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December 11, 2015

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Villagers reject mummy conditions

CONDITIONS set by a Dutch collector for the return of a mummified buddha believed stolen from an east China village in 1995 have been rejected by the villagers and a top legal academic.

“After the conditions were disclosed by media, we discussed the issue, and found two of the three hard to accept,” said Lin Wenqing from Yangchun Village in southeast China’s Fujian Province.

The Dutch collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, had said: “Firstly, I want it to go to a big temple instead of the small village temple. Secondly, I want to do some scientific research for which I hope to get some cooperation. Thirdly, I just want them to pay a reasonable amount of money, as is normal.”

He added: “It will become part of a bigger collection of art, which was already for sale and to which I have added this statue. So now it is only for sale as part of this collection.”

The Dutchman, an architect in Amsterdam, has been quoted as saying he wants to give the mummy, known as “the Zhanggong Zushi,” to the large and celebrated South Putuo Temple in Fujian.

“The Zhanggong Zushi was worshipped as a god in our village for more than 1,000 years,” Lin said. “We could not accept placing it elsewhere.”

As for payment, Lin said the demand itself was understandable but the villagers could not afford the sum mentioned by the collector.

He said he bought the mummy for just under US$20,000 in the 1990s, and that he had been offered up to US$30 million for it.

Huo Zhengxin, deputy director of the School of International Law with China University of Political Science and Law, said a preliminary investigation had suggested the mummy was stolen from Yangchun.

“It is not reasonable to give it to another temple,” he said.

Concerning the collector’s wish for research, Huo believes China would cooperate. But he said China “will not, and should not” accept the requirement to buy it as part of a bigger collection.

“We could give him compensation covering the price he paid for the mummy, and costs for protection, repair, consignment and insurance,” Huo said.

According to sources with the Chinese State Administration of Cultural Heritage, South Putuo Temple administrators had said they had never worshiped any mummified buddha and had no intention to enshrine and worship the Zhanggong Zushi.”

Zhanggong Zushi was a local man who became a monk in his 20s and won fame for helping people treat disease and spreading Buddhist beliefs.

When he died at the age of 37, his body was mummified and encased during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in the statue in which it remains.

The statue was displayed at a “Mummy World” exhibition in October last year in the Hungarian Natural History Museum. It was pulled from the exhibition following allegations it was stolen.

In an interview with Xinhua news agency, the Dutch collector questioned whether the mummy was the same as the one lost from Yangchun, citing differences between the left hand and head and their description in Chinese accounts.

Huo said more research was needed to establish which side is right. “The Yangchun villagers have commissioned lawyers to investigate,” he said.


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