Wang Yuanlu

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Wang Yuanlu
A black-and-white picture of an elderly Chinese man in front of a building
Wang Yuanlu
OccupationTaoist priest
Known forDiscovery of Dunhuang manuscripts

Wang Yuanlu (simplified Chinese: 王圆箓; traditional Chinese: 王圓籙; pinyin: Wáng Yuánlù; c. 1849 – 1931) was a Taoist priest and abbot of the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang during the early 20th century. He is credited with the discovery of the Dunhuang manuscripts. He engaged in the restoration of the site which he funded with the sale of numerous manuscripts to Western and Japanese explorers.


Wang Yuanlu was an itinerant monk, originally from the Shanxi province.[1] He was active from the late 19th to the early 20th century.[2]

He was a self-appointed caretaker of the Dunhuang cave complex and a self-styled Taoist priest.[3]

He died in 1931 at the Mogao Grottoes.[4]

Involvement with Dunhuang manuscripts[edit]

When engaging in an amateur restoration of statues and paintings in what is now known as Cave 16, Wang noticed a hidden door which opened into another cave, later named Cave 17 or the "Library Cave". Therein he found the as yet undiscovered cache of thousands of ancient manuscripts, many of which related to early Chinese Buddhism.[5]

He first spoke of the manuscripts to the local officials, in an attempt to gain funding for their conservation.[6] The officials ordered to reseal the cave, in preparation for their transportation, preservation and study.[5] He would also later sell numerous manuscripts to archaeologist Aurel Stein, who took a largely random selection of the works. Later Paul Pelliot would come to purchase what may be considered the most valuable among them. Because of his involvement in the discovery and sale of the Dunhuang manuscripts to Westerners for a fraction of their value (£220 in 1907), Wang is both "revered and reviled".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IDP Chinese Collections". IDP: International Dunhuang Project. 11 December 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  2. ^ Higham, Charles F.W. (2008). Encyclopedia of ancient Asian civilizations. New York: Facts On File. p. 369. ISBN 9781438109961.
  3. ^ Paragraph 1 in Neil Schmid "Tun-huang Literature", chapter 48 in Mair 2001.
  4. ^ Jiqing, Wang (2007). "Aurel Stein's Dealings with Wang Yuanlu and Chinese Officials in Dunhuang in 1907" (PDF). International Dunhuang Project News 30: 1–6. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Winchester, S (2009-04-28). The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. HarperCollins. pp. 136–8. ISBN 978-0-06-088461-1.
  6. ^ "Sacred Texts: Ashem Vohu". British Library. Retrieved November 24, 2010.

Cited works[edit]

External links[edit]