Strength Renewed: Construction and Conservation of the Big Buddha in Hong Kong
The Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on the Lantau Island is one of the most visited sights in Hong Kong. The monumental bronze statue weighs 250 tonnes and measures 34 metres in height including the lotus pedestal and base. Facing north, the Big Buddha is situated about 500 meters above the sea level on the Muk Yue Mountain. It represents Shakyamuni Buddha, founder of Buddhism, sitting cross-legged and looking down upon the earth. Solemn, benevolent, and majestic, the Big Buddha holds up his right hand and faces the palm outward, in the gesture of fearlessness. His left hand rests on the lap, in the gesture of granting boons. Despite the fact that the Big Buddha was only completed in 1989 and consecrated in 1993, this religious statue has become a timeless landmark of Hong Kong as an international financial and trade centre.
Over the years, large green powdery patches have emerged on the surface of the Big Buddha and masked its original bronze colour, and the protective coatings have begun to erode (1). In June 2020, the Big Buddha was closed for conservation. The objective is to remove the green patina and red oxide layers underneath, restore its original colour, and apply new protective coatings. The aim is the same as conserving ancient heritage, that is to maintain the physical and cultural characteristics of the object, to ensure its value is not diminished and continues to benefit the present and future generations. While for many, the Big Buddha is a famous tourist site, this article situates the Big Buddha in the history of Buddhist art as well as the history of Hong Kong. It explores the artistic, religious, technological, and social value of the Big Buddha and highlights its significance as a cultural property of Hong Kong.
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