Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang is the must visit place for many tourists’ Silk Road tour. The 1650 years old Mogao Grottoes is one of the top 4 Buddhist grottoes in China. The other three is Maiji Grottoes, Yugang Grottoes, and Longmen Grottoes. As the most outstanding relics of Dunhuang Culture, Mogao Grottoes is regarded as the brightest pearl on the crown of Dunhuang.
Why the Mogao Grottoes is in Dunhuang?
If Dunhuang isn’t the hometown of Mogao Grottoes, one may never have interest in this small town locating at the west end of Hexi Corridor. The great numbers of Buddhist grottoes dug in the period of around 1000 years attracts attention of people from each corner of the world. No matter how tough the condition is, they would go there to see in their life.
In ancient time Dunhaung is called Guazhou. It’s history can be dated back to Xia Dynasty in 4000 years ago. And the prosperity of Dunhuang began from 400AD when Li Hao established the Xiliang Kingdom and set Dunhuang as the capital. The position of the kingdom’s capital attracted various people and resources to Dunhuang. So it became a culture, political, and economy center, which were the base of Buddhist culture’s development in Dunhuang.
Dunhuang locates at the joint part of Gansu, Qinghai, and Xinjiang. In ancient time, this area was the must-pass part if one travel from central China to West Asia and Europe. That is to say, Dunhuang was the important stop along Silk Road. So it once was quiet bustling. The famous expert of Dunhuang culture raised an interesting analogy: Dunhuang in ancient time was just like Shenzhen in modern time. From the blooming of Shenzhen one could imagine how Dunhuang was busy in ancient time. Dunhuang was also the importand rest stop for monks traveling on the Silk Road. During their stay in Dunhuang, they spread Buddhism to local people and learn from other monks Buddhist culture. So Dunhuang is the place that was earliest influenced by Buddhism in China.
About 1000 years ago, the art of Buddhist cave digging was also brought from central and west Asia to China. And the art was practiced earliest in Dunhuang.
The ebb and flow of Mogao Grottoes
In the Sui and Tang Dynasties, with the religious support of the Emperor Yangdi (Sui Dynasty) and the Emperor Wu Zetian (Tang Dynasty), Dunhuang welcomed its golden time. In the Sui Dynasty, 70 Buddhist caves was excavated in the period of 38 years. And in the Tang Dynasty, the Emperor Wu Zetian ordered construction of Buddhist statues in all territory of the Tang Dynasty. The grottoes dug in the Sui and Tang Dynasties are the most delicate ones.
In 920AD of the Song Dynasty, there were also quiet many Buddhist grottoes excavated. But they are simple and crude, and much less worthwhile than the ones dug in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Later, the Dunhuang area experienced the rule of Xixia Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty. And after the Ming Dynast, Mogao Grottoes stopped digging new caves.