Today was a trip to Longman Caves. Let me give you some detail before I tell you of the day.
Longmen Caves are one of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art. Housing tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples, they are located 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of present day Luòyáng in Hénán province, Peoples Republic of China. The images, many once painted, were carved into caves excavated from the limestone cliffs of the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains, running east and west. The Yi River flows northward between them and the area used to be called Yique (“The Gate of the Yi River”). The alternative name of “Dragon’s Gate Grottoes” derives from the resemblance of the two hills that check the flow of the Yi River to the typical “Chinese gate towers” that once marked the entrance to Luoyang from the south.
There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 1,400 caves, ranging from an 1 inch (25 mm) to 57 feet (17 m) in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, whence the name “Forest of Ancient Stelae”, as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas. Situated in a scenic natural environment, the caves were dug from a 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) stretch of cliff running along both banks of the river. 30% date from the Northern Wei Dynasty and 60% from the Tang, caves from other periods accounting for less than 10% of the total. Starting with the Northern Wei Dynasty in 493 AD, patrons and donors included emperors, Wu Zetian of the Second Zhou Dynasty, members of the royal family, other rich families, generals, and religious groups.
In 2000 the site was inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity,” for its perfection of an art form, and for its encapsulation of the cultural sophistication of Tang China.
The earliest history of the creation of Longmen Grottoes is traced to the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei dynasty when he shifted his capital to Luoyang from Dàtóng; Luoyang’s symbolic value is borne by the fact that it served as the historic capital for 13 dynasties. The grottoes were excavated and carved with Buddhist subjects over the period from 493 AD to 1127 AD, in four distinct phases. The first phase started with the Northern Wei dynasty (493 and 534). The second phase saw slow development of caves as there was interruption due to strife in the region, between 524 and 626, during the reign of the Sui dynasty (581-618) and the early part of the Tang dynasty (618-907). The third phase, was during the reign of the Tang dynasty when Chinese Buddhism flourished and there was a proliferation of caves and carvings from 626 to the mid 8th century. The last phase, which was the fourth, was from the later part of the Tang dynastic rule extending to the Northern Song Dynasty rule, which saw a decline in the creation of grottoes. It came to an end due to internecine war between the Jin and Yuan dynasties.
Guyangdong or the Shiku Temple, credited to Emperor Xiaowen, was the first cave temple to be built at the center of the southern floor of the West Hill. Emperor Xuanwu of Northern Wei followed up this activity and excavated three more caves, two in memory of his father, Emperor Xiaowen, and one in memory of his mother; all three caves are grouped under the title of the “Three Binyang Caves” (Binyangsandong), which were built by the emperor over a 24-year period. Over 30% of the caves seen now were built during this period.
In 527, the Huangfugong or Shikusi grottoes, a major cave, was completed. It is a well conserved cave located to the south of the West Hill.
In 675, Fengxiansi Cave, on the southern floor of the West Hill was completed during the Tang dynasty rule. This marked the third phase of creation and the peak period of the gottoes’ creation. It is estimated that 60% of the caves seen at Longmen came about in this period from 626 till 755. During this period, in addition to the caves which housed Buddha statues of various sizes, some Buddhist temples were also built in open spaces with scenic settings in the same complex. However, these are now mostly in ruins. During this phase, Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian were instrumental in intensifying the activity when they were ruling from Luyong.
During the period of 1368 to 1912, when two dynasties ruled in China, namely the Ming dynasty from 1368 to 1644, and the Qing Dynasty from 1644 to 1912, there was cultural revival and the Longmen Grottoes received recognition both at the national and international level.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese looted the site and took many of the statues back to Japan. Many of these relics are now in Japanese museums.
Vandalism occurred in the 1940s, a result of political unrest. With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the grottoes have been declared as protected area and are being conserved. The Constitution of China, under Article 22, which among other issues also provides for protection of the natural heritage sites, has been further defined under various legal instruments enacted to protect and conserve this cultural heritage of China.
