Travelogue: Exploring one of the world's largest grottoes in Dazu
By Megan Zhang, Liu Zhenshuo
00:44

Deep in the outskirts of southwest China's Chongqing, about 100 kilometers from the bustling city center, you'll find a vast collection of 50,000 stunning rock carvings near the border with Sichuan Province. The Dazu Rock Carvings are a UNESCO World Heritage site and have been around for centuries. The creations here are often considered the crown jewel of China's grotto art. 

Many of Dazu's rock carvings have stood for centuries. /CGTN Photo

Many of Dazu's rock carvings have stood for centuries. /CGTN Photo

Baodingshan

This is perhaps where you will find Dazu's most impressive and striking carvings. Many of Baodingshan's carvings depict stories with Buddhist themes, and there's something about the art here that is intensely raw, candid, and without pretense. While many of Dazu's sculptures are elegant and poetic, Baodingshan is home to a somewhat morbid depiction of the underworld, with vivid carvings portraying the punishments that may await sinners. There's also a series of carvings telling the story of a buffalo that evolves from an unruly beast into a calm and peaceful animal, mirroring the journey Buddhists embark on as they gain control over the mind.

Carvings of the wheel of karma. People come from far and wide to admire the Baodingshan carvings and see the stories up close. /CGTN Photo

Carvings of the wheel of karma. People come from far and wide to admire the Baodingshan carvings and see the stories up close. /CGTN Photo

Beishan

The carvings on this mountain in Dazu are known for their exquisite craftsmanship and impressive level of preservation. The carvings in Beishan depict Buddhist themes. These themes can be traced back to the golden era of creativity that occurred toward the end of the Song Dynasty, when warfare in northern China forced many nobles to flee south to Sichuan. Along with them came craftsmen, who were provided by the nobility with the resources to produce art. It was a tumultuous period when religion became a source of solace and, hence, a motif in Dazu's grotto art. 

You'll find highly sophisticated craftsmanship in the carvings at Beishan. /CGTN Photo

You'll find highly sophisticated craftsmanship in the carvings at Beishan. /CGTN Photo

Shizhuanshan

At the time of these carvings were made, it was very uncommon to see the three belief systems of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism portrayed side by side. After all, throughout China's long history, these three systems went through periods of conflict. The carvings in Dazu played an important role in allowing these differing beliefs to coexist peacefully, each system eventually becoming widely accepted throughout the country. Today, the Dazu Rock Carvings stand as a representation of the evolution of Chinese philosophy.

Carvings of Confucius and some of his students. On Shizhuanshan, the grottoes depict Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian themes, side by side. /CGTN Photo

Carvings of Confucius and some of his students. On Shizhuanshan, the grottoes depict Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian themes, side by side. /CGTN Photo

Nanshan

Most of the grottoes on this mountain portray Taoist themes. Before the Dazu Rock Carvings appeared, cave temple art influenced by Taoism was extremely rare. But Taoist believers were inspired by the Buddhist carvings around Dazu and ventured to carve their own grottoes. 

Before the Dazu Rock Carvings appeared, Taoist rock temple art was very rare. /CGTN Photo

Before the Dazu Rock Carvings appeared, Taoist rock temple art was very rare. /CGTN Photo

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1318km