china edition


Datong - Yungang Caves

Shanxi - Datong - Pingyao - Taiyuan

The caves are located 16 kilometer west of Datong, dug out of a sandstone cliff that is a part of the large Wuzhoushan Mountain range. The long stretch of caves was a masterpiece comparable to the ancient Egyptian pyramids, taking 40,000 workilometeren many decades (453-493 AD) to finish the majority of construction. Yungang CavesIn its golden days Yungang was about 15 kilometer long, and it still remains one of the better grotto complexes along with the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Luoyang's Longmen Caves and Tianshui's Maijishan Grottoes.

However, man, and nature made their mark. The ravages of time, mismanagement and anti-Buddhist movements all worked against the caves. In more recent years it was the Cultural Revolution (1967-77) that was party to the removal of a small number of Buddha heads, and the natural pollution, coating the statues with coal dust and grime that has further reduced the beauty of the place.

What remains of the sight is a 1 kilometer stretch from east to west, revealing 53 caves and over 51,000 statues.

There are variations of Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, Apsaras (Buddhist angels), birds and other animals. Some are impressively detailed, others are austerely beautiful, some are in darkened nooks that can only be squintingly revealed, others are fully open to the rays of light that penetrate the murky skies.

Caves worth special attention are No.16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. Upon Tan Yao's suggestion, 5 statues of Emperors Taizu, Taizong, Shizu, Gaozong, and Gaozu as Buddha express the religious theme that the Emperor is Buddha. Caves housing these statues are known as the Five Tan Yao Caves, similar in style but not identical. The statue in Cave 20 is martial and stately, No.19 handsome and elegant, while No.18 is dignified but lively. Their similarity lies in their thick lips, big noses, slanted eyes and broad shoulders depicting the ethnic culture of the time.