China eyes return of 'stolen' mummy: Reports

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese province is seeking the return of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk that experts say was stolen two decades ago and resurfaced at an exhibition in Hungary.

A Buddha statue containing a monk's remains has been on display at the Mummy World Exhibition at Budapest's Hungarian Natural History Museum, which brings together 28 preserved corpses from different cultures around the world.

A spokesman for the Fujian Cultural Relic Bureau told China's official Xinhua news agency that the statue is believed to have been stolen from a temple in Yangchun village.

A mummy statue worshipped since the 12th century went missing from the temple in 1995, it said. "When I saw the photo (of the Buddha statue) on the TV news, it immediately reminded me of our lost statue," farmer Lin Yongtuan told the state-run China Daily newspaper on Monday.

A message on the Budapest museum's website Monday said that the statue "had been removed and sent back to the Netherlands due to the request of the loaning partner, the Drents Museum".

Xinhua quoted a Drents Museum spokesman as saying the statue belonged to "a Dutch private collector who bought it legally in 1996".

The incident is the latest case of allegedly stolen Chinese artefacts resurfacing abroad. Beijing has made the return of such relics a priority, as it both flexes its growing international clout and seeks to build public support at home.

In 2013, French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault returned two bronze fountainheads from Beijing's Old Summer Palace, whose auction in 2009 outraged China.

The monument was pillaged by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, an event seen in China as a national humiliation at the hands of Western armies. Beijing estimates that at least 1.5 million items were looted at the time.

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