Fueled by enthusiasm for art, Prof. Wang Zheng, at the College of Fine Arts of Xinjiang Normal University, spent nine years in Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, where he studied, imitated, sorted, and documented the timeless Qiuci frescos. His efforts have helped uncover the fantastic world of Qiuci Buddhist art.
As an ancient kingdom along the Silk Road, Quici covered a sprawling area including today’s Kuga and Baicheng in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. After Buddhism was introduced in the 1st century, it prevailed in the kingdom through the 3rd century. Xuan Zang (602-664, a Tang Dynasty monk, traveler, and translator) noted in his book Great Tang Records on the Western Regions that Qiuci’s Buddhism reached its pinnacle around the 5th century as evidenced by the extensive construction of temples. Theravada Buddhist monks attached great importance on individual enlightenment, so they often chose secluded mountain caves for spiritual cultivation.
Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, China’s oldest remaining grottoes, date back to a period from 4th to 8th century. Carved into the cliffs on the northern bank of the Muzhati River Valley southeast of Kizil Township in Baicheng County, the grottoes are considered the largest of a dozen groups of their kind in Xinjiang. So far, 236 caves have been excavated, revealing a plethora of murals that total more than 10,000 square meters.
Along with the other three of China’s four “greatest” grottoes (Longmen in Henan, Yungang in Shanxi, and Dunhuang in Gansu), Kizil Grottoes became one of the first cultural sites to acquire state protection when they were named by the State Council in 1961.
In August 1993, Wang Zheng first set foot in the caves. When recalling the moment he gazed at the paintings gracing the walls, Wang compared his emotions to meeting a mysterious beauty from a distant, bygone era.
For some time, Wang admired the diverse colors of the murals: Fading through the transition of black into white is a mix of flaming vermilion and hazy blue. Despite a lifetime of more than 1,000 years, the paintings remained spectacular and mesmerizing.