Of the many Buddhist sites in China, there are four cave complexes which feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list for their historic value and the particularly fine artistry of their Buddhist carvings and beautiful wall paintings. They are also a historic reflection of the enormous influence of the Silk Road upon China.


The Magao Caves are part of a complex of temples near Dunhuang in Gansu Province containing some of the greatest Buddhist art in the world and date back to the 4th century AD. Of 492 caves, twenty are open to the public, including the Library Cave, which was the site of the discovery of over a thousand sacred scrolls and 15,000 books.

The excellent sculpture and superlative murals found here describe the innermost transcendent practices of the ancient followers of Buddhism who inhabited this region over centuries.


Another great example of Buddhist Cave art is to be found at Yungang Grottoes near Datung in Shanxi Province.

Situated on the timeless Silk Road, the 51,000 carvings found here reflect the influences of Greek, Persian and Indian sculpture, housed in 252 caves, and dating back to the 5th century AD. Aside from the sculptures, there are many fine frescos, particularly those found in cave 6.


In Henan Province, near Luongang, another 5th century site, the Longmen Caves contain over 100,000 Buddha statues within its 1,400 caves and the surrounding area is often described as the ‘Forest of Stelae’ after its two and a half thousand stelae.

The main grottoes for visitors are the Guyang Dong, Bingyang Dong and Fengxian. Other notable caves are Lianhua Dong, Weizi Dong, Shisku, Yaofang Dong, Zhaifu Dong, Huijian Doing, Fahua Dong, Wanfo Si, Jinan Dong, Ganjing Si, and Leigutai Dong. Among the ten temples here are Xiangshan and Big Garden Temple.


The Dazu Buddhist Caves, located to the west of Chongqing, are home to over 50,000 Buddhist statues, inhabiting 75 sites, and date from the 7th century AD. The best of the immaculate carvings are to be found on Treasured Summit Hill, North Hill and South Hill.