By: Danielle Sheahan, Features Writer
The Hongmen reservoir in east China’s Jiangxi Province is now the site of a fascinating archeological find. In December 2016, there were renovations to a hydropower plant and once the waters had subsided, a local saw the head of a Buddha statue. The statue is roughly 12.5 feet tall and according to Serenitie Wang’s CNN article, the Buddha is approximately 600 years old. After some investigation, it was found that both the Buddha statue and an entrance to a Buddhist temple were submerged in 1960 during the construction of the Hongmen reservoir.
Prior to the Hongmen reservoir construction, the statue and the temple originally served to protect the local village from the flooding of two rivers that converged near that area. It is hypothesized by archaeologists that it was built either during the Ming or Yuan Dynasties. The Ming Dynasty, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, was between the years 1368 to 1644 and the Yuan Dynasty dates from early 13th century to roughly 1368. By simple math and approximation, the statue is about 400 to 600 years old. This archaeological discovery is such an astonishing event because in 1960 there was little to no historical preservation processes or efforts so when the reservoir was being built, no measures were taken to preserve the statue or temple entrance. In fact, the only record of the sunken statue was kept in the memories of some of the local villagers who lived in the area before 1960.
The complete disregard for preservation can also be related to a cultural and political shift in China, a period where superstition and ancient traditions were banned. Citizens were essentially told to rid themselves and their homes/communities of any relics associated with superstitions and anything that could hold their country back. In the late 1960’s, China underwent a cultural revolution started by Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party Chairman at that time. He did not want the traditional values of elitism to be continued in his country. He encouraged Chinese youth to join the Red Guards. The Red Guards was a radical group which reflected the same views as Mao. The Red Guards promoted the destruction of historical artifacts in order to help their country to stay on track with Mao’s ideals. Mao’s ideology was so instilled within the youths that the destruction of historical artifacts continued even after he was no longer in office.
Without records and artifacts destroyed, it was a surprise to find such a remarkable statue of Buddha as well as an entire temple. Since the statue was submerged in water, the water almost acted as a shield to weathering, allowing for the statue to be in pristine condition.. In Wang’s article, it was mentioned that an 82-year-old blacksmith, Huang Keping, remembered the statue from 1952, before it was hidden away. He said, “I remember the statue was gilded at that time.” Even though the massive sculpture is no longer covered in a fine layer of beautiful gold, it has still drawn many archeologists, tourists, and locals and raised interest in Chinese history.
New archaeological finds are far and few these days, especially finds in this kind of condition, but these findings allow humans to better understand their history and roots. These discoveries are often ignored by the general public; however, understanding your own history is important. Understanding where one’s culture comes from can give them pride and confidence in themselves. It can give meaning to life and more importantly, the ability for humans as a species to learn from the past. The more history is correctly understood the better future decisions can be used to improve the quality of life for all.