Chinese villagers claim Buddha statue with a real monk inside it may be their stolen relic

Picture: Jan van Esch / Meander Medisch Centrum

The owner of a 1000-year-old statue of Buddha which was recently found to have a real monk inside has pulled the relic from a public exhibition amid claims it was stolen.

The anonymous private collector released a statement to Xinhua news agency saying he planned to “calmly and critically evaluate the unexpected situation”.

Villagers in Yangchun, in the southeast China province of Fujian, claim the statue was stolen from their temple in 1995.

Last year, Netherlands’ Drents Museum commissioned a CT scan of the statue and found a mummified Buddhist monk inside it. They identified the body as that of Buddhist master Liuquan, from the Chinese Meditation School, who died around 1100AD. Many monks would consider Liuquan to be meditating, not dead.

A study of another CT scan and endoscopy in September revealed Liuquan’s internal organs had been removed and replaced with scripts covered in Chinese writing.

Picture: Jan van Esch / Meander Medisch Centrum

The villagers’ account of the life of the mummy varies a little from that of the Drents Museum. They claim it is the body of Zhanggong Zushi, a master of Chinese herbal medicine.

In gratitude, following his death, locals mummified his body and encased it in the statue, which they worshipped until it was stolen in 1995.

However, a previous collector claims he had this particular statue as early as 1994.

The statue was supposed to be on display at the Hungarian Natural History Museum until May, but will be kept under wraps by its current owner “at least for the time being”.