Mogao CavesThe Mogao Caves, or Mogao Grottoes (Chinese: 莫高窟; pinyin: mò gāo kū)
Mogao Caves LocationThe Mogao Caves, or Mogao Grottoes (Chinese: 莫高窟; pinyin: mò gāo kū) form a system of 492 temples near Dunhuang, in Gansu province, China. They are also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, Qianfodong (Chinese: 千佛洞; pinyin: qiān fó dòng), or the Caves of Dunhuang.
Mogao Caves AttractionsThe Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes, and along with Longmen and Yungang are one of the three famous ancient sculptural sites of China.
Buddhist monks valued austerity in life, and they hoped that remote caves would aid their quest for enlightenment. The paintings served as aids to meditation, as visual representations of their quest for enlightenment, and as tools to inform illiterate Chinese about Buddhist beliefs and stories.
Around 1900, a Chinese Taoist named Wang Yuan-lu appointed himself guardian of some of these temples. Wang discovered walled up behind one side of a corridor leading to a main cave a small cave which was stuffed with an enormous hoard of manuscripts (all dating from between 406 and 1002 CE: old Chinese hemp paper scrolls, old Tibetan scrolls, paintings on hemp or silk or paper, many damaged figurines of Buddhas, and other Buddhist paraphernalia. The subject matter is diverse: the expected Buddhist canonical works are joined by original commentaries, apocryphal works, workbooks, books of prayers, Confucian works, Taoist works, works from the Chinese government, administrative documents, anthologies, glossaries, dictionaries, calligraphic exercises etc.
Rumors of this discovery brought numerous European expeditions (a joint British/Indian, led by Aurel Stein; a French expedition under Paul Pelliot; a Japanese expedition under Otani Kozui which arrived after the Chinese government's forces; and a Russian expedition under Sergei F. Oldenburg which garnered least of all) trekking across Central Asia to attempt to see and obtain these manuscripts, which they did around 1910. The remaining Chinese manuscripts were sent to Peking at the order of the Chinese government (the mass of Tibetan manuscripts remained).
Wang embarked on an ambitious refurbishment of the temples, funded in part by soliciting donations from neighboring towns, and in part by donations from European explorers such as Sir Aurel Stein (who discovered the famous Diamond Sutra in one of the Mogao Caves, one of approximately 2,000 copies of the Diamond Sutra discovered in the caves), and Paul Pelliot who was interested in the more unusual and exotic of Wang's manuscripts, such as documents dealing with the administration and financing of the monastery and associated lay men's groups which survived only because they formed a sort of palimpsest in which Buddhist texts (which were why they were preserved) were written on the other side of the paper.
More on Mogao CavesDescription of Mogao Caves at the World Heritage Listing
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