The GCI and China's Dunhuang Academy (DA) have collaborated on regional planning since 2016, when the DA took on the new challenge of managing additional grotto sites in Gansu Province associated with the Silk Road.
In 2017 the GCI and DA, along with China ICOMOS, conducted a five-day training course on the China Principles for senior staff from national-level heritage sites in Gansu Province. A course outcome was the recognition that the large number of ancient Buddhist grotto sites in the province, among the most numerous in the country, would benefit from a more coherent approach to their management and conservation. The official inventory lists twenty-three grotto sites at national-level significance (three of which are part of the World Heritage Silk Road nomination), nine at the provincial level, and forty-six at county or city levels, as well as countless others without designation. These sites are diverse in style, location, and size. Many are located in the desert regions of western Gansu, where the Mogao Grottoes with its hundreds of caves decorated with extraordinary wall paintings is recognized as the pinnacle of grotto achievement. Many more are situated along the Hexi corridor, and still others were created in forested eastern Gansu; among these the largest and best known is Maijishan Grottoes, renowned for its sculptural decoration and imposing setting.
Despite their diversity, grotto sites share many attributes that lend themselves to a uniform approach to their conservation and management. Recognizing this opportunity to provide guidance to managers of these sites—many of which lack adequate staffing, expertise, and exposure to national standards—the DA and GCI are developing a set of principles consistent with the China Principles but focused on the needs of grotto sites. In spring 2018 the DA and GCI team visited grotto sites in eastern Gansu to familiarize themselves with these lesser-known sites and begin drafting the grotto principles.