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Keeping Apsaras Flying

HANGZHOU, August 14 -- With two spinning coloured flowers in the middle, two flying apsaras, one on either side, hold their palms together in front of their chests, their countenances calm and their legs pointing to the sky with blue ribbons gently fluttering behind in the air. Around them are falling lotus flowers and various clouds of red and blue, according to today's China Daily.

This is one of Yang Dongmiao's favourite copies of the famous Dunhuang murals.

"Flying apsaras look so elegant and free, like angels, to me. They are a dream, " said the Hangzhou-based artist in her early 30s. Crazy about Dunhuang apsaras, Yang's real dream is to reproduce all Dunhuang murals according to what they originally looked like.

At her ongoing solo exhibition of Dunhuang mural reproductions in the capital city of East China's Zhejiang Province, this colourful painting of two descending apsaras is probably the most attractive among the more than 100 works.

It does not matter whether people have personally been to Dunhuang in the west of the country, where the world's most outstanding murals were found, or not, because visitors are deeply fascinated by the paintings' rich colour, their graceful shape and the wisdom of the original painters.

They could hardly imagine that the original thousand-year-old murals in Dunhuang have in fact far faded beyond recognition.

As the west end of the Hexi Corridor in western China's Gansu Province, Dunhuang used to be one of the most important stops on the ancient Silk Road that connected China with West Asia and Europe.

In AD 366, a monk named Le Zun came to Dunhuang. He considered the place a sacred spot and bored a huge cave in the cliff.

In the thousand years that followed, the opening of caves never stopped in Dunhuang until the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) , leaving more than 1, 000 grottoes with innumerable Buddhist sculptures and murals inside.

However, the surviving caves have been reduced over time to only 492. The breathtaking murals of various different dynasties that can still be made out are confined to some 5, 000 square metres and about 2, 000 sculptures.

Unfortunately, even for the limited surviving works, they are no longer what they used to look like after thousands of years of weathering and oxidation plus human-inflicted damage and destruction.

Walking into Yang's huge exhibition room is almost like placing oneself in the midst of a brand new grotto in Dunhuang.

All on the correct scale, the copies filled the walls, taking viewers on an interesting journey to the incredible Dunhuang murals.

According to the artist, items in the 20-day exhibition account for only 5 per cent of all the murals in Dunhuang. To finish them might take 50 to 60 years.

"But I am ready, " said Yang. "By reproducing those murals, I want to give peop