WildChina > Destinations > Dunhuang > Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes

For our eighteenth episode, we chat with Dunhuang Academy Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Neil Schmid.

As one of the world’s leading authorities on medieval Buddhism’s visual culture, Neil covers the importance and implications of the grotto art – from seasonal fruits pictured to social and political inferences. He also gives us his recommendations as a Dunhuang resident, on what to see, do, eat and drink in the city.

Listen to Episode 18:

Episode Overview:
  • 00:52 – Introduction to Neil Schmid
  • 01:57 – Introduction to Dunhuang from Mei
  • 03:00 – How Neil first became interested in Dunhuang and the Mogao Grottoes
  • 03:34 – Baihua texts on Dunhuang
  • 05:54 – How does one study Buddhist cave art
  • 06:51 – The caves as Buddhist spaces
  • 07:36 – The caves as social and political places
  • 09:07 – Layout of the caves and Dunhuang
  • 11:34 – How the caves were made
  • 17:54 – Other Buddhist grottoes in Gansu
  • 18:25 – History of the Mogao Grottoes
  • 27:11 – Gansu compared to other famous Buddhist grottoes in China
  • 31:36 – What does Mogao tell us about daily life at that point in history
  • 32:45 – Food representation in the Mogao paintings
  • 36:30 – Ethnic and geographic diversity in/around Dunhuang
  • 38:29 – Neil’s travel tips for Dunhuang

You can also listen to The China Travel Podcast on:
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes
Episode 18: Dunhuang & the Mogao Grottoes

Places, resources and tips mentioned in the podcast:

Other Buddhist cave sites near Dunhuang

Books/travelogues mentioned

Regional food/drink mentioned

  • Mantou (馒头) – steamed buns
  • Yuqian (榆钱) – elm seeds
  • Heigouqijiu (黑枸杞酒) – black goji liquor
  • Yaojiu (药酒) – medicinal liquor
  • Buyang (补养) – medicinal tonic
  • Suoyang (锁阳) – Chinese cynomorium

Neil’s Dunhuang restaurant and bar recommendations

  • Vegetarian restaurant  – Green Lotus (清連素食)
  • Bar – Moni (末尼) (from Sakyamuni 释迦摩尼). The full name is 末尼敦煌文化庭院静吧.
  • Can sit on a kang (炕) heated bed
  • Dongyi boutique (东驿敦煌酒店) (English name is New Century)
  • Other boutique is Jangala Dunhuang (敦煌碧玥酒店)
  • Hotel at Mogao – The Mogao Hotel (莫高山庄)
  • The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel – WildChina’s recommendation


• Domestic flight to Dunhuang airport
• Overnight train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang ~14 hours (Neil recommends a private Deluxe Soft Sleeper cabin)
• High-speed train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang ~8 hours

Seasons to visit

• Spring and Autumn (avoiding Chinese national holidays)

Mogao Grottoes
Mogao Grottoes – West Dunes
Mogao Grottoes
Mogao cliff face
Mogao Grottoes
Mogao Grottoes
Mogao Grottoes
Mogao Grottoes
Details of Buddhist sculptures
Mogao Grottoes
Buddhist sculptures
Mogao Grottoes
Diamond Sutra