Dutch collector requests negotiations on returning disputed Buddha statue to China

A Dutch art collector requested private negotiations on returning a disputed 1,000-year-old Buddha statue to two village committees in Fujian after a protracted legal battle.

Oscar Van Overeem, a Dutch art collector, requested private negotiations on returning a disputed 1,000-year-old Buddha statue to two village committees in China's southeastern Fujian Province after a protracted legal battle.

In mid December 2018, the Amsterdam court ruled the Buddha repatriation case "inadmissible," saying that it is unclear whether the Chinese village committees have the right to make legal claims.

"Although I felt relieved, it is a Pyrrhic victory ... I have been smeared as an unscrupulous and indifferent person who, indirectly, has stolen a mummy Buddha from China and refused to return it," said Van Overeem.

Now the only option to finally solve the dispute is via negotiations, said Van Overeem. "From the onset, I was willing to support its return under realistic and normal terms and conditions via amiable negotiations," he said.

In 2015, Van Overeem lent the statue to the villagers of Yangchun and Dongpu in China's Fujian Province for an exhibition. However, the villagers believed the statue was the one stolen from their temple in 1995.

"As early as in 2015, Mr. Van Overeem said he was willing to send the statue back to China ... but he posed unreasonable conditions and asked for a huge sum of money," said Lin Kaiwang, head of the relic protection association in Yangchun village.

When negotiation failed, the two village committees initiated judicial procedures at a court of China's Fujian Province in 2015 and at the Amsterdam Court in 2016.

Van Overeem insisted that his statue is not from the Chinese villages that are laying claim to it because it lacks the features described by certain villagers, yet he is willing to return the statue to China under a "workable" deal.

"I know the statue originates from Fujian. But, indeed, I do not know from which village or temple. Then if the statue goes back to China, and it would go to the villagers who claim him, I can sincerely say I am fine with it," he said.

Lin told Xinhua that the Buddha, also called Saint Zhang Gong, is the statue of a Taoist priest who became a Buddha after spending his whole life saving people from suffering, and has been worshipped by the villagers for generations.

"We hope that this time, Mr. Van Overeem will deliver what he says without posing irrelevant conditions or unreasonable requests ... otherwise, we will appeal and never give up legal action," Lin said.

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