The coffin is recognised as an extreme rarity, not only for its thousand-year history but also for the delicately preserved art on its exterior.
The US has returned an ancient stone coffin from the Tang Dynasty to China, under the China-US memorandum. It marks the culmination of a four-year investigation, and is important for the return of Chinese artifacts of national cultural significance.
Back home, and on display at the Shaanxi History Museum. A Tang Dynasty stone coffin of Imperial Concubine Wuhui.
Some two and half meters tall and almost 4 meters long, the coffin is recognised as an extreme rarity, not only for its thousand-year history but also for the delicately preserved art on its exterior.
"As far as I know, this is the largest and most beautifully built cultural relic to have been discovered from the Tang Dynasty." Shi Xiaoqun, Shaanxi History Museum said.
Back in February 2006, Xi'an police discovered that the coffin had been stolen, during a tomb robbery.
Two years later, they found out it had been dismantled, transported across the border, and sold to an American antique dealer for a million US dollars.
The China-US memo calls for such smuggled items to be returned unconditionally.
Following a marathon of negotiations with the US government and the buyer, the coffin was finally located and returned to China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
"We have to have concrete proof that the cultural relic was smuggled out of the country, before we can seek its return. As long as we are very clear on each and every process of the smuggling, we can we negotiate with other countries." Professor Wang Yunxia, Law School, Renmin Univ. of China said.
The black market for ancient cultural relics is booming. International smuggling is becoming more and more common.
But it's hoped that the extension of the China-US agreement will help to contain the problem, and bring more of these historically important artifacts back home, to where they belong.