The Mogao Grottoes are located in a rare mountain gully running from
south to north in this barren land, sandwiched by Minsha Mountain in
the west and Sanwei Mountain in the east. The Dangguan River flows
through it, nurturing a rare piece of oasis full of vitality.
When we entered the mountain gully, we saw numerous caves on a stretch of 1600 meters carved out on the steep cliffs of the Minsha Mountain. It is a 1,000-year-old ancient art gallery still living today. Each cave and each mural has its own story. The earliest cave was carved 1630 years ago.
During the first year of the reign of the King Taihe of Jin (or in the year
of 366 A.D.), a Buddhist monk named Le Zun came into the mountain gully
one evening and saw thousands of shafts of light shedding upon the
Sanwei Mountain like Buddhas in their thousands. Monk Le Zun threw
himself to the ground, determined to carve a cave on the Sanwei Mountain
cliff in the worship of the Buddhas. Several years later, Fa Liang,
another monk who was from the east, came to dig the second cave.
Thereafter people came in flocks to carve caves to express their belief in
The construction of the Mogao Grottoes spanned more than a thousand years ranging from the Early Qin, Northern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Xixia and Yuan. But it was the Tang Dynasty that was really its heyday. During this period more than one thousand caves were carved.
The Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terra Cotta warriors of
the Qin are all remarkable. However, they were all built in a given dynasty. That the Mogao Grottoes as a quintessence of art, history and
culture, were built and developed over 11 dynasties over more than
1,000 years is indeed unprecedented.
The art of the Mogao Grottoes is composed of cave architecture,
sculptures and murals. There are now 482 caves with 4500 square meters of
murals and 2500 sculptures. The Mogao art features five Tang and
Song wooden cave buildings and 50,000-volume "Dunhuang Books".
The treasure is one of the greatest cultural discoveries in the 20th
The frescoes evolve one story after another, telling of the strife between
the good and the evil and the extreme happy life in the paradise. The
heaven and the earth thus seemed to have unified into one. The colored
sculptures, frescoes and ancient buildings were the crystallization and
materialization of the spirit and life of the builders and artists and the
worshippers of the day.
The "Dunhuang Books" date back to 359 as the earliest and to 1196 the
latest, spanning the dynastic 837 years of the 16 States, Northern Wei, Sui, Tang, the Five Dynasties, Northern Song, Southern Song and Jin. The
documents are written in the language of the ethnic Hans as well
as in Turfan, Uygur, Turkish, Yu Zhen, Syrian, Xixia, Lu, Sanskrit, Lite
and Mongolian. They cover the Four Confucian classics, the literature of
Buddhism, Taoism, Jingism and Moniism as well as local records,
accounting books, musical scores, choreographic records, astronomy,
calendars, arithmetic, medical literature, stories, poetry, biographies
The historical records cover economy, polities, religion, philosophy, literature, history, geography, music, dances, natural science, applied techniques, national relations, trade, national customs, education, linguistics and textual criticism of ancient records.