January 21, 2022

Caves of the Thousand Buddhas: Art and Buddhist Devotion Along the Silk Roads

Event Series: China and the West: Cultural Dialogues

Showing the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas: Art and Buddhist Devotion Along the Silk Roads Video

Located in present-day Gansu Province in northwestern China, the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. Nearly 500 man-made caves carved into mountain cliffs between the fourth to fourteenth centuries were painted with Buddhist murals and installed with clay icons. In her talk, Michelle C. Wang provided an overview of the architecture and art of the Mogao Caves and focus on one popular motif, the “Thousand Buddhas.” Comprised of repeated images of seated Buddhas, the Thousand Buddhas motif opens onto Buddhist concepts of time and cosmology, artistic patronage, and the artist’s practice at Dunhuang. Wang’s presentation was followed by a Q&A moderated by Michael Scott.

This event was part of the China and the West: Cultural Dialogues series, sponsored by Georgetown University's Future of the Humanities Project (a partnership with Campion Hall, Oxford, and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford) in cooperation with the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding in London.


Michelle C. Wang is an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University and a specialist in the Buddhist and silk road art of northwestern China, primarily of the sixth to tenth centuries. Her first book Mandalas in the Making: The Visual Culture of Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang (2018) examines Buddhist mandalas of the eighth to tenth centuries at the Mogao and Yulin Buddhist cave shrines in northwestern China. In addition to her research on mandalas, she has also written about art and ritual, miracle tales of animated statues, the transcultural reception of Buddhist motifs, and text and image. Her current work concerns Buddhist sculpture and materiality.

Michael Scott (moderator) is Fellow and Senior Dean at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. He is also senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University and leads the Future of the Humanities Project. He has previously served as pro vice chancellor at De Montfort University, Leicester, and was the founding vice chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University. His books include studies in Shakespeare and his contemporaries and in twentieth century theatre. He has been a fellow and visiting professor at two Chinese universities and published a book on King Arthur with the Foreign Research and Teaching Press in Beijing.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user emperornie