XI'AN: Frescoes are painted on walls when their plaster is still wet. The
whole idea is to let the watercolour penetrate the plaster and become fixed as
it dries. Which means a dry weather should logically be good for frescoes.
Ironically, it's the dry weather of Dunhuang in
Northwest China's Gansu Province that has been threatening frescoes and statues
in the world heritage Dunhuang Mogao Caves.
Compounding the matter is the constant flow of visitors, both from home and
abroad. And if immediate measures are not taken, the treasure, which has high
archeological, cultural and artistic value, could be damaged beyond repair in
another 50 years.
But that is something the local government and residents won't allow to
happen. They have taken steps to save the more than one-and-a-half millennium
old frescoes by fighting desertification and restricting the number of visitors.
Artisans began working on the caves in the Mingsha Mountain in AD 366, or
1,641 years ago.
The more than 3,000 Buddha statues and the frescoes that together can add up
to 30 kilometers are a treasure trove for archeologists and art historians.
UNESCO listed the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes as a world heritage site in 1987.
The people, no doubt, have spread their fame farther and wider, but they
unwittingly began damaging them, too. Add to that increased farming and grazing
and sudden urban expansion and you have a recipe for disaster at least for
fragile heritage sites like the caves.
Irrigation, grazing and urbanization depleted the underground water reserve.
Diversion of water sources for irrigation and everyday use created a shortage
above ground. The result: drier weather and intensified desertification.
To reverse the situation, the authorities and the people are taking measures
to improve the environment and control the number of visitors.
This is an apt example of people not only being worried over an impending
disaster, but also taking the lead to prevent it, according to the Dunhuang
Relics Protection Research Institute.
"To check desertification, we will take steps to save the limited water
resource and divert water from other places," said Bao Donghong, Party leader of
Water-saving farming technology has been introduced in villages near the
grottoes, a move that could save 50 percent water for irrigation.