Shenzhen Museum – Dunhuang Part 4 Life in Dunhuang

Many artists and researches spent a whole lifetime copying the artworks off the walls, sparing no effort to ensure it was an exact copy. The last part of the exhibition focused on the influence of Dunhuang art, and the replicas and extensions of the Dunhuang research.

Religious Life in Dunhuang

Nestorian crucifix and Syriac bible

Over the past two millennia, through missionaries, pilgrims, caravans and armies, several religious traditions were transmitted via the Silk Road to China. In Dunhuang, besides the Buddhist and Daoist manuscripts, many other religious artifacts were also found, such as bronze crosses and linen fabric with texts from the Old Testament in Syrian language written by the Nestorian Christians.

Dunhuang was only the first stop on their long journey from the West – the destination was usually Chang’an, the capital of Tang Dynasty.

佛器 Religious Artefacts

Along the way, they scattered loads of religious artefacts along the route.

开元十三年许愿幡 Banner for the making of vows

绢、唐开元十三年(公元725年)、高162厘 米 宽15厘米、1965年敦煌莫高窟第130窟家出土、敦煌研究院藏 Silk, the 13th year of Kaiyuan, Tang Dynasty (725 AD), 162 cm high and 15 cm wide, unearthed in Cave 130 of Mogao Grottoes in 1965, Dunhuang Academy Collection

Buddhist offerings were unearthed from Mogao Grottoes. The seven-stage triangular flag of the banner alternates between yellow and red silk, and the horizontal side is supported by a grass stick, with short ribbons on both sides, and a fishtail-shaped flag tail. The first section of the flag has an ink inscription on the believer’s wish, “On July 14th, the 13th year of Kaiyuan, Kangyou’s aunt made a banner (幡) for herself, and if she suffers from the eyes (damaged), she will also made a banner (幡) to ask for Buddha’s mercy.” This painting is of great significance for the study of ancient textile technology and folk Buddhist beliefs.

“开元十三年七月十四日康优婆姨造播(幅)一口为己身患眼若得(损)日还造播(幅)一口保佛慈志(因 =恩?)故告”。

石雕观音菩萨立像 Standing stone sculpture of Avalokiteśvara

石、隋(公元581-618年)、高132厘米 宽38厘米 厚15厘米、征集、甘肃省博物馆藏 Stone, Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD), 132 cm high, 38 cm wide, 15 cm thick, Donation, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

The Chinese practiced ancestral worship in addition to numerous other gods. It was believed that the Lord of Heaven supervises all gods looking after different departments, much as the governmental system on earth. The system was able to embrace other kinds of beliefs as well.

Buddhism was the first of the great missionary faiths spread into China. The first caves were founded in 366 AD by Buddhist monks, and distinguished Dunhuang as a centre for Buddhist learning, drawing large numbers of pilgrims to the city. The contents of Dunhuang Grottoes are mainly Buddhist.

高善穆石造像塔 Stone stupa of Gao Shanmu

石、北凉承玄元年(公元428年)、高44.6厘米 底径14.7厘米、酒泉市石佛寺湾子出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Stone, the 1st year of Chengxuan, Northern Liang Dynasty (428 AD), 44.6 cm high, 14.7 cm in diameter, unearthed in Shifo Temple Bay, Jiuquan City, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

此塔由宝盖、相轮、塔顶 塔肩、塔腹及塔基组成。宝盖阴刻北斗七星;下力七重相轮。塔肩有八个圆拱形浅龛,龛内分置过去七佛(跏趺坐)与末来佛弥勒菩萨(交脚坐)。圆桂形塔腹阴刻隶书《增一阿含经•结禁品》中的部分经文及发愿文。其文日:“高善穆为父母新恩立此释迦文尼得道塔……承玄元年岁在戊辰……共成此塔“。塔基八面各阴线刻一神王像(也有学者认力属早期供养菩萨或金刚力士像),每像上侧各刻八卦符号以示方位。


舍利子 Śarīra Reliquary

When body of Buddha was cremated, it produced Śarīras 舍利 instead of reducing to ashes. Sariras are typically displayed in a glass bowl inside small gold urns or stupas as well as enshrined inside the master’s statue.

