Dunhuang on Silk Road — Exceptional Museum on Gobi Desert, With Mogao Grottoes Next to Moon Crescent Spring
Dunhuang in Gansu Province of China, Photo from Official Site.
What Is Dunhuang?
Dunhuang is an important county-level city on the Silk Road, a commercial road that connects China and the west since the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), with exceptional military, religious, economic, artistic, and cultural values.
It used to be a garrison city of the Chinese Han Empire, a trade city between the east and west, and an essential place to disseminate Buddhism.
Located in the Gansu Province of China, Dunhuang is a city with important ancient military sites, an exceptional Buddhist art gallery Mogao Caves, other grand historical relics, and magnificent Gobi Desert and Yardang Landform views.
Dunhuang Yardangs, Photo by Wang Jie.
In 111 BC, Dunhuang was officially established as a frontier garrison city, to where the Great Wall was extended, and two important military fortresses, the Jade Gate Pass (Yumen Guan) and Yang Pass (Yangguan Pass), were constructed at the same time.
Scourer of the Han Dynasty Unearthed from Yumen Pass Remains, Belonged to Soldiers that were Garrisoning there — Dunhuang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
After the Han Dynasty ended in 220 AD, many short-term regimes ruled this area.
Dunhuang peaked in the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) when over 1000 caves were constructed in Mogao Grottoes.
Part of Tang Dynasty Mural "Guan Wu Liang Shou Jing Bian" in the 217th Cave of Mogao Grottoes, Photo by Dongmaiying.
In 1524, Jaijing Emperor decided to retreat by abandoning this area and commanding civilians to migrate eastward to Jiayu Pass (Jiayu Guan), a grand military site in the east of the city.
The prosperous Dunhuang started to decline in the endless Gobi Desert.
In 1725, it was included and re-established as a town under the command of the Yongzheng Emperor, and many civilians have migrated there since then.
In 1986, Dunhuang was granted a State-list Famous Historical and Culture City.
What Is the Cultural Importance of Dunhuang?
Important garrison town in the northwest of the Han Empire;
Big trading city on the Silk Road;
Blending of cultures from different ethnic groups;
UNESCO World Heritage Site Mogao Grottoes, the grand Buddhism Art Gallery, holds exceptional historical, artistic, religious, and cultural values.
Relic Site Xuanquanzhi of the Han Dynasty, A Post Station and State Guesthouse Along with the Silk Road
History and Story of Dunhuang Library Cave.
Dunhuang Library Cave, or Cang Jing Dong, is a small secret stone chamber behind the 16th cave of Mogao Grottoes, which preserved over 50,000 scrolls, paintings, and embroidery masterpieces.
The Dunhuang Manuscripts contained documents from 405 to 1002, written in characters of many different ethnic groups are included.
Besides religious documents, Dunhuang Manuscripts also included astronomy, calendar, history, philosophy, military, geography, local chronicles, medicine, folk customs, poems, literature, and so on.
Details of Part of the Dunhuang Star Map of the Tang Dynasty — British Museum
Around the 11th century, those scrolls and relics were stocked in this chamber and sealed. The most accepted reason was to avoid war and chaos during that period.
Centuries later, Wang Yuanlu arrived. Seeing that this exceptional holy place had been abandoned and in decline, he decided to stay and started to clean, fix, and rebuild the Mogao Grottoes.
In 1900, he discovered the secret ancient Dunhuang Library Cave.
He carried some of the manuscripts to officials and local governors, but none of them showed interest or financial support.
He then tried to write to Empress Dowager Cixi, but no one from the Qing government cared about these valuable documents.
Wang Yuanlu was disappointed and sealed those scrolls back in this cave again.
The Door of the Dunhuang Library Cave or Cangjing Dong, Now Numbered the 17th Cave of Mogao Grottoes.
In 1907, Marc Aurel Stein heard about this cave and arrived.
