Silk is undoubtedly the driving force behind the prosperity of the Silk Road, and Dunhuang is the richest and most concentrated Silk Road town in terms of unearthed silk objects. For historical reasons, these surviving "treasures" scattered around the world have not been systematically organized and studied.
Zhao Feng (赵丰), professor at Donghua University and director of the China Silk Museum, led a team of Dunhuang silk researchers in collaboration with experts and scholars from cultural and museum institutions around the world. It took 15 years to systematically organize and study the Dunhuang silk relics scattered around the world, resulting in TEXTILES FROM DUNHUANG (敦煌丝绸艺术全集), a magnum opus.
The complete collection was launched at the "Silk Road and Silk Art" forum at Donghua University on October 15, 2021, includes IN UK COLLECTIONS, IN FRENCH COLLECTIONS, IN RUSSIAN COLLECTIONS, IN THE LUSHUN MUSEUM, IN THE DUNHUANG ACADEMY, with millions of words and more than a thousand pictures.
The release of "TEXTILES FROM DUNHUANG" fills a gap in the study of silk in Dunhuang, providing important support for research on the Silk Road and the history of textile and costume art. The vast amount of first-ever physical remains plus documentary comparative studies testifies to the historical development of the East-West cultural convergence.
A complete puzzle for the Dunhuang silk
The Silk Road is a great cultural project in the history of mankind, taking silk as a carrier and becoming an important channel for cultural exchange between East and West. 1900, the Taoist priest Wang Yuanlu accidentally discovered the Cave of the Hidden Scriptures, in which, in addition to a large number of documents and Buddhist paintings, a variety of silk-based textiles were dispersed to many countries, including England, France, Russia, and Japan. Because of cultural and technological barriers, these Dunhuang silk fabric remains have been underappreciated.
In 2006, at the invitation of the British Museum, Zhao Feng went to the UK for the first time to study all the Dunhuang textiles collected by Stein and then housed in London. Subsequently, Wang Le (王乐), a professor at the School of Fashion and Art Design at Donghua University, and Xu Zheng (徐峥), a researcher at the China Silk Museum, joined the team and together they researched the textiles in the collections of The British Museum, The British Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, compiling and restoring their varieties, forms, techniques, structures, textures, and visual effects from a scientific and artistic perspective.
The publication of TEXTILES FROM DUNHUANG provides world readers with the first comprehensive look at the silk-based textile artwork excavated at the Mogao Caves through the ages since the discovery of the Cave of the Hidden Scriptures, including thousands of silk weavings.
Thanks to these researched and published books, we are able to recreate the tangled and complex history of silk and silk production a thousand years ago, and it is these textile artifacts that became the symbol and origin of the name of the Great Silk Road.
An Empirical Recovery of East-West Convergence
Dunhuang silk is not only the pinnacle of Chinese textile art, but has also had a profound impact on later generations of craftsmanship and technology, and has an important place to carry on from the past. The Complete Silk Art of Dunhuang not only provides a wealth of new and detailed research materials for experts and scholars in related fields at home and abroad, but also demonstrates the cultural charm of Chinese silk to readers at home and abroad, and promotes cultural exchange between China and abroad. It can be said that the entire collection reflects the high level of Dunhuang silk finishing research today.
"Dunhuang, as the hub of the Silk Road, documents its silk weaving not only from the East, but also from the Central Asian." By comparing the specifications and technical characteristics with those of the Central Asian system of brocades, Wang Le pointed out that nine of the extant Dunhuang fabrics from the Tang to the Fifth Dynasties are Central Asian system brocades, and that some of the popular Baohua patterns from the Central Plains appear on these fabrics.
More interestingly, the fabrics recorded in these documents, known as Hu brocade, are likely to be imitations of Western motifs or brocades of some Western-style from the Central Plains.
One of the highlights of IN THE LUSHUN MUSEUM: the first release of animal motifs on the Lushun Museum's collection of Jia Xie craft (夹缬工艺) fabrics, which reflects the cultural exchange between East and West at that time.
Jia Xie craft: the use of two carved into the concave and convex symmetrical flower plate to fabric spinning and dyeing printing, prevalent in the Tang and Song dynasties, lost after the Ming dynasty.
The first publication of more than 50 pieces of Dunhuang silk from the Lushun Museum, the largest collector of Dunhuang silk in China, with captions, research and restoration drawings, not only provides new information for the study of Dunhuang and the Silk Road, but also provides a more accurate model for costume design, fabric design, etc. for Hanfu under the China-chic.
All of these fabrics are strong evidence of the frequent silk trade in northwest China over the previous centuries, with Dunhuang located right on top of a busy traffic artery.
Spreading Dunhuang Culture and Telling China's Story
Mr. Ji Xianlin once said, "Dunhuang is in China, and Dunhuang studies are in the world." The study of Dunhuang silk, which is scattered around the world, is as much a scientific study as it is an artistic endeavor.
With a solid background in engineering, deep knowledge of ancient fabrics, and tireless enthusiasm, Zhao Feng led a team of international collaborators to analyze each fabric in detail and to recover the patterns of some of the fragments. Ultimately, he led the team for 15 years to complete this massive project.
It is reported that the team will subsequently use digital media technology to showcase the charm of Dunhuang silk art from multiple angles, tell the Dunhuang story, spread the voice of China, and promote the digital return of Dunhuang relics.