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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 22:41 GMT 23:41 UK
Buddha rises again
Work underway on the statue
The copy of the Bamiyan statue is 37 meters high
Whatever happens now to the Taleban-controlled government in Afghanistan, the regime has already left one permanent mark on the country.

The destruction of its most famous archaeological monuments - the giant stone figures known as the Bamiyan buddhas - led to global condemnation of the Taleban regime.

But now one of the buddhas is rising again, except this time in western China, where a team of workmen are carving a replica figure into a cliff-face in Sichuan.

As more than 300 stonemasons chip away at the rock, the giant figure is gradually emerging into view.

The sandstone cliff near Leshan, in the lush green hills of Western China, is redder than the more golden sandstone near Bamiyan.

Nonetheless, the Chinese project aims to recreate the Afghan buddha the way it used to be, before erosion and intolerance destroyed its face and dynamite reduced it to a heap of rubble.

Statue in bamiyan
The Taleban's blew up the Bamiyan statues in March

The figure will be 37m high - the same as the smaller of the two Afghan statues. It is being carved by hand with mallets and chisels, just like the original figures.

Tourist attraction?

The Afghan statue is the brainchild of a Chinese businessman, Liang Simian.

Mr Liang runs a Buddha theme park near Leshan, which has its own ancient giant buddha figure. The 3000 buddhas in Mr Liang's theme park are all modern replicas, but that does not worry the tourists who come to see them.

One woman said she did not mind the statues being copies - sometimes copies can be larger and more detailed than the originals.

Although many of China's buddhas were destroyed during its so-called Cultural Revolution, she said China now liked to protect religion, and while it would be better to be able to see the originals, visiting copies was almost as good.

The creators of the Sichuan statue claim that in at least one way, their statue will be better than the original.

Preserving history

The Afghan figure was already damaged and defaced long before the Taleban came to power.

However, in China they are recreating what they believe to be its original face, modelled on the heads of surviving Afghan buddhas.

Professor He Ining, one of the sculpture professors who is advising the project, says the lower part of the face matches the original, but the details had to be recreated from scratch as had the whole upper part of the face, using Afghan buddha busts of the same period.

Because the models are much smaller, the designs have to be carefully scaled up before the skilled carvers get to work carving the features of the Buddha from the sandstone.

See also:

25 Mar 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka to 'build' Bamiyan Buddhas
12 Mar 01 | South Asia
Outcry as Buddhas are destroyed
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
UN warns Taleban over Buddha statues
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