IS THIS A CORPSE?
The villagers claim that the intact mummy of the monk Liu Quan is a "corpse" of an identifiable person as defined in the Dutch Burials and Cremations Act. A corpse cannot be subject to ownership according to this Act.
"Master Zhang Gong was famous during his life as a spiritual leader, because of his help to those who needed it and because of his healing powers. Upon his death his body was protected against rotting through herbs and other means. Thereafter the body is protected with a layer of lacquer and covered with a gold layer," said Liu Yushen, a Beijing registered lawyer who provides legal supports to the villagers.
"The likely wish of monk Zhang Gong Liu Quan is that through mummification, he would after his death continue to have a spiritual and healing power on his environment, and he would certainly not have agreed that his body would become the subject of (illegal) art trade," Liu told Xinhua.
"For the villagers who live in a region of the root of Buddhism in China, mummification has a special meaning. It implies that the body of the enlightened Buddhist monk remains part of the human world and can still be defiled after his death through external influences. From generation to generation the statue is worshipped and the day of the death of the monk is up to the present day memorized by ceremonies of piety," he added.
The Dutch collector argues that what was discovered in his statue was not a "corpse" but "human remains" because "most of the organs are absent". He filed several articles reporting on the selling, buying, and auctioning of mummies in the United States, Canada, Britain, etc., to support his opinion that a statue with a mummy inside is a "thing" and therefore object to ownership.
"There is case law that even a body without a head or without arms and legs is a corpse. In this case we have a complete body, and it is not an anonymous body, but a body that we have identified with a name. So I am confident in defending the villagers's claim," said Holthuis.
ARE THERE TWO STATUES?
The Dutch collector states that the Buddha statue that he bought is not the stolen statue from Yangchun village in China.
One of his main arguments is that a collector named Benny Rustenburg has acquired the statue at the end of 1994/the beginning of 1995 in Hong Kong -- well before the date of theft claimed by the villagers (Dec. 14, 1995), after which Rustenburg had the statue transported from Hong Kong to Amsterdam in mid-1995.
However, he does not provide concrete and substantial documents to support this narration.
One of the key arguments cited by the villagers comes from an article published in the catalogue of the special exhibition at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands, of which the statue was part.
"C14 dating methods confirmed that the mummy died between 1022 and 1155. During restauration a linen roll was found with two columns of Chinese characters. The name of the holy person is mentioned 'Liu Quan'. X-rays show an intact skeleton. The cause of death is even attributed to a tooth abscess," read the article written by a researcher commissioned by the Dutch collector.
"Not even mentioning the obvious similarities in posture and physique between the Buddha bought by Van Overeem and the Buddha on the few old pictures kept by the villagers, just the fact that 'Liu Quan', the name of the monk, and 'Pu Zhao Tang', the name of the village temple, as well as other Chinese characters, are written on the linen roll, is already decisive reference that this statue is the same statue as the one stolen from the village," said Liu Yushen.
GOOD FAITH OR NOT?
The villagers believe that the acquisition of the statue by Van Overeem was not in good faith.
"At the time of this acquisition, Hong Kong was a known place for trading of stolen Chinese art. Being a specialized trader and collector of Asian art, he should have asked for documented provenance of the statue and export documentation evidencing that the statue was not illegally exported from China," they stated in the claims.
And, he "knew, or should have known, given the price he paid for the statue, that the statue was a valuable Buddhist relic".
The Dutch collector challenged the claim by stating that he is an architect, not a specialized trader and collector of Asian art; he bought the statue in Amsterdam, not in Hong Kong or the mainland of China; and in the period concerned, in Hong Kong no import and export restrictions applied.
He added that under the Dutch Civil Code, he is presumed to be in good faith and the claimants have to prove that this is not the case. "Whoever is possessor in good faith, stays possessor in good faith, even though he at a later moment in time is informed that he is not the beneficiary."
"Many specialized art collectors have other jobs. Mr. Van Overeem could be both architect and specialized art dealer and collector at the same time. These two identities are not contradictory," commented Huo Zhengxin, vice-director of the School of International Law at the China University of Political Sciences and Law.
"Several documents filed by himself refer to him as being 'an active' or 'experienced' collector. For an active and experienced collector, a higher standard for duty of diligent investigations must apply. We have good reasons to believe that Mr. Van Overeem was not in good faith," he added.
The first hearing will last one hour. "Most likely, following the hearing, the court will issue a procedural order asking for a new exchange of statements to challenge. This would be the next step of the case," said the Dutch lawyer who represents the Chinese villagers.
