Chinese experts say mummified ‘living Buddha’ was stolen from temple

Science and Tech

PHOTO: M. Elsevier Stokmans

Chinese relic experts have determined a 1,000-year-old Buddha statue containing a mummified monk, which is now in possession of a Dutch private collector, is a relic stolen from an east China village in 1995.

The Cultural Relic Bureau in east China’s Fujian province said on Sunday that judging from research and media reports, experts have confirmed that the statue currently on display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum was a relic stolen from Yangchun Village in Fujian in 1995.

Chinese experts say mummified ‘living Buddha’ was stolen from temple

Chinese experts say mummified ‘living Buddha’ was stolen from temple

Chinese relic experts have determined a 1,000-year-old Buddha statue containing a mummified monk, which is now in possession of a Dutch private collector, is a relic stolen from an east China village in 1995.

The bureau will continue the relic investigation in the village and search for more information while reporting to the national cultural authorities in order to identify and trace the stolen relic in compliance with normal procedures, a bureau spokesman said.

“What we need now are the full details of the statue shown in Hungary, including the size, the photos of front and back and some specific parts of its body,” Zhang Yongping, director of the Fujian Relics Authentication Center said.

The statue was on a “Mummy World” exhibition at the Hungarian Natural History Museum that opened in October last year and was originally scheduled to be on display until May 17. I was pulled from the exhibition on Friday as the museum said “the Dutch owner withdrew the statue without giving any reason.”

Photos: China's 'Living Buddha' on display at 'Mummy World' exhibit

A 1,000-year-old Buddha statute containing the body of a mummified monk inside was put on display in the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest. It was part of the museum's “Mummy World” exhibition that opened in October 2014 and originally scheduled to be on display though May 2015. However, the relic has since been removed, as claims that the 'Living Buddha' was stolen from an east China village began to come to the surface.

Villagers in Yangchun burst into tears, while other lit fireworks after seeing the statue via Chinese TV news earlier this month.

The bureau immediately dispatched experts to the village to investigate the issue. Through the research, experts found a large amount of photos, relics and historical records including a pedigree suggesting the mummy was a former ancestor (“Zushi” in Chinese) of the local clan.

“We made several comparisons between the publicized information of the statue in Budapest, and the historical records of the stolen statue in Fujian – It’s a match,” Yongping said. “For example, Zhanggong Zushi the buddha is documented in the pedigree of Lin Family in Yangchun in the 11th century. The Buddha was mummified after he died at the age of 37; Besides the identity, the cushion and kasaya on exhibit match our photo archive of the stolen statue, which were taken in 1989.”

The statue, formerly housed in the village temple, was stolen in 1995. It wore a hat and clothes when sitting in the temple, and was worshiped as an ancestor.

According to Yangchun archives, the Buddha, named Zhanggong Zushi, was a local man who became a monk in his 20s and won fame for helping people treat disease and spread Buddhist belief. When he died at the age of 37, his body was mummified and local people made a statue with the mummy inside at around the time in China’s Song Dynasty (960-1279). The statue has been worshipped in the village temple ever since.

Inside the temple, local people continue to preserve the statue’s hat and clothes and other relics affiliated with the Buddha.

This was compiled with information from Xinhua and CCTV News.