Dunhuang ( listen (help·info)) is a county-level city in
Gansu Province, Western China. The 2000 Chinese census
reported a population of 187,578 in this city.
Dunhuang was a major
stop on the ancient
Silk Road and is best known for the nearby Mogao
Caves. It has also been known at times as Shazhou and, in Uyghur,
Dunhuang is situated in a oasis containing Crescent Lake and Mingsha
Shan (鸣沙山, meaning "Singing-Sand Mountain"), named after the
sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon.
Dunhuang commands a strategic position at the crossroads of the
Silk Route and the main road leading from India via
Mongolia and Southern Siberia, as well as controlling the
entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which led straight to the heart
of the north Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Chang'an
(today known as Xi'an) and Luoyang.
Administratively, the county-level city of
Dunhuang is part of the
prefecture-level city of Jiuquan.
2.2 Other historical sites
2.4 Night market
5 See also
9 External links
The ruins of a
Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) Chinese watchtower made
of rammed earth at Dunhuang.
There is evidence of habitation in the area as early as 2,000 BC,
possibly by people recorded as the Qiang in Chinese history. Its name
was also mentioned in relation to the homeland of the
Yuezhi in the
Records of the Grand Historian. Some have argued that this may refer
to the unrelated toponym
Dunhong – the archaeologist Lin Meicun has
also suggested that Dunhuan may be a Chinese name for the Tukhara, a
people widely believed to be a Central Asian offshoot of the
By the third century BC, the area became dominated by the Xiongnu, but
came under Chinese rule during the
Han Dynasty after Emperor Wu
Xiongnu in 121 BC.
Dunhuang was one of the four frontier garrison towns (along with
Zhangye and Wuwei) established by the Emperor Wu after the
defeat of the Xiongnu, and the Chinese built fortifications at
Dunhuang and sent settlers there. The name Dunhuang, meaning "Blazing
Beacon", refers to the beacons lit to warn of attacks by marauding
Dunhuang Commandery was probably established shortly
after 104 BC. Located in the western end of the
Hexi Corridor near
the historic junction of the Northern and Southern Silk Roads,
Dunhuang was a town of military importance.
"The Great Wall was extended to Dunhuang, and a line of fortified
beacon towers stretched westwards into the desert. By the second
Dunhuang had a population of more than 76,000 and was a key
supply base for caravans that passed through the city: those setting
out for the arduous trek across the desert loaded up with water and
food supplies, and others arriving from the west gratefully looked
upon the mirage-like sight of Dunhuang's walls, which signified safety
Dunhuang prospered on the heavy flow of traffic. The
Buddhist caves in the
Dunhuang area were hewn in 353."
White Horse Pagoda, Dunhuang
During the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, it was the main
stop of communication between ancient
China and the rest of the world
and a major hub of commerce of the Silk Road.
Dunhuang was the
intersection city of all three main silk routes(north, central, south)
during this time.
From the West also came early
Buddhist monks who had arrived in China
by the first century AD, and a sizable
Buddhist community eventually
developed in Dunhuang. The caves carved out by the monks, originally
used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage
Mogao Caves or "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas." A number
of Christian, Jewish, and
Manichaean artifacts have also been found in
the caves (see for example Jesus Sutras), testimony to the wide
variety of people who made their way along the Silk Road.
During the time of the Sixteen Kingdoms,
Li Gao established the
Western Liang here in 400 AD. In 405 the capital of the Western Liang
was moved from
Dunhuang to Jiuquan. In 421 the Western Liang was
conquered by the Northern Liang.
