Dunhuang comes alive

By Deng Zhangyu ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-10-01 15:28:37

Dunhuang comes alive

Historical figures audiences encounter during the performance include Zhang Qian, the first diplomat who was sent by an emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) to visit Central Asia.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A show which debuted at the first Silk Road Dunhuang International Cultural Expo gives visitors a real-life experience of the region's history. Deng Zhangyu reports from Dunhuang, in Gansu province. Deng Zhangyu If you want to experience what it feels like to encounter historical figures in the flesh and hear their stories in person, the Encore Dunhuang show is for you. Staged in a desert in Dunhuang, in Gansu province, the show lets you meet, talk to and feel the emotions of figures from Dunhuang's history.

The show lets you encounter characters from 2,000 years ago and from the recent past as well-like the Taoist priest who in 1900 found the Mogao Grottoes full of manuscripts, which are now dispersed in different museums across the world.

Within 90 minutes, members of the audience walk through four rooms in a time-travel-like performance, experiencing key moments from the history of the city, which was once an important stop along the Silk Road, a trade route that was used to transport goods between East and West.

Among the historical figures you encounter are Zhang Qian, the first diplomat who was sent by an emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) to visit Central Asia.

Then, you have an old general, telling his story of how he sent 10 groups of troops to Chang'an, the capital city of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), to inform the emperor that the Silk Road had been revived.

Just like models at a fashion event, the historical figures walk down a ramp while the spectators stand around.

The highlight of the show, however, is in the second room, when the audience gets to meet Wang Yuanlu, the Taoist priest, who is seen in China as a villain for selling China's Buddhist treasures from Mogao Grottoes to foreigners at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Taoist talks about how he was forced to sell the treasures as he was unable to get help to protect the manuscripts.

He says the foreigners, including British archaeologist Aurel Stein, to whom he sold the manuscripts, promised to use them for research and protect them.

Wang then begs for forgiveness from the Buddha figures in the caves and he is forgiven.

The other rooms show the daily lives of people living in the Tang Dynasty-from dancers to scholars writing calligraphy.

Speaking about the challenges of doing such a show, the director Wang Chaoge says: "It's easy to tell a touching love story, or a story about a historical figure. But it's very difficult to put on stage the whole history of a well-known city, covering 2,000 years."

Revealing how she prepared for her current assignment, which was launched on Sept 20, she says for the past two years she read many books on the history of Dunhuang.

Before Encore Dunhuang, Wang had produced many tourist shows for many cities in China, such as Pingyao in Shanxi province, known historically for its rich businessmen, and Wutai Mountain, also in Shanxi province, known for its temples.

Many of them were outdoor performances. But, as for the Dunhuang production, the performance is staged in a huge glass theater due to the difficult weather conditions.

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