Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sponsor a Sutra Or.8210/S.3969

IDP would like to thank the Archaeological Tours group for their kind sponsorship of Or.8210/S.3969.

This group of twenty-four Americans and one Israeli, under the auspices of Archaeological Tours in New York City, spent twenty-three days traveling the Silk Road of China. Our tour began with three days in Xian visiting the tombs of the Han emperor Jingdi, the Tang emperor Gaozong, and the first emperor Qin Shi Huang, as well as the Forest of Stellae and the Great Goose Pagoda. It continued on to Lanzhou with a boat ride to the cave temples of Bingling and an afternoon at Labrang Monastery where, after our tour, we came upon monks rehearsing a sacred dance. While in Dunhuang, we traveled through the desert to see the ruins of the Jade Gate, the western-most extension of the Great Wall. Near Turpan, we toured the ancient Uighur city of Gaochang and the Bezeklik Grottos. Outside Urumqi, we walked through the ancient city-state of Jiaohe, where this photo was taken. Hotan served as our base for a tour of a traditional silk production facility, a bus trip to the new museum at Melikawak, China's oldest Buddhist temple, and a camel ride to the ancient stupa of Rawak. Before arriving in Kashgar, the western terminus of China's Silk Road, we stopped to visit the sixteenth-century Altun Mosque in Yarkand. Throughout our tour we enjoyed the exhibits in several provincial museums, fine food -- expecially Uighur delicacies -- and Professor Thorp's always informative lectures.

We were deeply moved by the six centuries of Buddhist art we explored in twenty Mogao cave temples during our two-day visit. To emulate past donors but in a twenty-first century manner, we pooled out dollars and asked Professor Thorp to select a sutra for digitization from the IDP web site. He chose this Manichaean text because it presents a minority faith and because it is written in beautiful calligraphy. Like pilgrims before us, we hope by sponsoring this sutra to gain some merit, if not in this world, then in the next.

Pictured in front of the stupa in the ancient citadel of Jiaohe are, front row from left to right: Shirley Pan, Parida Mohamed (CITS Guide), Pat Ketchum, Marjorie Lewis, Pat Wolf, Daphna Barr, Ruth Ben-Zvi, Sally Ashley, Alice Pickering, Susie Thorpe, Lynne Lambert, Lange Schermerhorn, Robert Thorp (Lecturer), and Kathy Cohen. In the back row stand Emmet Brennan, Bob Ketchum, Robert Johnson, Andrea Schneck, Tom Pickering, Ann Marie Kohlligaian, Margaret Hosier, Brenda Diaz, Li Katz, John Baynes, Pedro Diaz, and Ron Story. Kristen Knutsen, the Tour Manager, is not in the photo because she is taking it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

National Committee for Information Resources on Asia

Next Tuesday (December 7th), Sam van Schaik will talk at the annual conference of the National Committee for Information Resources on Asia (NACIRA), about recent developments at IDP. Click here for the NACIRA website and details of the conference.

Friday, November 19, 2010

IDP Dunhuang

Due to essential maintenance the IDP server at the Dunhuang Academy will be offline at times during the weekend of 20th/21st November. A Chinese language version of the website is available at the National Library of China server along with our other international sites. We apologise for any inconvenience and are aiming to restore a normal service by Monday 22nd.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

IDP Receives Casa Asia Award

Susan Whitfield received the Casa Asia 2010 Award on behalf of IDP in Madrid on 2nd November. The award was given to IDP for 'for its enormous task in the recovery, preservation and exhibition of information and images of the manuscripts, paintings and textiles found in the Chinese city of Dunhuang and of the Silk Route'. The 2010 award was shared with Philippine Senator Angara.
Susan Whitfield travelled on to Barcelona to give a public lecture at Casa Asia on the Silk Road and the Dunhuang Library Cave. She also discussed with Casa Asia the possiblity of collaboration on joint projects and a Spanish IDP website.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Turfan Forum on old languages of the Silk Road

