International Dunhuang Project

IDP News Issue No. 43

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Issue No. 43, Spring 2014

This enlarged edition of IDP News celebrates our 20th anniversary. In it we remember the beginnings and international growth of IDP and celebrate our many collaborations illustrated with pictures from the archives. IDP’s partners and friends have selected a few of their favourite items and have met together for celebratory events over the past six months. This is also an opportunity to thank our many supporters who have made our success possible.

Two printed folios from an edition of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit, with Chinese transcriptions, found in the Tangut city of Karakhoto. Seishi Karashima suggests that the Sanskrit has been reconstructed from the Chinese transcription, resulting in errors. The document is currently on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery of the British Library along with the Diamond Sutra and an early printed almanac from Dunhuang (see IDP20 Events for details). The British Library, Or.12380/3500

IDP — Beginnings

Abraham S-T Lue

In 1993 I was the European Representative of a Hong Kong foundation that supported postdoctoral fellowships for Chinese scholars to Britain through the Royal Society and the British Academy. Fellows were required to submit a report to me at the end of their visit. One of the earliest British Academy fellows was Professor Ning Ke of the History Department, Beijing Normal University. His report was entitled ‘Non-Buddhist manuscripts from Dunhuang in the British Library Collection’. His host was Dr Frances Wood, Head of the Chinese Section at the British Library (BL).

Delegates at the 1993 Inaugural Conference of IDP. From l to r. Mark Barnard, Andrew Thompson, Monique Cohen, S. P. Singh, David French, Frances Wood, Graham Shaw, Abraham Lue, [unidentified], Adaline Ko, [unidentified], Derek Priest, Tatiana Pang, Thomas Scheider-Jappe, Du Weisheng, Nadia Brovenko, Anne Thomas, Lev Menshikov, [unidentified], Simone-Christiane Raschmann, John Winter, Astrid-Christiane Brandt, Peter Lawson, Kenneth Seddon, Anna-Grethe Rischel, Kumiko Matsuoka.
Photographer: Beth McKillop. The British Library, Photo 1280/1(2).

Now, as a Chinese, I had of course heard of the discoveries in the early part of the twentieth century of manuscripts and artefacts in the desert caves of Dunhuang in Gansu province. I had also seen photographs of the remarkable cave paintings depicting Buddhist devotion. I had vaguely heard of the name ‘Sir Aurel Stein’, but truth to tell, I knew no more than that these treasures dated from the Tang dynasty, and that they illustrated the civilization of the people who inhabited that trade route we call ‘The Silk Road’. Ning Ke’s report intrigued me, and I resolved to find out more about the collection that ended up at the BL. Dr Wood very kindly arranged a tour of the collections for me at their Orbit House offices in Southwark, on the Blackfriars Road in London.

I must admit that I felt scandalized to learn that the bulk of Stein’s collection, taken out of China from 1901 to 1916, had lain almost intact in the BL for several decades without any significant work being done to make these works widely available to scholars. To me they had the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for they contained the secrets of hundreds of years of civilization, commerce and life on the Silk Road. Dr Wood was not short of ideas, but the BL was without the wherewithal to initiate any research on this material. Instead its efforts were directed to conservation. In most cases, this meant stabilizing the rolled up manuscripts in the form they were discovered. Then of course, there was the matter of study of their contents and making them available to interested scholars. I thought that a pilot project was needed to show what could be accomplished. It was a resource that was valuable not just to China, but was in fact of world heritage importance. China in the Tang dynasty was reaching out to the rest of the world and the Silk Road was the route of these links.

Frances Wood estimated a pilot project would cost £25,000, spread over five years. This would be sufficiently substantial to reveal the richness and importance of the Dunhuang legacy, and act as a catalyst to attract the funding for a more permanent programme. To most scientists in the experimental sciences, the sum of money mentioned was small potatoes in the context of cyclotrons and rocket science. To researchers in the humanities, however, it was a substantial sum and not readily available to scholars based at the BL. But I had my contacts, and I encouraged Frances Wood to proceed with her plan, and I would undertake to seek out the wherewithal.

Dr Elizabeth Frankland-Moore was an indomitable lady of great energy and determination. I met her through her interest in supporting Chinese scientists to study in the United Kingdom. She was the Chairman of the Sino-British Fellowship Trust (SBFT), an organization founded by her late husband, Dr Charles Frankland-Moore, with Lady Isobel Cripps (wife of the then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps), and others to help the Chinese in their war effort in the Second World War. She had the distinction of meeting Mao Tse-tung, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, as well as Chiang Kai-shek, when she made the perilous and bumpy flight over the Himalayas from Burma to Yunnan with urgently needed medical supplies. After the war the resources of the SBFT was directed at training Chinese nurses and medical staff, as well as scientists, from China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. As it happens, her late husband had been an engineering student at King’s College London, which gave us a rapport from the start. ‘Dr Elizabeth’, as she was generally known, was a great supporter of research done through the auspices of the Royal Society, particularly in the medical field. However, she had absolutely no inkling of the British Academy, nor indeed of the BL and their work. Her response to my request to support the Dunhuang initiative was immediate: ‘If you say it is important, then I will support it’. She undertook to place the proposal to her board of trustees at the first opportunity. And that was how the international initiative was conceived.

Happily, Dr Elizabeth’s ignorance of the British Academy and the BL was soon overcome, and the SBFT continues to support not just IDP but many other projects with a China connection.

Frances Wood’s consultations within the BL resulted in a proposal by Peter Lawson of their Conservation Department that a conference should be held to bring together interested parties from all over the world. Peter Lawson undertook all the organizing, and the conference theme was ‘Dunhuang ­— Cave 17’. It is quite astonishing to observe that this was the first meeting of its kind where curators and conservators from all the countries with substantial collections of Dunhuang material could assemble and exchange notes and share their experiences and initiatives. The conference took place at the University of Sussex in the UK over three days in October 1993. I decided to sponsor this inaugural conference, and augmented my funds with a bursary from the Ko Ho Ning Memorial Trust, which is my wife Adaline’s family charitable trust named after her grandfather. There was further funding forthcoming from the British Council and the British Academy.

Although the emphasis was on Chinese Buddhist documents on paper from the celebrated ‘Cave 17’ at Dunhuang, in fact the interest was over a broader spectrum of material from the entire Chinese Central Asia region. The participants came from all the major holding institutions and included scientists (see photograph above). Adaline and I were interested parties together with Dr Brian Lang, BL Director.

The conference was a great success as it highlighted the many problems facing conservators over the many decades and there was great candour in relating the errors made in conservation efforts. We were particularly pleased that the conference gave the opportunity for people to meet for the first time, though most were known to each other by reputation. It was a rare chance for us to meet Professors Yuri Petrosyan and Lev Menshikov from St Petersburg. It was resolved that the participants should work together on standards for preservation and access: hence IDP was born.

Dr Lue talks about his role with IDP.
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Monique Cohen, Director of the Oriental Department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, immediately invited us to meet again in February 1996, which we duly attended at Chantilly near Paris. Since then there have been IDP meetings in Stockholm, Beijing, Berlin, Kyoto, St Petersburg, and elsewhere, and even, recently, in Dunhuang itself. After the inaugural conference, Graham Shaw, who was Deputy Director, Oriental and India Office Collection of the BL, and Frances Wood and Peter Lawson decided that the IDP should have a steering group, and I was invited to be its Chairman.

The primary objective of the project was to establish the full extent of the documentary legacy from Dunhuang and other Central Asian sites and to share that information through the development of an international database. Another crucial aim was to develop new techniques for the preservation of the original documents through close collaboration with research chemists and paper technologists, and to share this knowledge through a network of interested parties. We also intended to promote common standards of preservation methods and documentation, and through the publication of a newsletter we would publicize advances in the general area of Dunhuang studies. IDP got off to a fabulous start when Dr Susan Whitfield was appointed as coordinator.

