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Sights & Attractions --- Leshan Buddha

The Leshan Giant Buddha under Special Protection ˇˇ

The Leshan Giant Buddha, in Leshan, Sichuan Province, is currently being refurbished on a scale larger than that of any other renovation of the statue since it was carved in 713, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The statue is not Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, but his disciple Maitreya, also a Buddha.

In the beginning, a 13-story wooden structure was built to house and protect the Buddha, but it was destroyed during the wars in the late Yuan Dynastyˇˇyˇˇ(1271-1368) and early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). From then on, the Buddha has been exposed to the wind and rain, and one can even find bullet holes from war.

The Leshan Giant Buddha is as famous as the standing Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and all of them are regarded as cultural heritages of mankind. With a sitting height of 71 meters, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the world's largest statue of a Buddha carved in rock. The colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan stood 53 and 38 meters high and were the world's second and third largest Buddhas carved in rock. The Leshan Buddha still sits in a majestic manner, but the Buddhas of Bamiyan have been destroyed by man. Therefore, the protection of the Leshan Buddha has become an even more important task.

The Leshan Buddha has suffered from hundreds of years of erosion by atmospheric moisture and water infiltrating from the mountain. Water detained at the stomach of the Buddha has lowered the strength of the rock, and as a result, plants and fungi have sprung up from the upper part of the body. Because of acid rain, the Buddha's nose has turned black and the face has become speckled. What looks like tear stains can be found at the corner of the Buddha's eyes, and part of the body surface has begun to peel off. According to historical records, the past dynasties all did something to maintain the Leshan Buddha. In modern times, the Buddha has experienced six periods of large-scale maintenance, but all these projects failed to solve the problems for one reason or another.

The protection of the Leshan Buddha has drawn global attention. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has sent groups of experts to investigate and oversee the protection work. The World Bank has offered US$8 million in interest-free loans for the maintenance and protection of the Buddha, of which US$2 million has already been received.

The protection of the Leshan Buddha is a project of ecological and scientific importance. The municipal government of Leshan has promulgated a series of measures to maintain the Buddha, including improving the macro-environment of the scenic area, harnessing the pollution sources, ordering industrial enterprises to move out of the scenic area within a specified time, controlling the pollution of the Minjiang River, and investing 200 million yuan this year to build a highway passing through the area. At present, the comprehensive treatment of the mountain, water, roads, and gardens in the area has been completed, and the environment has improved.

This is the first maintenance project for the Buddha since the site was listed by UNESCO as a world cultural and natural heritage. The local administration of cultural relics employs experts and technicians skilled in up-to-date technology involving sound, light, and electronics to keep a constant check on the Buddha and treat all problems.

The first phase of the maintenance began last March and concentrated on the treatment of the Buddha's head, shoulders, chest, and stomach. The technicians mended the Buddha's coiled bun of hair, cleaned the face, cleared away trash and weeds from the body, removed an inappropriate cement coating, and repaired the cracks and breaks on the body with traditional materials.

The first phase of the project is already finished. The second phase will start at the end of this year, and emphasis will be put on drainage of the Buddha's body, protection against water concussion on the feet, and weatherproofing the whole statue.

The upper part of the Leshan Giant Buddha before the latest maintenance.
Maintaining the Buddha's hands.
Maintaining the Buddha's head.
One of the Buddha's feet.
The Buddha after the surface maintenance.
A reproduction showing the original appearance of the Leshan Buddha.
Maintaining the Buddha's eyes.
A 40-meter-high scaffold for the maintenance of the Buddha's head.

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