LUOYANG AND LONGMEN CAVES

LUOYANG

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Longmen Caves
Luoyang (160 kilometers west of Zhengzhou) is an industrial city with about 2 million people. Located along the southern banks of the middle reaches of the Yellow River, it was one of the seven ancient capitals of China, serving 13 different dynasties — among them the Xia, the Shang, the Eastern Zhou, the Eastern Han, the Cao Wei, the Western Jin, the Northern Wei, the Sui and the Tang — and remaining a seat of power until, 1592. It is considered an encapsulation of ancient Chinese history.

Worth checking out is a Qing-era wooden house built in 1733 that has not been restored or rebuilt. A walled compound, it embraces four pavilions spaced around three internal courtyards. Some of the structures are dilapidated yet their original forms are intact. The city is famous for its peonies and Annual Peony Show. Every April, the show attracts numerous visitors from home and abroad. Luoyang is also famous for its three-colored glazed pottery, bronze ware, and palace lanterns. Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Luoyang is accessible by train and bus from Beijing and other cities and has a small airport. China Guide Travel China Guide

Guanlin Temple (Guanlin Town in Longmen District, Luoyang) is one of the three major temples to Guan Yu, a military general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25–220). An ancient classical architectural complex integrating a graveyard, temple and forest in China, the temple is said to be the burial place of Guan Yu’s head. buried here. Qianqiujian Tower stands in the square. The two stone by the front gate were carved in the Ming Dynasty, symbolizing power and inviolable dignity. The gate with 81 golden nails indicating the high position of the temple and the status of General Guan Yu. The iron lions on both sides of the Rite Gate, weigh over 1,500 kilograms and were cast 400years ago. A horizontal board inscribed with four Chinese characters saying “Well Known All over the Country” written by Empress Dowager Cixi is hung above the Rite Gate. Between Rite Gate with the Praying Hall is paved path flanked by of 104 stone lions — each one with a different face and posture next — on the top of the columns. They were made by the most skilled atone carvers in the Central Plain during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795). The Guanlin International Pilgrimage Ceremony is held every year in the temple.

Luoyang and China First and Only Empress

Luoyang is famous for its association with China's first and only empress, Wu Zetian (624-705) in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Shanghai Daily reported: “For many years Luoyang and Empress Wu were virtually synonymous, though many other important figures lived in the ancient city--the capital of 15 dynasties. Some count 13 dynasties, some even say 31, depending on complicated definitions of Chinese dynasties. I had heard many stories about the extraordinary and beautiful woman who rose to power and ruled from 690 to 705 AD. [Source: Shanghai Daily, June 22, 2009]

“On a short, two-day trip, I traced some of her history. She was cultured, conniving, ruthless and ambitious in her drive to gain the throne. She also helped advance women, flying in the face of Confucian thought about the utterly subservient role of females. The sage is believed to have said that a woman ruler would be "as strange as a hen crowing at daybreak."

Wu lived in the prosperous Tang Dynasty and though the period was quite open, it was still a time when women were not even allowed to attend family ceremonies or visit temples. Wu, born into a noble and cultured family, was at first a concubine of Emperor Taizong, founder of the Tang Dynasty, in his later years. Of course, a dead emperor's concubines were forbidden to marry. So Wu was sent to a nun's temple, like all the emperor's childless concubines.

However, Taizong's son, Gaozong, welcomed her back to the royal family as his concubine, and later wife. Historians recorded how the whole government and country were opposed to Gaozong's decision to make Wu his queen. But she triumphed over all criticism, arranged her own coronation and founded her own short-lived Zhou Dynasty (690-705) after Gaozong died. She already has been the power behind the throne.

The Zhou Dynasty interrupted the Tang Dynasty. Its capital was Luoyang, while the Tang capital was today's Xian in Shaanxi Province. Some historians consider the Zhou Dynasty a branch of the Tang, while others consider it distinct. In any case, Luoyang, one of the earliest ancient capitals, is sometimes considered one of the world's four most historic cities, together with Mecca (Saudi Arabia), Jerusalem (Israel) and Athens (Greece).

Luoyang is also known as the "City of Flowers" and is famous for its extraordinary peonies, notably in the Peony Park, and for the world-famous Longmen Grottoes. Both are linked in the legend to Empress Wu....Longmen Grottoes first caught my attention when I was a child and heard a fantastic tale about the empress, then powerful scheming consort. This one is about how supremely confident Empress Wu left her deified image in Longmen Grottoes. The empress was said to be devout Buddhist although modern historians and novelists consider her piety a political tool to rule the public. While she was still imperial consort, she ordered the creation of many caves in the grottoes, including the Fengxian Temple Cave and the enormous statue of Vairocana Buddha--not deep within but towering in a shallow niche on the mountain side.