彩绘舍利石函 Painted stone reliquary

石、北周(公元551-581年)、高22厘米 长43.5厘米 宽32厘米、平凉市泾川县出土、泾川县博物馆藏 Stone, Northern Zhou (551-581 AD), 22 cm high, 43.5 cm long, 32 cm wide, unearthed in Jingchuan County, Pingliang City, Jingchuan County Museum Collection

彩绘舍利石函 Painted stone reliquary

鎏金错银舍利铜棺 Bronze reliquary in the form of a coffin with gold and silver inlay

铜、金、银、唐(公元618-907年)、高15.7厘米 长19.6厘米 宽10.6厘米、旧藏、甘肅省博物馆藏 Bronze, gold, silver, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 15.7 cm high, 19.6 cm long, 10.6 cm wide, old collection, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

鎏金错银舍利铜棺 Bronze reliquary in the form of a coffin with gold and silver inlay

舍利瓶、金棺、银椁、鎏金铜匣及石函 Relic hoxes in the form of a relic bottle, gold coffin, silver outer coffin, bronze casket and stone casket (a set of 5 pieces)

唐(公元618-907年)、石函通高42.5厘米 长50.5厘米 宽19.5厘米,鎏金铜匣通高12.3厘米 长12.3厘米 克宽12.3厘米,银椁通高9.3厘米 长10.7厘米 宽8.4厘米,金棺通高6厘米 长7.5厘米 宽5.4厘米,舍利瓶口径0.5厘米 腹径2.1厘米、1964年平凉市泾川县大云寺塔基出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), Stone casket (42.5 cm high, 50.5 cm long, 19.5 cm wide), Bronze casket (12.3 cm long, 12.3 cm wide, 12.3 cm wide), Silver outer coffin (9.3 cm high, 10.7 cm wide), Gold coffin (6 cm long, 7.5 cm wide 5.4 cm), Relic bottle (calibre 0.5 cm, diameter 2.1 cm), unearthed from the pagoda foundation of Dayun Temple in Jingchuan County, Pingliang City in 1964, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection



石函盖刻“大周泾川大云寺舍利之函总一十四粒”,西身四周刻“朝散大夫行司马平昌孟诜撰”《泾川大云寺舍利石函铭并序),并记载参与舍利发现和奉安仪式的职官、僧众题名等重要信息。据此可知,泾川大云寺舍利塔为隋文帝仁寿元年(公元 601 年)在全国 30个州建立的 19 座舍利塔之一,当时称力大兴国寺。武则天称帝后“敕两京诸州各置大云寺一处,藏《大云经》,使僧人升高座讲解”,大兴国寺由此改造为新的大云寺。此批大云寺塔基出土文物多为武则天延载元年(公元 694 年)改造寺塔布重新打造的舍利供养器。

舍利石棺 Stone reliquary in the form of a coffin

石、五代(公元907-960年)、高28.2厘米 长47.8厘米、平凉市灵台县城胜果寺出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Stone, Five Dynasties (907-960 AD), 28.2 cm high, 47.8 cm long, unearthed in Shengguo Temple, Lingtai County, Pingliang City, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

舍利石棺 Stone reliquary in the form of a coffin

梵文彩绘陶塔 Cremation urn in the shape of a painted earthenware stupa with Sanskrit characters

陶、西夏(公元1038-1227年)、通高66厘米 底径357厘米、武威市出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Pottery, Western Xia (1038-1227 AD), 66 cm high and 357 cm in bottom diameter, unearthed in Wuwei City, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

Pagodas are one of the most important structures at a temple, because they are used to enshrine Buddha’s sarira. What about sariras of the common people? Some folks were believed to have produced sariras as a result of their piousness and enlightenment.

This pottery stupa, for example, was used in the olden days to house the sarira. It has a detachable roof to reveal an urn inside to place the sarira. The outside of the stupa has been treated to look like wood and surrounded by scriptures in Sanskrit.

经变 Scripture Illustrations

” (bian) or in Sanskrit vikurvaṇa-ṛddhi refers to the teachings or sutras of Buddha on a variety of topics like heaven and hell, nirvana and kharma, etc. Because most of the population were illiterate, so these scripture stories were represented as illustrations called 经变 (jīngbiàn). The concept is similar to the Stations in churches to teach the Passion of Christ.

