China, Buddhist Art in

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In the Asian Buddhist world, China is second only to India for its importance in the development and preservation of Buddhism and Buddhist art. China became the great reservoir and innovator of East Asian Buddhism and its art, and inspired important schools of Buddhism and Buddhist art in Korea and Japan, as well as other regions. The range of Chinese Buddhist art is vast, stretching for nearly two thousand years from the Later Han dynasty (25 b.c.e.–220 c.e.) well into the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Often its sources reach directly to India and its contiguous regions, to Central Asia, and even Tibet in the later centuries; there is also a complex interrelationship with the latter two regions. New interpretations and styles formed quickly in China, offering an evolving and stimulating development frequently reflecting the schools of Buddhist thought that emerged in China, as well as imagery with popular connotations. Behind the brief survey presented in this entry, one must keep in mind the incredible richness of the repertoire and of the innumerable innovative interpretations offered by China in all the arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, cave temple art, and decorative and ritual arts throughout this long period of growth, fluorescence, and development that created one of the world's truly magnificent Buddhist art cycles.

Later Han (25 b.c.e.–220 c.e.), Three Kingdoms (220–265/280 c.e.), and Western Jin (265/280–317 c.e.)

Reliable written documents indicate the presence in China of Buddhist temples as early as the mid-first century c.e., during the Later Han dynasty. By the end of the second century, records concerning the military officer Zerong describe his construction in Pengcheng (northern Jiangsu) of a large storied pavilion "with piled up metal plates on top" and a gilded buddha image inside. Such a multistoried structure topped by plates (chattra) also appears in a rare Later Han tomb tile from Sichuan. These examples point to the existence of the Chinese-style pagoda or stŪpa and the presence of gilded buddha imagery by the late Later Han period in China. Though the first major Buddhist translation activity occurred in Luoyang during the second half of the second century with the foreign monks An shigao and Lokakṣema, we have yet to see any Buddhist art from that center for this period, with the exception of the stone fragments of a curb encircling a well that bear an inscription mentioning "the saṅgha of the four quarters" in Kharoṣṭhī script, another indication of the undoubtedly potent foreign influences in this early phase of Buddhist activity in China.

However, within the last several decades a few remains have been presented as probable late Later Han Buddhist imagery, most notably the splendid gilt-bronze seated Buddha with flame shoulders in Harvard University's Sackler Museum and a selection of stone reliefs at the site of Kongwangshan in eastern Jiangsu. The Harvard Buddha, of quite large size, has long been cited as a major early sculpture of Gandharan form, but has been shown to stylistically relate to Chinese tomb art dating to the second half of the second century and to sculpture from the site of Khalchayan (ca. first century b.c.e. to first century c.e.) excavated in southern Uzbekistan in ancient northern Bactria. This image, probably the earliest known Buddha image from China, appears to have its stylistic sources more decisively in the Bactrian rather than the Gandharan region. The Kongwangshan site consists of a hill with its boulders carved with a variety of sculptures in the late Later Han style. Among the images are Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West), dancing figures in foreign dress (Kushan style), a seated and standing buddha, a parinirvāṇa scene, and a scene from a jĀtaka of the sacrifice of the bodhisattva to the starving tigress. Though simple, the images are iconographically accurate and testify to Buddhist activity that was somehow integrated with images of other popular beliefs—a typical phenomenon in Late Han.

From the Three Kingdoms and Western Jin periods, a clear distinction emerged between images that strictly follow orthodox Buddhist iconography and those of popular, mostly funerary, art that incorporate Buddhist elements, often with unorthodox changes. The latter are various and found in a wide area of distribution. They include, for example, small seated buddhas on ceramic vessels (some the elaborate hunping funerary urns) and bronze mirrors (possibly as auspicious talismans) in the south; buddhas on money trees and clay tomb bricks in Sichuan; a standing bodhisattva on a belt buckle from a tomb dated 262 from Wuchang in Hebei; and reliefs in tombs such as at Yinan in Shandong. On the other hand, the famous gilt-bronze standing bodhisattva in the Fujii Yūrinkan, probably a Maitreya, is of mainstream, orthodox imagery, stylistically related to contemporary sculptures from Swat, Toprak Kala, and Miran. This bodhisattva is said to have come from near Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), where the great monk DharmarakṢa was active with translating and teaching in the last half of the third century.

