Stories Behind The Dunhuang Caves


Dunhuang is a county-level city in China's northwestern Gansu Province. Located on the edge of the Gobi Desert, it was once a metropolis on the Silk Road, connecting trade between the East and West from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century AD. Situated in an oasis, Dunhuang is also known for the Crescent Lake and the Mingsha Shan ("Singing-Sand Mountain"), which was named after the sound of the wind whipping the sand dunes. Dunhuang held a strategic position in history being also located at the crossroads of the ancient South Silk Road and the main route from India to Mongolia and southern Siberia via Lhasa. It controlled the entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which led directly to the heart of the northern Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Chang'an (today's Xi'an) and Luoyang

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Location of Dunhuang in the Gansu Province of China. (Created using Google maps.)


The Mogao Grottoes, one of the largest Dunhuang Caves, are the most valuable cultural discoveries of the 20th century. It is the largest surviving Buddhist art holy site and treasure house of the world. The Mogao Grottoes contain more than 700 caves, 45,000 square meters of murals, and 2,000 sculptures created between the 4th and the 14th centuries. The artworks witnessed the over one thousand years of dynastic and ethnic mixes and exchanges, and absorbed the historical, cultural, and economic life elements in them. Dunhuang materials touched upon many aspects of people’s activities along the Silk Road during that period of time. They open a fascinating window into the distant history and provide a close, realistic, and vivid view into the physical, artistic, and spiritual lives of various cultures. 

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Mogao Grottoes. Courtesy Jue Se Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 莫高窟。图片来源:敦煌研究院觉色敦煌。

"Stories Behind The Dunhuang Caves" is the first among three Dunhuang exhibitions hosted by the Tateuchi East Asia Library at the University of Washington, in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy of China and the Dunhuang Foundation in the U.S. This exhibit is to provide a glimpse of Dunhuang's history through six selected caves* at the Mogao Grottoes and the artworks within. Together, they exemplify the exchanges of ideas, thoughts, and religions of the East and the West during the thousand years along the Silk Road.

  1. Cave 254 (North Wei Dynasty 386-584 A.D.)
  2. Cave 285 (West Wei Dynasty 535-557 A.D.)
  3. Cave 220 (Early Tang Dynasty 618-904 A.D.)
  4. Cave 172 (High Tang Dynasty 618-904 A.D.)
  5. Cave 061 (Five Dynasties Period 907-979 A.D.)
  6. Cave 003 (Yuan Dynasty 1279-1368 A.D.)

  • Mogao Cave 254 Overview

    Mogao Cave 254 (Northern Wei Dynasty 386-584 A.D.): A Central Pillar Cave of Buddhist Stories.

    莫高第254号窟(北魏 公元386-584):中央塔柱窟里的佛教故事。

    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌

  • Mogao Cave 285 Interior View Front

    Mogao Cave 285 (Western Wei Dynasty 535-557 A.D.): A Donor Cave of Deities.

    莫高第285号窟(西魏 公元535-557):供养人窟里的神佛。

    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌

  • Mogao Cave 220 Overview

    Mogao Cave 220 (Tang Dynasty 618-907 A.D.): the Zhai Family cave of masterpieces.

    莫高第220号窟(唐朝 公元618-907):翟家窟里的艺术精品。

    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌

  • Mogao Cave 172 Overview

    Mogao Cave 172 (Tang Dynasty 618-904 A.D.): Hall of the Amitayhurdyana Sutra.


    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌

  • Mogao Cave 061 Interior

    Mogao Cave 061 (Five Dynasties 907-979 A.D.): The Magnificent Manjusri Hall.


    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌

  • Mogao Cave 003 Interior

    Mogao Cave 003 (Yuan Dynasty 1271-1368 A.D.): A Cave of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattvas.

    莫高第003号窟(元代 公元1271-1368年):千手千眼观音窟。

    Courtesy Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 图片来源:敦煌研究院数字敦煌





  1. 莫高第254号窟,北魏, 公元386-584年
  2. 莫高第285号窟,西魏,公元535-557年
  3. 莫高第220号窟,唐(初唐) ,公元618-907年
  4. 莫高第172号窟,唐(盛唐),公元618-907年
  5. 莫高第061号窟,五代,公元907-979年
  6. 莫高第003号窟,元代, 公元1279-1368年
*The selected early three caves were based on Professor Anne Feng's webinar on the Buddhist Art in Dunhuang from 2020 hosted by the Dunhuang Foundation. Professor Feng is a historian of Chinese art specialize in Buddhist art in the Dunhuang caves. The later three caves were selected by the UW Dunhuang Project Team based on the representativeness of their corresponding historical periods.
早期的三个石窟根据敦煌基金会举办,波士顿大学Anne Feng教授的线上演讲“敦煌石窟中的佛教艺术”而选出。Anne Feng教授是研究中国艺术的历史学家,专研敦煌石窟中的佛教艺术。后期的三个石窟由华大项目组基于该洞窟的历史代表性而选出。
Introduction 展览介绍