On October 27 and 28, whilst visiting the Shuilian Cave and
Mutisi Grottoes, Lanzhou Morning News reporters said they
found that after more than 1,600 years of erosion and years of
neglect frescos and statues at both sites were in a poor condition
and needed better protection and restoration.
Tianshui City in Gansu Province has been called "the grottoes
corridor" of the eastern part of Silk Road. There are six groups of
grottoes there: Maiji Grottoes, Daxiang Mountain Grottoes and
Huagaisi Grottoes in Gangu Valley, and Shuilian Cave
Grottoes, Mutisi Grottoes and Chandiansi Grottoes at Wushan
The Lanzhou Morning News
said frescos and statues at
Shuilian and Mutisi were eroded, with some completely lost. The
most precious sculptures of Buddha and his two disciples at
Shuilian were damaged and only the upper part of their bodies
remained, while the frescos in Mutisi's No.7 and No.8 grottoes had
all fallen off.
There is a security system guarding against theft at Shuilian,
but no such system at Mutisi. According to the latter's curator,
Ding, they have been robbed three times, though thankfully without
any big loss.
The Shuilian site was discovered in 1959 by Gansu Provincial
Cultural Relics Administration Committee whilst exploring the upper
reaches of Weihe River, but no restoration or repairs were done
until the 1980s, largely due to the Cultural Revolution.
The Shuilian grottoes were restored one by one in 1984, 1996, 2000,
2001 and 2004, costing 1.56 million yuan (US$193,000). More than
600,000 yuan (US$74,000) has been injected into Mutisi in recent
years. These investments paid for awnings to be built, roads paved
and fences completed, as well as for Shuilian's security system,
but this was only the most basic work that needed to be done.
Wushan County is a poor area, and income from tickets does not
contribute much; ticket income at Shuilian is less than 100,000
yuan (US$12,000) and Mutisi has none.
Shuilian is in a valley on the north bank of the Weihe River, a
branch of Yellow River, and because of its tranquility it became a
place for Buddhists to meditate from ancient times.
Its grottoes, now under state protection, are believed to have
been built in the later Qin Dynasty (384-417) and were restored in
the later Sui (581- 618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties, Five
Dynasties period (907-960), and Song (960-1279) and Yuan
(1279-1368) Dynasties. Now there remain 69 niche shrines,
200 Buddhist statues, altogether 2,430 square meters of frescoes,
14 old buildings, 10 dagobas, 18 tablets, two ancient trees and an
ancient dried headless corpse with 60 funerary objects.
The grottoes at Mutisi, which are under provincial protection,
were built in the North Wei Dynasty (386-543). There are 18 niche
shrines, four palaces, 80 Buddhist statues and 234 frescoes. The
No.5, No.7 and No.16 grottoes, which are the biggest scale, are key
protected sites. Most of the niche shrines were built on the cliff
more than dozens of meters above ground level.
(China.org.cn by Chen Lin November 11, 2005)