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The Longmen cave complex is located twelve kilometers south of Luoyang, Henan province, in China. From the end of the fifth century through the middle of the eighth century, cave sanctuaries were excavated out of the limestone hills on two sides of the Yi River. They were sponsored by Buddhist devotees from all sectors of the society—aristocrats and commoners, ethnic nomads and Chinese alike, attesting to the widespread support of Buddhism. The late Northern Wei and High Tang periods represent two periods of great activity, during which imperial patronage also played an important role. The central Binyang cave, begun in 505 and sponsored by the Northern Wei emperor Xuanwudi (r. 449–515), ushered in a new phase of Chinese Buddhist art that synthesized foreign and native Chinese art styles, combining a three-dimensional approach to form with minute attention to surface details and patterns. Fengxian Monastery, completed in 675, epitomized the imperial patronage of Emperor Gaozong (r. 649–683) and Empress Wu (r. 684–705) of the Tang dynasty. The colossal statue of Vairocana Buddha, accompanied by disciples, bodhisattvas, and guardian deities, is a powerful statement of the omniscience of the Buddha as the lord of the universe and as a protector of the state.

See also:China, Buddhist Art in; Monastic Architecture


Gong Dazhong. Longmen shiku yishu (The Art of the Longmen Cave-Temples). Shanghai: Renmin chubanshe, 1981.

Longmen Cultural Relics Conservation Institute and the Archaeological Institute of Beijing University. Longmen shiku (Longmen Cave-Temples). 2 vols. Beijing: Wenwu Press, 1991.

Mizuno Seiichi, Nagahiro Toshio, et al. Ryumon sekkutsu no kenkyu (A Study of the Longmen Cave-Temples). Tokyo: Zayuho kankokai, 1941.

Dorothy Wong

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