IDP is now significantly international in its scope, and it has been fortunate in obtaining substantial support from many sources, in Britain and from abroad (see our list of supporters). In terms of international academic diplomacy, IDP could not be more profound. Its remit was not to be restricted to scholarly research and conservation, for it was of paramount importance that knowledge was shared and ready access to the material was provided. Making images and articles available online was one step. These high resolution images accessible to all on the internet meant that scholars no longer had to travel long distances to view their favourite manuscripts. Another step involved the provision of learning material to schools in China, the UK and elsewhere. Susan Whitfield curated the British Library’s 2004 exhibition, ‘The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith’ which was a phenomenal success — visitor attendance exceeded that of any previous exhibition at the library.

What started out from idle curiosity on my part in 1993 and a determination to make something of this world heritage resource has now grown and developed into a giant of academic and cultural importance spanning the interest of institutions around the world and uniting them in a manner that was only an inkling in my mind twenty years ago.

From Dunhuang Manuscripts to Silk Road Artefacts

Susan Whitfield

In the last issue of IDP News, articles by Frances Wood and Beth McKillop revisited the 1980s when collaborative work by the Chinese Section and the Conservation Team at the British Library (BL), along with colleagues at SOAS and elsewhere, established close links with counterparts in China. This led to ambitious collaborative projects to conserve, photograph, and catalogue the unnumbered fragments of Chinese manuscripts from Dunhuang and to publish in facsimile form all the non-Buddhist Chinese Dunhuang manuscripts in the British Library. These projects transformed access to the collections and led to similar publication initiatives between other holders of Dunhuang material worldwide and Chinese scholars and publishers.

On the previous pages Dr Lue tells how this collaborative vision was broadened in the early 1990s to include other institutional holders of Dunhuang and Turfan manuscripts. This led to the 1993 conference and, in 1994, the establishment of IDP as an international collaboration to share experience and expertise, holding regular conferences and producing a newsletter. A management and cataloguing database was designed for the manuscripts and the first IDP website went live in 1998 with images of 2000 manuscripts.

The National Library of China (NLC) led the way in the internationalisation of IDP. A Memorandum of Understanding was agreed between the NLC and the BL in 2001 and the NLC subsequently launched their Chinese IDP website in 2002. Other institutions followed their example and there are now IDP websites in seven languages hosted by eight institutions. Over twenty institutions are involved in total. IDP’s partners worldwide tell their own stories below.

It was very exciting to be part of this initiative from the start. I had been working part-time in the Library helping with the facsimile volumes since 1992 but in 1994 I was employed on external grant money as a junior curator in the Chinese section to work as IDP coordinator. As well as general curatorial work, my role including preparing the newsletter, organizing bi-annual conservation conferences and exploring the possibility of digitisation and online access.

One of my first concerns was to understand and ensure the documentation on the extent of the collections, both at the British Library and at other institutions worldwide. This proved more difficult than I could have anticipated. Conservation and cataloguing of all the collections was ongoing and there were few electronic lists. The Chinese Dunhuang manuscripts at the British Library were part of the Stein collections, acquired by M. Aurel Stein on his first three expeditions to Chinese Central Asia. The Stein manuscripts from Dunhuang included those in Tibetan and other languages and these were curated by other sections. There were also manuscripts in over fifteen languages and scripts excavated by Stein from scores of archaeological sites in the Lop and Taklamakan deserts, towns and temples of the ancient Silk Road. Other curatorial sections had various existing collaborations to ensure the conservation and cataloguing of this material but there remained much work to do on all the Stein Central Asian collections. Although most were originally part of the British Museum collections and were transferred to the newly-established British Library in 1973, others were originally acquisitioned into the India Office Library. These collections came to the British Library in trust in 1982. The institutions had managed their collections in distinct ways, using different numbering conventions and different methods of conservation and storage. This also proved a challenge.

In 1994 I designed a database to record the data about the collections, their conservation and cataloguing. Although it is now showing its age and we are in the process of switching to OpenSource software — a long-held aim of IDP — the original system continues to be used and serve the data inhouse and online.

The system was designed to hold information about all the Stein manuscripts, not only the Chinese ones from Dunhuang. However, as I continued my own research and helped others with theirs, I found it necessary to consult both the textual and other archaeological material — the paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and the other Chinese Central Asia sites. This material was especially important for research for my book Life Along the Silk Road, published in 1999, and for the British Library 2004 exhibition, ‘The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith.’ Because of its flexible design the database was easily able to accommodate these additional data.

Thus the scope of IDP was expanded to encompass all the archaeological material from Chinese Central Asia. Agreements with the British Museum and the V&A enabled us to include their Stein collections and show textiles, artefacts and manuscripts from the same archaeological site together online. The Musée Guimet, Paris and the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin, have since become partners and we are currently in discussion with The State Hermitage, St Petersburg and the National Museum, New Delhi.

Over the past decade we have also started to enter more data on the archaeological context, creating records for archaeological sites and including some of the archives, maps, plans and photographs taken by the various archaeologists in the early twentieth century. A next step is to start systematic work on digitising the many archives: as Helen Wang remarks in her favourite item, they are phenomenally important.

The aim was always to provide scholars with easy access to high quality images and data on dispersed archaeological material. The growth of the internet has allowed us to have more ambitious aims: to provide additional contextual material to help scholars but also to open the collections to a much wider audience.

As ever, we owe a great debt of thanks both to our users, who have given us the support and suggestions to guide our work over the past twenty years, and to our many donors. All our work is reliant on our raising funds. Greater and sustained funding will enable us to complete all our work more quickly and to make much more of this wonderful material accessible to all worldwide.

Collaboration — IDP Worldwide


IDP China

Established in 1994, the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) has now been going strong for 20 years, providing a service to scholars of Dunhuang and the Silk Road worldwide and a platform for scholarly exchange. International cooperation has always been a defining feature of IDP as it has brought together eight partner institutions in seven countries and many more collaborating institutions worldwide, deepening the academic relationships between them.

The National Library of China (NLC) was the first institution to collaborate with the British Library on this project and to establish an IDP studio. In 1993, Du Weisheng, a conservation expert in the Rare Books Department at the NLC attended the conference held in Sussex, UK. This conference would become known as the inaugural meeting of the International Dunhuang Project (see IDP — Beginnings).

Discussions regarding a collaboration between China and the UK began in 1997 and underwent over three years of negotiation before being submitted to the Chinese Ministry of Culture for approval. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions took place in March 2001. The initial period of collaboration lasted five years, funded by the Sino-British Fellowship Trust, and initiated the digitization of the Dunhuang manuscript collections at NLC. The team made responsible for the implementation of this project was the Dunhuang Manuscripts Group (Dunhuang & Turfan Materials Centre), under the NLC Rare Books Department (now Ancient Books Library). In 2008, the NLC and British Library renewed their agreement and continued their collaboration, starting with the refurbishment of some of the studio equipment.

Through the combined efforts of the NLC and British Library, the IDP database and Chinese-language website hosted by the NLC was launched on 11 November 2002. The server was located at the Information and Networking Department (now the IT department) of NLC, who were responsible for its daily maintenance, while content and translation were the responsibilities of the Dunhuang Manuscripts Group. On 16 November 2012, representatives from the National Library of China, the British Library and the Dunhuang Academy met in Beijing to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the IDP Chinese language site.

The end-to-end digitization of the NLC’s collection of Dunhuang manuscripts has been the primary occupation of the IDP centre at NLC since its foundation. IDP NLC has established its digitisation studio, which currently employs one photographer and two image manipulators. The digitisation work follows a workflow of photographing, manipulating and uploading, with each stage strictly adhering to IDP guidelines in order to maintain the high standards of image quality that all IDP centres are to meet.

