IDP is an important centre for research into the Dunhuang and Eastern Silk Road collections. As well as hosting visiting scholars from around the world, IDP is home to several long-term research projects, described below. This page also contains brief research profiles of IDP staff.
IDP also offers researchers many online resources including:
- Historical and modern catalogues of the objects
- A searchable bibliography
- Surveys and plans of the archaeological sites
- Resources and projects for teachers and students of all ages
- A space for relevant research papers
We welcome comments on the site and suggestions for further resources you would like to see online.
- Sam van Schaik
- works on the palaeography of Tibetan tantric manuscripts.
- Susan Whitfield
- works on the history of the Silk Road and codicology of the Chinese manuscripts.
Other staff are currently engaged in research on technical areas relevant to IDP.
Enjoy It While it Lasts: A Brief Golden Age of Freedom of Scholarly Information? (English)
- Paper published in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita (The Republic) in October 2000 (in Polish, translation by Matthew Ciolek).
- Author: Dr. Susan Whitfield, The International Dunhuang Project
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 60KB)
The Question of Forgeries (English)
- Introduction to a collection of papers from the 1998 Conference at the British Library.
- Author: Dr. Susan Whitfield, The International Dunhuang Project
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 180KB)
- A web resource (under development) presented at the first symposium held under the project 'Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road (China — India — Russia) 2006–2008' sponsored by the Ford Foundation in November 2006 at the National Library of China (NLC), Beijing.
- Author: Dr. Radha Banerjee
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 300KB)
A Review of Tangut Buddhism, Art and Textual Studies (English)
- A web resource (under development) presented at the second symposium held under the project 'Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road (China — India — Russia) 2006–2008' sponsored by the Ford Foundation in April 2007 at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.
- Author: Dr. Saren Gaowa
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 568KB)
Introduction to Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Manuscripts from Tunhuang in the British Museum (English)
- The manuscripts described in this Catalogue once formed part of a huge collection which was discovered about fifty years ago in a walled-up chamber adjoining one of the 'Caves of the Thousand Buddhas' (Qianfodong/Ch'ien Fo Tung) a few miles south-east of the Dunhuang oasis on the border of Gansu.
- Author: Lionel Giles
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 88KB)
Introduction to a Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts from Tun-Huang in the India Office Library (English)
- This is the introduction to Louis de la Vallée Poussin's catalogue of the Tibetan manuscripts in the Stein collection, written during the First World War. The introduction remains important in its own right for its palaeographical analysis of the Tibetan manuscripts.
- Author: Louis de la Vallée Poussin
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 160KB)
Médecine, société et religion dans la Chine médiévale Manuscrits de Dunhuang et pratiques de santé (French)
- Programme de recherche dirigé dans le cadre de l’Unité Mixte de Recherche UMR 8155 'Civilisations chinoise, japonaise et tibétaine'.
- Author: Catherine Despeux (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales)
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 44KB)
Abstracts of the Medical Manuscripts from Dunhuang (English)
- Abstracts of seventy-four manuscripts containing medical information held in the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, Ryūkoku University Library and Chinese archives.
- Author: Wang Shumin
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 152KB)
A Chinese Medieval Treatment for Angina (English)
- Research into the use of saltpetre to treat the symptoms of angina.
- Authors: Anthony Butler and John Moffett
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 80KB)
Proceedings (Extract) of XII International Congress of Orientalists, Rome, October 1899 (English)
- In the evening of 3rd October 1899, delegates to the XII International Congress of Orientalists assembled in the Great Hall of the University of Rome, to elect the presidents for each of the Sessions, to discuss the format and elect speakers at the opening ceremony the following day. In addition to scholars and academics from Italy, the host nation, participants came from all over the world; each country was represented by national museums, universities and academies.
- Author: Lia Genovese
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 852KB)
Otani Kozui's 1910 visit to London
- Following the second Japanese expedition to Chinese Central Asia, Count Otani Kozui, the organizer and sponsor of the enterprise travelled to London and spent over half a year there. His primary aims were to make the results of the expedition known in the West and also to prepare for the new one, lead by the young monk Tachibana Zuicho.
- Author: Imre Galambos
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 240KB)
Orthography of Early Chinese Writing: Evidence from Newly Excavated Manuscripts
- This book is about the variability of Chinese writing in early China. The archaeological discoveries of the last few decades have provided an unprecedented amount of Warring States texts in the form of manuscripts and inscriptions on various objects. From the point of view of palaeography, an intriguing challenge is how to fit all this new material into the early history of Chinese writing. Since these new texts predate the Qin dynasty, they are able to provide the modern researcher with undigested data regarding the nature of writing in Warring States China. With the sudden increase of original documents, it has become clear that we need to revise our views regarding the nature of early writing, as well as the process and effect of the Qin unification.
