Dazu Rock Carvings

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/912

The steep hillsides of the Dazu area contain an exceptional series of rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century. They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Brief synthesis

The steep hillsides in the Dazu area near Chongqing, contain an exceptional series of five clusters of rock carvings dating from the 9th to 13th centuries. The largest cluster at Beishan contains two groups along a cliff face 7-10m high stretching for around 300m. There are more than 10,000 carvings dating from the late 9th to the mid-12th century which depict themes of Tantric Buddhism and Taoism. Inscriptions give insight to the history, religious beliefs, dating and the identification of historical figures. The late 11thcentury Song dynasty carvings at Shizhuanshan extend over 130m and depict Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian images in a rare tripartite arrangement. The Song dynasty carvings at Shimenshan dating from the first half of the 12th century extend along 72m and integrate Buddhist and Taoist subjects. At Nanshan the Song dynasty carvings of the 12th century extend over a length of 86m and depict mostly Taoist subjects. The culmination in terms of expression of Tantric Buddhism is found in the U shaped gorge at Baodingshan which contains two groups of carvings dating from the late 12th to the mid-13th century near the Holy Longevity Monastery. The very large group to the west stretches for about 500 metres and comprises 31 groups of carved figures depicting themes from Tantric Buddhism as well scenes of herdsmen and ordinary life.

The carvings are known for their grand scale, aesthetic quality and rich diversity of subject matter as well as for being well preserved. Standing as an example of the highest level of Chinese cave temple art dating from the 9th to 13th centuries, the Dazu Rock Carvings not only underline the harmonious coexistence in China of three different religions, namely Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but also provide material proof that cave temple art has increasingly shed light on everyday life. Large numbers of carvings and written historical materials within the heritage site show the great changes in and development of cave temple art and religious beliefs in China during that period.

Criterion (i): The Dazu Carvings represent the pinnacle of Chinese rock art in their high aesthetic quality and their diversity of style and subject matter.

Criterion (ii): Tantric Buddhism from India and Chinese Taoist and Confucian beliefs came together at Dazu to create a highly original and influential manifestation of spiritual harmony.

Criterion (iii): The eclectic nature of religious belief in late Imperial China is given material expression in the exceptional artistic heritage of the Dazu rock art.

Integrity

The Dazu Rock Carvings are among the best preserved of this form of Chinese cave temple art. Each of the five clusters is contained within its own designated demarcation of property area and buffer zone, which ensures the integrity of the statues, their natural and cultural landscapes as well as the historical information they bear.

Authenticity

The Dazu Rock Carvings retain the original characteristics and values of the period when the carvings were created, as they have not suffered man-made damage or destruction by natural disasters. Daily maintenance and care have strictly adhered to the principle of ‘retaining the historic condition’. To date, the historical authenticity of the design, materials, technology and layout of the Dazu Rock Carvings have been maintained. In devoting effort to the conservation and protection of these statues, attention has also been paid to the protection of their surroundings, both natural and cultural. As a result, the historical scale, style and features of the Dazu Rock Carvings have been basically preserved, so as to retain to the utmost extent their functions of secular belief, cultural transmission and social education as a type of religious art.

Protection and management requirements

Laws and regulations for heritage protection apply at different administrative levels; at the highest level the property is protected by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics. At the municipal level the Regulations of Chongqing Municipality on the Conservation and Management of Dazu Rock Carvings, have guaranteed that no damage or degradation will threaten the integrity and authenticity of the heritage in Dazu. In order to satisfy the necessary requirements, the local government has also incorporated the conservation and management of Dazu Rock Carvings into the local economic and social development plan.

As per the Conservation Master Plan of Dazu Rock Carvings, the conservation and management work of Dazu Rock Carvings will be carried out via the establishment of a fully elaborated heritage monitoring system, formulation of a scientific and precise conservation and maintenance plan and management measures, and the setting up of a team of conservation professionals.

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