DUNHUANG i. The cave sites; Manichean texts

The Mogao Caves are located some 25 km from Dunhuang at the edge of the Dunes of the Singing Sands (Mingshashan) of the Gobi desert. These more than 730 cave-shrines contain over 45,000 square meters of predominantly Buddhist murals and more than 2,000 Buddhist painted stucco sculptures.



 i. The cave sites; Manichean texts

The Mogao Caves (Mogaoku) or Caves of One Thousand Buddhas (Qianfodong) are located some 25 km from Dunhuang at the edge of the Dunes of the Singing Sands (Mingshashan) of the Gobi desert, these cave-shrines, more than 730 in total (of which almost 500 belong to the better preserved southern section) and containing more than 45,000 square meters of predominantly Buddhist murals and more than 2,000 Buddhist painted stucco sculptures, testify to the importance of the site as a major center for Buddhist pilgrims over a period of approximately one millennium. Dunhuang’s situation–at the point where the northern and southern silk routes, which skirted the Tarim Basin in the Taklamakan Desert, merged at the Hexi Corridor leading to Chang’an–made it particularly important to monks and merchants traveling to and from China. The first cave was hewn in the 4th century C.E. and the last in the 14th, a period in which Dunhuang was under the control of, not only the Chinese, but also, among others, Tibetans, Uighurs, Tanguts, and Mongols.The discovery, in the late 1890s, of a sealed-up cave crammed with manuscripts, printed documents, and paintings on silk and paper attracted archeologists to Mogao. Thousands of the manuscripts stored in this cave, Cave 17 (the “library cave”) were obtained and carted away by the British-Hungarian explorer Marc Aurel Stein, who arrived at Mogao in March 1907, and by the French Sinologist Paul Pelliot, who visited the site in February-March of the following year. The Chinese authorities decided to secure the remaining manuscripts in 1909-10, but several hundred items were obtained at the cave by members of the first Japanese Central Asian expedition mounted by Ōtani Kozui in 1911 and the Russian expedition led by Sergei Oldenburg in 1914. As a result of these activities the largest collections of Dunhuang manuscripts and printed documents, well over 40,000 in total, belong to the National Library of China and Beijing University Library, the British Library in London, Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, the Institute for Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg, and Ryūkoku University Library in Kyoto. There are, however, further holdings at libraries and museums throughout East Asia and Europe; and several items are kept in private collections.

Dating from the 4th to the early years of the 11th century, when the cave was sealed (cf. Rong, 1999-2000. pp. 272 ff.), the manuscripts found in the library cave preserve a great variety of religious, philosophical, and literary texts and economic, legal, and official documents as well as biographies, calendars, vocabularies, and documents on history, topography, medicine, mathematics, customs, and art. The majority of the texts are in Chinese and Tibetan, but a large number of texts are in other languages, such as Sanskrit, Khotanese, Sogdian, Tangut, and Old Turkish. The contents of the cave confirm the historical preponderance of Buddhism in the region but also reveal the presence here of other religions, in particular, Daoism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheism.

