Field Study is a compulsory course at the Yenching Academy offering Yenching Scholars insights into different aspects of China by visiting several sites. But the Covid-19 travel restrictions hinder our Scholars abroad from participating in the trips physically during the 2020/2021 academic session. Therefore, the Yenching Academy prepared videos, textual materials, and online lectures for the Scholars studying online to learn and follow the themes discussed during the study trips. Our professors, led by Professor Lu Yang, YCA Director of Graduate Studies, and YCA Associate Deans Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, traveled to Chongqing and other places in Sichuan province in 2021, creating on-site videos that fully integrated in-class theories and on-spot scenes.
Prof. Lu and Associate Dean Haas discussed the grotto art and local beliefs of Buddhism while admiring the gorgeous Baodingshan Rock Carvings at the Dazu cave site, Chongqing.
Prof. Lu briefly introduced the Dazu cave site, noting that discourses about Buddhist caves usually considered the famous caves in northern China like Longmen or Yungang, dating back to a much earlier period, but the Dazu cave site is later. He also remarked that the Dazu grottos differed from other caves as the latter are called dedicational caves because they were commissioned by wealthy and influential members of the society. “A commissioner spent money and commissioned beautiful caves with images and murals so that he could receive blessings from the Buddhist deities or Buddha,” he explained. However, Buddhologists usually called the Dazu cave site a Buddhist theme park; an area intended to display the main local beliefs and the large beliefs of Buddhism, and make pictorial representations of some of the most popular Buddhist views. Prof. Lu stressed that since these images captured daily life at that time, connecting the people to their actual life, pilgrims visiting the site can have a general idea of what Buddhism is all about and why it matters.
The Dazu cave site, characteristic of Sichuan-style rock carvings and an exceptional one for the Chines grotto art of the period, is on a par with the Yungang Grottos in Shanxi province, Longmen Grottos in Henan province, and Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, Gansu province. The Dazu Rocking Carvings, both secular and religious, are an epitome of the Chinese grotto art at a new height.