China Datong City:
Datong (or Tatung ) is the second largest city in Shanxi Province, situated in the far north, near the border with Inner Mongolia.
1,200 metres high in the north, northern part of Shanxi Province, the center of Datong Basin. Surround by mountains, Yu River running across from south to north, and its central and south part are occupied by plains, topography slopes down from northwest to southeast
Dry and windy, big temperature difference between day and night, annual rainfall 400-500mm, and frost-free 125 day. Average Temperature: 6.4C
Rainfall: an annual precipitation of 400-500mm
Datong is an important industrial and railway center in a region of great coal deposits. A major, highly mechanized coal mine is there. Manufactures are a mix of light and heavy industrial products.
The Turkic Toba people took advantage of the internal strife afflicting central and southern China to establish their own dynasty, the Northern Wei (386-534), taking Datong as their capital in 398 AD, by which time they had conquered the whole of the north. Though the period was one of strife and warfare, and the Wei never fully consolidated their hold on power, the Northern Wei, who became fervent Buddhists, made some notable cultural achievements, the finest of which was a magnificent series of cave temples at Yungang, just west of the city, still one of the most impressive sights in northern China. Over the course of almost a century, more than fifty caves were completed, containing over fifty thousand statues, before the capital was moved south to Luoyang, where construction began on the similar Longmen Caves. A second period of greatness came with the arrival of the Mongol Liao dynasty, also Buddhists, who made Datong their capital in 907. They were assimilated into the Jin in 1125, but not before leaving a small legacy of statuary and some fine temple architecture, notably in the Huayan and Shanhua temples in town, and a wooden pagoda, the oldest in China, in the nearby town of Yingxian. Datong remained important to later Chinese dynasties for its strategic position just inside the Great Wall, south of Inner Mongolia, and the tall city walls date from the early Ming dynasty.
Amid the landscape of modern industrial China-coalmines, power stations and a huge locomotive factory, are some marvellous ancient sites, remnants of the city's glory days as the capital city of two non-Han Chinese dynasties.
Though most visitors today are attracted by the Buddhist sites, Datong is also the closest city to Heng Shan, one of the five holy mountains of Taoism, whose most spectacular building, the almost unbelievable Hanging Temple, is firmly on the tour agenda.
copper pot, ceramic
Datong Attractive points:
Situated in the southwest of Datong, Shanxi Province, Huayan Monastery, named after the Huayan sect of Buddhism, is a complex of the Upper Huayan Monastery, also called the Great Temple of Treasure(Da Xiong Bao Dian) and the Lower Huayan Monastery.
The Upper Huayan Monastery (Da Xiong Bao Dian) is considered to be one of the two biggest Buddhist halls existent in China. And it was built under the Liao Dynasty in 1062. The Monastery suffered from a severe damage in the last years of the Liao and yet it was restored by the Jin in 1140. Unlike the most temple buildings in China which face southward, the main building, the Great Temple of Treasure, faces to the east. The legend goes that Qidan, an ancient tribe appeared in 400 B.C. in the northern China, had a popular custom of worshipping the Sun. Later when they dominated the northern China, this practice influenced the Han people. There are five major Buddhas in the center of the hall, either side of which are 20 celestial warriors.
Contrary to the splendid Upper Huayan Monastery, the Lower Huayan Monastery, constructed in 1038, has a touch of quaintness, where Buddhist scripture are stored. The Trinity Buddhas comprising the Past Buddha, the Present Buddha and the future Buddha are enshrined and worshipped here. Around the sides of the Trinity Buddhas are twenty eight guardian figures, among which the Bodhisattva with a pious prayer pose is the most lifelike.
60 km south of fo Datong, Mt Hengshan, lies one of the five most famous mountains in China the honored Bei Yue (Northern Mountain)' famous for its beautiful scenery and precarious cliffs. The mountain is also a holy mountain for Taoists. It is said that Zhang Guolao, one of the Eight Immortals in Tao, practiced on the mountain and reached immortality.
