses, while the others should get 8000 yuan in dredging and storage fees, and so ruled that the group including Kuang X thus remit the [remaining] money.

Conducting an unauthorized sale

should bear liability

Kuang X was unsatisfied and filed an appeal with the Municipal No.1 Intermediate Court.

He claims that after the ebony was discovered, the excavator and loader he provided was used in the river way for nearly a week, so he should get 49k yuan in fees for the dredging.

Kuang X also claims that the ebony should be considered an object without an owner, and according to the principle of first possession, it should belong to Wang X and company.

The Municipal No.1 Intermediate Court heard the case and believes that the ebony’s attribute of being an object of nature prevents it from being claimed and thus should belong to the government. After the group including Kuang X dredged it up, they should have taken it to the relevant government department for handling, but because they instead sold it without authorization, they ought to bear the relevant liability. Several days ago, the court of second instance rejected the appeal and affirmed the original ruling.

Buried objects in the mountains, forest, rivers [open nature]

all belong to the state

Chongqing Evening News legal team member and He Zong Law Firm lawyer Lu Lei believes that according to regulations in Article 79 of the “General Principles of Civil Law” which reads “all buried or concealed objects whose owner is unknown shall belong to the state”, and Article 5 of the “Law on Protection of Cultural Relics” which reads “all cultural relics within the country’s borders, waters, and territorial waters shall belong to the state”, other than the ebony in this case, any object of value that is unearthed from the mountains, forests, rivers, and such places owned by the state, such as ceramics and such handicrafts, artwork, manuscripts, books, coins, precious items, as well as fossils and artifacts of value, all belong to the state. When a citizen reports or hands it over to the state, the Preservation of Cultural Relics Department will give an appropriate reward.

Buried relics in ancestral tombs and buildings

may be privately safeguarded

Lawyer Lu also believes that relevant relics moved or unearthed from places that have been privately owned over the ages such as ancestral tombs and buildings that are reported to and registered with the state cultural relics department can be privately safeguarded [held/possessed], but ownership belongs to the state. If it is relics discovered during demolition or construction in other situations, if after evaluation by the cultural relics department they are determined to be cultural relics, then they are considered state-owned; if not considered cultural relics, then they can be administered privately.

Lawyer Lu says when it comes to cultural relics, citizens should report or turn them over to the Cultural Relics Preservation Administration. Fr other state-owned buried objects, they should likewise should report or turn them over to the government department responsible for the location where they were found, as the relevant government department will provide an appropriate reward.

Seizure of [such unearthed state-owned] objects constitutes a crime

Lawyer Lu reminds that according to the relevant regulations in the law, those who discover cultural relics and conceal it without reporting it or refusing to turn it over shall be fined between 5k to 10k yuan. If the case constitutes a crime, such that the sum is exceptionally large or the circumstances serious, it shall be subject to 2-5 years of prison.

A large piece of ebony dug up in Sichan, where villagers there were rewarded 6000 yuan.
A large piece of ebony dug up in Sichan, where villagers there were rewarded 6000 yuan.

Comments from NetEase:

发言还选拼音 [榜上有名]:

Your highness, this shit was found in the forests, is considered a natural resource. Humble me dare not take it for myself, so I will deliver it to you soon…

Haber [网易湖北省手机网友]:

Since these natural objects [objects of nature] all belong to the state, then when there is a landslide, flood, earthquake that causes loss of life or property, shouldn’t the state give compensation!

网易河南省郑州市手机网友 ip:115.60.*.*

I think you guys have failed to see the key point. The key point is that since the ebony is considered a state-owned natural resource, and after the ebony has been sold, why isn’t the ZF trying to get the ebony back, having the seller return the money to the buyer, and levying the relevant punishment against the seller? Instead, it approves this so-called illegal sale/transaction and is only seeking the seller out to transfer the proceeds of the sale [to the government]? Then what about the ownership of the ebony? Through this transaction, the ebony is suddenly considered privately owned? Then all the ZF is after is money. I tisn’t some state-owned natural resource at all. These people did nothing more than help the ZF conduct a transaction, so that all the ZF has to do after the completion of the sale is conduct a formality through the courts to be the beneficiary of it!

