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Dunhuang Studies Conference. Detailed Account Print E-mail
28/01/2010

Prof Dr Irina POPOVA,
Institute of Oriental Manuscripts,
Russian Academy of Sciences

REPORT on the
“International Conference Dunhuang Studies: prospects and problems for the coming second century of research September 3-5, 2009, St. Petersburg, Russia”


The International Conference Dunhuang Studies: prospects and problems for the coming second century of research was held on September 3-5, 2009, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the premises of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences (hereafter referred to as IOM RAS). The Conference was organized in cooperation with the International Liaison Committee for Dunhuang Studies, and sponsored by Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, Russian Foundation for Humanities, and Dunhuang Academy (China).

The main scholarly aim of the Conference was to discuss the important problems of the Dunhuang studies at the present stage, giving priority to the textual and philological research of primary sources.

For a century after the legendary discovery of the cave library in Mogaoku (Gansu, China) in 1900 by Wang Yuanlu, the Dunhuang studies developed into an independent field of research with its own historical background, resources and patterns. The investigation into the Dunhuang documents and art objects dispersed over museums and libraries worldwide started in the early 1900's with primary cataloguing, investigation, and analysis of the basic sources. Work with the Dunhuang legacy deeply influenced the course of all aspects of research relating to the medieval period of history in China and gave tremendous impetus for the development of Sinology in Japan and European countries (France, Great Britain, Germany and Russia). Scholars of every country keeping the Dunhuang collections contributed to the development of this immensely important branch of learning. The Dunhuang studies from an early stage required genuine collaboration of the international academic community. Outstanding scholars of the past, such as Luo Zhenyu, Wang Guowei, Paul Pelliot, Naito Torajiro, Kano Naoki, Aurel Stein, and Sergey Oldenburg gave us bright examples of such research cooperation.

The study of the Dunhuang manuscripts and art during the past hundred years has led to a remarkable breakthrough in the understanding of medieval Chinese history, society, literature, religion and culture. Due to the efforts of generations of scholars, who started in the 1900's with the preliminary publication of the most important manuscripts and brief inventories of the collections, by the beginning of the 21st century a large number of systematic catalogues, bibliographies, text-critical editions and general works were published. The Dunhuang manuscripts in world collections have become much more accessible after the biggest part of them (including British, French, Russian and some minor collections from China) were published in facsimile edition and in on-line archives (including thousands of high-resolution images published by the International Dunhuang Project). In this way, the documents became more available for the researchers and much more secure. These magnificent achievements established a solid base for the development of Dunhuang studies for the coming second century of research. Simultaneously, the strategy of the past decades, which was aimed at the mass publication of sources, required much academic responsibility of the scholars involved in the field. At the moment, the new research environment is aiming to rethink the academic targets and use newfound, effective patterns for the comprehensive scrutiny and study of its sources.

The emphasis for the Dunhuang studies in the early 2000's for the new term is to pursue thorough research of the material already available and to make full access to the whole existing corpus of Dunhuang sources along with its modern complete catalogue. Some minor parts of the Dunhuang and Central Asian collections preserved in Europe and China are still not restored and not inventoried in a satisfactory way. Some of them, especially tiny fragments, are still not published. The descriptive catalogues published in the 20th century in Japan, Great Britain, France, Russia and China are profound, but not entirely complete, and require revising for corrections and additions; manuscript catalogue data should be provided with more extensive information; the descriptive entries are set up and modeled from the best catalogues, but still need edification by scholars in live debates. The academic results achieved on the basis of the study of concrete material, such as the Buddhist and secular manuscripts and art items, led to tremendous findings, but at the same time, the variety and complicated character of the Dunhuang material sometimes led to a narrow specialization of the disciplines developed within the field recently. Such a situation is the inevitable result of deep analyses of the unique and specific material, but at the same time the scholars, who are thinking about the continuation of the traditions of Chinese and Dunhuang studies in their countries in the future perspective should be aware of these possible limitations. The academic exchange in the Dunhuang studies has become more active within the last decades because of the much more open character of the world community and the expansion of IT innovations, but regarding the interrelations of the research schools and of the international scholarly traditions, there still is a variety of problems and questions to be decided. In the last few years there has been a problem of preserving the national schools of academic research in Chinese pre-modern studies (based on deep research of the written, original sources), across the world, especially in European countries. Therefore, it is hoped that the possibilities of academic exchange and mobility of international scholars will contribute in solving this problem in a more effective way.

