This conference was coorganized by the Getty Conservation Institute, China's State Administration for Cultural Heritage, and the Dunhuang Academy. The conference grew out of work that the three organizations had been conducting collaboratively on the conservation of the Mogao grottoes, a World Heritage Site.

Situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang at the edge of the Gobi Desert in Gansu province, 1,770 kilometers (1,100 miles) west of Beijing, the Mogao grottoes constitute one of the most significant sites of Buddhist art in the world. In the age of the Silk Road, Dunhuang was a major crossroads for the caravan routes that skirted the northern and southern parameters of the desolate Takla Makan Desert to the west. For a thousand years, beginning in the 4th century, Chinese Buddhists carved an extensive series of grottoes along the site's 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of cliff face. Today there remain more than 490 temples containing wall paintings covering 45,000 square meters (484,200 square feet), making Mogao the largest single collection of Buddhist mural art in China.

The purpose of the conference at Mogao was to exchange ideas, experiences, methods, techniques, and research findings on the conservation and management of grotto sites, particularly Buddhist sites along the Silk Road. The carved rock grotto caves of China—as well as India, Korea, Japan, and southeast Asia—constitute an important category of cultural sites whose similar attributes derive from shared historical and cultural traditions. The dry climate of the region has preserved many cultural monuments that require the attention of the conservation community if they are to survive modern development.

Topics addressed in the conference included the impact of visitors on the microenvironment of caves, nondestructive techniques for analyzing local stone and pigment, methods of protecting caves from ongoing environmental damage, research on ancient materials and techniques, and analyses of stone sculpture. The conference marked the first time that scholars and scientists from the West and China had convened at a heritage site in China for the common purpose of providing information, exchanging ideas, and devising mechanisms to save grotto sites. A post-conference tour visited Silk Road sites between Dunhuang and Ur'mqi, Xinjiang province.