Yungang Grottoes are located at the southern foot of Wuzhou Mountain and the north bank of the Shili River in the west of present-day Datong City, Shanxi. This cave temple excavated by the Northern Wei royal court gathered the most human, material and financial resources in the country at that time, representing the highest achievements of Buddhist art in the 5th and 6th centuries, and Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes and Luoyang Longmen Grottoes are called the three major grottoes in China, and the Ayantuo Grottoes in India and the Bamiyan Grottoes in Afghanistan are the world's three major treasures of stone carving art.

Reporter: Everyone who faces the Yungang Grottoes will be shocked by its magnificent momentum. So, who turned this cliff into a shining art temple?

Li Jun: At the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the Xianbei Tuoba tribe, which emerged in the northeast Daxing'anling region, became the most powerful tribal alliance in northern Mobei. In 386, Tuoba Jue ascended the throne as King of Wei, with the title of Great Wei, with the capital Shengle (present-day northern Linger County, Inner Mongolia), and in 398 the capital was moved to Pingcheng (present-day Datong, Shanxi).

Subsequently, after nearly 40 years of Eastern Expedition by three generations of emperors, Taiwu Emperor Tuoba Tao unified the north in 439 and established the powerful Northern Wei Dynasty.

From the time the capital Pingcheng was fixed until Emperor Xiaowen moved the capital to Luoyang in 494, the Pingcheng era occupied two-thirds of the reign of the Northern Wei dynasty. The Datong Basin, centered on Pingcheng, has been the political, economic and cultural center of northern China for more than a hundred years, and people from Han, Xianbei and other ethnic groups and even people from Central Asian countries have jointly developed agriculture, animal husbandry, handicrafts and commerce in this region, and various cultures have collided and integrated and complemented each other.

After entering the Central Plains, Tuoba Jue embraced Buddhism as the state religion and built temples and temples on a large scale in the north. He treated Shamen Fa Guo with courtesy, and Fa Guo also broke the Shamen rule that he did not worship the emperor, seeing it as "as it is today".

Most of the emperors of the Northern Wei Dynasty revered Buddhism, making Pingcheng the center of Buddhism in the north. Although he experienced the Taiwu Emperor's extermination of Buddha, Emperor Wencheng immediately "restored the law" after he took the throne. The monks from the west quickly adapted to the political environment of the Northern Wei dynasty.

For example, Tanyao, who was appointed as the "Shamen Tong", inherited the tradition of the senior monk Fa Guo and the master sage to unify the Buddha statue with the emperor statue, and opened a cave and built a temple in Wuzhou Mountain, west of Pingcheng. Under the direct experience of the royal family, under the background of the emperor as a Buddha, the deification of human lord thinking, and the gradual wind from the west and the east, Yungang Grottoes gathered the most human, material and financial resources in the north at that time, and absorbed and transformed the cave art from cave shape, statue theme, clothing style, carving techniques and other aspects, and finally formed the "Yungang model".

Reporter: In the process of excavating the Yungang Grottoes, both the hosts and the craftsmen reflected the characteristics of all parties working together. What are the distinctive features of the artwork completed in this context?

Li Jun: When the Northern Wei unified the north, it paid special attention to the search for skilled craftsmen, literary and artistic talents, and gathered them in the area of the national capital Pingcheng.

In 439, Emperor Taiwu moved more than 3,<> families from the local area to Pingcheng, including both Han Chinese and Hu monks, bringing Western Regions and Indian Buddhist art styles. It can be said that the essence of the main Buddhist sects and statue-making forces in the north at that time were concentrated in the Heicheng area. The construction of a Buddhist temple in Heijo began.

After Emperor Wencheng restored the law, the appointed "Taoist Tong" Shi Xian (changed to "Shamen Tong" after Shi Xian's death) was the Popin people (ancient Central Asian countries). The earliest invitation to Emperor Wencheng to excavate the Yungang Grottoes also came from the Hexi Corridor. Therefore, many of the statues in the caves, cave shapes, decorations, etc. have a strong ancient Indian style.

In particular, the "Five Caves of Tanyao" (Caves 16 to 20) excavated in the early period, although the main statues are modeled according to the images of Emperor Wencheng of Northern Wei, Emperor Jingmu, Emperor Taiwu, Emperor Mingyuan, and Emperor Daowu, these statues are more Western-style and are called Hu Maung Fan statues.

Its main portraits are all square faces, deep eyes and high noses, shoulders straight, and wearing half-shouldered or through-shoulder robes; The clothing pattern is distinct and heavy, the Gandhara style is more obvious, and the Buddha clothes are close to the body, and have the characteristics of the Modala style. However, the overall tall, rugged, and robust statue is influenced by the aesthetic tendency of the Tuoba Xianbei nomadic people, which can be called an outstanding representative of cultural integration.