The above mentioned problems determined the topics to be discussed by the Conference: 1. The significance of Dunhuang studies for the research of China and Central Asia. New academic prospects, avenues and methods. 2. Dunhuang written sources on the history, society, culture and religion of China and Central Asia. 3. Patterns for research, publication, comment and translation of Dunhuang manuscripts. Textual studies, critical analysis of sources, paleography. 4. Turfan and Central Asian written sources. Results of recent studies. 5. Prospects and problems of cataloguing and conservation. Database experience, virtual archives. 6. Dunhuang art and archeology. 7. The history of Dunhuang studies: expeditions, archives, collections.

The Conference was organized by the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences, (former Asiatic Museum and St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies), which is keeping the entire Dunhuang manuscripts collection of Russia (apart from art items kept in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). Founded in 1818, IOM became the first special academic unit for the research of Asia and for the custody of valuable books and rarities from Asia, collected in Russia. Now IOM is keeping one of 3-4 most prominent libraries on Eastern Studies outside of Asia. This collection includes the manuscripts, early printed books, and block-prints, totaling approximately 100000 items in 65 living and dead languages. Among the IOM’s holdings there are also rich Dunhuang, Turfan and Central Asian manuscript collections, including the largest collection of Tangut manuscripts in the world. Almost all the researchers of Duhuang, Turfan and Tangut (Xi Xia) Studies in Russia were or still are affiliated with the IOM. Among the purposes of the Conference was to display the vast collections held in St. Petersburg, including manuscripts, artifacts, and expedition documents from the Archives of Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Geographic Society and some other museums and institutions. The large scaled exhibition Caves of Thousand Buddhas held by IOM in cooperation with the Hermitage Museum in December 2008 – April 2009, in addition to the manuscripts and artifacts from St. Petersburg collections, presented the murals from A. Grünwedel’s collection, moved from Germany in 1945 and never before exhibited. This collection was first open to the public in 2008, and it was also intended to be visited by the participants of the Conference.

The preparation for the Conference started in March 2008, when the Special meeting was held in Kyoto by the Project Director with the Specialists on Dunhuang Studies from Japan, Taiwan, and mainland China, and the executive members of the International Liaison Committee for Dunhuang Studies. The first letter distributing information about the Conference was circulated in September 2009; in June 2009 the second circular was sent out. The Conference sessions took place on 3-5 September, 2009, at the premises of IOM in the Novo-Mikhailovsky Palace, St. Petersburg.

Among the Conference participants there were the researchers from China and Taiwan, Japan, Europe, and USA. On the plenary meeting the welcome and introduction speeches were presented, and keynote speaker Professor Vladimir Myasnikov (Russian Academy of Sciences) gave a talk on The Study of the Dunhuang complex: past, present, perspectives for the future. The speaker summarized the basic results of the study of Central Asia by the Russian scholars and gave an outline of the history of Dunhuang, Turfan and Tangut studies in Russia. After that, 2 parallel sessions started their work. One of them was devoted to the study of Chinese literature discoved in Dunhuang, and the other – to Tangut studies. Professor Yang Xiuqing (Dunhuang Academy, China) touched upon an important problem of intertwining of the people’s beliefs with some Buddhist ideas in China under the Tang and Song dynasties. Professor Cheng A-tsai (Nanhua University, Taiwan) devoted his speech A Compilation of Source Materials and Realistic Reconstruction of Buddhism Expositions in Dunhuang to different traditions of the Buddhist sutra expositions by referencing Dunhuang literature, existing Buddhist literary sources, Tang dynasty literary works, Dunhuang frescoes, and Buddhist relics from the Mogao caves. Professor Chu Feng-yu (National Chiayi University, Taiwan) in her report From Biography, Epic, Didactical to Romance Histories — On Han Dynasty Stories in Dunhuang Oral Literature described the transformation of the popular narrative genres in ancient and medieval China. The emphasis was placed on the Dunhuang bian-wen narratives concerned with biographical stories of the Han Dynasty. Professor Takata Tokio (Kyoto University, Japan) in his report Varieties of the Chinese North Western Dialect of the Tang and Song characterized 4 main groups of sources, which made it possible to reconstruct the dialect: Chinese texts written in Tibetan and Khotanese phonetic scripts; Uighur phonetic glosses of 9th -14th centuries; Tangut-Chinese and Sino-Tibetan materials.

