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The world-famous Leshan Buddha is preparing to undergo a new round of cultural relics protection and restoration work.

Just this past weekend, experts specially invited by the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau held a symposium in Leshan on the next step of the protection of the Big Buddha.

Since 1914, Leshan Buddha has undergone seven large-scale surface restorations, but none of them have systematically addressed the root cause. The latest round of repairs, which ended in April 2019 and lasted more than 200 days, was mainly aimed at the problem of the late repair layer of the chest and abdomen of the Great Buddha. Now, less than two years after the last “rescue”, the band-like crack has run from the hairline of the big Buddha down to the eyebrows, and the empty bulge at the chin has formed patches, and obvious cracks have also been raised.

In the eyes of tourists, the intuitive feeling is: the nose of the Buddha is always black, and there are many dark spots on the face. Many people may not know: the internal skeleton of the nose of the Big Buddha is a wooden structure, and wood is more likely to grow microorganisms. This is also the reason why the nose of the Big Buddha turns black first after each repair.

The picture is according to the Weibo of the Leshan Big Buddha Scenic Area Management Committee

Previous daily repairs to the Buddha were mainly made of pounded ash: in addition to the traditional cement, lime, charcoal ash and hemp knife, red sandstone was added to make the texture of the restoration material closer to the sandstone mountain. However, because the Buddha sits near the water, it is surrounded by moisture all year round, and even the best dressing will be empty and cracked until it falls off, usually lasting only two or three years.

For this problem, Sun Bo, deputy director of the Cultural Protection Center of the Northwest Institute of the China Railway Research Institute, said that the pounding ash of painting the Buddha is like the plastering of the walls at home, if the wall is soaked in water for a long time, then the wall will inevitably peel and fall off. Corresponding to the Great Buddha, it is the cracking and peeling of the empty drum of the repair layer.

Sun Bo’s Northwest Institute of the China Railway Research Institute, which has been responsible for the repair of the Leshan Buddha since 2017, told Red Star News that the main disease of the Buddha at present is the cracking and seepage of empty drums mainly on the head, and a large proportion of the water seeps from rainwater.

Since the construction of the mountain hewn in the Tang Dynasty, the Big Buddha has experienced more than a thousand years of wind and rain. After entering the 21st century, due to the impact of emissions from surrounding industrial areas, the Big Buddha has also suffered acid rain for several years, and the pigment of the eyes has been eroded, and the appearance of “closing the eyes” appears. Sun Bo told reporters that Leshan City had previously invested heavily in adjusting the environment around the Buddha, such as reconstructing roads open to traffic, not allowing motor vehicles to drive too close to the Buddha, and reducing the pollution caused by harmful gases emitted by vehicles to the Buddha.

However, research and practical work on water seepage has been slow for decades. In 2021, the Leshan Big Buddha Scenic Area Management Committee (hereinafter referred to as the “Leshan Big Buddha Management Committee”) applied to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage for the Big Buddha Water Control Project, but the project was not approved. The reason, more than one expert said, is because of the lack of preliminary research and insufficient supporting basic data.

Even today, we have not even fully understood some of the design intentions of the ancients when they built the Buddha: the builders 1300 years ago designed an ingenious drainage system for the Buddha, they used the collar folds and buns of the Buddha to set up drainage trenches, and chiseled three drainage corridors at the connection with the mountain on the back of the Buddha’s head, shoulders, and chest.

Among them, the third drainage corridor behind the chest of the big Buddha is actually two openings that have not been penetrated – is it an ulterior motive or not completed? They are not 100% certain, and naturally they dare not start construction rashly.

To study the “root cause” of this seepage, in addition to sufficient financial support, the allocation of professionals is also extremely important. In May last year, the establishment of the Leshan Buddha Grotto Research Institute made people feel that the province attaches great importance to the protection of Leshan Buddha cultural relics. However, Sun Bo believes that the establishment of this sub-county-level public institution is not independent enough and the level is not high enough.

“The Dazu Stone Carving Institute and the Yungang Grotto Research Institute are both at the deputy department level, and the Dunhuang Academy is at the main hall level. Level is very important, with level, with better salary, in order to attract more high-end professional and technical personnel. Sun Bo said, “There are few professional institutions and personnel in the country to protect cave temples, and they need and deserve better treatment to win them.” ”

At the recent symposium, the mayor of Leshan has said that starting this year, 5% of the operating income of the scenic spot will be used for cultural relics protection. Many experts at the meeting also agreed on the direction of prioritizing flood control. Other experts have mentioned the rebuilding of the Great Statue Pavilion – according to cave archaeology and cave temple architectural data, the Leshan Buddha was covered in a huge wooden statue pavilion during the Tang and Song dynasties. But the idea of re-hatting the Great Buddha is also supported by relatively comprehensive scientific research so far.

Sun Bo told Red Star News that at present, the Cultural Protection Center of the Northwest Academy has received support from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and will shield and protect the two subsidiary cave niches 114 and 119 located at the north gate of Leshan Buddha in 2022. “We will build removable shelters for these two ancillary niches, which can be understood as rain protection similar to ‘eaves’.” Sun Bo explained, “Then, by monitoring the cliff surface flow and condensate water in these two niches, and comparing the data with or without sheltering temporary facilities, the effect of rain protection facilities on the weathering speed of statues is verified, and scientific data support is provided for the implementation of Leshan Buddha rain protection facilities.” ”

Red Star News Reporter|Qiao Xueyang

Editor|Duan Xueying

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