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The Mogao Caves

There are now 492 caves in existence. Many others have been de- stroyed by weather and man. In 1900, a monk by”he name of Wang Yuanlu, geeing the famine in Hubei Province, happened to come to the oasis. After settling there, he had some workmen clear the sand from a cave, Murals were revealed as the sand ‘was taken away. Because the walls sounded hollow, he had a hole broken through one of them, found a door inside the next chamber, opened that, and found a trove of ritual vessels, sutras, and documents inside another cave; there were also murals dating from the Tang. It appears that Buddhist monks, fleeing the invading Xi Kin (1038-1227), had deserted the place hurriedly and had never returned. He tried to get assistance from the Qing court in having the caves restored and the treasures preserved, but got a mes sage back instructing him to reseal the caves.

He ignored this advice and instead went on begging pilgrimages. However, he raised ho money or interest in his remarkable discovery Aural Stain from England came to the site and purchased a host of French sinologist Paul Pelliot, came to the Mogao caves and left with 6,000 scrolls and a collection of paintings. These were the first of many visits by foreign authorities, and collectors denuded the site of almost all of its removable treasures. Many of the objects are now housed in museums of England and France. To the China, it must now seem like being able to buy the entire art collection of the Vatican for a few hundred dollars. When you visit the site, remember cave number 16. This is the one that Wang had cleared the sand and that led to the first cave full of treasures. The characteristics of the caves are given below according to the dynastic period in which they were crated.

The statues in the earlier centuries were hewn out of rock in rough form, then chiseled into fine devil. But.during the late Sui period and under the Tang, only the rough outline was hewn from the rock, then a layer of clay was applied, this being shaped to provide the fine detail of the features before being painted. The wall paintings are made using water emulsions and are therefore tempera. Some are in an excellent state of preservation and display vivid colors. Only in the thirteenth century under the Yuan was the fresco technique introduced, most likely from abroad.

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