As of 7 January 2014, IDP NLC has uploaded a total of 106,422 images, completing the digitisation of over 2,400 documents from its Dunhuang manuscripts collection. While this only amounts to 14.5% of the 16,579 total manuscripts in the collection, if you take into account the length of each manuscript, we estimate that a fifth of the collection has been completed. As this still falls well short of the needs of the academic community, it is clear that manuscript digitisation will remain the primary occupation of IDP NLC for the foreseeable future.

IDP maintains a commitment to the academic and research community, adapting its schedules to the needs of scholars and academic institutions. By prioritising the digitisation of manuscripts urgently required for research, IDP has come some way in trying to resolve the conflict between the speed of digitisation and requests made by the academic community. This is an important initiative in the service provided by IDP and one that has received high praise from scholars. We hope to maintain links with scholars in China and abroad, and do whatever is in our power to meet their needs.

IDP at NLC has managed to enter the majority of manuscript metadata into the database, while also carrying out further digitisation work on Chinese-language catalogues and bibliographic entries for research papers. This information is then displayed alongside the image of the manuscript in the database to serve as a convenient reference for scholars. For example, we have already uploaded copies of such works as Li Yizhou’s Non-Canonical Buddhist Manuscript from the Dunhuang Caves and Huang Yongwu’s A New Catalogue of Dunhuang Manuscripts.

In addition, the collaborative platform of IDP has enabled the National Library of China, the British Library and other institutions jointly to host many events in Beijing for scholarly interaction and exhibition of manuscripts. These have included ‘The Sixth IDP Conservation Conference’ in April 2005, the first symposium under the Ford Foundation project ‘Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road’ in November 2006, ‘Western Eyes: An Exhibition of Historical Photographs of China taken by European Photographers, 1860–1930’ in September 2008 (opening pictured right), and ‘Documenting Dunhuang: Historical Records from the late Qing and Republican Periods’ in October 2012.

Needless to say, in terms of digitisation, there is still much to be done at IDP NLC as we still fall short of the needs and expectations of the academic community of Dunhuang and Turfan scholarship in a number of ways.

In order to increase the rate of digitisation and bring forward our date of completion, we need to renew our equipment, expand the scale of operations and increase the number of staff. We also need to maintain better the database server to enable the search and data retrieval facilities within the database to function more effectively and with greater stability. We are always striving to digitise more catalogue and research papers relating to Dunhuang manuscripts to improve the range of reference material available to our users. Furthermore, by keeping in contact with a broad base of Dunhuang scholars, we hope to provide a more personalised service tailored to their needs. We also hope to expand the IDP network by establishing links with more holding institutions and to organise and attend more academic and educational events so that we can promote Dunhuang research as well as the applications of the IDP database resource.

These are all things we can do to further our development in the future and we hope that people from all walks of life who are interested in Dunhuang and the Silk Road will continue to share with us their advice, guidance and support. In this way, they help us to build a database of richer, more accessible and more comprehensive scholarly resources.


The British Museum, London
The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Agreements were signed with the British Museum and the Chester Beatty Library to digitise Stein and Dunhuang material respectively for inclusion on IDP.


Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC
University of California at Los Angeles
Academia Sinica, Taipei

Agreements were signed with the Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian Institute), Washington DC, UCLA and with the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica, Taipei, to make their Dunhuang material accessible on IDP.


IDP Russia

The vast spaces of Central Asia have been an object of systematic study in Russia since the early nineteenth century. For almost a century, research on the historical sources in Asian languages was combined with the systematic topographic and cartographic surveying in the region. In the 1870s the Russian government also ordered its commissioners to map the ruins of old temples and fortresses and to collect artefacts. As a result the 1893–95 expedition led by V. A. Roborovsky and P. K. Kozlov brought to St Petersburg a number of manuscripts from Turfan. These fragments laid the foundation of the Serindia Collection of the Asiatic Museum, which was founded in 1818 with the aim to collect, study and publish the documents of Asia. Later the Russian diplomats N. F. Petrovsky, S. A. Kolokolov, N. Ya. Krotkov and others contributed greatly to academic research into the region. Due to their efforts, the Serindia Collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM, formerly the Asiatic Museum), The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) now includes 6618 items in Chinese, Uygur, Tocharian, Sanskrit and many other languages and scripts.

In 1910 the Asiatic Museum received the unique written texts in the dead language of Tangut delivered by the expedition led by P. K. Kozlov, who in 1907–09 discovered the ruins of the dead town of Karakhoto in the Gobi Desert. The collection includes 9109 items which still remains the main source for Tangut studies worldwide.

In 1909–10 and 1910–15 the Russian Committee for Middle and Eastern Asian Studies organised two Russian Turkestan Expeditions headed by S. F. Oldenburg to Chinese Central Asia. The goal of the Second Expedition was the archaeological exploration of the Mogao Caves. The manuscripts from the Dunhuang library entered the Asiatic Museum on 1 September 1915 and were studied by V. M. Alekseev, who made a first inventory. In addition to the collection of manuscripts and artefacts, the expedition materials included an extensive archive — documents, descriptions, sketches, tracing-paper copies, photographs, plans and technical drawings. At present they are kept in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg Branch of the Archives of RAS, and the IOM. An important part of the expedition materials were the descriptions of Dunhuang’s caves written by S. F. Oldenburg during the expedition. In addition, all the members of the expedition kept their own diaries.

Study of the manuscripts from the Second Expedition began in 1918, when F. A. Rosenberg published his analysis of two Sogdian fragments of Buddhist content from Dunhuang. Articles by Japanese scholar Kano Naoki appeared in 1929 and 1930 and became the first scholarly publications dealing with the Chinese part of the Second Expedition collection. In 1932 S. Ye. Malov published his study of four Uygur documents of legal content from the collection. In the 1930s K. K. Flug set to work sorting out the Dunhuang collection describing 307 of the most significant manuscripts. His work resulted also in articles on the most important works in the Buddhist and non-Buddhist parts of the collection.

After the Second World War, in 1953 M. P. Volkova (1927–2006) continued work on the inventory of the Dunhuang manuscripts. In February 1957 a small research group headed by L. N. Menshikov began sorting out the manuscripts. The result of its work became the Catalogue of the Russian Dunhuang Collection published in two volumes in 1963 and 1967. Now about 20,000 Chinese, Turkish, Tibetan and Sanskrit fragments are stored in the Dunhuang collection of IOM. And the scholars of the IOM keep on working on the texts and the cataloguing work.

The results of recent research on the manuscripts from Dunhuang and Serindia collections of IOM were published in the monographs by O. M. Chunakova on Manichaean manuscripts (2011) and by L. Yu. Tugusheva on medieval Uighur civil documents (2013). The proceedings of a number of international conferences have also been published.

The IOM signed a MoU with IDP in 2004 and a studio was set up to start work on digitising the manuscripts, starting with the Chinese texts of the Dunhuang collection and later including Tangut material. The IOM hosts a Russian-language version of the website and, although there is much work still to be done, it is hoped that in the future the complete Russian Central Asian collection will be accessible through the IDP website.

IDP Japan

The Otani expeditions refer to the three trips to Central Asia between 1902 and 1914, carried out under the leadership of Count Kozui Otani (1876–1948), the 22nd Abbot of the Nishi Honganji (West Hongan Temple) in Kyoto. The aim of the expeditions was to investigate Buddhist sites and to collect Buddhist manuscripts. The Otani expeditions brought various artefacts, e.g. ancient manuscripts, woodslips, wall paintings, sculptures, silk paintings, textiles, coins, mummies etc., to Japan. The items went to the Temple, but were later moved to Villa Niraku at the foot of the Rokko mountains in Kobe. In 1914, Count Kozui Otani, having taken responsibility for a bribery scandal, resigned as Abbot. As a result, he had difficulties continuing his explorations in Central Asia and his collections were dispersed to China, Korea and Japan.