The parallel session discussed the problems of Tangut studies. After the discovery of the dead city of Khara-Khoto by P.K. Kozlov in 1909, the Chinese scholars extensively continued the exploration of the region and in doing so, discovered a large number of manuscripts in Tangut and Chinese. Professor Du Jianlu (Ningxia University, China) presented the results of this work, and announced that the total number of Chinese fragments collected from Khara-Khoto in China numbers 4000. Professor Kirill Solonin (Foguang University, Taiwan) analyzed some Chan Buddhist manuscripts from the St. Petersburg Tangut collection, which enabled him to reconstruct the main Buddhist ideas, predominate in the Tangut State in 10th-13th centuries. Professor Nie Hongyin (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) conducted research on the volume of manuscripts under Tang No. 2630 in a running script from the Tangut collection of the IOM RAS, and proved it to be a translation draft from the 100th volume of the Chinese medical work Taiping Shenghui Fang 太平圣惠方, compiled by the order of Northern Song authorities at the end of the 10th century. The paper of Professor Deng Wenkuan (Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, China), The Importance of Dunhuang and Khara-Khoto Calendars from Russian Collection for the Research of Printing Technique, was devoted to the study of a calendar from the Russian Dunhuang collection (Дx. 2880), dated 834 A.D., which made the speaker able to put the precise chronology of embossing printing 34 years earlier than it was presumed before.

Two sessions of the Conference were devoted to the studies of the non-Buddhist manuscripts from the St. Petersburg Dunhuang collection. Professor Feng Peihong (Lanzhou University, China) made a report about the judicial document Дx. 1335 from the Russian Collection, Professor Wang San-ching (National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan) presented his study of three categories of Dunhuang literary manuscripts lei-shu(類書), shu-yi(書儀)and zhai-yuan-wen(齋願文本), collected in Russia. Dr Chou Hsi-po (National Chiayi University, Taiwan) introduced some untitled Taoist manuscripts from Dunhuang, Professor Irina Popova (IOM RAS) presented the results of the study of Chinese financial documents from Dunhuang kept in the IOM’s ‘Serindia’ collection, acquired by S.F. Oldenburg. Professor Sun Jimin (Hebei Academy of Social Sciences, China) analyzed the Chinese documents on military administration from the St. Petersburg Tangut collection. Professor Zhao Heping (Beijing Technical University, China) reported about the fragments of the Thirteen Classics, discoved in Dunhuang. Professor Zhou Bokan (Foguang University, Taiwan) compared the Buddhist texts of Huayan school from Dunhuang with the “Stone Texts” from Fangshan. Dr Tsuji Masahiro (Kyoto University, Japan) gave a report on the judicial texts from Russian Dunhuang and Turfan collections and introduced some newly identified documents.

Presentations of parallel sections were devoted to the Tangut and Uighur textual studies and Tangut art. Professor Sun Bojun (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) reported about commentaries to the original Tangut poems A Collection of Virtuousness and Resourcefulness; Dr Tai Chung Pui (University of Hong Kong) presented the results of his work on the reconstruction of the Tangut fragments of Aparimitayur-jnana-nama-mahayana-sūtra, which he had discovered in the St. Petersburg and Beijing collections. Ph. D. candidate Wang Peipei (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) reported on the comparative study of the Tangut text of the Weimojie Sūtra of the Russian, Chinese and British collections. Presentations by Dr Kira Samosyuk (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) and Dr Meng Sihui (Gugong Museum, Beijing) were devoted to the comparison of the style of the Xi-Xia and Yuan Dynasty caves of Dunhuang and Yulinku with the analogous materials from the Khara-Khoto collection of the Hermitage Museum.