In his famous letter to Émile Senart in Paris, dated 26 March 1908 and written at the site, Paul Pelliot reported on his most important finds in the library cave. Among these were two Chinese manuscripts of great importance to the study of Manicheism: a fragment (29 cols.) of a synopsis of the principles of Manicheism and the organization of the Manichean church and a section (chapter one) of the Daoist polemic Laozi huahu jing “Scripture on Laozi’s Transformation of the Barbarians,” in which Mani is depicted as an incarnation of Laozi (Pelliot, 1908, pp. 515-18). Printed editions of these two texts (P[elliot Chinois] 3884 and 2007) soon after appeared in Dunhuang shishi yishu (“Lost Books from a Stone Chamber at Dunhuang” ), a collection of rare Dunhuang texts compiled by Luo Zhenyu and published in Beijing at the end of 1909 (cf. Luo, 1909, fasc. 10 and 9; the editio princeps of the Manichean fragment was established by Jiang Fu). Photographs were published the following year in Luo Zhenyu’s Shishi bibao (“Rare Treasures from a Stone Chamber,” nos. 11 and 13). In 1913, printed editions and annotated French translations of the two texts by Édouard Chavannes and Pelliot himself appeared in the Journal asiatique (pp. 105-32; pl. I). The edition of the catechism, provisionally entitled “Fragment Pelliot” by Chavannes and Pelliot, would probably have appeared earlier, had it not been for the discovery of a lengthy Manichean treatise (345 cols.) on cosmogony, soteriology, and ethics among the Chinese manuscripts brought from Dunhuang to the National Library in Beijing in 1909-10 (yu 56, now bei 8470). A handwritten facsimile of this well-preserved text was published in the spring of 1911 by Luo Zhenyu in his newly founded Guoxue congkan under the general title Bosijiao canjing “Fragmentary scripture of a Persian religion” (fols. 1-13). This was immediately made available to Chavannes and Pelliot, whose annotated French translation of the text was published in the Journal asiatique in the same year (Chavannes and Pelliot, 1911, pp. 508-90; Luo’s edition, pp. 591-617). Fragments of related versions in Parthian, Sogdian, and Old Turkish were later identified among the manuscripts discovered by German and Japanese expeditions in the region of Turfan (in the eastern part of modern-day Xinjiang), and the text’s identity as a version of the Treatise on the Light-Nous was then established (cf. von Le Coq, 1922, pp. 15-22; Sundermann, 1983, pp. 231-42; Klimkeit and Schmidt-Glintzer, 1984, pp. 82-117; Sundermann, 1992, pp. 19-21, 62-73 (secs.1-79); Zieme, 1995, pp. 251-76; Lieu, 1998, pp. 60-75; Mikkelsen, 2000, pp. 22-26; Wilkens, 2001-02, pp. 78 ff.). Fragments of one further Chinese version of this treatise have been identified in the Berlin Turfan collection (cf. Yoshida, 1997, pp. 35-39).

Figure 1. Chinese Manichean text fragment: “Compendium of the teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light” (Stein manuscript S 3969 in the British Library).

In 1916, a scroll containing some thirty Manichean hymns and prayers in Chinese was discovered in the Stein Collection (S 2659) by the Japanese scholar Yabuki Yoshiteru (cf. Yabuki, 1930, I, p. 312; idem, 1988, pp. 25 f., 85; Stein, 1921, II, p. 922). The task of editing and translating the texts of this collection, entitled Xiabu zan “Lower section hymns” and famously known as the “Hymnscroll,” was offered to Paul Pelliot; he, however, ceded this to Ernst Waldschmidt and Wolfgang Lentz (cf. Pelliot, 1925, p. 113; Waldschmidt and Lentz, 1929, p. 117), who subsequently published their editions and German translations of about two-thirds of the texts in two major studies on Manicheism (1926, pp. 84-111, 119-20, 123-24; 1933, pp. 485-91). An English translation of the full Xiabu zan was published by Tsui Chi in 1946 (pp. 174-219) and a German translation by Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer in 1987 (pp. 11-67). Numerous fragments of parallel hymn texts in Middle Iranian and Old Turkish, notably the first canto of the hymn-cycle Huyadagmān, have been identified, especially in the Berlin Turfan collection (cf. Henning apud Tsui, 1943, pp. 217-19; Boyce, 1954, pp. 66-77; Henning, 1959, pp. 122-24; Zieme, 1966, pp. 351-60; Bryder, 1985, pp. 63-74; MacKenzie, 1985, pp. 421-28; Sims-Williams, 1989, pp. 321-31; Sundermann, 1990; Bryder, 1999, pp. 252-75). A fragment of a Chinese Manichean hymnbook, containing hymns copied from the Xiabu zan, belongs to the same collection (cf. Thilo, pp. 161-70, texts A & B).

A large fragment (82 cols.) of one further Chinese Manichean text was discovered among the Stein manuscripts (S 3969) in 1923 by Yabuki, who identified it as the initial part of the manuscript to which the “Fragment Pelliot” belonged (cf. Lin, 1988, pp. 89-90). Pelliot commenced work on a translation of its text (cf. Pelliot, 1929, pp. 248-49); but this did not reach publication until 1990, when it was appended to the annotated French translation of the combined text by Nahal Tajadod (Tajadod, 1990, pp. 257-60). The first translation of the Stein part, which carries the date of composition (731) and the title Moni guangfo jiaofa yilüe “Compendium of the teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light,” was prepared by Gustav Haloun and Walter B. Henning and published in 1952 (pp. 188-96; photographs on plates between pp. 184 and 185); the first translation of the combined text was published by Schmidt-Glintzer 35 years later (1987, pp. 69-75).

