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PUNING TEMPLE STATUES
The buildings at the imperial mountain resort at Chengde were built in stages between 1703 and 1792 and were where Qing emperors from Kangxi (r. 1661–1722) onwards spent much of their time between the spring and autumn. Chengde was one of the three imperial centers of the Qing dynasty, along with the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Tibetan and Mongolian architectural influences are noticeable throughout the complex.
Puning Temple was completed in 1755 in honor of the defeat of the Zonggar civilization in northwest China. The Temple of Universal Peace, as it is known, was meant to be a symbol of the harmony between the Chinese rulers and the minority populations within their dominion. The Puning complex encompasses 23,000 square meters and contains numerous religious buildings, including eight temples, the Gate Hall, the Bell and Drum Towers, a Stele Pavilion, and the Hall of Heavenly Kings. The main temple at Puning houses three monumental wooden sculptures that are skillfully carved and colorfully painted. A Mahayana Buddha depicted as Avalokiteśvara is the central statue of the trio and is covered with hands and eyes made from pine, cypress, elm, fir, and basswood. It is believed to be the tallest wooden Buddha statue of its type in the world, rising to a height of 22 meters. The 15-meter-high portraits of Buddhist Boy and Dragon Princess stand on either side of the Buddha.
During the Cultural Revolution, Chengde, due to its imperial provenance, received armed protection so that the religious community could remain active. Though the temple has been in constant use since its construction, by the end of the 20th century its sculptures were in much need of conservation. The entire Chengde complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
HOW WE HELPED
Centuries of temperature fluctuations, dust accumulation, and heavy visitation had taken its toll on the three Puning Temple statues. In 1999, the local government and religious organizations associated with the complex came together to generate financial support for the restoration of the sculptures. Enough funding was found to sponsor the conservation of the central Buddha, but the other two statues were left in their deteriorating condition.
World Monuments Fund placed the Puning Temple statues on the Watch in 2004, hoping to raise money for a project that would specifically target the remaining two figures. In 2008, WMF secured a grant for this purpose and began planning the restoration with its local partner, the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH). A study was carried out to determine the best way to conserve the statues, based on their particular material composition. The resulting plan was endorsed by a panel of experts and conservation preparation work to date has included the installation of temperature sensors, the collection and lab analysis of samples, lighting condition analysis, mapping and detailed photo documentation of the deterioration, a dimension survey using 3D laser scans, the use of partial X-ray photography to see more details of the structure, a small area treatment test in situ and the preparation of a conservation plan. In situ tests will continue in the spring and the final conservation plan is anticipated to be completed by summer 2011.
WHY IT MATTERS
The royal haven at Chengde was one of the three important imperial complexes of the Qing era, the other two being the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing. It is now a burgeoning tourist destination just three hours from the Chinese capital. Puning Temple remains the only active religious site at Chengde, with an unbroken Buddhist monastic presence dating back to its construction in 1755. Puning Temple was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 as part of the group referred to as the Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples, Chengde.