Maiji Caves

Located 45 kilometers (about 28 miles) southeast of Tianshui City in Gansu Province, Maiji Mountain rises up abruptly 142 meters (about 155 yards) from the landscape. The people named the mountain 'Maiji' because it resembles a stack of wheat straw (mai meaning wheat, and ji meaning stack). On the sheer cliff that marks the southwest side of Maiji Mountain, people have labored for centuries carving niches and caves, giving rise to what is known today as the Maiji Caves. These caves were included on the World Heritage List on June 22, 2014.

Inside the caves are clay statues, whose heights vary from 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) to 15 meters (over 49 feet). Besides 194 Buddhist caves and niches, containing more than 7, 200 clay statues, there are also murals of over 1, 300 square meters (about 1, 555 square yards) in the Maiji Caves as well. These statues are works of art that reflect ancient craftsmanship and dedication to the Buddhist ideal. Rarely can one find caves and statues carved over sheer cliffs in China, and this is one of the most distinguishing features of Maiji Caves. Being carved on the cliff, these caves are connected by plank roads that hang precariously along the face of the cliff. Visitors can only reach each cave by using these plank roads, which offers a breathtaking experience.

Maiji Caves in Gansu Maiji Caves, Lanzhou
Work on the Maiji caves began in the late Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC), progressing through to the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). The Northern Wei (386 - 534) period was also a time of its great prosperity, and Buddhism began to prevail as a cultural force. Subsequent dynasties added to and sometimes rebuilt the caves according to the styles of the era. Interestingly, although the statues were built at the same location, none of them maintained a similar style with those preceding it. Statues from each dynasty clearly developed distinct elements.

Another curious feature of the statues is their trend toward secularization, that is, a move toward depicting the icons as man rather than god. Except for statues built in the early period, almost all Buddhist statues look affable and accessible. They were no longer gods standing high in the heaven, but rather became more like common people.

Because of its exquisite clay statues and superb sculptural skills, Maiji Caves acquired special recognition. They have been classified as an 'Oriental Statues Exhibition Hall'. Maiji Caves are one of the four most important caves in China. The other threes are Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, Yungang Caves in Datong, Shanxi Province, and Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Henan Province. Their emphasis is on exquisite statues and beautiful natural scenes, while the others' are on florid murals or magnificent stonecutting.

There are other places of interest near Maiji Mountain as well, Xianren Cliff, Shimen Mountain, Quxi and Maiji Arboretum, all offer fine panoramic views of mountains, rivers and plants in Northwest China.

Maiji Mountain, Gansu Maiji Caves in Tianshui Buddhist Statue in Maiji Caves

How to Get There:

Get to Tianshui City first and then wait for the bus 34 (Tianshui Railway Station - Maijishan) which is leaving every 15 minutes from 06:30-19:30. Get off the bus and you can find the ticket office of Maijishan 30 meters away from the bus station.
Admission Fee: Through Ticket of Maiji Mountain Scenic Area
May 1 to October 31: CNY 90
November 1 to next April 30: CNY 70
Ticket excluding Maiji Caves:
CNY 25 per person (all year round)
Sightseeing Bus Fare: CNY 8 for a single trip, CNY 15 for a round-way trip
Ticketing Hours: 08:00-17:00

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