“Huashan” is termed “Pay Laiz” in the Zhuang language, which literally means mountains with paintings. In Chongzuo of Guangxi, all the mountains named “Huashan” have petroglyphs painted on the cliffs. Famous as a “Natural Exhibition Place of Rock Art,” or “Dunhuang on the Cliffs,” the Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape has the best preserved and largest rock art paintings in China.
The Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, was listed on the World Heritage List at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's 40th Session in July, 2016. This was the first time that China's rock paintings were listed as a world heritage! Within these, the 38 designated heritage sites are distributed along the 105 kilometer long river-side, ranging from the Zhushan Rock Art Site along the upper Mingjiang River to the Wanrendongshan Rock Art Site along the middle and lower reaches of the Zuojiang River.
Similar to prehistoric rock art in other parts of the world, the Zuojiang Huashan rock paintings reflect the cultural outlook and spiritual world of the ancient Luoyue people, the 2000 year old ancestors of today’s Zhuang people. “The Huashan rock paintings of Guangxi, China, demonstrate that the Luoyue people created their own shrines thousands of years ago,” remarked Emmanuel Anati, an Italian specialist in prehistoric art history.
The rock paintings are mainly found on the wide, smooth and steep cliffs where the rivers bend, their reddish brown color sharply contrasting with the yellow and black surfaces of the cliffs. The paintings are rough and wild in their lines, but the images are very vivid - clearly visible, despite wind and rain erosion over thousands of years. They depict human figures, as well as figures of animals and implements. Human figures, most of which are merely in profile with no faces, are typically placed in the centre. Animals appear with open mouths and ears pointing upwards, in running postures ahead of human figures, either as mounts or as sacrifices. Implements depicted are mainly drums, knives and swords, placed around the human figures or between their legs.
The typical composition of the images is one of a large frontal view of a distinct human figure, half squatting and wearing special ornaments, who dominates the centre with surrounding figures in profile. This picture appears to be a grand festive celebration at which the Luoyue people danced collectively. The drum in the picture is a percussion instrument still used in local festivals. The Zuojiang Huashan rock paintings have provided clear evidence of the history of the ancient Luoyue people and are therefore considered relics of great significance for the ethnic groups in South China.
According to experts, the Zuojiang Huashan rock paintings can be dated back to the Warring States Period of ancient China. Through centuries of continuous perfection during the Western Han Dynasty and the Eastern Han Dynasty, this monumental work eventually came into being.
The Huashan Rock Art Site is the most spectacular, with the largest panel of rock painting in the world. 1951 figures have been painted on an almost vertical cliff, whose surface area measures more than 8,000 square meters. How did the Zhuang ancestors accomplish this? Even the highest water level on record is 10 meters below the rock paintings. The puzzle remains unsolved despite the inferences made about four possible ways of painting: ascending from under, building a scaffold, hanging down from the cliff top and floating in boats on rising water.
The Zuojiang Huashan rock paintings have not been directly exposed to rains since they were painted on overhanging cliffs. However, in recent years, some rock paintings have become endangered due to weathering, cracking and other natural damages. In December 2009, the protection project of the Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art was officially launched. The local government issued the “Protection Measures of the Zuojiang Rock Art of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.” After years of rescuing and protective work, the main body of Ningming Rock Art has been largely spared from the risks of natural forces.
According to experts, it’s advisable to ensure the proper protection of the rock paintings via controlled number of tourists, building view towers and two-way sightseeing pathways. With the view towers and telescopes provided on the other side of the river, the growing tourists will be prevented from direct contact with the rock art, and only allowed to appreciate it from a distance.
Translated by Lu Qingmei
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