A briefing on its restoration and preservation with thanks to many

by Yasutaka Kojima


The 38th UNESCO World Heritage Centre officially decided in June 2014, “The initial section of the Silk Roads, the Routes Network of the Tian-shan Corridor” should be declared a World Heritage Site. China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan have applied for this registration, which includes 33 ruins. In Xinjiang, China, aside from the Kizil Grottoes, these include the ancient cities of Gaochang, Jiao River and Beiting, the Buddha Subash Temple Site, and Keziergaha Beacon. This registration has resulted from such enormous achievement by the Chinese Government and its affiliated agencies as to protect and improve environments. This road network was considered a highway contributed to transporting various civilizations and cultures, including religions, as well as people and things. In addition, this omnibus registration extending across surrounding nations has implications for where the World Heritage Centre heads from now on. Meanwhile, the Tomioka Silk Mill Japan had applied and was also registered, following Mt. Fuji last year.


I first visited the Kizil Grottoes in May 1986. They are one of the four great Chinese grottoes, including Dunhuang, Yungang, and Longmen, located 70 km west of Kuchar at the south foot of Tian-shan. I was overwhelmed by the story of Sakya’s previous life depicted in lapis lazuli’s blue. Though there was no World Heritage Site in Japan in those days, my instinct told me that this should be a World Heritage Site to be protected and shared by all. In spite of households being so poor as to not be able to make a living, the people there worked until they were exhausted preserving these national-treasure class ruins. In the innermost region of China some 30 years ago, where people lived in shanties, wore patched clothing, and had little to eat, I saw them slowly yet diligently engaged in preservation activities. On our way back, in response to Mr. Wang’s joke, “If Mr. Kojima kindly offers CNY 100,000, we will make a practice cave for Kojima’s exclusive use,” I offered to commit that amount without my exclusive cave. Mr. Sheng Chun Shou, fresh from university, was one of the group members. It was a curious coincidence that later on I began conducting research of the ruins in Niya and Dandan Oilik along with him. He is currently the chief of Xinjiang Cultural Heritage Bureau. He attended this World Heritage Committee as a member of the Chinese delegate.


Being the first foreigner to offer a contribution to Xinjiang in any form, including economics and culture, initially they would not listen to me. They only half-believed it and did not accept it for fear that I had another intentions. But finally, I was allowed to make my contribution at the end of October. This reflects how deeply the bad impressions made by foreign explorers such as Stein, Pelliot, and the Otani team have remained. These explorers had removed many antiquities.


When I visited Xinjiang again, I heard that the Chinese government had put up CNY 20 million to conduct a full-fledged restoration of the Kizil Grottoes after considering they were highly valued by foreigners. I offered to contribute another JPY 100 million through a fund-raising campaign across Japan because the previous CNY 100,000 was not enough to implement that scale of restoration. In terms of the local commodity prices in those days, this value was equivalent to the current CNY 100 million, JPY 1.6 billion or USD 16 million. The devastation of the ruins was mainly caused by mural paintings being exported by foreign explorers, the peeling away of gilt by the local people of that time, destruction by the infidels, and age-long decay.


I made this offer by deciding that the Kizil Grottoes were not just for the cultural heritage of China, but also because they are of value for mankind in terms of scale and quality. But once again, it took long time to obtain an endorsement. Yet, finally at the signing ceremony at the Xinjiang Guest Palace on May 20, 1987, Secretary of Xinjiang Cultural Affairs Agency Wang Cheng Wen and I signed the protocol in the presence of a witness, Mr. Wang En Mao, the head of Xinjiang Province at the time.


The Kizil Grottoes were the earliest established among the Chinese Four Great Caves. Located in the westernmost area of the other caves, the Kizil Grottoes are characterized by voluminous depictions of the Jataka Tales. They are described in diamond-shaped lattice patterns, which were created to honor the achievements of Shakyamuni. The lapis lazuli’s ultramarine color gives us vivid impressions. These mural paintings surely must have nursed millions of people’s souls over the eons.


I established The Japan-China Friendship Association to Preserve and Restore the Kizil Grottoes in November 1987. I then asked Lower House Member Taro Nakayama; President Kohshi Uemura of C. Uemura & Co., Ltd; and President Kohsho Mizutani of Bukkyo University to assume the positions of honorary adviser, chairman, and vice-chairman, respectively. Other important positions were filled by many other wonderful people from fields including religion, business, and academia. I myself was the representative director. We launched a fund-raising campaign in December and created leaflets, postcards, and calling cards with the slogan, “Let’s hand down the World Heritage of humankind, the Kizil Grottoes, to future generations.” But most people were scarcely familiar with the Kizil Grottoes, unlike at Dunhuang. Then we asked the media, including newspapers, television, and radio, to cover this campaign. However, it was a real challenge raising funds due to little public awareness of preserving cultural assets in those days. Also, the little-known grottoes were abroad and far, far away.


