The caretakers of Dunhuang Grottoes

2019-09-16 09:10:41 CGTN Mo Hong'e

Dunhuang City, in northwest China's Gansu Province, is a pearl on the ancient Silk Road.

Dunhuang is more than a city's name, it's a witness to the history of cultural treasures that date back thousands of years.

The first of the city's eponymous grottoes was built in 344 AD, spawning a collection of caves that have become symbolic of the city.

According to a legend from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), a monk at the site had a vision of a thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays. Inspired, he began building what today are known as the Mogao Grottoes, or the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.

Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang City, northwest China's Gansu Province. /VCG Photo

According to records, there are 735 caves housing 45,000 square meters of murals and 3,390 painted sculptures — all preserved to this day. Generations of Buddhist monks, painters, sculptors and worshipers carved their beliefs on the walls.

In 1900, Wang Yuanlu, a Taoist who maintained the caves, accidentally uncovered a hidden wealth of scriptures — over 50,000 in total. The discovery brought explorers from all around the world to the mysterious Eastern country.

In February 1908, French explorer Paul Pelliot and his team arrived in Dunhuang and took more than 6,000 cultural relics, initiating a dark period of time during which the treasures of Dunhuang were plundered.

In 1943, Chang Shuhong, a promising artist who had won several medals at salons in France, was inspired after reading about Dunhuang cave art and decided to relocate to the remote city.

Chang founded the Dunhuang Art Institute, which is now called the Dunhuang Academy. He gave up the prospect of furthering his art career and devoted himself to the protection and study of Dunhuang's treasures.

Dubbed as the "Guardian of Dunhuang," Chang spent his life in Dunhuang and made remarkable contributions to the study of the Mogao Grottoes. Over the last few decades, he was involved in the restoration of murals, collection of scattered cultural relics and recreation of a large number of murals.

"My father taught me how to sketch the murals, draw grids and copy murals," said Chang Shana, Chang Shuhong's daughter. "I learned a lot about murals and how their styles had evolved. That experience greatly influenced my career."

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