Travel Back in Time to Discover China’s Ancient Wonders
- On July 2, 2016
- By Lesley Daunt
- In General
On your next trip to China be sure to discover its ancient wonders. Pay homage to the 1,500-year-old Longmen Buddha Grotto, get lost in the timeless charms of Fenghuang town and join a legion of terracotta warriors. With so much history, you will feel as though you’ve gone back in time.
The Longmen Grottoes
Located in the Henan Province near Luoyang, is a treasure trove of ancient Buddhist cave art called The Longmen Grottoes. The grottos were carved and hewed towards the end of the 5th century, after the rulers at the time relocated the capital at Luoyang to a new spot. Buddhism was starting to spread east into China and was regarded with great respect by the imperial court. The Buddhists, then began the practice of carving rock temples in dedication to the Buddha.
The construction of the Longmen Grottoes began during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen in 493 and continued through the successive six dynasties, including Song and Tang, for a span of over 400 years. Altogether there are almost 4,000 engraved stone tablets, more than 97,000 statues of the Arhats, Bodhisativas, and Buddha, 785 niches, and 1,352 caves along the cliff of Mt. Xiangshan and Mt. Longmen.
The Tang Dynasty possesses two-thirds of the cave sculptures while the other third belongs to the Northern Wei Dynasty. The carving methods, facial expressions, the design of clothing, as well as the general style of the sculpture, seem to have little foreign influence, instead exhibiting the peak of the evolution of Chinese grotto art. The Binyang Cave contains 11 Buddha statues representing a transition in style from the compact and simple style depicted in the Yungang Grottoes of Datong, to the realistic and vigorous Tang Dynasty sculptures.
Though the cave sculptures of the Tang Dynasty are of a realistic, elegant, vigorous style, the stone statues carved under the edict of Empress Wuzetian in Fengxian Cave, are considered to be the most typical of the period. These are composed of worshippers, protectors, heavenly kings, a series of pairs of Bodhisattvas, and a giant statue of Vairocana Buddha, which is praised these days as being the essence of Buddhist sculpture in China.
Fenghuang, praised as “the Most Beautiful Town in China” by famous New Zealand writer Rewi Alley, is a small county known for its lively ethnic customs, culture, rich history, and natural beauty. Fenghuang got its name from the Fenghuang Mountain which resembles the sacred Fire-Bird, the Pheonix. ‘Fenghuang’ is the Chinese word for Phoenix.
The Tuo Jiang River runs right through the heart of Fenghuang and is surrounded by lush mountain scenery. Don’t miss out on the chance to take a rowboat, one of their main means of transportation, to enjoy the natural beauty and ramble around the county. Unique wooden houses called Diaojiaolous are constructed on stilts are built along the riverbank. The design keeps the buildings safe from the spring floods. Fenghuang people still live a very simple life despite the other places in China are under the onset of modernization. It always reminds people of the scenes in Chinese painting and old Chinese films.
The Terracotta Army
Over 2,000 years ago, Emperor Qin Shihuang built a tomb with a large army made from terracotta. The Terracotta Army, as it is now referred to, was created with the intention of protecting him in the afterlife. For thousands of years, China’s First Emperor’s army stood watch, protecting his tomb. The soldiers have been ravaged by both looters and time, leaving the proud army in a distant memory. In 1974 that all changed, however, when these mysterious soldiers were unearthed by a farmer.
The farmer in Shaanxi Province revealed a major archaeological find when he came across a terracotta statue while digging a well. Archaeologists are still exploring the site and its history today. There are an estimated 8,000 warriors that have been discovered at the site. The discovery also revealed other animal and human figures that represent a variety of imperial Chinese life, from a lowly stable-hand to the royal court and even acrobats.
Both conservators and archaeologists face many challenges when it comes to the preservation of the terracotta figures. Many of the statues have become broken over time, requiring painstaking work to mend them. The statutes require delicate handling as any contact with light and air can cause their paint to quickly disappear. Conservators and scholars are working to uncover their secrets while preserving these priceless artifacts.
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