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Top Choice 01/28/2015 World Heritage China Part 8- Longmen Grottoes


01-28-2015 20:55 BJT

Assessment of the World Heritage Committee

Grottoes and alcoves for Buddha in the Longmen region reflect the largest and most outstanding artificial art during the Northern Wei Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty (from 493 to 907) in China. The artistic works described the themes of the Buddhist religion in detail and represented the peak of Chinese stone carving art.

Chinese name: Long Men Shi Ku

English name: Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes

Based on the standards C(I)(II)(III) for selecting world cultural heritage, the Longmen Grottoes were listed in the World Heritage List on Nov. 30, 2000.

The Longmen Grottoes are 12.5 kilometers away from the southern suburbs of Luoyang in Henan Province, central China, and is between the cliffs of the Longmen Canyon. As Mount Xiang (east) and Mount Longmen (west) face off here and the Yi River flows between the mountains from south to north, it looks like a natural door and was called “Yijue” in ancient times. People began to call it “Longmen” after Luoyang was established during the Sui Dynasty because the city gate of Luoyang was facing the “Yijue.” The Longmen Grottoes cover the one-kilometer-long precipices on the both sides of Yi River.

Statistics from the Research Institute of the Longmen Grottoes show that they have a total of 2,345 niches for Buddha, more than 2,800 inscriptions, more than 40 Buddhist pagodas and more than 100,000 statues in the more than 2,100 caves. The biggest Buddhist statue is more than 17.1 meters high while the smallest is only two centimeters high. The Longmen Grottoes along with the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang in Gansu Province, as well as the Yungang Grottoes in Datong of Shanxi Province are considered as the three treasure houses of China’s ancient Buddhist grotto art and have a very high historical value and artistic value. The beautiful and wonderful workmanship of Buddhist statues in the Longmen Grottoes fully reflect the wisdom and skills of laborers in ancient China.

People began to construct the Longmen Grottoes around the time when Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty moved the capital to Luoyang (around 495). After construction over several dynasties including the Western Wei, Eastern Wei, Northern Qi, Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties Period, the one-kilometer-long grottoes remain with more than 2,000 niches for Buddha in caves and more than 100,000 statues were formed. The more than 500-year-old construction process contains the two climatic periods of statues during the Northern Wei Dynasty and the Dawn of Tang Dynasty. Most statues of Buddha preserved in Mount Yi and Mount Que were constructed during these two periods.

Buddhist statues of the Northern Wei Dynasty account for 30 percent and Buddhist statues of the Tang Dynasty account for about 60 percent, and Buddhist statues of other dynasties account for about 10 percent. The large-scale grottoes of the Northern Wei Dynasty mainly include the Guyang Grotto, Binyang Middle Grotto, Lianhua Grotto, Huoshao Grotto, Weizi Grotto, Buddhist Cave Temple, as well as the Putai Grotto and Lu Grotto. Main grottoes of the Tang Dynasty include the Fengxian Grotto, Binyang South Grotto, Binyang North Grotto, Qianxi Temple, Jingshan Temple, Wanfo Grotto, Double Grotto, Huijian Grotto, Leigutai Three Grottoes, Gaoping Governor Grotto, Kanjing Temple, Tangzi Grotto, Ji’nan Grotto, Jingtu Grotto and the Maya Niche for the Three Buddha.

The Guyang Grotto, Binyang Middle Grotto, Lianhua Grotto and Buddhist Cave Temple are the most representative grottoes among the numerous grottoes constructed during the Northern Wei Dynasty. The Guyang Grotto, the earliest cave among the Longmen Grottoes, was constructed by Qiu Huicheng, a clan from the Wei Dynasty on Mount Longmen in the year 495. It concentrated statues of royalty, aristocrats and high-ranking officials after more than 50 years of construction and the mild and amiable postures of Buddha in the Longmen Grottoes were also different from the vigorous and eldritch Yungang Grottoes. The stone carvings represent the style of the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara that appeared in Luoyang after grotto art was introduced to Luoyang.

Therefore, they are also the precious records of the integration of traditional Chinese culture and extra-territorial civilizations. In addition, the Longmen Grottoes also contain rich statue inscriptions including 19 works out of the well-known “20 works of Longmen.” People began to construct the Binyang Grotto in the year 500 during the reign of Xuanwu of the Wei Dynasty and it took 24 years to complete. This is the grotto that took the longest to finish. There are 11 big Buddhist statues in the Binyang Grotto and the main statue of Sakyamuni has a high nose and big eyes, and its posture is proper and serene. It is a masterpiece of the stone carving art during the middle period of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The statues in grottoes typically reflect the historical conditions of the entire Northern Wei Dynasty worshipping Buddhism.

