The mystery of the mummy enclosed in a Buddha | Culture

Zhang Qisan was a Buddhist monk Chinese who died between 1022 and 1155, and was venerated in Yangchun and Dong Pu, towns located in Fujian province, southeast of the country. His mummy remained hidden for a millennium inside a seated sculpture: a Buddha that smiles bathed in gold. In 1995 it disappeared, and the locals believed they had lost the local patriarch forever. Until, in 2013, they made a computerized tomography of a similar figure that included a mummified body. Euphoric, the Chinese faithful asked for his return, but the legal owner was the Dutch collector Oscar van Overeem. Two Chinese neighbors committees filed a claim with the Amsterdam courts. This Wednesday they have lost it because, as a group, they do not have legal personality and the case is inadmissible.

When they separated it from its base, cloth rolls with Chinese characters were found. Inside, there was a perfectly mummified male

The photos of the mummified Buddha, 1.2 meters tall, lying on the stretcher of a scanner of Meander Medical Center, in the province of Utrecht, went around the world. The people of Yangchun saw them in 2014 and said they immediately recognized the lost monk. "When they separated it from its base, cloth rolls with Chinese characters were found. Inside, there was a perfectly mummified male, and presumably he prepared himself for self-destruction. An extreme asceticism that includes a strict diet to get rid of body fat, and a poisonous tea that causes vomiting and prevents worms from corrupting the body. If it went well, after death he was taken to a temple like a Buddha, "explained Vincent van Vilsteren, curator of Archeology at the time. Dutch Museum of Drenthe, where the image had been exposed.

According to the website of the Institute of Archeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the monk in question "was called Zhang Qisan, and was a doctor revered by his patients and neighbors, who helped overcome epidemics." Two layers of clothing were sculpted on the image itself: "first a canvas, and above a suit with flowers and dragons, symbols the seconds of longevity and power". A black belt hangs from his left shoulder, and behind it there is an inscription where the word buddha can be read. In the lotus position, a asana (pose) sitting cross-legged, his face sketches a smile.

Such a detailed description did not convince the Dutch collector Van Overeem, who bought the figure in 1996, in Hong Kong, for 40,000 euros. He argues that it is not the same one claimed by the Chinese plaintiffs, but he thought of collaborating in its return. With time, he began to have doubts. "I was told that the missing statue had a hole in the left hand, between the index and thumb fingers. So big, that there was another finger inside. The neck, on the other hand, should be broken, and that was not the way I bought it, "he assured the judges last October, during the previous hearings. Jan Holtius, a lawyer for the Chinese plaintiffs, replied that the owner refused to allow an independent investigation to corroborate his claims.

The shock did not benefit his clients, because by then, Van Overeem no longer had the Buddha. The publicity generated by the case bothered him, and in 2015 he gave it "without paperwork, to a Chinese businessman who only gave me his name in English, which they use to facilitate pronunciation". "He wanted to return it to China, but I will not say his name," he told the court. Despite the setback, not all is lost for the Chinese committees. They can appeal the court's decision and something even better, if possible. It is not ruled out that the new owner "negotiate with a family of Taiwan the return of the figure to the people who claim it", as speculated in the courts of Amsterdam.


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