China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage said it has begun procedures to retrieve the 1,000-year-old stolen Buddha containing a mummified monk that is now in the possession of a Dutch private collector.
On March 23, the collector issued a statement saying the statue was obtained in 1994 from "a sincere Chinese friend in the art circles." The statue was shipped to the collector's residence in Amsterdam from a workshop in Hong Kong in 1995, the same year a Buddha relic was reported stolen in China.
According to the statement, the collector is concerned about "the seemingly unfavorable shift" about the status of the Buddha, and decided to withdraw the Buddha from an exhibition at the Hungarian Natural History Museum, originally scheduled to last until May 17.
"There are five proofs of evidence that show that the Buddha statue is the relic stolen in 1995 from a Chinese ancestral temple in Fujian province's Yangchun village," said a spokesman of the Da Tian Museum in Fujian.
By comparing pictures provided by the Da Tian Museum and those taken during the exhibition, it was found that the two statues have identical facial expressions as well as scratches on the stomach and the hand.
Furthermore, the shape, height and weight of the Dutch collector's statue corresponds with the measurements provided by the Da Tian Museum. The same Chinese character is also carved on the cushion that the Buddha sits on.
Research has shown that the mummy was named Zhanggong, an ancestor (or Zushi in Chinese) of the local clan. As a local monk, Zhanggong became famous for treating people's diseases and spreading Buddhism. His body was mummified when he died at the age of 37, and it was later made into a statue, which has been worshipped in the village ever since.
The local temple where the statue originally sat preserves related artifacts, like the statue's hat and clothes, in the hope that it would be returned one day.
Retrieving the statue will not be an easy task. As cultural protection and legal experts say, there are no international conventions on cultural heritage retrieval that would apply to this case. However, the good news is that the Chinese and Dutch governments will seek a diplomatic solution to address the issue.