Residents of the large Chinese city of Chongqing, population 30 million, were surprised this week by the appearance of a 9-meter tall Buddha statue believed to date to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). The statue, missing its head, appeared between apartment buildings dating to the 1990s that had been built along a steep, rocky slope.
Earlier this week, officials in the city removed dead trees and garbage that had accumulated on the statue over the years, revealing it to the public for the first time in decades. The statue depicts the Buddha in meditation posture, hands in lap with his legs crossed. The left leg and wrists have been severely damaged, but many details of the decades-old carving still remain intact.
The South China Morning Post reports that many residents living in the area never knew it existed. “I had no idea of this Buddha statue,” a grandmother identified by her surname Zheng told the radio station. “We can’t see it completely, given that it is covered up by plants.” (South China Morning Post)
However, a woman surnamed Deng, who has lived in the area for decades said that she remembers the construction of the sculpture, noting that “the construction [of the sculpture] halted after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949.” (ART News)
According to the district information office, the head of the Buddha was destroyed in the 1950s, a period when much of China’s Buddhist heritage was eradicated. An accompanying temple called Leizu, believed to have been established between 1910 and 1940, in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). However, a member of the Nanan district cultural heritage department warned that “Speculation was spreading widely on the internet that it dated back to the Northern Song dynasty, Southern Song dynasty or Qing dynasty.” She added, “At the current stage, we can’t give a professional conclusion.” (South China Morning Post)
China’s largest and most famous Buddha statue is the 71-meter stone Leshan Giant Buddha, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That statue, like many others around China, is a major tourist attraction, recently drawing as many as two million visitors annually. It is not clear what will come of the newly discovered Chongqing statue.
Authorities from the area are examining the statue for cultural value. A spokesman for the district cultural heritage department of Nanan, the area of the city where the Buddha appeared, said that, “at the current stage, we can’t give a professional conclusion” on the sculpture’s place in history. (ART News)
Giant Buddha statue found between buildings in China, but where’s its head? (South China Morning Post)
Giant Buddha Statue Mired in Mysteries Is Uncovered In China (ART News)
Headless religious statue uncovered in residential complex in China (CNN)
Giant headless Buddha statue discovered in China (The Spaces)