The main Buddha Shakyamuni Buddha in Cave 20 of Yungang Grottoes is the world-famous Yungang Open-air Buddha. The big Buddha is 13.75 meters tall, with a solemn appearance, a vigorous atmosphere, and full of vitality. Its square face, wide forehead and long shoulders, high nose bridge, slender eyebrows, thin lips, and strong muscular body are all the characteristics of Gandhara statue art, which is a representative work of Yungang cave carving art.

The early statues of bodhisattvas in the Yungang Grottoes still have the characteristics of the costumes of ancient Indian nobles. The main figure of Cave 17 is the largest seated statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva in Yungang, symbolized by a dragon head ornament on his chest, wearing a flower crown and an arm.

Although the main Buddha of Cave 16 is also a meat bun and water ripple hair style in Gandhara art, he has a slender face, wears a heavy felt cassock, and wears a knotted streamer on his chest, showing a trend from the Indian and Western Regions style to the Central Plains style.

On the left and right sides of the main deity on the north wall of Cave 18 are carved with the statues of the ten disciples of Shakyamuni, which are obviously Brahma bearded. Among them, the best preserved and most wonderful are the monk figures carved out using a technique similar to round carving. Its nose bridge is tall, its eyes are deeply concave, its facial features are three-dimensional, and its characteristics are obvious.

On the whole, these Buddha statues are decently defined, line and surface, rough and majestic, reflecting the aesthetic characteristics of the Central Plains tradition and the spiritual outlook of the Tuoba Xianbei people, and have become the pinnacle of Gandhara statue art after it spread east to China.

The "merchants and merchants" mentioned in the Later Hanshu and the Western Regions refer to merchants from the Western Regions and Central Asia who came through the Silk Road. Since the Eastern Han Dynasty, especially during the Northern Dynasties, the number of Hu merchants from the east has increased dramatically, and their trade activities and cultural customs have had a great impact on the Central Plains, and were an important part of the cultural exchanges and interactions between the Central Plains and the Western Regions and the East and the West at that time.

Their figures appear from time to time in the Yungang Grottoes, such as Caves 6, 12 and 16, all of which make cameo appearances as Hu Shang in the stories of Buddha Benxing. Although the craftsmen express the content according to the Buddhist scriptures, the image of Hu Shang and the composition of the caravan are a true representation of real life. Sometimes among the two side-by-side characters, there must be a Hu man with a high nose and deep eyes and curly hair, and the other is an authentic image of a Central Plains person, reflecting the historical fact that Hu and Han are mixed and ethnic groups are integrated.

"Cultural fusion" is the greatest feature of his Buddhist figurative art, which has a great influence on future generations. Subsequently, such as Luoyang Longmen, Taiyuan Tianlong Mountain, Gongxian Grotto Temple, Yixian Wanfo Hall, etc., their carving art all began in Yungang Grottoes. Since then, these figurative arts have spread to Japan and Korea, and the Yungang Grottoes have been hailed as the "mother womb of East Asian Buddhist art".

Reporter: With the smooth development of the Silk Road, music and dance from the Western Regions, Central Asia and West Asia have been continuously introduced to Pingcheng. As a result, a prosperous scene of the fusion of diverse arts such as Central Plains dance, Xianbei dance, Western Regions music dance, Western Liang music dance, and Korean music dance is presented. How is this pomp and circumstance reproduced in the Yungang Grottoes?

Li Jun: As a nomadic people who can sing and dance, Tuoba Xianbei not only likes to watch music and dance performances, but also loves to entertain himself, so the art of music and dance has also developed rapidly. The Yungang Grottoes are solidified in the form of carvings, so that future generations can still enjoy the music and dance chapters of the Northern Wei period.

Yungang Grottoes has 24 cave carvings, music and dance images, including more than 530 carvings of musical instruments, 28 kinds, and more than 60 bands. Among them, there are not only the Central Plains Han-style qinjiao and Xianbei big horn, but also the turtle zi thin waist drum, five-string, as well as the West Asian Persian vertical flute, Tianzhu fanbai, Hu Feng Han Yun, inclusive.

For example, there are 68 pieces of thin waist drum carvings in the Yungang Grottoes, and also appear in the Kizil Grottoes in Xinjiang and the Dunhuang Grottoes in Gansu Province in the Northern Liang, Northern Wei, Western Wei and Sui dynasty murals.

