top of page

李鍇《雲岡寺》 “The Yungang Temple” by Li Kai


寺鑿石佛高四丈七尺,環山泐小像及正書魏拓跋氏建歷百年而後成云。

黃金易銷木易

即山作佛佛乃

五丁風斤齊琢

一峰破碎萬象

四十七尺身獨尊,

三萬六千日何

崔浩已死可若

後之君子揚其[1]

In the temple is a Buddha of four zhang and seven chi [2] carved in stone. Along the mountain are small sculptures and [words] inscribed in standard script about these sculptures having been completed a hundred years after the founding of Tuoba’s Wei [regime].

Gold melts easily and wood decays easily;

Only a Buddha made by the mountainside can last long.

With the Five Strong Men and the wind’s axe sculpturing together, [3]

The peak breaks up, giving birth to myriad things.

The body of forty-seven chi is the only master; [4]

How long the thirty-six thousand days were!

Cui Hao has died, what can he do? [5]

[Yet] later gentlemen battered the waves he [had raised]. [6]

* From Li Kai 李鍇 (1686-1746), Hanzhong ji 含中集, 2.1a, in the Liaohai congshu 遼海叢書 edition (Shenyang, 1933-1936; see https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gb&file=85861&page=44)

[1] Coloured characters rhyme. At first glance, this poem has the look of lüshi 律詩 (regulated verse). However, the rhyming characters suggest it is an ancient-style poem, for regulated verse always rhymes on the level tone of the same rhyme group at the end of even-numbered lines. [2] About 15 metres. [3] Wu ding 五丁 (Five Strong Men) alludes to the legendary five men who served the King of Shu in high antiquity; see Shuwang benji 蜀王本紀, attributed to Yang Qiong 揚雄 (53-18 BCE) and reconstructed by Zheng Pu 鄭樸 (fl. 1573-1620): https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=357719. This expression can also refer to strong men in general. [4] It is said that Śākyamuni uttered the words, “In and under Heaven, I am the only master” (天上天下唯我獨尊) when he was born; see, for example, Da Tang xiyu ji 大唐西域記: https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=632317#p46. [5] Cui Hao 崔浩 (d. 450) was a prime minister of the Northern Wei who played a key role in the anti-Buddhism movement during the reign of Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei (408-452, ruled 423-452). [6] The anti-Buddhism movement during Emperor Taiwu’s reign was followed by a series of Buddhist persecutions. From the fifth through the tenth century, for example, there were four large-scale suppressions of Buddhism throughout China.


 

For anybody who tries to reconstruct the past from poetry, Li Kai’s 李鍇 (1686-1746) poem on his visit to the Yungang Grottoes offers an interesting contrast between reality and a poet’s romanticising brush. This Qing poet, a renowned historian from the northeast, certainly knew his facts about the history of Chinese Buddhism, but he didn’t seem to know rocks very well.

The Yungang Temple Li Kai visited is most likely to be current Caves 5 and 6, where the interior decoration is perhaps the richest and where the largest sculpture of the Buddha of Yungang (ca. 17 metres) is located. These twin caves are still protected by the exterior wooden construction rebuilt in 1651. Moreover, they were carved in the late fifth century, roughly “a hundred years after the founding of Tuoba’s Wei [regime].”

Visitors can still enjoy the amazing sight of the “myriad things” (line 4) in these caves that once impressed Li Kai, and such a huge project must have required the hard work of many strong men indeed.[7] However, Li Kai perception of “the wind’s axe” (line 3) is a bit problematic. The planning of Yungang grottoes generally took advantage of the natural landscape shaped by wind and the Wuzhou River, and many smaller Yungang grottoes were carved into the natural cliff surface. However, Caves 5 and 6 are sitting on a big platform along a cliff shaped by human labour instead of wind.[8]


Peng Minghao 彭明浩, Yungang shiku de yingzao gongcheng 雲岡石窟的營造工程, 52; the estimated shape of the original slope is indicated in the bottom right corner.

Moreover, wind is the archenemy of sculptures. The rock art was created on a sandstone cliff that has been deteriorating for over 1500 years due to weathering processes. The parts (typically the legs of a main seated statue) facing the entrance and thus more exposed to wind are always in worse shape than the rest of the sculpture. What Li Kai said in his first two lines are not really true, as one can see from numerous seriously deteriorated sculptures along the cliff.


Two above: Numerous sculptures like these along the cliff

Bottom left: A deteriorated pillar outside Caves 7 and 8

Bottom right: The reconstruction of a similar pillar

Lastly, a bit of practical information. One must make an appointment before visiting the Yungang Grottoes, and the system only accepts bookings on the day of visit. However, I felt that the booking system wasn’t very friendly for non-local visitors. I couldn’t get a ticket myself and had to book a place in a local tourist group that included a visit to the Grottoes. On the coach the guide told us that the Grottoes wouldn’t be open to the public in the morning because of a marathon event, and she would let us know as soon as the afternoon slots were available to book. Of course, I found no such information online when I tried to book it myself. Also, I didn’t know I had to stare at my phone and race with perhaps another hundred groups to get my ticket once the booking was open.

I didn’t like it that the information about ticket releases seemed to be monopolised by local travel agents. If I hadn’t joined the group, I wouldn’t have been able to visit the Grottoes that day. Nevertheless, I must say the day tour was reasonably priced: CNY 68, lunch included. Our guide was good and responsible. Perhaps I was just unlucky to have visited on a particularly busy afternoon. Also, the situation might be different during the weekend when it costs CNY 120 to visit the Grottoes. Due to the free entry policy I mentioned in my last blog, working-day places might be particularly popular.

The day was unusually exhausting as we had to cover three major tourist attractions within 12 hours, but in the end, it wasn’t too bad at all. More importantly, it concluded with a tasty bowl of daoxiaomian 刀削麵 (sliced noodles) that I had been looking forward to for a long time.



The Northern Wei style building complex near the Yungang Grottoes.

[7] Pictures of these caves can be easily found online, but it is more recommendable to take a virtual tour at Yungang Grottoes’ Wechat official account. [8] For more detailed analysis, see Peng Minghao 彭明浩, Yungang shiku de yingzao gongcheng 雲岡石窟的營造工程 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2017), 52-53.

 

Copyright Declaration*:

The texts and images used on the website of Rachelle's Lab are either from the public domain (e.g. Wikipedia), databases with open data licences (e.g. Shuhua diancang ziliao jiansuo xitong 書畫典藏資料檢索系統, National Palace Museum, Taipei), online libraries that permit reasonable use (e.g. ctext.org), or original work created for this website.

Although fair use of the website for private non-profit purposes is permitted, please note that the website of Rachelle's Lab and its content (including but not limited to translations, blog posts, images, videos, etc.) are protected under international copyright law. If you want to republish, distribute, or make derivative work based on the website content, please contact me, the copyright owner, to get written permission first and make sure to link to the corresponding page when you use it.

版權聲明:

本站所使用的圖片,皆出自公有領域(如維基)、開放數據庫(如臺北故宮博物院書畫典藏資料檢索系統)、允許合理引用的在線圖書館(如中國哲學電子化計劃)及本人創作。本站允許對網站內容進行個人的、非營利性質的合理使用。但請注意,本站及其內容(包括但不限於翻譯、博文、圖像、視頻等)受國際版權法保護。如需基於博客內容進行出版、傳播、製作衍生作品等,請務必先徵求作者(本人)書面許可,并在使用時附上本站鏈接,註明出處。

*Read more about copyright and permission here.

0 comments

Bình luận


bottom of page