The session on the Uighur studies discussed the results of the study of the documents in Uighur language from Dunhuang and Turfan. At the turn of 20th century, German expeditions headed by A. Grünwedel and A. Le Coq made excavations in Turfan and brought back to Berlin the immense collection of Uighur texts, which is now the main academic resource for the Turfan studies reseachers of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Germany). Professor Peter Zieme (BBAW) in his presentation summarized the results of the recent studies of the Uighur texts which are known only from Dunhuang and Turfan, in particular the famous Old Turkic translation of the Sogdian Xwastwanift, several Buddhist texts, like a Wutaishanzan, some Night watch songs, the Jataka of the Good and the Bad Prince, etc. Dr Abdurishid Yakup (BBAW) presented the results of his study of Old Uighur versions of the Fu-Vajracchedika. Dr Matsui Dai (Hirosaki University, Japan) analyzed the Dunhuang Uighur fragments of almanac divination from the collections of the East Asian Library of Princeton University and of the Dunhuang Academy, China. Dr Simone-Christiane Rashmann (BBAW) gave a survey of the Old Turkish fragments of The Scripture on the Ten Kings (十王經Shiwang jing) from the collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts in St. Petersburg and related fragments from the Berlin Turfan collections at the Museum of Indian Art and the BBAW. Dr Liliya Tugusheva (IOM RAS) analyzed the proper names in the early medieval Uighur civil documents from Xinjiang. Professor Sergej Klyashtornyj (IOM RAS) discussed the Old Turkic Book on Divination from Dunhuang as a phenomenon of Serindian Culture. The speaker found out, that the majority of its novels go back to the same folklore epic root in the repertoire of Old Turkic literature.

The greater part of the Dunhuang library consists of Buddhist texts, which have their specifics and at the same time share the common traits with the Buddhist texts from other regions. Some of the Conference presentations dealt with textual and philosophical comparative studies. Professor Frédéric Girard (École Française d’Extrême-Orient, France) spoke about the significance of the Dunhuang manuscripts on the conceptional studies of the Treatise on the Act of Faith in the Great Vehicle (Dasheng qixinlun). Professor Kuo Liying (École Française d’Extrême-Orient, France) presented the results of her study of Foding zunsheng tuoluoni jing (頂尊勝陀羅尼經, Sūtra on the Dhāranī of Buddha’s head-summit victory), which existed in Dunhuang in many copies. Dr Margarita Vorobyova- Desyatovskaya (IOM RAS) in her report Dunhuang Written Sources of the Buddhist manuscript Vajracchedica Sūtra drew conclusions about the wide dissemination of Vajracchedica-sutra in Dunhuang. Professor Hyun Heangja (Kansai University, Japan) presented some recent results on identifying the fragments of the Buddhist content, published in vol. 11-17 of Dunhuang Manuscripts Collected in Russia. Professor Zhang Yongquan (Zhejiang University, China) identified more than ten fragments from the Russian collection as parts of the Buddhist Dictionary Defang-guang-fohua-yan-jing, translated by Shicha-nantuo.

