• Kyodo


A private museum in Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture, has signed an accord to return to China an ancient Buddha statue that had been stolen from the country seven years earlier.

The Bodhisattva statue, stolen from a public building in Shandong Province in 1994

Miho Museum, established by the Shinji Shumeikai religious sect based in Shigaraki, said the agreement was reached after China acknowledged that the museum itself in no way acted improperly in the statue’s purchase and exhibition.

The 120-cm standing bodhisattva — made in China in the early part of the sixth century — will be kept by the museum until 2007, when it will feature in a joint exhibition of Buddhist art before it is returned to China.

The statue was stolen from a garden at a public building in Shandong Province in 1994, the museum said.

A written report detailing the theft was lost, however, preventing the statue from being placed on an international list of stolen artifacts.

The Shiga museum bought the statue for about 100 million yen from a London art dealer in 1995. It said that it only learned four years after the statue’s purchase that it may have been stolen.

Following a series of talks, China admitted that the Japanese museum was in no way to blame for the statue’s theft, with the museum then agreeing to return the item to China.

Under a 1970 UNESCO agreement on illegal transactions involving cultural assets, signatories are obliged to return stolen artworks to their countries of origin.

Japan has not signed the agreement, however, due to a civil law stipulating that a conscientious purchaser who buys stolen art is under no obligation to return it.

Speaking at the return agreement-signing ceremony Monday, Wang Li Mei, an official of China’s State Bureau of Cultural Relics, said he was very grateful for the return of the statue, adding that it would help bilateral relations.

“Japan and China have discussed the issue, based on China’s state policy that stolen items should be returned,” he said. “From the standpoint of our friendly bilateral relations, it was decided the statue would be returned.”

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