China Archives of World Heritage

The Dazu grottos 07-05-2004 10:13

Buddhism first came into China around the first century. As the religion became increasingly popular in China, the ancient Chinese also placed Buddhist statues in grottos like Indian people did. Many of these grottos have now become historical relics, recording Buddhist presence in ancient China.

Ever since the beginning, Buddhism in China mixed with local Chinese philosophies and religions, Confucianism and Taoism. In that centuries-long process, there were bitter debates and even bloody conflicts. The outcome was the integration of Buddhism with the humanistic and naturalistic philosophy of China. The Dazu grottos, a world cultural heritage site in China鈥檚 Sichuan province, were the artistic embodiment of that trend.

That sentiment was widespread throughout China at the time. Many officials and intellectuals educated in the Confucian tradition disliked the changes. Many young Buddhists served in the monasteries and neglected their parents. To Confucianists, Buddhists had violated the rule of loyalty and duty to the country and the family. Since then, Buddhism began to incorporate some Confucian ideas into its doctrines. This change is also reflected in the Dazu Rock Carvings.

The Chinese are pragmatic about religion. This is because of China鈥檚 geographic, historical and cultural conditions. The size of the nation and the diversity of Chinese people made it impossible for a single religion to dominate. Dynastic change also prevented any philosophy being passed on without revision to the advantage of current rulers. Faced with this reality, ancient Chinese people learnt to be religious yet realistic, and Buddhist preachers in China approached the religious arts pragmatically.

China鈥檚 religious culture is unlike that anywhere else in the world. As we see in the rock carvings at Dazu Grottos, the ancient Chinese had a special way to express their religious beliefs in a realistic manner, and that has become an integral part of Chinese culture. The Dazu rock carvings are more than just religious art. They are a window into the culture of the time, archiving two thousand years of conflict, learning and the mixing of cultures in China.


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