Another parallel session was devoted to the study of the Tibetan texts from Dunhuang. Dr Iwao Kazushi (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Japan) reported about the activities of the a scriptorium established by the authorities in Dunhuang in the time of Tibetan rule (786-848) to copy the Buddhist texts in both Tibetan and Chinese. The speaker analyzed the codicological features of the sutras copied in the scriptorium: Aparimitāyur-nāma Sūtra (in Chinese and Tibetan), the Śatasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (in Tibetan) and Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (in Chinese). Dr Yan Tingliang (Gansu Academy of Social Sciences, China) made a conclusion that under the reign of Tibetans, Chinese literature did not lose its dominant position in the entire Dunhuang region. Instead, it preserved the patterns of the early Tang Dynasty, and the original Tibetan literature did not replace the traditional Chinese literature and never occupied the dominant position. Dr Alexander Zorin (IOM RAS) gave an overview of the collection of Tibetan scrolls from Dunhuang kept at the IOM RAS, which consists of 216 items (204 of which contain Aparimitayurjnyanasūtra, and 10 Hridayasūtra). Dr Yang Fuxue (Dunhuang Academy, China) added some new details on the activities of Mahāyāna, a Chinese monk, who the end of the 8th century was invited by the ruler of the Tibetan Empire to propagate the Chan Buddhism at the Tibetan royal court. Professor Evgeniy Kychanov (IOM RAS) analyzed the chapters of the Tangut Code dealing with the administration of the border regions in Xi-Xia State. The speaker proved that the economic, trade and religious life in Dunhuang under the Tangut rule still remained very active.

One of the Conference sessions was devoted to the study of the liturgical manuscripts from Dunhuang. Professor Stephen Teiser (Princeton University, USA) discussed the literary form of the ritual texts and drew on paleography, codicology, social history, and religious studies to understand the relationship between the surviving artifacts and medieval social life. Dr Chen Huaiyu (Arizona State University, USA) analyzed different Buddhist traditions of the invocation ritual from the Western Regions, Tibet, and Central China encountered in Dunhuang. Dr Wei Yingchun (Lanzhou University, China) presented results of her study of the changes in the Buddhist commandments in Dunhuang under foreign rulers. Dr Kasai Yukiyo (BBAW, Germany) shed new light on the transmission of the commentary on the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-Sūtra in Dunhuang and Turfan. Dr Isabella Gurevich (IOM RAS) analyzed the manuscripts of vernacular literature from Dunhuang as source-material for studies of the historical grammar of the Tang epoch.

Valuable data of ethnographic character was presented in the papers analyzing the images of the Dunhuang murals. Professor Chai Jianhong (Zhonghua Book Company, China) presented the pictorial and figurative sources for the study of athletic sports and festival culture in ancient and medieval China. Dr Li Jinmei (Lanzhou University of Science and Technology, China) delivered a paper about the images of whirling dance on ball in Dunhuang. Some Conference presentations were devoted to the study of documents representing the administrative, military and legislative practice, and daily life in ancient and medieval Dunhuang. Dr Wu Liyu (Institute of History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) highlighted the importance of official record-keeping and local document exchange in Dunhuang. Dr Nagata Tomoyuki (Kyoto University, Japan) compared the shu-yi 書儀 texts from Dunhuang with the analogous material of ancient Japan. Professor Gao Qi-an (Lanzhou University, China) focused on the Dunhuang documents on cattle-breeding.

Among the Dunhuang materials there are documents, which give important, new information about the cultural and international exchange in the region. Dr Sakajiri Akihiro (Osaka University, Japan) described the character of the relationship between nomadic and oases-sedentary people as seen from the Dunhuang manuscripts. Dr Wang Ding (University of Hamburg, Germany) touched upon the phenomenon of use of “barbarian” names by the Chinese people. Dr Xu Quansheng (Fudan University, China) focused on the origin of families from Central Asia in the villages of Gaochang area. Professor Zheng Binglin (Lanzhou University, China) in his report A study of Communications between Qiang and Hu Nationalities during late Tang, Five and Early Song Dynasties stated that the most important communications in the Western Regions at that time were functioning because they were controlled by the non-Chinese tribes. Dr Akagi Takatoshi (Osaka University, Japan) reconstructed the matrimonial diplomacy and the lineage of the Cao family of the 10th Century in Dunhuang.

