I'd thought it was just Sir Aurel Stein who was responsible for the theft of friezes from the ancient cave temples in Turkestan (now part of NW China), but as I read through 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' I find that people from several other nations took part in this pillaging too. For instance Albert von Le Coq was a German, and he managed to remove the entire contents of one particular cave in the Bezeklik complex and transport it back to Berlin. He, and his contemporaries, argued that they were preserving the antiquities by taking them away: even today figurative art tends to be desecrated by devout Muslims, and anyway the area is prone to devastating earthquakes (and one indeed destroyed a nearby ancient temple eleven years after von Le Coq's extraction).
However, the removal of these frescos to Berlin didn't guarantee their safety either. Peter Hopkins (author of 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road') records that some of von Le Coq's Central Asian booty was destroyed in an air raid during the second world war. Though I guess, at the time, the world had more important things to think about.
Given this history, it is ironic to see that the pictures in the remaining frescos featured a Buddhist message of tolerance and peace for all nations.
Clare DudmanClare Dudman is the author of four novels: Edge of Danger (Putnam), One Day the Ice Will Reveal Its Dead/Wegener's Jigsaw (Viking/Sceptre), 98 Reasons For Being ((Viking/Sceptre) and A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees (Seren) - and numerous short stories. Further details on this website.