Ursula Sims-Williams presented the paper Revisiting the International Dunhuang Database Project at the Turfan Forum on old languages of the Silk Road, 24–26 October. During her stay she visited the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum, the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and several sites including Bezeklik, Khocho and Toyuk (pictured above). A longer report will appear in the next issue of IDP News.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Self-Appointed Buddhas

The Tibetan manuscripts found when the sealed cave in Dunhuang was opened in 1900 are still the oldest in the world. But many of them are not as old as we once thought. When the manuscripts were first studied it was assumed that they all dated from the time when the Tibetans ruled Dunhuang, between 786 and 848. It’s a reasonable assumption which is, unfortunately, completely wrong. Certainly some manuscripts do date from this time, but many don’t. We now know that the Tibetan language continued to be used in and around Dunhuang long after the fall of the Tibetan empire, right up to the time the cave was sealed up at the beginning of the eleventh century.

Read more here...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IDP French website down 16-20 September

Due to building works, the IDP French website will be down from 16-20 September. Users can access the IDP UK website, or other IDP sites, during this period. Apologies for any inconvenience.

In search of A. O. Hobbs

In the summer of 1910, A. O. Hobbs was an English boy of 16, fresh out of school. This was the moment when he was hired to accompany the Japanese Tachibana Zuicho on an expedition to Central Asia. They travelled through Russia to Xinjiang and after a short stay in Urumchi, began excavations at Turfan. After this, Tachibana decided to separate and asked Hobbs to travel with their luggage to Kucha and meet him there a couple of months later. During this time the Tachibana explored the Lob desert and crossed the Taklamakan. Unfortunately, by the time he got back to meet his companion in Kucha, the young Englishman had died of smallpox. His body was already on its way to Kashgar on the orders of the British Consul George Macartney. It was buried at the English cemetery outside the north gates of Kashgar.

This is how much we learn from Tachibana's description of the events, as well as the consular diaries of Macartney. Recently, IDP's Imre Galambos has managed to trace Hobbs's home to the town of Swindon in Wiltshire. In continuation of this line of research, on 5th September Imre travelled to Swindon to see if he could find out more about Hobbs. At the modern and user-friendly Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, he was fortunate to locate some additional information.

The young man's full name was Alfred Orlando Hobbs, although he usually appears in school papers and elsewhere only as Orlando Hobbs. He spent three years at the Swindon and North Wilt Technical Institute on Victoria Road (see image above), and after graduation posted an ad in a newspaper, looking for a job. This is how he was hired to go on an expedition to Central Asia. His school registry has a note next to his name, saying that his occupation upon leaving the school was "explorer's assistant" and, in the next column, that he "died of smallpox in Chinese Turkestan."
The most interesting discovery was that the school's magazine has published two relevant letters. The first one was addressed to Hobbs's mother and was written by Theodora Macartney, the British Consul's wife. In this, she informed Mrs Hobbs of her son's death and described the funerary arrangements. The other was an earlier one, written by Hobbs himself from Turfan, describing in detail the excitements of travelling and working in such a distant land.
The letters and additional details of Hobbs's life will be published in the one after next issue of IDP News.

Monday, September 6, 2010

CCTV programme on Dunhuang woodslips

Interesting documentary in English on calligraphy from Dunhuang, including Han woodslips.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium V

IDP's Imre Galambos and Sam van Schaik will be giving presentations at the Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium on Wednesday, 1 September. The Symposium is held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

Imre will speak on Reconstructing a lost Song edition of Zhuge Liang’s Jiangyuan on the basis of its Tangut translation.

Sam will speak on The Sutra of the Ten Virtues: One of the Earliest Tibetan Buddhist Texts.

For further details and a program of the whole seminar, click on the link above.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Amdo Notes

Sam van Schaik has been writing on his earlyTibet blog about his field trip to Tibetan regions of Qinghai and Gansu (known to Tibetans as Amdo). Links below:

Friday, August 6, 2010

IDP Wins the Casa Asia 2010 Award

IDP is proud to receive the Casa Asia 2010 award 'for its enormous task in the recovery, preservation and exhibition of information and images of the manuscripts, paintings and textiles found in the Chinese city of Dunhuang and of the Silk Route'. We share the award with Philippine Senator Angara.

