Mogao (Dunhuang) Caves (1987)
China

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Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. 

The monastery there, called the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (also called "Nine Higher Caves"), was founded in AD 366 during the Sui Dynasty. The caves of the monastery are richly decorated with contemporary frescoes, of which some have been illustrated on a series of stamps (six different sets) from 1987 to 1996, "The Cave Murals of Dunhuang". The six complete sets with souvenir sheets are shown on this page. 

China 1987. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 1st series. Worshipping Bodhisattva (Northern Liang Dynasty). China 1987. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 1st series. Souvenir sheet. Mahasattva Jakata. China 1987. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 1st series. Heavenly Musicians (Northern Wei Dynasty).
China 1987. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 1st series. Deer King Jataka (Northern Wei Dynasty). China 1987. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 1st series. Flying Devata (Northern Wei Dynasty).

Dunhuang, located in present-day Gansu province in China's far west, was a major town on the Silk Road, and for many centuries a meeting place of Chinese and Central Asian cultures. It was also a major center of Buddhism. The Great Wall, also a World Cultural Heritage Property (on this web site), ends (or begins) in the vicinity of Dunhuang. 

China 1988. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 2nd series. Hunting (Western Wei Dynasty). China 1988. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 2nd series. Fighting (Western Wei Dynasty). China 1988. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 2nd series. Farming (Northern Zhou Dynasty). China 1988. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 2nd series. Building Pagoda (Northern Zhou Dynasty).

Dunhuang is best known for nearby caves that contain Buddhist frescoes, ritual objects, and documents dating from the 4th to the 12th century ad. These may be the best-preserved examples of Buddhist frescoes in China. After having been sealed for nearly 800 years, the artifacts were discovered in the early 20th century by a Daoist (Taoist) monk named Wang Yuanlu. 

China 1990. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 3rd series. Flying Devatas. China 1990. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 3rd series. Worshipping Bodhisattva. China 1990. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 3rd series. Saviour Avalokitesvarea. China 1990. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 3rd series. Indra.

The first Westerner to visit the site was British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein in 1907. Subsequently, the site was visited by numerous foreign archaeologists, many of whom removed large numbers of scrolls and paintings. 

China 1992. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 4th series. Bodhisattva.

China 1992. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 4th series. Flight of a dragon.

China 1992. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 4th series. Souvenir sheet. Avalokitesvara-Bodhisattva. China 1992. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 4th series. Musical performance.

China 1992. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 4th series. Envoy to the western regions.

Sometime in the mid-11th century, a collection of approximately 30,000 manuscripts were sealed up in an annex of the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, remaining there until its discovery by the Daoist caretaker of the caves in the late 19th century. This collection included a rich store of Buddhist writings and popular literature from the 5th to the 11th centuries. 

China 1994. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 5th series. Flying Devata. China 1994. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 5th series. Vimalakirti on dais. China 1994. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 5th series. Zhang Yichao's forces. China 1994. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 5th series. Sorceresses.

From the beginning of the medieval period in the 3rd century AD until the 7th century, China was not only divided into warring states but suffered invasions by Tatar tribes as well.  Nevertheless, these centuries in China were by no means as barren of literary production as the corresponding period in the history of western Europe known as the Dark Ages. The spread of Buddhism from India, the invention of printing, and the flowering of poetry and prose illuminated the entire period and made it one of the most brilliant in Chinese literary history. 

China 1996. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 6th series. Souvenir sheet. Thousand Arm Avalokitsvara. China 1996. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 6th series. Mount Wutai. China 1996. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 6th series. Worshipping Bodhisattva.
China 1996. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 6th series. Savior Avalokitesvara. China 1996. Dunhuang Cave Murals, 6th series. King of Khotan.

St. Vincent of the Grenadines 1997. 50th anniversary of UNESCO. Oasis of Dunhuang. Note that the sheet erroneously is inscribed "Dunbuang" instead of "Dunhuang".

Today the caves have been preserved as a research site and tourist attraction, and Dunhuang is a standard stop for both domestic and international tourists tracing the ancient Silk Road. In 1987 a Sino-Japanese joint production of a commercial feature film entitled The Silk Road resulted in the construction of a complete replica of a Song dynasty (960-1279) town just outside of Dunhuang. This movie set has become a tourist attraction. Tourists are also attracted to Dunhuang’s spectacular sand dunes. Dunhuang was first mentioned in Chinese texts during the Han dynasty (206 BC- AD 220). 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in China (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section China for further information about the individual properties.  

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Revised 20 jun 2007  
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