China's Yungang Grottoes

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Yungang Caves. Taken on July 31, 2011. Photographer Julie Laurent. Image licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Original image location: https://www.flickr.com/photos/julielaurent/6033941621/in/faves-154263974@N03/.

In May Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Yungang Grottoes, located near Datong city in the Shanxi Province of China. The aim of this visit was to bring attention to this important cultural heritage site despite it being closed for several months due to COVID-19. President Xi called the Grottoes a “treasure of human civilization” and discussed projects past, present, and future to protect this important monument.

President Xi recalled the research carried out by Japanese scholars, published in the 1990s which received an international peace prize; this had outraged Chinese scholars and motivated them to create their own set of comprehensive publications on the Yungang Grottoes. This motivation has continued, and President Xi mentioned a current partnership with the Angkor Wat cultural heritage authorities to exchange information to better preserve the Grottoes. The Yungang Grottoes Research Academy has also recently created departments, including a mural conservation laboratory and digital center, to help monitor and preserve the Grotto sculptures. China is also looking for new ways to showcase and protect this important UNESCO World Heritage Site, recently creating both virtual and on-site educational programs, with new online experiences created for use during the recent shut down due to the novel coronavirus.

The Yungang Grottoes were built during the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534AD) along the Silk Road, which brought Buddhism from India to China. One of the largest Grottoes in China, Yungang contains 45 caves, 252 shrines, and over 51,000 carved stone sculptures of Buddha along a stretch of mountainside over 1 km long. The Buddha sculptures range from just 2 centimeters to over 17 meters in height. These recent preservation campaigns are just the next steps in a long history of care for the Yungang carvings. Attempts during the Liao Dynasty (1049-1060) were made to address already noticeable erosion, and a 1621 fire during the Qing Dynasty instigated an extensive rebuilding project.

(for more global news, read the June-July 2020 "News in Conservation" Issue 78)

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The Yungang Grottoes were built during the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534AD) along the Silk Road, which brought Buddhism from India to China. One of the largest Grottoes in China, Yungang contains 45 caves, 252 shrines, and over 51,000 carved stone sculptures of Buddha along a stretch of mountainside over 1 km long. The Buddha sculptures range from just 2 centimeters to over 17 meters in height. These recent preservation campaigns are just the next steps in a long history of care for the Yungang carvings. Attempts during the Liao Dynasty (1049-1060) were made to address already noticeable erosion, and a 1621 fire during the Qing Dynasty instigated an extensive rebuilding project.
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