Several fragments of Manichean texts in Old Turkish and Sogdian have been identified among the Dunhuang manuscripts in London and Paris. The most important of these, among the Stein documents, is a well-preserved version of the principal confessional prayer for auditors in Old Turkish, written in 338 lines of Manichean script, the Xuāstvānīft (Or. 8212/178 (Ch. 0015); i.e., Xuāstvānīft A; cf.von Le Coq, 1911, pp. 283-99, photograph on foldout plate; Bang, 1932, pp. 137-242; Asmussen, 1965, pp. 169-79, 194-230; further Radloff, 1911, pp. 873-89; von Le Coq, 1912, pp. 57-61). A shorter Manichean confessional prayer, written in Uighur script, is found in the Pelliot collection (P 3072; cf. Hamilton, 1986, pp. 63-66; photo p. 285; Klimkeit, 1993, p. 307). One manuscript in the same collection (P 3049) contains a small number of Manichean writings in Old Turkish and Uighur script: a meal hymn to the twelve authorities, a meal hymn to the twenty-two properties of deities, scribal exercises on the titles of Bügu Khan, and a letter to the Uighur ruler Il Tonga Tigin (Hamilton, pp. 37-53; photos, pp. 276-82; Klimkeit, pp. 328, 332-33, 371-72). An almost identical version, also in Uighur script, of the hymn to the twenty-two divine properties is preserved in another Pelliot manuscript from Dunhuang (P 3407; Hamilton, pp. 55-56), and one manuscript (P 2961) contains one further scribal exercise for an address to Bügü Khan (idem, 69-70; photo, p. 287). A short text, in Uighur script, of the same type as the latter belongs to the Stein collection (Or. 8212/124; idem, pp. 67-68; photo, p. 286); and a text, also in Uighur script, containing a list of names of Manichean clergy is kept in the collection of Dunhuang manuscripts in Paris (P 3071; idem, pp. 57-62; photo, p. 284). At least one Manichean fragment (Pelliot sogdien 25) was among the Sogdian manuscripts of the Pelliot collection brought to publication by Émile Benveniste in 1940 (Benveniste, 1940a, pl. 212-13; idem, 1940b, p. 159); its identity as an exercise copy of the Manichean Wazargān āfrīwan “Psalm of the Great” was established later by W. B. Henning (Henning, 1946, p. 713, n. 6). Two fragments of one manuscript kept in the Stein collection (Or. 8212/83 = Ch. 00334 and Or. 8212/82 = Ch. 00335) preserve parts of a Sogdian prose text, probably Manichean, on five sins (corresponding to the five commandments of the Elect; cf. Sims-Williams, 1976, pp. 48-51).



J. P. Asmussen, Xuāstvānīft: Studies in Manichaeism, Copenhagen, 1965.

W. Bang, “Manichaeische Laien-Beichtspiegel,” Le Muséon 36, 1932, pp. 137-242.

E. Benveniste, Codices Sogdiani. Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale (Mission Pelliot), reproduits en fac-similé, avec une introduction par E. Benveniste, Monumenta Linguarum Asiš Maioris, ed. K. Grønbech, 3, Copenhagen, 1940a.

E. Benveniste, Textes Sogdiens, édités, traduits et commentés par E. Benveniste, Mission Pelliot en Asie Centrale, série in-quarto, 3, Paris, 1940b.

M. Boyce, The Manichaean Hymn-Cycles in Parthian (London Oriental Series 3), London-New York-Toronto, 1954.

P. Bryder, The Chinese Transformation of Manichaeism. A Study of Chinese Manichean Terminology, Löberöd, 1985.

P. Bryder, “Huyadagmān,” in Ji Zengxiang, ed., Geng Shimin xiansheng 70 shouchen jinian wenji, Beijing, 1999, pp. 252-75.

E. Chavannes and P. Pelliot, “Un traité manichéen retrouvé en Chine,” Journal asiatique, 10th ser., 18, 1911, pp. 499-617; 11th ser., 1, 1913, pp. 99-199, 261-394.