The Nine Dragon Screen in Datong, Shanxi Province is said to be the largest screen of its type anywhere in China, which is 45.5 meters (150 feet) long, 8 meters (26 feet) high and 2.02 (6.6 feet) meters thick and consists of 426 pieces of glazed tiles.
The screen stands in front of the mansion of the thirteenth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. In ancient times, the screen served as a barrier both keeping passers-by peeping into the house and making visitors tidy up themselves before meeting the hosts. There is a pool in front of the screen and the inverted reflection of the screen in water makes it seem to come to life.
Located in Yingxian County, and about 70 kilometers south of Datong, the Wooden Pagoda is the oldest and highest wooden structure in China. It is regarded as the ¡°First Pagoda in the World¡± and a gem in the architectural field. It has now also been placed under national emphases under the Cultural Relics Protection Units.
Built during the Liao Dynasty (about 1056), this wooden pagoda has about 900 years of history. It has a height of about 67 meters, and a 30 meter long diameter at its bottom. The Pagoda appears as a five-storey structure, but in fact it has a total of nine stories with four hidden inside. The Wooden Pagoda was built with about 54 different kinds of brackets, and jointed only by the tenors and mortises without any nails or rivets at all! With a unique octagon structure in each tier, and a special designed lightning top, the pagoda can still stand firmly and remains intact. It continues to reveal its exquisite quality in a rustic, simple manner, despite the long exposure to the elements, violent earthquakes and intense thunderbolt. The wind bells hung under each eave add more interest to this wooden pagoda. When the wind blows, the little bells make sweet sounds, which also add spice to your tour.
What's more, the large Buddha statues hosted in the Wooden Pagoda show different countenances and postures, and display a very high level of craftsmanship. The statue of Sakyamuni of the 1st floor stands at the height of 11 meters is particularly impressive. If look it up inside the pagoda, you will feel its grandeur. The exquisite and vivid mural around it depicts the guardians, disciples and donors in a lifelike and meticulous manner and in the typical Liao painting style.
The Wooden Pagoda is a perfect combination of science, art and religioun. It is also the wonder of the wooden architecture field. It should be a necessary stop in your Shanxi tour.
Visitors to Yungang would do well to read up on the rich cultural history of the site prior to departure. Unfortunately, little useful information is provided by local guides or literature.
The Yungang Caves are located 16 km. (10 mi.) west of Datong, at the base of the low?lying sandstone Wuzhou Hills. Most were carved under the Northern Wei between 460 and 494.
The advent of the Northern Wei marked a new highpoint in Chinese art and culture. The Wei introduced a period of stability and, through an intelligent series of laws on marriage and land distribution, created a Il melting pot" of Han and non?Han peoples. Major treatises on agriculture and river transportation were written in this period, while painting, cal-ligraphy, and poetry all developed a new vividness and grace. But the greatest achievement of all was Buddhist grotto art.
The art of cave temples originated in India and first appeared in China at Dunhuang. However, the carvings at Dunhuang are in terra cotta, whereas those at Yungang are the earliest examples of stone carvings in China. The 53 caves?including 21 major ones?contain 51,000 bas?reliefs and statues, ranging in height from just a few centimeters to 17 m. (55 ft.). A number of different influences can be seen: Indian (draperies, shortened skirts, and headdresses); Persian and Byzantine (weapons, lions, and beards); and Greek (the trident and the curling acanthus leaves).
From east to west, the main caves fall naturally into three groups:
Caves 1 to 4. At the far eastern end are the first two caves, somewhat removed from the others. The square floor?plan indicates that they were built quite early. The first cave has some bas?reliefs of the life of Buddha, while the second has a delicately carved pagoda at its center. Cave 3, the largest at Yungang, contains a basic triad of a large Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas. The elegance of their garments and the use of high relief is reminiscent of some of the carving at Longmen (near Luoyang), indicating that the Datong figures may have been created under the Sui or early Tang.
Beyond the fourth cave are a small ravine and a monastery, consisting of several temples. The monastery dates from 1652. Historical writings suggest that there may once have been as many as 10 monasteries in these hills, but today there is no trace of them.