By the end of the Western Jin Buddhism was reaching a point of viability in China, albeit with the major support of foreign monks and the foreign communities engaged in trade along the Silk Road. Unfortunately, just as the fall of the Han dynasty in the early third century occasioned turmoil and mass migration within China, so too, at the end of the Western Jin, northern China collapsed into chaos from famines and a series of disastrous invasions and warfare by northern minorities. These events threw the country into hardship for several decades and virtually transformed the demographics of China as the aristocratic families of the north fled south or to the Gansu region to escape the devastation.

Eastern Jin (317–420) in the south and the Sixteen Kingdoms (317–439) in the north

The Eastern Jin provided some continuity to this volatile, fluid, disruptive period. Most of our knowledge of Buddhist art from the Eastern Jin comes from written records, which speak of miraculous images, King AŚoka images, colossal buddhas (the oldest, ca. 370s, being that in Dao'an's (312–385) monastery at Xiangyang in Henan), wondrous sculptures made by Daikui, the famous VimalakĪrti wall painting by Gu Kaizhi, and so on. We can speculate on the appearance of some of these recorded masterpieces of Eastern Jin Buddhist art from later replicas. One of the most interesting is the case of the inscribed King Aśoka buddhas found in Chengdu that date from the mid-sixth century but clearly replicate an older, probably fourth century, model. Also, the Vimalakīrti relief in cave 3 at Longmen, from the early sixth century, may follow the fourth-century Gu Kaizhi prototype. Other clues come from the invaluable sources of the Korean Koguryŏ tomb paintings, such as those at tomb 3 at Anak, dated to around 357, and the tomb at Tŏkhŭngri, dated to 408 or 409, and others that have early examples of Buddhist subjects.

Most extant remains, however, probably come from the North and from Gansu, both areas dominated by a series of successive small kingdoms, known as the Sixteen Kingdoms, of the five minority nationalities. This period in North China is one of the most difficult to access, but it is becoming evident that it is prolific in Buddhist art remains, generally confirming and complementing the important strides made in Buddhism under the Chinese masters Dao'an and Huiyuan (334–416) and the overwhelming achievement of the translations of KumĀrajĪva (350–409/413 c.e.) in the early fifth century. Most images are from small bronze buddha altars, which, in the few surviving complete examples consist of a dhyānāsana buddha on a lion throne, a mandorla, a canopy, and a four-footed stand. The identity of these small buddhas, most in meditation, is not certain, but at least one (datable to 426, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) names the buddha as Maitreya. The earliest identifiable Guanyin appears around 400 (Asian Art Museum of San Francisco) and there are early bronze reliefs of such Lotus SŪtra (SaddharmapuṄḍarĪka-sŪtra) themes as Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna that appear as early as the early fifth century. The Buddhist-Daoist stele of Wei Wenlang from Yaoxian (north of Chang'an), though not without controversy, probably dates to 424 and may be the oldest known stone stele with Buddhist imagery. A gilt-bronze pendant-legged seated buddha, dated (Liu) Song 423, confirms this iconographic form as a Maitreya by an inscription on the back of its mandorla, which itself is the earliest known version in bronze of the elaborate flame-bordered mandorlas seen in fully developed form in numerous bronze sculptures under the Tuoba (Northern) Wei later in the century. It is becoming clear that many iconographic types and stylistic features that were previously thought to be Northern Wei were actually formulated earlier, in the late fourth and early fifth centuries in the south, around Chang'an and in Gansu.

The Gansu Buddhist materials are probably the most significant discoveries of the last forty years in Chinese Buddhist art. Though there is currently no consensus on the precise dating of all of the early sculptures, paintings, cave temples, and stone stūpas from Gansu, the Amitāyus niche in cave 169 at Binglingsi is dated with certainty to 420 during the time of the Eastern Qin in southern Gansu. Most of the superb painted clay sculptures positioned randomly around this large natural cave, as well as the surviving wall paintings, which stylistically relate to paintings in cave GK20 at Kumtura in Kucha, date to this time or earlier. Similarly, the earliest caves at Maijishan (caves 78 and 74, each with three magnificent large, seated clay buddhas), where the famous monk Gaoxuan stayed for a number of years in about 415, are probably early fifth century.

