Magnificent grottoes hollowed out in a mountain along China’s Silk Road, Maijishan represents 1,800 years of artistic tradition and the intersection of multiple peoples
Where We Work
Maijishan is representative of the series of cave temple complexes on the western edge of the Guanzhong Basin. Developed from the fifth to the 18th centuries CE with the transmission of Buddhism along the Silk Road, it is a unique historical record of Buddhist religious activity. And, with unique grotto features that integrate into spectacular landforms and the surrounding landscape, the site has immense cultural and artistic value.
“It is as if one were to mount a carriage and pierce the mountain, carving out great niches” the sixth-century poet Yü Hsin wrote on an inscription upon a wall in one of Maijishan’s many grottoes. Though lost, his words remain to convey the awe, the power, and the majesty of this celestial confabulation: in his poems, Maijishan’s sacred caves were “carved in the darkness of the mountain peak” before earthquakes buried them, its walls were “covered with inscriptions taken from holy scripture” until the paint faded away, and the land was bathed in brilliance by “an infinite medley of stars overhead” before the advent of industry polluted the skies.
You don’t need poetry to understand why Maijishan cuts an impressive figure, and there are many candidates to explain its magnificence. Extolled as the “Sheaves of Wheat Mountain” since the early fifth century, Maijishan’s golden-hued stone contrasts markedly with the greens and browns of the forest, the blue of the local stone, and the clear, pure waters of the springs. It appears like a crown amid dull trinkets. “Up and down is 80,000 feet” one record reads, a bit of ridiculousness that does not diminish the dizzying sheerness of the mountain’s heights and the fear they inspire in everyone but the birds, the grottoes’ only inhabitants now that the original stepladders and stairs have all rotted away.
Yet it is the realtor’s mantra of “location, location, location” that offers the best, though least sexy, explanation. Located only a few fortuitous miles south of the main road between China and Central Asia, Maijishan became a center of cross-cultural pollination for hundreds of thousands of itinerants and a historical record written in the art of 12 separate dynasties. Indians, Mongols, Huns, Sogdians, Tibetans, Chinese, and others passed through its halls as they passed through the pages of history, each leaving an indelible piece of themselves behind.
Tourism and a lack of preservation are critical threats facing Maijishan. Appropriate preservation and management measures are critical to ensure the values of authenticity are retained at the World Heritage Site property.
What We Do
GHF is partnering with the Maijishan Grottoes Art Research Institute, which has served as a source of research and expertise on the Maijishan Cave Temple Complex. Since the establishment of the Gansu Province Cultural Department, the Maijishan Grottoes Art Research Institute has further refined its methodology and has been providing integrative services related to preservation, research, and tourist reception at Maijishan.
GHF will bring in international specialists with leading expertise in the preservation and management of Chinese heritage sites. This will help to foster the exchange of professional expertise and enhance the capacities of the management team at Maijishan Grottoes.
The three main suggested goals are:
- Develop an operational strategy for visitor management and establish relevant courses for members of staff and volunteers at the site, including access, interpretation, visitor capacity and technology-led education.
- Conduct a systematic examination of Maijishan’s historic preservation, including restorative principles, techniques, and methods, and use it as a foundation for building up further scientific analysis and comprehensive proposals. This will help to create comprehensive frameworks for restoring and maintaining the site’s colored sculptures and mural paintings.
- Create a community development program focused on the living communities within the park. Activities will include education, handicraft development and promotion, and sustainable community-based tourism development and training.
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