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Diplomat cites mutual understanding and friendship between two peoples
Two Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) pottery figurines joined the Shanghai Museum collection on Monday, about a century after they were taken to the United States.
The two figurines were donated by Suzanne Fratus, from Lakeport, California, who said the two artifacts were taken to the US in the early 20th century by her grandfather.
An ophthalmologist who later became a professor at Harvard Medical School, her grandfather, John Herbert Waite, spent time working in Asia, including China and Japan.
Fratus said her grandfather was given the pair of sculptures after he cured a patient in China.
In 1983, during an exhibition of cultural relics from the Shanghai Museum at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Fratus found that a group of Ming Dynasty pottery figurines on display looked similar to her family collection.
She was told by staff from the Shanghai Museum that the two artifacts could have been stolen from a Chinese noble's tomb.
Fratus decided recently that they should be returned to China.
In April, she mailed the figurines to the Chinese consulate-general in San Francisco, and expressed her wish to donate them to the Shanghai Museum.
The National Cultural Heritage Administration soon organized experts who recognized similarities with Ming figurines from the Shanghai Museum.
The pair of relics arrived in Shanghai on Nov 26. Follow-up studies in Shanghai confirmed they were burial objects from the Ming Dynasty－key items in the research of ancient Chinese burial rituals and ceramics.
"Today is a very important day because it marks the return of two figures that were lost for over 100 years," Fratus wrote in a letter for the online transfer ceremony of the artifacts, hosted by the Shanghai Museum on Monday.
"It is my honor and pleasure to return these works of art to you, the people of China," she said. "I celebrate your beautiful culture and artistic accomplishments … It is not through money or politics that these figures have come home to you. They were returned through the power of love and respect for you, the Chinese people."
Via a video link, Zhou Maoyi, China's deputy consul general in San Francisco, said: "It's a warm and noble action. It also reflects the mutual understanding and friendship between Chinese and American people." He said the two figurines would remind people of the importance of a healthy and stable relationship between China and the US.
Guan Qiang, deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, said returning the two relics displayed the true values of artwork.
"It shows that protection of cultural heritage is a common wish of people in different countries," he said. "It will attract wider attention from different social sectors to support repatriation of cultural relics. More lost relics will come home."
On Monday, the two figurines joined the Polychrome-glazed Pottery Figurines of the Ming Dynasty exhibition in Shanghai Museum alongside the 66 relics that had toured San Francisco in 1983. The exhibition will run through Jan 9.
Yang Zhigang, director of the Shanghai Museum, said 33,000 of the 140,000 "precious and rare" cultural relics in the museum's collection had been donated.
"We'll live up to the donors' expectation to take good care of these relics," he said. "Like always, we promise to study and display them well."