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IDP News Issue No. 6

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Issue No. 6 November 1996 ISSN 1354-5914

Dunhuang Manuscripts Collections in China

The National Library of China, Beijing

The National Library of China, Beijing

The collection of Dunhuang Chinese manuscripts in the National Library of China is one of the largest. When the scrolls were first transported on government order to Peking in 1910, 8,679 scrolls were on the inventory made in Lanzhou. The manuscripts were divided into groups of 100. Each batch was assigned one of the first 90 characters of the Qianziwen (The thousand character classic: the three characters, tian, xuan and huo were not used) and then numbered 1–100 within these headings.

Cataloguing and Expansion

The first catalogue was written by Chen Yuan, the Head Librarian, over twenty years later and included more than 10,000 items. It was published in six volumes (ce) in 1931 (Dunhuang jieyu lu). The manuscripts were classified according to the traditional ordering of the Buddhist canon with a concordance to the numbering system in volume 1. Apart from identifying the main text and the pin and juan numbers, Chen Yuan listed the first two fully legible characters of the first two and last two lines, eight characters in total. Below this he recorded the number of panels and total number of lines. He also added further short notes in some cases about the condition of the manuscript, such as comments to the effect that the beginning and end of the scroll were damaged and lines of text were therefore missing. These same manuscripts were microfilmed and then reproduced in the Taiwanese facsimile volumes edited by Huang Yongwu and taken from the microfilms. They were also listed in the original sequence by Wang Zhongmin in his 1962 catalogue.

Hu Mingsheng started a catalogue of 1192 fragments omitted by Chen Yuan, but this remains unpublished and is only known through the work of Xu Guolin (Dunhuang shi ku shi xie jing ti ji yu Dunhuang za lu, 2 vols. Shanghai 1937).

The collection has been supplemented since this time by purchases, donations and the manuscripts in the Otani Collection previously at Port Arthur (Lushnn). These last had been sent first to Japan and some of the collection dispersed into other hands, but the bulk were shipped back to China and thereafter to the Beijing collection. Nine Buddhist sutras were left in Lushun for exhibition. A supplementary catalogue published in 1981 lists 1065 of the more than 1500 manuscripts acquired after 1949 and gives the same information as Chen Yuan's earlier work (Dunhuang jieyu lu xu bian). Some were exhibited in 1988 at the Third Conference on Dunhuang and Turfan Studies. There remain about 1000 uncatalogued manuscripts (in fragmentary form).

Jiangsu Chinese Classics Publishing House (Jiangsu guji chubanshe) are currently planning publication of a series of facsimiles of the National Library Dunhuang Collection.

The collection at the National Library is the largest but not the only collection in China. Peking University Library and Shanghai Library also have considerable collections, and there are holdings throughout most of China at the provincial museums and libraries. The Dunhuang and Turfan manuscripts in the Shanghai Museum. Peking University Library and Tianjin Art Museum are also being published by Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House (Shanghai guji chubanshe). These volumes contain full catalogue information as well as high-quality facsimiles.

Tibetan Manuscripts

When the scrolls were transported to Beijing in 1910, those written in Tibetan were left behind at the Mogao Caves. In 1919, 94 Tibetan scrolls were examined by the Education Department of Gansu provincial government. The majority were Buddhist sutras, but there were 19 secular documents. Some of these Tibetan manuscripts remained at the Mogao Caves while the others were divided between Gansu Provincial Library and Dunhuang Museum. Now they are at the Dunhuang Research Institute (Dunhuang yanjiuyuan), Dunhuang City Museum, Gansu Provincial Library and cultural institutes in Jiuquan, Wuwei, Zhangye and other counties in Gansu.

'I am indebted to Professor Lewis Lancaster for letting me see an unpublished mss. on the Dunhuang Cave Library which contains information used in this article. Thanks are also owing to Professor Fujieda Akira for his information about the dispersal of the Otani manuscripts, to Wang Jiqing for his survey of Dunhuang studies in China and to professor Rong Xinjiang for his corrections.'

Further articles on Dunhuangology in China will be published in future newsletters.

Holdings of Dunhuang Manuscripts in China

The following is a list of institutions in China with holdings of Dunhuang manuscripts. The information is not definitive and any corrections or additions would be welcomed. Please write to or email IDP at the address given at the end of the page


We are very pleased to announce that a new periodical, the Journal of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies (JDTS) has been published at Peking University, Beijing, China. As the title shows, the Journal covers all aspects of Dunhuang and Turfan studies, as well related areas and issues in a broader perspective. It will be published annually. Most of the articles are in Chinese, with some in English. The contents of the first issue include:

Les arts de l'Asie Centrale: la collection Pelliot du Musée Guimet
The Arts of Central Asia: The Pelliot Collection in the Musée Guimet
General Editor: Jacques Giès

The two volumes of plates supplemented by an English text volume are companions to the previously published The Art of Central Asia: The Stein Collection in the British Museum edited by Roderick Whitfield. They present the entire collection of Central Asian art acquired by the great French explorer and scholar Paul Pelliot (1878–1945), including the many paintings and textiles from Cave 17 at Dunhuang.
Only two hundred copies of the two volume French edition published by Réunion des Musées Nationaux are issued for sale as a set, with a separate English language translation volume published by:

10 Parkfields
SW15 6NH, UK
tel: +44 181 788 1966
fax: +44 181 785 4789

UK£600 for three volumes plus UK£10 postage and insurance in UK, £15 elsewhere.

