Guardians of Dunhuang

By Wu Chaolan, Gao Ge (People's Daily Online) 09:53, November 05, 2021

Centuries ago, the ancient Silk Road, stretching from China to the Mediterranean Sea, was buzzing with ambitious merchants, devout monks, and eloquent missionaries trekking across regions and carrying goods and ideas between different civilizations. Situated at the gateway of the northern and southern routes of the ancient Silk Road, Dunhuang was a blazing beacon for weary travelers, and became the place where the East met the West.

The hustle and bustle of the Silk Road turned the city into a vibrant hub of exchanges that was home to a mesh of cultures. The Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most famous depositaries of the multifaceted Dunhuang culture, featuring the unique fusion of Eastern and Western cultures.

For decades, this ancient Silk Road city has attracted countless people dedicated to protecting the precious testament of the past and making sure its thousand-year-old art lives on. Thanks to these guardians, Dunhuang is still shining its charm on the modern age. People's Daily Online interviewed six people from different backgrounds, sharing their stories of guarding the Dunhuang.

(People's Daily Online/Lin Shanshan)

Liu Tao, a cultural relics conservation expert at Dunhuang Academy, has been restoring the murals and sculptures of the Mogao Grottoes for more than 35 years. Liu compares his job to that of a doctor, diagnosing the culprits that caused the dilapidation and finding ways to treat them.

For Liu, undertaking a conservation project is like holding a conversation with cultural relics from thousands of years ago. "We grasp the beauty and culture of these exquisite murals while restoring them," said Chen. "Then we pass on their value to future generations through our finished work."

Liu and his colleagues have to stay in caves for nearly seven hours a day to do their work. Compared to office jobs, the working environment for this profession is very demanding, as the temperature in the dark caves is much lower than the outside. Even in the scorching summer, Liu has to wear a padded jacket when he is inside the caves. Despite this, Liu feels lucky to do this job.

"Not everyone has the chance to restore these thousand-year-old cultural relics. It is laborious and challenging, but it gives me a strong sense of accomplishment," said Liu. "When I appreciate the murals we restored, I feel that our efforts have paid off."

Inspired by his father, Liu's son fell in love with Dunhuang culture and became an art restorer. "We can only repair a small fraction of this cultural vault. The grand conservation project takes a long time and needs generations of effort," said Liu.


(Web editor: Wu Chaolan, Liang Jun)


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