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Home Chinese Cities and Province Information Dunhuang, Gansu Province

Chinese City: Dunhuang

Dunhuang Basics
Area:   31,200 square km
Population:   180,000 (2008)
Postal Code:   736200
Phone Area Code:   0937
Local Time  
A Brief Introduction of Dunhuang

Dunhuang, a small city in Gansu Province, is located near the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. It is made famous largely by the Buddhist Grottoes, known as the Mogao Grottoes, which are one of the World’s most important sites of ancient Buddhist culture.

The grottoes, also known as Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, preserve nearly a thousand years of Buddhist cave-temple architecture, clay sculpture, mural paintings, and manuscripts, dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries.

The rediscovery of the caves and their treasures in 1900 opened a new field of study that uses the monuments and documents found at Dunhuang to illuminate the complex cultural interactions of ancient Central Asia. The Dunhuang finds reflect periods of Chinese, Tibetan, and Uygur control, and the images and texts reveal the impact of many other Asian regional styles and languages.

The intermixture of Indian, West Asian, Central Asian, and Chinese elements reveal a dynamic, eclectic, and thoroughly multicultural context that had a profound impact on the later development of narrative literary forms as well as on Buddhist image-making. This early internationalism has an echo in the contemporary distribution of Dunhuang material and Dunhuang studies around the world. The discovery of a sealed-up library of manuscripts and painted scrolls at the Mogao Grottoes led to the acquisition of significant collections of such portable items by museums and libraries in London, Paris, St. Petersburg (Leningrad), and New Delhi.

1,000-year old mural in Mogao Grottos of Dunhuang
The Mogao Grottoes are carved into desert cliffs overlooking a river valley about 25 km southwest of Dunhuang. The caves vary enormously in size, from tiny single-room cells that served as living quarters for individual monks to huge, cavernous worship halls housing monumental sculptures and mural cycles.

The caves honeycomb a 1,600-meter-long cliff face running north and south, and contain some 2,000 clay sculptures and more than 45,000 square meters (484,000 sq. ft) of mural paintings. The soft stone in the region is unsuitably brittle for carving, so the sculptures are primarily made of clay, coated with a kind of plaster surface that allowed finishing details to be painted on or engraved.

Of the 1,000 or so caves cut between the foundation of the site in 366 AD and the last efforts in the 14th century Yuan period, 492 are still more or less well preserved. All have been subjected to some degree of various kinds of damage or indignities, from the long term erosion of wind and water, to the smoke from fires built by bivouacked troops. The damages have also stemmed from the modern perils of mass tourism, where the moisture from the breath of crowds of visitors can damage delicate murals that have survived for centuries in the dry desert climate.

Ongoing restoration efforts are underway to preserve the caves and their contents. The Dunhuang Research and Exhibition Center, as part of that effort, has constructed replicas of some of the most important and representative of the Mogao Caves. Visitors can study full-scale replicas of the caves and their sculptural and painted contents close-up and under excellent lighting conditions, without danger of adding to the deterioration of the originals.





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