Chinese experts ponder major restoration of world’s largest stone Buddha statue


Tourists admire the Leshan Giant Buddha statue in Leshan city, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, March 23, 2020 (Xinhua / Zhang Chaoqun)

The world’s largest stone Buddha statue, Leshan Giant Buddha, is still in need of repair.

Less than three years after the completion of the last large-scale facelift – the seventh in more than a century – the 71-meter-tall statue outside the city of Leshan in south China’s Sichuan province -west), already suffers from a black nose and a dirty face.

In addition, parts of the Buddha’s chest, abdomen, hands and legs are now covered with moss and other plants, making it look totally different from the one freshly repaired in April 2019.

Over the weekend, Leshan held a seminar where renowned Chinese experts discussed a new plan to restore the statue. This time, however, rather than giving the Buddha a makeover, they decided to tackle the root cause of its degradation, in the hope of giving the sculpture many years of health.

The Buddha statue, carved from a cliff on Leshan Mountain and overlooking three converging rivers, was built over a 90-year period beginning in 713 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

“The seminar marked a significant shift in our approach from ‘curing the symptoms’ to ‘curing the disease while curing the symptoms’,” said Zhan Changfa, former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH) .

Experts came to a consensus that among many other factors, damage from water, rain and humidity contributed the most to the degradation.

“First and foremost, we need to tackle the problem of water damage, otherwise any facelift would be just a stopgap,” CACH researcher Huang Kezhong told the seminar via a link. video from Beijing.

Experts present at the seminar agreed that water damage control involves a multi-faceted approach covering areas such as geological survey, monitoring and evaluation, materials research and environmental restoration.

Zhan outlined some critical questions for systematic planning and step-by-step solutions, which include –Where are the internal cracks? How to deal with bad weather? What are the best materials to use for repair? Should we build an awning? Should the number of tourists be capped?

Zhan added that given the natural and geographical conditions of the location of the Buddha statue, the restoration plan aims “for better health, less fatal illnesses and ideally longevity” for the Buddha, rather than finding a panacea.

Wang Yi, head of the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Heritage Administration, said domestic and foreign experts will conduct extensive cooperation and multidisciplinary research on the protection of the giant Buddha.

Leshan Buddha was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1996.


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