Dunhuang and Silk Road Seminars: Lent 2023

Dunhuang & Silk Road Seminar Series, 2023

Dates: Lent Term (January-March 2023)


We hold a series of talks each term whose overall theme links with Dunhuang and/or the Silk Road.

These take place in-person and, where possible, are streamed via Zoom (requires pre-registration).

All talks are on Thursdays and will begin at 5pm UK Time, lasting an hour with time allocated afterwards for questions, debate, and discussion.

Except as noted below, all talks take place in Room 2 of the Sidgwick Site Lecture Block.

We welcome listeners from all fields who feel that these talks may help their own research or who are curious to know about the diverse topics covered.

You can also see some of our recorded talks on YouTube

This seminar series is organised by Prof. Imre Galambos with the generous support of the Glorisun Global Network and Dhammachai International Research Institute.


Seminar Schedule

Thursday, 26th January, 2023, in Room 2 (Lecture Block) CB3 9DA or Zoom (please follow this link to register)
Prof. Susan Whitfield, University of East Anglia
Dunhuang, Khotan and Barikot: Reconstructing a Buddhist City

Abstract: The architecture and archaeological remains of Dunhuang provide few clues as to the Buddhist city, its layout or its architecture, but sites further west, protected by the desert sands and benign neglect, might provide clues. These include the remains of temples and stupas in Kroraina, but especially in Khotan and Barikot in the Swat Valley.. We will look at these sites —alongside the sparse textual reports—to consider how the Mogao rock-cut temples might have fitted into the sacred space of medieval Dunhuang.

Biography: Susan Whitfield is Professor of Silk Road Studies at the University of East Anglia where she is currently working on the project Nara to Norwich (NaratoNorwich.org). She previously curated the Dunhuang and other central Asian manuscripts at the British Library and helped develop and then directed the International Dunhuang Project. She has travelled through much—sadly not all—of  the Silk Roads, curated several exhibitions, and published widely.


Thursday, 2nd February, 2023, in Room 2 (Lecture Block) CB3 9DA or Zoom (please follow this link to register)
Dr. Dejia Wan, Sichuan University
Ancestral memories of Prommi among the Tibetans of Southwest China

Abstract: According to Chinese sources, the Prommi are descendants of the ancient “Western Qiang,” but according to the Prommi’s own oral and written genealogies, they are the descendants of the “Ldong clan” seen in Tibetan historical materials. This talk explains the special understanding of the “Ldong” clan ancestors of the Prommi people, as well as their views on the origin of things as found in Bon religion, the ternary view of Gods, human and demons regarding the origin of life, their views on life after death, the concept of clans and family historical memory of the father-son connection in the ancestral genealogy. This will provide new historical and cultural data for studying groups sometimes referred to in modern scholarship as “ancient Qiang.”

Biography: Wandejia (Ban De Skyabs) is professor at the College of Literature and Journalism, Sichuan University. Research interests range from Tibetology, literary anthropology to the literature and culture of ethnic minorities in Southwestern China. He is involved in a number of projects, including: Collection and Research of Tibetan Documents on Ecological Culture in the Tibetan-Yi Corridor (2022-2026); Study of Multi-ethnic Religious Beliefs in the Hengduan Mountains (2020-2023); Study of the Cultural Logic of Tibetan Traditional Belief (2019-2023); Collection and Study of Ancient Manuscript Regarding Bon Religion Among Phrom-mi Tibetans in Liangshan (2018- 2021); Investigation and Study of Tibetan Religious Culture in Muli, Liangshan (2016-2019).


Thursday, 9th February, 2023
No seminar this week


Thursday, 16th February, 2023
No seminar this week


Thursday, 23rd February, 2023
No seminar this week


Thursday, 2nd March, 2023, Room 2 (Lecture Block) CB3 9DA (Please note the change of venue) or Zoom (please follow this link to register)
Dr. Jun Wang, China Jiliang University
Research on the Possible Buddhist School Attribution of the Jamal Garhi Monestary in Mardan

Abstract: In the 19th century, British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham successively discovered the Gandharan remains, namely a Buddhist monastery in Jamal Garhi. Further, when the Indian Archaeological Survey continued to excavate this monastery’s site in 1920-1921, they discovered a schist stone with an inscription that stated “Jamal Garhi Inscription on the Year 359”. Prof. Lüders attributed the content of this inscription to the Dharmaguptakas. Based on the above studies, this article attempts to conduct an in-depth analysis of the layout of the above-mentioned Buddhist monastery by comparing its site and archaeological evidence with textual sources from the Chinese translation of the “Dharmagupta-vinaya”, and addendum to the remains of the Buddhist stupa excavated by the Japanese Otani expedition in the Lvshun Museum of China combined its buildings, sculptures, inscriptions, to demonstrate the changes in the relevant provisions of vinaya to argue that this monastery can be identified as belonging to the Dharmaguptakas tradition.

