Dunhuang: Buddhist Art and Explorers of the Silk Road

June 30, 2020

Strategically located at the convergence of the ancient northern and southern trade routes on the edge of the Taklamakan desert in northwestern China, the oasis town of Dunhuang served as a gateway and nexus for trade between China and Central Asia. Goods, along with art, languages, religions, and ideas, flowed through Dunhuang and spurred the creation of a cluster of cave temple sites. This lecture focused on the caves at Dunhuang, recognized today as one of the world’s richest repositories of Buddhist art and texts, and twentieth-century explorers who, by virtue of their surveys, helped shape the study of Buddhist art.

Study Leader Dora C. Y. Ching *11 is Associate Director of the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. She is a specialist in East Asian art, and her scholarship engages in questions of identity and function in portraiture, the interplay of aesthetics and literati culture in calligraphy, and the transmission of art and ideas along the Silk Road. Before and during her time at the Tang Center, she has been deeply engaged in book editing and publication, with more than a dozen books to her credit as co-editor or managing editor. She is the author of numerous book chapters and articles and has co-curated three major museum exhibitions. Her current project focuses on the Buddhist caves in Dunhuang in northwest China and the historic Lo Archive of 1940s photographs of the site, culminating in a nine-volume publication. She has taught courses on portraiture and the Silk Road and is developing an art history course on sacred sites in Asia. She has conducted research trips to Japan in the past and is eager to explore again traditional “sacred sites” and their modern architectural and artistic equivalents.


James C. Lo Workshop. Parable of the Illusory City. Artistic rendering, 1958 –63. Detail. Ink and color on paper 69 × 127.1 cm. After wall painting in Mogao Cave 217 (High Tang, 704–781), south wall, west side. Princeton University Art Museum, Gift of Lucy L. Lo (2012-138).