IDP News 34

The latest version of IDP News is now online. Articles include The Iconography of Buddha on a Wooden Panel from Khotan, Stars on Earth — De Filippi’s 1913-4 Karakorum Expedition and a report of the St. Petersburg Dunhuang Studies Conference held in September 2009.

The image above shows the peak at Burji-La from Filippo De Filippi's 1913–4 expedition to the Karakoram.
Courtesy of the Historical Archive of the Astrophysics Observatory of Arcetri (Florence).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

IDP Symposium 2010

Dr Susan Whitfield, Dr Imre Galambos and Vic Swift from IDP UK visited IDP Japan to attend the 2010 Symposium held at the Ryukoku University in Kyoto. Pictured above are Susan Whitfield (IDP Director at the British Library) and Dosho Wakahara (Director of the Ryukoku University) at a press conference for the signing of a new MoU for the continuing collaboration between the two institutions.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New book on Dunhuang caves

The Caves of Dunhuang, authored by Fan Jinshi, Director of the Dunhuang Academy, and translated and edited by Susan Whitfield of IDP, has recently been published by Scala. The book provides a detailed description of 50 caves at Mogao and other sites near Dunhuang. The forthcoming edition of IDP News will have details of a discount for readers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Imre Galambos and Sam van Schaik return from Qinghai field trip

Following the in the footsteps of a tenth-century Chinese pilgrim, Imre Galambos and Sam van Schaik spent a fortnight travelling through the Chinese province of Qinghai. They have been working on a book on the manuscripts carried by this pilgrim, now in the British Library's collections. In the tenth century most of this region was under Tibetan rule, and the pilgrim's letters of passage are written in the Tibetan language. Imre and Sam visited a number of old sites mentioned in the letters, including the secluded valley of Dentik and the cave temples of the Tsongka region (including Baima Si, pictured above). On the way, they gained insights into the terrain covered by the pilgrim, and photographed remnants of old paintings which help demonstrate the antiquity of these sites. A longer report will be posted soon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Visit to IDP China

Susan and Alastair of IDP UK are off to China on Wednesday. Susan is taking part in a workshop organised by the Dunhuang Academy to discuss systems for the new visitors' centre, while Alastair will work with colleagues at IDP China in Beijing and Dunhuang.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

IDP Reports: February/March & April/May 2010

February/March 2010: Download this report as a PDF (213KB).


  • 22 February: curators and conservators from national museums and libraries in Mozambique and Nigeria, on a visit to the BL, were shown round the IDP studio.
  • 5 March: Susan Whitfield met Jan Stuart, Head of Asia at the British Museum, to discuss on collaboration on digitisation and cataloguing of the Museum’s Stein 3D material.
  • 16–18 March: Susan Whitfield held meetings with various foundations and institutions in New York, to discuss possible funding and collaboration.
  • 21–31 March: Imre Galambos visited Japan, to discuss collaboration with the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo and to give a paper at the Digital Silk Road IDP Workshop. He then travelled to Kyoto where he visited Ryukoku University to discuss continuing collaboration; and on 29 March he attended a conference on Buddhist Manuscript Fragments at Lüshun Museum.
  • 22–26 March: Susan Whitfield visited Delhi for meetings with the Ministry of Culture and the National Museum, to discuss possible collaboration.
  • 29 March: IDP welcomed photographer Yichon Kim on a six-month internship, as part of a collaboration between IDP and Korea University.
  • Intern Ammandeep Mahal completed a three-week placement in the IDP digitisation studio.


  • 19 February: Sam van Schaik attended a workshop on Tibetan and Mongolian law at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies.
  • 11–13 March: Susan Whitfield attended a conference on ‘Cultural Crossings’ in Charlottesville, Virgina, giving a paper on IDP and taking part in discussions on the Silk Road and on compilation of a union catalogue of Buddhist scriptural texts.
  • 31 March: Alastair Morrison attended a conference on ‘Digitisation of Written Heritage’ at the Institut national du patrimoine in Paris.