- The new material, the author argues, refutes the traditional linear model of the evolution of writing in China. According to this model, characters developed along a single line from the Shang oracle-bone inscriptions to Zhou bronze inscriptions, all the way to the Qin small seal and Han clerical scripts. The author that this view is not only an oversimplification but in many cases is incorrect. This model mirrors the ideologically motivated unilateral genealogy of traditional historiography which traced the mandate of Heaven from mythical emperors to the ruling house.
- Author: Imre Galambos
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 3.3MB)
A Tenth Century Manuscript from Dunhuang Concerning the Gantong Monastery at Liangzhou
- The Gantongsi monastery at Liangzhou is a site that has been traditionally linked with the cult of the monk Liu Sahe. In a group of Sino-Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang, a dated copy of an inscription from the monastery was found, shedding light on the significance of the monastery in the Buddhist pilgrimage movement during the tenth century.
- Author: Imre Galambos
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 5.2MB)
Current status and future prospects of the Hanzi Normative Glyphs (HNG) Database
- Following a presentation at the 2004 Autumn meeting of the Society for Japanese Linguistics, the Internet version of the Hanzi Normative Glyphs (HNG) database (headed by ISHIZUKA Harumichi) was launched in March 2005. Since then, every year new texts and relevant data have been added to the database. The objectives and methodology of this work was first published, with Ishizuka as the first author, in Nihongo no kenkyū 日本語の研究 (2005, vol. 1, no. 4), the official journal of the Society for Japanese Linguistics. Following the increasing amount of texts and data (62 texts, 4,554 unique characters, 432,596 character forms), this paper is an introduction to the current status of the project, its findings and future prospects.
- Author: ISHIZUKA Harumichi
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 6.3MB)
The Dunhuang Sky: A Comprehensive Study of the Oldest Known Star Atlas
- This paper presents an analysis of the star atlas included in the medieval Chinese manuscript Or.8210/S.3326 discovered in 1907 by the archaeologist Aurel Stein at the Silk Road town of Dunhuang and now housed in the British Library. Although partially studied by a few Chinese scholars, it has never been fully displayed and discussed in the Western world. This set of sky maps (12 hour-angle maps in quasi-cylindrical projection and a circumpolar map in azimuthal projection), displaying the full sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere, is up to now the oldest complete preserved star atlas known from any civilisation. It is also the earliest known pictorial representation of the quasi-totality of Chinese constellations.
- Authors: Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud, Dr Françoise Praderie and Dr Susan Whitfield
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 340KB)
Star Atlas: Translation
- A translation of the text of the Or.8210/S.3326. It starts from the first section which contains continuous text and ends with the author’s note. The second part is the technical text accompanying the astronomical charts.
- Author: Imre Galambos
- VIEW | DOWNLOAD (PDF 86KB)
A Technical Study of Portable Tenth-Century Paintings from Dunhuang in US Collections
- This study examines several of the only known extant examples of portable tenth- century Chinese Buddhist paintings from the Mogao Caves, near Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China. Although extensive scientific research has been conducted on the wall murals, no comparable analysis has ever been undertaken on the paintings on silk and other textile supports from the Mogao Caves. The findings of this study expand on the established understanding of portable paintings from Dunhuang and identify further lines of enquiry in relation to the pigments, textiles and painting technologies associated with these objects. This study examines paintings in the collections of the Harvard Art Museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Freer Gallery, Washington, DC, drawing on multiple analytical methods including XRF, FTIR, Raman, AMS, SEM, MALDI and polarizing light microscopy as the first comprehensive and systematic investigation of these important artworks.
- Authors: Matthew Brack and Erin Mysak
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 10.8MB)
Was there a Silk Road?
- Is the 'Silk Road' a meaningful term? Is it being used simply to provide a historical legitimacy for our preoccupation with the dichotomy of east and west, the rising power of India and China and the waning of Europe, and our ambivalence towards globalisation? If it ever had any descriptive or analytic force for scholarship, is this now lost and should we discard the term entirely in our scholarly discourse as misleading at best and leave it for the marketers to exploit as a symbol of luxury and exoticism? This article argues that although the term 'Silk Road' has become a widely used portmanteau term, with apt clarification it is still a meaningful term for scholarship.