Dunhuang: Buddhist Art from the Silk Road
Text by Roderick Whitfield, photography by Seigo Otsuka

This two volume work of 400 new colour photographs of the Dunhuang cave murals is published in English by:

Textile and Art Publications Ltd.
12 Queen Street Mayfair, London
tel: +44 171 499 7979
fax: +44 171 409 2596.

2 volume set (one of photographs and one of text): UK£315/US$472 (inclusive of postage, packing and insurance.)

Alfredo Cadonna e Lionello Lanciotto (a cura di), Cina e Iran. Da Alessandro Magno alla Dinastia Tang, (Orientalia Venetiana V), Leo S. Olschki Editore, Firenze, 1996, ISBN 8822244281.

Proceedings of the International Meeting 'China and Iran. From Alexander the Great to the Tang Dynasty' promoted and organized by the Istituto 'Venezia e l'Oriente' of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and the ISMEO, Venice, 7–8 November 1994]

Conservation and Science

The papers from the second conference (see IDP News No. 5) will be published in 1997 by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Full details will be given in the next newsletter.

The second volume in the British Library Conservation and Science series will be published next spring. Following on from their article in the inaugural volume, Dr Peter Gibbs and Professor Kenneth Seddon offer a more detailed analysis of huangbo, the yellow dye used on the majority of the Dunhuang manuscripts. Full details will be given in the next newsletter.

Project News

IFLA '96

the British Library exhibition stand at the 62nd International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) General Conference

the 62nd International Federation
of Library Associations

The International Dunhuang Project featured on the British Library exhibition stand at the 62nd International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) General Conference held in Beijing in August. Dr Susan Whitfield and Dr Frances Wood spent time on the stand demonstrating the Project database. This was greeted enthusiastically — although not so enthusiastically as the British Library free carrier bag which carried the IDP logo.

Documentation of Central Asian Antiquities

Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, is approaching UNESCO with an ambitious project to document Central Asian antiquities. The project would be vcarried out through the International Institute of Central Asian Studies (IICAS) set up with UNESCO help at Samarkand.

A feasibility study is being carried out at the moment and Drs Whitfield and Wood met with Dr Arup Banerji at the British Library on 2nd October to discuss possible collaboration between IDP and this project. A feasibility conference will be held in Delhi in 1997 to review the information and plan the work.

For information contact:

Madhavan K. Palat

Meeting of Editors

Susan Whitfield was invited to give a report on the production of IDP News at a workshop for editors in Europe of newsletters on Asia. Hosted by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), this was held in Leiden in late September and participants from all over Europe spent a useful two days in discussion. The papers and a conference report will be published in the forthcoming issue of IIAS Newsletter (No. 10).

BL visitors

Dr Tsuguhito Takeuchi visited the British Library between 24–28 June to finalise the text of his catalogue of old Tibetan manuscripts from east Turkestan in the Stein Collection. The catalogue is intended for joint publication by the Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies (Tokyo) and the British Library in two volumes. The first, scheduled for March 1997, will contain photographic reproductions of over 700 fragments. The second, appearing a year or two later, will contain catalogue descriptions, syllabic and general indexes, a concordance, a lengthy introduction and a map of the excavation sites.

The majority of the manuscripts come from Miran and Maza Tagh, and comprise sale and hire contracts, other legal and economic texts, formal and informal official dispatches, personal correspondence, divinatory, Buddhist and non-Buddhist religious texts.

Further details about the catalogue will be given in future issues of IDP News.

Professor Harumichi Ishizhuka spent some time in London and Budapest in late September. He was looking at the manuscripts from Dunhuang acquired by Stein on his third Central Asian expedition, many of may be forgeries. Professor Ishizuka will present his findings to the forgeries workshop in 1997.

In September Drs Eikei Akao and Jun Tomita spent several weeks looking at calligraphy of the Dunhuang manuscripts, especially those from the 3rd expedition.

Stein 3rd expedition material

Professor Sha Zhi

Professor Sha Zhi

Following a complete survey of the Stein 3rd expedition Chinese material and entry of the information on to the database, photography of the manuscripts has now started and will continue over the next few months. Conservation work will then be carried out. Colour photographs of all the manuscripts will be taken and stored as 35mm slides. These will be digitised later. Professor Sha Zhi (right) has extended his stay at the Library to help supervise this work.

