Situated just 10 miles to the south west of the city of Datong at the foot of the Wuzhou Shan mountain range in Shanxi province, the Yungang Grottoes play host to a series of 252 shallow caves containing in excess of 51,000 Buddhist statues dating from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. The caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are highly valued as magnificent examples of Buddhist cave art – particularly rock-cut art, and are one of the most famous cave systems containing such Buddhist art in China, along with the Longmen and Mogao grottoes.
The art within the Yungang Grottoes is an fine example of cultural integration, showing how religious art from central and southern Asia has successfully been combined with traditional Chinese culture resulting in these fantastic artworks. Statues and statuettes range in height from just 4cm up to as much as 7m.
These impressive examples of ancient Buddhist art in the Yungang Grottoes are the focus of an attractive five-coin set, produced in 2010, exhibiting some of the caves’ artistic highlights on their reverse faces. The 10000 yuan, 1kg gold coin of the set, of which only 100 were issued, features the image of Buddha III of the Yungang Grottoes.
The Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 535) of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420 – 589) took control of northern China following the decline of the Jin Dynasty (265-420). At this time, the capital of the Northern Wei was situated at Datong, in the past known as Pingcheng. This period also saw a large influx of foreign ideas to China, especially Buddhism along the Silk Road trade route. It was the combination of this introduction of Buddhist ideas, and the site’s proximity to the capital that led to the development and construction of the caves at Yungang, which took place over a period of 60 years.