Baisha Ancient Town is one of the oldest zones in the city of Lijiang. It got its name of “Baisha,” meaning “white sand,” from the typical natural white sand in the area. Baisha was the cradle of the Tusi Dynasty which evolved from the Mu clan, and was also the earliest settlement of the Naxi people. To be found today are many ancient constructions that were originally built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), for example, Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Temple, and Wenchang Palace. The well-known Baisha Frescoes can be seen in Dabaoji Palace.
As mentioned earlier, Baisha Ancient Town was the cradle of the ancient Mu clan. The Mu family was famous for their exceptional city planning skills and experience. Early in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the emperor of the Nanzhao state named Yulong Snow Mountain “North-Yue,” meanwhile the ancestors of the Mu clan began to build North-Yue Temple and the town’s streets. These constructions were examples of the golden age of Baisha. Later in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the town prospered further and became the economic, political, and cultural center of the city of Lijiang.
The town’s central district is characterized by clusters of temples called "Mudu," as well as a huge square symbolizing the political power and influence of the Mu clan at the time. Among the remaining ancient architectures that can be found today, Fuguo Temple, Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Palace, and Dading Pavilion were all built during the reign of the Tusi offspring of the Mu clan. Around that same time, the Mu began to channel water from Yulong Snow Mountain into the town for irrigation purposes and water supply, which could be considered one of the earliest examples of irrigation engineering works in China. Then throughout the Ming (1268-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties, the Mu family gradually migrated to the town of Dayan.
Baisha Ancient Town’s architectural complex is made of 2 parts: the folk residence zone, and the cultural sites. The folk residence area is called "Peng Shi Zhi" in the local language, meaning the "White Sand Streets," And all the streets were constructed oriented from north to south. In the town center, there is a square where 3 main avenues intersect. Houses and small stores line up on both sides of the streets, and a crystal-clear brook meanders around all the homes, cutting through the small town from north to south.
At the end of Baisha Old Street, there is a huge cluster of temples that were built in the Yongle era (1402-1424) of the Ming Dynasty. It consists of 3 yards: Sutra Collection Pavilion which is the dooryard, Liuli Temple which is the cloisters, and Dabaoji Palace which is the backyard. The palace occupies an area of about 73 square meters. Among the 28 fresco groups in the palace, with the painting of Sakyamuni explaining the sutra passages to his disciples is the most famous and valuable one. The frescos were created by Han artists in collaboration with Tibetan artists.
Dading Pavilion, about 10 meters from Dabaoji Palace, dates back to the Wanli reign (1572-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. The 16 well-preserved mural paintings in the pavilion date a little bit more recently, having been created in the Qing Dynasty. Compared to those in Dabaoji Palace, these paintings have beautiful shapes, bright colors, and precise lines, creating strong visual impacts and sensations. They are also valuable national treasures and relics of cultural inheritance.
The 44 pieces of Murals here were carved in the early Ming Dynasty. Most of the paintings depict religious stories from Taoism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. They also exemplify the artistic characteristics of the Naxi, Tibetan, Han, and Bai ethnic groups. Among them, the paintings of Guan Yin and Sakyamuni are the most famous. Perhaps more than anything, the Baisha Frescos, also known as Lijing Frescos, have become precious data for studying the history of Chinese arts and religion.
Also present in the palace are a collection of mural paintings and more than 100 statues depicting ancient tales with their fine lines, smooth carvings, rich colors, vivid patterns, and harmonious composition. Most of these old stories are religious tales and activities of Taoism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. They are valuable treasures of China’s painting history and cultural heritage.
1. Tickets to see the Baisha Frescoes are 8 RMB. It is recommended to hire a guide to take you through the grounds in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their history and significance.
2. Because the frescoes’ pigments are made from minerals, please do not touch the murals nor take pictures of them. Oils from human hands, and the flash of modern cameras, can easily hurt these ancient, delicate historical treasures.
3. On the 12th day of the first month of each lunar year, the locals hold a sacrificial ceremony to honor the gods. On this day, people from various ethnic groups in the area come together to pay their respects.