INTERNATIONAL DUNHUANG PROJECT
Introduction: Dunhuang and the Cave of
Information from the International Dunhuang Project website:
Dunhuang is an oasis town in Chinese Central Asia west of Chang'an (Xian), a former capital of China. The Gobi Desert lies to its northeast and the Taklamakan Desert and Tarim Basin to the west. The silk road coming from Chang'an split at Dunhuang to follow the northern and southern borders of the desert where the rivers and spring waters used to support sizeable towns.
Between the 5th and 11th centuries Buddhist monks and devotees hewed scores of cave temples out of a cliff face a few kilometres outside the town. After this the site was little used until a secret sealed-up cave was discovered in 1900. Its entrance from the side wall of another cave had been plastered over and disguised but, when opened, a small cave crammed with ancient manuscripts, printed documents and paintings was open to view for the first time since the early 11th century. Wang Yuanlu, the Daoist priest who discovered the cave, gave some of the manuscripts and paintings to local Chinese officials over the next few years, including the magistrate of Dunhuang, Wang Li'an (IDP News 7).
The cave's discovery coincided with a period of great international archaeological research in the area and Sir Aurel Stein was the first foreigner to gain access in 1907. Thereafter archaeologists from France, China, Russia and Japan were drawn to Dunhuang, and the great majority of manuscripts and documents from this one cave are now in Beijing, Paris, London and St. Petersburg, with sizeable collections in Japan. Documents and paintings from other Silk Road towns are to be found more widely in museums and libraries throughout Europe, Asia and America.
Apart from 14,000 paper scrolls and fragments from this cave at Dunhuang, the British Library Stein collection includes several thousand woodslips and woodslip fragments with Chinese writing, thousands of Tibetan and Tangut manuscripts, Prakrit wooden tablets in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts, along with documents in Khotanese, Uighur, Sogdian and Eastern Turkic. All this material is included [via digitalisation] in The International Dunhuang Project and is being entered onto the IDP Database.
Comments from TWC, webmaster:
The dispersal of the Dunhuang Collection was a tragic event and many have described it as blatant robbery. However, in the light of events, these manuscripts also escaped the wars and civil unrest that plagued China throughout most of the 20th century. The rights or wrongs of the rape of Dunhuang will continue to be debated among historians and politicans for ages to come. The IDP undertaken by the British Library is one that will attempt to address the issue on hand - how to allow scholars and amateur history fans like me study this widely dispersed collection. The IDP seeks sponsorships from individuals or organisations and will add appropriate dedications onto the digitalised images. This is not unlike the early Silk Road pilgrims' practices of building or commissioning of religious works of art to their deities or families. For details of the IDP project and the sponsorship scheme, visit the International Dunhuang Project website.
Below is the manuscript I have dedicated to my
MS. no. and section Or.8210/P.8/R.1
Date: Western (yy,mm,dd) 947.8.4
"O Most Holy Vaisramana, Devaraja of the Northern Quarter, who commandest all the various classes of demons and spirits under Heaven, may those of us, thy followers, who can make their devotions and prayers to thee in respectful humility of heart, be all revarded with happiness and prosperity. The disciple Cao Yuanzhong of Qiaojun, Governor of the military district of Guiyi, specially promoted additional Grand Preceptor, having requested the artificer to carve this block for printing, now prays that the country may enjoy peace and its inhabitants prosper, that the spirits of land and grain may continually flourish, that the highways may be safe, and that peace and happiness may prevail in every clime. - Recorded on the 15th of the 7th month of 'dingwei', the 4th year of Kaiyun in the Great Jin dynasty [4 Aug. 947]."
Comments by Dr Susan Whitfield:
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