2,000 Year-Old Oasis Known as
the City of Sands, Dunhuang in the western
part of Gansu Province was originally an
important post on the ancient Silk Road.
Among the most famous archaeological treasures
are the Mogao Grottoes. There is a total
of 492 caves housing one of the country's
most famous collections of Chinese Buddhist
scriptures frescoes and paintings. Other
attractions include the Western Thousand-Buddha
Caves and the Singing Sand Mountain.
Dunhuang lies at the western
end of the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province
in Northwest China, an oasis on the eastern
edge of Takli- makan Desert. It is nourished
by melted snow water from the Qilian Mountains.
The ancient town used to be an important
stop-over point on the Silk Road. The name
"Dunhuang" was given in the Han
Dynasty. In Chinese "Dun" means
grandness and " Huang" means prosperity.
In the 2nd century B.C. Emperor Wudi of
the Han Dynasty sent imperial envoy Zhang
Qian to the Western Regions, opening up
a trade route which was to be known as the
"Silk Road" in history.The imperial
court set up Dunhuang Prefecture in A.D.
111 and Dunhuang became a strategic town.
Through this route Chinese culture and products,
especially silk, were introduced to European
and Middle East coun tries, and foreign
culture and products such as Buddhism of
India came to central China. Much of Buddhism
is propagated through artistic forms, which
were soon assimilated into the Chinese traditional
culture. The result was that many Buddhist
images were carved in caves in mountain
cliffs along the Silk Road. Many of them
have been well preserved. The best are those
at Mogao in Dunhuang. The Dunhuang Grotto
Art is composed of the Cave and Yulin Grottos
in Anxi. Carving of the Mogao Grottos, commonly
known as 1, 000- Buddha Caves, began in
AD 366 and continued through a dozen dynasties
including the Northern Liang , Northern
Wei, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, Tang,
Five-Dynasties Period, Song, Huihe, Western
Xia and Yuan. The extant 492 caves preserve
more than 2, 000 color statues and 45,000
square meters of murals. The mural themes
depict Buddha portraits, stories and interpretations
of Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist history,
legends, portraits of devotees and various
decorative patterns. They describe different
ethnic groups, people's lives such as nobles'
outings, singing, dancing and music, farming,
fishing and hunting, acrobatics and martial
art practice, foreign envoys and merchants
on the Silk Road. Some scholars liken these
murals to a "library on the wall, "
In the early 20th century some 50,000 pieces
of cultural relics were found in the Scripture-Keeping
Cave including handwritten documents and
more than 1,000 pieces of silk painting,
graphic painting , embroidery and calligraphy.
Put together the art works would form a
25-kilometer-long art gallery. The Mogao
Grottos were dug in loose sedimentary conglomerate
of the the Quaternary Period. Some parts
collapsed in earthquakes. But the dry weather
has preserved the basic outlook of the cliffs.
In the 1940s the Dunhuang Art Research Institute
was established at Mogao. After the founding
of the People's Republic of China, the new
government began an overall repair and reinforcement
project on 39 caves, saving 1,800 square
meters of murals and 200 color statues.
The Western 1,000-Buddha Cave and Yulin
Grottos at Anxi have been public after renovation.
Grottos in Dunhuang are a national treasure
of China and a cultural heritage of the
world. In 1962 the State Council put them
among China's first key cultural relics
under state protection and in 1991 the UNESCO
put them on its list of world natural and
cultural heritages. This album includes
the best works representing different historical
periods with brief introductions.