A viral series on the Chinese version of TikTok about a jade teapot that turns into a woman and escapes from the British Museum is to be adapted into an animated film.
The plot of Escape from the British Museum, a series made by two social media influencers, echoes Chinese state media calls for the British government to make amends for “historical sins” and return Chinese cultural relics.
The series tells the story of the teapot as it tries to return to China with the help of a Chinese journalist it befriends in London, although the videos appear to be filmed in Edinburgh.
Since being published two weeks ago on Douyin – which, like TikTok, is owned by the Chinese developer ByteDance and hosts short-form, user-submitted videos – the series has racked up more than 370m views.
The influencers, who go by the nicknames Pancake Fruit and Summer Sister, have 7.67m and 4.67m followers respectively. According to Pancake Fruit, they got the idea for the series from another Chinese blogger and had not heard about the recent scandal involving stolen items from the British Museum’s collection when they were writing the script.
On Friday, a notice was filed with the China Film Administration to make an animated, full-length version of Escape from the British Museum, to be written by Wang Xuewen. It is not clear if Pancake Fruit and Summer Sister are involved in the adaptation.
According to the film summary posted on Friday, the forthcoming animation tells the story of Chinese cultural relics that have been in the British Museum for more than 100 years. One day they wake up “on the eve of spring festival” and “escape from the British Museum because they miss their motherland and return to China for the new year”.
In the Douyin series, the jade teapot appears to be based on an artefact created in 2011 by Yu Ting, a craftsperson from Suzhou who specialises in translucent, eggshell-thin jade carvings. The teapot was bought by the British Museum from Yu in 2017.
In August, Chinese state tabloid the Global Times published an editorial calling for “the British Museum to return all Chinese cultural relics acquired through improper channels to China free of charge”.
The editorial cited the recent revelation that an estimated 1,500 historical artefacts have gone missing from the museum’s collection, with some items appearing on eBay. The museum’s director has resigned and a senior curator has been sacked. The incident has bolstered calls for ancient objects to be returned to their original homes.
A British Museum spokesperson said that the stolen items did not include any Chinese artefacts.
“The British Museum has a long history of cultural collaboration in China, which has resulted in a number of important exhibitions, partnerships and research projects,” the spokesperson said. “It is committed to exhibiting its Chinese collections, here at the British Museum, and across the world through our collection-sharing programmes.
“The museum believes that displaying objects from China alongside cultural material from other parts of the world helps people understand China’s long history better. We have received no official request for the return of any objects in the collection by the Chinese government.”
Of the anthropomorphic teapot, the spokesperson said: “We would emphasise the jade teapot in the collection is not an historical object and similar modern items are available for purchase in China today.”
Although Chinese state media has tried to promote a nationalist line on the issue and accused the British Museum of harbouring “stolen cultural property”, Chinese social media users are divided. “Cultural artefacts were lost because the Chinese government was corrupt and the nation was weak at the time,” wrote one Weibo user.
Another Weibo user replied: “There were more cultural artefacts destroyed during the Cultural Revolution than being stored by the British Museum, it is beyond your imagination.”
Additional research by Tau Yang