The largest Otani collection in Japan is held at Ryukoku University. In 1949, a year after the death of Count Kozui Otani, artefacts filling two wooden boxes were found at the Temple. The Temple subsequently donated the Buddhist scriptures and ancient documents among them to Ryukoku University. Beside rare manuscript material, e.g. scrolls, booklets, separate folios and wooden slips, the boxes contained printed documents, silk paintings, textiles, plant specimens, coins, rubbings, and archeological documentation. Together, these 9,000 items came to be known as the Otani collection at Ryukoku University.

Ryukoku University was established in 1639 as a Buddhist seminary called ‘Gakuryo’ (Boarding School) in the precincts of the Temple by its thirteenth Abbot, Ryonyo (1613–62), for the promotion of research and Shin Buddhism education. Ryukoku University is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Japan.

The Digital Archives Research Center, was established at the Seta campus of the University in 2001 to digitise, analyse and investigate rare books with Professor Yoshihiro Okada as its director. In 2003 an IDP Conservation Day was held as part of the conference ‘Cultures of the Silk Road and Modern Science Conference in commemoration of the Otani Mission to Central Asia’. In 2004 IDP Japan opened with the signing of an MoU between IDP and Ryukoku University. Digitisation of the Otani documents started in 2005, and the IDP Japanese-language website was also launched. Digitisation of about 7,000 documents of the Otani collection, most of them fragments from Turfan area, was finished by 2007, and inputting of the digitised data into the IDP database was completed in 2008. In 2009 the Digital Archives Research Center held a conference ‘International Workshop on the History of Colour in Asia’ and in 2010 ‘The International Dunhuang Project Symposium’. Digital images of the 335 photographs taken by the members of the Otani expeditions were input into the database in 2011. In 2011, Dr Shouji Sakamoto, Digital Archives Research Center, Ryukoku University, collaborated with the British Library on the scientific investigation of Stein Dunhuang manuscripts. His microscopic images and data were input into the IDP database. A similar collaboration took place in 2012–13 with the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The results will appear in the near future.


The Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

An agreement was signed to work together on catalogues of the Stein photographs and archives in the LHAS and, following this, to digitise them for inclusion on IDP.

The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University, Tokyo

Collaboration started on a project to conserve, digitise and catalogue the Sanskrit fragments in the British Library.

IDP Germany

Between 1902 and 1914 the Berlin Museum for Ethnology under its directors A. Grünwedel and A. von Le Coq undertook four expeditions to eastern Central Asia. They brought thousands of items, murals and other artefacts as well as about 40,000 fragments of texts in more than 20 different languages and scripts to Berlin where the fragments, except for those needed for exhibition in the Museum, were given to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences.

In May 1912 the ‘Oriental Commission’ was founded with the purpose of coordinating and supporting the scientific work on the text fragments in the Turfan collection.

During the Second World War the fragments had to be removed for safety and were stored in disused salt mines. After the war the, for the most part undamaged, fragments were transferred to the German Academy of Sciences, newly founded in 1946. A small number were sent to the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz, some Iranian fragments were kept in the Orientalisches Seminar of the University of Hamburg, later in Mainz; others, mostly Sanskrit fragments, were sent to Göttingen. When the State Library, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation was founded in Marburg all the fragments in Mainz were transferred to Marburg. From there they moved with the State Library back to Berlin.

Since 1992 all the parts of the collection are again united under the ownership of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW). About 13,000 Iranian and Turkish fragments are stored in the building of the Academy, the others in the Oriental Department of the State Library which has undertaken the curatorial management of the whole collection. In the Institut für Orientforschung founded in 1947, experts from all of Germany continued to work on the texts. Although the work became much more difficult after the Berlin wall was erected, there was a fruitful cooperation among colleagues.

In 1956 Wolfgang Steinitz and Georg Hazai founded the Turfanforschungsgruppe (Turfan Study Group) in the Institut für Orientforschung, and from 1969 to 1991 the work on the Turfan texts was situated in the department ‘Alter Orient’ of the Central Institute for Ancient History and Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR. Since 1993 the work of the Academy project ‘Turfanforschung’ at the BBAW has concentrated on the editions of the Iranian and Turkish texts. These editions are published in our own publication series ‘Berliner Turfantexte’ (BTT) which began in 1971. Catalogues of the fragments are being compiled as part of the Academy project ‘Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections’.

From 1997 to 2005 all Iranian, Turkish and Mongolian texts of the Turfan collection were digitised in cooperation with the State Library Berlin and with the financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG). The digital images are freely accessible through the Digital Turfan Archive.

In 2005 an MoU between IDP, the State Library Berlin, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and BBAW was concluded during a digitisation workshop sponsored by the BBAW where the results and experiences of the first digitisation project and details for future cooperation were discussed.

In November 2005 the digitisation of the Chinese, Tibetan, Syriac and Sanskrit texts began, again with the financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG). IDP transferred the database in early 2006 and the German website went live in January 2006.

In the first phase, the digital images and metadata of the Chinese and the Tibetan fragments were added. Since December 2008 the 395 Syriac and about 14,000 Sanskrit fragments of the Berlin Turfan Collection have been digitised with the technical support of colleagues from the Turfan studies group and KOHD (Academy of Sciences Göttingen) as well as with the support of colleagues of the Oriental and Reprographic Departments (State Library). Since December 2012 all Syriac and Sanskrit fragments with their primary metadata are accessible through the IDP database. In addition the images of all the Tocharian fragments in the collection, which were mostly digitised already in 1995 as a pilot project guided by Jost Gippert and funded by Tatsushi Tamai, have been added to the database.

Within the IDP-CREA project, funded by the European Union, digital images of the Digital Turfan Archive I were linked with metadata and transferred into the IDP database. At the moment the Sogdian fragments in Syriac script (the ‘n-Fragmente’) and a part of the Iranian texts in Manichaean script (‘M-Fragmente’) have been transferred and are available both in the new and the old form.

Step by step, all digital images of the Digital Turfan Archive will be added to the IDP database so that in the future the complete Turfan collection will be accessible through the IDP website.


The V&A, London
University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong

An agreement was signed with the V&A London to make all the images of the Stein textiles in the V&A available on IDP.

The University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong, also agreed to make accessible through IDP images of a Dunhuang manuscript in its collections.

IDP China @ Dunhuang

The twentieth anniversary of IDP, led by British Library, is a milestone well worth commemorating, and on behalf of the Dunhuang Academy I wish IDP our warmest congratulations!

The ancient manuscripts and artworks excavated from the Dunhuang Mogao library cave are a precious piece of mankind’s cultural heritage, which were, for historical reasons, dispersed around the world. IDP is a groundbreaking international organization that promotes the preservation, research and digitisation of these artefacts and aims to make the collections freely available to a global community through digitisation and the Internet. In terms of the globalisation of Dunhuang Studies, reuniting the scattered Dunhuang manuscripts is indeed an invaluable scholarly undertaking and a momentous occasion in the history of world academia. As an IDP partner institution, the Dunhuang Academy has always been concerned with collation and preservation of Dunhuang collections around the world and has actively supported IDP in all of its endeavours. Although our collection of manuscripts is relatively small, we have long been committed to the preservation, study and promotion of the Dunhuang Mogao caves and are engaged in long-term work to compile, conserve and catalogue our limited collection, as well as developing a project to construct a ‘Dunhuang digital repository system’ in the coming years as our own contribution to the fields of Dunhuang Studies, cave conservation and mural digitisation.

Since IDP’s inception, the involvement of more and more institutions has enabled the launch of multilingual versions of the website, while effectively promoting IDP’s work. As a result, IDP is always progressing and continues to have a positive effect on the conservation, preservation and digitisation of Dunhuang mansucripts and on strengthening international collaboration.

In October 2011, over 30 experts from China and abroad held an academic symposium at the Mogao caves and held an exhibition entitled ‘Documenting Dunhuang: Historical Photographs from the Late Qing and Republican Periods’. With the strong support of all the IDP partners, DHA has completed the digitisation of all its Dunhuang manuscripts and uploaded them to the IDP website, and now intends to start work digitising the collections at other museums and libraries in Gansu province. Such work and events have all contributed to the continued development of IDP as well as helping Dunhuang manuscript collation and research to deepen and progress.


