Long-lost Buddhist artefact returns to North China grottoes

Back where it belongs: The Buddha head repatriated from Japan on display in a glass case at the Tianlongshan Grottoes. — China Daily/ANN

SHANXI: Nearly one century after it was lost, a Buddha head statue repatriated from Japan has finally returned to its home in the Tianlongshan Grottoes in Taiyuan, North China’s Shanxi province.

The head, dating back to the Sui Dynasty (581-618), was originally set on the northern wall in the No 8 Tianlongshan Grottoes.

It was believed to be stolen and lost overseas in about 1924, according to an appraisal by an expert panel organised by the National Cultural Heritage Administration.

The No.8 Cave was the largest grotto in Tianlongshan, where massive carvings of Buddhist caves lasted from the sixth to early eighth centuries, and is the only one with a specific date of construction (584 AD).

To welcome its return, a special exhibition opened yesterday in the Tianlongshan Grottoes Museum in Taiyuan to comprehensively review its history through cultural relics, pictures, digitisation and 3D- printing technology.

According to the expert panel, this smiling Buddha with typical artistic features of its time represented extraordinary craftsmanship and high academic values.

Tianlongshan was the most heavily ransacked Chinese Buddhist grotto site by foreign hands in that time of history.

About 240 Buddha images were looted in the 1920s, shortly after it was widely known by foreign explorers, and almost none of the caves survived in the havoc.

About 150 of the statues are now housed in overseas museums and private collections, and the whereabouts of the rest remain unknown.

This 44.5cm-high Sui Dynasty Buddha head is the first among these stolen items to be returned from Japan, according to Li Qun, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration.

“The fate of cultural relics is linked to the destiny of a country,” Li said ceremony yesterday.

“Its journey home reflects the Chinese people’s patriotism, no matter whether they live at home or abroad, and it’s a note marking a nation’s rejuvenation.”

After the National Cultural Heritage Administration learned in September that a Chinese Buddha head statue was about to be auctioned in Tokyo, and was suspected to be a stolen piece from Tianlongshan, it began the process of repatriation. — China Daily/ANN

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