Tang Period (618-907)
Buddhist sutra fragment from Dunhuang
As a frontier town,
Dunhuang was fought over and occupied at various
times by non-Han people. After the fall of
Han Dynasty it came under
the rule of various nomadic tribes, such as the
Northern Liang and the Turkic
Tuoba during Northern Wei. The Tibetans
Dunhuang when the Tang empire became weakened considerably
after the An Lushan Rebellion; and even though it was later returned
to Tang rule, it was under quasi-autonomous rule by the local general
Zhang Yichao who expelled the Tibetans in 848. After the fall of Tang,
Zhang's family formed the Kingdom of Golden Mountain in 910, but in
911 it came under the influence of the Uighurs. The Zhangs were
succeeded by the Cao family who formed alliances with the Uighurs and
the Kingdom of Khotan. During the Song Dynasty,
Dunhuang fell outside
the Chinese borders. In 1036 the Tanguts who founded the Xi Xia
Dynasty captured Dunhuang. From the reconquest of 848 to about 1036
(i.e. era of the Guiyi Circuit),
Dunhuang was a multicultural entrepot
that contained one of the largest ethnic Sogdian communities in China
following the An Lushan Rebellion. The Sogdians were Sinified to some
extent and were bilingual in Chinese and Sogdian. Their documents in
Chinese characters were written horizontally from left to right, the
same way the
Sogdian alphabet is read, instead of vertical line (or
right to left if horizontal) that Chinese was normally written at the
Dunhuang was conquered in 1227 by the
Mongols who sacked and destroyed
the town, and the rebuilt town became part of the Mongol Empire in the
wake of Kublai Khan' s conquest of
China under the Yuan Dynasty.
Dunhuang went into a steep decline after the Chinese trade with the
outside world became dominated by Southern sea-routes, and the Silk
Road was officially abandoned during the Ming Dynasty. It was occupied
again by the Tibetans c. 1516, and also came under the influence of
Chagatai Khanate in the early sixteenth century. It was
China two centuries later c. 1715 during the Qing Dynasty,
and the present-day city of
Dunhuang was established east of the
ruined old city in 1725.
Dunhuang classical dance
Today, the site is an important tourist attraction and the subject of
an ongoing archaeological project. A large number of manuscripts and
artifacts retrieved at
Dunhuang have been digitized and made publicly
available via the International
Dunhuang Project. The expansion of
the Kumtag Desert, which is resulting from long-standing overgrazing
of surrounding lands, has reached the edges of the city.
In 2011 satellite images showing huge structures in the desert near
Dunhuang surfaced online and caused a brief media stir.
Main article: Mogao Caves
A number of
Buddhist cave sites are located in the
Dunhuang area, the
most important of these is the
Mogao Caves which is located 25 km
(16 mi) southeast of Dunhuang. There are 735 caves in Mogao, and
the caves in Mogao are particularly noted for their
as well as the hoard of manuscripts, the
Dunhuang manuscripts, found
hidden in a sealed-up cave. Many of these caves were covered with
murals and contain many
Buddhist statues. Discoveries continue to be
found in the caves, including excerpts from a Christian
to the Yuan Dynasty.
Buddhist cave sites are located in the region,
including the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, the Eastern Thousands
Buddha Caves, and the Five Temple site. The
Yulin Caves are located
further east in Guazhou County.
Other historical sites
The Yumen Pass, built in 111 BC, located 90 km (56 mi)
Dunhuang in the Gobi desert.
White Horse Pagoda
These rammed earth ruins of a granary in Hecang Fortress (Chinese:
河仓城； Pinyin: Hécāngchéng), located ~11 km (7 miles)
northeast of the Western-Han-era Yumen Pass, were built during the
Western Han (202 BC - 9 AD) and significantly rebuilt during the
Western Jin (280-316 AD).
Dunhuang County Museum
Dunhuang Night Market is a night market held on the main thoroughfare,
Dong Dajie, in the city centre of Dunhuang, popular with tourists
during the summer months. Many souvenir items are sold, including such
typical items as jade, jewelry, scrolls, hangings, small sculptures,
leather shows puppets, coins, Tibetan horns and Buddha statues. A
sizable number of members of China's ethnic minorities engage in
business at these markets. A Central Asian dessert or sweet is also
sold, consisting of a large, sweet confection made with nuts and dried
fruit, sliced into the portion desired by the customer.
