The Dazu Rock Carvings are located in Chongqing Municipality within the steep hillsides throughout Dazu County (located about 60 kilometers west of the city of Chongqing, China). The highlights of the rock grotto are found on Mount Baoding and Mount Beishan.
The Dazu Rock Carvings are a series of Chinese religious sculptures and carvings, dating back as far as the 7th century A.D., depicting and influenced by Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs, representing a beautiful gem in the grotto arts of China. Listed as a World Heritage Site, the Dazu Rock Carvings are made up of 75 protected sites containing some 50,000 statues, with over 100,000 Chinese characters forming inscriptions and epigraphs, known as the last monument to the history of Chinese grotto art. All the Cliffside carvings, ingeniously conceived with a great originality, are well known for their variety in subject matter, richness in content, and their co-existence of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Because of the vast scope and exquisite workmanship, they represented the height of stone sculpture art in ancient China. People usually call them the "Palace of Chinese Religion Art" and "Eastern Stone Sculptures Bible."
The earliest carvings were begun in 650 A.D., the first year of the reign of Emperor Yonghui of the Tang Dynasty, but the main period of their creation began in the late 9th century, when Wei Junjing, Prefect of Changzhou, pioneered the carvings on Mount Beishan, and his example was followed after the collapse of the Tang Dynasty by local and gentry, monks and nuns, and ordinary people during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-65). In the 12th century, during the Song Dynasty, a Buddhist monk named Zhao Zhifeng began work on the elaborate sculptures and carvings on Mount Baoding, dedicating 70 years of his life to the project.
Stone statues were scattered over an area of 2.5 square kilometers, particularly in Dafowan where most valuable sculptures were concentrated, like a great picture roll unfolding before your eyes. Dafowan is a huge gorge in U shape with a length of 500 meters. Stone sculptures were hewn out along the cliffs. The most outstanding of them are the "Thousand-Arm Goddess of Mercy" and the Sleeping Buddha. The former holds in her 1007 hands various objects such as Buddhist magic formulas, weapons of ancient times, musical instruments, jade ornaments, silk fabrics, production tools, and articles for daily use. Her arms and hands look exquisite and graceful in their myriad postures: raised or down, extended or withdrawn, relaxed or clenched etc. This fully shows the extraordinary talent and skill of ancient artists. The Sleeping Buddha is grand and imposing. Other attractions include Xiaofowan, Daota, Wansuilou, Shengshousi etc. Shengshousi (Temple of Sacred Longevity) constructed at the foot of the Hill, is made up of lofty halls and pavilions with double eaves and exquisite carvings. Weimo Hall stands at the top and houses a sleeping statue of Weimo, a lay Buddhist, and 77 round shrines with small Buddhist statues above a stone platform.
Off limits to visitors for many years, the carvings were opened to Chinese travelers in 1961 and foreign visitors in 1980. Until 1975 there was only a muddy path between the town of Dazu and the main cluster of carvings. The isolation helped keep the art unharmed during the massive anti-religious vandalism of the Cultural Revolution.
The carvings were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999, citing "…their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism."