Comments of the World Heritage Committee
The Yungang Grottoes in Datong City, Shanxi Province, with their 252 caves and 51,000 statues, represent the outstanding achievement of Buddhist cave art in China in the 5th and 6th centuries. The five caves created by Tan Yao, with their strict unity of layout and design, constitute a classical masterpiece representing the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art.
Located in Datong City, Shanxi Province, the Yungang Grottoes were originally dug in 460 or the 1st year of Emperor Heping’s reign of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), more than 1,500 years ago. Together with the Thousand-Buddha Cave in Dunhuang and the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang they are known as “the three major grottoes in China.” The site is a key cultural relic unit under state protection and a national AAAAA scenic area.
These grottoes were chiseled in three main periods — the early period, the middle period and the late period. Statues from different periods demonstrate different styles. The oldest and most magnificent grottoes of all are the five caves said to be chiseled under the direction of the monk Tan Yao during the Heping period (460-465) of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The caves, marked as Nos. 16-20, are of the flavor of the Western Regions and have an oval shape. Spacious as they are, they house the giant statue of Tathagata moulded after emperors of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The statue of the sitting Buddha inside Cave No. 20 rises 13.75 meters and has wide shoulders, uncovered cassock on the right, rotund appearance, thin lips and a high nose, and is the masterpiece of Yungang Grottoes. The grottoes of the middle period were exquisitely carved and are renowned for their splendid decorations. The grottoes of the late period are small in scale, with lean and handsome images and proper proportions, setting an example for the subsequent grotto art of north China.
In addition to the lifelike statues of figures, there are many wooden buildings in a simple and unsophisticated style, although of many different shapes. Buddhist relief is characterized by its complicated patterns, beautiful and exquisite decorations, and carvings of ancient musical instruments such as Konghou, Paixiao, and Pipa, all of which give prominence to the subject and at the same time exhibit an exceptionally skilled carving technique.
In respect of this technique, Yungang Grottoes demonstrate the “pattern of Yungang”, the best traditions of the art developed from those of the Qin and Han dynasties in China and absorbed the art of Buddha statuary from India, and illustrate a turning point in the development of China’s own Buddhist art.
There are trains to Datong from Beijing, Taiyuan, Xi’an, Yin-chuan, Shijiazhuang, Baotou, Shenyang, and Hangzhou. From Datong Railway Station tourists can take public bus No. 4 to Xinkaili Bus Terminal in the west of the downtown to take public bus No.3 to Yungang. Also the tourists can take regular scheduled buses at the Datong Long-Distance Bus Station or take public buses Nos.3-1, 3-2 or 10 in downtown areas to the Yungang Grottoes.
The best season to visit the Yungang Grottoes is from May to October.
Admission: 60 yuan
Opening Hours: 08:30-17:40 from April 15 to October 31
08:30-17:00 from November 1 to April 14
Telephone for Tourist Service Center: 0086-352-3026230