The Mogao Caves

Draw a teaching the Lotus sutra


The Door to the Treasure House
Opens by Chance

According to one account, the door to the treasure house opened by chance. In June 1900, when Wang Yuanlu 王圓籙 was cleaning Cave 16 of the Mogao Caves, he noticed a fissure in the wall along a corridor. He knocked on the wall and realized that it had to be hollow inside. He slowly tore down the wall, little by little, and found another small cave with a floor space of some 13 square meters.
In which numerous scriptures and old documents were piled up to the ceiling. The small cave was later named the Library Cave 蔵経堂 or Cave 17.

The main room of Cave 16 with the altar in the center viewed from the front room.
On the right, the entrance to Cave 17 can be seen. This photograph was taken after the scriptures were removed from Cave 17.
The discoverer of the Library Cave, Daoist monk Wang Yuanlu.
His discovery led to the establishment of Dunhuang studies.
Marc Aurel Stein from the U.K.
French scholar, Paul Pelliot, selecting documents in the Library Cave
40,000 out of 50,000 old documents leaked overseas
Upon hearing of this discovery, British archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein (1862–1943) came to Dunhuang and purchased numerous documents, many of which were then sent to the British Museum in London. The following year (1901), French sinologist Paul Pelliot (1878–1945) came to Dunhuang, selected and bought several thousand valuable documents from this pile of scriptures and took them back to Paris. In this way, numerous items of the priceless mountain of Dunhuang documents and relics were taken away by foreign expeditions to destinations overseas. Some 50,000 sutras and ancient documents included in the original Dunhuang trove are valuable manuscripts spanning the period from the 4th to the 11th centuries CE. Encompassing religious, historical, geographical and cultural matters, these precious documents span a wide range of knowledge that was compiled in Dunhuang over a 700-year period.