- Author: Dr Susan Whitfield
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 1MB)
- Also available for download at the ingentaconnect website.
The Prayer, the Priest and the Tsenpo: An Early Buddhist Narrative from Dunhuang
- The manuscript presented in this article, Pelliot tibétain 149, contains a brief narrative that is one of the first examples of religious history in Tibet. The narrative is an introduction to a Buddhist text, a prayer known as the Bhadracaryā-praṇidhāna. The story, like the later Tibetan Buddhist histories, begins in India, and continues through to the imperial period in Tibet, specifically the period of the reign of Tsenpo Khri Srong lde brtsan (r.756–c.800). In line with later Tibetan religious histories, but unlike the Old Tibetan Annals or Old Tibetan Chronicle, PT 149’s narrative focuses on religious lineage rather than royal succession.
- Authors: Sam van Schaik and Lewis Doney
- DOWNLOAD (PDF 408KB)
2006–2008: Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road
(funded by the Ford Foundation)
This project aims to create a scholarly community for Central Asian studies among the Chinese, Russian, Indian and UK spheres, to involve and train young scholars, and to work together to build up web resources and expertise and bring them to the scholarly and wider community. The project is coordinated by IDP in London. The participating institutions are: the National Library of China IDP Centre in Beijing, the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts IDP Centre in St. Petersburg, and the National Museum and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. The co-ordinator, based in London, is Alastair Morrison.
The project held three symposia to build links among scholars in all centres and then build three educational web resource sites around the subjects of the symposia. These will include annotated bibliographies and translations of key articles or summaries of monographs in the different languages online.
The first symposium was held in Beijing in November 2006 with the subject: 'Buddhism and its Silk Road Transmission: The Suvarṇaprabhasasūtra'. The web resource is under development.
The second symposium, held in St Petersburg in April 2007, was on 'Tangut and its links with Tibetan Tantric Buddhism'. The web resource is under development.
The third symposium, held in New Delhi in March 2008, was on the history of the Central Asian collections in Russia, India and China. The resources created are being added to the IDP Collections pages.
2005–2008: Palæographic Study of the Chinese and Tibetan Manuscripts from the Dunhuang Collections
(funded by the Leverhulme Trust)
The science of palæography has been essential to our understanding of European history and culture. Palæography has played little part, however, in the study of Asian manuscripts, where form and style have usually been acknowledged only as an obstacle to interpreting the text. This has led a lack of understanding of the social conditions under which manuscripts were produced, and of resources to assign dates and geographic locations, all detrimental to the study of Asian history. This project proposes to apply palæographic and codicological techniques to perhaps the most significant Asian manuscript collection: the Dunhuang manuscripts.
The three IDP researchers involved are Susan Whitfield and Imre Galambos (Chinese manuscripts) and Sam van Schaik (Tibetan manuscripts). Marta Matko is acting as research assistant on the Tibetan side. Our research may be categorized under three interrelated topics: (i) typologies of the scripts, (ii) codicology of the manuscripts and (iii) socio-historical context of the manuscripts.
(i) An essential element of palæography is the detailed analysis of scripts. Our analysis will be directed to the development of typologies, based on a great amount of data from the manuscripts. The typologies will be indispensable to understanding the development of the Chinese and Tibetan scripts, and to dating the manuscripts. IDP has developed a tool for isolating individual letters or characters from digital images of manuscripts; these images will be organized in a database that will make palæographical analysis of the manuscripts much more efficient.
(ii) Analysis of writing styles cannot be separated from the forms of the manuscripts themselves. The codicological data will include panel size, measurements of laid and chain lines, and the results of scientific analysis of paper, dye, pigments and ink. The IDP database is now capable of recording many kinds of palæographical and codicological data.
(iii) We will collate and analyse all the socio-historical information in the texts, including the names of scribes, patrons and monastic centres. These data will be displayed as a spacial and temporal map. In addition, we will apply the techniques of forensic handwriting analysis to identify individual scribes. This aspect of the research has already been tested by van Schaik in a pilot project with forensic handwriting expert Dr Tom Davis, of Birmingham University.As part of the project we are also developing tools for others to use in similar research and tutorials for teaching. The tools are being made available on the IDP technical resources page.
2003–2005: Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts Cataloguing Project
(funded by the AHRC)
This project, now complete, was directed at the Tibetan tantric manuscripts in the Dunhuang collection, which had never previously been properly catalogued.
