Among the tens of thousands of Chinese manuscripts recovered from a sealed-off cave in Dunhuang, a group of items carries texts copied by students as part of their schoolwork. These manuscripts invariably come from the period between the second half of the 9th century and the end of the 10th century, the time when the oasis city of Dunhuang operated as a de facto independent state along what is now known as the Silk Road.
The students wrote colophons at the end of the texts, stating their names, affiliation and the date of copying the text. In addition, many of the manuscripts contain (sometimes on the verso) the students' poems, often embedded amidst random scribbles and drawings. A portion of them are thematically related to the business of copying manuscripts. As some poems feature in more than one manuscript, at times decades apart, it is likely that they were not written by the students who wrote them down but represent a shared repertoire of such poetry throughout the region.
This talk will examine students' poems in an attempt to understand how they relate to the students who copied the manuscripts and to shed light on their connections beyond the immediate community of Dunhuang students. I will also discuss the circumstances under which the manuscripts were produced and used.