Weekly Current Affairs

Digitising data on ‘stolen’ Buddhist relics [Art & Culture]

  • Chinese authorities are engaged in a major international effort to digitally accumulate information on priceless cultural treasures of Buddhist caves in Dunhuang — murals, statues and manuscripts — that were taken away by Western expeditions and ended up mostly in museums of Europe, Asia and U.S.
  • Most of the artworks, controversially removed from the iconic Mogao caves, hewn out of imposing sandstone cliffs, found their way in different museums.
  • Dunhuang Buddhist caves , housing 2,000 painted sculptures and half a million square feet of wall paintings, are in Gobi desert, junction of ancient Silk Road.
  • The Silk Road snaked between Xian in China, and Rome, passing through treacherous terrain of deserts and mountains.
  • The Chinese accuse five "treasure hunters" of Serindian art — the Hungarian born Aurel Stein who later took British nationality; Paul Pelliot of France; Otani Kozui of Japan; Russia’s Sergei Oldenburg and Langdon Warner from the United States — as mainly responsible for the "great steal" from the Dunhuang caves.
  • More than a century after Stein’s arrival in Dunhuang in 1907, a major collaborative effort to ‘reunite’ information on the treasures of the Dunhuang caves has commenced. The Dunhuang Academy is a major fulcrum of the International Dunhuang Project (IDP).
  • This enterprise aims to unite information on “all these artefacts through the highest quality digital photography by coordinating international teams of conservators, cataloguers and researchers”. The National Museum in New Delhi is a founding member of the IDP.