From the central area of Gansu, then known as Liangzhou, the cave temples at Tiantishan, southeast of Wuwei, and Jintasi near Zhangye, have spectacularly rare remains, the former mainly paintings and the latter mainly sculpture, both from the period of Northern Liang under Juqu Mengxun (r. 401–433). Juqu Mengxun is known from literary records to have opened caves now believed to be those at Tiantishan, and to have made a colossal buddha on behalf of his mother, the earliest colossal stone (probably cave) image in China. The early caves at both sites contain the earliest use of the central pillar cave temple form in China.

From the western end of Gansu, there are early caves at Wenshushan near Jiuchuan and three early caves at Dunhuang (caves 268, 272, 275). Cave 272 includes a Maitreya Buddha, and cave 275 has a colossal cross-ankled Maitreya Bodhisattva. Wall paintings in cave 272 show celestial listeners and the thousand buddhas. In cave 275 jātakas and scenes from the Buddha's life are portrayed along the side walls of the long chamber. A rare group of stone stūpas was discovered from Jiuchuan and Dunhuang, most dating from the early decades of the fifth century under the Northern Liang. The stūpas are carved with sūtra texts, trigrams with trigram figures from the Yijing (Book of Changes), and the seven buddhas of the past along with Maitreya Bodhisattva. Two other stone stūpas have been found in Gaochang (Turfan), where the Northern Liang fled after the Northern Wei onslaught in 439 and where Northern Liang survived as the last of the Sixteen Kingdoms up to the 460s.

Northern Wei (386–534), Eastern Wei (534–550), Western Wei (535–557), Northern Qi (550–577), and Northern Zhou (557–581) in the north; (Liu) Song (420–479), Southern Qi (479–502), Liang (502–557) and Chen (557–589) in the south; unified China under the Sui (581/589–618)

After 439, emphasis shifted to the Northern Wei, which developed its Buddhist art rapidly after the harsh Buddhist persecution of 444 to 452. Besides numerous stone relief images (steles) and magnificent gilt-bronze sculptures, the most stupendous achievements occurred at the cave site of Yun'gang near the capital of Pingcheng (Datong) from the 460s through the 480s. The so-called five Tanyao caves, with their five colossal images carved from living rock, in some sense surpass in concept even the colossi of BĀmiyĀn and Kucha, both of which probably had several grand colossal buddha images by this time. Yun'gang presents a single coherent group of five colossi, the identity of which, however, is still being debated by scholars. Work continued at Yun'gang with the fully embellished twin caves 7 and 8, datable to around the 470s, and the twin caves 5 and 6, dating from around the 480s, the latter with a huge central pillar and fully assimilated new style of loose, flared "Chinese" robe design for the buddha images. This stylistic change, distinct from Liangzhou or Central Asian inspired styles, probably came to the north from South China. Caves 7 and 8 appear to be related to the sculptural traditions of the northern Silk Road, especially that of Tumshuk.

Though work continued at Yun'gang into the fifth century, after the Northern Wei moved its capital to Luoyang in 494, attention turned to the new imperial cave temple site at Longmen, which became the pièce de résistance from the latter years of the Northern Wei. It is by way of the groundbreaking studies of both Yun'gang and Longmen by Seiichi Mizuno and Toshio Nagahiro and the ongoing studies of the Dunhuang Research Institute for the Dunhuang caves that we have access to and understanding of these enormous cave temple sites that represent the truly glorious heritage of Chinese Buddhist art.

