Dutch court to hear Buddha relic case

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/11 22:13:39

Not just a relic but one with the remains of an identifiable person: lawyer

Villagers from East China's Fujian Province are likely to retrieve the 1,000-year-old Buddha sculpture they claim contains the corpse of their ancestor, lawyers said, ahead of the first hearing on Friday in the Netherlands.

The case was filed in an Amsterdam court by a group of lawyers in June 2016 after Dutch art collector Oscar van Overeem refused to return the Buddha to Yangchun villagers.

The court case could become the first successful retrieval of Chinese relics in court. Previously, most of the retrievals were done through diplomatic channels, Liu Yang, one of the attorneys representing the villagers who has been fighting to retrieve relics overseas for years, told the Global Times.

More than 10 million Chinese cultural relics have yet to be returned, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zhanggong Zushi, or Zhanggong Patriarch, a 1.2 meter-tall golden sitting Buddha, contains the remains of a monk who lived and was worshipped in Yangchun village since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Xinhua reported. The respected Buddha had been placed in a local temple for more than 1,000 years before it was stolen in 1995.

Van Overeem claimed he got the mummified Buddha in 1996.

"We have enough evidence to prove the mummified Buddha in the Netherlands is the one that Chinese villagers are seeking. We don't care how the collector got the Buddha, for so long as the remains of our ancestor are not in the hands of others," Liu said.

"The challenge is to prove ownership of the relic," Liu said, adding that Dutch law states that if one possesses relic-like objects for more than 20 years in an open, continuous and non-violent way, he/she is granted full ownership.

However, Dutch laws also state that nobody can own a corpse, Liu said, adding that nobody can own the statue even if it is acquired in good faith.

The Buddha is not just a relic but one with the remains of an identifiable person, which means the Dutch cannot simply call it a relic," Liu added.

Dutch lawyer Jan Holthuis will represent the Chinese villagers in court on Friday.

Villagers started the retrieval process when they identified the mummified Buddha in March 2015 at an exhibit called "Mummy World" at the Hungarian Natural History Museum. 

The Dutch collector had asked for $2 million for research and storage fees in exchange for the Buddha, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Lin Wenqing, a spokesperson for the villagers, previously told the Global Times that the villagers consider the Buddha part of their family.

"We love and worship it so much that no matter how difficult it is going to be, we are determined to get it back," said the village spokesperson. 

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