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Valuable Documents Stolen From Yenching

By Brian P. Quinn, Contributing Writer

A collection of rare Chinese texts, valued at about $1 million, has been registered with the FBI's Stolen Art File following its theft last spring from the Harvard-Yenching Library.

Librarian James K. M. Cheng said that library staff first noticed the works were missing on March 14, and were quick to report the theft both to library and University officials and to law enforcement authorities. Over the summer, the FBI placed a report in its Stolen Art File, available online to protect buyers of art from accidentally acquiring stolen goods.

As yet, no new information has been released by the Harvard-Yenching Library or the FBI.

The theft is among the most costly ever to strike Harvard's library system, the largest of any university in the world.

In the most recent incident of this magnitude, Jose Torres-Carbonnel, the husband of a Harvard graduate student, was arrested in 1996 for the theft and sale of about $1.1 million in works from the Widener, Loeb and Fine Arts libraries. He later confessed.

The pilfered works, previously kept under lock and key in the Harvard-Yenching's third-floor rare books room, had been valued components of the library, whose approximately 1 million volumes represent the largest collection of East Asian books outside of Asia.

"When books like this are taken, the break in the collection has a far-reaching impact on scholarship," Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy M. Cline told The Boston Globe. "Its effect is worldwide."

Comprised of a collection of extremely rare printed books, dating from the Song period (AD 960-1209) up to 1911, and fragments of the Jingang Sutra handwritten scrolls of the Tong Period (AD 618-906), the articles treated a wide variety of topics in history, literature and Buddhism, Cheng said.

"They are important materials," Cheng said. He noted, however, that many are still available on microfilm.

Cheng stated that steps are now being taken to tighten security in the rare books room, although he declined to offer specific comments on such measures or on the continuing investigation.

In the absence of an official report from the library, knowledge of the theft was not widely disseminated until its discovery on the Stolen Art File by a reporter for The Boston Globe Saturday.

While the Associated Press numbered the stolen works at 41, Cheng said that the total reached only 32.

Further information on the lost works--which range from The Expanded Compendium of Content for Composing Poetry to The Essentials of Military Leadership--including dates and photos, can be found in the Stolen Art File, located at www.fbi.gov/majcases/arttheft/art.htm.

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