One of the Conference subthemes was the history of Dunhuang and Turfan art. The report of Dr Lin Jen-Yu (National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan) was devoted to a study of the Buddha's Mother sūtra 佛母經 and of the related literary and art tradition in Dunhuang. Ph. D. Candidate Zhang Huiming (École Pratique des Hautes Études, France) analyzed the art items of the State Hermitage collection, representing iconography on the Suvarņaprabhāsa Sūtra, discovered in Bezekelik Caves by Oldenburg’s expedition. Dr Liu Hui-Ping (National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan) introduced the elements of Chinese myths in the Buddhist art, primarily depictions of the sun and moon in Dunhuang murals. Dr Pai Shih-ming (National Taiwan Normal University) discussed the iconography of the bird and flower motifs in Tang China and its West Asian origin. Dr Zhang Xiantang (Dunhuang Academy,China) presented new genealogical information about the big and well-known families, which played an important role in the cave-making in Mogao in the period from the 4th century to the 14th century. Dr Nicolai Pchelin (State Hermitage Museum, Russia) reported about exotic images of lions and leopards on the murals from Turfan. Dr Yu Xin (Fudan University, China) presented the results of his comparative study on the specific cuneiform wooden figurines discovered along the Silk Road in sites near Dunhuang, Turfan, Juyan, South Siberia and Nara. The textual explanations of the mural paintings and the attitude differences between the visual art image and text became the subject of the presentation of Professor Yamabe Nobuyoshi (Tokyo University of Agriculture, Japan), who explored the Guanjing bianxiang, focusing on the item Дх 316 from the State Hermitage Museum collection.

One of the Conference sessions was devoted to the study of the history of the explorations in Dunhuang and other sites of Xinjiang. Despite the fact that in the early 1900's no results of the Western expeditions were published, the scientists strove to work in close contact. Professor Wang Jiqing (Lanzhou University, China) presented some previously unknown facts, which he had discovered in the process of the study of the correspondence between S.F. Oldenburg and M.A. Stein deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Dr Cordula Gumbrecht (Berlin State Library, Germany) informed the audience about the unknown documents from the Chinese and German archives on the activities of the German expeditions to Chinese Central Asia. Professor Zhu Yuqi (Xinjiang Normal University, China) and Professor Ochiai Toshinori (International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, Japan) reported about the studies of the Chinese scholars Xu Song and Li Sheng-duo in the region at the turn of 20 century. Dr Imre Galambos (British Library) spoke about the first Chinese translation of Aurel Stein’s First Expedition report undertaken in 1901 and commissioned by Rao Yingqi, the Governor of Xinjiang.

Professor Hao Chunwen(Capital Normal University, China)gave a talk on the study of some ritual manuscripts from British Dunhuang collection. Professor Desmond Durkin-Meisterrenst (BBAW, Germany) made an overview of recent and ongoing work on the Sogdian part of the Berlin Turfan collection, informed the audience about the work of cataloging the Sogdian texts, talked about the Sogdian texts in the Berlin collection that have recently been published or are in the press, and announced plans to publish all of the Sogdian texts in the Berlin Collection. He also gave a brief report on the current state of the work on the Sogdian part of the Manichaean Dictionary project. Professor Enami Kazuyuki (Ryukoku University, Japan) presented the results of his study on the Dunhuang and Turfan paper structure. The physical, chemical, botanical and mathematical analysis of morphology of paper revealed the origin of old Chinese and Central Asian paper samples brought by the Otani expedition from Dunhuang, Turfan, and other Central Asian regions.

The main focus of the submitted papers was devoted to the study of manuscripts. The papers on history, literature and religion, etc, were based on philological methods. It is worth mentioning that a large number of the papers were connected with the study of Dunhuang materials kept in Russia. The problems with the cataloguing and digitalization of databases were also actively discussed, as these problems are central to the new term Dunhuang studies of the recently started century of research. Some papers submitted by the Conference went beyond the Dunhuang studies and were devoted to the Tangut, Tufan, Uighur and Central Asian studies. The remarkable results of Central Asian Studies related to Dunhuanology are always encouraging, and promote very interesting generalizations on history, ethnology, and historical geography of Central Asia. Some papers summarized research on the subjects of the history and culture of pre-modern Central Asia in general. As per decision of the participants, the Conference proceedings will be published.

Last Updated ( 31/01/2010 )
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