Dunhuang Studies Conference – Cambridge 2019

We just finished the Dunhuang Studies Conference held at St. John’s College, Cambridge on 17-18 April 2019. This was a major event, the first such conference in Cambridge. It was organised by the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (University of Cambridge) and the International Liaison Committee for Dunhuang Studies. Sponsors included the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (Hamburg University), the Needham Research Institute, the Glorisun Global Network, the Dhammachai International Research Institute and the 60th Dhammachai Education Foundation.

There were nearly fifty presentations from scholars from China, Taiwan, Japan, France, the UK, USA, Russia and Denmark. For the full programme of the conference click here.

I would like to thank all participants and our sponsors. Special thanks to Dr. Joe McDermott and St. John’s College for taking care of the logistics of the conference. Finally, I want to thank our PhD students at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, i.e. Jing Feng, Phra K. Ponampon, Kelsey Granger, June Zhang, Mia Ma, Flavia Fang, and Junfu Wong, all of whom worked very hard to make this conference happen.

Professor Onishi

Professor Onishi Makiko talking about the relic worship of Empress Wu

Professor Iwao Kazushi chairing a session, introducing Professor Akagi Takatoshi’s paper.

Posted in Buddhism, Cambridge, conference, Dunhuang, History of scholarship | 1 Comment

Graphic variation in early Chinese writing

Imre Galambos, “Graphic variation in early Chinese writing.” In Gábor Kósa, ed., China Across the Centuries: Papers from a Lecture Series in Budapest. Budapest: Department of East Asian Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, 2017, 33–59.

Reading Warring States manuscripts we are confronted with a number of graphs that are not only structurally different from modern characters and the small seal forms of the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 but show variation even among themselves. While some of these graphs may be characters that have since disappeared, the majority of them are variants of known ones and represent words in much the same way as seen in transmitted sources. In early manuscripts we often see character structure varying within the same corpus or, at times, even within the same document. In most cases, the context provides enough information for deciphering the meaning of graphs, yet it is always a question whether we can link structural discrepancies with grammatical differences or shades of meaning. In other words, do graphic differences have any relevance to how the word is to be interpreted? Or are they inconsequential errors committed by scribes working in a hurry or perhaps possessing lower literacy skills?

(Some of the discussion in this chapter relies on my book on the orthography of the early Chinese script [Galambos 2006], although most things have been re-thought and emphases have shifted. My analysis of graphs is also different and geared towards providing a more balanced and comprehensive representation of the corpus.)

Posted in archaeology, Character variants, Chinese manuscript, Chinese writing, Corrections, Mistakes, Orthography, Scribal habits | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Confucius and Laozi at the altar

Imre Galambos, “Confucius and Laozi at the altar: Reconsidering a Tangut manuscript.” Studies in Chinese Religions (2016) 2.3, 237–264.

In the Russian collection of Tangut material there is a manuscript which describes a meeting between Confucius and an old sage. It is generally assumed that it is a translation of a Chinese work but attempts at identifying the source text have not been successful. The Tangut title survives on the last page and it has been translated as the Altar Record of Confucius’s Conciliation. This paper identifies the Chinese original among Ming-Qing religious scriptures of secret societies and suggests a new interpretation for the Tangut title. Connecting the title and the text with Chinese religious and intellectual traditions of the Song period also enables us to date the Chinese source text to the late eleventh or early twelfth century.

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Sir Gerard Clauson and his Skeleton Tangut Dictionary

Imre Galambos, “Introduction: Sir Gerard Clauson and his Skeleton Tangut Dictionary.” Gerard Clauson’s Skeleton Tangut (Hsi Hsia) Dictionary. With an Introduction by Imre Galambos, with an Index by Andrew West; Facsimile Edition Prepared by Michael Everson. Corpus Textorum Tangutorum, v. 2. Portlaoise: Evertype, 2016. vii–xxvi.

