Australia returns pricy Qing dynasty statue to China

Updated: 2015-03-05 14:12


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CANBERRA - Australian authorities have returned an illegally exported Chinese statue, made during the Qing dynasty, after Customs officials seized the stolen figure at the border.

During a ceremony at the Chinese embassy in Canberra on Thursday, the statue of Guanyin, revered by Buddhists and Taoists, was handed over by the Australian government, in accordance with a bilateral commitment to return and protect cultural property.

Guanyin, also known as Quan Yin or Kwan Yin, is an East Asian deity of mercy and compassion.

The return of the icon follows previous returns of items of cultural significance including fossils and dinosaur eggs to China, antiquities to Peru and Egypt, and Iron Age ornaments to Cambodia.

The icon was exported illegally from China in breach of Chinese cultural laws. After being purchased by an eBay dealer based in the United States, the statue was seized by the Australian Customs and Border Protection when it arrived in Australia.

Australia's Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis, said the country's commitment to protecting cultural heritage was demonstrated by its ability to identify, seize the item and facilitate its return.

"I welcome the opportunity to return this important cultural artefact to China," he said in a press statement.

"It builds upon strong economic ties between our two countries and our common desire to foster cultural understanding and artistic relationships."

Under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, Australia can return illegally exported cultural heritage property to its country of origin if a foreign government makes a request.

In January, Australia informed India it would return a 2,000-year-old Buddhist statue after the National Gallery of Australia discovered it had been stolen from an archaeological site.