HONG KONG—A set of 1,400-year-old Buddhist statues in southwestern China have been damaged by villagers who painted them bright colors to “fulfill their wishes to the gods,” officials said.
The Shifenhe Buddha statue, located in Nanjiang County in rural Sichuan Province, was carved in the late Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and is said to have great academic value in the field of Buddhist culture and art research. is. For Chinese experts.
According to researchers from the Bazhong City Cultural Heritage Bureau and other sources, these are the only statues carved into natural stone surfaces in Sichuan province.
The incident happened last month, but a video about the incident posted last week has been trending on popular Chinese social media platform WeChat.
“Why aren’t steps taken to preserve such ancient relics in advance? It also gives people an opportunity to paint,” one comment read.
On November 6th, the villager asked his mother to hire someone to paint the statue. According to a statement from the Nanjiang County Cultural Properties Protection Research Center, it is decorated in bright colors to thank God for making dreams come true.
The statement added that after the incident, local authorities strengthened measures to protect artifacts to avoid further damage.
The statues were discovered in 2021 and were not included in the heritage protection list, an official from the local Cultural Relics Protection Bureau told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, adding that the villagers who defaced the statues were in their 70s and 80s and had not “posed any harm”. It may be added,” he added. They are rarely punished, only educated. ”
The employee said that although surveillance cameras had been installed before the incident, the statue’s remote location made it difficult to protect it. The employee added that the statue was painted with acrylic paint and that restoration should be possible, citing experts invited to examine the site.
Some social media users defended the villagers.
“That’s how Buddhists have been making wishes come true for thousands of years, yet these statues are still not recognized as artifacts,” one WeChat user commented on Tuesday.
This is not the first such incident in China.
In August 2018, a Buddha statue at Fengmen Temple in Sichuan province was painted over with oil paint and repaired with cement, state newspaper Global Times reported.
The Sichuan Cultural Relics Bureau also found 13 pigment-stained Buddha statues, most of which were made in the 1980s and 1990s, it added.
These incidents have sparked a debate on Chinese social media about how to protect cultural relics in remote villages.
As of October, China has more than 760,000 immovable cultural heritage sites of all kinds, including the Great Wall, but only about 5,000 of them are major historical and cultural heritage sites that are protected at the national level. Chen Peijun of the National Cultural Heritage Administration said in the news. meeting.
Earlier this year, a section of the Great Wall of China in northern China was severely damaged by two construction workers who were trying to find a shortcut using an excavator.