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Cave Temple Protection Launched to Preserve Treasures of Chinese Culture

By SHIHAN YANGICHONGQING|Jan 03,2022

On December 24, the China Cultural Heritage Administration convened a conference for cave temples protection and archaeological work during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. According to the latest investigation, there are 5,986 cave temples and cliff statues in China, among them 716 located in Chongqing, ranking 3rd in the country.

Since the investigation into cave temples in Chongqing in October 2020, the city has developed the Work Program of Chongqing on Cave Temple Investigation and established a leading group on related work. The investigation across Chongqing is jointly led by Dazu Rock Carvings Research Institute and Chongqing Municipal Institute of Cultural Heritage. The city has set up four expert groups, and all districts and counties have set up teams for the comprehensive investigation.

Bas-reliefs on precipices in Danzishi, Nan’an District. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The investigation took seven months and offered precious insight into Chongqing’s historical cave temples and cliff statues regarding preservation status, main risks, protection management, and safety prevention.

According to statistics, 716 cave temples have been registered in the city, making it one of the areas with the most cave temples in China. Among them, there are six cultural relic units under national protection, 22 under municipal protection, 167 under district- and county-level protection, and 521 general immovable ones.

The cave temples in Chongqing lie across 36 districts and counties. One of the most unique sites is the world’s cultural heritage Dazu Rock Carvings, which exist in great numbers, with outstanding value and distinctive features. From the middle and late Tang to the Song Dynasties, the Ba and Shu regions became the most prosperous area of cave statues in China due to their convenient river and land transportation, booming economy, and social stability.

Staff carried out special investigations into cave temples in Beibei District. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

In 2021, Chongqing launched 34 cave temple protection projects, and 12 of them were completed. Apart from Dazu Rock Carvings, Laitan Erfo Temple in Hechuan District, Qianfo Cliff at Diaoyu Fortress, Dafo Temple in Tongnan Bas-reliefs on precipices in Danzishi, Nan’an District, and Shimen Buddha in Jiangjin District were on the list.

Quite a few small- and medium-sized cave temples have long been hidden in the countryside or mountains, so Chongqing launched a three-year action plan on the protection of them. In 2021, the projects for the protection, utilization, and demonstration of eight cave temples have been implemented, including Qianfosi (Thousand-Buddha Temple) in Tongnan District, Longduoshan Cliff Statues in Hechuan District, and Fengshan Temple of Dazu Rock Carvings. Besides, small rural heritage parks have also been built to advance rural revitalization, and the Thousand-Buddha Temple in Tongnan District and the buildings with eaves at Linjiang Cliff Statues in Zhongxian County have been built.

The protection and utilization of cave temples are significant to the inheritance and development of excellent traditional Chinese culture. Moreover, Chongqing is also deepening the integration development of culture and tourism. In terms of sci-tech innovation for cave temple protection, the city has strengthened cooperation with cave temple research institutions in Italy, Japan, and other countries, deepened the integrated development of science and education with several universities to improve the scientific research capacity.

Staff carried out special investigations into cave temples in Dazu Rock Carvings. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

To advance the building of a national heritage park of Sichuan-Chongqing cave temples, Chongqing has made a construction plan, erected Dazu Rock Carvings Cultural Park, and implemented a group of protection projects for key cave temples.

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period, the city will complete archaeological excavation at five cave temples, including Wanfo Cliff in Tongnan and Liujia Temple in Rongchang District. It will publish nine archaeological reports of cave temples.

Furthermore, the city is slated to strengthen modern technologies such as big data and cloud services to make scenic areas smarter and launch more excellent exhibitions and services of Dazu Rock Carvings with contemporary characteristics. By fully leveraging modern means of communication, the city will endeavor to promote the culture of Dazu Rock Carvings, make it known around the world and attract tourists to the city to enhance the influence of Chinese civilization.

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