Thousand Buddha Cliff outside of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. This sacred place dates back to the fifth century, although many additions have been made over the centuries. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.
The Mogao Caves, dug in sandstone cliffs outside Dunhuang from 366 CE to the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), contain more than two thousand statues and more than 45,000 square meters of murals. Texts discovered in 1900 provide a rare source for the study of Chinese religion, literature, art, history, and daily life.
The Mogao Caves, 492 of which are preserved, were dug in the sandstone cliffs outside the city of Dunhuang ?? in Gansu Province, from 366 CE to the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). Dunhuang, an oasis in a desert where travelers along the Silk Roads stopped to rest and resupply, served as a workshop where for more than a thousand years Chinese and central Asian arts mixed. Some of the most impressive creations in Chinese art history, such as the mural depicting the Flying Apsara ?? Musicians, were born in the caves. Of the more than two thousand statues and more than 45,000 square meters of murals, most depict Buddhist history, legends, and ways of life as China interacted via the Silk Roads with central Asia and beyond. Today Dunhuang is an important center for the study of Buddhism, Buddhist arts, and the Silk Roads.
In 1900 Wang Yuanlu ??? (d. 1931), a Daoist monk, discovered in a sealed cave more than fifty thousand pieces of paintings and handwritten texts dating from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries. The texts were written mainly in Chinese or Tibetan, but some were written in Sanskrit and a half dozen other languages. In addition to a large number of works on Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, the texts contain accounting books, historical records, court records, literary works, and works on geography, astrology, mathematics, medicine, and so on. The texts, encyclopedic in their scope, provide a rare source for the study of Chinese religion, literature, art, history, and daily life.
As part of Wang’s efforts to raise money to rebuild a nearby monastery, which he renamed “Sanqinggong” (??? the Daoist Trinity Palace), Wang sold some of his discoveries to smugglers from Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Russia. Between 1907 and 1925 Dunhuang witnessed an exodus of some of its most valued relics, which are today held in Britain, India, Japan, the United States, France, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Turkey, and Korea. The Museum of Dunhuang Hidden Library, located in Sanqinggong, opened in 2000 to tell the story of the Dunhuang treasures. The Mogao Caves are a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural (UNESCO) World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site.
Source: Lin, Jian-Zhong. (2009). Mogao Caves. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1506–1507. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Section of the Diamond Sutra scroll, one of the many ancient texts found at the Mogao caves.
Mogao Caves (Mòg?ok? ???)|Mòg?ok? ??? (Mogao Caves)