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Forty Years on Mastering Dazu Rock Sculptures | Story

By YAN DENG|Jun 26,2022

Rock sculpture carving, an activity requiring excellent craftsmanship, represents a cultural symbol in Dazu District, Chongqing. In the early Tang Dynasty, Dazu Rock Sculptures were accompanied by Dazu Rock Carvings. In May 2021, Dazu Rock Sculptures carving was inscribed in the fifth representative list of State-level intangible cultural heritage items for exquisite craftsmanship and rich cultural connotations.

Rock sculpture carving is not easy. It involves nearly 30 tools that have different uses, including hammers, chisels, curved rulers, and straightedges. The tedious processes involving molding, engraving, carving, grinding, and polishing test stonemasons' patience. The multiple artistic expression methods, such as the grid, perspective, line style, and line-plane combination, also need to be used flexibly.

A design drawing of a complicated rock sculpture by Liu Nengfeng. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

As a representative inheritor of Dazu Rock Sculptures carving, Liu Nengfeng takes great delight in rock sculpture carving. He believes that rock sculptures are significant as they can record the features of any era in history and make them accessible to the new generations. Liu has been pondering how to turn an ordinary rock into an artwork for over 40 years. To master carving techniques, he once lived in a cave for practice. To complete an arhat statue, he once spent three days and nights without leaving. He was also hurt by the chisel and had to endure the excruciating pain.

Liu Nengfeng works on a rock sculpture (Photo/the Publicity Department of the CPC Dazu District Committee)

Happily, his endeavor and persistence paid off. Practice day after day enabled him to acquire a high degree of professional proficiency. His works involve various subjects, including grapes on green vines in the yard and statues carved based on Dazu Rock Carvings. Well received, his works have won several golden awards and been sold to more than 40 countries and regions. Liu is best at carving statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva, which have distinctive folk characteristics: being plump but not obese or slender but not bony; with facial skin "elasticity"; being lifelike and delicate.

A rock sculpture created based on the work Grazing Cow of Dazu Rock Carvings (Photo/Peng Bo)

The exquisite work Vines Full of Grapes is inspired by the color of the purple jade (Photo/ Peng Bo)

Carving statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva by Liu, withstanding, supine, or in other postures. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Rated as a 16th-generation inheritor of Dazu Rock Sculptures carving, Liu felt a responsibility on his shoulders.

In Liu's studio, his apprentices were working on a stone lion with their electric knives that were whirling rapidly. As the dust fell, carved hairs of the lion could gradually be seen, making the lion lifelike and enhancing its stateliness.

Liu Nengfeng tutored an apprentice in his studio. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

"Every one of my nearly 300 apprentices is a skillful craftsman, and three of them were rated as Chongqing Municipal Master of Arts and Crafts," said Liu, enraptured.

The techniques of carving rocks into various shapes have been inherited for more than one thousand years. Nowadays, more and more people have engaged in protecting and inheriting Dazu Rock Sculptures carving. They make their own contributions by taking rocks as paper and knives as pens. Every lifelike work was slowly completed in the sounds of carving.

Statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva carved by Liu Nengfeng (Photo/Peng Bo)


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