The archaeological sites of eastern Central Asia (comprising primarily the modern Chinese provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang) have provided some of the most important sources for the study of Asian history, religion, and material culture. In terms of textual material, the most important single site is the Buddhist cave complex at Dunhuang, known as Mogao or Qianfodung (thousand-buddha caves). It was here that a small cave shrine was discovered in 1900, filled with manuscripts. The latest dated manuscripts in the cave are from the early 11th century, suggesting that the cave was sealed soon after this time. The earliest manuscript dates from the late 4th century. The Dunhuang cave, often referred to as the “Library Cave” or “Cave 17” after the number assigned to it by M. A. Stein, is the largest single manuscript find in China, yielding some 60,000 manuscript items by the last count (along with some 300 paintings). The largest group of manuscripts contains Chinese texts. The second largest group is Tibetan, and there are also smaller groups of Khotanese, Turkic, Sanskrit, and Sogdian texts. The subject matter of the manuscripts is quite varied. Though the collection is primarily a Buddhist one, secular manuscripts, such as letters and contracts, are also present, along with a minority of manuscripts representing other religions, including Daoism, Manichaeism, and the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. Because of this range of languages and the wide variety of subject matter, the secondary literature on the Dunhuang texts covers a number of academic fields. This introductory bibliography covers the primary fields of inquiry, but it represents only a fraction of the available publications.
There are many general books on the Mogao cave site at Dunhuang, but most of these are devoted to the wall paintings. One of the most recent and well researched of these is Fan 2010, which also contains an essay by Susan Whitfield of the contents of Cave 17. Though available only in Chinese, Rong Xinjiang 2001 is a solid historical overview of Dunhuang texts. On the unresolved issue of the original function of Cave 17, see Stein 1921 for the original “sacred waste” theory; Rong Xinjiang 2000 contains a well-argued theory that the cave served as storage for the librarian of a local monastery. Huntington 1986 and Imaeda 2008 emphasize the function of the cave as a funerary shrine for the abbot Hongbian. On the discovery of the cave and the sale of the manuscripts to foreign explorers, see Pelliot 1908, Stein 1921, and Hopkirk 2006. On the contemporary museum and library collections, see the website of the International Dunhuang Project (cited under Bibliographies).
Fan, Jinshi. The Caves of Dunhuang. Edited and translated by Susan Whitfield. Hong Kong: London Editions, 2010.
This beautifully produced volume is concerned primarily with the cave paintings at the Dunhuang sites, but is also a very good introduction to the history of the cave site, and it contains a chapter on the contents of Cave 17.
Hopkirk, Peter. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia. London: John Murray, 2006.
Written for a general audience, this remains the best introduction to the exploration of the Silk Road in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the discovery and dispersal of the Dunhuang cave collection. Originally published in 1980.
Huntington, John C. “A Note on Dunhuang Cave 17, ‘The Library,’ or Hong Bian’s Reliquary Chamber.” Ars Orientalis 16 (1986): 93–101.
An interesting discussion of the function of Cave 17 and the date of its sealing, arguing that the cave may have been sealed much later than is usually thought.
Imaeda Yoshiro. “The Provenance and Character of the Dunhuang Documents.” Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko 66 (2008): 81–102.
A recent and very useful single overview of Cave 17, including why it was created, how it was used, and why it was sealed.
Pelliot, Paul. “Une bibliothèque medievale retrouvé au Kan-sou.” Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 8 (1908): 500–529.
Pelliot’s report, in the form of a letter from China, explains his initial findings at Cave 17.
Rong Xinjiang. “The Nature of the Dunhuang Library Cave and the Reasons for Its Sealing.” Cahiers d‘Extrême-Asie 11 (2000): 247–275.
This influential article argues that the primary use of Cave 17 was as a storeroom for a monastic library during the 10th century.
Rong Xinjiang. Dunhuangxue shiba jiang. Beijing: Beijing University, 2001.
A popular and well-researched introduction to Dunhuang texts, currently available only in Chinese.
Stein, Marc Aurel. Serindia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921.
Stein’s monumental report on his second expedition contains his account of Cave 17, the manuscripts he found there, and how he acquired them.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese