Culturally significant Chinese statue returns home

5 March 2015

Today the Australian Government returned a valuable and culturally significant Qing dynasty statue of the Goddess Guanyin to Chinese authorities in a display of cultural cooperation between Australia and China.

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

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.

The return demonstrates the shared commitment of the Australian and Chinese governments to protecting and preserving cultural objects, as noted in our Memorandum of Understanding on the Protection of Cultural Property 2009.

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

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

Today’s ceremony at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China demonstrates Australia’s commitment to the protection of cultural heritage and the excellent cooperation by the Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in discovering, identifying and seizing the stone sculpture and facilitating its return.

This return builds on the Australian Government’s enthusiastic support for cultural exchange with China, including tours of China by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and The Australian Ballet, and funding for a Symphony Cultural Bridge between the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the China Philharmonic Orchestra.

I welcome the opportunity to return this important cultural artefact to China.

Further information about the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act is available on the Ministry for the Arts website.