观无量寿经变 Amitavus sutra illustration

莫高窟第172窟、盛唐(公元712-766年)、复制 Cave 172 of Mogao Grottoes, Height of Tang Dynasty (AD 712-766), Replica

观无量寿经变 Amitavus sutra illustration

In the Western Elysium, in the middle of a gorgeous courtyard, Amitabha Buddha sat on the carved platform 雕阑宝台 to preach, seven platforms float on the seven lotus ponds. This group of buildings is staggered and orderly. Although it is the Western paradise imagined by the Tang people, it depicts and presents the Buddhist monasteries in the prosperous Tang Dynasty.

西方净土变 Western paradise illustration

莫高窟第217窟、盛唐(公元712-766年)、复制 Cave 217 of Mogao Grottoes, Height of Tang Dynasty (712-766 AD), copy

西方净土变 Western paradise illustration


莫高窟第 217 窟北壁经变画中的建筑,是初、盛唐建筑画的重要分水岭。气度非凡的梵宫琳宇居中,左右端各有一座楼阁,在它们之问对称地安置了六座高台,有两座砖台,四座竖楼式木台,台上都设有方亭或歇山顶的小亭。整个组群横向连以通长的折廊,富有规律性的变化。穿越楼台碑阁间的多姿飞天,飘带婉转,流云清逸与建筑的染枋柱橋方正的直线适成对比,流动和凝重互映,典雅灵动。

报父母恩重经变绢画 Silk painting of the Sutra on the Profound Kindness of Parents

绢、北宋(公元960-1127年)、长182厘米 宽127厘米、1900年敦煌莫高窟藏经洞出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Silk, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD), 182 cm long and 127 cm wide, excavated from Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes Sutra Cave (Cave 17) in 1900, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

The illustration was drawn on silk, and the two inscriptions are the title of illustration “Buddha’s Preaching of Repayment of His Parents’ kindness” 佛说报父母恩重经变 and subtitle “Song Dynasty Second Year of Chunhua, (991AD) Xinmao year 5th month 2nd day” “Painting of Buddha” “宋淳化二年岁次辛卯五月二日《绘佛邈真记》”.

The story paintings are divided on both sides of the narrative picture, unfolding in the form of comic strips, and the sections are by mountains and rocks. There is an inscription by each story. The illustration reflects the folk customs of Dunhuang at that time, highlighting the kindness of parents for their children. It is an ancient art treasure with high social and cultural research value.

Daily Life through Dunhuang Artefacts

Dunhuang is not just about religion. Though the murals, paintings and artefacts, the daily lives of the people of Dunhuang were presented to the modern audience. Like these three fragments of fabrics that were present during the opening of the Dunhuang area.

“衣” – Various Fragments of Fabric

汉晋(公元前202-公元316年)、2011年征集、甘肃省博物馆藏 Han and Jin Dynasties (202 BC-316 AD), 2011 Donation, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

“大汉乐”铭黄地蓝绿云纹织锦 Woven silk fabric with blue and green cloud patterns and inscription of “Da Han Yue” on yellow background

织锦、长40.5厘米 宽27.5厘米 Fabric, 40.5 cm long and 27.5 cm wide (left)

绢质红地凤鸟纹刺绣 Red plain-weave silk fabric with phoenix embroidery

绢、长65.5厘米 宽41.5厘米 Silk, 65.5 cm long and 41.5 cm wide (right-top)

“福受右”铭蓝地黄绿云气纹织锦残片 Fragment of woven silk fabric with yellow and green cloud patterns and auspicious characters on blue background

织锦、长41厘米 宽17.5厘米 Fabric, 41 cm long and 17.5 cm wide (right-bottom)

Dunhuang is on the ancient Silk Road, so it was not uncommon to find fragments of silks and other fabrics as this was the main goods traded by the caravans from the West. These examples demonstrate the high quality of the embroidery and fabric making techniques that the Middle Kingdom contributed to the fashion of the Old World.

联珠花鸟纹锦残片 Fragment of woven silk fabric with Sassanian roundels, flowers and birds

锦、唐(公元618-907年)、长18厘米 宽11.7厘米、吐鲁番市高昌王墓山土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Brocade, Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), 18 cm long and 11.7 cm wide, Turpan City Gaochang King Tomb Mountain Soil, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

According to the Cave 17 documents, a large number of imports arrived from as far away as north-east Europe. Interestingly, the scrolls that mention merchant caravans are usually written in Sogdian, Uighur, or Turco-Sogdian, indicating that they were produced by the foreign traders in the city. The range of imported goods included brocade and silk from Persia (See picture), metal-ware, fragrances, incense and a variety of precious stones, such as lapis lazuli (from north eastern Afghanistan), agate (from India), amber (from north east Europe), coral (from the ocean) and pearl (usually from Sri Lanka). 

