Yulin Caves

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Pipa player, south wall of Cave 25 (Tang Dynasty)

The Yulin Caves (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yulin kū) is a Buddhist cave temple site in Anxi County, Gansu Province, China. The site is located some 100 km east of the oasis town of Dunhuang and the Mogao Caves. It takes its name from the eponymous elm trees lining the Yulin River, which flows through the site and separates the two cliffs from which the caves have been excavated. The forty-two caves house some 250 polychrome statues and 4,200 m2 of wall paintings, dating from the Tang Dynasty to the Yuan Dynasty (seventh to fourteenth centuries).[1][2] The site was among the first to be designated for protection in 1961 as a Major National Historical and Cultural Site.[3] In 2008 the Yulin Grottoes were submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Chinese Section of the Silk Road.[4]


Most of the caves take the form of an entrance corridor, antechamber, and main chamber. In three caves, a central pier was left intact during excavation then carved with niches on all four sides. A number of caves were reworked and repainted in later periods, since the site remained in use throughout the Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Western Xia, and Yuan Dynasties. It fell into disuse during the Ming Dynasty. There were early efforts to restore the caves at the time of the Qing Dynasty and several new caves also date to this period. More recently, under the management of the Dunhuang Academy, the focus has been on preventive conservation through consolidation of the cliff face and controlling access.[1][5]

Wall paintings[edit]

The paintings are Buddhist with some secular scenes, the former including buddhas, bodhisattvas, apsara, and jataka tales; and the latter, donor portraits, go players, representatives of China's ethnic minorities, marked out by their hair styles and dress, farming scenes such as milking a cow, wine-making, a smelting furnace, and a marriage ceremony; depictions of musicians and dancers help break down the distinction between the sacred and the profane.[1][2] The paintings are not frescoes but instead executed on an earthen render with mineral and organic pigments and gum or glue binders.[5]

List of caves[edit]

The forty-two caves are dated as follows, based largely on the style of the paintings and their accompanying inscriptions (in Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Tangut, and Old Uighur):[6][7]

Cave Construction Restorations Former Numbering Image
Cave 1 Qing
Cave 2 Western Xia Yuan, Qing C1 Yulin Cave 2 s wall preaching (Western Xia).jpg
Cave 3 Western Xia Yuan, Qing C2 Yulin Cave 3 w wall Samantabhadra (Western Xia).jpg
Cave 4 Yuan Qing C3 Yulin Cave 4 e wall lokapala (Yuan).jpg
Cave 5 Tang Qing Yulin Cave 5 antechamber s wall lokapala (Tang).jpg
Cave 6 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Western Xia, Qing, Republic of China C4
Cave 7 Qing
Cave 8 Qing
Cave 9 Qing
Cave 10 Western Xia Yuan, Qing C5 Yulin Cave 10 ceiling w winged horse (Western Xia).jpg
Cave 11 Qing
Cave 12 Five Dynasties Qing C6 Yulin Cave 12 n wall musicians & dancer (Five Dynasties).jpg
Cave 13 Five Dynasties Song, Qing C7
Cave 14 Song Dynasty Qing, Republic of China C8
Cave 15 Mid-Tang Song, Western Xia, Yuan, Qing C9 Yulin Cave 15 antechamber ceiling n heavenly musician (Tang).jpg
Cave 16 Five Dynasties Early Republic of China C10
Cave 17 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, (date unclear), Qing C11
Cave 18 Five Dynasties Western Xia, Yuan C11b
Cave 19 Five Dynasties Qing C12 Yulin Cave 19 corridor n wall donor (Five Dynasties).jpg
Cave 20 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Qing C13
Cave 21 Tang Song, (date unclear), Qing C14
Cave 22 Tang Song, Western Xia, Qing C15
Cave 23 Tang Song, Qing C16
Cave 24 Tang C17b
Cave 25 Mid-Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Qing C17 Yulin Cave 25 n wall Maitreya Sutra 3 (Tang).jpg
Cave 26 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, (date unclear), Qing C18
Cave 27 Tang C18b
Cave 28 Early-Tang Song, Western Xia, Qing C19
Cave 29 Western Xia Yuan, Qing C20 Yulin Cave 29 s wall priest & monks (Western Xia).jpg
Cave 30 Late-Tang Song C20
Cave 31 Five Dynasties Qing C21
Cave 32 Five Dynasties Song C22 Yulin Cave 32 mural weiqi.jpg
Cave 33 Five Dynasties Qing C23
Cave 34 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Qing C24
Cave 35 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Qing C25
Cave 36 Tang Five Dynasties, Song, Qing C26
Cave 37 Qing
Cave 38 Tang Five Dynasties, Qing C27
Cave 39 Tang (date unclear), Yuan, Qing C28 Yulin Cave 39 s wall Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara (Uighur).jpg
Cave 40 Five Dynasties Qing C29
Cave 41 Five Dynasties Yuan, Qing
Cave 42 High-Tang

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 40°3′33″N 95°56′10″E / 40.05917°N 95.93611°E / 40.05917; 95.93611


  1. ^ a b c Fan Jinshi, ed. (1999). 安西榆林窟 The Anxi Yulin Grottoes (in Chinese and English). Gansu National Publishing House. pp. 6–9. ISBN 7542106465. 
  2. ^ a b Dunhuang Academy, ed. (1997). 安西榆林窟 [Anxi Yulin Caves] (in Chinese (240 colour plates)). 文物出版社. ISBN 7501007748. 
  3. ^ "国务院关于公布第一批全国重点文物保护单位名单的通知 (1st Designations)" (in Chinese). State Administration of Cultural Heritage. 3 April 1961. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Chinese Section of the Silk Road". UNESCO. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Whitfield, Roderick (et al.) (2000). Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road. Getty Conservation Institute. pp. 5, 114 ff, 135. ISBN 0892365854. 
  6. ^ Dunhuang Academy, ed. (1997). 安西榆林窟 [Anxi Yulin Caves] (in Chinese). 文物出版社. pp. 254–263. ISBN 7501007748. 
  7. ^ Dai Matsui (2008). "Revising the Uigur Inscriptions of the Yulin Caves". Studies on the Inner Asian Languages (Osaka University) 23: 17–33. ISSN 1341-5670. 

External links[edit]