Dunhuang has a cold desert climate (Köppen BWk), with an annual total
precipitation of 67 millimetres (2.64 in), the majority of which
occurs in summer; precipitation occurs only in trace amounts and
quickly evaporates. Winters are long and cold, with a 24-hour
average temperature of −8.3 °C (17.1 °F) in January,
while summers are hot, with a July average of 24.6 °C
(76.3 °F); the annual mean is 9.48 °C (49.1 °F). The
diurnal temperature variation averages 16.1 °C (29.0 °F)
annually. With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 69% in
March to 82% in October, the city receives 3,258 hours of bright
sunshine annually, making it one of the sunniest nationwide.
Climate data for
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Average precipitation mm (inches)
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)
Average relative humidity (%)
Mean monthly sunshine hours
Percent possible sunshine
China Meteorological Administration
Dunhuang train station
Dunhuang is served by
China National Highway 215 and
A railway branch known as the
Dunhuang Railway (敦煌铁路) or the
Liudun Railway (柳敦铁路), constructed in 2004-2006, connects
Dunhuang with the Liugou Station on the
Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway (in
Guazhou County). There is regular passenger service on the line, with
overnight trains from
Lanzhou and Xi'an. Dunhuang
Station is located northeast of town, near the airport.
There are plans to extend the railway from
Dunhuang further south into
Dunhuang to Yinmaxia (near Golmud) on the Qingzang
Railway. Construction work on this Golmud–
Dunhuang Railway started
in October 2012, and is expected to be completed in 5 years.
Three hares (as a decorative motif)
Major National Historical and Cultural Sites (Gansu)
Dunhuang Star Chart
The Singing Sand Dunes on the eastern edge of the
Kumtag Desert near
Sculpture in Dunhuang, after a mural in Mogao Caves, depicting an
Apsara playing the pipa behind her back (Chinese:
Mogao Caves, a.k.a.
^ a b Cable and French (1943), p. 41.
^ Skrine (1926), p. 117.
^ Lovell (2006), pp. 74-75.
^ Lin Meicun (1998 ), The Western Regions of the Han–Tang Dynasties
and the Chinese Civilization [
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^ Bonavia (2004), p. 162.
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^ "The International
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^ "Ancient Chinese town on front lines of desertification battle, AFP,
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^ "Odd patterns in Chinese desert? Spy satellite targets.,
Dunhuang Mogao caves art museum
^ Syrian Language "Holy Bible" Discovered in
^ Wang Xudang, Li Zuixiong, and Zhang Lu (2010). "Condition,
Conservation, and Reinforcement of the
Yumen Pass and Hecang Earthen
Ruins Near Dunhuang", in Neville Agnew (ed), Conservation of Ancient
Sites on the Silk Road: Proceedings of the Second International
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Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, J. Paul Getty Trust.
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^ China. Eye Witness Travel Guides. p. 494.
Dunhuang Climate − Best time to visit". Retrieved
Dunhuang Train Schedule (in Chinese)
^ 格尔木至敦煌铁路开工, Renmin Tielu Bao, 2012-10-20
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dunhuang.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Dunhuang.
International Dunhuang Project
International Dunhuang Project - includes tens of thousands of
digitised manuscripts and paintings from Dunhuang, along with
historical photographs and archival material
British Museum: A Christian figure, ink and colours on a fragment of
silk from Dunhuang
Dunhuang Collection at the British Museum[permanent dead link]
Dunhuang at the British Museum (accessed 30 Jan 2018)
Qianfodong at the British Museum (accessed 30 Jan 2018)
Dunhuang Collection at the National Museum of India
Silk Road Seattle. USA: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for
the Humanities, University of Washington.
County-level divisions of
Kuangshan Administrative Area
* Not a formal administrative subdivision
Zhangjiachuan Hui Autonomous County
Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County
Sunan Yugur Autonomous County
Subei Mongol Autonomous County
Aksai Kazakh Autonomous County
Dongxiang Autonomous County
Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County
BNF: cb119630224 (d