  • Imre Galambos, ‘Another Hungarian Looting China’s Treasures? Sir Aurel Stein, Lajos Ligeti and a Case of Mistaken Identity’, Tonko shahon kenkyu (Dunhuang manuscript studies).
  • Matthew T. Kapstein and Sam van Schaik (eds), Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang: Rites and Teachings for This Life and Beyond. Leiden: Brill, 2010.


  • Susan Whitfield will publish an article on Stein in The Great Explorers, Thames & Hudson.
  • Imre Galambos will publish (1) ‘Scribal Notation in Medieval Chinese Manuscripts: The hewen and chongwen Marks’, Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Africa. Hamburg University. (2) ‘Japanese “Spies” Along the Silk Road: British Suspicions of the Second Otani Expedition (1908-09)’, Japanese Religions.
  • Sam van Schaik will publish (1) ‘A New Look at the Source of the Tibetan Script’, Yoshiro Imaeda, Matthew Kapstein and Tsuguhito Takeuchi (eds), Old Tibetan Documents Monograph Series, vol.III. (2) ‘The Origin of the Headless Script (dbu med) in Tibet’, Nathan Hill (ed), Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages IV. Leiden: Brill. (3) ‘Towards a Tibetan Palaeography: Developing a Typology of Writing Styles in Early Tibet’, Jan-Ulrich Söbisch and Jörg B. Quenzer (eds), Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Sam van Schaik and Imre Galambos are editing, for final submission to de Gruyter (provisional publication date October 2010), Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-Century Buddhist Pilgrim.

April/May 2010: Download this report as a PDF (299KB).

The Diamond Sutra went on display in the Chinese Print exhibition at the British Museum on 12 May and the Star Chart is on display at the Grand Palais in Paris in their exhibition on Daoism.


  • 8–9 April: Vic Swift visited IDP partners, at the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften, to install a new server for the IDP German-language website.
  • 13 April: Susan Whitfield met with Claire Warwick, Head of the Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL.
  • 14 April: Sheng Yanhai, from the Dunhuang Academy, returned to China after a five-month internship in the IDP Studio, funded by the World Collections Programme.
  • 21–23 April: Susan Whitfield travelled to Kabul for the opening of a British Library exhibition on images of Afghanistan, 1830-1920. Rachel Roberts was responsible for much of the photography and Vic Swift designed the catalogue. The images will be put on IDP and IDP will also host a website of the exhibition.
  • 22 April: Neville Agnew and Martha Demas of the Getty Conservation Institute visited the IDP studio.
  • 28 April: Abby Baker and Alastair Morrison visited the Confucius Institute at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, where Abby spoke to secondary students and teachers, and Alastair gave a public lecture, about Buddhism on the Silk Road.
  • 7 May: Susan Whitfield met with Dr Vivienne Lo of UCL and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim to discuss an extension and possible funding of the medical manuscripts project.
  • 11 May: The Chinese Ambassador spoke positively about IDP in his speech at the reception for a NLC-BL China Studies Day. Susan Whitfield met with the delegation from the NLC to discuss IDP and their collaboration with the BL.
  • 20 May: Susan Whitfield met with Roger Wallen to discuss a possible joint project with Newcastle University on Hadrian’s Wall and the Chinese Han walls.
  • 27 May: Susan Whitfield met with Mimi Gardner of Seattle Art Museum to discuss possible joint projects.


  • 13th April: Sam van Schaik gave a presentation at the Royal Asiatic Society, on ‘The International Dunhuang Project: History of Conservation and Development’ at the conference ‘Conservation of Chinese Graphical Collections’.
  • 19 May: Susan Whitfield gave a lecture on ‘Arts of the Taklamakan Kingdoms’ to the Bristol Society for the Arts of Asia.
  • 26 May: Susan Whitfield gave a lecture on the Dunhuang Star Chart and Chinese astronomy to the Astrophysics group at Imperial College.


