Mogao Buddhist Caves Face a New Threat: Tourists
The Mogao Caves in Gansu’s historic city of Dunhuang are a trove of Buddhist and Silk Road cultural exchange history dating back to the 4th century. The ancient Buddhist texts, artifacts, and temples on site have faced a multitude of threats over the years—decay, natural disaster, pilferers, and proselytizers, for example—but an impressive cache of manuscripts, relics, and statues remains. At The Washington Post, Simon Denyer reports on a menacing new threat facing the grottoes—a massive influx of tourists sparked both by a government drive to promote the region and by a renewed domestic interest in Buddhism:
Abandoned for centuries, the Mogao Grottoes somehow survived everything that nature and man could throw at them, including earthquakes, floods and sandstorms. Marauding Muslim rebels, plundering European explorers and White Russian soldiers all left their mark. Rampaging Red Guards were turned away at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution.
[…] “In the past 100 years, most of the damage has been done by nature, but visits by more tourists will break the original balance inside the caves,” said Wang Xudong, president of Dunhuang Academy, which runs, preserves and restores the site. “Constant entrance and exit changes the temperature and humidity inside the caves. Human bodies also carry microorganisms, and if they start to grow inside the caves, it would be very scary.”
[…] More than 1.1 million tourists visited the caves in 2015, a rise of 40 percent in just a year and a roughly 20-fold jump in the past two decades.
The vast majority are Chinese, as the country’s growing wealth fuels a huge boom in domestic tourism and as interest is renewed in China’s Buddhist past.
[…] In the city of Dunhuang, a $250 million conference center and a bigger, 2,000-seat theater are being built to house an annual Silk Road Cultural Expo. The large modern airport is being expanded, with a $150 million upgrade. [Source]
The first Silk Road Cultural Expo, beginning in August, is a major part of Beijing’s efforts to promote it’s massive and (perhaps overly) ambitious One Belt One Road trade strategy; The Hindu earlier this month reported on the soft power infrastructure being established in Dunhuang. Meanwhile, in nearby Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Beijing is courting wealthy tourists from the Arab world with a Muslim theme park as new restrictions on religion are being levied on Hui Muslims in Gansu.