Over 49,000 stolen or lost cultural relics were retrieved in China in the nine months to the end of May, the Ministry of Public Security said at a news conference on Thursday.
It said 1,744 cases related to culture relic crimes were solved and 3,544 suspects arrested in the latest round of special campaign against such crimes that was launched by the ministry and the National Culture Heritage Administration in September.
The special campaign has been conducted across the country every year since 2017, targeting crimes such as tomb robbery, theft and the illegal sale and trafficking of cultural relics.
During the latest round of the campaign, public security organs also cracked down on 337 gangs involved in such crimes, and 56 cultural relics recognized as national treasures were retrieved, including a manuscript of Buddhist scripture from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that was stolen from Sichuan's provincial library in 2004.
The ministry said the number of crimes related to the theft and illegal excavation of relics last year was the lowest since 2012.
In the past five years, the ministry has released six lists of the most-wanted fugitives involved in major cultural relics crimes, with 58 of the 62 suspects named brought to justice.
Jiang Guoli, deputy director at the ministry's criminal investigation bureau, said two lists of suspects had been issued since September, with 18 of the 20 people named in them arrested by the end of last month.
"Though such crimes have been effectively curbed, we are well aware that, driven by huge illegal gains, there are still some criminal gangs and individuals willing to take risks to commit such crimes, which means the relics protection situation is still serious," he said.
Jiang said those carrying out such crimes are becoming more professional and craftier, and the crimes have formed an industry chain, with organizers controlling the whole picture, technicians determining the position of sites, and smugglers doing the distributing.
"We have found many of the suspects have records and they knew how to escape investigation by law enforcement agencies," he said. "And they are also taking advantage of the internet."
Jiang said many suspects share information on the internet, such as the coordinates of an ancient tomb. They also use the internet to buy tools, team up on social media, identify their finds and distribute them.
To curb that trend, the ministry said public security organs should adopt more innovative measures.
"We will not only enhance the application of new technologies in fighting such crimes on the internet, but also promote more cooperation with antiquities departments across the country to improve the online information platform where we can share intelligence and integrate our resources," Jiang said.
The platform, established in 2017, collects and releases information on the country's lost or stolen cultural relics.
It has registered over 2,700 lost or stolen relics — 560 in detail — providing strong support for fighting related crimes and retrieving relics.
The National Cultural Heritage Administration said its 12359 hotline received 1,523 reports from the public about cultural relics violations last year.