  • Susan Whitfield will lecture and hold a seminar on manuscript studies in Hamburg in early June.
  • Imre Galambos will publish (1) ‘Scribal Notation in Medieval Chinese Manuscripts: The hewen and chongwen Marks’, Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Africa. Hamburg University. (2) ‘Japanese “Spies” Along the Silk Road: British Suspicions of the Second Otani Expedition (1908-09)’, Japanese Religions.
  • Sam van Schaik will publish (1) ‘A New Look at the Source of the Tibetan Script’, Yoshiro Imaeda, Matthew Kapstein and Tsuguhito Takeuchi (eds), Old Tibetan Documents Monograph Series, vol.III. (2) ‘The Origin of the Headless Script (dbu med) in Tibet’, Nathan Hill (ed), Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages IV. Leiden: Brill. (3) ‘Towards a Tibetan Palaeography: Developing a Typology of Writing Styles in Early Tibet’, Jan-Ulrich Söbisch and Jörg B. Quenzer (eds), Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Sam van Schaik and Imre Galambos are editing, for final submission to de Gruyter (provisional publication date October 2010), Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-Century Buddhist Pilgrim.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Videos of IDP's Xinjiang Field Trip

Over a century ago the Hungarian scholar Marc Aurel Stein set out on what was to be his first of four expeditions to Chinese Central Asia. He was in search of ancient civilisations, almost forgotten to history yet with ruins which could potentially provide archaeological evidence of the rich cultural mix engendered by the opening of the international trade routes across Eurasia – the Silk Road. Stein’s expeditions and finds exceeded his expectations: he uncovered hundreds of archaeological sites, discovering over 50,000 artefacts. He also mapped his journey and the sites and took over 5,000 photographs, recording the sites, people he encountered, everyday life, officials and the changing landscape. In November 2008 members of a joint project between IDP and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in China (XJIA), retraced Stein’s footsteps to retake his site photographs a hundred years on. Read more about IDP's field trip in IDP News Issue 32.

Videos of IDP's field trip are now available on our YouTube channel. Footage is available of sites including Miran and Endere.

The video below shows Mazar Tagh or 'Hill of the shrine'. The Tibetan army built this fort when they occupied the area in the mid-8th century AD. On top of a hill overlooking the Khotan River in otherwise flat land it is in a excellent strategic position, controlling the route from Khotan to the south to the kingdoms of the northern Tarim.

Many of the Tibetan woodslips and other items which survived from Tibetan times were discovered among the piles of rubbish from the stable block which still cover the slope below the fort.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pregnancy taboos in medieval China

Many cultures have restrictions or prohibitions on the behaviour of pregnant women, stemming either from the desire to protect the mother and unborn baby, or from beliefs that see pregnant women as ‘impure’. There are many taboos in Chinese culture surrounding pregnancy, for example pregnant women are advised not to put scissors or anything sharp on their beds that could harm the spirit of the unborn baby, but to keep knives under their beds to ward off evil spirits.

I recently came across an article published in July 2009 (1) containing some interesting information about medieval Chinese prohibitions surrounding pregnancy from an analysis of the verso of Dunhuang manuscript Or.8210/S.4433 (see image above) in the British Library Stein collection. The manuscript advises women who are three months pregnant not to face south or east while bathing. Author Liu Yanhong 刘艳红 argues that this seems strange as both directions are usually positively associated with reproduction and vitality. According to Liu, the southern wind is associated with growth in classical Chinese sources, and the east wind is associated with spring. In ancient China the spring (east) wind was considered the ‘offspring’ of the interaction between heaven and earth, and thus the east wind was also known as the ‘joining wind’. Therefore Liu is perplexed by the cultural admonition against pregnant women from bathing facing the south or east.

