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Top Choice 05/07/2015 World Heritage China Part 37- The Mogao Caves


05-07-2015 21:37 BJT


In the later period of the Tang Dynasty, the content of the pictures became rich and there were more pictures with two or three pictures on a wall, and the screen paintings were even added to below the pictures of stories and interpretations of Buddhist scriptures to supplement the main content. Third are the Buddhist historical paintings and Buddha portraits. The Buddha stories with dozens of themes were spread from some places in the Western Regions, such as the Kingdom of Khotan, ancient India and Gandhara. They began appearing in the later period of the Tang Dynasty, including the Vaisravana, a Sariputta in Khotan fighting on the sea and the Buddha portraits in Gandhara.

The Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves

The fourth type is paintings of Buddhist stories. This kind of paintings gradually disappeared in the Sui Dynasty and reappeared in the late Tang Dynasty. Some caves had paintings of more than stories from the "Xian Yu Jing." The fifth type is the portraits of lay people. The images and dresses of the lay people were painted with accurate detail. The figures of the lay people were becoming bigger, and in the late Tang Dynasty, life-size figures appeared on the walls in the entrances of the corridors. The grand and rigorous painting depicting the scene of Zhang Yichao, governor of Hexi, and Mrs. Song, wife of the governor of Henei, traveling is an important historical painting. Its grand scale reflects the magnificent scene of the Pure Land of Buddhas. Statues in the caves lost their vitality during the Five Dynasties period and began to decline during the Song Dynasty.

The Mogao Caves has become a congregation of architecture, stone carvings, mural paintings, and painted sculptures of various dynasties after nearly 1,000 years of ceaseless excavation. It is the world's largest, richest and oldest treasury of Buddhist art. These art treasures reflect religious and social living conditions of China in the Middle Ages and also reflect the outstanding wisdom and extraordinary achievements of the working people in all ages.

A Chinese Taoist priest named Wang Yuanlu appointed himself guardian of the caves. On June 22, 1900, a person surnamed Yang, who was invited by Wang to transcribe scriptures, found when inserting rushes into a chink in the wall that the wall was hollow, and there was a hidden cave inside the wall, which is now the No.17 Cave of Mogao Caves and also called the “Sutra Cave.” There are 50,000 to 60,000 cultural relics dating from the 4th century to 14th century in this cave alone. This is an especially important discovery in the Chinese history of archaeology, and even shocked the world. More and more people started to study the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, so the “Study of Dunhuang” was gradually developed and became world-famous. After nearly 100 years of efforts, scholars have achieved remarkable progress in developing the academic, artistic, and cultural potential of the Mogao Caves. In addition, their studies also show the world the beauty and splendid culture of the Mogao Caves as well as the wisdom of the ancient Chinese people.

Cultural heritage value:

The art in the Mogao Caves is a three-dimensional art combining architecture, sculptures and paintings. Ancient artists absorbed and melted external techniques of art expression on the basis of inheriting the art traditions from the Han ethnic group living in the central plains of China and other nationalities living in western regions, so they made Buddhist artworks with local characteristics of Dunhuang and Chinese national customs. It provided valuable material for the research of ancient Chinese politics, economy, culture, religion, ethnic relations, and the friendly exchanges between China and foreign countries. It is also the treasure and spiritual wealth of human culture.

Architecture: The Mogao Caves reserves a total of 492 paintings and painted sculptures in the existing more than 500 caves, as well as various architectural forms, such as Buddhist caves, palace caves, tower and temple caves, domed caves and "shadow caves," as well as some Buddhist pagodas. The biggest cave is more than 40 meters high and 30 meters wide while the smallest is very narrow.

The external cave form with central pillars preserved in some early caves reflects that ancient artists accepted the external art forms and combined it with Chinese art, making it Chinese art and some of the artworks are the masterpieces of the existing ancient architectures.

Painted sculptures: The painted sculptures including sculptures of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and Buddhist disciples, as well as sculptures of the four Heavenly Kings, guardian warriors, and gods, are the most important parts of the Mogao Caves. The tallest sculpture is 34.5 meters high while the shortest is only about 2 centimeters. The rich themes and superb craftsmanship of the sculptures makes the Mogao Caves the museum of Buddhist painted sculptures.

The sculpture of the director of monks in Hexi in the Tang Dynasty at the No.17 Cave with paintings of attendants on its back is one of the earliest true-life sculptures of monks in China and has high historical and artistic value.

Mural paintings: The largest component of the artworks in the Mogao Caves is mural paintings with rich content. The mural paintings such as mural paintings with religious subjects and mural paintings depicting the ancient labors and social life scenes provide valuable information in the research of ancient Chinese society during the period of the fourth century to 14th century. The mural paintings in the Mogao Caves also have high artistic value and the mural paintings of the Tang Dynasty are the most valuable among them. Scholars called the mural paintings in the Mogao Caves “Libraries on the wall.”

Those colorful mural paintings reflect the folk customs and historical changes during the past more than 1,500 years from the 16 States periods to the Qing Dynasty through various wall paintings, including landscape paintings, flower patterns and paintings of the Apsaras, as well as mural paintings depicting the ancient labors.

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