Dutch court to hear Buddha relic caseDutch court to hear Buddha relic case
2017-07-12 08:44Global TimesEditor: Li Yan
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.
Buddha statue still not returned to China
[2015-11-27 07:43]Villagers of Yangchun fail to get back the mummy Buddha statue stolen from China in 1995 despite months of contact with the Dutch collector.
Field investigation complete on village's case to reclaim 1,000-year old statue
[2015-11-16 17:31]Lawyers have finished evidence collection to reclaim a 1,000-year-old Buddha statue containing a mummified monk from a Dutch owner.
Buddha statue dispute to be taken to Netherlands court
[2015-11-17 09:04]A lawyer representing the Chinese village in its quest to retrieve the mummified Buddha says an appeal would be submitted to a Dutch court later this month.
Return of mummified statue urged before 'birthday'
[2015-10-20 08:26]As the birthday of Patriarch Zhanggong (the Buddhist monk whose mummified statue was stolen from China) approaches, Li Zhen, an overseas liaison officer, hoped for the statue's earliest return to China.
Village awaits return of Buddha statue with monk inside
[2015-09-14 09:21]The returning of the statue of Patriach Zhanggong is taking a turn for the worse as the Dutch collector of the statue ate his words.
Dutch collector: Mummified Buddha will return to China
[2015-05-08 17:46]Through a social network, Oscar van Overeem, who owns the mummified Buddha statue, said recently he is willing to return the relic to China.
Mysteries of the mummified Buddha Zhanggong
[2015-04-24 07:00]Twenty years ago, a seated Buddhist saint – Patriarch Zhanggong– was reported missing from Yangchun village in Southeast China's Fujian province. This March, the gold-lacquered statue was discovered in the possession of a Dutch art collector in the Netherlands.
Chinese authorities contact Dutch collector of stolen Buddha
[2015-04-17 14:39]The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has gotten in touch with the Dutch collector who now owns the mummified Buddha.
Why return of mummified Buddha matters
[2015-04-16 14:46]The significance of retrieving the mummified Buddha Zhanggong goes far beyond the implication of retrieving a lost relic, as it is more than just a piece of cultural artifact for the Chinese nation and is part of its national heritage.
Peaceful protest staged in Hungary for return of mummified Buddha
[2015-04-13 17:13]Chinese representatives in Hungary urged the Dutch government to "take proper actions" to bring about the return of the allegedly stolen mummified Buddha.
Villagers write to Dutch collector to return stolen Buddha
[2015-04-10 19:09]Chinese villagers wrote a second letter to a Dutch museum and collector demanding the return of an allegedly stolen mummified Buddha statue.
Letter to the Drents Museum and the Buddha statue collector
[2015-04-10 19:09]Letter to the Drents Museum and the Buddha statue collector
Mummy Buddha awaits its destiny
Village presents evidence of stolen Buddha
[2015-03-27 14:57]A villager displays a crown belonging to a Buddha statue allegedly stolen from Yangchun village in Datian county, Fujian province in 1995.
Dutch collector willing to return Buddha
[2015-03-27 10:48]The Dutch private collector who owns the 1,000-year-old Buddha statue with a mummified monk inside is willing to return the relic to China, if the statue is proven to be stolen from China.
China seeking return of 'stolen' Buddha statue
[2015-03-25 11:34]A State Administration of Cultural Heritage official said they are working with other departments to secure the return of a Buddha statue containing a mummified monk
Private collector withdraws mummy Buddha from exhibition
[2015-03-25 09:25]The anonymous private collector of a mummy Buddha statue announced his decision to withdraw the relic from the ongoing museum exhibition tour in Hungary.
Authority launches campaign to retrieve lost Buddha
[2015-03-24 15:52]The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has begun procedures to retrieve the 1000-year-old stolen Buddha containing a mummified monk.
Experts call for diplomatic solution to mummified Buddha dispute
[2015-03-23 20:16]Chinese and Dutch experts are calling on their respective governments to resolve an ownership dispute over a 1,000-year-old Buddhist statue containing a mummified Buddha.
Mummified Buddha shown in Hungarian stolen from China: government
[2015-03-23 03:11]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.
Mummified Buddha statue stolen from China, claims villagers
[2015-03-22 11:40]A Buddha statue, which concealed the body of a monk on a tour exhibition in Europe, is suspected of being stolen from a village in East China's Fujian province in 1995.
Mummified Buddha statue 'stolen' from China, claim villagers
[2015-03-22 11:40]A Buddha statue, which concealed the body of a monk on an exhibition tour in Europe, is suspected of being stolen from a village in Fujian province.