A clue to this can be found, argues Liu, in the importance the ancient Chinese attached to spirit or ancestor worship. Heaven and earth were the most important spirits, and events such as lunar or solar eclipses were interpreted as portending disaster. Thus, pregnant women, as they were considered impure, could not take part in the ceremonies or eat the sacrificial food. Liu then wonders whether the taboo on pregnant women bathing facing south or east was also due to their perceived impurity. As the sun rises in the east and shines longest in the south, Liu thinks the prohibition on bathing facing those directions is linked to the sun god. The life-sustaining properties of the sun meant that the sun god was highly respected by ordinary people in medieval China. Two other spirits of the natural world were also associated with those two directions, the thunder god with the east and the fire god with the south, showing the fear and respect inspired by thunder and fire. According to Liu, the prohibition of facing the east or south while bathing seems therefore to stop pregnant women from offending the sun, thunder and fire gods. While this conclusion is backed up with citations from classical sources, Liu is perhaps making some large assumptions in linking prohibitions facing certain directions while bathing to offending deities.

Liu points out that another aspect of the prohibition could be to protect pregnant women and their unborn babies. In medieval China people believed that before the end of the third month of pregnancy the spirit of the unborn baby was not yet completely formed, and the sex of the baby was not decided. People thought the baby could be damaged by the sun, thunder or fire, which is possibly another reason for the prohibition.

Another Dunhuang manuscript (see image below) dealing with birth is Or.8210/S.6983 (ff.9V-10R), and has paintings of a couple praying to the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokoteśvara (Guanyin), on one panel, and the woman giving birth next to a midwife on the following panel showing her prayers were answered. The text under the painting reads (2):

‘If a woman wishes to give birth to a boy, she should offer obeisance and alms to Avalokiteśvara and she will bear a son blessed with merit, virtue and wisdom … and a daughter, she will bear one with all the masks of comeliness, one who in the past planted the roots of virtue and is loved and respected by many persons.’

These two examples show the typical mingling of folk beliefs with prayers to Buddhist deities in medieval China. There is more information on this manuscript in the catalogue entry next to the item on the IDP database (type Or.8210/S.6983 into the search box on the left hand side of the IDP homepage, and on the education resource of the British Library 2004 Silk Road exhibition, available from the Education pages on the IDP website.

1.The information in this post comes from the following article by Liu Yanhong 刘艳红, ‘Dunhuang wenxian S.4433 zhong jinzhi yunfu mianxiang “dong” “nan” jiaomu xisu tanmi’ 敦煌文献S.4433中禁止孕妇面向“东”“南”浇沐习俗探秘 (A Study on the prohibition of pregnant women facing east or south while bathing in Dunhuang manuscript S.4433). Journal of Qinghai Nationalities Institute, vol. 35, no. 3, 2009: 39-42.
2.This English translation is from Watson, Burton, The Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993: 300.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Teaching Chinese Astronomy

For many thousands of years, man has attempted to make sense of the sky by naming and grouping stars into recognisable patterns. At the turn of the twentieth century, Marc Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born, British archaeologist uncovered the world’s oldest existing star chart in a Buddhist cave complex in Dunhuang, China. The chart, now known as the Dunhuang Star Atlas and probably dating from before AD 700, was just one of a large number of important manuscripts, printed documents and paintings which were found at the site, and which tell us much about social, religious and political issues in medieval China and Central Asia. But the Star Atlas – now held at the British Library in London – is also proving important for our current understanding of astronomical history due to the accuracy and detail it provides about the sky seen from China from such an early period.

Visit the IDP website to download a free classroom wallchart on the Chinese Sky, view educational material on many Silk Road themes, and view our new resource on Chinese Astronomy which aims to :

• Introduce the Dunhuang Star Atlas and explain its importance as a historical and scientific document
• Offer an introduction to astronomy and explain the place it has occupied in Chinese history and culture.
• Introduce the most important Chinese constellations and the myths associated with them.
• Look at the links between Chinese astronomy and astrology and explore the Chinese ‘zodiac’.
• Offer ideas for classroom activities and downloadable resources for teachers.
• Link to related websites and other sources of information.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

IDP Website Down

The IDP UK site will be down for approximately one hour. Thank you for your patience.

