Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang city of China to inspect cultural relics protection and research work. Some Indian friends may have heard about Dunhuang, but not many know about its unique beauty, history and culture. Here I wish to share with you stories about the Dunhuang that I know.
Dunhuang is a land that has gone through vicissitudes of history with ancient legacies and magic beauty. Around 2,000 years ago, a Chinese geographer of the Eastern Han dynasty Ying Shao said: “Dun, means grand; Huang, means splendid.” Therefore Dunhuang means the land of grand splendour. Historical changes over the millennium shaped the magnificent landscape of this frontier region west of China’s Gansu province and left colourful and gorgeous cultural treasures.
The Mogao Grottoes, located in a desert oasis surrounded by water and mountain, have stood quietly for over 1,650 years and become the most abundant and exquisite Buddhist art relics in China and beyond. Mogao Grottoes are a treasure house of art, architecture, sculpture and painting with 735 grottoes, over 45,000 square meters of murals and 2,000 painted sculptures. These works of art are exquisitely crafted, with unique craftsmanship, vivid charm, and combination of form and spirit. Like an amazing and colourful movement, they tell a beautiful and touching legend of magic charm lasting thousand years.
Dunhuang is a witness to interactions and mutual learning between China and India, two ancient civilisations. The Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang remind me of Ajanta Caves and Elora Caves in India, which I visited before. All being world-famous, the murals and Buddha figures in these caves tell the historical and cultural ties between Chinese and Indian civilisations, and witness the light of inter-civilisational exchanges and mutual learning.
Indian-style sculptures can be seen in the Mogao Grottoes built during the 4th to 6th centuries. The moves of the most commonly seen Apsara figure in Dunhuang murals are similar to those in Indian classical dances. Dunhuang also keeps many ancient Buddhist sutras written in Sanskrit and Pattra-Leaf Scripture, a wealth of information for China-India cultural exchanges.
Convergence of cultures
Dunhuang is a classical example of convergence of Oriental and Western civilisations. President Xi Jinping said that Dunhuang is an important hub where Oriental culture met the Western culture in history, and different cultures met and mingled here, shaping the unique charm of Dunhuang culture. The rich and colourful painted sculptures and murals in the Mogao Grottoes absorb the strength of ancient Eastern and Western art. The splendid Dunhuang culture is a fusion of the best of cultures of various nations. Ji Xianlin, a master scholar on culture in China, said that there are only four cultural systems in the world with long history, vast territory, self-contained system and far-reaching influence, i.e. Chinese, Indian, Greek and Islamic, and these four cultural systems converge in Dunhuang and Xinjiang of China.
Being an important hub city, Dunhuang is known as the “Pearl on the Silk Road”. For thousands of years, envoys and officials, merchants and caravans, monks and scholars, capital and technology, integrated and communicated through this silk road, nourishing the development and prosperity of countries along the route.
China and India have also developed close economic, trade and cultural exchanges along the ancient Silk Road of both land and sea. China’s paper making, silk, porcelain and tea were introduced to India, while Indian singing and dancing, astronomy, architecture and spices were introduced to China, which became the historical witness of the mutual exchanges between the two sides. Zhang Qian was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Western Regions. Zheng He sailed to the Western Ocean seven times and visited India six times. Xuan Zang, Kumarajiva, Bodhidharma and other great monks made the expeditions by crossing over mountains and sailing the deep sea. All of them left touching stories.
Road of friendship
The Silk Road is not only a road of trade, but also a road of friendship and mutual learning among civilisations. It will certainly further promote the deep inter-connectivity and cultural exchanges between countries along the route. The Silk Road spirit is about openness, exchanges and inclusiveness. It reveals the truth that there will be no progress without openness, no development without exchanges and no strength without inclusiveness. Facing challenges of today’s world, we should draw wisdom from the history of the Silk Road, unleash strength from the win-win cooperation today, and create a bright future of common development.
Not long ago, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar co-chaired the second meeting of China-India High Level People-to-People (P2P) and Cultural Exchanges Mechanism in Beijing. The mechanism was set up under the joint initiative of President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since the first meeting, bilateral people-to-people and cultural exchanges and cooperation have seen a fresh boom. At this meeting, China and India agree to host more colourful P2P and cultural events, work for new progress in P2P and cultural exchanges and consolidate the popular support for the sound development of China-India relations.
In the long course of history, China and India, two ancient oriental civilisations, have engaged in exchanges and mutual learning, created two vigorous and charming civilisations, and made great contributions to the development of human civilisation. In the new era, China and India should also adhere to inclusiveness and resolve differences through building common ground. We should transcend civilisation barriers through exchanges, rise above “civilisation conflicts” by mutual learning, and overcome the sense of superiority by promoting coexistence of civilisations. Let’s polish the ancient “Pearl on the Silk Road” Dunhuang, paint a new picture of dialogue and harmony and write a new chapter of mutual respect and harmonious coexistence between Chinese and Indian civilisations.
Sun Weidong is the Chinese Ambassador to India