The Leshan Giant Buddha was built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). It is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, near the city of Leshan. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world and at the time of its construction was the tallest statue in the world.
Construction was started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haithong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. About 70 years later, a jiedushi decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Haitong’s disciples in 803. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.
At 71 metres (233 feet) tall, the statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. His shoulders are 28 metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person. There is a local saying: “The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”. This is partially because the mountain range in which the Leshan Giant Buddha is located is thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when seen from the river, with the Leshan Giant Buddha as its heart.
The Leshan Buddha has fallen victim to the pollution emanating from the unbridled development in the region. According to Xinhua news agency: “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.” The local government has shut factories and power plants close to the statue. However, the statue is already suffering a “blackened nose” and smears of dirt across the face. The government has promised to give restoration to the site.