网易湖南省常德市手机网友 ip:223.150.*.*

When the ordinary common people’s homes are buried by landslides from your mountains or flooded by your rivers, can you give the money for them to be rebuilt?

网易浙江省温州市手机网友 ip:124.160.*.*

Tell me, if two people get into a fight and one person uses a rock to injure or even kill the other, does that mean the state provided the weapon, and can compensation be applied for from the state?

网易陕西省西安市手机网友 ip:1.82.*.*

Freeze [or don’t touch]! It’s the state’s!

soangpsumhmy [网易海南省手机网友]:

What is there left that still belongs to ourselves?

毛大大表叔zcii [网易浙江省丽水市手机网友]:

Let me tell you a joke, we won’t take a single needle or thread from the people!

[Note: This refers to one of the famous three main “disciplines” (rules) of the People’s Liberation Army dictated by Mao Zedong in 1947.]

wmq62688 [网易墨西哥网友]:

If cultural relics are unearthed from an ancestral tomb, does it count and grave-robbing someone else’s ancestral tomb? In law throughout history, robbing an ancestral tomb was a major crime that warranted beheading. So the Cultural Relics Department should also be considered criminal, and should also be lawfully punished!

网易河南省郑州市手机网友 ip:117.136.*.*

How come [the state] doesn’t tell those Shanxi coal mine bosses to not touch the coal that is the state’s?

Comments from QQ:


Just what is the use of this ebony? Isn’t it just an ancient dead tree…? I don’t have much education so I don’t understand these things… At most, it can be used to fight [monsters from a Chinese computer game similar to Diablo] and the like. 4-8 attack, 0-1 magic…


In ancient times, banditry was very uncivilized: I planted this tree, I opened this path, so if you want to pass by here, you better pay a toll.
Today’s banditry has learned how to humane/civilized: Toll station 300m ahead, please reduce your speed.


The river belongs to the state and the ebony dug up from the river is the state’s. Here’s the question! When floods destroy homes, who pays!!


How many times has this been reporter? You can’t touch the state’s things, but why don’t these people listen? Next time you discover something, just burn it.


In 1998, a villager’s wooden home in a neighboring village was smashed by a large tree that fell. The home was destroyed and no one did anything, but the most valuable tree (a several hundred year old fengshui tree) was taken away by some government department.


This only happens in China. In other countries, whoever discovers something is whoever it belongs to.


May I ask, after you guys [the government] snatch the money from the peasantry, can you explain how it is split among the people in your department?


So is this about protecting the ebony or just about getting the money?


I remember when I was young that a lot of people used to dig up ebony from the Yangtze River to be used as firewood. There was so much. This was around 1993 or ’94, the Fuling [suburbs of Chongqing].


If the ebony was dug up by someone with money and power, would the government dare be so arrogant/domineering? Would you dare even make a peep?

Comments from Phoenix Online:


Digging up a precious object is still a meritorious deed, and should be rewarded.


Don’t forget, anything buried in the ground belongs to the state, to all the people, and not private property.


There’s a law regulating this!


Ebony is considered a mineral, and all mineral resources are owned by the state, so there isn’t anything to dispute here.


The ebony should be reevaluated, and the people who excavated it rewarded.


Ebony is not a cultural relic, nor is it a buried artifact, so this shouldn’t be considered illegal. It is a plant, the remains of a naturally growing plant. If this is also considered a buried artifact, then tree roots should also count.


Do things in accordance with the law.


Ebony is indeed a good thing. This 30 meter long example, must be high quality.


The key thing is, once it is given to the state, how is it used?


You have no law to rely on. If you do, please go ahead and try, but if not, then remit the money.


Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


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