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Foreigners in Dunhuang
Author:by Lou Jie, Liang Xushu, and Huang Yuanwei Published:2014.3.22 Views:

The garrison town of Dunhuang, originally founded by the Han Chinese in 111 BCE, became a major commercial hub on the Silk Road. It was a launching point for caravans setting out for the West. And it was a place of safety and respite for caravans carrying foreigners and foreign goods that had traveled across the desert headed for the major cities of China. No doubt the devout Buddhists who arrived here gave thanks or prayed for safe passage at the local temples and shrines.

Over its long history, the town was fought over and periodically occupied by non-Han powers: the Xiongnu and the Turkic Tuoba during the Northern Dynasties; the Tibetans for a brief period in the Tang dynasty; the Uighurs followed by the Tangut Xixia (Western Xia dynasty) in the eleventh century; the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty; and the Tibetans again in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Different religions flourished in this area as a result of foreign occupation and Silk Road commerce. In addition to Buddhism, which had spread into China over the Silk Road, and the indigenous practice of Daoism and Confucian ancestor worship, evidence of Nestorian Christians, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism could also be found in the Mogao Grottoes.

A large quantity of fragmentary texts in non-Han languages, as well as a number of Persian and Xixa coins, were found in the caves of the Northern Area of the Grottoes. The carved wood mortuary figure of a Westerner (cat. no. 27) attests not only to the multi-ethnic nature of the local community but also to the use of some of the caves in this section of the site for funerals and burials.

1.Mortuary figure of male Westerner

Tang dynasty (618-907)

Wood and pigments; H. 14.8 cm ,Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, B86:l 1

This mortuary figure wears a pointed hat and has deep-set eyes, a chiseled nose, a wide mouth, and a protruding chin. His folded hands are hidden in his sleeves and held in front of the chest. Both feet and part of the right shoulder have been damaged. Most of the original pigments have come off, leaving only a minute amount of white pigment in places.

2.Persian coin

Sassanian, reign of Peroz I (457-484),Silver;Width 3.1 cm, Thickness 0.1 cm, Weight 3.88 g

Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, B222:l

One hallmark of Sassanian coinage is its thinner flan when compared to that of its Greco-Roman counterpart.

This Sassanid Persian coin was issued during the reign of King Peroz I (r. 457-484). The heavily worn obverse shows the bust of the king in profile, facing toward the right inside a dotted-border. Although the image is degraded, it can be discerned that he is wearing a winged crown surmounted by ornaments in the shape of a crescent and disk. The illegible inscription around him is in Pahlavi, an ancient Iranian language.

The state religion of the Sassanid dynasty was Zoroastrianism, and the king was considered guardian of the sacred fire. Thus, fire imagery appears on the coin’s reverse. Inside the dotted border is a pillar-like fire altar with two attendants dressed in kingly garb by its side. Flanking the flame are a crescent and a five-pointed star. The Pahlavi inscriptions beside the attendants are now mostly obliterated, making them illegible.