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BEIJING (Reuters) - Supposedly ancient Chinese terracotta warriors on show at a German museum are fakes, China confirmed Thursday, condemning the organizers for cheating the public.
The Hamburg Museum of Ethnology has offered refunds to about 10,000 visitors who have already viewed the "Power in Death" exhibition since it opened on November 25 as police probed the authenticity of the warriors.
The display of eight clay warrior figures, two horses and 60 smaller objects has remained open, with a sign stating that its authenticity was in dispute.
The cultural heritage administration in Shaanxi province, home to the 2,000-year-old clay army, said it had been "outraged" because it had not sent any original terracotta warriors to Germany recently.
"All the items on show in Hamburg are reproductions," the administration said in a strongly worded statement on its Web site (www.wenwu.gov.cn).
"We were completely unaware of the exhibition. It is a very serious act of cheating the media and the public," the statement said, dismissing reports that the administration had been one of the sponsors.
The show should be immediately closed and the public told the truth to eliminate the "extremely negative impact" caused, it added.
"We will pursue legal liability against those who use reproduced items to hold exhibitions of Chinese artifacts."
Unearthed about 30 years ago by a farmer digging a well, the Terracotta Army guarded the tomb of Qin Shihuangdi, China's first emperor and a ruthless ruler who unified the country in 221 BC.
A Hamburg museum spokeswoman said Tuesday that the museum believed the figures were real because they had asked their partner in the exhibition to provide artifacts reconstructed from pieces found at the site near Xi'an, capital city of Shaanxi.
A spokesman for the museum's partner, the Center of Chinese Art and Culture in Markkleeberg, near Leipzig, said the figures had been obtained from public authorities, institutes and businesses in China. Their Chinese partners did not say the figures were real, he said.
The biggest current overseas loan of Chinese terracotta figures is on display at the British Museum in London. Its "First Emperor" exhibition contains 120 artifacts, including 20 life-size warriors.