Work on Website

IDP is working on updating its content management system and website on its servers worldwide. This is a major update requiring considerable testing and verification of data. At the moment we are resolving the issues with catalogues and bibliography search and display. We will let you know when this is fully functioning again.
Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang

Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang
is a new collection of articles on the tantric traditions of Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism, based on the Dunhuang manuscripts. The collection comes in part from a conference panel that was held at the end of a three-year IDP project to catalogue the Tibetan tantric manuscripts at the British Library. The collection was edited by Sam van Schaik of IDP in collaboration with Matthew Kapstein, of the University of Chicago and the École Pratique des Hautes Ètudes (Paris).

The book is organized on the theme of "rites and teachings for this life and beyond." For this life, there are chapters on wrathful rituals, tantric vows, and philosophical interpretations of tantric practice. And for the next life, there are chapters on mortuary rites (precursors of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”) and the use of printed mantras and dhāraṇis as magical amulets to be buried with the dead, like the one at the top of this post, 1919,0101,0.249. The book is available now from Brill's website.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

IDP Report: November, December 2009 & January 2010

Download this report as a PDF (284KB).


  • November 2009: Sheng Yanhai from the Dunhuang Academy began a 5-month internship at the BL, taking over from his colleague Zhao Liang. Sheng will do photography and imaging work and will help to develop an educational programme for the Dunhuang Academy, based on the Mogao Caves.
  • 22 December: Imre Galambos visited the Central Library, Taiwan, to open talks about digitising their Dunhuang manuscripts.
  • 13–14 January: Susan Whitfield, Vic Swift and Alastair Morrison visited Stockholm to discuss collaboration on the Sven Hedin collections. They met colleagues at the Museum of Ethnography, the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, the Royal Library, the National Archives and the department of Central Asian studies at Stockholm University.
  • A project is underway with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to create electronic versions of Pelliot tibétain catalogues, IDP is inputting and marking up the catalogues in XML (TEI), for subsequent conversion to EAD by the BnF, and the first marked-up volume has just been completed and sent to the BnF.


  • 2 November: Susan Whitfield gave a lecture for Christies, on Silk Road art.
  • 5 November: Susan Whitfield gave an interview to CBS News on the Dunhuang manuscripts.
  • 9 November: Susan Whitfield appeared on a Belgian TV programme about the Silk Road.
  • 14–15 November: Imre Galambos presented a paper on a Song dynasty manuscript and its earlier sources, at a National Library of China conference on ‘Ancient Chinese Texts’.
  • 29 November: Susan Whitfield lectured on the Silk Road exhibition at the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels.
  • 1 December: Susan Whitfield gave a lecture to students at Ghent University.
  • 20 December: Imre Galambos presented a paper on a Tangut manuscript, at a Tangut language conference in Taipei.
  • 18 January: Susan Whitfield gave two lectures, on art on the Silk Road and China, for SOAS Art of China course.


  • Imre Galambos: (1) ‘IDP: International collaboration for sharing resources’ in published proceedings of Chinese librarians’ conference, Macao, October 2009; and (2) ‘Manuscript copies of stone inscriptions in the Dunhuang corpus: Issues of dating and provenance’ in Asiatische Studien 63.4 (2009).
  • IDP News 33 (Spring 2009) was published and issue 34 will follow shortly.
  • Sam van Schaik with Lewis Doney: ‘The Prayer, the Priest and the Tsenpo: An Early Buddhist Narrative from Dunhuang’, in the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 30.1-2: 175-217.