“食” – Having a Meal

And of course, everyone had to eat, and when you are travelling, you will look for a restaurant to settle your meals. Among the funeral goods excavated from the tombs along the Hexi Corridor, some artefacts showed that livestocks were raised in the area as early as Han-Jin Dynasties in the area.

彩绘画像砖 Painted bricks

砖瓦、魏晋(公元220-420年)、长17,35-37厘米 宽16.5-18.0厘米 厚4.5-6.0厘米 、(1) 1979年嘉峪关市峪泉镇东滩墓出土、(2)-(4) 1972年嘉裕关市新城魏晋墓出土、嘉裕关长城博物馆藏 Bricks, Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420 AD), 17,35-37 cm in length, 16.5-18.0 cm in width, 4.5-6.0 cm in thickness, (1) unearthed in 1979, Dongtan Tomb in Yuquan Town, Jiayuguan City, (2)-(4) unearthed in 1972, New Town, Wei Jin Tomb in Jiayuguan City, Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum Collection

彩绘木鸡 Painted hen and rooster

木、汉(公元前202年-公元210年)、公鸡高7.5厘米 长13.2厘米,母鸡高7厘米 长13.2厘米、武威市磨咀子汉墓出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Wood, Han Dynasty (202 BC – 210 AD), rooster height 7.5 cm, length 13.2 cm, hen height 7 cm, length 13.2 cm, Wuwei City Mozuizi Han tomb unearthed, Gansu Provincial Museum collection

彩绘木鸡 Painted hen and rooster

陶猪、陶羊 Pottery pig and sheeps

陶、唐(公元618-907年)、通高8.8-10.2厘米 长16.3-17.6厘米 宽6.3-7.0厘米、1965年天水市泰安县叶家堡出土、甘肅省博物馆藏 Pottery, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), height 8.8-10.2 cm, length 16.3-17.6 cm, width 6.3-7.0 cm, unearthed in Yejiabao, Tai’an County, Tianshui City in 1965, Gansu Provincial Museum

陶猪、陶羊 Pottery pig and sheeps

三彩卧牛 Tri-colour glazed bull

陶、唐(公元618-907年)、高19.5厘米 长36厘米 市16.6厘米、1965年天水市泰安县叶家堡出土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Pottery, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 19.5 cm high, 36 cm long, 16.6 cm in the city, unearthed in Yejiabao, Tai’an County, Tianshui City in 1965, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

三彩卧牛 Tri-colour glazed bull

“住” – Entertainment during that period

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Along the way, there were many earthly pleasures that the traders and local folks could participate in.

花纹砖 Bricks with pattern

砖瓦、唐(公元618-907年)、长34-35.5厘米 宽33.5-34.5厘米 厚6.5-7.5厘米、(1) 1964年敦煌莫高窟第98窟前遗址出土、(2)-(3)敦煌市苏家堡唐墓菜出土 、(4) 敦煌莫高窟第390窟出土、敦煌研究院藏 Clay, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 34-35.5 cm long, 33.5-34.5 cm wide, 6.5-7.5 cm thick, (1) unearthed in front of Cave 98 in 1964, (2)-(3) unearthed in Tang tomb in Sujiabao, Dunhuang City, (4) unearthed in Cave 390, Dunhuang Academy Collection

铜舞蹈人物像 Bronze figurine of a dancer

铜、唐(公元618-907年)、通高13.7厘米、新西兰友人路易 艾黎捐赠、山丹县博物馆藏 Bronze, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 13.7 cm high, donated by New Zealand friend Louis Ally, Shandan County Museum Collection (top)

贴金彩绘石伎乐俑 Glided and painted stone flgurines of musicians

石、唐(公元618-907年)、通高33厘米 长11.5-16.5厘米 宽11.5-8.3厘米、1982年天水市秦州区石马坪出土、天水市博物馆藏 Stone, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 33 cm high, 11.5-16.5 cm long, 11.5-8.3 cm wide, unearthed in Shimaping, Qinzhou District, Tianshui City in 1982, Tianshui City Museum Collection (left-top)

