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The Relics of Buddhism

 Buddhism, one of the three major religions in the world, was introduced to China in Han Dynasty. Later in the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasty, it became a spiritual residence for the common people suffering social unrest. Emperors and eminent persons also placed high esteem on the religion, which greatly helped it to gain a wide popularity throughout the land. The Chinese version of Buddhism reached its prime by the period of Sui and Tang Dynasty. Corresponding to such acclaim, the Buddhist art rapidly developed with resplendence. For a very long time in the ancient China, Buddha images were the main source for the Chinese sculpture arts mostly made on durable materials like stones, colored hardclay, and gold and metals.

 The early Buddhist sculptures were stamped with a strong South Asian style. From Northern Dynasty to Tang Dynasty, Buddhist art underwent a gradual process of adaptation to the Chinese style, especially the artwork attained more influence from folk art during the post-Tang period.  This development vividly reflected the way an exotic religion or philosophy was transformed, absorbed and finally made part of the Chinese ideology and life.  

 The ancient Buddhist sculptures in Shanxi include not only the best-known Yungang Grottoes and Tianlongshan Grottoes, but also many more various Buddha artworks scattered in the rural temples with obscurity. Religions are unreal by nature, but the art they gestate is real. These Buddhist art creations, after thousands of years of vicissitude, still present to the world an eternal beauty.


  The chaos caused by war continued to prevail and the society was in great confusion. People felt helpless and disappointed at the cruel reality, so they longed for a relieved afterlife. This served as a catalyst of the unprecedented growth of the Buddhism in the Northern Dynasty. Cutting caves and carving Buddha statues became common practice. The surviving Buddhist artworks of the Northern Dynasty in Shanxi include more than 200 grotto temples and cliff carvings as well as countless figurines and portrait steles.

  The Buddha statues carved in the early Northern Dynasty are mostly thinly garbed and feature an exotic appearance with  high-ridged noses deep-sunk eyes. By the middle and late period of the dynasty, the statues present a domesticated version of the literary celebrities of the time with less contrastive features and in more gorgeous attires.


  Even until this day, the strength and prosperity of the Tang Dynasty is a dream to be never forgotten. From those Buddha artworks we can visualize the majestic bearing of the great dynasty and feel its open and enterprising spirit. Leaving behind the simplicity featuring the Han Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty drew upon the nutriment of the foreign cultures and successfully realized the nationalization of the Buddhist sculpture art, which made a most glorious chapter in the history of Buddhist art in China.


  From the religious mania in the Northern Dynasty, to the philosophical speculation of the Buddhism studies in Sui and Tang Dynasty, and to the secular fervor of the Buddhist belief in the Song and Yuan Dynasty, people gradually adopted a rational attitude towards the Buddhism. And Buddhist culture and its philosophy began to penetrate into people’s life and further into deep conception of the Chinese culture. Moreover, the application of the Buddhist artworks in China often goes beyond the religious domain and makes a common subject matter of social life.