Last school year, Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), in cooperation with the China Dunhuang Grottoes Conservation Research Foundation and the Dunhuang Chinese Succession Special Purposed Fund, formalised a partnership at the digital Dunhuang Grottoes exhibition Dunhuang Aesthetic Connection with the World. As part of this collaboration, student participants of the exhibition were given the opportunity to ‘make it real’ by extending their learning through organised activities with the foundation.
In this culminating piece of our students’ experiences in Dunhuang last summer, starting from Evan Y’s personal experience at The Grand Tour of Dunhuang, to Michelle W’s story her summer internship with the research foundation, we conclude our series of pieces with yet another piece from our student Evan Y, who shares his and his companions’ thoughts and insights on their Dunhuang adventure last summer.
By Evan Y
From 26 June to 1 July 2023, the Dunhuang Chinese Succession Special Purposed Fund organised a special educational programme exclusively for the DCB community called The Grand Tour of Dunhuang. The event was opened to those who registered for the Dunhuang Aesthetic Connection with the World Exhibition and MOU ceremony on 22 April, an event organised by the China Dunhuang Research Academy and the Dunhuang Chinese Succession Special Purposed Fund.
Dunhuang, near the borders of Gansu, Qinghai, and Xinjiang, is located at the westernmost end of the Hexi Corridor – the main transport route between central China and the western regions – and was a crucial route centre along the ancient Silk Road. Speaking at the MOU signing ceremony, DCB’s Head of College, Anthony Coles, said: "The Dunhuang Grottoes are an important and significant UNESCO World Heritage Site situated along the Silk Road."
Upon arrival, Dunhuang made a deep impression on all the students and parents present: the dry air, the scorching sun, the surrounding sandy mountains, the soothing evening breeze, and the afterglow that was still clearly visible at 9pm. These features elicited a sincere depiction of the beauty and the rich cultural heritage of the once cosmopolitan city. In the evening, under the moonlight of Dunhuang, the students discussed their knowledge of the Mogao Caves around the dim light of the lamp, reigniting their enthusiasm and curiosity.
As one of the student volunteers at the Dunhuang Aesthetics and the Connection of the World exhibition, Year 11 student Evan Y expressed that he gained a lot through this trip. “At the exhibition, we only saw copies of the many wonderful murals and artefacts. But on this trip, we were able to personally behold the history of thousands of years and culture of Dunhuang's Mogao Caves and were also fortunate enough to see some of the special caves which are usually not open to the public. Having learned a lot about Dunhuang for the guided bilingual tour, there was a sense of familiarity when I saw the murals in person.”
“As a centre of cultural fusion, Dunhuang introduced me to different cultures, such as the local “sand culture”, which is closely linked to the geology of the region, and sand bottle paintings and dynamic sand paintings. We also learned that the Yumen Pass (Jade Gate Pass) and the Yangguan Pass were the starting points of the Silk Road to the Western Regions, where traders would pray for good weather and prosperity, and many famous poets wrote poems on them. From these two passes, I could feel the neighbouring cultures' relationship to the Silk Road. The exquisite and culturally rich murals and sculptures in the Mogao Grottoes and the Yulin Grottoes also reminded me of the craftsmanship of the artisans who excavated the caves. The digitisation of the works has made it easier for us to preserve them forever, but their culture cannot be taken out of the context of the city of Dunhuang: it is something you must personally see and feel to understand.”
Andy X, a Year 4 student, said, "The docent at the Yulin Cave was humorous and very detailed. I remember the two paintings he talked about at the cave and his story about a baby trying to join a group that was meditating but was initially stopped by the Bodhisattva."
Year 4 student Alyssa L said, "I was most impressed by the camel riding and sandboarding. I also felt that the Mogao Caves were particularly stunning because they allowed you to briefly understand the murals, even though many parts had fallen off. My favourite mural was the one of the nine-coloured deer because the moral of its story is to be kind."
Amber S of Year 7 said, "The murals and statues of Buddha in the Mogao and Yulin Caves were astounding. One of the Buddha statues had a broken arm with straw inside, and the docent told us that this was the structure used to make the statue. We also saw that some of the walls of the corridors in Mogao Cave also had straw in them, which I felt was a fascinating way to make murals. The statues in the Yulin Cave are also very impressive. I was especially amazed at the statue of a sleeping Buddha. The statue was too big to lift and move to the cave, so they just chiselled it from the mountain."
Mrs Carrie, one of the parents on the tour, said, "Our kids are especially lucky that they came to Dunhuang when they were 4, 7, 8, or 10 years old and were exposed to the traditional culture at a relatively early age. I've been to about a hundred countries, and after you've travelled to so many of them, you will understand that the waters of the world are all interconnected. Although there are different nationalities and different cultures, their roots are all the same.”
Ms Qin, our Director of Government and Public Affairs who also joined the tour, shared her heartfelt gratitude to everyone involved in the project and for the invaluable support the project received. “In acknowledgement of the profound significance of World Heritage Sites, DCB orchestrated a Grand Tour to Dunhuang. Our esteemed partner, the Dunhuang-Chinese Succession Foundation, played a pivotal role by providing top-notch resources for the DCB community. Their contributions not only enriched our experience but also facilitated a unique opportunity to bring the community together.
A heartfelt thank you to all the families who participated in the kick-off tour. Your support and constructive feedback have set the foundation for the program, ensuring that the contents and resources are best suited for DCB families.
We look forward to providing more opportunities for DCB community to gain first-hand experience in Dunhuang, and please stay tuned for our upcoming presentation on the next Grand Tour to Dunhuang.”
This piece has been edited for brevity and conciseness.