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Wushan Grottoes in Need of Repair
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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 Mountain.

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)

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