Silk Road and Dunhuang:
Journey to the Western Regions with Hyecho
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
The Silk Road was an extensive network of routes that linked Asia with Europe, facilitating exchange between vastly different civilizations. Satin and chinaware produced in China were carried to Europe via the Silk Road, and Buddhism, which originated in India, also spread eastward via this road.
The museum borrowed a total of 214 relics from 12 foreign institutions for the exhibition. These are comprised of the following: Wang ocheonchukguk jeon kept by the National Library of France (Bibliotheque nationale de France) and those kept by ten institutions in China, which include the National Museum of China, the Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang, Kansu Province, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China.
This exhibition is arranged in a way that follows the path of Hyecho’s travel in the early 8th century. Hyecho, a Silla Buddhist priest, was the first Korean to travel and keep a record of the Silk Road. He arrived in an eastern region of India in a boat and made a pilgrimage to Buddhist eight holy sites. Then, he traveled to the west, Central Asia and returned to Changan 장안 (now Xian) in China through the Pamir Mountains 파미르 고원, Saiwik 서역, and Dunhuang 둔황. Saiwik, which corresponds to the present day Uygur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang 신장위구르자치구, used to be a crucial part of the Silk Road that linked Rome with Changan.
The exhibition serves as an occasion to finally introduce the valuable ancient record, Wang ocheonchukguk jeon (Record of Travels in Five Indian Regions) to the general public for the first time since its publication 1,283 years ago. It is a travel journal written by Hyecho in 727. The book was discovered by the French archaeologist Paul Pelliot in Dunhuang in 1908, and currently kept by the National Library of France.
Other valuable relics brought back from the places Hyecho visited are also presented, such as Kashgar, an oasis town east of the Taklamakan Desert, the Chinese garrison town of Lulan, and the section of the Silk Road in China that connects Dunhuang with Changan. Furthermore, the Mogao Caves 막고굴 in Dunhuang has been perfectly replicated in the exhibition hall to help visitors experience the grandiose and beautiful works of art. The Mogao Caves have captured people’s attention with their gorgeous statues and murals of Buddha, and Grotto No.17 is the place where the book Wang ocheonchukguk jeon was found.
Section 1 Regions of the Silk Road
Gold roundel Decorated with a Tiger, 5th-3rd century BCE, Gold, D 5.2cm
Comb Bag, 1st-4th century, Wool, L 9.6cm
Section 2 Life and Culture of the Silk Road
Figurine of a Female Dancer, ca. 633-688, Wood, H 35.8cm, Astana, Turpan
Glass Earring painted with a Human Face, 2nd-5th century, Glass, L 1.05cm
Pottery Figurine of a Western Figure, 7th-10th century, H 29cm, Changan
Long Sleeved Silk Garment, 2nd-5th century, Silk, 54x153cm
Section 3 Dunhuang and Wang Ocheonchukguk jeon
Dunhuang Caves (Mogao Caves)
Grotto No.16 and Dunhuang Documents
Entrance of Grotto No.17 (* It was found in the Grotto No.16.)
Wang ocheonchukguk jeon (Record of Travels in Five Indian Regions),
Grotto No.17, 8th century, 42x358 cm
Section 4 Connected Road to the East
Bronze Belt-buckle Depicting a Tiger Biting Sheep, 5th-3rd century BCE,
Copper, 8x4.5 cm
Clay Burial Guard, 7th century, Color on Clay, H 85cm
Corner Pillar, 8th-9th century, Silla, Stone, H 73.6cm