The Mogao Caves

On July 22, 2011, in Tours, Transportation, by Jack Li

The Mogao Caves, or Mogao Grottoes (also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and Dunhuang Caves) form a system of 492 temples 25 km at the southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. Dunhuang is about 1140 km from Lanzhou, the biggest city in Gansu. It takes about 14 hours by train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out 366 AD as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China. For more information about flight and tour in China check out the following links: China Flights and China Tours

In the early 1900s, a Chinese Taoist named Wang Yuanlu appointed himself guardian of some of these temples. Wang discovered a walled up area behind one side of a corridor leading to a main cave. Behind the wall was a small cave stuffed with an enormous hoard of manuscripts dating from 406 to 1002 AD. He found a lot of manuscripts about original commentaries,apocryphal works, workbooks, books of prayers, Confucian works, Taoist works, Nestorian Christian works, works from the Chinese government, administrative documents, anthologies, glossaries, dictionaries, and calligraphic exercises. These manuscripts survived only because they formed a type of palimpsest in which the Buddhist texts (the target of the preservation effort) were written on the opposite side of the paper. The remaining Chinese manuscripts were sent to Beijing at the order of the Chinese government. Wang embarked on an ambitious refurbishment of the temples.

Besides damage done by previous European explorers, White Russian Bandits escaping from the Russian Civil War were responsible for vandalizing much the Buddhist art at the Mogao Grottoes. They had caused trouble in Xinjiang, but were defeated when they tried to attack Qitai

. The Governor of Xinjiang, Yang Zengxin, arranged for them to be transported to Dunhuang at the Mogao Grottoes, after talks with Governor Lu Hongtao of Gansu. The White Russian bandits wrote profanities onto Buddhist statues, destroying and ravaging paintings, gouging eyes off and amputating the limbs of the statues, in addition to committing arson. At present, the damage remains.

Although there were

originally about 1000 caves, only thirty main caves are open to the public. The rest are either not in good condition, or not of public interests. The caves are all labeled with numbers above the doors. Visitors will need to take flashlights as the caves are not lit inside to preserve the murals.

The thirty opened caves can be divided into 4 major groups according to the time they were constructed. They are Northern Wei Caves (386-581), Sui Caves (581-618), Tang Caves (618-906), Later Caves (906-c.1360).

Northern Wei Caves (386-581)

India-style structure, small in size with a large column in the center. Cave 101, 120N, 135, 257, 428.

Sui Caves (5


Extensive use

of gold and silver colors; bold Wei brushwork with intricate, flowing lines. Cave 150, 427.

Tang Caves (618-906)

With square fl

oors, tapering roofs and worship niches against the back wall. Cave 1, 51E, 70, 96, 139A, 148.

Later Caves (906-c.1360)

With central altars. Mural subjects often include Tibetan-style figures and mandalas. Cave 465.

Buy your flight ticket through Air China and come to see this beautiful sites!

Jack Li
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