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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