Princeton and New York

An IDP team photographed the Dunhuang manuscripts in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, the Princeton East Asian Library, and the Princeton University Art Museum, following agreements to make the material accessible on IDP. IDP also digitised manuscript fragments from the Lo Archive. This material is all now accessible online through IDP.


Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology (XJIA), Urumqi

An agreement was signed with XJIA to work together on Central Asian archaeology, resulting in a joint IDP Field Trip to sites in Xinjiang in 2008 (pictured below). This was followed by the second IDP Field Trip in 2011 and a conference in 2012. The photographs from both Field Trips were recently exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society, London (see IDP20 Events).

IDP France

IDP was born in 1994 from the desire of institutions with large collections from the archaeological sites of the Silk Road. The English website was launched in 1998 and has been evolving ever since. In order to make more visible the French collections, the British Library, the Musée Guimet and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) joined forces to create the French language website for IDP. The launch of IDP France took place on 29 April 2009 at the Musée Guimet in the presence of representatives of the various institutions (pictured below with Thierry Delcourt at the podium). It was a memorable evening.

The primary objective of this project and the site was to give more visibility to the images and data held in the BnF and the Musée Guimet. We are indebted to the Andrew Mellon Foundation for their exceptional assistance in enabling the digitisation of manuscripts and artefacts as well as the creation of the online archive section of ArtStor dedicated to the discoveries of Dunhuang. All the manuscripts and documents at the BnF were digitised as part of this project under the direction of the current Curator of Japanese Collections, Véronique Béranger. She was responsible for drafting the specifications and supervising the scanning. Prior restoration, absolutely necessary in some cases, was entrusted to Françoise Cuisance whose many contributions have enriched our knowledge of collections.

The decision was made to add all the images of the Pelliot Collection to Gallica, the BnF’s online virtual library system. This was the first major collection of manuscripts added to Gallica which, until then, had mainly held printed material. In addition, the same resolution images and data were added to IDP France. An initial selection of artefacts from the Musée Guimet collections was also added.

Several years have passed since Thierry Delcourt died before his time and since we officially launched the IDP website in the Musée Guimet’s great amphitheatre. Thierry Delcourt, as a new Director of the Department of Manuscripts, had understood the unifying potential and richness of such a project. Moreover, he had been involved in a series of collaborative projects leading up to this: Europeana Regia (digitisation of manuscripts from Royal Collections in Europe); the Roman de la Rose (digitisation of manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose with Johns Hopkins University); and, most recently, Biblissima.

Free access online to images with the the ability to download and zoom enabled by Gallica and IDP has helped to increase the collection’s impact in the scientific community. Making them accessible online has not only informed a wide audience of non-specialists about these manuscripts in the BnF, but also generated a large number of research projects and requests for consultations. The manuscript department of the BNF regularly receives the most eminent specialists from the Dunhuang Academy and from Chinese, Japanese and European universities. Recent research projects include that by Dr Sakamoto of Ryokoku University and by Romain Lefebvre, on the Pelliot Xixia fragments.


Royal Library, Copenhagen

An agreement was signed in April 2011 to make images and data of the Dunhuang scrolls in the collections of the Royal Library, Copenhagen, available on IDP.


The objectives of the Research Institute of Korean Studies (RIKS) are to produce and disseminate resources for experts and the general public, to employ the latest information technology in humanities research, and to promote interdisciplinary research and international cooperation in Korean studies. Established in 1957, RIKS is one of the oldest and largest global Korean studies centre with about 180 researchers and support staff, a well-developed research infrastructure, and ample space and resources.

RIKS has been growing as a key presence in the field of Korean studies since its establishment. In the late 1990s, RIKS began to expand internationally in order to research the traces of Korean culture. The collaboration with IDP was established on this basis to extend the range of research and cultural exchange. The project aims to improve the accessibility to Dunhuang and Silk Road data in Korea, popularize knowledge on Silk Road culture, and concurrently function as an academic and cultural hub for the study of Dunhuang and the Silk Road.

RIKS launched a Korean IDP website in 2011 and this was selected as one of the ‘Outstanding Research Results in Humanities’ by The National Research Foundation of Korea in 2011. It established an Academic Advisory Committee of specialists in Dunhuang and the Silk Road. RIKS continues discussions with the committee on publication and cultural lecture projects, and how to share the details, results and significance of the projects. RIKS also has a Dunhuang Studies Library which is open daily for readers. It holds lecture series, small exhibitions and other events. It also promotes Dunhuang studies through regular symposia.

In August 2012 RIKS and the HK research team at Geumgang Centre for Buddhist Studies, Geumgang University, Korea, signed an agreement for collaboration in translating and publishing the Dictionary of Dunhuang Studies (敦煌學大辭典) (Ed. Ji Xianlin (季羨林), Shanghai 1998). The translation team consists of specialists from each field including history, literature, philosophy, religion, art and music. Publication is scheduled for 2015.


Stockholm and Hangzhou

An agreement was reached to make artefacts from the Hedin Collections in various institutions in Stockholm accessible on IDP (colleagues from IDP Sweden and UK in Stockholm pictured right). The material is entered onto the Swedish Open Cultural Repository (SOCH) and pulled from there automatically onto the IDP website using an API.

IDP also signed an MoU with the National Silk Museum of China in Hangzhou (pictured right) to work together on cataloguing and researching Silk Road textiles.


Central Library, Taipei
Needham Research Institute, Cambridge

An agreement was signed with the Central Library, Taipei, to include their Dunhuang manuscripts on IDP (see UK and Worldwide).

IDP also agreed to work together with the Needham Research Institute to digitise the photographs and archives relating to Joseph Needham’s visits to Dunhuang in 1943 and 1958 and make them available on IDP (see IDP News 41).

2014 onwards

Work continues at all the major IDP Centres on the collections of archaeological artefacts, manuscripts and archives.

IDP is also in discussions with the National Museum of India, New Delhi, The State Hermitage Museum. St Petersburg, University of California at Berkeley, Peking University, Beijing, The Museum of Cultures, Helsinki, the National Museum of Korea, Seoul and other organisations worldwide. We hope that material from these institutions will be accessible for scholars through IDP in the near future.

A Few of Our Favourite Things: Excerpts from the IDP20 Blog

From 1 November 2013 the IDP UK blog featured ‘A Few of Our Favourite Things’, a series of weekly posts showcasing IDP collection items selected by twenty of IDP’s partners, supporters and users. The first ten of these are introduced here and the final ten will be in the next issue of IDP News. Read the complete series or view the items in a single catalogue or on a Pinterest board.

Victor Mair

Pelliot chinois 4524

The picture scroll depicting the contest of magical conjurations between Śāriputra and the Six Heretics is my favourite of all objects from Dunhuang for many reasons. The most immediate reason is simply its innate charm, the pictures vividly capturing the excitement of the competition and the details of the individual scenes. Above all, however, is the fact that this unique scroll holds the key to unlocking the relationship between pictorial and textual narrative that became a hallmark of popular fiction and drama in succeeding centuries. What we find is that the verses on the verso of Pelliot chinois 4524 match the verse portions of the prosimetric transformation text about Mulian (Maudgalyāyana) saving his mother from the suffering of the underworld.

Read the full post

Agnes Kelecsényi and Kinga Dévényi


The two volume manuscript, bound in brown leather, consists of two parts: The text of the Preliminary Note in Stein’s pagination Vol.1.:434 ff. and Vol. 2.: 435-812 ff. completed in London, 6 February 1903. At the end of the manuscript two parts are inserted from his diary written during his return journey to Europe: Osh, 8 June 1901 (13 ff.); and Samarkand, 15 June 1901 (6 ff.).

