Shanxi is famous for its superb historical heritage of stone carving art — with its roots in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) some 2,000 years ago. For instance, the Han Dynasty stone-carved crouching tiger discovered in Yuncheng features great simplicity and aesthetic taste. A Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) stone coffin discovered in Datong is an imitation of a wooden building structure composed of 100-plus frame parts with exquisite carvings. The carvings on the stone coffin discovered in a Sui Dynasty (581-618) tomb have exotic images that are witnesses to exchanges of East and West. It is worth mentioning that although the stone carvings related to Buddhist sculptures in Yungang Grottoes and Tianlongshan Grottoes have gained a worldwide reputation, there is a great number of stone carvings scattered in countryside temples, including Huata in Taiyuan and Nannieshui in Qinxian County, that are testaments to the evolution of Buddhist arts into forms with worldly characteristics in the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties. For instance, the Tang Dynasty (618-907) stone-carved Buddhist images feature elegant dispositions and healthy bodies. They display both a religious sublimity and a realistic nature, showing the artists' pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful.
Stone-carved column foundations, Northern Wei Dynasty
The column foundations were found in Sima Jinlong's tomb in the suburbs of Datong. They have a height of 16.5 cm, a width of 32 cm at the base and a 7 cm bore diameter. One of the foundations is a square structure made of sandstone. Its upper part resembles an upside-down basin. The top of the structure features lotus petals around a round bore. Below the lotus petals are dragons traveling through the mountains. The four upper sides of the foundation are decorated with cloud and honeysuckle patterns, with four dancing boy musicians standing on the corners. The sides of the foundation feature decoration of lotus branch patterns and carved music-playing figures. The carvings, incorporating Buddhist, western and other cultural elements, feature great craftsmanship and lofty taste and represent the highest standard of Northern Wei carving arts. Four such structures have been unearthed, with slight differences in size and decorative patterns. They are identified as the column foundations for wooden folding screens with lacquered paintings.
Sima Chu, the father of Sima Jinlong, was a member of the Eastern Jin Dynasty royal family. He fled to Northern Wei because of a struggle inside his family. He married a Northern Wei princess and was appointed King of Langya by the Northern Wei emperor.
Head of a Bodhisattva statue, Jin Dynasty
The 36 cm high relic was discovered in the Huian Temple in Xiliuzhi village in Qixian in 1959. The Bodhisattva has a high-rising tied hair coil, which is decorated with a standing Buddha. Smiling with small eyes and curved eyebrows, it was vividly and delicately crafted so that each hairline is clearly seen.