Dunhuang Research Academy

Updated: May 12, 2023 Print
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Dunhuang Research Academy

Address: Eastern slope of Mingsha Mountain, Dunhuang, Jiuquan, Gansu province
Websites: (En)
8:00-18:00, 1 May- 31 October
9:00-17:30, 1 November- 30 April(no entry after 16:00)
Ticket booking:
General admission: 180 yuan (includes foreign language tour), 1 May- 31 October
90 yuan (includes foreign language tour), 1 November- 30 April


In 366 AD, a monk named Lezun visitedMingsha Mountain (the Echoing Sand Mountain) in Gansu province at dusk. The setting sun lit up the mountains, making it look as if there were thousands of Buddhas twinkling in the golden light. The monk believed that it was the manifestation of the Buddha Light, and that this was the holy place of the Buddha. Monk Lezun stayed and built a cave on the cliff to start his Buddhist practice. After that, from the 4th century to the 14th century, thousands of people came here to donate money to open caves.

This has led to the formation of today’s Mogao Caves, also known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas, a world heritage site recognized in 1987 representing the culture of ancient China. In order to protect the site’s treasures, the Dunhuang Research Academy was established in 1944. Originally named the National Research Institute on Dunhuang Art, the academy is a national comprehensive institution responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of the site, as well as the preservation and research of the Mogao Grottoes, the Yulin Grottoes, and the Western Thousand-Buddha Grottoes located in and around the Dunhuang area. Visiting the Mogao Caveswould be preceded by a visit to the Mogao Cave Digital Center, where introductory films are shown. The following cave tour is guided by docents from the academy. Each of the docents leads a group of two dozen visitors. Typically the tour covers10 caves, including regular ones and a few others randomly chosen by the docent.

The cave art in Dunhuang and manuscripts discovered in the Library Cave provide the world with rich resources for studying the religion, history, geography, politics, economics, art, literature, technology, folk customs, costumes, and astronomy of China and Central Asia.

A total of 735 caves (492 of which contain artwork) have been identified in the Mogao Caves, with 45,000 square meters of murals and 2,415 stucco statues being discovered.In 1941, Chinese painter Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) arrived at the site and began work on repairing and copying the murals. He exhibited and published his copies in 1943, which elevated the Mogao artworks to national prominence. This turned the Mogao Caves into a unique art gallery in the desert.

More than 50,000 manuscripts, written or painted between the 4th and the 11th centuries, were found in the Library Cave in 1900.Ninety percent of them are relics from religions that were important at the time, including Buddhism, Daoism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and Nestorianism. In addition to Chinese, they were also written in Tubo (Tibetan), Khotanese, Sanskrit, Uighur, Sogdian, Turkic, Kuchean, and others. These precious treasures provide a wealth of information on the social conditions in ancient China and Central Asia and are therefore recognized as an “encyclopedia of the medieval period”.


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