The Thousand Buddha Caves in the oasis city of Dunhuang on the ancient Silk Road are a museum of religion and art. Known as Mogaoku in Chinese, they are on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage. But today the priceless murals, which have survived the centuries, are in danger.
Touching history. This is Su Bomin and his colleagues at work. Restoring every detail of the murals could take them hours or days. It seems an endless endeavor, but they're never bored.
Su Bomin, restoration chief of Dunhuang Academy, said, "For tourists or people who are not in close contact with them, they may simply be paintings. But for us, they are alive. They are animated. And from a professional point of view, we see more information. Its artistic feeling, its diseases, or what caused it to be like this."
The murals in the Mogao caves require the experts to understand the historical, religious, and artistic background of the original work. The paintings must be kept authentic.
Su Bomin said, "The principle is repairing the old to the way it was. Our job is to make it look as though we've done nothing. This is the best result."
The name Mogaoku means peerless caves. From the fifth to fourteenth centuries, monks and Buddhist worshippers created some eight hundred caves off the cliff. Sizes vary, but all are cut rock. The sandstone deteriorates over time.
Damage also comes from modern perils of mass tourism where humidity from the breaths of visiting crowd can impair the delicate murals that have survived for centuries in an arid desert climate.
The threats are complex. But these laboratories are state of the art. Experts can analyze every single component of the paint, simulate conditions inside the caves, and identify all substances retrieved from the relics. This helps them keep authenticity in their restorations.
And there's another, enormous project underway. Mogao is going digital.
So the basic idea of the Digital Dunhuang Project is to use new technologies to protect cultural relics. It aims to build a database containing detailed digital information and high quality color images of the treasures.
Inch by inch, these experts have taken six thousand photos in this one cave over the past month. Together they form a full record the grotto.
Yu Shengji, photographer from digital center of Dunhuang Academy, said, "The Mogao caves are fairly complex in shape. They all vary. So the shelves must be reassembled every time, and the shooting distance must be measured and calculated accordingly."
Once photographs are taken, they're put together. And this is only the preliminary check.
Ding Xiaohong, image specialist from digital center of Dunhuang Academy, said, "We check if the exposure and focus are OK. And we also make sure of the quantity. We can't miss anything. And then we adjust the colors."
Deputy director Sun Zhujun said, "Our present goal is to finish the digitalization of murals in one hundred and seventy Class-A caves in four to five years. Our long-term goal is to realize a complete digital record of every single cave of the entire Mogao grottoes."
The Dunhuang Academy is solely authorized by the Chinese government as the official institute in charge of the protection, research, and management of treasures in the caves. Most people here have devoted all their energy and wisdom to the historical site.
Fan Jinshi arrived as a graduate student in 1963. At 70, she's still here, working as hard as ever. She's seen a lot of changes.
Fan Jinshi, president of Dunhuang Academy, said, "Soon after the founding of People's Republic, China launched a project to reinforce the mud walls of the caves. Premier Zhou Enlai approved it in 1962, a time when conditions were hard for the country. Premier Zhou authorized more than a million yuan, which might be equivalent to a hundred million yuan today."
Over the years, conservation awareness has improved, bringing more efforts as well as cooperation with international partners, such as the Getty Conservation Institute in the US.
Fan Jinshi said, "Now we've entered a golden age for the protection of the Dunhuang Caves. Specifically, it turns from a passive method focusing on salvaging to one that is active, complete, and scientific, which includes daily maintenance and management."
The Mogao Caves represent a timeline of Buddhist art in China, an encyclopedic archive of styles and ideas, of dashes forward and retreats to the past.
And the Dunhuang Academy is determined to keep ancient magic alive for centuries to come.
Source: CCTV. com