China Archives of World Heritage

Leshan Big Buddha 07-05-2004 09:34

South of Sichuan鈥檚 capital, Chengdu, lies the world鈥檚 largest carved figure. It is the Leshan Buddha, seated with his back to a cliff in the Emei Mountain where the torrential waters of three rivers meet. Around the Buddha is a treasure-trove of Buddhist art. But this isn鈥檛 the area鈥檚 only attraction. The Leshan region is now a noted nature reserve containing rare flora and fauna. Poems by the Tang Dynasty poet, Li Po, praise the region鈥檚 natural beauty. These poems, written during the poet鈥檚 tour, are learnt by school-children even today and draw visitors from around the country.

Religion and Imperial power were often tightly bound together. In China, Imperial patronage often focused on the religious arts. Temples and statues were monuments to their patrons. This was much the same as European rulers commissioning religious paintings and cathedrals. The religious power shown through the sculptures found in the grottos around the Giant Buddha reflected their patrons鈥 social position. Sculptures of the Maitreye Buddha played a large role in confirming the legitimacy of Empress Wu Zetian鈥檚 rule.

As well as Leshan鈥檚 historical and artistic treasures, the region has great natural beauty and a wealth of rare and unique plants and animals. The mountains have a variety of herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. Living in the mountains, alongside stands of trees surviving from the last Ice Age, are protected species of frogs and butterflies. But the most popular of Leshan鈥檚 residents must be the Emei monkeys, whose friendliness is legendary.

The Emei/Leshan region is one of China鈥檚 most intriguing historical places. The monumental Leshan Buddha still sits at the confluence of three rivers, backed by mountains and grottoes filled with ancient art. The people who scramble around him look like insects in front of the Buddha鈥檚 serenely happy features. Exotic species still survive in the mountains. The strange Buddha aura still appears. Li Po鈥檚 poems, a thousand years old, are still recited by Chinese visitors. The Emei/Leshan region鈥檚 unique combination of religious art, historical and literary interest and great natural beauty has earnt it a unique reputation both at home and abroad.


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