The first presentation ceåremony was held in Urumqi on April 28, 1988. The second one was also in Urumqi in the presence of Mr. Wang En Mao on August 30, 1989, despite being adversely affected by the Tiananmen Square incident in June. On these two occasions we contributed JPY 105.44 million for the Xinjiang Government. The funds were raised from voluntary contributions from both individuals and companies numbering more than 3,000. I would like to express my renewed appreciation to those individuals and companies as well as to all of the members of the association. I also acknowledge the contributions of the office staff, which made enormous efforts to help promote this campaign.


Thanks to these contributions as well as the untiring dedication of the Chinese, the Kizil Grottoes have recovered so admirably that a number of people from home and abroad have visited. Mr. Wang En Mao’s handwritten monument accounts for how the Japanese contributions had made this recovery possible. The monument was built on site, with the inscribed names of contributors and the executive members of the association. I myself have often guided sightseeing groups and worked with local people in various ways to the best of my ability.


Protection is my top priority. The Kizil Grottoes can be likened to an exquisite flower blooming in the desert of the Silk Road. The grottoes are a precious cultural heritage expected to be thoroughly researched from a whole variety of fields, including archaeology, ethnology, the exchange history of Western and Eastern cultures, art history, Buddhist studies, linguistics, and conservation science.


In 2010 the Xinjiang Qiuci Research Academy, which administers the Kizil Grottoes, celebrated the 25th anniversary since its establishment and held a memorial ceremony in the Kizil Grottoes on August 15. The event was presided over by Bureau Director Sheng Chun Shou. I was privileged to deliver the commemorative speech titled: “Kizil in 1986, my starting point; with a lifelong mission for preservation and research of Chinese cultural heritage.” A hundred or so people, including professors from Peking University who saw the photographs of the cave before restoration, the restoration construction, and the fund-raising campaign in Japan for the first time, have turned out to be thrilled with the venue. Bureau Director Sheng stated, “Kojima’s funds helped us tremendously when Xinjiang was lacking sufficient financial resources. Now that we have become better off financially, we must learn ‘the spirit of dedication to people’ from Mr. Kojima.” When the announcement was made that I would donate a commuting bus for academy’s staffers commemorating the 25th anniversary, the audience exploded with applause. Some Japanese professors remarked, “We really admire such excellent foresight as to recognize the importance of preservation of this site two decades ago.”


In September, 2011, the Xinjiang Government sponsored “The 30th Anniversary of the first visit of Yasutaka Kojima to Xinjiang”. As a part of its campaign, the ceremony to commemorate the renovation of Mr. Wang En Mao’s handwritten monument at the Kizil Grottoes was held before an audience of 30 people. The German scholars who had been there also participated in this ceremony. It was a big surprise to see those same Germans again when I made a speech at “International Conference, Archaeology of the Southern Taklamakan: Hedin and Stein’s Legacy and New Explorations”. This speech was delivered at the British Library in London in November 2012, under the title: “My life-long mission for preservation and research of World-class Cultural Heritage,” referring to the restoration and preservation activities of the Kizil Grottoes.


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to numerous Chinese as well as Japanese for their kind guidance and support. Because of this cooperative Japan-China effort, I have managed to achieve numerous goals in the course of more than 140 visits to Xinjiang since 1982, including the restoration and preservation of the Kizil Grottoes. This opportunity had led me to become involved in the Niya ruins’ research; the Dandan Oilik ruins’ research and protection of its mural paintings; funding for the Xinjiang Cultural Heritage Award; running a website, www.wenbao.net, for the protection of Chinese historical and cultural relics; publishing historical archives; funding both for the scholarship of Xinjiang University and the construction of  Hope elementary schools; and dispatching and inviting delegates of various groups.


Thanks to the tremendous efforts by many people, the Kizil Grottoes have been registered as a World Heritage Site. This accomplishment pleases me as I realize that my personal funds lead to the establishment of the association, the fund-raising activities and my subsequent visits for encouragement. I cannot be too thankful to the people of China as well as of Japan. The Niya ruins’ registration as the World Heritage which was postponed to the next stage due to scaling down the applied area of the registration is expected to be realized soon. I’ll be visiting the Kizil Grottoes again in the not-too-distant future. Cheers!