The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang

Putting some of my older publications online:

The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang: Acquisition of the Japanese Collection of Dunhuang Manuscripts
(Imre Galambos)
Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology 3/2008: 29-35

Aurel Stein’s 1907 visit to the hidden cave library at the Thousand Buddha Caves near Dunhuang, and especially his acquisition of a large number of manuscripts there, came as exciting news to archaeologists and researchers worldwide. Paul Pelliot’s visit a few months later yielded an equally impressive collection of documents, which was soon to stir the interest of leading Chinese intellectuals. As a result of their efforts, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a government directive to transport the remaining manuscripts to the capital in 1909, with this effectively putting an end to the sale of these to foreign explorers. However, the two members of the third Ōtani expedition were still able to acquire a significant number of documents in Dunhuang in 1911-1912.

Japan was a relatively new participant in the exploration of Central Asia. It had recently demonstrated its economic and military strength by unexpectedly defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and emerged as a major player in East Asia. As was the case with European imperialistic powers, Japan’s colonial ambitions were accompanied by an increased interest in the Qing empire, especially its non-Han regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. The archaeological exploration of North-West China, however, was conducted as a private enterprise rather than a government-sponsored project. The man behind these ambitious plans was Count Ōtani Kōzui 大谷光瑞 (1876-1948), leader of the powerful Nishi Honganji Branch of the Jodo Shinshu sect, who sponsored a series of expeditions with the specific aim of exploring the Buddhist sites of the region. While staying in London in 1900-1902, the young Ōtani was fascinated by the discoveries of Buddhist remains in Western China by European explorers such as Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein. He believed that as a Buddhist priest thoroughly trained in the Chinese tradition he would be able to make a contribution to the exploration of the spread of Buddhism in this region. In 1902, when it was time for him to leave London, he decided to return home to Japan with a handful of followers by taking the overland route via Central Asia. Although his own participation in the journey was cut short by the death of his father, his men stayed behind to continue the exploration for a total of two years…

Read the whole article here: The third Otani expedition at Dunhuang

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2 Responses to The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang

  1. Marie-Salsa Brossollet says:

    Dear Mr Galambos,
    I happened to read your fascinating account of the Otani /Tachibana/Yoshiwara expedition, and I have a question : where did Otani die ? Was he staying in Lüshun until the end of the war ? In that case, was he taken as a prisoner by the Russians or the Chinese ?… Since he died in 1948, I wonder what happened to this flamboyant japanese abbot.
    Thank you very much for your time in (eventually) answering an ignoramus, and for your web site.
    MS Brossollet, Paris

  2. imre says:

    Dear Ms Brossollet,
    After resigning from the abbotship of the Nishi Honganji in 1914, Otani left Japan and spent almost his entire life away from his home country. He mainly lived in China (Shanghai, Dalian, Lüshun), Taiwan and South Asia (Java, Celebes). According to what I have read, in 1945 he was captured by the Russians, although I don’t really have much information on this. At the very end of his life, for the last few months Otani returned to Japan and stayed in Beppu, on the island of Kyushu. This is where he died on October 5; he was buried in the Otani family temple in Kyoto.

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