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This time, admittedly, it's nothing political (officially). To mark the occasion of the Buddha's birthday, China has loaned Hong Kong a Buddhist relic: a bit of bone that supposedly was once attached to the hand of Siddhartha himself.

But -- nothing political? Here's the BBC:

"I am sure all of you will be proud to be Chinese after you see [the finger]," Liu Yandong, director of the Communist Party's United Front Department, told the assembled crowd.

"The quick approval of the central government in allowing this exhibition of Buddha's finger bone shows its sincere love for Hong Kong people," Ms Liu told Reuters news agency.

The loan of the finger certainly seems to have had a positive impression on some people in Hong Kong.

"I would have been delighted just to see a high priest. But to see the Buddha's finger, that is a dream come true," Cheung Yee told Reuters.

But others were more sceptical. Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said Liu Yandong's presence at the ceremony was nothing more than a "political public relations exercise".

(Annotation: there's a sculptor here named Cheung Yee, but I don't know if that's the one the BBC is quoting. Lee Cheuk-yan is a good guy.)

Relics are fascinating. For those of us on the outside, they motivate fun questions such as: exactly how many teeth did the Buddha have, again? Here is my favourite relic story (possibly anecdotal; I can't figure out where I read it). Supposedly during the Crusades, when Christian relic-hunters were coming up with all sorts of things, there were two of them that claimed to have acquired the head of John the Baptist. The pope (or whoever got to decide these things) made the Solomonic decision that one head was the head of the young John the Baptist, while the other was the head of the old John the Baptist. Case closed, of course.

Anyway, happy Buddha's birthday everybody. Or if the commercialisation of it all has you down, maybe you'd enjoy this.

Originally posted to gong on Wed May 26, 2004 at 09:22 AM PDT.

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