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Ancient Places / Trip Ideas

How to renovate the world’s largest stone Buddha statue?

By Yu Hao

November 2

As the construction of scaffolds beneath the abdomen of the Leshan Giant Buddha was completed on Oct. 25, the “physical examination” of the Buddha statue has come to the core area including its chest, abdomen and head.

As the construction of scaffolds beneath the abdomen of the Leshan Giant Buddha was completed on Oct. 25, the “physical examination” of the Buddha statue has come to the core area including its chest, abdomen and head.

As the construction of scaffolds beneath the abdomen of the Leshan Giant Buddha was completed on Oct. 25, the “physical examination” of the Buddha statue has come to the core area including its chest, abdomen and head. Workers repair the broken areas on the Buddha statute by covering them with materials such as ash, cement and mortar.

Situated at the eastern bank of the Min River, Leshan, Sichuan Province, the 71-meter-high Leshan Giant Buddha was carved into a sitting Maitreya figure. From Oct. 8. 2018 to Feb. 4, 2019, the Management Committee of the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area will conduct research and explorations in preparation for the protection of the broken chest and abdomen areas of the Buddha statue. The whole body of the Buddha, therefore, will be covered starting in the middle of November.

[Photo/Xinhua]
With its construction starting in the first year of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (713), it took 90 years to complete the Leshan Giant Buddha, which now boasts a history of over 1,300 years. The protection of stone cultural relics, however, has been a worldwide conundrum. Carved on easily eroded red sandstone and permanently exposed to the environment, the Leshan Giant Buddha is vulnerable to natural effects such as weathering and water seepage, requiring more protection efforts. Continuous monitoring and regular overall “physical examinations” are crucial to the protection of the Buddha statue. Since the founding of the PRC, the Leshan Giant Buddha has undergone six renovations. The latest renovation was conducted between 1972 and 1975.

[Photo/Xinhua]
 “The ‘physical examination’ over the Buddha statue is divided into exploration and measurement. Many conventional methods are unavailable during the renovating process because of the vulnerability of cultural relics,” Sun Bo, deputy director of the Northwest Research Institute Cultural Relics Protection Center of China Railway Group Limited, said. “Compared with physical examinations for humans, the equipment used in the test for the Buddha statue have to be moved in accordance with specific operations. The high accuracy of the equipment at the micrometer-level requires delicate construction and precise technological parameters.”

[Photo/Xinhua]
A national patent technology called the “fluorescent carbon dots tracer method” was jointly researched and developed by the Northwest Research Institute of China Railway Group Limited and Anhui Science and Technology University to tackle the water seepage of rock masses. “Using this method, we can inject atomic carbon elements into rock masses behind the Buddha statue, and fluorescent carbon elements would flow with the underground water outside of the Buddha statue,” Sun introduced. “With the help of the special light, we can detect the path of water flow inside the Buddha statue according to fluorescent marks, which will provide scientific references for the arrangement of seepage wells in the further renovation.”

[Photo/Xinhua]
Rock “acupuncture” equipment called the “laser burning apparatus” is also used for the “physical examination” of the Buddha statue. It is the first time that the only apparatus in China for the composition detection of murals’ pigment layers is applied to testing of stone cultural relics. The “acupuncture” apparatus can send out 20-micrometer-wide laser beams into the Buddha statue without many impairments. Compared with wide boreholes perforated by electric drills, the laser beams are as fine as silver needles and can detect the composition and structure of rocks and past repair work.

[Photo/Xinhua]
Technology is also utilized for the exterior examination of the Buddha statue. Professional personnel have produced three-dimensional images of the Buddha statue using a domestically-advanced three-dimensional laser scanner. The instrument’s data precision is at millimeter level. Researchers have no need to climb up scaffolds, but can remotely identify moss, cracks and dots on the surface of the Buddha statue with the instrument.

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