Sir Gerard Leslie Makins Clauson (1891–1974) worked most of his life as a civil servant and conducted academic research in his spare time. Only after retiring in 1951 at the age of 60 was he able to devote his full attention to scholarly endeavours, which were primarily focussed on Turkic languages. Thus as a scholar, today he is primarily remembered for his contribution to Turkic studies, and his Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish is still an essential reference tool in the field. Yet in addition to his study of Turkic and Mongolian linguistics, he also worked on a number of other Asian languages, including Tangut. Even though his extensive list of publications includes only a small number of items related to Tangut studies, he devoted an incredible amount of time and effort to studying the language and to compiling a dictionary. He never finished the dictionary but deposited a draft version along with his notes in seven large volumes at the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), so that they would be available to anyone who wished to study Tangut and perhaps continue his research. Eric Grinstead, who used the dictionary when working on the Tangut manuscripts at the British Museum, called it “a paragon of excellence” in comparison with high level of errors in dictionaries available at the time. Indeed, the erudition of Clauson’s dictionary is obvious even upon a cursory look at the manuscript version and had it ever been published, it would have undoubtedly made a major impact on scholarship. This introduction presents the available material in an attempt to shed some light on an unknown episode in the history of Tangut studies, a promising start that due to a variety of reasons never reached its potential.

The seven volumes of Clauson's Tangut dictionary

The seven volumes of Clauson’s Tangut dictionary

Clauson's Tangut dictionary on the inside

Clauson’s Tangut dictionary on the inside

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Composite manuscripts in medieval China: The case of scroll P.3720 from Dunhuang

Imre Galambos, “Composite manuscripts in medieval China: The case of scroll P.3720 from Dunhuang.” In Michael Friedrich and Cosima Schwarke, eds., One-Volume Libraries: Composite Manuscripts and Multiple Text Manuscripts. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2016, 355–378.

Manuscript Pelliot chinois 3720 (hereafter: P.3720) at

the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) is a Chinese scroll from the Dunhuang 敦煌 cave library discovered at the beginning of the 20th century.x It is a collation of different texts, including appointment decrees, religious poetry, a funerary inscription, a short record of the history of the Mogao caves 莫高窟, etc. The texts come from distinct sources, and some had been written at different times by different persons as separate manuscripts, before they were all joined together into a single scroll. Thus the manuscript is also a composite object physically, consisting of separate pieces of paper glued together sometime during the 10th century. While the individual texts have been successfully used by scholars as primary sources for information about the history of Dunhuang and the cave complex at Mogao, it is clear that in order to fully understand the motivation behind the creation of the scroll, the arrangement of the individual components (i.e. sheets of paper) and texts must also be examined. A remarkable aspect of the arrangement is that some of the texts are dated and the dates range from 851 to 938, with an 87-year gap between the earliest and latest ones. The present study is an attempt to enhance our understanding of the date, authorship and composition of this manuscript, and at the same time also shed light on the practice of creating such composite scrolls in medieval China.

Posted in Chinese manuscript, Codicology, Dunhuang, Palaeography, published papers, Scribal habits | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A snapshot of Dunhuang studies, circa 2016

Imre Galambos, “A snapshot of Dunhuang Studies, Circa 2016.” Orientations (2016) 47.4, 33–38.

The Dunhuang manuscripts were discovered in the summer of 1900 in a sealed-off cave within the Buddhist cave-temple complex (also known as Qianfodong, or ‘Thousand Buddha Caves’), at Mogao, near the city of Dunhuang in present-day Gansu province. (The cave complex itself was ‘discovered’ by European scholars in 1879, when members of the expedition led and financed by Count Béla Széchenyi [1837–1918] reached the caves.) This revelation, made by a Daoist monk living at the caves, soon attracted the interest of foreign explorers and archaeologists, who purchased many of the manuscripts and paintings from the monk and shipped those back to their respective countries. The acquisition and dispersal of the Dunhuang manuscripts was part of the larger process of colonial exploration of Central and East Asia—events that have been viewed in radically different ways in China and the West.

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Scribbles on the verso of manuscripts written by lay students in Dunhuang

Imre Galambos, “Scribbles on the verso of manuscripts written by lay students in Dunhuang.” Tonkō shahon kenykū nenpō 敦煌寫本硏究年報 (2016) 10, 497–522.

