Postcard from... China

  • @cliffordcoonan

The network of caves in Dunhuang in the far west of China rank among the wonders of the world. The 800 grottoes are home to frescoes a millennium old and more, placed there by devout Buddhist merchants about to embark on the treacherous Silk Road through the Gobi Desert.

Now developers are building a Buddhism-themed park near the historic caves in Gansu province at a cost of around three billion yuan (£300m).

The World Buddhism Culture Park is the latest in a wave of theme park construction in China, which includes a new Disney park near Shanghai.

Spread over an area of around 20 hectares, the park will epitomise Buddhist culture, and is set to be completed within two years, the Xinhua news agency reported. It will include a prayer square, a Buddhist relic study centre, a hall for debating Buddhist scripts and a meditation centre.

As well as a staging post for merchants leaving on the road to Persia and Europe, Dunhuang was also the place where Buddhist monks entered China, so it had an important role in spreading the religion through China.

The caves have survived the attentions of political and religious fundamentalists, Western adventurers, corrupt Qing dynasty officials, White Russian soldiers and Chairman Mao Zedong's Red Guards.

The site was home to thousands of scrolls. British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein persuaded their monk guardian to sell the artefacts and brought them back to the British Museum in the last century.