Stupa Of Wang Yuanlu

Mogao Caves, Dunhuang

Wang Yuanlu's remains are interred in this inscribed stupa. Wang Yuanlu (1849-1931) was a Daoist monk who set himself up as the guardian of Mogao around the turn of the century. The caves at that time were badly neglected, but Monk Wang recognized their value and instituted a program of refurbishment, funded by whatever donations he could gather. Unfortunately, that work was performed ineptly; proper conservation had to wait until after WWII, when the Dunhuang Academy took over the site. The Academy's successful work continues in the present day (2007), and includes international collaborations with the Getty Institute and other leading institutions.

During his self-appointed tenure at Dunhuang, Monk Wang made one of the great discoveries in Chinese archaeology: an amazing cache, of over 50,000 documents and paintings, that had been hidden in Mogao Cave 17 sometime in the early eleventh century. Much of this treasure would be removed, in the following decades, by European archaeologists such as Aurel Stein who befriended the naive monk. They convinced him to sell many of the manuscripts for very small sums of money, which he then used to finance his misguided restorations.