铜六簙戏俑 Bronze figurines from a “Liubo” board game

铜、汉(公元前202年一公元220年)、高8.8厘米 宽9.2厘米、平凉市灵台县出土、灵合县博物馆藏 Bronze, Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), 8.8 cm high and 9.2 cm wide, unearthed in Lingtai County, Pingliang City, Linghe County Museum Collection (left-bottom)

These figurines demonstrated the variety of entertainment available to the caravans and locals, including musical performances, foreign dances (right,this one is most likely Persian), and various boardgames, like these bronze figures (right-bottom) used in a game called “Liubo” 六簙; the game rules wer loste but these four figures were most likely to be paperweight.

象牙雕双陆棋子 Ivory carved backgammon chess pieces

象牙、唐(公元618-907年)、高1.7厘米 底径1.6厘米 重80克、武威市博物馆藏 Ivory, Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), height 1.7 cm, bottom diameter 1.6 cm, weight 80 grams, Wuwei Museum Collection

象牙雕双陆棋子 Ivory carved backgammon chess pieces

阮咸琵琶残件 Fragment of a Ruanxian lute

木、唐(公元618-907年)、长28.5厘米、1980年武威市青嘴湾吐谷浑家族武氏墓出土、武威市博物馆藏 Wood, Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 28.5 cm long, unearthed from Wu’s tomb of the Tuyuhun family in Qingzuiwan, Wuwei City in 1980, Wuwei City Museum

阮咸琵琶残件 Fragment of a Ruanxian lute

“行” – Moving Around

And to move around you need transportation. And popular choices are horses, camels and carts drawn by beasts of burden.

彩绘牛车图画像砖 Painted brick with an ox cart

砖瓦、魏晋(公元220-420年)、长35厘米 宽16.5厘米 厚4.5厘米 、1972年嘉裕关市新城魏晋墓出土、嘉裕关长城博物馆藏 Bricks, Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420 AD), 35 cm in length, 16.5 cm in width, 4.5 cm in thickness, unearthed in 1972, Wei Jin Tomb in Jiayuguan City, Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum Collection

彩绘牛车图画像砖 Painted brick with an ox cart

陶站卧骆驼 Pottery camels in kneeling position

陶、唐(公元618-907年)、1965年天水市秦安县叶家墓山土、甘肃省博物馆藏 Pottery, Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), unearthed in 1965 Tianshui City Qin’an County Yejia Tomb, Gansu Provincial Museum Collection

陶站卧骆驼 Pottery camels in kneeling position

彩绘牵马“大六”木板画 Painting on wood of a horse and a horseman

木、西夏(公元1038-1227年)、高1.7厘米 长14厘米 宽8厘米、1977年武威市凉州区西郊公园出土、武威市博物馆藏 Wood, Western Xia Dynasty (1038-1227 AD), 1.7 cm high, 14 cm long and 8 cm wide, unearthed in Xijiao Park, Liangzhou District, Wuwei City in 1977, Wuwei City Museum Collection

In 1971, this painted wood was unearthed in newly discovered Western Xia tomb in Xijiao Park (former Xijiao Hunting Ground), Liangzhou District, Wuwei City. It was a tomb from the 7th year of Tianqing 西夏天庆七年 (1200 AD), and excavated 29 wooden board paintings, with different images of women, men, old people, children, warriors, etc. It is an important physical material for the study of Western Xia’s funeral customs, hairstyle and clothes, and art.

High Life during the Tang Dynasty

Dunhuang Grottoes reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty. 唐玄宗 Emperor Xuanzong 李隆基 Li Longji’s Kaiyuan era 开元盛世 (713-741 AD) is usually viewed as one of the golden ages of Chinese history – a period of political stability, peace in society, and economic prosperity, in addition to advances in education, literature, music, painting, sculpture, and religion. This section of the exhibit attempted to replicate the high life that was represented in the paintings.

