by Linda Heaphy

By the 2nd century AD the city of Dunhuang, situated at the junction between the northern and western Silk Roads, had a population of more than 76,000 and was a key supply base for caravans that passed through the city on the arduous journey across the desert, and for those arriving from the west looking to resupply.

By the 9th Century AD, the civil service in Dunhuang was so sophisticated that the city's Bureau of Etiquette felt the need to create a series of form letters for use in various social situations, the most interesting of which was the one used to send apologies to offended dinner hosts.


Translated Transcript

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.

Isn't that sweet?

The scroll was discovered, alongside thousands of other documents, in a sealed cave library in Dunhuang, and can be viewed here.  If you would like to know more about the incredible work being carried out at Dunhuang, visit the International Dunhuang Project website and their most excellent educational resource The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith.  Our thanks to the guys at Letters of Notefor their translation of the text.

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy

1 Response


December 12, 2018

Very cool👍

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