The main Buddha head on the north wall of the eighth cave of Tianlong Mountain Grottoes. [Photo provided by National Cultural Heritage Administration]

The head of the main Buddha statue on the north wall of the eighth cave of Tianlong Mountain Grottoes in Taiyuan city, which had been lost overseas for nearly a century, was showcased to Chinese for the first time on China's Spring Festival Gala on Feb 11.

Tianlong Mountain Grottoes is in the capital city of North China's Shanxi province and was created from the late Northern Dynasty (386-581) to the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. In the 1920s, the grottoes were looted on a large scale, with more than 240 statues stolen. These relics are now being collected by Japanese, European and American museums and individuals.

There are almost no complete Buddha statues in the grottoes, and the main Buddha head on the north wall of the eighth cave was the first one returned from Japan.

The return of the Buddha head began with an auction in Japan on Sept 14, 2020. On Oct 16, the auction house withdrew the auction and terminated publicity activities related to the Buddha head upon the release of a letter by China's National Cultural Heritage Administration the day before.

The administration contacted overseas Chinese man Zhang Rong, chairman of the auction house, to facilitate the return.

The lost Buddha head came back to China on Dec 12, being the 100th Chinese cultural relic returned from overseas in 2020. 

It showcases skilled carving techniques, exquisite expression techniques and distinctive features of the late Northern Dynasty to the early Sui Dynasty. It is of great historical, artistic and scientific value for research on the art of Tianlong Mountain Grottoes and the art of ancient Chinese grottoes at large.

Currently, the Buddha head is on display at Beijing Luxun Museum in the nation's capital until March 14. The National Cultural Heritage Administration will next discuss with Shanxi cultural relics-related authorities how to return the Buddha head to the caves as soon as possible.