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Published: December 17th 2010
Maiji Shan/Mountain near Tianshui, Gansu, China
The translation of Maiji Shan literally means "Wheat-Stack Mountain". It is located about 30 miles SE of Tianshui City in Gansu, and lies close to the routes of the Ancient Silk Road.
Tianshui City is the second largest city in Gansu Province of China, and is located about 4 hours S.E. of Lanzhou, the capitol of Gansu, the largest city in Gansu. Tianshui City, a smaller community of some 5 Million inhabitants, is continuing to develop into a more modern city, but still retains much of the flavor of an older Chinese city along the Yellow River.
As one of the main settlements along the important routes of the Ancient Silk Road, I found Tianshui more interesting than Lanzhou. Here commerce and religions, traditions and customs have a long history, as all were transported by traders and pilgrims from East to West and from West to East.
Tianshui City is a mix of ancient influences and modern development, and the two live side by side. Buddhist Temples, Taoist Temples, Muslim Mosques, and Christian Churches are a visible part of Tianshui. For a visitor, Tianshui is more managable and more exciting than Lanzhou, yet I saw no Western tourist during my visit to this lovely city.
Walking the streets of Tianzhui, I attracted much attention, and the stares confirmed, that few Western tourists made their way to this vibrant and ancient
Buddhist Sculptures of Maiji Shan/Mountain
Buddhist rock-cut cave art originated in India and spread into China through Central Asia along the Silk Road.
city in the Chinese Province of Gansu, though many ancient reliques and prominent historical sites are part of the attraction around this ancient city along the Silk Road.
One of the greatest and most fascinating of these ancient reminders, about 45 km from Tianshui, is Maiji Shan or Maiji Mountain, is a sacred and amazing Buddhist hill. Maiji Mountain (Maiji Shan), a Chinese word which literally means wheat stack mountain, is the name of a 142 meter (about 450 ft.) hill located in the Xiaolongshan forest, in the southeast of Tianshui City in Gansu.
The mountain rightfully received its name because it looks like a huge pile of wheat straw, on the northern side of the Qinling Mountain Range. Its location is important, since it straddles the ancient Silk Road, only a few miles south.
The landscape and splendid scenery is enhanced by lush vegetation, and the area has always enjoyed the reputation of being beautiful spot of nature. The Topography of the region and its nearness to the Silk Road attracted Buddhist monks who meditated here, as well as artisans and artists, who dug out the caves, sculptured and painted over a period of a 1,600
Maijin Shan or Wheat Stack Mountain rises up spectacularly.
Maiji Shan/Mountain is the site of one of China's most important groups of carvings.
That mountain now sits in splendor, carved with grottoes and adorned with spectacular sculptures and murals from different historical periods in China's history.
The sculptures of the Maiji Shan/Mountain caves are all Buddhist, and nearly all are made of clay and stucco and some of stone. To help preserve the sculptures, some sort of binding agent was used, but that formula has been lost. Since the local rock is too soft for carving, the artist used their skill for clay and stucco-clay modeling.
Some figures are solid with a thick layer of clay, whereas some are hollow and are formed over a rough wooden skeleton. The wood-skeleton was covered in wheat husks, hemp, reeds and mud before being smeared with the final layer of sculpted clay. After the carving, each statue was painted with bright colors.
Stone sculptures are also found here but in less number, and these are not made with the local rock. In fact they are mostly made of sandstone and exquisite. It is assumed, that these have been brought from somewhere else, since sandstone is not indigenous and their origin is not known, or where these statues were created, or how
Close-up of one of the huge Bodhisattva sculptures
The sculpture is not directly cut from the rock, but has been fastened through a wood skeleton, and filled with various types of straw and clay, then smoothed with stucco and painted with bright colors. It is also a monument to the exquisite work of ancient Chinese artisans.
they were hauled up into the steep caves.
According to historical records, the establishment began during the rule of the "Later Qin" Dynasty (384-417 A.D.), one of 16 states during this period of Chinese history, over 1,600 years ago.
Legends talk about and early writings show, that two eminent monks, Tanhong and Xuangao, had fled Buddhist persecution and used this location to meditate with more than 100 hundred disciples around 420 A.D., developing a thriving Buddhist-Monk community. Construction of Maiji Shan/Mountain seemed to have been started much before this period of time. Eventually their community grew to 300 members.
But persecution of Buddhism also continued into this region of Tianshui, Gansu, reaching the Buddhist settlement of Maiji Shan/Mountain. Monk Xuangao was forced to escape Maiji Shan/Mountain and died around 444 A.D. during this time of fierce Buddhist persecution. Monk Tanhung also left Maiji Shan and fled the region travelling south, where he later burned himself to death, approximately 455 A.D.
