Putuo Lotus Island



First page            Previous

Total land Area:2.6 hectare

Construction Area:914 sqm

Gross Floor Area:1,120 sqm



Lotus island, just like a reclining Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist goddess of mercy known in China as Guanyin, laying on the Lotus Sea.

Lotus Island is located in the East China Sea. Because of extensive exploitation, the island’s natural scenery and out- line were disappearing.

While China had achieved enormous growth past few decades, economic development has caused more than seven hundred islands to vanish due to various reasons, such as quarrying, merges or land reclamation, triggering damage to the marine environment as well as natural and cultural problems.


Mount Putuo is the world's largest Guanyin Buddhist site. Lotus Island lies on the west side of Mount Putuo and strongly resembles Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, lying on her back in the Lotus Sea, a masterpiece of Nature.  When Zhu learned that the local government planned to fill up this sea surface in order to develop urban real estate, in which case the Guanyin shape of Lotus Island would be submerged, disappearing from human history, he felt heartbroken.  Powerless to persuade the city government otherwise, he felt he had no choice but to buy the island himself.


Under this situation, in mid 1990’s Zhu purchased Lotus Island, which had almost disappeared because of land reclamation, thus becoming China’s first private owner of an island and started his long-term construction plan on this piece of treasure.


The initial vision of Zhu, both the client and the designer of the project, was to construct the world’s largest Guanyin figure before the arrival of the new century. Because Buddhism is the most populous religious denomination in the world, with around 60-70% of Buddhists worshipping Guanyin, Zhu believed that establishing the world's largest Buddha on China’s easternmost point will transform China’s national destiny.


The ballpoint pen sketch is a bird's-eye view of the facade. The continental shelf in front of the Lotus Island is very shallow. The original plan was to fill more than 500 acres of land, and the building would be about 20,000 square meters. The embankment would be 200 meters long with 500 granite arhats standing along the shallow sea. With the fluctuations of the tide, it truly exhibits a dynamic sense of movement. This is an unrivaled spectacle in the history of the Chinese nation. Visually, the outline of the Guanyin floating in the sea and the world’s largest Guanyin compose two three-dimensional scenes. At the time, Zhu’s fundraising and budgeting, planning, design, geological exploration, wind tunnel tests, and material corrosion resistance tests were all completed. Together, the Grand Guanyin and Lotus Island, with architecture, sculpture, and arhats along the sea, formed a complete, integrated design. The plan was praised and endorsed by the assistant director of the National Bureau of Religious Affairs, Yang Tongxiang.




Just as Zhu tried his best and exhausted funds to gain experience and information on international large-scale art constructions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Buddha of Tokyo, and the Statue of Liberty, China’s senior central leadership instructed him that the project’s plan had been denied construction permissions, due to its size and subject matter, and all work was suspended. As despondent as he was, Zhu did not want to abandon the work he had already accomplished. In the general plan proposal, he amended and downsized the project, he would only build the arhats, not the great Buddha. The total project expenses was cut from 850 million to tens of millions. Zhu would build a seaside Zen sculpture garden that only extends Mount Putuo’s Buddhist culture to Zhoushan Island.


The original five hundred arhats in the Zen Sculpture Garden on the sea were reduced to only 230. Due to the city’s expansion and demands for real estate, developers had already filled in the sea where Zhu had originally planned to construct the arhats. Because at that time, it was impossible to buy the ocean, the arhats in the Guanyin project could only be moved to the long embankment where the government had already reclaimed the sea. The result was not bad. These arhats, lined up along the sea, became the world’s only 800-meter long embankment of granite arhats, and the largest land art park on the sea.


Lotus Island eventually became the embodiment of Zhu’s conception of spiritual, natural and cultural ecology and built environment. The designer wishes to convey to the world both Zen Buddhist culture and the ecological theory that humankind is an integral part of nature. The island acts as a case study for these themes. Its Zen Buddhist art, built into Putuo’s mountainside, attracts many tourists; its sacred temple pleases both the bodhisattva Guanyin and visitors.


Today, Lotus Island is the world’s largest work of maritime land art. Zhu Renmin undertook all of the investment, planning, construction, sculpture, landscaping, and interior design on the island.

Master Plan of Putuo Lotus Island Zen Buddhist Sculpture Garden

Bird’s eye View of Putuo Lotus Island

Art Museum: Entry of Lotus Island

Hui’e Plaza


This was once a lonely, deserted island. Before its restoration, there was hardly anything green. There were no roads, and no running water, heating, electricity, communications, docks or shipping routes. The government did not provide any infrastructure or funds to the island it sold. All of the work and expenses fell to Zhu Renmin. Progress was extremely difficult—made more so due to the peculiar marine environment, with its tidal fluctuations, reefs and high incidence of typhoons. These conditions caused all sorts of unimaginable difficulties and challenges for the designer.