It is our favourite item because his neat handwriting and scarce amendments reflect Stein’s scholarly way of composing and his well-disciplined character. While the dried flowers put among the leaves of the manuscript, which are from the Mohand Marg, his mountain retreat in Kashmir, are a sign of his tender heart, love of nature, and spirituality.

Read the full post

Tsuguhito Takeuchi

IOL Tib N 1103

This is a particular type of tally stick. On the left side is written a place name, ending with rtse ‘mountain peak.’ This is a place for ri-zug or hill-stationing of watchmen, a unit of four men, consisting of Tibetan soldiers and Khotanese cooks. They were sent from the Mazār Tāgh fort to hill stations in the desert. When they set out, they brought the cut-out wedge as a tally to receive provisions (barley) later from a courier who carried this master woodslip.

These slips together with paper documents also vividly indicate the harshness of the lives of local peoples. How were they recruited and sent to stations? They tell of the escape and execution of Khotanese, etc. Seemingly humble finds yield much information!

Read the full post

Vivienne Lo


This is the earliest illustration of moxibustion practice, the use of artemesia punk and other cautery techniques to treat illnesses. It pre-dates the earliest Chinese bronze acupuncture models by at least a century and represents a pervasive medical culture in evidence at both the centre and periphery of Chinese administration. I have called this culture ‘quick and easy Chinese medicine’, because the charts provide everything you need to know with little reference to the kind of theory that requires a classical education. It is therefore a ‘householder’ treatment for everyday symptoms.

I love this mansuscript and sponsored it in the name of my late father, Kenneth Lo. When I first began researching medicine in early and medieval manuscript cultures I had no idea there was such a treasure just down the road from my office.

Read the full post

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst

M 4a

One of my favourite items in the Berlin Turfan Collection is this bifolio and in particular the right-hand side on which a small hymn is preserved entirely.

The bifolio is an exquistive example of Manichaean book art. The scribe used an elaborate headline and initial letter extending into the upper right margin to create a very pleasing design. The short text is framed within rubrics in red that identify its beginning and end. It is in Parthian, a language from the north of Iran which probably died out in the seventh century but which has survived because it was still used by Manichaeans in far-away Turfan on the Silk Road in the tenth century.

Read the full post

Maria Menshikova

DH-1 and DH-2

It so happened that through my visual memory I always remember the images from Dunhuang. In my childhood my father, Lev Nikolaevitch Menshikov, showed me the pictures of the ceiling ornaments, books with the reproductions and photographs of the Mogao caves. And on Sundays papa took me to the museums and of course to the Hermitage and the rooms with the Dunhuang collection. Maybe it was my childish impression but in the exhibition the most attractive for me were the fantastic beasts, the dogs that sat in the middle of the room in the glass cages. I was not afraid of them but thought they were looking at me breathing and smiling as the real pets can. They are vigorous and listen to the sounds of the world. Any moment they are ready to protect the Buddhist faith from any evil.

Read the full post

Hans van Roon


Many readers will be familiar with this letter but this one is special to me as:

  • This was found by Aurel Stein;
  • These letters are the most ancient monuments of the Sogdian language;
  • This one is almost complete and full of drama with an abandoned wife in the middle of nowhere while, we as readers know her cry for help never arrived;
  • It is written by a woman and the length of the letter suggests that it is not her first and only letter. It ends with the famous bitter words of anger to her husband: ‘I would rather be a dog’s or a pig’s wife than yours!’;
  • It makes you feel that you are in direct contact with someone from the fourth century, which is something magical!

Read the full post

Helen Wang

Photo 1280/1(1)

I’ve chosen Miss Lorimer (Stein’s Recording Angel, or R.A.) in recognition of her outstanding commitment and contribution to Sir Aurel Stein’s projects and undertakings. She worked with Stein for 13 years, spending nine years at the British Museum, and four years in India. Although Stein was an exceptionally competent keeper of records and accounts, it’s quite clear that he preferred the open air to the office. The Stein Collections are phenomenally important – for the wonderful objects and manuscripts, of course, but also for the meticulous recording of the contexts in which they were found. This does not happen by itself. Without the painstaking efforts of people like Miss Lorimer, who mostly work behind the scenes and are seldom acknowledged, our understanding of the Silk Road would be so much the poorer.

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Seishi Karashima

IOL San 482

The manuscript of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (IOL San 482–515), or the Lotus Sutra, was discovered by Aurel Stein in Farhād-Bēg-Yailaki, near Khadalik, during his second expedition and is kept at present in the British Library.

When I saw the actual manuscript with my own eyes at the British Library in December 2004, I was struck by its beautiful calligraphy and its absolute clearness, which unfortunately the facsimile edition lacks. Thus, I decided to transliterate the manuscript anew by using newly-taken coloured photographs and, at the same time, persuaded our university to support IDP financially by digitising the entire collection of the Sanskrit manuscript fragments from Central Asia. I am happy to know that, now, this ten-year digitisation project has been completed.

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Agnieszka Helman-Ważny

IOL Tib J 308

IOL Tib J 308 was primary selected for our research because of the unusual ink colour and the fine paper quality. The manuscript is typical of the Tibetan pothi book format: 9 x 43 cm with one string hole. This type of rag paper, made with one of the oldest papermaking techniques known and adapted later in Europe, has been found in the majority of manuscripts from Central Asia produced in the first millennium but hardly ever later. Thus this Tibetan manuscript, a common sutra, a scripture from the Buddha, was probably locally produced at Dunhuang with extreme sincerity and devotion. It makes me wonder what wish was laid bare by this person who wrote on such gently-made paper, possibly with the addition of his own blood. Unfortunately we will never know who was its creator.

Read the full post


Expedition Silk Road
Treasures from the Hermitage

Anastasia Chizhova et al.
Museumshop Hermitage Amsterdam:
Amsterdam 2014
PB 256 pp. colour ill.
ISBN 9789078653479
Hermitage Museum website

국립중앙박물관 소장 중앙아시아 종교 조각
Central Asian Religious Sculptures in the National Museum of Korea

Kim Haewon (ed.)
National Museum of Korea: Seoul 2013
PB, 218 pp., colour ills.
ISBN: 97889981640989
This catalogue will be made freely accessible as a downloadable pdf on the NMK website.

Studies in Chinese and Sino-Tibetan Linguistics: Dialect, Phonology, Transcription and Text

Language and Linguistics Monograph Series 53.
Richard VanNess Simmons and Newell Ann Van Auken (eds.)
Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica: Taipei 2014.
PB, 463 pp., NT$1000 US$60.00.
ISBN: 978-986-04-0343-5 L
Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinice

The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka

Tanya Storch
Cambria Press:
New York and London 2014.
HB 268 pp. US$109.99
ISBN: 9781604978773
Cambria Press

Tang China in Multi-Polar Asia

Wang Zhenping
University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu 2013
HB 480 pp. US$65
ISBN: 9780824836443
University of Hawaii Press

New Perspectives on Early Korean Art: From Silla to Koryo

Kim,Youn-mi (ed.)
University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu 2013
HB 348 pp. 160 ill. US$50
ISBN: 9780988692817
University of Hawaii Press

The Tibetan History Reader

Gray Tuttle and Kurtis R. Schaeffer (eds.)
Columbia University Press: New York 2013.
HB, PB, E 752 pp. £83, £27.50
ISBN: 9780231144681
9780231144698 9780231513548
Columbia University Press

Sources of Tibetan Tradition

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein and Gray Tuttle (eds.)
Columbia University Press: New York 2013.
HB, PB, E 856 pp. £83, £27.50
ISBN: 9780231144681 9780231135986 9780231509787
Columbia University Press


Bulletin of the Asia Institute 23 (2013)
Evo suyadi: Essays in Honor of Richard Salomon’s 65th Birthday

Carol Altman Bromberg, Timothy J. Lenz, and Jason Neelis (eds.)
$80 individuals; $95 institutions
ISSN: 08904464
Bulletin of the Asia Institute
Articles by Michael Shapiro, Mark Allon, Stefan Baums, Daniel Boucher, Collett Cox, Harry Falk, Andrew Glass, Paul Harrison, Jens-Uwe Hartmann, Stephanie W. Jamison, Seishi Karashima, Klaus Karttunen, Timothy Lenz, Abdur Rehman, Juhung Rhi, Ludo Rocher, Rosane Rocher, Gregory Schopen, Martin Schwartz, Jonathan A. Silk, Nicholas Sims-Williams, Peter Skilling, Ingo Strauch and Michael Willis.

