The Magnificence of Hangzhou's Song Dynasty Grottoes
Collectively known as the "Four Great Grottoes" in China, the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu province, the Yungang Grottoes in Datong, Shanxi province, the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Henan province, and the Majishan Grottoes in Tianshui, Gansu province feature distinct Buddhist art and culture, as well as giant caves and statues.
In fact, China holds the largest number of cave temples in the world.
While not as famous as those four, Hangzhou is also a major site when it comes to ancient caves through which we can get a glimpse of the stunning skills of ancient craftsmen, and the daily lives of the people in ancient China.
At a recent event held in Hangzhou's Xiaofeng Bookstore, Professor Chang Qing of the Arts College of Sichuan University spoke about the unique charm of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) grottoes in Hangzhou and the great contribution the statues in these grottoes made in China and across the East Asia region.
The event, themed "Major Achievements of Song Dynasty Caves and Statues in Hangzhou", focused on Chang's new book A Concise History of Grottoes in China, which was published by Zhejiang Ancient Books Publishing House.
From Zhejiang to Xinjiang, from Gansu to Jiangsu, from Shanxi to Shaanxi, from Hebei to Henan, and Sichuan where Chang teaches, he has visited all the well-known grottoes in China.
For Chang, who specializes in the study of Chinese Buddhist arts, Hangzhou and its striking Buddhist caves and statues have left an indelible mark.
"I have always been fascinated by grottoes," said Chang, who enrolled in the prestigious Peking University in 1981 and majored in archeology for his undergraduate studies before pursuing a master's degree in the same subject. After graduating, Chang first worked at the Longmen Grottoes Institute before joining a team of archaeologists for the excavation of the ruins of Lin'an city, the capital of the Southern Song (1127-1270) between 1991 and 1993.
It was during this period that Chang began to study the many Buddhist caves located around Hangzhou's Feilai or Flying Peak in his spare time. To Chang, the beauty and appeal of these caves and the statues, sculptures and paintings in them were entirely different from those he had seen in northern China. Years later, Chang wrote about the statues and sculptures in these caves in his Ph.D. dissertation.