Datong: A Historical Guide
In modern times the coal capital of China, Datong was once the capital of empire and one of the most important cultural centres of northern China. A controversial reconstruction of its old city has attracted recent attention, but Datong’s lasting attraction is its artistic and architectural heritage.
The Northern Wei (386-535), a dynasty founded by outsiders, established its capital in capital in Datong from 398 until 494. The artistic legacy of that period, the Buddhist carvings at the Yungang Grottoes, illustrates how foreign motifs and styles interacted with native Chinese aesthetics to establish forms that would dominate the iconography of East Asia. The city remained an important military, religious and mercantile centre throughout imperial China, with spectacular wooden temple architecture from the Liao and Jin dynasties (907–1271) is preserved to a greater extent here than in any other region of China.
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