Buddhist caves : Mogao



Mogao Buddhist caves
"The fall of the Han dynasty in 220 AD sent Confucianism in decline. This, plus the turmoil of invasions, made Buddhism's teachings of nirvana and personal salvation appealing to many people. Under the patronage of the new rulers, the religion spread rapidly and made a new impact on Chinese art." Along with Longmen and Datong, the Mogao caves in Dunhuang represent the peak of Buddhist sculpture and wall paintings in China.


Entrance gate of the Mogao caves


Again set in the mountain cliffs, most of the caves are locked to the public "for their preservation" and because some of them contain frescoes depicting scenes not suitable for the general public ! Of the 24 that are open, our Chinese speaking guide led us through 6 only... Good luck we had our own guide Mike ! The museum shed an interesting light on the history of the caves. In the beginning of this century, several Western expeditions came to the region (British, French, German, Swedish, Japanese, American..) and literarily took tons of sculptures, frescoes (taken out of the wall with knives) and documents back to their countries. Why did the Chinese allow this to happen ? This "plunder" by Westerners was followed by years of vandalism and iconoclasm by the Chinese themselves. Peasants thought that pigments used in the frescoes were good fertilisers for their fields. Nevertheless, one feels most of these treasures belong here and not in the 30 or so museums around the world (India and Japan included). The Chinese are particularly angry at the fact written evidence of the earliest times of their culture was taken away. Similarly to what the Taiwan Chinese say about leaving China in 1949 with all the treasures of the Forbidden city in Beijing (and saving them from certain destruction at the hands of the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution), one can also take the view that these treasures were saved from destruction as is the case in many Buddhist caves in China. To this the Chinese will tell you everything that was taken by the Germans was wiped out during an allied bombing of Berlin's ethnological museum and that we have lost track of everything that was taken to Japan since WW II. It is a complex matter. All these treasures survived for nearly 2000 years. Had they only survived for another 75 years ! 




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