Zhu Renmin designed and implemented a strategic plan based on his own philosophical approach. Using his knowledge of art, Zen Buddhism, and philosophy, along with his personal funds, team building, and operational capacity, he carried out more than twenty years of “unified planning, step-by-step implementation, rolling development,” simultaneously constructing and opening sites. The designer adapted to local conditions and acted according to circumstances. Without the benefit of running water, electricity, or transportation, he used the most primitive methods and an original approaches in order to carry out the design and construction.

Gate with Cultural Details at the Entry of Arhat Causeway

Zhu Renmin’s artist studio for investment, design and construction on the Lotus Island provides a free creative venue for local fishermen.

Local Cultural Details on the Wall of Artist Studio




The rendering of the architectural and landscape details reflected Zhu’s philosophy in the harmonious relationship between spiritual, natural and cultural ecology and built environment.


Zhu used local stone as construction material to make a painting surface of the main building's outer facade that can withstand stormy weather. Traditional houses in the local style combine as a whole to create a form like a mosaic in the rubble, centered in the frame of the plane.He used original brick and tile work gathered from dilapidated local houses to decorate the roofs.  The walls on the side have been roughly painted an uninhibited, almost boorish, pink.


The combination of the buildings and the mountains often creates a site where hard and soft, natural and artificial mix. To avoid an abrupt harshness, Zhu made use of original materials found locally on the mountain and in the sea, such as local grasses. That way the bronze sculptures of arhats naturally meld with the mountain, extending to the walls.  Zhu delegated the building of the steps behind the entrance to some migrant workers, trying to leave his creative method to embody the same tension between intention and non-intention seen in Zen Buddhist painting. Tired of the tons of leftover waste from 3 decades of development and construction in China, he wanted to cherish the connection between old local-style houses to the earth and celebrate its timelessness. The migrant workers built steps that were downright rustic. The eaves are striking in their local style, the entrance exhibits an unmistakable bucolic quality: humble, plain, and lovely, and in harmony with the main building.


Given that Lotus Island has just a bit of reef and hillside sloping into the wide open sea, revealing a wild expansiveness. Zhu made it so that the area between the two major mountains acts as an open corridor. Three buildings sit in the roundabout, working in tandem with their environment. The green of the cliffs and the buildings’ stone gables together suggest strength. A steep trail cuts through the center. Combined this creates a small public space that evokes an island fishing village. The expansive wilderness at the center of the island makes the incoming flow of people immediately forget the desolation of the reef. As they enter, each becomes a part of the buildings' function. 


Passing through this small center region, one feels as boundless as the sea and sky. Looking into the distance at Putuo Mountain, the island seems to float gracefully among white waves.  The arhats guide you forward in your journey along the cliffs. Turn around on the mountain path, and step through into the alcove is Hui'e Square. Built in commemoration of the Japanese monk Hui’e, the first to burn incense for Guanyin on the island, some 1200 years ago (late Liang Dynasty, 907-923), this square uses elements of Japanese landscape architecture, the square's ground is paved with local pebbles and bluestone.




This project has taken more than twenty years of work, amounting to a total investment of fifty million yuan. All the funds came out of Zhu’s own pocket, from savings and personal funds of an artist who still lives in his own studio in a minimal lifestyle, owning no properties. Early on, Zhu, the owner and the designer himself Putuo Lotus Island, had made a conscious decision that the island would be made permanently open to the public, allowing everyone free access for recreation and worship.


Zhu’s island project has made major contributions to the global conversation on island preservation, Zen Buddhist art, and the built environment, and has been recognized as a “national educational demonstration base” by the Cultural Industry Innovation camp, Development Academy of Shanghai Jiaotong University. Praised by scholars in China and abroad, Lotus Island won the Special Award for Outstanding Artwork at China’s second International Architecture Biennale. It has also gained recognition from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization..The island is a classic example of Zhu Renmin’s three ecologies of “spirit, nature, and culture,” as described in his Human Ecological Restoration.

Zhu Renmin created a bird's-eye view of the Lotus Island Guanyin project using ballpoint pen art and began to fully design and implement it

Zhu Renmin spent eighteen years investing and personally carving the 800m granite Arhat walkway to Lotus Island

Towards Putuo Mountain

Arhat Enjoying Tea and Arhat Riding Seahorse

Arhat Blocking Waves