The Silk Road 11 (2013)

Daniel Waugh (ed.)
ISSN: 21527237 (print) 21532060 (online)
The Silk Road Foundation
This volume covers a wide range of topics: Chinese reactions to Western scholars’ activity in China in the twentieth century; the insights gained from metallurgical analysis of a hoard unearthed in Hungary; newly discovered petroglyphs in the Afghan Pamirs; the possible meaning of images on deer stones; tamga identifying marks of the early Iranians; early Turkic costume; motifs of foreign origin in early Chinese depictions; Italian silks in the northwestern Caucasus in the fifteenth century; the overland horse trade between Khorasan and India; the modern refashioning of Timurid Samarkand; the newly re-opened Central Asia exhibits in the Hermitage Museum and Islamic exhibits in the Metropolitan Museum.

Steppe: A Central Asian Panorama

We are very sorry to announce that Steppe, a journal devoted to Central Asia, has had to cease publication owing to lack of funds. The last issue will become available online shortly.

Exhibitions and Conferences

Expedition Silk Road
Treasures from the Hermitage

Hermitage Amsterdam
1 March - 5 September 2014
Hermitage website
Showing over 250 murals, sculptures, silks, silver, glass, gold, and terracottas from the collections of the Hermitage from thirteen archaeological sites in Central Asia including Dunhuang, Penjikent and Khotan, excavated by Russian expeditions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There is an accompanying catalogue (see Publications).

Scene With a Battle Between a Deity and Beasts of Prey. Sogdiana, Varakhsha (Uzbekistan), late 7th – early 8th century.
Fresco-secco wall painting, © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

Inspired by Dunhuang: Re-Creation in Contemporary Chinese Art

China Institute Gallery, New York
to 8 June 2014
China Institute website
Highlighting paintings and sculptures by a dozen modern and contemporary artists, this exhibition explores Dunhuang’s influence on generations of artists beginning with master painter Zhang Daqian. Other artists to be featured in the exhibition include contemporary art luminaries such as Zhang Hongtu, Liu Jude, Liu Dan and Yu Hong. There is an accompanying catalogue.

Copy by Li Chengxian of the mural of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, Yulin Cave 2, Dunhuang.
Tangut (1036-1227 AD), The Dunhuang Academy
(On display in Hong Kong in ‘Dunhuang Culture and Art’).

Dunhuang Culture and Art

Hong Kong Heritage Museum
28 November 2014 – 16 March 2015
Hong Kong Heritage Museum website
With 120 exhibits, the exhibition will introduce the origin, development, prosperity and decline of the Dunhuang Buddhist caves. The exhibits will include replicas of caves, copies of murals and sculptures, along with original Buddhist paintings and scriptures, other manuscripts and decorated tiles. The exhibition will also show how the discovery of the Library Cave in 1900 and the dispersion of its contents led to conservation and study of Dunhuang by Chinese and overseas scholars.

17th Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS)

University of Vienna, Austria
18–23 August 2014
IABS website
This academic conference, held once every three or four years, is the premier international forum for scholars of Buddhism to present their findings.

PIAC 57th Annual Meeting

Institute of the History, Archaeology and Ethnology of the Peoples of the Far East – Far Eastern Branch of the RAS, Vladivostok
9–14 September 2014
Secretary General PIAC, Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Turkologie, Schwendenerstr. 33, D 14195 Berlin, Germany

IDP20 Events UK

Lecture: Mapping the Silk Road

Just over forty years ago, the World Heritage Convention was conceived to protect sites of ‘outstanding universal value’ to humanity. Today, almost a thousand sites are World Heritage listed and millions of people travel each year to experience these unique cultural and natural assets. In recent years a team of experts at UNESCO, ICOMOS, the State Parties, and University College London (UCL) have conducted research into the Silk Road’s sites and routes as part of the Silk Roads World Heritage Serial and Transnational Nomination in Central Asia project. Their thematic study explored the problems of mapping the diverse routes and sites of the Silk Road, with their wide geographic and chronological expanse and considered the development of a ‘corridor’ based approach to identifying areas and sites to be included in the nomination strategy.

Tim Williams (pictured right), archaeologist at University College London (UCL) and leader of the UCL Ancient Merv Project, has been working on this project for several years. In his lecture at the British Library, he discussed the considerable challenges of mapping the Silk Roads and their sites to a capacity audience.

Exhibition: Aurel Stein and the Silk Road: A Hundred Years On

This photographic exhibition was curated and designed by Vic Swift of the British Library, and held at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in collaboration with them and the University of Nottingham from 6 January to 24 February 2014.

A hundred years ago the archaeologist and explorer Aurel Stein discovered many scores of sites dating from the first millennium AD in Chinese Central Asia. He took thousands of photographs on his four expeditions to this region, now held in the British Library and all freely available through IDP. In 2008 and 2011 teams from IDP at the British Library and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology retraced his footsteps into the desert on two field trips.

The stunning modern photographs, now also part of the British Library collections, show how the aridity and remoteness of the Taklamakan desert has protected many of these ancient sites from the changes of the past century. Stein’s images were shown alongside those from the field trips. Dr Susan Whitfield of IDP gave a public lecture at the RGS on 13 January 2014 on Stein and his work to accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition was also the concluding event in the AHRC Research Network on ‘Re-Enacting the Silk Road’, directed by Mike Heffernan (right) and Jean-Xavier Ridon from the University of Nottingham. It reflects the success of this network in building strong links between the three organising institutions and a wider group of academics, museum professionals and community arts groups in the UK and abroad. Professor Heffernan spoke at the exhibition opening.

The exhibition was supported by the AHRC and Hahnemüle FineArt UK. The exhibition is available as a full catalogue, in an online gallery and a selection of images can be seen on a Pinterest board

Open Day: IDP Conservation and Digitisation

Archaeologist and scholar Aurel Stein excavated scores of sites and discovered numerous artefacts including over 40,000 manuscripts and early printed documents in over twenty languages and scripts. The amount and variety of this material poses serious challenges for both conservation and digitisation that curators and conservators at the British Library have been addressing for two decades through international collaboration and under the auspices of IDP.

The IDP Open Day on 12 March 2014 offered members of the public a chance to meet the conservation and digitisation teams and to learn about their work on the Stein Silk Road manuscripts. Josef Konczak, IDP Studio Manager and Wong Yinghui, Conservator, are shown right at the Open Day.

Exhibition: The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing

The whole text of the earliest dated printed book — the Diamond Sutra — is on display at the British Library for the first time over a period of eighteen months from 8 March 2014.

Following extensive conservation, the Diamond Sutra scroll currently remains in separate panels giving the unique opportunity to show all the panels in turn. Each panel will be on display for two months in the Sir John Ritblat gallery at the British Library, open to all and with free admission.

The first panel on display (March–April 2014) will be the illustrated frontispiece showing the Buddha with his elderly disciple, Subhūti. The text of the sutra concerns the philosophical discussion between the Buddha and Subhūti.