The vast corpus of Dunhuang manuscripts includes a series of items with what we may call ‘educational texts’ (mengshu 蒙書), which comprise a body of written works used in pre-modern China as material for elementary education. Some of these were designed to teach students a set of basic characters, while others conveyed a didactic message, typically through recounting stories of exemplary figures from the Confucian tradition. By copying these texts, on the one hand, students practiced their literacy skills and, on the other hand, internalized the moral guidelines acclaimed in the literary tradition. The surviving manuscripts, however, also demonstrate that students copied not only educational texts in a strict sense but also works such as the Xiaojing 孝經and parts of the Lunyu 論語. Even though these texts would normally be categorized as Confucian classics, their surviving copies in most cases were written by students as part of their curriculum. In addition, students also seemed to have copied texts with religious content, most significantly the Buddhist narratives called ‘transformation texts’ (bianwen 變文).1 Added together, the body of texts produced by students in a school setting is considerable, amounting to hundreds of manuscripts.

Posted in Chinese manuscript, Codicology, Dunhuang, Palaeography, published papers, Scribal habits, students | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Confucian education in a Buddhist environment

Imre Galambos, “Confucian education in a Buddhist environment: Medieval manuscripts and imprints of the Mengqiu.” Studies in Chinese Religions (2015) 1.3, 269–288.

Although most of the surviving collections of medieval manuscripts and imprints are
of Buddhist nature, they normally include a smaller number of other types of material,
such as primers and didactic texts used for educational purposes. The Mengqiu 蒙求, a
primer attributed to Li Han 李瀚 (d. u.) of the Tang dynasty, is one of these. Following
the Song period the text fell into disuse, but early copies survived in Japan where it
remained in continuous use all the way through modern times. In addition, during the
twentieth century several copies of the text were discovered in regions which were at
the margins of Chinese civilization: among the texts excavated from the sealed off
library cave near Dunhuang; the ruins of the forgotten Tangut city of Khara-khoto; and
the Liao period wooden pagoda in Ying county (Shanxi province). All of these sites
belonged to border regimes that at the time were not part of China proper, and thus the
finds attest to the popularity of this text among the inhabitants of these states. This
paper examines the handwritten and printed versions of the Mengqiu discovered at
these sites in order to draw attention to the spread of Confucian education beyond the
borders of the Chinese states, and to assess the role of Buddhist monasteries in secular

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Manuscripts and printing: East Asia

Imre Galambos, “Manuscripts and printing – East Asia.” In Jonathan A. Silk and Stefano Zacchetti, eds., Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Leiden: Brill, 2015, 968–978.

Although historically East Asia has been an arena where ethnically and politically diverse states alternated with one another, from the point of view of the history of Buddhism the region refers to an area now largely covered by China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that this division reflects the modern geopolitical reality, according to which state boundaries and national identities separate ethnically, culturally, and linguistically distinct regions. Diachronically, however, the situation was much more complex, as states, ethnicities, and languages interacted in a variety of ways. The languages and scripts used in the region today are merely the current state of affairs, which will no doubt continue to evolve in the future.

Posted in archaeology, books, Buddhism, Codicology, Dunhuang, printing, published papers, Scribal habits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Valley of Dantig and the Myth of Exile and Return

Imre Galambos and Sam van Schaik, “The Valley of Dantig and the Myth of Exile and Return.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (2015) 78/3, 475–491.

The valley of Dantig in Amdo plays a central role in Tibetan Buddhist historical literature as the place where the monastic code was maintained during the tenth century after the dissolution of the monasteries in central Tibet. This article shows that a manuscript (now kept at the British Library) carried by a Chinese pilgrim monk through this region in the 960s, which mentions Dantig, is the only direct documentary evidence of Tibetan monastic culture in this region at this time. The authors also show how the name Dantig, which has been previously unexplained, derives from the Sudāna Sūtra, a Buddhist narrative of exile and return that is directly relevant to the aspirations of the refugee monks from central Tibet who settled in the region.


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