IDP database

The IDP database at the British Library has now been networked within the Library. In the new year the curators of all the manuscripts and printed documents in the Stein Collection will have access to the database and it will then be made available to readers. Apart from details on over 7,000 Chinese manuscripts, there are entries for 800 Tokharian manuscripts, several hundred Tibetan, some Sogdian and a few Turkic. These numbers will rise over the next few months as the curators at the British Library add entries for all of the 28,000 items in the Stein collection on to the database.


A full list of speakers for the Dunhuang-Turfan Symposium in ICANAS will be given in the next newsletter. Anyone wanting further details about the symposium should contact Susan Whitfield at the address below. For further details about ICANAS, contact:-

Tamás Iványi (ICANAS)
ELTE - Körösi Csoma Társaság
H-1088 Budapest, Múzeum krt. 4/B
fax: 361 366 5699

Other News

Equids of the Gobi

The horse trade was one of the chief economic forces of Central Asia until this century. Special types were raised in different regions and exported to areas which could not breed horses, particularly India and China.

The short, rugged steppe horse was most readily available to be sent to China but the Mongols had a special equid, often known today as the Mongolian wild horse or scientifically as Przewalski's horse. It had an almost mystical status among the nomads but may have also had a practical bonus. In recent times it has been crossbred with domestic stock to improve vigour and has become extinct in the wild. Before this, a few had been caught and sent to European zoos. Recent breeding programmes allow the numerous offspring a chance for reintroduction in Mongolia and China.

Dr Judith Kolbas is tracing the historical evidence for the horse trade and taking special note of this species. Drawings and descriptions should provide information about its status and use. Material from Dunhuang and other Central Asian sites will be essential sources. A depiction of the animal has yet to be found, although a rare diplomatic document attests that one was given as a gift to the Chinese emperor. The search continues. Any information is welcome.


Contact: Judith Kolbas, President, The Wild Equid Society, 5 Percy Road, London E16 4RB, UK.

Orientalia Bohemica

The long distance contacts of medieval Bohemia with respect to the Silk Road
An interdisciplinary working group attached to the Oriental Institute in Prague, the Czech Republic, has been set up with the aim of studying the oriental material found in Bohemia and the contacts between medieval Bohemia and the east, through Silk Road contacts. The group comprises researchers from the Oriental Institute (East Asia, Ancient Near East and India), the Archaeological Institute, the Institute for Classical Studies and the Museum of Applied Arts. The Group is headed by Petr Charvát.

Further details are available from:

Vladimír Liscák
Oriental Institute
Academy of Sciences
Pod Vodárenskou Vezí 4
CZ 182 08, Praha 8-Liben
tel: 02 6605 2412
fax: 02 689 7260

Silk Books from Turfan?

Enquiry from a textile restorer

Silk Books from Turfan?

The Turfan collection is one of the main collections in the Museum of Indian Art in Berlin. Apart from wall paintings, sculptures and manuscripts dated 2nd to 14th centuries A.D., the collection includes several hundred textiles. These were found during the four German Turfan expeditions (1904–1914) and taken to Berlin.

A textile restorer is currently investigating eight high quality painted silk textiles in the shape of book pages which belong together. The upper section bears an illustration and title followed by text in Manichaean script written within margin lines. A fragment of thread has been discovered running through two holes and which therefore seems to be basting thread. Is it possible that the objects in question are pages of a bound silk book in codex form?

Any information on silk books, bibliographical sources, the manufacture of silk and the methods used to prevent fraying are very welcome. Please contact:

Dr Mariaane Yaldiz
Museum für Indische Kunst
Takustr. 40
D-14195 BERLIN

Oriental Information Centre

An Oriental Information Centre (OIC) has been established in Moscow to unite the efforts of scholars working in the academic, educational and cultural centres of the former-USSR, Western Europe and North America on developing oriental databases and using and developing information technologies, with the eventual aim of creating a mutual information disicpline in the field of oriental studies.

The scholars working at OIC have prepared several hypertext multilingual databases using the originally created shell 'SIGNORIS'. Among these are:

OIC produces a magazine, EurAsian InerNet, available in printed and electronic form. OIC is ready to co-operate with everyone willing to work towards its aims and looks forward to hearing from you.


The Circle of Inner Asia Art and Archaeology, based at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, offers a monthly lecture series held at 6pm on Wednesdays in room B102 in the Brunei Gallery (opposite SOAS main building). The following lectures will take place in the new year. January 22: Chinese Pilgrim Monks and Inner Asia Monasteries by Dr Mary Stewart February 26: Aksura: Ancient Capital of Bannu by Mr Robert Knox March 12 or 19: to be announced, Professor Boris Stavisky

For further details look at the CIAA web site or contact:-

Dept. of Art & Archaeology SOAS
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square,
London WC1H OXG
fax: +44 171 436 3844
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