“Dunhuang Caves on the Silk Road” is a collaborative project co-organized by the Tateuchi East Asia Library at the University of Washington, the Dunhuang Foundation in the U.S., and the Dunhuang Academy in China. The goal of the project is to educate the general public about Dunhuang and the treasures contained in its caves. Through the exhibitions and lectures, the project intends to reach out to more people, especially those who are not familiar with Dunhuang, including undergraduate and high school students. The project is to tell the stories about Dunhuang, this cultural treasure trove of the world.
A county-level city in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, and on the edge of the Gobi Desert, Dunhuang was once a metropolis on the Silk Road, connecting trade between the East and West ever since the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century. Dunhuang is situated in an oasis, neighboring the Crescent Lake and the Mingsha Shan (“Singing-Sand Mountain”), which was named after the sound of the wind whipping the sand dunes. At the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Road and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, Dunhuang was in a historically strategic position. It controls the entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which leads directly to the heart of the northern Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Chang’an (today‘s Xi’an) and Luoyang.
The Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang include 735 caves, 45,000 square meters of murals, and 2,415 clay sculptures that were all created between the 4th and the 14th centuries. Mogao Grottoes are the most valuable cultural discoveries of the 20th century. It is the largest and most abundantly surviving Buddhist art holy site and treasure house in the world. Known for their exquisite murals and statues, Dunhuang Grottoes witnessed and absorbed the historical, cultural, and economic life throughout the various dynastic and social changes involving many ethnic interchanges and mixing in its over one thousand years of history.
Dunhuang materials touch upon many aspects of people’s activities along the Silk Road over one thousand years. They open a fascinating window into the distant history, providing a close, realistic, and vivid view into the physical, artistic, and spiritual lives of various cultures centuries ago.
One of the outstanding characteristics of our project is that everything presented by the project will be bilingual. By the end of 2022, the project plans to offer three exhibitions and nine speakers. All exhibitions and lectures will have both English and Chinese captions and subtitles. In addition, the project also intends to selectively introduce scholarly and cultural activities and programs organized by the Dunhuang Foundation and Dunhuang Academy.
The study of Dunhuang has become an explicit field of scholarly inquiry; however, it is only known by specialized scholars within a small circle. Most people do not know what Dunhuang is. The mission of the project “Dunhuang Caves on the Silk Road” is to open this cultural treasure trove of the world to ordinary people.