The Longmen Relics Care Agency was established in 1953 under the Ministry of Culture. A 1954 site inventory was undertaken by the newly established Longmen Caves Cultural Relics Management and Conservation Office. The State Council declared the Longmen Grottoes as a national cultural monument needing special protection in 1961. In 1982, it was declared as one of the first group of scenic zones to be protected at the state level. The Management and Conservation Office was renamed the Longmen Grottoes Research Institute in 1990; and the People’s Government of Luoyang City became responsible for the management of the heritage monuments. The governing organization was renamed the Longmen Grottoes Research Academy in 2002.
During the Warring States period, the general Bai Qi of Qin once defeated the allied forces of Han and Wei at the site. The site was subjected to significant vandalism at several points in its history. Major artifacts were removed by Western collectors and souvenir hunters during the early 20th century. The heads of many statues were also destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Two murals taken from the grottoes are reported to be displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
So, now you have some background. Jim and my day started with a second day of heavy fog and damp cold. The morning found us traveling to the train station to take a high speed train to Luoyang. It was a good trip. Speeds in excess of 295 km per hour. It took us 45 minutes to go the 65 miles. I love the high speed train rides. Before we left the station, there was an older Chinese man. He was carrying two very large potato sacks. He was having difficulty finding his seat. I observed that he had asked two Chinese men for help finding his seat, The men looked at the ticket and pointed to the front of the car we are in. But, I soon realized that he was having difficulty still. I guessed he could not read. So, I got out of me seat, asked him for his ticket, and then escorted him to his seat. There was another person in his seat. The person in the seat got up and the old man was now seated. I did my good deed for the day.
When we got to our destination, we waited for the bus to take us to the caves. As we waited, Jim and I saw a man being led to a police car in shackles. His hands were handcuffed and his feet had leg chains on them. It was the first time I had seen anyone here arrested or in custody. Of course I wondered how dangerous he could be in such a state of bondage.
As we were waiting for the bus, it seemed that our bus was never to arrive. Many busses came and went. Jim and I were talking about having to wait. I told him, with confidence that our bus was going to be the third bus yet to come. I was guessing. But, the third bus was our bus. Jim was going to try to show me up later in the day. On our return trip from the caves, we were waiting for our bus. He asked me to predict when our bus was going to arrive. I said with confidence again that our bus was going to be the second bus yet to arrive. I could see in the future that it is about halfway to our destination. Sure enough, our bus was the second bus. I am not sure who was more amazed…Jim or I… Ha Ha. Of course I was purely guessing. But, it was quite funny to me.
At the caves, you have to walk down a long street flanked with vendor stores. This time of year, there are not many visitors. So, seeing a foreigner, we can become targets I guess. But, surprisingly, few approached us. We walk a long distance to the entrance of the caves area. It is about half a km. Once we get there, we are told that the ticket office is halfway back at the museum we passed. So, a long walk back to the museum and the walk back to the entrance gates has me frustrated. Where were the signs? We saw none. And, the entrance fee was 120 RMB. Sure, that is about $20 US dollars. But, that is very expensive for a Chinese family. I was hoping that it was worth the price. Luckily, it was.
Along the cliffs with the river below, there are many carved out grottoes in the cliff. Every grotto is adorned with many, many Buddha sculptures. It was quite remarkable. As you have already read from the description, many of the statues have been destroyed. Many of the faces and heads are no long visible from looters and the Mao destruction he did in China to the culture and artifacts. There was much climbing of stairs to get to different levels of the caves. And, about half way through, you were not sure you wanted to climb any more just to see some more destroyed ruins of the grottos. But, you curiosity kept you climbing. Despite the foggy, damp, cold day, it was a good day for us. It would be much better to see this site during the warmer, greener seasons. But, the lack of people at the site made the casualness of the day special.
There was much walking. I was cold towards the end of the day. And, I was getting tired. So, I am happy to be back in the hotel where it is warm and relaxing. I am hopeful that tomorrow will be warmer and nicer. That is what the weather report claims. I hope it is true. See you tomorrow for my next report on my vacation.