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Dunhuang caves: 1,000 years of Buddhist art in China (1)

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The first inkling that we were getting close came toward the end of our flight from Beijing into northwestern China when snow-blanketed mountains suddenly appeared above the beige miasma of the desert floor. Morning sunlight sparkled off the grand Kunlun range that borders the northern edge of the Tibetan plateau and the southern rim of the Gobi Desert, a welcoming note on our journey to a distant world of Buddhist art painted and carved in grottoes centuries ago.

从北京前往中国西北的飞行快要结束时,白雪皑皑的群山从沙漠上空的米黄色扬尘中突然冒出,这是提醒我们快到了的第一个信号。清晨的阳光照耀在雄伟的昆仑山脉之上,它与青藏高原北缘和戈壁滩的南缘相邻。这光芒仿佛是欢迎的问候,迎接我们踏上通往遥远世界的旅程,目睹几个世纪前绘制雕刻在洞窟内的佛教艺术。

 

We were a group of seven — an American gallerist in Beijing, a Thai publisher of art books, a Singaporean businessman, among others — connected by our interests in Chinese art and history.

我们一行七人——一位来自北京的美国画廊主人、一位来自泰国的艺术书籍出版人、一位新加坡商人,以及其他一些人——我们因为对中国艺术和历史感兴趣而聚到了一起。

 

Our intrepid leader, Mimi Gardner Gates, a specialist in Chinese art and the former director of the Seattle Art Museum, raises funds to support the preservation of what we had come to see: the Dunhuang caves where delicate, brightly hued wall paintings and carvings depict religious and social life from the fourth to the 14th centuries during the height of Buddhist culture in China.

我们无畏的引领者是米米•加德纳•盖茨(Mimi Gardner Gates)。她是一位中国艺术专家,曾任西雅图美术馆(Seattle Art Museum)馆长,为我们前来参观的这座石窟募集保护资金。在敦煌的石窟中,技法精湛、色彩明亮的壁画和石刻,描绘了4世纪至14世纪中国佛教文化巅峰时期的宗教和社会生活。


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The city of Dunhuang, a hodgepodge of cheap stores and a mediocre night market, was once a thriving oasis on the Silk Road, beckoning caravans of pilgrims and merchants from Central Asia and India with their Buddhist beliefs, and fabulous jewels and gold. As we arrived at the modern airport, it was hard not to think about more recent intruders: European and American scholars who visited the caves in the early 20th century, fell in love with what they found, and snatched priceless sculptures, manuscripts and frescoes for museums in London, Paris and Cambridge, Mass.

敦煌城里如今遍布廉价的杂货店,还有一座平平无奇的夜市,这里曾是古代丝绸之路上繁华的绿洲,吸引着中亚和印度的朝圣者和商人,他们传播了佛家思想,带来了光彩夺目的珠宝和黄金。我们抵达现代化的机场时,不禁想起了近代的侵入者:欧洲和美国学者在20世纪初期造访了这里的洞窟,深深地被这里的宝藏所吸引,将无价的雕刻、抄本以及壁画掠夺到了伦敦、巴黎和马萨诸塞州坎布里奇的博物馆。

 

Theirs had been arduous treks compared with ours. The Harvard art historian and archaeologist Langdon Warner endured more than three months on an ox-drawn cart as he headed back to Beijing from Dunhuang in 1924 with a three-and-a-half-foot bodhisattva wrapped in his underwear for his patrons in Cambridge. In contrast, our journey was a comfortable three-hour flight from Beijing on Air China.

相比我们的旅行,他们旅途更加艰险。1924年,哈佛大学的艺术史学家及考古学家兰登•华尔纳(Langdon Warner)坐了三个多月的牛车,从敦煌辗转回了北京,内衣里包着一尊3.5英尺高的菩萨雕像,要交给他在坎布里奇的客户。与他相反,我们的旅行非常舒适,从北京到敦煌,乘坐国航的航班仅需3个小时。

 

And while some of these early scholars — it is tempting to call them scoundrels — spent months in Dunhuang, recovering from their journeys, dodging diphtheria and other diseases, we spent four days in a pleasant hotel on the edge of the dunes. Over breakfasts of dumplings and Chinese porridge on the roof deck, we watched the sun rise and the sky change from flamingo pink to lapis blue. At sunset, we drank local wine pressed from new vineyards coaxed out of the sandy soil.

早前的一些学者——很难不把他们称作恶棍——为了缓解旅途奔波之苦,躲避白喉等疾病,要在敦煌停留数月。而我们在沙丘边缘舒适的酒店里住了四天。在屋顶吃完早餐(饺子和稀饭)后,我们欣赏了美轮美奂的日出,看着天色从红鹤粉变到青金蓝。日落时,我们品尝了当地酿的葡萄酒,出自沙土上精心培育出的葡萄园。

 

And, of course, our gear was far less elaborate than that of our predecessors. In a display near the caves that is devoted to the travesties of the Western scholars, a photo of Warner depicts him in knee-high boots, his hat at a rakish angle and a shovel in his right hand, ready to dig for antiquities. We, on the other hand, wore running shoes for the easy trek along the outdoor passageways that connect the caves, and carried little more than cellphones and cameras. (No photos, however, are allowed in the caves, to keep visitors moving swiftly since the carbon dioxide in our breath damages the wall art, and camera flashes don't help either.)