Though Wang Yuanlu refused to sell those documents in the Dunhuang Library Cave initially, Stein managed to trick Wang into giving up and purchasing over 9000 pieces of scrolls and other relics with little money; most of them are now preserved in the British Museum.
In 1908, Paul Pelliot picked and bought the most valuable 6000 ancient classics and transported them back to France, which are now in the La Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
In the next few years, Russians, Japanese, and Americans came and took away more scrolls, cut off many frescoes, and painted sculptures.
Statue of the Tang Dynasty from the 328th Cave of Mogao Grottoes — Harvard Art Museums (Photo by Dongmaiying)
During this period, besides preserving some remaining scrolls, the Qing government did nothing helpful to stop the outflow until the empire ended in 1912.
In the next few decades of chaotic wars, Dunhuang and Mogao Grottoes still didn't get the sufficient protection they deserved.
Wang Yuanlu used all the sold money to fix and rebuild the grottoes and later was widely criticized for being a traitor who caused huge losses to national treasures.
After having realized the enormous value of the scrolls and relics that he sold out, he got depressed, lost his sanity in some gossip, and passed away in 1931.
Until 1943, Chang Shuhong (1904 — 1994), the guardian of Dunhuang, arrived and established Dunhuang Academy and dedicated his life to protecting this place.
Copy Painting of Dunhuang Murals by Chang Shuhong and His Wife Li Chengxian.
Valuable Cultural Sites
Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the biggest Buddhist artistic palace with great religious and aesthetic values.
It has over 700 cave temples, which are preserved with about 450,000 square meters of murals and 2415 statues.
Panoramic of Mogao Grottoes
Remains of Yang Pass or Yangguan Pass
Constructed around 107 BC, Yangguan Pass was an important gate on the Silk Road and a defense site on the northwest border of the Han Empire.
Remains of the Yang Pass or Yangguan Pass of Han Dynasty, Photo by Sun Zhicheng.
Remains of Jade Gate Pass or Yumen Pass
Yumen Pass, also named Xiaofangpan City, built between 116 BC and 105 BC, was another important gate on the Silk Road and the military garrison site of the Han Empire.
Remains of Jade Gate Pass or Yumen Pass or Xiaofangpan City.
Remains of Hecang City
Hecang City, also named Dafangpan City, was a military warehouse town to provide resources to soldiers garrisoning the northwest borders during the Han, Wei, and Jin Dynasties (about 104 BC — 420 AD).
Remains of Hecang City or Dafangpan City, Photo by Li Wenbo.
Impressive Natural Scenic Views
Mingsha Mountain or Echo Sands Mountain
Next to the Mogao Grottoes, the Mingsha Mountain is also named Singing Sands Mountain, creating different hum types in the endless Gobi Desert.
Documented thousands of years ago, its mysterious sound had been connected to many legends and stories, such as a deity's treasure being hidden under the mountain or armies of Han and Xiongnu still fighting after they were buried under the sands.
Mingsha Mountain or Echo Sands Mountain, Photo from Official Site.
Moon Crescent Spring or Yueya Quan
The Moon Crescent Spring is at the foot of Mingsha Mountain and has been a magnificent scenery since the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).
This over 2000 years old oasis had never been buried by sand and has impressed and provided for countless people.
Moon Crescent Spring or Yueya Quan, Photo from Official Site.
Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark or Ghost City
The 251 square kilometers large Yardang National Geopark consisted of various Yardangs with different colors and shapes, such as castles, hills, famous buildings, fleets, soldiers, animals, humans, etc.
It is a magnificent natural museum.
Locals also call it the Ghost City for the mysterious sounds spread out when the wind is blowing and for the lifelike statues that look like an abandoned city, which are especially mystical and scary at night.
Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark or Ghost City, Photo from Official Site.
What Are the Famous Specialties of Dunhuang?
Dunhuang Pears that Taste Quite Sweet After Their Peels Turned Dark.
Luminous Cups or Ye Guang Bei that Are Made of Local Jade.
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