The tambourine was introduced to Guizi via the Silk Road and is still a traditional musical instrument of Xinjiang Uyghur, Uzbek, Tajik and other ethnic groups. Cave 38 of the Kizil Caves is painted with tambourines, and two images of tambourines are also carved in Caves 11 and 13 of the Yungang Grottoes.

During the Northern Dynasty, the short-necked pipa was introduced to China from Persia, and there are nearly 50 pipa carvings in the Yungang Grottoes. The five-string is similar in appearance to the pipa, introduced by the turtle, and appears in almost all the bands of the Yungang Grottoes. The Persian musical instrument of the Han Dynasty, which was introduced to China from Central Asia, was more diverse in the Yungang Grottoes.

The Yungang Grottoes record the music and dance art of the Northern Wei Dynasty with carvings, which seem silent, but linger endlessly in the changes of time. The music of this period combines the traditional music of the Central Plains and the musical essence of the Western Regions, which is a vivid example of the cultural integration of various ethnic groups and an important period in the history of Chinese music development. In particular, the integration with the music of the Western Regions laid the foundation for the prosperity of Tang Dynasty music and art with song and dance as the main symbol.

In this way, while inheriting the statues and aesthetic styles of the Gandhara and Mula era in the Ganges Valley of ancient India, countless monks combined with the artistic techniques of various ethnic groups in the north, south and west regions of China, and integrated into a unique modeling style, making the Yungang Grottoes a world cultural heritage that has attracted worldwide attention, and still exudes great artistic charm.

Reporter: From the opening of the cave and the construction of the temple in 460 to the time when the Northern Wei moved the capital to Luoyang, all the large cave statues operated by the royal family were completed, which lasted more than 40 years. What are the styles and characteristics of the Yungang Grottoes excavated during this period?

Li Jun: From 471 to 494, during the period of Emperor Xiaowen before the Northern Wei moved the capital to Luoyang, the comprehensive Sinicization reform policy was vigorously promoted, ushering in the heyday of the Northern Wei Dynasty. During this period, Yungang mainly excavated 12 large statue caves, showing the artistic characteristics of complex content and exquisite carving.

Caves 9 and 10 are the two caves with the strongest hall flavor in the Yungang Grottoes, each with two octagonal stone pillars in the front hall of the Luming Tong, and 10 layers of Buddha niches carved on each column surface are placed on the pillars in the shape of elephants and lions. The style of the tower has also changed from the Indian blockage wave type (covered bowl shape) to the square tower imitation pavilion type in the Central Plains.

The flying trick shape is the sublimation of Yungang dance art. Of the 12 large statues excavated during this period, except for the third cave, all of them have the image of tricks, and there are more than 3 pieces of musical instrument carvings of 450 kinds.

Some of the flying tricks hold up lotus flowers, and some hold Yingluo. Four of them were able-bodied, rebellious males. They crossed their waists with one hand and tolian with the other, very masculine, reproducing the image of male dancers of northern ethnic minorities. The other four are women, with high hair, soft posture, moving dancing, dressed in Central Plains costumes, showing the delicate image of female dancers.

Compared with the flying sky of Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes at the same time, the flying sky in the Yungang Grottoes has more multi-ethnic characteristics. Whether it is the clothing or the softness of the limbs, or the details of the carvings, they are more fluid and secular. The flying shape is not only a sublimation of Yungang statue art, but also an artistic reproduction of the cultural exchanges and integration of various ethnic groups in the Northern Wei Dynasty.

The form of Tiangong trick music is the largest carrier of music and dance content displayed during this period. During the joint reign of Empress Dowager Wen and Emperor Xiaowen, the Han and Wei ritual music system was restored, and Zhongzheng Yale was respected, so musical instruments such as sheng, qin, and zither began to be seen in the middle grottoes, and the content of music and dance carvings developed rapidly, changing the silent and cold Zen color of the Dynasty period.

The roof of the cave has also developed from a dome roof to a court style in the Central Plains, with a front porch supported by huge eaves pillars, a flat chess (an ancient suspended ceiling) and a mojing at the top of the cave, a Buddhist shrine carved into the roof of the temple, and a golden ridge decorated with gold-winged birds and fleurs.

Judging from the statue of the Buddha, the face changed from deep eyes and high nose to beautiful and amiable, and the Buddha's clothes were changed from a cassock with a diagonal right shoulder to a Southern Dynasty-style outfit with a bow belt. In short, the statues in this period are not as majestic and cold as the early ones, and they have obvious cultural characteristics of the Central Plains from cave shape to statue themes and modeling styles, which is a clear proof of the sinicization of Buddhist cave art.

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Li Jun is a professor at the School of Archaeology and Museum of Shanxi University.