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At the mention of Dunhuang, what comes to mind? The vivid flying Apsarasa in Mogao Caves? The uncountable merchandise brought by overseas merchants via the ancient Silk Road? The grand Yumen Pass and Yangguan Pass of the Great Wall? Desolate desert where you can experience a lonely mind? Dunhuang is much more than those.
Shaped like a dumbbell, Gansu Province is located in China's hinterland. The city lies on the westmost point of the dumbbell, at the far western point of Hexi Corridor. Covering an area of 31,200 sq km (about 7,709,681 acres), it is surrounded by mountains and gobis. As an important communication hub of the ancient Silk Road, foreign cultures and Chinese cultures once intermingled and even partly amalgamated in this city. Now, Dunhuang is a national tourist city hosting visitors from both home and abroad.
Primitive societies lived in this region for centuries. During the Xia (21st -16th century BC), Shang (16th -11th century BC) and Zhou (11th -221 BC) dynasties, the area was called Guazhou and a tribe named Qiangrong resided there. In the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), Da Yue Zhi, a tribe strong enough to defeat the Qiangrong, conquered and controlled the area until the early years of the Western Han Dynasty (206-24 BC). At that time, Hun people invaded Hexi Corridor and drove the Da Yue Zhi away. Thus, the Hun became master of Hexi Corridor. Since the Hun was a big threat to the Western Han Dynasty, Emperor Wu asked his official, Zhang Qian, to take a long trip to the West Region (a vast area to the west of Yangguan and Yumen Passes) and to negotiate with the kingdoms in that area to fight against the Hun. After long and harsh battles, the Han finally controlled Hexi Corridor and Dunhuang was founded as a county. According to the historical books of the Han Dynasty, Dun means big and Huang means splendid. Thus, Dunhuang means grand and prosperous. The famous Silk Road began to thrive along Zhang Qian's trace, and Dunhuang became an important military, commercial and cultural center. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty (25-220), the battle again arose in this area. At that time, Buddhism flourished and Mogao Caves construction started in 366.
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