Most grottoes from the Tang Dynasty were constructed at the beginning of the reign of Empress Wu Zetian which is related to her long-term residence in Luoyang. The Fengxian Grotto, which took four years to construct, is the largest grotto among the Longmen Grottoes. The majestic art statue group of the Locana Buddha is the most famous among the main grottoes from the Tang Dynasty. The total height of the Locana Buddha statue is more than 17.1 meters. The head of the Locana Buddha statue is four meters high and its ears are 1.9 meters long. It is the largest Buddha statue in the Longmen Grottoes. The statue has a plump face and comely eyes.

The Buddha lifts the corners of his mouth and slightly lowers his head like a wise and kindly middle-aged woman, demanding respect but not fear. The entire statue group of the Fengxian Grotto is a perfect artistic work. There are also statues of Ananda, Kasyapas, disciples of Locana Buddha, and the Retinue Buddha, as well as vajra and the four deva-kings standing beside the statue of the Locana Buddha. Such a statue group is organically combined to form an entire artistic work and perfectly reflects the atmosphere of Buddhism.

The Longmen Grottoes have preserved a large number of historical materials in many aspects such as religion, art, calligraphy, music, clothing, medicine, architecture, and Chinese-foreign traffic. Therefore, it is considered as a large-scale museum of stone carving art. The Longmen Grottoes art also provided a large number of valuable materials for the research of ancient Chinese history, especially in aspects of sculpture, painting, calligraphy, architecture, costumes, music and dance, design patterns, and social climate in those periods.

Heritage value

According to the first item of the first article in the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, buildings, sculptures and paintings on monuments that have prominent universal value, and elements, structures, epigraphs and caves that have archaeological value as well as the combination of these elements are said to have world cultural heritage. The Longmen Grottoes is a great sculpture masterpiece and is very unique and peculiar in terms of the history, religion and stone carvings, thus it fits the definition of cultural heritage perfectly.

The Longmen Grottoes not only reflects the boom of the Buddha during the Northern Wei Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, but at the same time, its exquisite carving craftwork and abundant content also reflects the transformation of Chinese sculptures and statues after Yungang Grottoes. Grottoes before the Longmen Grottoes all kept the characteristics of Gandhara art, while the Longmen Grottoes followed the characteristics of Indian grottoes and the styles of the Yungang Grottoes, and was formed with the deep history and culture of the Han nationality in Luoyang during the Wei and Jin dynasties as well as the Southern Dynasties.

The Longmen Grottoes are the milestone of Chinese grotto transformation. They were built by the imperial families or nobles during the Northern Wei Dynasty and Tang Dynasty who have rich human and material resources, and the grottoes they built were large-scale, splendid and collected the elites of the grottoes at that time. Thus the Longmen Grottoes is a very representative grotto and its rise and fall not only reflects the transformation of Chinese royal families believing in religion from the 5th century to the 10th century, but also reflected the development of Chinese policy and the social and economic situation. The significance of the Longmen Grottoes is unique which other grottoes do not have and therefore, they are in line with the requirements of cultural heritage in terms of the authenticity. In addition, the Longmen Grottoes not only include Buddha statues, which were carved in the Northern Wei Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, it also combines them with its surroundings.

For more than 1,500 years, although some of the surrounding rocks have collapsed, internal walls have fallen, few sculptures covered by lime mortar, some cultural relics stolen in modern times, and part of the stone compositions have been destroyed by weather, most of the grottoes and statues as well as decorations are well-preserved and have generally maintained original scales and styles. The Longmen Grottoes are well preserved and most representative among the numerous Chinese grottoes. Therefore, the Longmen Grottoes are in line with the requirements of the natural heritage in terms of completeness. Overall, the statues of the Longmen Grottoes are precious cultural relics in China that reflect the situation that imperial families believed in the Buddha in the Northern and Southern Dynasties and the Tang Dynasty, which is helpful to the study of ancient China’s Buddhist history. Furthermore, the statues also reflect the exquisite carving skills and incomparable aesthetics of workers at that time and is a rich cultural treasure and worthy of being called world cultural heritage.

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