Mo-kao Caves ［莫高窟］ (PY Mogao; Bakkō-kutsu): Also known as the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas. The Buddhist caves at Tun-huang in northwestern Kansu Province, China. They are located at the base of a cliff on the eastern side of a hill called Ming-sha-shan southeast of the town of Tun-huang. Tun-huang was a principal station for entry into China from Central Asia. In 366 a monk named Le-tsun dug into the hillside and established the first cave; subsequently a monk named Fa-liang built a second cave. This began a period of cave construction that spanned one thousand years through the fourteenth century. The oldest existing caves date to the early fifth century. Today about five hundred caves remain, spanning an area that measures about 1.6 kilometers from north to south. Many Buddhist images are preserved within them.
Wall paintings inside the caves depict events of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life, legends of his previous lives, and other themes. These wall paintings are valued in the study of Buddhism and the Buddhist arts. In 1900, in a cave now known as Cave No. 16, an enclosed area was accidentally uncovered, revealing tens of thousands of ancient documents and manuscripts. This new space is now known as Cave No. 17. The uncovered materials, dating from the fifth century, are largely Buddhist scriptures, though Confucian, Taoist, Manichaean, and Nestorian scriptures were found as well. This collection also includes secular documents on administration, economics, and literature. The majority of these religious and secular texts are Chinese, while some are written in Brāhmī script, Tibetan, Khotanese, Kuchean, Sogdian, Turkish, Uighur, and the writing system of the Hsi-hsia kingdom. Together they constitute an important historical resource.