Geographically, the oasis city of Dunhuang occupied a strategic position on the northwestern edge of the Chinese cultural sphere, connecting the Chinese states with Central Asia, known at the time as the Western Regions. During the tenth century, Dunhuang was inhabited by a multilingual population that produced a vast quantity of manuscripts written in Chinese, Tibetan and over a dozen of other languages. At the turn of the twentieth century, tens of thousands of these manuscripts were discovered in a sealed-off Buddhist cave, leading to the development of entirely new fields of scholarly research and the decipherment of several long-forgotten languages. The manuscripts provide an unprecedented amount of information on the linguistic, economic, social and religious dimensions of contemporary life. Even though they were found together in the same cave, and had been produced by the same group of people, they are typically studied by specialists of respective languages and disciplines. In an attempt to bridge the linguistic barrier, this talk proposes to look at Chinese manuscripts in a wider context, connecting them with non-Chinese scribal cultures of Central Asia. One of my aims is to draw attention to the degree of interaction and mutual influence between these traditions, attesting to the mixed nature of local population.
Imre Galambos is Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Robinson College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Translating Chinese Tradition and Teaching Tangut Culture: Manuscripts and Printed books from Khara-Khoto (2015) and co-author of Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-Century Buddhist Pilgrim (2011). Prior to his appointment at Cambridge, Dr. Galambos was part of the International Dunhuang Project team at the British Library.