Western Thousand Buddha Caves

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Western Thousand Buddha Caves
W1000BuddhaCaves Cave 7 w wall (Northern Wei).jpg
Celestial figures above serial Buddhas in the Thousand Buddha tradition, west wall, Cave 7 (Northern Wei); the ritual practice of foming (佛名), or naming the Buddhas, may lie behind such representations (names appear on the white labels beside each figure in the lower two tiers)[1][2]
Chinese 西千佛洞

The Western Thousand Buddha Caves (Chinese: 西; pinyin: Xī Qiānfó Dòng) is a Buddhist cave temple site in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China. The site is located approximately 35 km southwest of the urban centre and about the same distance from the Yangguan Pass; the area served as a staging post for travellers on the Silk Road.[3] It is the western counterpart of the Mogao Caves, also known as the "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas" after the founding monk Yuezun's vision in 366 of "golden radiance in the form of a thousand Buddhas".[4] The caves were excavated from the cliff that runs along the north bank of the Dang River. A number have been lost to floods and collapse; some forty are still extant. Twenty-two decorated caves house 34 polychrome statues and 800 m2 of wall paintings, dating from the Northern Wei to the late-Yuan and early-Ming Dynasties (sixth to fourteenth centuries).[3] The site was included within the 1961 designation of the Mogao Caves as a Major National Historical and Cultural Site.[5]


Pelliot examining manuscripts in the Library Cave at Mogao

A manuscript from the Library Cave, dating to the Five Dynasties and now at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, documents the early history of the site (P 5034): according to the Domain Record of Shazhou Dudu Prefecture – Shouchang County, "60 li east of the county is a very old inscription that says 'Han Dynasty… made a small Buddha niche; the common people gradually built more'".[3][6][7] Since Shouchang County, modern Nanhu[disambiguation needed] Village, is the location of the Yangguan Pass along the Hexi Corridor, it is understood that this is a reference to the origins of the Western Thousand Buddha Caves.[3]

The decorated caves are in three main sections: Caves 1–19 at the west end of the cliff, approximately one kilometre from the modern reservoir; Cave 20 in the middle of the site, near the second floodgate; and Caves 21 and 22 at the eastern end of the cliff.[3] Most of the sculptures were restored in a different style during the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China.[3] The caves at the western end of the site have had aluminium doors and glass partitions installed more recently with the intention of mitigating the environmental causes of deterioration.[3] Some of the paintings at the far east end of the site, distant from the custodians' lodgings, have been detached and remounted in a cave at Mogao.[3] The ruined state of the main Buddha image in Northern Wei Cave 7 enables the construction techniques to be seen: layers of earthen render over an armature of branches and reeds.[8] The loss of upper paint layers also reveals the linear grid used to set out the design of the Thousand Buddhas on the cave walls.[9]

List of caves[edit]

The twenty-two caves are dated as follows, based largely on the style of the paintings and their accompanying inscriptions:[10]

Cave Construction Restorations Former Numbering Image
Cave 1 Five Dynasties C1
Cave 2 (date unclear) C2
Cave 3 Tang (date unclear), Republic of China C3
Cave 4 Sui Tang, (date unclear), Republic of China C3b
Cave 5 Early Tang (date unclear) C4
Cave 7 Northern Wei Western Wei, Qing C5
Cave 8 Northern Zhou Sui C5b
Cave 9 Western Wei Northern Zhou, Sui, early Tang, (date unclear), Qing C6
Cave 10 Sui Tang C7
Cave 11 Northern Zhou Sui, Tang, (date unclear), Republic of China C8
Cave 12 Northern Zhou Sui, Tang, (date unclear), Republic of China C9
Cave 13 Northern Zhou C10
Cave 14 Early Tang Five Dynasties C11
Cave 15 Sui Tang, (date unclear) C12
Cave 16 Late Tang Five Dynasties, Song, (date unclear), Republic of China C13
Cave 17 Late Tang C14
Cave 18 (date unclear) Mid-Tang, Five Dynasties C15
Cave 19 Northern Zhou Five Dynasties C16
Cave 20 Yuan C17
Cave 21 Ming C18
Cave 22 Northern Wei C19

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 39°58′37″N 94°22′0″E / 39.97694°N 94.36667°E / 39.97694; 94.36667


  1. ^ Abe, Stanley K. (1989). Mogao Cave 254: a case study in early Chinese Buddhist art (PhD dissertation). University of California, Berkeley. 
  2. ^ De Visser, M. W (1935). Ancient Buddhism in Japan, I. Brill. pp. 377–93. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Zhang Xuerong, ed. (1998). 敦煌西千佛洞石窟 [Dunhuang Western Thousand Buddha Caves] (in Chinese, English, and Japanese). 甘肃人民美术出版社. pp. 4–5. ISBN 9787805882314. 
  4. ^ Whitfield, Roderick (et al.) (2000). Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road. Getty Conservation Institute. pp. 5, 9. ISBN 0892365854. 
  5. ^ "国务院关于公布第一批全国重点文物保护单位名单的通知 (1st Designations)" (in Chinese). State Administration of Cultural Heritage. 3 April 1961. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "French Collections". International Dunhuang Project. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "Pelliot Manuscript 5034". Bibliothèque nationale de France. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  8. ^ 西千佛洞第7窟 [Western Thousand Buddha Caves – Cave 7] (in Chinese). Dunhuang Academy. Retrieved 28 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Fraser, Sarah Elizabeth (2003). Performing the Visual: The Practice of Buddhist Wall Painting in China and Central Asia. Stanford University Press. p. 104. ISBN 9780804745338. 
  10. ^ Dunhuang Academy, ed. (1997). 安西榆林窟 [Anxi Yulin Caves] (in Chinese). 文物出版社. pp. 264–268. ISBN 7501007748. 

External links[edit]