It is the single largest statue among more than 100,000 in the grottoes. It stands more than 17 meters high and each ear is 1.9 meters long. The statue is acknowledged as the most artistic and compelling and is said to be the likeness of Empress Wu herself. It is commanding, maternal and mysterious, exuding wisdom; the face almost bears a smile. The tale that Wu ordered craftsmen to carve her image cannot be confirmed, but the strong motherly visage bears some resemblance to paintings of the empress in her later years. She abdicated in 705 AD and died the same year at the age of 80. As consort, Wu attended the opening ceremony of the cave with hundreds of officials.

Museums in Luoyang

Luoyang Museum (north side of Mid Zhongzhou) Established in 1985, it is a comprehensive history museum combined with collection, preservation, scientific research and exhibition facilties. It displays various kinds of precious cultural relics, dating from from over 500,000 years to the Tang Dynasty (618–906). Location: Nietai Rd, Luolong, Luoyang, Henan, China. Tel:0086-379-67833887

Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum (on top of Mangshan Hill to the north of Luoyang City) contains displays of ancient relics found in the area and 25 ancient tombs that have been painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt in the museum. The ancient tombs come from different dynasties, from the Western Han Dynasty to the Northern Song Dynasty.. The floor area is 8,200 square meters. It is the only ancient tomb museum in China.

At Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum the Luoyang Museum, the tombs have been rebuilt in dark underground corridors in an efforts to recreate their original environment. This may sound nice but has been a disaster from a conservation point of view. Moisture and humidity that has collected in the tombs has caused the frescoes of fierce tomb guardians, copulating dragons and mythical animals to peel and crack and decay. Many of the tombs are now closed. Humidity-free enclosures are being built.

Many objects were unearthed in the Burial Ground for Carriages, a series of ancient tombs, where noblemen were buried with their horses and carriages. One of excavated tombs revealed one nobleman, 10 horses, 5 carriages, offerings, horse ornaments and weapons. The Ancient Tomb Museum also contains dioramas depicting "primitive slave societies" that existed in the area 2000 years ago.

White Horse Temple

White Horse Temple (12 kilometers from Luoyang) was built in A.D. 68 and is regarded as the oldest Buddhist temple in China. The two Indian monks who brought the Buddhist scriptures to this site traveled by horse, thus the name. Among the features in the temple are two white horses flanking the west gate; and a massive iron bell in one the hall that produces sounds that can be heard from five kilometers away on clear nights.

White Horse Temple was the first Buddhist monastery ever built in China and is still inhabited by monks. During the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), the emperor dispatched monks to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures; these were brought back to China on a white horse, in memory of which a monastery was built near Luoyang.

White Horse Temple is also known as Baima Temple or Baimasi. Since its establishment, Baima Temple has experienced vast changes throughout the centuries, and was rebuilt several times. Now, the temple covers 40,000 square meters, and mainly consists of Tianwang Hall, Great Buddha Hall, Daxiong Hall, Jieyin Hall, Qingliang Terrace and Pilu Pavilion; Admission: 50 yuan (US$7.85)

Longtan Valley (in northern Xin'an County, about 30 kilometers northwest of Luoyang) has been dubbed one the most beautiful valleys in China. Stretching for 12 kilometers, the U-shaped valley features a stripe of purplish red quartz sandstone carved and smoothed by flowing water. The area boasts mountains, waterfalls and creeks. Admission: 70 yuan (US$10.99]

Longmen Caves

Longmen Caves (12 kilometers south of Luoyang) stretch along the 32-meter- high cliffsides on the Yi River. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and considered one of the three great treasure houses of grotto art in China, the Buddhist caves features more than 2,345 caves and grotto niches, 43 pagodas, 3,600 tablets and over 100,000 statues built over a 400 year period between A.D. 493 and 960 during the Northern Wei, Sui Tang and Song Dynasties. The tallest Buddha is 17.4 meters (57 feet) tall and the smallest is only two centimeters. The best are comparable to the finest sculptures in the world. Others look like something a schoolchild could make.

Longmen Caves are located south of Luoyang on the Yi River, at a spot where high cliffs on either side form a pass. The site was first known as the "Gate of Yi River", and later became known as Longmen, or the “Dragon Gate.” Craftsmen began work on Buddhist grottoes in 494 when an emperor of the Northern Wei moved the capital from what is now known as Datong (Shanxi Province) to Luoyang. The artistry is therefore an extension from Datong. The work at Longmen proceeded through seven dynasties in more than 1,300 caves, These caves and the stone sculptures they contain rank with the caves Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi and Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu as the great remaining masterpieces of Buddhist culture in China. There are some conservation issues. Many of the caves are filled with dripping water tainted by acid rain from produced by the nearby industrial city of Luoyang. The high volume of tourists contributes to wear and tear on the site.