March – April 2014: Frontispiece
May – June 2014: 1st panel printed text
July – Aug. 2014: 2nd panel printed text
Sept. – Oct. 2014: 3rd panel printed text
Nov. – Dec. 2014: 4th panel printed text
Jan. – Feb. 2015: 5th panel printed text
Mar. – Apr. 2015: 6th panel printed text
May – June 2015: Colophon
July – Aug. 2015: Frontispiece

The Diamond Sutra was printed in AD 868 as an act of faith and piety. In this period Buddhists took advantage of printing to replicate the words and image of the buddha, but private printers at the time also used the new technology to produce texts for profit. Almanacs were immensely popular, so much so that the Chinese emperor, whose imperial astronomers produced and distributed an imperial almanac, tried to suppress their printing and sale throughout the ninth and tenth centuries.

Displayed alongside the Diamond Sutra will be a copy of a Chinese almanac printed just a decade later, in AD 877. It is a very different style of printing with the document split into registers showing immense detail. They include the animals of the Chinese zodiac, a diary of lucky and unlucky days, fengshui diagrams, magic charms and much more.

The display also includes two pages from a printed copy of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit (see introduction), an early example of Korean printing using moveable type and the earliest examples of Japanese printing, the Million Charms of Empress Shotoku.

Lecture and Reception: Silk on the Silk Road

This afternoon of lectures followed by a reception took place at the British Library Conference Centre on 11 April 2014 and will be reported on in the next newsletter.

Music and Film: The Silk Road of Pop

An evening of music and film will commence with a live performance by the London Uyghur Ensemble followed by a screening of the award winning documentary ‘The Silk Road of Pop’, a portrait of the vibrant pop music scene among the Uygur community in China’s Xinjiang. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the film directors.

The event will be free. Full details will be posted online on IDP in May.

IDP UK and Worldwide

ERC Synergy Research Project

Dr Sam van Schaik of IDP is one of the three Principal Investigators in a successful bid for a major project grant from the European Research Council (ERC) of over EU 8,000,000. The project title is ‘BeyondBoundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State.’ The research aims of the project are to re-envision Asian history during the Gupta period (third-sixth centuries AD) with a cross-disciplinary team working on archaeological sites, coins and manuscripts from the period.

The project, under the ‘Synergy’ theme is jointly led by three Principle Investigators. Apart from Sam van Schaik, the others are Michael Willis (British Museum) and Nathan Hill (SOAS). The project, of 72 months duration, will also employ six Research Assistants and involve a network of academic collaborators from UK and European universities. IDP will also be involved in helping with a database and web interface.


Director Tseng Shu-hsien and Leo Lin, Central Library, Taipei, visited the British Library on 5 November 2013. Director Tseng and Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, signed an agreement to add digital images of the Dunhuang manuscripts in the Central Library collection to IDP (pictured right). We are delighted that these manuscripts will now become available through IDP. The project will last for two years.

IDP staff met with Fiona Ross of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at Reading University to discuss possible collaboration.

John Falconer and Susan Whitfield met with Peter Stewart, Oxford University, to discuss possible collaboration on their proposed Gandharan Connections Project.

Luca Maria Olivieri, an archaeologist working on sites excavated by Aurel Stein in the Swat valley visited to discuss his work and digitisation of papers relating to Stein.


Paschalia Terzi, an MA student in Digital Libraries and Information Services at the University of Borås, Sweden, joined IDP in March on a six month internship funded by Erasmus. She is researching the history of IDP and the metadata systems used to capture the original organisation of the Dunhuang Library Cave.

Stephanie Santayana and Michael Rank are working as volunteers for IDP helping with the catalogues of Central Asian paintings and the transcription of the Needham diaries respectively.

IDP will welcome four MA students from UCL on internships during May and June.

Susan Whitfield gave a presentation in December at the China Institute, New York, at a symposium for the opening of their exhibition, ‘Inspired by Dunhuang’ (see Exhibitions and pictured right with other participants, including Mimi Gates, Chair of the Dunhuang Foundation). During her stay she also met with members of the Dunhuang Foundation.

Susan Whitfield gave a lecture and a public seminar at the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University in February 2014. During her visit she met with the Getty Research Institute and Getty Conservation Institute to discuss their proposed exhibition on Dunhuang.

Sam van Schaik attended an editors’ meeting of the Encyclopedia of Manuscript Cultures of Asia and Africa, at the University of Hamburg in March 2014.

There have been a record number of readers in early 2014 consulting Central Asian manuscripts in the BL Reading Room, most from China and Japan. Over three hundred manuscripts have been viewed by twenty readers over this period. Thanks to Emma Goodliffe for all her work on checking the manuscripts prior to their being issued and to administering the requests in liaison with the Reading Room and Basement staff.


IDP set up a twitter account in March 2014 in order to make its activities more widely known. Apart from regular tweets to show which new manuscripts, photographs and artefacts have come online and to publicise future events, IDP also took part in Twitter’s #MuseumWeek. Among other activites it set a quiz for followers to identify the languages and scripts of a selection of manuscripts, answers were posted on the IDP Blog. Follow us at @idp_uk.

Sharing Content: New Translations on IDP

IDP has agreed with Professor Daniel Waugh to start hosting some of the content from his excellent websites on IDP in order to ensure a long-term archive.

Professor Waugh manages two websites, that of the Silk Road Foundation and Silk Road Seattle both holding much rich content which Professor Waugh has created and collated.

As a start of this collaboration, IDP has prepared editions of Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams’ translations of the Sogdian letters and of T. Burrow’s translation of the Kharoṣṭhi documents in the Stein Collection, both from the Silk Road Seattle site. Both are now also available through the ‘Translations’ section of the Catalogue Search page of IDP and the translations are also linked to the relevant manuscripts.

We will be working closely with Professor Waugh over the next year to include more of his material on the new IDP website.

We are keen to include more translations on IDP in order to make the manuscripts accessible to those without specialist language skills. If you have made translations yourself or know of other translations of manuscripts we would be very grateful to receive an electronic copy with permission to use them on IDP. We will, of course, give full accreditation and links back to any original source.

Recent Digitisation

Work is almost complete on the cataloguing and digitisation of the photographs taken by Irene and John Vincent on their visits to Dunhuang in 1948 (see IDP News 42). All of these are available through IDP by searching for ‘Photo 1231’. Photo 1231/6 is the sequence of colour images (see right), many of which were reproduced in Basil Gray’s book Buddhist Cave Paintings at Tun-huang (University of Chicago Press 1959). Comparison of the transparencies with the reproductions in the book show the deterioration of the former. The colour dyes have faded at different rates and the once vivid images have become muted. Some of this deterioration, common in transparencies of this age, can be remedied by digital manipulation.

The image on the right (Photo 1231/6(86)) shows the northern statue grouping, with the central Buddha right out of shot, in Mogao Cave 458.

As part of IDP20, photographs showing the history of IDP in events and people have ben catalogued and archived into the British Library collections. They are under the series pressmark Photo 1280/1 and can now be viewed online. More will become available over the coming months. The series Photo 1280/2 will be one of IDP activities, such as the conservation and digitisation process.

International Symposium on Huang Wenbi and the Sino-Swedish Northwest China Scientific Symposium
19-20 October 2013

Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator, Persian, attended this symposium as the British Library representative as part of a five-week visiting scholarship at the International Academy for China Studies (IACS), Peking University. The symposium, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, was held in honour of China’s first archaeologist, Huang Wenbi (1893–1966),who in addition to participating in the Sino-Swedish expedition (1926-35), subsequently excavated at many sites around Turfan and the Tarim Basin.

Dr Sims-Williams spoke about a series of forged documents produced in the late 1920s which were acquired in Khotan by Huang Wenbi, Sir Aurel Stein and other European travellers.

The archaeological finds from Huang Wenbi’s excavations are housed in several different museums, but his papers and library have been generously presented by his heirs to Xinjiang Normal University who have founded a dedicated Huang Wenbi Institute. The delegates visited the new site, at present under construction, but with views over the Tianshan ‘Heavenly Mountains’, it promises to be an inspiring research centre for the future.

Colleagues from IDP partners including Germany, Sweden and Russia also attended. Delegates at the conference are pictured below.