Itinerant Creeds: The Chinese Northern Frontier by Paola Demattè

Ningxia: Helankou

Page 4/8

The diversity of religions and cultures found at some Yinshan locations is documented elsewhere along China’s northwest frontier. An emblematic place is Helankou, a site in Ningxia province that is rich in both petroglyphs and Buddhist motifs and is linked to a nearby Buddhist temple and an imperial cemetery. Helankou is one of the numerous canyons that dissect the eastern foothills of the central Helan mountains (Helanshan), a range that, like the Yinshan, separates the Asian steppes from the greener fields of northern China. Petroglyphs are found at eight major loci in the canyon, but are concentrated at the eastern opening of the gorge on smooth cliffs and on boulders disseminated in the alluvium. The Helankou petroglyphs are difficult to date, but various elements indicate that they were produced over a long time, probably from the late first millennium B.C.E. to the later imperial period during the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties (Xu and Wei 1993).

Helankou exhibits a diversified imagery that goes beyond the more predictable animal representations and includes face outlines, hand prints, human figures, symbols and even inscriptions (Xu and Wei 1996) (Figure 2). The site is known for the variety and complexity of its face and/or mask imagery, but the inscriptions are also very significant. The earliest are in Xixia, a script developed for the language of the Tangut Danxiang, the founders of the Xixia dynasty (1038-1227 C.E.), which was centered in Ningxia. These inscriptions relate mainly to Buddhism, the religion patronized by the Xixia. Some of them comment on the petroglyph’s spiritual meaning and associate them with the Buddha, showing that though devoted to Buddhism, the Xixia were in awe of the pre-existing rock engravings. Other inscriptions are repetitions of the name “Buddha,” as if the words were an offering (like the Buddha icons found at countless cave sites), or an actual representation of the Buddha (as is the case at some Chinese Buddhist sites). These inscriptions indicate that Helankou was also a Buddhist site and that some of its later imagery may be connected to that religion. More recent inscriptions are official edicts or records in Chinese dating to the Ming dynasty. Whether in Xixia or in Chinese, these written records must be considered an integral part of the site (Demattè 2011). Their presence in the midst of, and in dialogue with, petroglyphs highlights the interconnectedness of all sign-making and of all practices performed at the site.

This evidence links Helankou to a number of nearby sites that the Xixia dedicated to Buddhist or ancestral devotion. The closest is Baisikou, a Buddhist temple at the opening of a canyon situated few kilometers south of Helankou. Baisikou includes two pagodas, the ruins of a temple and third pagoda, the ancient burial grounds for monks, and a more recent temple building (Ningxia Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics 2005). Farther south, but still on the route to Helankou, is the Xixia imperial cemetery, an extensive area (c. 50 square kilometers) on the eastern foothills of the Helan(Han Xiaomang 1995; Steinhardt 1993) that holds the tombs of nine Xixia emperors and over 300 elite burials. The proximity and alignment of these and other smaller sites on the road to Helankou suggests that in the past the entire area may have been akin to a pilgrimage route dedicated to devotional and ritual activities (REF).
Like us on Facebook & Follow us on Twitter to receive news & updates:
Itinerant Creeds: The Chinese Northern Frontier
Cults of Place: Mountains, Rivers and Beyond
→ Case Studies: Inner Mongolia: Yinshan
→ Case Studies: Ningxia: Helankou
→ Case Studies: Gansu: Heishan
Conclusion & References Cited
About the Author

The China Rock Art Archive
Bradshaw Foundation
bradshaw foundation donate help
Mailing List

Email Sign-Up
website updates


First Name

Last Name


bradshaw foundation ishop tshirt
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Bibliographic Database Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Privacy Policy Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Birnin Kudu Rock Art Center Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Moab, Utah Clovis First Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Avebury Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Introduction Peterborough Petroglyphs Western Canadian Rock Art Writing-On-Stone Wuikinuxv Territory Dinosaur Provincial Park Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Preservation & Education Dr. V. S. Wakankar Articles on India Rock Art Contemporary Art Sri Lanka Archive Index Rock Paintings & Engravings Sri Lanka Rock Art Gallery Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Scandinavian Rock Art Archive Scandinavian Introduction Alta Rock Art Norway Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Sweden Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery A Cultural Memory Izzy Wisher Biography Deer-tooth necklace Cave Art Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Banksy Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation