Buddhist caves : The Longmen caves



"Chinese religion has been influenced by three great streams of human thought : Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Although each has separate origins, all three have been inextricably entwined in popular Chinese religion along with ancient animist beliefs." Buddhism came to China from India along the silk road in the middle of the 1st century as it gained the interest of the emperor of that time. He sent a mission to the West that returned with scriptures, images of Buddha and 2 monks. Between the 3rd and the 6th century, Buddhist monasteries and temples sprang up everywhere in China. It is said that they played a similar role to the churches and monasteries in Europe, functioning as guesthouses, hospitals and orphanages for travelers and refugees. As the number of monks grew and Buddhism received the favours of the emperors of the time (Wei dynasty), monks started sculpting images of Buddha in caves and grottoes. Some were ordered by the emperors, other were the work of the faithful. 


In AD 494, the Northern Wei dynasty moved its capital from Datong (near Beijing, another famous site of Buddhist caves) to Luoyang in Henan Province. Work started on the Longmen caves and in the next 200 years, Buddhist monks carved more than 100,000 images and statues of Buddha in the cliff walls. With Datong and Dunhuang, the Longmen caves represent the peak of Buddhist cave art. Unfortunately, the centuries have not been kind to these works of art. Damage was done by Western souvenir hunters as well as local people when the emperor favoured another religion. More recently, during the cultural revolution, the Red Guards also came with their hammers to destroy whatever was part of the "old times".


Although the caves must have been impressive in the past, what remains today can be quite depressing to look at : beheaded statues and scared wall paintings. Some beautiful examples remain though.




Our next visit to Buddhist caves was a happier one !


Guangzhou-Xi'an Back to Trip page Bingling Si Buddhist caves