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The Giant Stone Buddha at Leshan

A 70-meter-high giant stone Buddha sits in the beautiful Leshan Mountain at the confluence of the Dadu, Qingyi and Minjiang rivers. Ten people together can sit in the Buddha's hair bun and the space between his ear and face can hold two standing people. Two people lying head to head and linking hands are shorter than his toe, and the crown of an ordinary person's head does not reach the top of his foot. The stone Buddha in his entirety can only be viewed from the other side of the river.

The giant stone Buddha is properly shaped with accurate proportions, a solemn expression and a strong sense of movement. It is amazing that ancient Chinese artists and workers could make such a big statue with the simple tools they had at that time. They were great talents with considerable creative spirit.

In Emperor xuanzong's reign of the Tang Dynasty, an eminent monk named Haitong from Guizhou Province once came to visit the Lingyun Temple in Jiazhou (present-day Leshan County). He saw the torrents roaring in the river under the cliff and heard that there were frequent shipwrecks at the spot. The water course was an important channel connecting the Surrounding areas, so Haitong decided to build a Buddha statue to control the floods and to promote Buddhism among the people. He walked around the country to explain the spirit of Buddhism, to collect funds and to look for capable craftsmen. In 718, construction of the giant stone Buddha at Leshan began under Haitong's supervision. In the Tang Dynasty, people worshipped Maitreya, regarding him as the symbol of a bright future. Haitong first asked the craftsmen to make a small sample statue of Maitreya. Then he Surveyed the mountain rocks and rivers to decide on its position and, finally, began construction.

The construction of the giant Buddha was a complicated process. Thousands of iron hammers rose and fell in the work field, and the big rocks tumbled to the ground with a sound like thunder. The construction lasted several years and cost a large sum of money. Then Haitong died and the building had to stop. Eleven years later, Zhang-qiu Jianqiong, who was serving as the local governor of Jiannan, donated money to restart the construction. The massive project won Support from Emperor xuanzong who spent a great deal of tax money on it But the projects topped again because Zhangqiu Jianqiong was promoted and left the area. It was not until 788, when Wei Gao was appointed governor of Jiannan, that the project recommenced.

The project was finally completed in 803 after another 15 years of construction by ten of thousands of workers under the supervision of Wei Gao. Colors were applied to make the statue appear more beautiful and glorious. The giant stone Buddha stands firmly as if sent from heaven. The colors on its body harmonize with the Surrounding environment, making it look more approachable yet at the same time powerful, dignified and worthy of respect. To protect the giant Buddha, a seven-story pavilion was built into the mountain as a covering. The Giant Stone Buddha in Leshan is the largest stone Buddha in the world, built over a total of more than 90 years. (Fig.3-15)

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