According to UNESCO: “The Longmen Grottoes, located on both sides of the Yi River to the south of the ancient capital of Luoyang, Henan province, comprise more than 2,300 caves and niches carved into the steep limestone cliffs over a 1 kilometers long stretch. These contain almost 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, more than 60 stupas and 2,800 inscriptions carved on steles. Luoyang was the capital during the late Northern Wei Dynasty and early Tang Dynasty, and the most intensive period of carving dates from the end of the 5th century to the mid-8th century. [Source: UNESCO]

“The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving.” the site is special because: 1) The sculptures of the Longmen Grottoes are an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity. 2) The Longmen Grottoes illustrate the perfection of a long-established art form which was to play a highly significant role in the cultural evolution in this region of Asia. 3) The high cultural level and sophisticated society of Tang Dynasty China are encapsulated in the exceptional stone carvings of the Longmen Grottoes. Location: Longmen Town, Luolong District. Admission: 120 yuan (US$18.84); UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Caves and Sights in Longmen Caves

Longmen Caves park includes 1,352 caves, 785 niches, and more than 97,000 statues of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhats. Binyang Cave is the main cave in the group. Nearby is Thousand Buddha Cave. Fengxiansi Cave contains the largest group of images as well as some of the most expressive and expertly carved ones. Here, a 50-foot-tall Buddha stands alongside a Heavenly King crushing a demon and a 30-foot Lishi guardian with rippling muscles and fierce expressions---considered by some scholars to be finest sculptures in China.

Construction of the Longmen Guottoes started in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), continued in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties and ended in the Northern Song Dynasty (907-1127), lasting more than 400 years. According to statistics, there are over 2,340 niches in the eastern and western hills, over 70 Buddhist pagodas and ober 100,000 statues in total. Of them, the statue of Variocana is the largest, 17.14 meters in height; and the smallest one is only 2 centimeters high.

According to UNESCO: The earliest caves to be carved in the late 5th and early 6th centuries in the West Hill cliffs include Guyangdong and the Three Binyang Caves, all containing large Buddha figures. Yaofangdong Cave contains 140 inscription recording treatments for various diseases and illnesses. Work on the sculpture in this cave continued over a 150 year period, illustrating changes in artistic style. The sculptural styles discovered in the Buddhist caves of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries, particularly the giant sculptures in the Fengxiansi Cave are the most fully representative examples of the Royal Cave Temples’ art, which has been imitated by artists from various regions. The two sculptural art styles, the earlier “Central China Style” and the later “Great Tang Style” had great influence within the country and throughout the world, and have made important contributions to the development of the sculptural arts in other Asian countries. [Source: UNESCO]

Longmen Grottoes has more than 2,860 incribed steles, more than any other group of grottoes in China. Most of the statues in the Longmen Guottoes were created in the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties, and those carved in the nearly half century from the day when Wu Zetian became empress to the year when the Tang Dynasty was replaced by the Zhou are the most outstanding. During the period, a large number of niches were carved in the Longmen Grottoes, such as the Large Vairocana Niche (also called Fengxian Temple) carved in 675, the second year of the Shangyuan reign of the Tang Dynasty; Huijian Cave constructed in 673, the fourth year of the Xianheng reign of the Tang Dynasty, which mainly holds a statue of Maitreya; and the 100,000-Buddha Cave, finished in 680, the fist year of the Yonglong reign of the Tang Dynasty. They show the artisans’ sonsummate skills. The Vairocana Niche boasts the largest and best group of rock carvings in the Longmen Grottoes. It ho uses a total of 11 Buddhist statues, showing a great variety of shapes, postures and facial expressions that none resembles another. They are games of the ancient stone carving art.

Funiu Mountain Geopark

Funiu Mountain Geopark (in Xixia County, 130 kilometers southwest of Luoyang in southwest Henan Province) is a comprehensive geopark, the park consists of a world biosphere reserve, a national nature reserve, a reserve of fossilized dinosaur eggs and a national mine park. The main peak of Mt. Funiu reaches at 2212 meters.

Mt. Funiushan Global Geopark lies in the Funiu Mountain Range in Henan Province. A comprehensive geopark, Funiu is part of the Central Orogenic Range, an exceedingly stable portion of continental geology. Other features of this park include a World Biosphere Reserve, a National Nature Reserve, a National-Level Nature Reserve for Fossilized Dinosaur Eggs and a National Mine Park.

Mt. Funiu's peak altitude scratches the sky at 2212 meters and acts as a natural weather barrier. It halts both moist tropical Pacific air traveling west in the summer and dry arctic Siberian air heading south in the winter. Moreover, it is the boundary between the subtropical and other climates of eastern China. Additionally, the ecosystem here is so diverse and well preserved that the Baotianman Scenic Area has become on the "World Biosphere Reserves" authorized by UNESCO

Admission: 60 yuan (US$9.42) Tel: +86-377-63108390 Getting There: By Bus: There is a nonstop bus from Zhengzhou to Baotianman. Please call Tel: +86-371-66179597 or Cell: 13503459597Additionally there is a tourist bus from Neixiang to Baotianman which charges 25 yuan per person.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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