当然,我们的装束相比前人也简单很多。石窟附近的陈列区展示了西方学者的滑稽形象。在一张照片里,华尔纳穿着齐膝的靴子、把帽子歪戴到不羁的角度,右手握着铲子,准备挖掘古物。再看看我们,我们穿着跑步鞋,从通向石窟的露天步道悠闲地行走,身上除了手机和相机就没有什么了。(但是石窟内不允许照相,并要求游客快速离开,因为呼出的二氧化碳会损坏壁画,闪光灯也会造成影响。)

 

As we learned from Ms. Gates, those earlier Western scholars were dazzled for good reason. She never let us forget that we were seeing original art in situ, about which there was no question of authenticity.

据盖茨女士介绍,这些早期的西方学者如此着迷是有原因的。她告诉我们,我们是在现场观看艺术品的原件,毫无疑问都是真品。

 

When Warner and others like him arrived, they found 1,000 years of art that told the story of China's imperial dynasties and their long relationship with Buddhism, which seeped into China from India in the first century. In A.D. 366, according to legend, a monk named Yuezun arrived in Dunhuang, and had a vision of a thousand Buddhas. He was so overwhelmed he chiseled a cave for meditation in a vast sandstone cliff about 15 miles from the city center at a place now known as the Mogao Caves. Master artists and their apprentices began painting images of Buddha and his life story in murals that stretched across cave walls, and, in some cases, onto the ceilings.

当华尔纳和他的同行到达这里时,他们发现了历经1000多年的艺术宝库,其中展现了中国各朝代与佛教之间久远的故事。佛教在公元一世纪时,就从印度渗透到了中国。根据传说,公元366年,一位名为乐尊的僧人来到敦煌,在这里见到了一千位佛陀。他深受触动,在距离城中心约50里的砂石崖壁上开掘了一处洞穴用以打坐,这座洞穴如今称为莫高窟。之后,艺术大师及其徒弟们开始通过壁画的形式,描绘佛祖以及他们的生活故事,壁画覆盖了石窟的墙壁,有时还画到了洞窟顶上上。


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The monk sparked a trend; over the years, about 1,000 caves were carved out of the mile-long escarpment as shrines or living quarters for monks, or the equivalent of private art museums where rich families could show off their wealth. By 1400, the exuberant show of art and religion faded as maritime routes supplanted the Silk Road.

乐尊和尚开启了一种潮流。经年累月,1600多米长的悬崖上开挖了1000多处洞窟作为佛殿或僧舍,或者供富贵家族展示自己财富的私人艺术馆。到1400年,随着海上航路逐渐取代了丝绸之路,曾经兴盛的艺术和宗教景象随即凋零。

 

When the caves were abandoned, the sweeping desert sands took over, ruining some, damaging others, but preserving many. Today, 735 caves remain, and nearly 500 are decorated.

石窟废弃后,肆虐的黄沙侵袭,一部分石窟彻底消失,一部分遭受了损坏,但有很多存留了下来。今天,仍存有735座石窟,其中大约500座装点着壁画或塑像。

 

These days, streams of Chinese tourists arrive in great numbers — 14,000 on one day this summer. The biggest challenge for theDunhuang Academy, the institution that manages the site, is crowd control, as we learned at the new visitors' center, a building designed by the Chinese architect Cui Kai to blend into the desert dunes.

如今,成群的中国游客蜂拥而至,今年夏天每天有1.4万人参观。我们从新游客中心了解到,石窟的管理机构敦煌研究院面临的最大挑战,就是人群控制。这座由中国建筑师崔凯建造的中心,与周围的沙丘很协调。

 

With a theater that gives a 360-degree digital representation of one of the caves, the center is an important tool in the battle to keep the Dunhuang caves intact. Since the center opened last year, tourists who are not on a private tour like ours are required to go there first, and watch the digital show, a substitute for lengthy tours that are no longer allowed for most visitors.

中心剧场内提供了石窟的360度电子展示,这是保证敦煌石窟完好的重要工具。自从中心去年投入运营以来,无法像我们这样作为贵宾接待的游客,需要先来到这里,欣赏石窟的电子展示,用以替代从前漫长的石窟之旅。如今对于多数游客来说,全程参观已经难以实现。

 

Most of these tourists are limited to the hustle of a 75-minute visit that covers eight caves. We, however, had almost unfettered access thanks to Ms. Gates, who has visited the caves for 20 years and whose Dunhuang Foundation has raised significant funds for their maintenance.

多数游客只能匆匆忙忙地花75分钟参观八座石窟。不过多亏了盖茨女士,我们的参观几乎毫无限制。20年来,盖茨女士时常到访这里,她的敦煌基金会(Dunhuang Foundation)为石窟的维护募集了大量资金。

 

On our first morning, a shuttle bus dropped us in a grove of aromatic pines, and soon we were at the foot of the rock face that inspired the monk, Yuezun, nearly 1,700 years ago.

来到这里的第一天早上,班车把我们带到了一处香松林。不久,我们来到了一块岩壁脚下,就是这里,在大约1700年前,启发了乐尊和尚。


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Looking up, we could see a honeycomb of dark holes where the caves pierced the rock. Much of the rock is now buttressed with concrete, a utilitarian reinforcement devised in the 1960s when China was short of cash and architects.

向上看,能够看到蜂窝般的黑洞,洞窟凿入岩石。如今大部分岩石经过了混凝土支护,这是在1960年代,中国在缺少资金和建筑人员的条件下,想出的加固方法。

2016-06-22

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