Stolen artefacts: Relics of plunder | The Economist

BEFORE it was removed from display earlier this month, a Buddha statue formed the centrepiece of an exhibition at Budapest’s Natural History Museum. Encased in layers of clay, enamel and gold paint was a monk, mummified 1,000 years ago. The origins of this Chinese relic, just one of millions scattered across the globe, many of them plundered, were misty until a village in south-east China claimed it—and demanded it back.

On March 6th Lin Yongtuan of Yangchun chanced on a photo of the statue while browsing online. He thought it looked like the statue of Zhanggong Zushi, a revered monk, stolen from the village temple in 1995. After reviewing the archives and faded photographs, the authorities agreed. They have pledged to secure its return. This will not be simple. It belongs to a private collector who acquired it in 1995 from another who bought it from a “sincere Chinese Hong Kong art friend”. But where there is a will, there may be a way.

In 2009 Christie’s, an auction house, sold two bronze heads despite Beijing’s open disapproval. The winning $38m bid came from an adviser to China’s national treasures fund—who refused to pay. Eventually the chairman of Kering, which owns Christie’s, bought the heads and gave them to the National Museum of China. They were repatriated in 2013—the very year Christie’s became the first Western auction house licensed to operate by itself in China.

via Stolen artefacts: Relics of plunder | The Economist.

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