Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves: Valuable Record of Buddhism Culture in Xinjiang
The Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves lie 60 kilometers to the southeast of the Baicheng County in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Kizil in the Uygur language means red. The caves are chiseled between the cliffs. There are 236 numbered caves extant today, about 1/3 of which have comparative intact shapes and relatively more frescoes. According to the causal analysis of the characteristics of the shape, the themes of the frescoes, the artistic styles and so on, and through the method of the radiocarbon dating, the grottoes are judged to mainly be the remains between the 4th and 8th centuries, which can be divided into early, middle and late periods.
In the early 19thcentury, Xu Song, a scholar of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), wrote something about the Kizil grottoes in his writing The Waterways of the Western Regions. In 1903, two Japanese stole cultural relics in the Kizil grottoes. In 1913, another two Japanese did some investigation in the grottoes. In 1906 and 1913, two Germans not only spent a long time on mapping, recording, and photographing, but also robbed a large number of valuable cultural relics. In addition, a Russian, a Frenchman, and an Englishman came to the Kizil Grottoes in succession. In 1928, a Chinese scholar, Huang Wenbi, numbered 140 caves in the Kizil Grottoes, but also surveyed and cleaned up some caves. In 1953, an investigation group of Xinjiang cultural relics appointed by the Culture Bureau of the Northwest Region, made a thorough survey and mapping of the grottoes. Another cave was found in 1973.
All the statues and frescoes in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves were engraved and painted in the Zhiti Grotto. Although most of the statues have been damaged, about 5,000 square meters of frescoes are preserved till now, whose themes are mainly about the legends of Buddha, principles and subsidiary causes and natural stories. There are two types of legends of Buddha: one is the biography of Buddha, mostly distributed around the four walls of the quadrate cave. The paintings on the wall were drawn in the continuous squares, which narrate the whole life of the Buddha. The other is the picture of expounding the Buddhist doctrines, mostly distributed on the flank walls of the main room of the Central Pillar Grotto. Every picture is independent and has its own theme, that is, no direct relationship with each other.
The stories on the principle and subsidiary cause manifest the enshrinement and worship offered by all flesh to the Buddha, and displayed the infinite power of the Buddha. However the natural stories narrate all the hardships and ascetic practices that the Buddha has endured when he practiced the Bodhisattva Tao during his previous existence. Except for a few were drawn on the four walls of the Square Grotto, these two kinds of story pictures are mainly distributed in the main room of the Central Pillar Grotto and the top of the Square Grotto, in the form of single picture, which means that the top of the Square Grotto is divided into many rhombic grilles, each having a picture. Because of the small space of a rhombic grille, only a few figures and scenes appear in a picture, and the most typical plots that could best generalize the story are selected to be in the picture, which therefore make the picture concise and sprightly. Only the top of the No. 17 grotto is painted with 38 natural stories. In addition, some frescoes also reflect the conditions of production, living styles and folk customs. For instance, in the painting of a happy professional singer in the No.38 grotto, some of the musicians are playing the pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted fingerboard), some are playing konghou (ancient plucked stringed instrument with five to twenty-five strings), and some are playing the flute, which are not only of a great variety of shapes and postures, but also full of wits and interests. The paintings of plowing lands and making potteries in the No.175 grotto show the scenes of production and working at that time, and therefore it is the precious material for the research into the history of Xinjiang and its culture and art. The Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves holds a certain position in the grotto art in China, which is of great significance for the research into the culture of Buddhism and the cultural exchange between China and western countries.