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.

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