G. Haloun and W. B. Henning, “The Compendium of the Doctrines and Styles of the Teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light,” Asia Major 3, 1952, pp. 184-212.

J. Hamilton, Manuscrits ouïgours du ixe-xe siècle de Touen-houang, 2 vols., Paris, 1986.

Haneda Toru, “Shinshutsu ‘Hashikyō zankyō’ ni tsuite” (On the recently discovered fragment of a Persian religion), Tōyō gakuhō 2/2, 1912, pp. 227-46.

W. B. Henning, “The Sogdian Texts of Paris,” BSOAS 11, 1946, pp. 713-40 (repr. in idem, Selected Papers I (Acta Iranica 15), Tehran and Liège, 1977, pp. 231-58).

W. B. Henning, “A Fragment of the Manichean Hymn-Cycles in Old Turkish,” Asia Major, N.S. 7, 1959, pp. 122-24 (repr. in idem, Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Tehran and Liège, 1977, pp. 537-39).

H.-J. Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road. Gnostic Parables, Hymns and Prayers from Central Asia, San Francisco, 1993.

H.-J. Klimkeit and H. Schmidt-Glintzer, “Die türkischen Parallelen zum chinesisch-manichäischen Traktat,” Zentralasiatische Studien 17, 1984, pp. 82-115.

A. von Le Coq, “Dr. Stein’s Turkish Khuastuanift from Tun-huang, being a Confession-Prayer of the Manichšan Auditores,” JRAS, 1911, pp. 277-314.

A. von Le Coq, Türkische Manichaica aus Chotscho I (APAW, phil.-hist. Kl., 1911 [1912.], no. 6).

A. von Le Coq, Türkische Manichaica aus Chotscho III, (APAW, phil.-hist. Kl., 1922, no. 2).

S. N. C. Lieu, “From Parthian into Chinese: Some observations on the Traktat (Traité) Pelliot,” in idem, Manichaeism in Central Asia and China (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 45), Leiden 1998, pp. 59-75.

Lin Wushu, “On the Joining Between the Two Fragments of “The Compendium of the Teaching of Mani, the Buddha of Light,” in P. Bryder, ed., Manichaean Studies: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Manichaeism (Lund Studies in African and Asian Religions 1), Lund, 1988, pp. 89-93.

Lin Wushu, Monijiao ji qi dongjian (Manicheism and its eastward spread)(Shijie wenhua congshu 33), Taibei, 1997.

Luo Zhenyu, ed., Dunhuang shishi yishu (Rediscovered books from a stone chamber), Beijing, 1909.

Luo Zhenyu, ed., Shishi bibao (Rare treasures from a stone chamber), Shanghai, 1910.

Luo Zhenyu, “Bosijiao canjing” (Fragmentary scripture of a Persian religion), Guoxue congkan 1911, 2, fols. 1-13.

D. N. MacKenzie: “Two Sogdian Hwdgm’n Fragments,” in Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce II (Hommages et Opera Minora 11, Acta Iranica 25), Tehran and Liège, 1985, pp. 421-28.

G. Mikkelsen, “Work in Progress on the Manichaean Traité / Sermon on the Light-Nous in Chinese and its Parallels in Parthian, Sogdian and Old Turkish,” in D. Christian and C. Benjamin, eds., Realms of the Silk Roads: Ancient and Modern (Silk Road Studies 4), Turnhout, 2000, pp. 13-28.

P. Pelliot, “Une bibliothèque médiévale retrouveé au Kan-sou,” Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 8, 1908, pp. 501-29.

P. Pelliot, “Two New Manichaean Manuscripts from Tun-huang,” JRAS, 1925, p. 113.

P. Pelliot, “Neuf notes sur des questions d’Asie Centrale, VII. Un exemple méconnu du titre manichéen de maγistag,” T’oung pao 26, 1929, pp. 248-50.

W. Radloff, “Nachträge zum Chuastuanit (Chuastuanvt), dem Bussgebete der Manichäer (Hörer),” Izvestiya Imperatorskoĭ Akademii Nauk / Bulletin de l’Académie impériale des sciences (de St.-Pétersbourg), 6th ser., 5, 2, no. 12, 1911, pp. 867-96.

