His­tor­i­cal Re­grets

Vision Magazine - - Destinations -

The Mo­gao Caves is a Bud­dhist sa­cred site, yet in­ter­est­ingly enough the turn of events led a Taoist to make great con­tri­bu­tions to the preser­va­tions of Sakya­muni’s teach­ings.

Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, a poor Taoist monk named Wang Yuanlu was wan­der­ing Shan­wei Moun­tain when he stum­bled upon the de­serted Mo­gao caves. Hum­bled by his dis­cov­ery of such a mag­nif­i­cent cre­ation, he ap­pointed him­self guardian of the caves, de­vot­ing the rest of his life to the pro­tec­tion and repa­ra­tion of the sa­cred site.

In 1900, as Wang Yuanlu set out clean­ing and re­pair­ing the caves, he stum­bled into a hid­den square cache sized 2.6 me­ters wide and deep and 3 me­ters high con­cealed be­hind the north wall of a cor­ri­dor. Be­hind the wall he dis­cov­ered a trove con­tain­ing scores of cul­tural relics span­ning from the time of the Six­teen King­doms to the Song Dy­nasty (4th to 11th cen­tury). Over 50,000 ar­ti­facts in­clud­ing his­tor­i­cal texts, manuscripts, an­cient in­stru­ments, pa­per paint­ings, silk paint­ings, em­broi­deries and tex­tiles lay hid­den in the trove Re­clin­ing Bud­dha in cave 148, sec­ond largest re­clin­ing fig­ure in Mo­gao from sight for cen­turies. This was known as the li­brary cave.

In a bid to pro­tect th­ese pre­cious relics, Wang Yunlu re­peat­edly in­formed the Qing gov­ern­ment of his dis­cov­ery, even writ­ing to Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi. How­ever due the Im­pe­rial court’s pre-oc­cu­pa­tion with po­lit­i­cal tur­moil at the time, his calls fell on deaf ears. As word of Wang Yunlu’s dis­cov­ery spread to the West, the dis­cov­ery caught the at­ten­tion of many Western ar­chae­ol­o­gists and ex­plor­ers, who used treach­er­ous means to ac­quire large amounts of the ex­pan­sive col­lec­tion from the hon­est Wang Yunlu. Ma­jor­ity of the pre­cious con­tents of the li­brary cave are now scat­tered through­out the globe un­der 30 in­sti­tu­tions and pri­vate own­er­ship across 13 coun­tries in­clud­ing Bri­tain, France, Ja­pan and Rus­sia. Only 8,757 pieces re­mained in China and are now archived at the Im­pe­rial Li­brary of Pek­ing

The short-sighted and derelict gov­ern­ment at the time was un­able to pro­tect China’s na­tional trea­sur­ers at the Mo­gao Caves. The loss of th­ese pre­cious relics to var­i­ous other coun­tries marked a great na­tional tragedy.

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