A Study of the Stone Sculptures of Dazu, Sichuan Province, with Special Reference to Dafowan at Baodingshan

Wong, Yin Fong Anita 黃燕芳
1985
Supervisor: Mr. S.C. Chuang

In 1945 rock sculptures were discovered in the County of Dazu in Sichuan Province. This complex at Dazu, consisting of over 40 sites, is probably the most outstanding works among all cave temple sites in Sichuan in terms of quality and quantity. This paper aims to analyze thoroughly the beautiful art of Dazu.

The introductory chapter deals mainly with the pre-Song sculptures at various sites in Sichuan . The prominent subject matter of “Bianxiang” or art forms accord with descriptions in the Buddhist sutras since the middle Tang period is witnessed at these sites. Among them, the remains of Wanfosi at Chengdu are historically important since some of them are accompanied by inscriptions dating to the Southern Dynasties.

Chapter two gives a general survey of the sculptures of Dazu from different perspectives. These include their geographical locations, the surrounding land features, their history and the distribution of the site. In the last section of this chapter attention is paid to the recent re-investigation of Dazu.

Among the numerous sites of Dazu, the most concentrated in number, the largest in scale, the finest in craftsmanship and the richest in content are the works at Beishan (Northern Hill 北山) and Baodingshan (Hill of the Precious Peak 寶頂山) which are the focuses of this study. The works of Fowan at Beishan, consisting of 264 caves and niches, are dated from the late Tang to the late Southern Song dynasty, i.e., from the last few years of the ninth century to the rnid-twelveth century; whereas the thirty-one serial-numbered works along the three sides of the U-shaped gorge of Dafowan at Baodingshan are dated to the Southern Song dynasty.

Chapter three discusses the origin of the construction and sculptures at Beishan, in which the biography of Liu Benzun and Zhao Zhifeng, the two important supervisors of Beishan and Baodingshan respectively, are traced. The precise period of construction of Baodingshan lasting from 1179 to 1249 of the late Southern Song dynasty will be investigated in the last section of this chapter.

With Xiaofowan (Smal Buddha Bay 小佛灣) and Dafowan (Large Buddha Bay大佛灣) as the major sites, the stone sculptures of Baodingshan are the core of Chapter four. A brief account of the sites of Baodingshan will be included together with a detailed study of the works of Dafowan, a representative site of Baodingshan as well as of the whole county of Dazu. These Southern Song works were mainly carved to explain the religious doctrines of the Yogacaya School of Buddhism under the one-man supervision of Zhao Zhifeng, a local monk, over a continuous period of several decades. All the monumental works here are arranged in a systematic manner so that themes such as self-sacrifice, enlightenment, re-incarnation and filial piety are successfully conveyed to the viewer. It is significant that beside the carved pictures, there are inscribed Buddhist texts, eulogistic expressions and other explanatory notes to explain the religious stories and doctrines depicted by sculpture. Furthermore, the shapes of the cliffs, the fountain heads and other natural surroundings were taken into consideration in the carving of the images. Scientific principles of mechanics, lighting and the rules of perspective were also made use of by the skillful sculptors. Every visitor i greatly impressed by the monumental and lively art of Baodingshan.