Walls to save

Updated 2017-05-03 10:00:32 China Daily
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Veteran fresco restorer Li Yunhe, 85, still works on the spot, and he has passed down his skills to his grandson Li Xiaoyang, 28, who, after college in Australia, is back in China to contribute to the cause. Photos by Li Bo and Wang Xionglong/For China Daily

Veteran fresco restorer Li Yunhe, 85, still works on the spot, and he has passed down his skills to his grandson Li Xiaoyang, 28, who, after college in Australia, is back in China to contribute to the cause. Photos by Li Bo and Wang Xionglong/For China Daily

A third-generation restorer of the Dunhuang frescoes relishes the ancient art and the traditional methods to preserve it, Wang Kaihao reports in Quyang county, Hebei province.

Li Xiaoyang is 28 years old, but he says he's been submerged in fresco restoration for more than 20 years, thanks to his family.

It is not a joke.

"I followed my grandfather and stayed with restorers at work sites for months," Li recalls. "That was how I spent my summer vacations when I was a child."

Li was born in Dunhuang, Gansu province. The oasis city in the Gobi desert is known as a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and commanded a strategic position on that Eurasian trade route. Dunhuang's legacy includes the breathtaking Buddhist relics of the Mogao Caves, which date to the 4th century. The art of its frescoes reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the relics were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987, one of the earliest listed sites in China.

Li's grandfather, Li Yunhe, moved to Dunhuang from his hometown in eastern Shandong province at the age of 24, working in Dunhuang Academy as a fresco restorer. He devoted his next six decades not only to the remarkable cultural treasures in the Mogao Caves but to many other exquisite ancient art pieces around the country.

"What creates the spirit of craftsmanship? I think the answer is time," Li Xiaoyang says in admiration of his grandfather. "After repairing No 161 grotto in the Mogao Caves in 1962, my grandfather has gone back to check whether the restoration was solid every year since."

"He is 85 years old, but it's a piece of cake for him to climb up 20-meter-high scaffolds. He says he likes staying with us young people, and that makes him feel young."

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Veteran fresco restorer Li Yunhe's grandson Li Xiaoyang works on fresco restoration.

Veteran fresco restorer Li Yunhe's grandson Li Xiaoyang works on fresco restoration.

On April 18, International Day for Monuments and Sites (established by International Council on Monuments and Sites and approved by UNESCO in 1983), Li Xiaoyang came to Quyang county in Hebei province to attend an award ceremony honoring the fresco restoration project in a temple that dates to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

Led by his grandfather, Li Xiaoyang was a team member to do the project. It is on the country's most recent "10 best cultural relic restorations" list, which was released on that day.

Li Yunhe is commonly considered by many to be the top fresco restorer from Dunhuang who is still active. He was absent in the ceremony because he's committed to another project.

The project in Quyang, starting from August 2012, is the first major restoration Li Xiaoyang participated in. He followed his grandfather and his uncle, who is the middle-generation fresco restorer in the family.

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