Caves 5 to 13. Caves 5 and 6 mark the highpoint of Yungang art. In the fifth cave, a colossal Buddha (16.8 m. [55 ft.] tall) is seated in serene contemplation. Both caves, but particularly cave 6, are richly carved with episodes from religious stories and processional scenes. The interiors of these two caves have fortunately been preserved from the elements by the twin towers at their entrances. Caves 5, 6, and 7?the latter has six Bodhi-sattvas and two lions in high relief?were restored in 1955. Cave 8 contains a number of foreign influences: a Vishnu seated on a bull, a Shiva, and a guardian bearing a trident.
Caves 7 and 8 form a pair, as do caves 9 and 10, also richly carved. Each of the latter two contains front and back chambers and fine bas?relief work at its entrance. Cave 11 was decorated in 483, in honor of the imperial family. It contains 95 large carvings and hundreds of tiny Bodhisattvas in niches around the wall. The bas?reliefs in cave 12 provide valuable infor-mation on the architecture and musical instruments (borne by the flying apsaras) of the period. Cave 13 has another colossal Buddha, his arm supported by another figure and an enormous halo around his head.
Caves 14 to 21. The first two in this series are badly eroded, though they still contain thousands of tiny Bodhisattvas in niches around the walIs. The next five caves, the oldest at Yungang, were all carved in 460 during the reign of Emperor Wen Chang. Each contains a colossal Buddha whose countenance is austere and remotely divine. The early carving in these caves has a geometric, linear quality and the decoration is not as rich or bold as in later caves.
After 1949, the caves were declared historic monuments, and the steady erosion by wind and water was slowed down through judicious tree?planting and the construction of protective barriers. Unfortunately, little can be done to restore the ravages of early 20th?century art thieves and smugglers. Hundreds of statues were beheaded and a number of bas?reliefs removed. They now reside in the art museums of Japan, Europe, and North America.
Hanging Monastery (Xuankong Si)
About 80 km from Datong and 5 from Hunyuan County, the gravity defying Hanging Monastery is built on extremely sheer cliffs of Mt. Hengshan above Jinlong Canyon. Construction of the monastery dates back 1400 years to the Northern Wei Dynasty. Most of the architecture was reconstructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Bridges and corridors connect those pavilions and caves in which dozens of bronze, iron, stone and clay statues are enshrined. In San Jiao Dian (Three Religions Hall), Buddha, Confucius and Laotsu are enshrined together, which is a surprise.
The most dramatic examples of early Buddhist architecture are rock-cut sanctuaries and cave shrines. Some of the oldest Buddhist caves in China are near the town of Datong, a couple of hours away from Beijing, on a Trans-Manchurian railway. Cloud Ridge (Yungang) caves, cut into cliff faces, represent the earliest Buddhist art style, built around 1500 years ago simultaneously with the major phase of Ajanta caves in India and predating most of the Central Asian rock carvings. Another striking example is the Hanging Temple, built on sheer cliffs, dating back to 1400 years ago. Like many monasteries in China, it's not functioning, although I was told there was an old monk still living there.
1,500-year-old Buddhist Grottoes
Among the unsung wonders of China's history-soaked heritage are the 1,500-year-old Buddhist grottoes of Datong
an eight-hour train journey from Beijing
in Shanxi Province.
In a valley at Yungang, some 10 miles west of Datong and easily reached by taxi or public bus, more than 50 recesses have been dug into the hills and filled with Buddhist statues of various sizes and shapes, 51,000 altogether.
From the 56-foot Seated Buddha to tiny figures just a few centimeters tall, every wall and archway is crammed with carvings, including serial-type representations of scenes from Buddhist mythology and the lives of famous monks.
Datong has several other tourist attractions ¨C such as the 600-year-old Nine-Dragon Screen made of glazed tiles, the Huayan Monastery with the largest wooden shrine hall in China, and the Shanhua Monastery, intact since 713.