Dunhuang, Texts

Sam van Schaik

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
Dunhuang, Texts

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The archaeological sites of eastern Central Asia (comprising primarily the modern Chinese provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang) have provided some of the most important sources for the study of Asian history, religion, and material culture. In terms of textual material, the most important single site is the Buddhist cave complex at Dunhuang, known as Mogao or Qianfodung (thousand-buddha caves). It was here that a small cave shrine was discovered in 1900, filled with manuscripts. The latest dated manuscripts in the cave are from the early 11th century, suggesting that the cave was sealed soon after this time. The earliest manuscript dates from the late 4th century. The Dunhuang cave, often referred to as the “Library Cave” or “Cave 17” after the number assigned to it by M. A. Stein, is the largest single manuscript find in China, yielding some 60,000 manuscript items by the last count (along with some 300 paintings). The largest group of manuscripts contains Chinese texts. The second largest group is Tibetan, and there are also smaller groups of Khotanese, Turkic, Sanskrit, and Sogdian texts. The subject matter of the manuscripts is quite varied. Though the collection is primarily a Buddhist one, secular manuscripts, such as letters and contracts, are also present, along with a minority of manuscripts representing other religions, including Daoism, Manichaeism, and the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. Because of this range of languages and the wide variety of subject matter, the secondary literature on the Dunhuang texts covers a number of academic fields. This introductory bibliography covers the primary fields of inquiry, but it represents only a fraction of the available publications.

Article.  5949 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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