Asia's Looted Treasures: Stealing Beauty

Ruthless art thieves are rapidly stripping Asia's cultural sites of precious artifacts and selling them to smugglers and dealers who hawk them in the West. A TIME Special Report.

The citizens of Xiaoli Village move lazily, with a languor born of chronic underemployment. They are farmers by tradition, but exorbitant taxes have leached any profitability out of their profession. So on most hot days, the local peasants sit on concrete stoops, pant legs hiked up to their thighs, fanning themselves with the latest propaganda broadsheet from Beijing and waiting for dusk to fall. For it is only at night that Xiaoli comes alive.

Underneath this sad little village in Henan province is the rich legacy of five millenniums of Chinese history. The nearby city of Luoyang was the capital...

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