Two IDP researchers, Jacob Dalton and Sam van Schaik, completed a fully descriptive catalogue of the Tibetan tantric manuscripts from Dunhuang in the British Library's Stein Collection, comprising 618 separate texts contained in 350 manuscripts. The researchers identified many cases where incomplete British Library manuscripts could be supplemented or completed by manuscripts from the Pelliot collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Therefore a significant number of the tantric manuscripts from the Pelliot collection were also catalogued as a by-product. The catalogue was made available on the IDP website, and also in printed form as Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang and accessible online on IDP.
A board of academic advisors was convened for the period of the project. This included Professors David Germano (University of Virgina), Leonard van der Kuijp (Harvard), Cristina Scherrer-Schaub (École Pratique des Hautes Études), Mr Gene Smith (Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, New York) and Professor Tsuguhito Takeuchi (University of Kobe). Each of these Tibetologists was approached for counsel at various stages of the project and gave us much valuable advice. In addition, Germano and Smith were approached about incorporating their databases of Tibetological material into the project's database to be developed in the near future. Scherrer-Schaub and Takeuchi advised on the palaeographic aspects of the cataloguing activities which became perhaps the most important unforeseen development of the project (see below).
The most significant additional development derived from the growing awareness of the importance of the palaeographic aspect of the manuscripts that we had catalogued. The researchers' extended contact with the manuscripts allowed new insights as they began to recognize specific handwriting as belonging to particular authors from tenth-century Dunhuang. Such finding became only possible due to the length of this project as this allowed us to deepen our familiarity with the collection. These newly discovered links between the manuscripts revealed unexpected interactions among Buddhist schools that had previously been considered completely distinct. Our researchers contacted a UK expert in forensic handwriting analysis, Professor Tom Davis of Birmingham University. They met several times to develop a methodology that would allow us to identify individual handwriting styles. As a result, we were able to attach authors' names to many of the manuscripts and to discern clear patterns in the author's interests.
This development gave impetus to a new British Library project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, aimed at developing a palaeographic database for all Tibetan and Chinese Dunhuang manuscripts (see above).
2000– : Dunhuang and the Healing Arts
(funded by The Wellcome Trust and the Sino-British Fellowship Trust)
The larger part of the manuscript discoveries at Dunhuang are religious scriptures, but there are also thousands of other secular documents, letters, calendars, administrative records and other ephemera. Well over one hundred texts containing information about the healing arts are scattered throughout the Buddhist scriptures. Some are written on the reverse of scriptures, others at the end, while others are complete scrolls in their own right. In them we find information on diagnostic methods, medical remedies, acupuncture and moxibustion, materia medica and healing arts of a religious, divinatory and magical nature. The collections provide us with variant editions of texts that were already extant in the transmitted medical literature. Equally, they restore to us medical texts that were previously only known to us as titles in bibliographies and other texts that are unique to Dunhuang and that otherwise have left no trace. Not only are they a testimony to the wide variety of medical literature circulating during the Sui and Tang period, they also provide us with a substantial resource for understanding the circumstances within which medical texts were produced and disseminated. Altogether they are an unparalleled resource for understanding medical knowledge and practice in medieval China.
A collaborative project directed by Vivienne Lo and funded by the Wellcome Trust and SBFT [Sino British Fellowship Trust] started in 2000 to digitise, catalogue and research the Dunhuang medical material. Four scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Academy of Research into China Medicine spent three months in London in summer 2000 examining relevant Dunhuang manuscripts and the British Library started work on conservation of these mainly fragmentary items. Following a workshop held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in August 2000, a volume prepared by Wang Shumin, translated by Penny Barrett and edited by Vivienne Lo and Christopher Cullen, (Lo_Cullen_2005) which contained essays as well as abstracts on the medical manuscripts on all the different collections. The abstracts are reproduced here.
The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London continues to support work on the medical manuscripts. Cataloguing and transcription work continues by Wang Shumin in Beijing and is being put on IDP (see Show Catalogues). Notes on graphic variation in the manuscripts are being prepared by Zhao Ping'an during 2007. Translations of the catalogue entries are by Penny Barrett who, together with Vivienne Lo will be translating the Stein medical manuscripts during 2007/8. These will all go online on IDP.
A PDF covering the history of subjects such as acupuncture, moxibustion and general Chinese health care can be downloaded from The International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine website.
Research work also continues in France and a summary is given here by Catherine Despeux (in French). A research paper on the use of a medieval Chinese remedy for angina is available under 'Research Papers' above.