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Dunhuang, the small town at the edge of the Gobi desert, is located in Gansu Province, China. Dunhuang had become the gateway to the Silk Road during the Han dynasty (205-247BC). The Silk Road had brought Dunhuang not only commercial prosperity but also the development of Buddhist art during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-533).
Legend said a monk, Yue Zun, dug the first cave and also cut a statue of the Buddha into the sandstone cliff face of Mingsha mountain, where are now the famous Mogao Grottoes, about 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang. Over 1000 caves were cut out of cliffs between the 4th and 14th centuries. The art of Dunhuang began to decline in the 12th century and was ignored until the early years of the 20th century. Today 492 caves remains in the 1600-meter-long cliff face. The Mogao caves are one of the best preserved and most extensive collections of Buddhist paintings and sculptures in the world. The Buddhist art of Dunhuang is truly fascinating.
Manuscripts and Documents of Dunhuang
About 60,000 paper manuscripts, printed documents and fragments were found from a secret sealed-up cave, discovered at the end of the 19th. These manuscripts and documents are now preserved in Beijing, Paris, London and St. Petersburg. A good collection of these is in the Stein collection at the British Library, including the World's earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra (dated 868). Most of the collection are available in surrogate form. The collection of Dunhuang Chinese manuscripts in the National Library of China has over 10,000 Chinese scrolls. The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) was established in 1993 to promote the study and preservation of manuscripts and printed documents from Dunhuang and other Central Asian sites through international co-operation. The organization publishes a newsletter. A joint study of Dunhuang Academy and Japanese researchers was formed for the conservation of the wall paintings and statues.
Painted Statues and Flying Apsaras
There are about thousand statues preserved in the Dunhuang Grottoes. Here are a few pictures from Textile & Art Publications: Buddha Triad in Cave 427, Sui dynasty (581-618) and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in Cave 45, Tang (705-780).
The walls of the 492 Mogao Caves are covered by the frescoes of over 45,000 square meters. There are about 4500 Flying Apsaras figures found in some 270 caves.
Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-588)
A Dancer, Northern Wei (386-533)
A Dancer, Northern Wei
Hunting Scene, Cave 249, Northern Wei
Divine Being, Cave 272, Northern Liang dynasty (421-439)
Detail of a Legend, Western Wei (535-557)
Mountains, Cave 285, Western Wei
Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907)
Fresco painting, Cave 112, Early Tang (618-907)
Mourning Potentate, Cave 158, Mid Tang
Procession of Zhang Yichao, Cave 156, Late Tang, completed 865