Fight over ancient Chinese mummy goes to Dutch court

The Buddha statue on display in Budapest in March 2015. The Zhanggong Patriarch, which contains the 1,000-year-old mummified remains of a monk, disappeared from a temple in the Chinese village of Yangchun in late 1995.
The Buddha statue on display in Budapest in March 2015. The Zhanggong Patriarch, which contains the 1,000-year-old mummified remains of a monk, disappeared from a temple in the Chinese village of Yangchun in late 1995.PHOTO: REUTERS

THE HAGUE • A Dutch court will today hear arguments involving ownership of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk in a case brought against a local collector by Chinese villagers who claim their ancestor was stolen.

The small eastern Chinese village of Yangchun will square off against a Dutch collector, whom they said bought the stolen Buddha statue containing the remains of a monk in Hong Kong in 1996, Mr Jan Holthuis, a lawyer representing the village, said.

The human-sized sitting Buddha statue, called the Zhanggong Patriarch, disappeared from a temple in Yangchun in late 1995 after being worshipped for centuries, Mr Holthuis said.

"The fact that it was sold a few months after it was stolen, that it contains certain texts referring to the name 'Zhanggong' and that its dating more or less corresponds to the period that the monk was alive" were some of the arguments which will be presented, he added.

Missing for two decades, the Buddha statue resurfaced when villagers in 2015 recognised it as part of a display at the Mummy World Exhibition at Budapest's Natural History Museum. The statue was subsequently withdrawn.

However, on Wednesday, the statue's whereabouts were not known as the original collector allegedly swopped it with a third party in 2015, Mr Holthuis said. The Amsterdam-based collector's lawyers have declined comment.

 

The case is being closely watched as it could mark one of the first successful retrievals of Chinese relics in court, the state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times reported on Tuesday.

Beijing in recent years has vehemently protested against the sale of artefacts it says were stolen, particularly in the 19th century.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Fight over ancient Chinese mummy goes to Dutch court'. Print Edition | Subscribe