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January 19, 2010

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Ministry to spend US$10m protecting Buddha

CHINA'S oldest Buddhist statue, which is on the brink of collapse, is about to get a US$10.8 million facelift.

The 1,459-year-old Mengshan Mountain Buddha in Taiyuan City in north China's Shanxi Province will be repaired and restored after seven coal mines operating nearby inflicted environmental damage. The mines were closed in 2007 to protect the stone statue. Local authorities hope to develop tourism in the area centered on the Buddha now that the mines have closed.

The money from the Ministry of Land Resources will go toward stabilizing the statue and surrounding cliff to stop it from collapsing.

"The government funding will be used to consolidate mountain slopes, treat cracks on the Buddha statue and cliff and restore greenery on the mountain," said Qiao Qinghai, a geological official in Taiyuan.

The statue was carved on a cliff face on Mengshan Mountain in the year 551, during China's Northern and Southern Dynasties. It is believed to be 162 years older than the world's largest sitting stone sculpture of the Giant Buddha of Leshan in Sichuan.

The Mengshan Buddha was discovered by a farmer in 2005, when there were still seven mining firms taking coal from the mountain.

Yang Runde, a spokesman for Jinyuan District of Taiyuan, said: "Local farmers have big hopes for tourist development, as the coal is depleted. However, the mined-out area is prone to disasters like subsidence and cracking as well as mud flows."

Many farmers have opened catering and boarding businesses at the foot of the mountain, expecting a tourist boom after the restoration work, said Yang.


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