Rong Xinjiang, “The Nature of the Dunhuang Library Cave and the Reasons for its Sealing,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 11, 1999-2000, pp. 247-75.

H. Schmidt-Glintzer, Chinesische Manichaica. Mit textkritischen Anmerkungen und einem Glossar (Studies in Oriental Religions 14), Wiesbaden, 1987.

J. Wilkens, “Der manichäische Traktat in seiner alttürkischen Fassung—neues Material, neue Perspektiven,” Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, N.F. 17, 2001/2002, pp. 78-105.

N. Sims-Williams, “The Sogdian Fragments of the British Library” (with an appendix by I. Gershevitch), IIJ 18, 1976, pp. 43-82.

N. Sims-Williams, “A New Fragment from the Parthian Hymn-Cycle Huyadagmān,” in Ph. Gignoux, ed., Études irano-aryennes offertes à Gilbert Lazard (Cahier de Studia Iranica 7), Paris, 1989, pp. 321-31.

M. A. Stein, Serindia. Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China, 4 vols., Oxford, 1921.

W. Sundermann, “Der chinesische Traité Manichéen und der parthische Sermon vom Lichtnous,” Altorientalische Forschungen 10, 1983, pp. 231-42.

W. Sundermann, The Manichaean Hymn cycles Huyadagmān and Angad Rōšnān in Parthian and Sogdian. Photo Edition. Transcription and translation of hitherto unpublished texts, with critical remarks (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, Supplementary Series 2), London, 1990.

W. Sundermann, Der Sermon vom Licht-Nous. Eine Lehrschrift des östlichen Manichäismus. Edition der parthischen und soghdischen Version (Berliner Turfan-Texte 17), Berlin, 1992.

N. Tajadod, Mani le Bouddha de Lumière. Catéchisme manichéen chinois (Sources Gnostiques et Manichéennes 3), Paris, 1990.

Th. Thilo, “Einige Bemerkungen zu zwei chinesisch-manichäischen Textfragmenten der Berliner Turfan-Sammlung,” in H. Klengel and W. Sundermann, eds., Ägypten – Vorderasien – Turfan. Probleme der Edition und Bearbeitung altorientalischer Handschriften (Schriften zur Geschichte und Kultur des Alten Orients 23), Berlin, 1991, pp. 161-70.

Tsui Chi, “Mo Ni Chiao Hsia Pu Tsan, The Lower (Second?) Section of the Manichšan Hymns,” BSOAS 11, 1943, pp. 174-219.

E. Waldschmidt and W. Lentz, Die Stellung Jesu im Manichäismus (APAW, Phil.-hist. Kl., 4, 1926).

E. Waldschmidt and W. Lentz, “A Chinese Manichšan Hymnal from Tun-huang,” JRAS, 1929, pp. 116-22.

E. Waldschmidt and W. Lentz, “Manichäische Dogmatik aus chinesischen und iranischen Texten,” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Kl., 1933, pp. 480-607.

J. Wilkens, “Der Manichäische Traktat in seiner alttürkischen fassung-neues marterial, neues perspektiven,” Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher, N.F.,17,2001/2002,pp. 78-105.

Yabuki Yoshiteru, Meisha yoin. Rare and unknown Chinese manuscript remains of Buddhist literature at Dunhuang, collected by Sir Aurel Stein and preserved in the British Museum, 1930.

Idem, Manikyō to Tōyō no shoshūkyō (Manicheism and Eastern religions), Tokyo, 1988.

Yoshida Yutaka, “On the Recently Discovered Manichaean Chinese Fragments,” Nairiku Ajia gengo no kenkyū (Studies on the Inner Asian Languages) 12, 1997, pp. 35-39.

P. Zieme, “Beiträge zur Erforschung des Xvāstvānīft,” Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 12, 1966, pp. 351-60.

P. Zieme, “Neue Fragmente des alttürkischen Sermons vom Licht-Nous,” in C. Reck and P. Zieme. eds., Iran und Turfan. Beiträge Berliner Wissenschaftler, Werner Sundermann zum 60. Geburtstag gewidmet (Iranica 2), Wiesbaden, 1995, pp. 251-76.

(Gunner Mikkelsen)

Originally Published: July 20, 2003

Last Updated: July 20, 2003