China vows facelift for pollution-battered Buddha

BEIJING Wed Nov 7, 2007 9:47am EST

Visitors walk down steps beside the Leshan Giant Buddha statue in Leshan in southwest China's Sichuan province August 29, 2005. Chinese authorities will give a ''facelift'' to the world's tallest stone-carved Buddha just six years after the last repair effort as they struggle to fend off the effects of pollution and crowds, state media reported. REUTERS/China Newsphoto

Visitors walk down steps beside the Leshan Giant Buddha statue in Leshan in southwest China's Sichuan province August 29, 2005. Chinese authorities will give a ''facelift'' to the world's tallest stone-carved Buddha just six years after the last repair effort as they struggle to fend off the effects of pollution and crowds, state media reported.

Credit: Reuters/China Newsphoto

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities will give a "facelift" to the world's tallest stone-carved Buddha just six years after the last repair effort as they struggle to fend off the effects of pollution and crowds, state media reported.

Carved out off a cliff beside a river, the 71-meter (233-ft) image of the seated Buddha at Leshan in the southwestern province of Sichuan is a magnet for tourists and the focus of local pride.

But despite a 250-million-yuan ($33.6-million) clean-up and repair in 2001, the statue is already suffering a "blackened nose" and smears of dirt across its solemn face, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Now another facelift is promised.

But Peng Xueyi, director of the Leshan Cultural Relics Management Institute, said the crumbling statue could only survive if pollution lacing air and rain with corrosive chemicals was shut off, Xinhua reported.

"Only through a comprehensive reformation of the surrounding environment can its ageing process be delayed," Peng said.

The Leshan Buddha and "many Chinese natural and cultural heritage sites have succumbed to weathering, air pollution, inadequate protection and negative influences brought by swarms of tourists," Xinhua said.

The local government has shut factories and power plants close to the statue, which has United Nations "world heritage" status. But officials are also grappling with growing hordes of tourists visiting the Buddha, Xinhua said.

The Leshan Buddha was built during the Tang Dynasty, more than 1,200 years ago.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Roger Crabb)

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