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China Publishes Dunhuang Manuscripts Housed Overseas

Ancient Dunhuang manuscripts housed abroad have been edited and published by the Institute for Overseas National Literature of Northwest Minzu University since 2006. Up till now, 9 manuscripts kept in the British Library and 22 in the National Library of France have been finished, the institute said on April 24, 2018.

Tens of thousands of valuable ancient documents and cultural relics, discovered in the Mogao Grottos in Dunhuang, Gansu province, in the early 20th century, were scattered overseas. Dunhuang manuscripts currently in the British Library and the National Library of France are the most important ancient national documents housed abroad.

Co-edited by Institute for Overseas National Literature of Northwest Minzu University, Shanghai Classics Publishing House, the British Library and the National Library of France, these Dunhuang manuscripts return home in publication form for the first time. The institute is also preparing an online database of the manuscripts.

According to Cai Rang, associate director of the institute, Dunhuang manuscripts scattered overseas in Russia, Britain, France and Japan have rich contents, including Buddhism, law, social contract, history, linguistics and art. The institute has edited and published 31 manuscripts over the past 13 years, but the work has not been finished. It plans to publish 15 from the British Library and over 30 from the National Library of France all together. In addition, it will also publish manuscripts collected by other countries.

“Some manuscripts are hard to read because of the indecipherable words. So we read carefully and understand them by comparing with Buddhism documents handed down from ancient times,” Cai said. “Next, document classification and compilation will be our key work for further research.”

The work done by the institute is helpful to study the history and culture of Tubo (present-day Tibet) during the period of 8th to 11th century and the history of national cultural exchanges at that time.