10 stolen Buddha heads returned to Southwest China
Published: Aug 10, 2021 06:41 PM
Photo: Sina Weibo

Photo: Sina Weibo

After a four-year investigation, 10 stolen Buddha heads were finally returned to their home in Jiajiang county, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, media reported on Tuesday.

Four suspects have been arrested, local police officers told Cover News, a news outlet based in Sichuan Province, on Monday.

The Buddha heads dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were once part of 53 Buddha statues in a mountain cave.

Wu Xiaolin, a lawyer from the Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm, told the Global Times on Tuesday that according to the criminal law, anyone who robs ancient cultural sites or ancient tombs with historical, artistic, or scientific value shall be sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment of no less than three years and no more than 10 years, and fined.

The case is currently still under investigation, and the cave has been equipped with monitoring probes and dedicated guards.

According to reports, one of the suspects is a stone tablet collector, a convicted tomb thief, and the other, to the amusement of many netizens, joined the criminal crew after becoming obsessed with tomb-robbing novels. 

“At that time, Daomu Biji [The Lost Tomb], a novel series about grave-robbing adventures, was quite popular, and I searched related key words and finally joined an online group,” said the suspect. 

Local police officers began investigating the case in 2017 and found their first suspect in 2020.

After the four stole the Buddha heads, they sold them to an antique shop in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, for 10,000 yuan ($1,543) as they did not know their true value. The shop’s owner sold the heads to a businessman for 125,000 yuan, more than 10 times the previous price.

After hearing that the suspects had been arrested, the businessman quickly turned over the Buddha heads to the police in June.

According to a preliminary analysis, the criminal suspects used three kinds of tools including a hammer and some pointed tools like a screwdriver to chisel off the Buddha heads.

According to the appraisal of cultural relic experts, the Buddha heads are still well preserved although they had been missing for around four years, but it may still be very difficult to perfectly restore the heads back to their original places, Guangzhou Daily reported.

Zhang Zhuo, dean of the Yungang Grottoes Academy, North China’s Shanxi Province,  told the Global Times on Tuesday that there are two options to deal with the heads: attempt to restore them to the original places or put them on display in a museum to educate the public.

He pointed out that if the heads are to be restored to the statues, restorers should use different materials so that their history of being stolen is not covered up. He also noted that putting the heads in a museum will protect them from exposure to the air and weathering.