CCCH9044 China: Culture, State and Society
Dunhuang and the Silk Road: Art, Culture and Trade


Course Description

The Silk Road has long linked the West with China and one of its principle sites is the Cave of Dunhuang. Throughout its history, both Dunhuang and the Silk Road have been dynamic places for the creation and transmission of diverse cultural content that can be studied from the perspectives of travelers, art and architecture, languages, and many different religious traditions. The Cave’s long and cosmopolitan history has, in fact, become the subject of a distinct academic field known as “Dunhuangology.”

How does the art and culture of Dunhuang reflect the cross-cultural features played out in the geographical and sociopolitical contexts of the Silk Road? And how can we understand the importance of preserving such a cultural heritage for future generations, even as the concept of the Silk Road is now being renewed and transformed? This course will adopt interactive teaching approaches to stimulate students’ knowledge of this rich heritage and will also enable students to gain a broader view of Chinese culture and civilization from the Cave of Dunhuang across the commercial and cultural exchanges passing along the Silk Road.

The theme-based lectures, which will include reflection and interactive exercises, will be structured around three interrelated topics: 1) the role and influence of Dunhuang on the Silk Road and vice versa, 2) the material, art and intellectual cultures along the Silk Road, and 3) the value of cultural heritage and memory as we move into the future. Learning activities will be designed to support and enhance the students’ experience of the course content and learning objectives.

[There will be a compulsory field trip to local cultural heritage sites or museum exhibitions related to Dunhuang study scheduled during Reading Week.]

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the interconnectedness among different cultures.
  2. Understand the role of Dunhuang in the dissemination of culture and arts along the Silk Road.
  3. Interpret and critically analyze various art styles and forms and their influence on the lives of the local people.
  4. Demonstrate a deeper understanding of various Dunhuang cultural heritage sites and their significance.
  5. Create in-depth knowledge of Chinese civilization, art and material culture, and awareness of preservation world cultural heritage.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 12
Fieldwork / Visits 4
Reading / Self-study 48
Assessment: Quizzes 1
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 25
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 15
Total: 129

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Essay 30
Group presentation 20
Class participation 20
Field trip report 10
Quizzes 20

Required Reading

  • Fan, J. S. (2010). The caves of Dunhuang. Hong Kong: Dunhuang Academy in collaboration with London Editions.
  • Foucher, A. (1917). The beginnings of Buddhist art and other essays in Indian and Central-Asian archaeology. London: Humphrey Milford.
  • Watt, J. C. Y., & Wardwell, A. E. (1997). When silk was gold: Central Asian and Chinese textiles. Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications.

Recommended Reading

  • Duan, W., Tan, C., & Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. (1994). Dunhuang art: Through the eyes of Duan Wenjie. New Delhi:Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Abhinav Publications.
  • Hansen, V. (2012). The Silk Road: A new history. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hong Kong Heritage Museum. (2014). Dunhuang: Untold tales, untold riches.
  • Leidy, D. P. (2008). The art of Buddhism: An introduction to its history and meaning. Boston: Shambhala.  
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1982). Along the ancient silk routes: Central Asian art from the west Berlin Museum. New York.
  • Naquin, S. (1992). Pilgrims and sacred sites in China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • So, J. F., & Bunker, E. C. (2002). Traders and raiders on China’s Northern frontier. University of Washington Press. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
  • Whitfield, R. (2000). Cave temples of Mogao: Art and history on the Silk Road.
  • Wood, F. (2002). The Silk Road: Two thousand years in the heart of Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Recommended Websites


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Ven. H.H. Sik
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2847
Email: hinhung@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Ven. H.H. Sik
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2847
Email: hinhung@hku.hk
Dr C.H. Tsui
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 5018
Email: chunghui@hku.hk
Dr X. Guang
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 5040
Email: guangxin@hku.hk
Dr G. Halkias
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2846
Email: halkias@hku.hk