  • Susan Whitfield will publish an article on Stein for The Great Explorers, Thames & Hudson.
  • Imre Galambos, ‘Japanese “Spies” Along the Silk Road: British Suspicions of the Second Otani Expedition (1908–09),’ in Japanese Religions.
  • Susan Whitfield, ‘Marc-Aurel Stein: Scholar on the Silk Road’, in Robin Hanbury-Tenison (ed.), The Great Explorers, London, Thames and Hudson, 2010.
  • Imre Galambos will visit the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo and Ryukoku University in Kyoto, in March.
  • Sam van Schaik, (1) ‘A New Look at the Source of the Tibetan Script’, Yoshiro Imaeda, Matthew Kapstein and Tsuguhito Takeuchi (eds.), Old Tibetan Documents Monograph Series, vol.III; (2) ‘The Origin of the Headless Script (dbu med) in Tibet’, Nathan Hill (ed.), Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages IV, Leiden, Brill and (3) ‘Towards a Tibetan Palaeography: Developing a Typology of Writing Styles in Early Tibet’, Jan-Ulrich Söbisch and Jörg B. Quenzer (eds), Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field, Berlin, de Gruyter.
  • Sam van Schaik and Imre Galambos are editing for final submission to de Gruyter (provisional publication date October 2010): Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-Century Buddhist Pilgrim.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wakhan Fort

Issue XX of the AKTC Afghanistan newsletter has a report on the survey of the Kansir Fort in the Wakhan, believed by Stein to be an 8th-century Tibetan fort. The Wakhan was the site of a battle between the Chinese and Tibetan armies in 747, which I wrote about in The Soldier's Tale and visited a few years ago (my blog picture is taken there). The battle started on the banks of the Amu Darya (Oxus River) and continued up the valley, over the Baroghil Pass, now on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then across the glacial Dakhot Pass. Forbidding topography.

Excellent news that AKTC are preparing a survey and drawings of the fort. The French Archaeological Institute are said to be interested in excavating there - Stein would have been very jealous!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buddhism Education Pack

As part of the EU funded CREA project, IDP has produced a new set of downloadable educational worksheets in English, French and German on the subject of Buddhism for teachers and students. The worksheets aim to offer a general introduction to the topic and can be used together or individually to introduce ideas relating to the history and basic tenets of the religion, its transmission through Asia and its iconography and manifestation in printed documents, paintings and manuscripts from international museum and library collections.

IDP is currently working to expand its education pages online and this set of themed worksheets represents the first of a number of new resources that will appear on our web pages over the next few months. Please look out for upcoming resources on Chinese Astronomy and Astrology which will appear soon. We welcome your feedback on our resources and hope that you find them useful in your classroom, or for your own research. Please contact abby.baker@bl.uk if you have any comments or suggestions, would like to order hard copies of this resource, or have an enquiry about other education services we can offer.

The image below shows Buddha preaching the Dharma in a detail from the Paradise of Śākyamuni. 1919,0101,0.6
© The British Museum.

The Dunhuang Star Chart

The Dunhuang Star Chart (Or.8210/S.3326) is one of the most important manuscripts in the British Library Dunhuang collection. Dating from the second half of the seventh century AD, it is an example of the coloured star-map of Qian Lezhi and almost certainly the oldest extant manuscript star-chart from any civilisation.

A new research paper authored by Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud, Dr Françoise Praderie and Dr Susan Whitfield presents an analysis of the star atlas included in the medieval Chinese manuscript. Although partially studied by a few Chinese scholars, it has never been fully displayed and discussed in the Western world. The paper is available to view via our Research page.

A further resource on the Dunhuang Star Chart for schoolchildren and teachers is currently under development and will be available soon.

The images below show details of the circumpolar map and a bowman in traditional clothes.
© British Library Board.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra(Or.8210/P.2) at the British Library is the world's earliest dated printed book, and was made in AD 868. It was discovered by accident in the early twentieth century along with tens of thousands of other scrolls in a hidden cave at the Buddhist Mogao cave site in Dunhuang, northwest China.

The newly-conserved Diamond Sutra is now online via the IDP Database. A web resource about the manuscript is currently being developed and will include information and images about its conservation.

The Diamond Sutra can also be seen on the British Library's Turning the Pages.

The image below shows a detail from the frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra.
The video is of Mark Barnard, Manager of the Conservation Section at the British Library working on the manuscript.
© British Library Board

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hedin collections - on IDP?

Just back from a great visit to Stockholm discussing potential IDP collaboration on Sven Hedin material and an IDP Sweden - just need to find some funds! Many thanks to Swedish colleagues for their hospitality.