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Dazu Rock Carvings Collection

Rock Carvings at Baoding Mountain, Dazu. Photo by Mikkel Larsen /iChongqing

The Dazu Rock Carvings (in Chinese 大足石刻 Dàzú shíkè) is a collection of sculptures and carvings located in Chongqing’s Dazu District, about 150 kilometers from downtown Chongqing. The steep hillsides of the Dazu area are home to an extraordinary collection of carvings dating back to the 9th – 13th centuries. Highly regarded for their aesthetics quality, the diversity of the subjects they depict, and the light they have helped shed on the day-to-day life in China during this period, the Dazu Rock Carvings have provided tremendous insights and evidence of the harmonious coexistence of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in ancient China. 

The carvings in Dazu are spread out across five unique locations, North Mountain, Baoding Mountain, South Mountain, Shimen Mountain, and Shizhuan Mountain.

The most extensive collection of carvings at the North Mountain scenic area contains two groups of carvings along a cliff face varying in height from 7-10 meters and stretching for about 300 meters. There are more than 10.000 carvings in total from the last 9th to 12th centuries. The carvings here are mostly Tantric Buddhism and Taoism.

The late 11th century carvings found at Shizhuan Mountain scenic area stretch for 130 meters and depict Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian images and a rare arrangement showcasing all three religions together.

At the South Mountain Scenic Area, you’ll find the Song Dynasty carvings from the 12th century on a wall about 86 meters in length, mainly featuring Taoist images.

But the most expressive and beautiful carvings can be found at the Baoding Mountain Scenic Area in a U-shaped gorge with two groups of carvings from the 12th to the 13th centuries near a monastery. The Baoding Mountain carvings stretch for 500 meters and are made up of 31 groups of carved figures from tantric Buddhism as well as scenes of the lives of herders and ordinary people.

The Dazu Rock Carvings are some of the best-preserved rock carvings in China, and conservation work is continuously carried out to protect the rock carvings from natural elements. The rock carvings were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999, all in all, covering 75 areas with more than 50.000 statues and more than 100.000 Chinese character inscriptions.

The rock carving techniques seen in Dazu may have originally come from India, which is also the source of Buddhism in China, which was first established at the White Horse Temple in Luoyang, Henan Province, the first Buddhist temple in China. The Dazu Rock Carvings are widely attributed to a monk named Zhao Zhifeng, who began work on the elaborate sculptures and carvings on Baoding Mountain, dedicating 70 years of his life to this work.

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