都督夫人礼佛图 Governor’s wife, Lady Wang worshipping Buddha

莫高窟第130窟、盛唐(公元712-766年)、段文杰临摹 Cave 130 of Mogao Grottoes, Height of Tang Dynasty (712-766 AD), copy by Duan Wenjie

都督夫人礼佛图 Governor’s wife, Lady Wang worshipping Buddha

The original mural was damaged over time, but the Dunhuang Academy Director of that time Mr Duan Wenjie 段文杰 recreated the mural through extensive research of similar murals. The mural showed Lady Wang with her two daughters and nine maid-in-waiting (all wearing men’s clothes) lining up in descending order of importance.

都督夫人礼佛图服饰(复制)Clothes restored according to the picture Governor’s wife worshipping Buddha (Replica)

都督夫人礼佛图服饰(复制)Clothes restored according to the picture Governor’s wife worshipping Buddha (Replica)

The donors often appeared in the murals in the grottoes. The researchers, through this painting of one of the donors of the grottoes, attempt to recreate the life in the height of Tang Dynasty.

女供养人像 Female donors

李圣天供养像 Portrait of Li Shengtian, King of Khotan

莫高窟第98窟、五代(公元 907-960年)、欧阳琳临摹(女供养人)冯仲年临摹(李胜天)Cave 98 of Mogao Grottoes, the Five Dynasties (907-960 AD), Ouyang Lin’s copy (female donor) Feng Zhongnian’s copy (Li Shengtian)

Li Shengtian is the Han Chinese name of the Khotanese King Vijaya Sambhava. Since his ancestors had provided meritorious service to the Tang court, they were conferred the surname Li and became namesake of the Tang emperors. According to the donor’s inscription, this cave was constructed by Cao Yijin, Military Commissioner of the Guiyijun Army at Shazhou during the Tongguang reign (923 – 925) of the Later Tang regime.

The identity of the figure is written in ink in a cartouche on the left side of the portrait, reading: “The King of great holiness and great wisdom of the Kingdom of Khotan of a great dynasty and great preciousness; that is, Master of this cave”. To maintain an amicable relationship with the ethnic groups in the surrounding regions, Cao Yijin married his daughter to the King of Khotan. The cartouche inscription has indicated that the Cao family has honoured their in-law, the Khotanese King, as ‘Master of the cave’.

The original mural is 2.9 metres tall, notably the tallest donor portrait among all Dunhuang murals. Khotan was a large ancient kingdom in the Western Regions, presently Hetian county of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.


源自莫高窟第329窟南壁西侧菩萨、材质:香云纱/金丝古铜线/珠宝/水晶、工艺:印度手工刺绣 From the Bodhisattva mural on the west side of the south wall of Cave 329 of Mogao Grottoes, Material: fragrant cloud yarn/gold wire bronze thread/jewellery/crystal, Technique: Indian handmade embroidery

The parasol design came from the early Tang Dynasty and is composed of layers. It is recreated to convey the inheritance of the beauty of diversified traditional crafts.

From the heart of the flower to the petals, it adopts the shape of a treasure flower, and yet solemn and gorgeous.

The base material of this canopy is selected from the fragrant cloud yarn 香云纱 of Taiwan, which is dyed and washed by hand, so that it is close to the true colour after the mural colour. The embroidery covers traditional Chinese embroidery techniques from Sichuan, Nanjing and Suzhou embroidery, traditional Indian court techniques, French embroidery. Among them, Indian hand-dyed beads are based on the colour dyeing of natural rocks such as lapis lazuli and cinnabar in Dunhuang Grottoes.

吐蕃赞普与各国王子听法图 Tibetan King and other kings from the Western Regions listening to the sermon

莫高窟第159窟、中唐(公元766-835年)、李其琼临摹 Cave 159 of Mogao Grottoes, Middle Tang Dynasty (766-835 AD), copy by Li Qiqiong

吐蕃赞普与各国王子听法图 Tibetan King and other kings from the Western Regions listening to the sermon

The work is a small part of the Vimalakīrti-Nirdeśa-Sūtra Illustration《维摩诘经变》mural, which depicted the story of Vimala-kīrti 维摩诘居士 of the ancient Indian city of Vaiśālī 毗耶离城, whom claimed to be sick and the kings, princes, ministers, elders, priests and Brahmins from various countries came to visit. Vimala-kīrti took the opportunity to preach.