Biography: Wang Jun, female, lecturer of China Jiliang University, studied in Jilin University and Nankai University, Phd of literature. Postdoctoral of Peking University. The research fields are Buddhist culture, ancient Chinese literature and cross-cultural research.


Thursday, 9th March, 2023
Prof. Michelle Wang, Georgetown University
Aurel Stein, Desert Ruins, and Climate Change

Abstract: For art historians, the Hungarian-British archaeologist and explorer Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) is known principally for the manuscripts and objects collected during his three Central Asian expeditions between 1900-1916, which are now held in the British Library and British Museum. Yet Stein was also an accomplished photographer, chronicling not only archaeological sites but also desert landscapes and indigenous peoples in his expeditions into the oasis cities of the Taklamakan and Lop Deserts in present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This paper sheds light on Stein’s artistic practice and aesthetic interventions, coupled with the epistemological claims that his photographs made concerning the desertification and settlement of the region. By considering the reception of medieval silk road ruins in early 20th century photographs and expedition reports, I investigate the cultural impact of the desert in shaping ideas about climate change during an age of empires: Great Britain and Qing China. My project takes these materials as a focal point for theorizing the transnational and transhistorical outlook that Stein and his contemporaries brought to their encounters with the deserts of Serindia.

Biography: Michelle C. Wang is Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University. A specialist in the Buddhist and silk road art of northwestern China, her first book Mandalas in the Making: The Visual Culture of Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang (Brill, 2018) examines Buddhist mandalas of the 8th-10th 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 projects examine the reception of medieval silk road sites in the photographs of Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) and Buddhist sculpture and materiality. Wang is one of the founders of the Association for Chinese Art History (acah.info) and serves on the Council of the Medieval Academy of America and the Board of Directors of the International Center of Medieval Art.


Thursday, 16th March, 2023 in Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Please note the change of venue for this week’s seminar
Prof. Guolong Lai, University of Florida
Dunhuang in the History of Heritage Conservation in Modern China

Abstract: As a site of historical and artistic significance, Dunhuang has played a significant role in the history of heritage conservation in modern China. Heritage conservation, as a cultural movement and national policy, started in China as part of the modernization efforts of the late Qing dynasty. In fact, the very notion of “national heritage” emerged with modernity, and modernity compelled changes in how cultural heritage was conceived and protected. In early twentieth century, Western exploitation created an awakening among Chinese scholars, officials, and the public as to the necessity of heritage protection. As a result, the newly established Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Qing government issued the “Measures for the Preservation of Ancient Sites” in 1909, immediately after Aurel Stein’s and Paul Pelliot’s trips to Dunhuang. And two decades later, in the events of Langdon Warner’s second “archaeological” expedition in 1925 and Aurel Stein’s Fourth Harvard expedition in 1930, Dunhuang was as the site that marked the end of imperialist archaeology in modern China. Both events promoted the creation of the “Law on the Preservation of Ancient Objects” by the Nationalist government in 1930, which set up the basic legal framework for the heritage protection in modern China.

Biography: Guolong Lai, Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at University of Florida. His research interests include early Chinese art and archaeology, Chinese paleography, museology, collecting history and provenance studies, and historic conservation in modern China. He is the author of Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion (Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 2015; won the Society for American Archaeology Honorable Mention-Book Award in the Scholarly Category, 2016). He has co-edited Collectors, Collections, and Collecting Arts of China: Histories and Challenges (2014), Unmasking Ideology in Imperial and Colonial Archeology (2018), and New Philology and the Study of Early China (in Chinese, 2018). He is the associate editor of the Chinese/English bilingual The Zhejiang University Journal of Art and Archaeology and The Bulletin of the Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology (Hong Kong).

For further information, enquiries, and comments, or to join the seminar e-mail list contact:

Junfu Wong
PhD candidate
Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

E-mail: jw2034@cam.ac.uk