Reflecting on the Dunhuang Manuscripts

Transmission and Transformation
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room B

  • Organised by Dou Xu
  • Chaired by Christoph Anderl
  • Duo Xu, “The Chosen Scores—the Dunhuang Music Manuscripts and Its Transmission in Medieval Japan”
  • Nikita Kuzmin, “Many Faces of Guanyin jing—Pictorial and Textual Analysis of the Tangut Version from Dunhuang”
  • Tursunjan Imin, “A Case Study of the Old Uyghur Names in Dunhuang Tibetan Manuscript P.T. 1283”
  • Jing Feng, “Rediscussion of the ‘Scroll-Codex’ Transformation in the History of Chinese Books”

Dunhuang, located in the north-west of China, was situated at the conjunction of the Silk Roads of the Gansu corridor that linked Central Asia with medieval China. Due to the extensive exchange of trade and religion this location facilitated, Dunhuang thus became a meeting point for various cultures, a fact highly evident in the Dunhuang manuscripts. This panel will examine various aspects of the Dunhuang manuscripts, with a particular focus on their reflection on matters such as the transmission of the manuscripts during different periods and locations, the transformation of the book forms and textual content in different languages. This panel aims to exam the manuscripts not only focusing on the textual content but also its materiality, also offers new perspectives on the manuscripts by combining different methodological approaches and disciplines. The panel has been organised by Xu Duo, with Christoph Anderl as chair and discussant. Among the four participants, Xu Duo is presenting the Dunhuang music manuscripts, to explain the copying and transmission of the music notations in between Tang China and Japan; Nikita Kuzmin is considering the Guanyin sutra in Dunhuang manuscripts as a case study, comparing the textual and pictorial aspects of the sutra in its Chinese and Tangut editions; Feng Jing will discuss the change of the Dunhuang manuscripts from scrolls to codices, especially the codices that made from reused scrolls; Tursunjan Imin will analysis the old Uyghur names in the Dunhuang Tibetan manuscripts, which is translated from one language to another.

Duo Xu, “The Chosen Scores—the Dunhuang Music Manuscripts and Its Transmission in Medieval Japan”

There are currently three Dunhuang manuscripts on display in the Bibliothèque nationale de France containing musical symbols and notations—P.3808, P.3539 and P.3571. Especially in P.3808, music scores demonstrate a musical notation including the finger positions on the short lute, rhythm and instructions of the performance. The three manuscripts are dated around the 9th–10th century, and the actual producing locations of the three manuscripts are still a matter of discussion. In addition, a number of music scores such as the Tenbyō Biwa score found in Japan contain features, which suggest they were likely created during the Tang dynasty in China (sometimes between 7th–9th century), copied, and taken to Japan. Interestingly, many of the symbols and notational writing systems found in the Dunhuang musical manuscripts are very similar to those being preserved in Japan. This paper will firstly introduce the Dunhuang music scores, with an in-depth explanation of their writing habits, the content of the manuscripts, and usage of musical symbols; secondly, the paper will compare and analysis the musical notes in the Dunhuang manuscripts and the music scores from Japan which were copied during Tang dynasty. As such, this paper aims to explore the process of the copying of music manuscripts from Tang-era China to Japan, with an emphasis on the actual function and usage of the musical manuscripts. The paper will also attempt to explain the transmission of the musical manuscripts—musical instruments and musical pieces also travelled between Tang China and Japan.

Nikita Kuzmin, “Many faces of Guanyin jing—Pictorial and textual analysis of the Tangut version from Dunhuang

In 1959 Chinese archaeologists discovered two Tangut sutras in a stupa near Mogao grottoes in Dunhuang. One of them is an almost complete printed edition of the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra—Guanshiyin pumen pin (Guanyin jing). One distinguishing feature of this version is that its frontispiece contains a depiction of Water-Moon Guanyin accompanied by a donator and a gandharva. Moreover, the sutra’s narrative is supplemented by a string of images running across the top of each folio. Although such pictorial narratives are not commonly seen in Buddhist scriptures of Central and East Asia, different editions of Guanyin jing include a large number of illustrations and present various forms of text-image relationships. In this paper, I will discuss this unique feature of the Tangut edition from Dunhuang in comparison with others, ranging from tenth-century manuscripts discovered in Mogao Cave 17 to Song–Yuan woodblocks. While previous scholarships have mainly focused on particular editions of the sutra, my research aims for a comparative analysis of various sutra versions. This methodology enables me to trace the evolution of pictorial and textual narratives of Guanyin jing as well as its pictorial-textual transition from Sinitic to the Tangut version. I suggest that the appeal of its content for lay Buddhist practitioners triggered the formation of its text-image symbioses. Together with other Tangut materials from Dunhuang, it sheds light on the religious life of the Tanguts in Dunhuang.

Tursunjan Imin, “A Case Study of the old Uyghur names in Dunhuang Tibetan Manuscript P.T. 1283”

Dunhuang manuscript P.T. 1283 is one of the most important and unique cases among the old Uyghur manuscripts, which had been written in Tibetan script. P.T. 1283 contains textual contents on both its recto and verso. On its recto, there is a Buddhist text written in Chinese, and its verso contains two textual units in Tibetan. In fact, the second textual unit has been known as ‘Report on Kings Remaining in the North’ in English and ‘byang phyogs na rgyal po du bzhugs pa’i rabs kyi yi ge’o’ in Tibetan. Previous researchers have believed this text was being translated or excerpted from old Uyghur. In this paper, I am trying to analyse the old Uyghur names in this Tibetan text, in order to provide evidence that this text was originally translated from an old Uyghur text; secondly, I am also aiming to explain the tribal names which had been mentioned in the Tibetan text, to explain the relations in between the Dunhuang region and its neighbours in medieval times. Overall, by analysing the old Uyghur names, it proves that the transmission of the Dunhuang manuscripts may have been based on the transformation of the scripts and languages.

Jing Feng, “Rediscussion of the ‘Scroll-Codex’ Transformation in the History of Chinese Books”

The transformation from scrolls to codices is a frequently mentioned topic in the history of books, no matter in the West or East. In China, this shift revealed itself in the early emergence of codices in Dunhuang around the ninth century. Entering the eleventh century, folded-leaf books replaced scrolls becoming the dominant book form in China. In the historiography of Chinese books, this transformation has been related to a book form named “whirlwind”, and it is believed that this book form was the intermediate link that bridged scrolls and codices. My paper, supported by codicological research on codices discovered in Dunhuang library cave, argues that the ‘scroll-codex’ transformation was less relevant to the whirlwind binding. Physical evidence uncovers a direct link between scrolls and codices, indicating that there was another passage from scrolls to codices without whirlwinds’ involvement. More importantly, material details related to the production and use of Dunhuang codices articulates that the appearance of this new book form is closely related to the cultural contacts in this region throughout the ninth and tenth centuries.

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Room B
Transmission and Transformation