Friday, 24 June 2011

The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang

From the website of Imre Galambos " Chinese manuscripts" an article by him for the Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archeology of 2008

The Third Ōtani Expedition at Dunhuang: Acquisition of the Japanese Collection of Dunhuang Manuscripts
Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology 3/2008: 29-35

Aurel Stein’s 1907 visit to the hidden cave library at the Thousand Buddha Caves near Dunhuang, and especially his acquisition of a large number of manuscripts there, came as exciting news to archaeologists and researchers worldwide. Paul Pelliot’s visit a few months later yielded an equally impressive collection of documents, which was soon to stir the interest of leading Chinese intellectuals. As a result of their efforts, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a government directive to transport the remaining manuscripts to the capital in 1909, with this effectively putting an end to the sale of these to foreign explorers. However, the two members of the third Ōtani expedition were still able to acquire a significant number of documents in Dunhuang in 1911-1912.

Japan was a relatively new participant in the exploration of Central Asia. It had recently demonstrated its economic and military strength by unexpectedly defeating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and emerged as a major player in East Asia. As was the case with European imperialistic powers, Japan’s colonial ambitions were accompanied by an increased interest in the Qing empire, especially its non-Han regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. The archaeological exploration of North-West China, however, was conducted as a private enterprise rather than a government-sponsored project. The man behind these ambitious plans was Count Ōtani Kōzui 大谷光瑞 (1876-1948), leader of the powerful Nishi Honganji Branch of the Jodo Shinshu sect, who sponsored a series of expeditions with the specific aim of exploring the Buddhist sites of the region. While staying in London in 1900-1902, the young Ōtani was fascinated by the discoveries of Buddhist remains in Western China by European explorers such as Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein. He believed that as a Buddhist priest thoroughly trained in the Chinese tradition he would be able to make a contribution to the exploration of the spread of Buddhism in this region. In 1902, when it was time for him to leave London, he decided to return home to Japan with a handful of followers by taking the overland route via Central Asia. Although his own participation in the journey was cut short by the death of his father, his men stayed behind to continue the exploration for a total of two years…

Read the whole article HERE: The third Otani expedition at Dunhuang

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