Mogao Caves, also called Mogao Grottoes or the Caves of A Thousand Buddhas, are set into a cliff wall of Echoing-sand Mountain about 25km southeast of the oasis city in the Gobi desert, Dunhuang.

The honeycombed caves, enjoying a millennium long construction from the 4th to the 14th centuries and marking the height of Buddhist art, are the world’s richest treasure house of Buddhist sutras, murals and sculptures. At its height, the cave complex had thousands caves. A total of 492 grottoes remain after thousand years vicissitude, covered with 45,000-square-metre fascinating murals. There are also 2,400 painted statues and over 250 residential caves. Almost every grotto exhibits a group of colorful clean-cut paintings of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and other religious paintings, or social activities of different dynasties.

The caves carved on the cliff wall provide voluminous research materials for the study of all aspects of the social life, such as religion, art, politics, economics, military affairs, culture, literature, language, music, dance, architecture and medical science in mediaeval China. The splendid culture and art unearthed here stimulates worldwide interest and now a new international subject called Dunhuangology forms.

The remaining mural paintings can be divided into seven categories, including the jataka stories depicting beneficence of Sakyamuni in his previous incarnations, sutra stories depicting suffering and transmigration, traditional Chinese mythology and so on. Although the religious scriptures are primarily Buddhist, written in Chinese, Uygur, Tibetan, Turkic and other languages, they are not limited to Buddhist. Taoist, Manichean and Confucian scrolls are also part of the collection.

Unfortunately, due to the corrupt and impotent governments after the later Qing dynasties, Mogao Caves had been plundered of most treasures of the treasure trove by heinous thieves like Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Langdon Warner and Albert von Le Coq by theft, mostly, and unfair transactions. Then they were transported to Britain, Germany and other places.

According to history record, in the year 336, a monk called Le Zun came near Echoing-sand Mountain and suddenly had a vision of golden rays of light shining upon him like thousands Buddhas there. He started to carve the first grotto to memorize the incident and show his respect to the Buddha. Other pilgrims and travelers followed for the next thousand years.

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