Old Tibetan Chronicle, Pelliot tibétain 1287, p. 21. Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra in Chinese, now in the National Library of France Collection

Among those that came were the Tibetans. Tibet was called Tubo 吐蕃 in ancient China, and the king was bTsan-po 赞普. He was represented by the regal man under the parasol, with his entourage behind him. It is interesting to note the different skin colours of the entourage, which included Korean, Indian, South East Asians and Persian kings and princes. All these were recorded in the original sutra brought back to France by Paul Pelliot.

幔盖(仿制)Drapery-like parasol (Replica)

源自敦煌藏经洞出土绢画、材质:金/意大利晶石玛瑙/珊瑚/刺绣/印度手工丝绸/宝石珠网串、工艺:印皮宫廷传统工艺 Silk paintings unearthed from Dunhuang Sutra Cave (Cave 17), Material: gold/Italian crystal agate/coral/embroidery/Indian handmade silk/gem bead mesh string, Technique: traditional craftsmanship of the Indian imperial court

This parasol is based on the image of the parasol in the silk painting in the Middle Tang Dynasty unearthed from Cave 17. The original silk painting is now in the National Museum of New Delhi, India. The main mantle of the cover is an Indian handmade silk screen. The complex of corals and agate coiled on the parasol is like the sunset. The whole parasol is complex and warm, showing the solemn and gorgeous beauty of Western Elysium.

百纳香囊 Patchwork Incense Sachet

丝、元(公元1271-1368年)、莫高窟北区第163窟出土、敦煌研究院藏 Silk, Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271-1368), excavated from Cave 163 in the North District of Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang Academy Collection

“Baina” 百衲 has two meanings: it can refer to the monk’s kasaya 袈裟; it also refers to the weaving and embroidery process of stitching and sewing a variety of fabrics according to patterns and colours. Here’s another example of Baina from the same period.

绫绸百纳法器衬垫 内蒙古阿拉善盟额济纳旗黑城遗址出土 Lingxi Baina religious instrument liner unearthed at the site of the Black City of the Ejin Banner of Alxa League in Inner Mongolia

Dunhuang Art in Architecture

The last section of the exhibition showed how the patterns of the Dunhuang Grottoes, helped to shape the architectural art and patterns that would influence the rest of China for centuries.

The Stupas in 3-D

Artists and sculptors worked together using CAD technology and 3-D printing to bring to life the stupas in the murals found in the Dunhuang Grottoes. Many of which you would find familiar because they are still fouund in Nepal, Tibet and Myanmar.

The Lotus Seat in 3-D

This 3-D model was based on the Western Paradise Illustration found in Cave 217. In the mural, buddha was sitting on the lotus throne. Using 3-D printing and CAD technology, the throne was produced to demonstrate the artist’s beautiful vision.


The Mogao Caves illustrate not only the religious importance of Dunhuang however, but also its significance as a centre of cultural and commercial exchange. Crafts and skills also moved along the Silk Roads as traders and craftsmen met and exchanged notes, and a small number of scrolls in the Mogao Caves illustrate the use of woodblock printing in Dunhuang, a technique that originated in China in the early 8th century.  The most famous text in the library cave, the Diamond Sutra, which dates to 868 AD, was made using this technique and is the first complete printed book in the world. Woodblock printing would later spread across Asia, as traders passed on knowledge and ideas that they had acquired whilst travelling the Silk Roads.

So what do they have to teach us today? Trade, not ware.

Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture

Shenzhen Museum was founded in 1981. It consists of 4 museum sites including Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture, Shenzhen Museum of Ancient Art, Dongjiang River Guerrilla Command Headquarters Memorial Museum and Shenzhen Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall. 

Located in Shenzhen Civic Center, the Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture, opened in December 2008, takes up 12,500 square meters of land, and covers a construction area of 33,600 square meters. The exhibition building has a total of 3 floors, including 5 basic exhibition halls and 2 special exhibition halls, with an exhibition area of more than 10,000 square meters. The ground floor is a storehouse of cultural relics. In addition, the exhibition building also has multi-functional report Hall, VIP Hall, teahouse, souvenir shops and other ancillary service facilities.

Opening hours : 10:00~18:00 (Visitors are not allowed to enter the museum after 17:30. Closed on Mondays. Open during major festivals and closed the first day after major festivals)

Visited in Jan 2022

0 comments on “Shenzhen Museum – Dunhuang Part 4 Life in Dunhuang

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: