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Long before the Internet and worldwide sitcom syndication let us blend cultures from a comfortable chair, people mixed things up the old-fashioned way: by traveling. Along such paths as the Silk Road—the string of ancient trading routes connecting China to the Mediterranean—people exchanged not only goods and traditions, but thoughts as well. In 1900, some 42,000 manuscripts were uncovered in a hidden library near the trading town of Dunhuang, located along the trail (which is also the sole subject of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival) in northwest China. Tonight, Northwestern University professor Sarah Fraser will recount the recovery of the texts—and what they tell us about the cultures of the ancient trading route. She’ll also delve into the craft and aesthetics of Dunhuang’s celebrated caves: Serving as Buddhist shrines, the grottoes were adorned over the centuries with murals and more than 2,000 colored sculptures, earning them the name “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.” The program begins at 8 p.m. at the Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. $14. (202) 357-3030. (Joe Dempsey)