Yulin Cave is located 70 kilometers south of Guazhou County (formerly Anxi County), Gansu Province. The cave was chiseled on the east-west cliffs on sides of the Yulin River Canyon. Due to large elm forest on the river bank, the cave is named as Yulin Cave.
When the Yulin Cave was built is unknown. However inferring from the cave forms and related inscriptions, the cave were founded in the Northern Wei Dynasty. Judging from the style of murals and the inscription of tourists in the past, the cave has took large-scale constructions in Tang, Song, Yuan and Qing Dynasties. There are 43 caves in Yulin Grottoes, with an area of 112,850 square meters. The size of the murals in the cave reaches nearly 4,200 square meters. There are also hundreds of painted Buddha figures and statues in the cave.
There are 3 caves of Tang Dynasty, 8 caves of Northern and Southern Dynasties, 13 caves of Song Dynasty and 9 caves of Qing Dynasty. Judging from the form, content and artistic style of the cave, it is highly similar to Mogao Grottoes. It is recognized as a branch of Mogao Grottoes Art System.
The Yulin Grottoes was originally excavated from the Northern Wei Dynasty.
In Southern and Northern Dynasties, the Cao Yijin family ruled ancient Guazhou and Shazhou Counties for more than a hundred years. The Cao family started to build grottoes and paint murals to pretend to be peace and prosperity of the Hexi Corridor. Therefore, most caves were excavated during this period, accounting for half of all caves in Yulin Grottoes. There are huge portraits of the Cao family’s supporters painted in the paths and corridors of the caves.
During the Xixia and Yuan Dynasties, a total of 16 caves were built and rebuilt in Yulin Cave with some rare religious themes.
Yulin Grottoes are identical to Mogao Grottoes in terms of content, artistic style, and painting form. It has a big influence at home and abroad. In the figure paintings, there are images of Xixia people and Mongolians with special clothes and different looks. Therefore, the murals of Xixia and Yuan Dynasties reflect the artistic traditions interaction between the Han nationality and the ethnic groups such as Xixia and Mongolia.