Yulin Caves

The Yulin Caves (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yulin kū) is a Buddhist cave temple site in Guazhou County, Gansu Province, China. The site is located some 100 km east of the oasis town of Dunhuang and the Mogao Caves. It takes its name from the eponymous elm trees lining the Yulin River, which flows through the site and separates the two cliffs from which the caves have been excavated. The forty-two caves house some 250 polychrome statues and 4,200 m2 of wall paintings, dating from the Tang Dynasty to the Yuan Dynasty (seventh to fourteenth centuries).[1][2] The site was among the first to be designated for protection in 1961 as a Major National Historical and Cultural Site.[3] In 2008 the Yulin Grottoes were submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Chinese Section of the Silk Road.[4]


Most of the caves take the form of an entrance corridor, antechamber, and main chamber. In three caves, a central pier was left intact during excavation then carved with niches on all four sides. A number of caves were reworked and repainted in later periods, since the site remained in use throughout the Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Western Xia, and Yuan Dynasties. It fell into disuse during the Ming Dynasty. There were early efforts to restore the caves at the time of the Qing Dynasty and several new caves also date to this period. More recently, under the management of the Dunhuang Academy, the focus has been on preventive conservation through consolidation of the cliff face and controlling access.[1][5]

Wall paintings

The paintings are Buddhist with some secular scenes, the former including buddhas, bodhisattvas, apsara, and jataka tales; and the latter, donor portraits, go players, representatives of China's ethnic minorities, marked out by their hair styles and dress, farming scenes such as milking a cow, wine-making, a smelting furnace, and a marriage ceremony; depictions of musicians and dancers help break down the distinction between the sacred and the profane.[1][2] The paintings are not frescoes but instead executed on an earthen render with mineral and organic pigments and gum or glue binders.[5]

List of caves

The forty-two caves are dated as follows, based largely on the style of the paintings and their accompanying inscriptions (in Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Tangut, and Old Uighur):[6][7]

Cave Construction Restorations Former Numbering Image
Cave 1Qing
Cave 2Western XiaYuan, QingC1
Cave 3Western XiaYuan, QingC2
Cave 4YuanQingC3
Cave 5TangQing
Cave 6TangFive Dynasties, Song, Western Xia, Qing, Republic of ChinaC4
Cave 7Qing
Cave 8Qing
Cave 9Qing
Cave 10Western XiaYuan, QingC5
Cave 11Qing
Cave 12Five DynastiesQingC6
Cave 13Five DynastiesSong, QingC7
Cave 14Song DynastyQing, Republic of ChinaC8
Cave 15Mid-TangSong, Western Xia, Yuan, QingC9
Cave 16Five DynastiesEarly Republic of ChinaC10
Cave 17TangFive Dynasties, Song, (date unclear), QingC11
Cave 18Five DynastiesWestern Xia, YuanC11b
Cave 19Five DynastiesQingC12
Cave 20TangFive Dynasties, Song, QingC13
Cave 21TangSong, (date unclear), QingC14
Cave 22TangSong, Western Xia, QingC15
Cave 23TangSong, QingC16
Cave 24TangC17b
Cave 25Mid-TangFive Dynasties, Song, QingC17
Cave 26TangFive Dynasties, Song, (date unclear), QingC18
Cave 27TangC18b
Cave 28Early-TangSong, Western Xia, QingC19
Cave 29Western XiaYuan, QingC20
Cave 30Late-TangSongC20
Cave 31Five DynastiesQingC21
Cave 32Five DynastiesSongC22
Cave 33Five DynastiesQingC23
Cave 34TangFive Dynasties, Song, QingC24
Cave 35TangFive Dynasties, Song, QingC25
Cave 36TangFive Dynasties, Song, QingC26
Cave 37Qing
Cave 38TangFive Dynasties, QingC27
Cave 39Tang(date unclear), Yuan, QingC28
Cave 40Five DynastiesQingC29
Cave 41Five DynastiesYuan, Qing
Cave 42High-Tang

See also


  1. Fan Jinshi, ed. (1999). 安西榆林窟 The Anxi Yulin Grottoes (in Chinese and English). Gansu National Publishing House. pp. 6–9. ISBN 7542106465.
  2. Dunhuang Academy, ed. (1997). 安西榆林窟 [Anxi Yulin Caves] (in Chinese). 文物出版社. ISBN 7501007748.
  3. "国务院关于公布第一批全国重点文物保护单位名单的通知 (1st Designations)" (in Chinese). State Administration of Cultural Heritage. 3 April 1961. Archived from the original on June 9, 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  4. "Chinese Section of the Silk Road". UNESCO. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  5. Whitfield, Roderick (et al.) (2000). Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road. Getty Conservation Institute. pp. 5, 114 ff, 135. ISBN 0892365854.
  6. Dunhuang Academy, ed. (1997). 安西榆林窟 [Anxi Yulin Caves] (in Chinese). 文物出版社. pp. 254–263. ISBN 7501007748.
  7. Dai Matsui (2008). "Revising the Uigur Inscriptions of the Yulin Caves". Studies on the Inner Asian Languages. Osaka University. 23: 17–33. ISSN 1341-5670.

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