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Restorer's hands-on approach

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-12 07:58

Chen Huili explains her conservation work to international guests at the restoration studio of the Academy of Dazu Rock Carvings, in Chongqing.JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY

Over the years, Chen Huili has developed clever and unique ways to repair damage to priceless artifacts, Yang Feiyue reports in Chongqing.

The light immediately dims and the air feels fresh on the face as you step into the Yuanjue Cave. It takes a little while for your eyes to adjust until you are able to make out the delicately carved Buddha and Bodhisattva rock figurines that have sat there neatly for over a thousand years.

In the low light, Chen Huili points to the lower edges of the outer robes of one of the figurines. "Look at how real and vivid it looks, as if it is real silk fluttering in the wind."

The cave is tucked away in Dafowan, a site that is part of the Baodingshan cluster of Dazu Rock Carvings in Chongqing's Dazu district.

It is 12 meters deep, 9 meters wide and 6 meters high, and is the largest of its kind at the site.

For the past two decades, the accomplished woman, now in her 50s, has been committed to protecting the carvings, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999, the second grotto temple in China inscribed after the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province.

In addition to the stunning sculptures, other notable features of the cave include its intact drainage system and a natural skylight that allows light to fall directly on the central Buddha figurine, Chen says. "All of this makes Yuanjue extremely valuable."

The trouble is, the flat-roofed cave lacks a central pillar to support its weight.

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