How the original Buddhist community was organized or looked is no longer known. "There is no longer any evidence to show, whether the settlement they founded was destroyed and its members scattered in the suppression of
Many of the statues at Maiji Shan had been modelled from clay and stuck onto a wooden frame.
The stone at Maiji Shan crumbles easily, and not many were hewn out of rock, but modelled from clay. They are more lifely and show greater details, some still retaining hues of the original colors.
444 A.D. and the following years, or whether it was saved by its remoteness to become a haven of refuge, as was to happen on several later occasions in the history of Maiji Shan/Mountain."
My research tells me, that Buddhist rock- and cave art originated in India, and spread into China through Central Asia along the Silk Road. In fact, numerous rock-cut caves were excavated by Buddhist artisans in China, and were used for both, prayer and residential purposes.
Among the most famous of these are the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, in Dunhuang, Gansu. (You may remember my TravelBlog #119, which details the splendid carvings of the Mogao Caves during my visit there, only 2 summers ago.) Another are the Longmen Caves of Henan Province, the Yungang Caves of Shanxi, and the fourth are these caves of Maiji Shan/Maiji Mountains in Tianshui, Gansu. These four cave complexes are regarded as the four major Buddhist cave-temple-complexes in China.
The Maiji Shan/Mountain region has been the victim of many earthquakes, and of course other natural and man-made disasters, and still 194 caves remain. The middle area of the hill was destroyed in a violent earthquake in 734 A.D. and
Sculpture of a Grand Warrior, created well over 1,000 years ago.
This is one of two end-to-end sculptures of warriors with fierce and commanding looks at one of the terrace-pavilions on the cliffs of Maiji Shan.
the grotto and cave group was divided into two parts, the east and the west.
These caves contain over 7,200 pieces of sculptures and more than 1,000 square yards of frescoes. All are excavated on the side of a cliff-face 100 feet to 300 feet above ground. (Caves #1-50 are on the western cliff face; caves #51-194 are on the eastern cliff face. These numbers were given to the caves of Maiji Shan/Mountain by the original 1952-1953 Chinese archaeological team.)
Although most of the muralsof the Maiji Shan grottoes and caves have been lost, those that have been preserved are a priceless resource documenting the changes in life style, religion and culture over a thousand year period.
The sculptures and the murals of these wonderful caves of Maiji Shan and the depiction of the world as it was imagined through them present a comprehensive and stirring and colorful view of Chinese Buddhism as it existed in different historical periods.
The Maiji Shan grotto group serves not only as a religious complex, but it is also one of the finest examples of narrrative paintings and art of ancient China.
The Maiji Shan grottoes are a priceless
Many sculptures are depicted as Indian and not Chinese.
Many Bodhisattvas are clearly depicted as Indian (from India), with deep-set eyes and a prominent arched nose. Here they stand respectfully and submissively with clasped hands, listening to the Buddha preaching piously.
journey into the development of rock-cut architecture, sculpture and mural paintings. The exquisite and remarkable art specimens are the detailed, beautiful and graceful clay sculptures. These remind us and testify to the great skill of the ancient craftsmen of China.
The peaceful environment of the Maiji Shan caves and grottoes and their precious content have left me with lasting memories. The pleasing "Wheat-Stack-Mountain", covered with so many ancient Buddhist chambers, the breath-taking sculptures, the exquisite and colorful murals and the superb clay work with indigenous flavor make this grotto group distinctive among the Buddhist cave temples along the Ancient Silk Road of China.
I am pleased to be able to share my exciting visit to Tianshui and Maiji Shan with you. In a later entry, I will share some photos of the sites within the city of Tianshui. But Maiji Shan rightfully deserves its own TravelBlog entry and the 69 photos document the reason. Please enlarge the 69 photos for their wonderful details. As always, I will appreciate your thoughts and comments and questions.
THIS IS ALSO A REMINDER, THAT TAIZHOU TEACHERS COLLEGE CONTINUES TO ENCOURAGE APPLICATIONS OF POTENTIAL NATIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS TO OUR COLLEGE. DO
Buddhist Rock-cut caves at Maiji Shan, Tianshui, Gansu, PRC
In Maiji Shan, numerous rock-cut caves were excavated by Buddhist monks and artisans for prayer and residential purposes. The most famous are located along the ancient routes of the Silk Road. Maiji Shan is one of the 4 most important in China.
NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT ME FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, OR VISIT MY TRAVELBLOG #125 FOR CONTRACT AND CONTACT INFORMATION. YOU WILL BE WELCOMED BY AN ATTENTIVE STAFF AND LOVING AND APPRECIATIVE STUDENTS, MOST WISHING TO BECOME THE FUTURE ENGLISH TEACHERS OF CHINA.
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