The multiple tiers and niches of the oldest cave at Longmen, the Guyangtong, have many individual dedications and show primary focus on Maitreya. Cave 3, on the other hand, which dates to around 515, is an imperial cave with a single plan completely executed to produce a coherent and spectacular scheme, probably centered around the buddhas of the three times (past, present, and future) as the main icons. The large impressive sculptures are massive heavy shapes beneath spreading robes of shallow parallel step pleats and elaborately curving hems that flare to the sides or cascade over the pedestal as seen in the Śākyamuni Buddha on the rear wall. The abstract carving of the faces lends a strongly iconic air to the powerful imagery. Other caves followed at Longmen and also at Gongxian near Luoyang, but the Northern Wei collapsed around 534 or 535 and its territory was divided between east and west for a short time before changing hands again to the Northern Qi in the northeast and Northern Zhou in the northwest. For Buddhist art, however, this period remains one of continued fluorescence.

Luoyang was a city of magnificent temples and pagodas under the Northern Wei, and, as far as we can tell from literary records, the same was true of the capital (Nanking) of the Liang under Emperor Wu (r. 502–549) in the south. We can surmise some of the Liang achievements because they are probably reflected in the Buddhist art of important finds from Chengdu in Sichuan. The hoard of sculptures from the Wanfosi contained many complete steles, some of which have reliefs of Pure Land imagery that are invaluable for documenting the developments of this form of Buddhist art, which appears to have begun as early as the early fifth century.

The Xiangtangshan caves in Henan and Hebei testify to major cave temple activity under the Northern Qi. Besides the magnificent central pillar caves at North Xiangtangshan, a large relief of AmitĀbha's Western Pure Land from the southern site shows a simple setting of pavilions, a lotus pond with reborn figures, and images of the Buddha and his attendant bodhisattvas portrayed in the smooth, abstract, minimalist style of the Northern Qi. The stone sculptures from the Xiudesi in Hebei, some with dated inscriptions, the popular siwei (contemplative) bodhisattva, and the spectacular hoard unearthed in Qingzhou in Shandong, many still possessing gilding and original paint, amplify the corpus of Northern Qi Buddhist art and reveal the wide range and subtle stylistic variations in the sculptural repertoire.

Stone stelae, which rose to prominence during the first half of the sixth century and which were frequently donated by special groups or religious societies, gave way in mid-century to new innovations, such as perforating elements of the stele, and to the independent stone image, some of great size. Images from the Northern Zhou tended to be laden with jewelry in bodhisattva figures and to have a sense of natural mass and movement, contrary to the Northern Qi's hermetic, aloof, and pristinely pure abstract imagery, which was possibly inspired by the styles of the Gupta Sārnāth school of India. Regional distinctions in imagery were particularly pronounced during this period and they continued into the Sui dynasty.

Dunhuang, with its semiautonomous status at the far reaches of northwest China, saw continued activity throughout the Northern Wei and into the Northern Zhou, and the site generally developed its own traditions in the second half of the fifth century to around the end of the Northern Wei. By the time of cave 285 in the Western Wei, however, artists at Dunhuang had adopted Chinese style drapery and also incorporated some Central Asian iconographic features. Maijishan was also active throughout this period, with caves of painted clay imagery, wall paintings, and some important stone steles, including a rare example that depicts the Buddha's life in narrative scenes. The Tianlongshan caves in Shanxi, opened in the Eastern Wei, continued with the production of remarkably beautiful sculptures in the Northern Qi and Sui.

Following the Buddhist persecution by the Northern Zhou in the late 570s and the unification of China under the Sui, Buddhist art gained momentum under imperially sponsored restorations and construction projects. New cave sites in Shandong at Tuoshan and Yunmenshan emerged, and Dunhuang entered one of it most flourishing periods, beginning a wave of production that carried on into the Tang period and beyond. The Tiantai school was strong in China and the Lotus Sūtra is reflected in the paintings of caves 419 and 420 at Dunhuang. The regional variations encountered in the mid-sixth century continued into the Sui with certain developments: Early Sui images became more grandiose and monumentalized; during the late Sui images began to loosen toward a slightly more naturalistic impression, as seen in the painting of Mañjusśrī Bodhisattva, depicted with superbly confident line drawing, in cave 276 at Dunhuang. The great period of the abstract icon came to an end in the Sui. Very few large pagodas or stūpas survive from this period, the most striking being the monumental twelve-sided, fifteen-story, parabolically-shaped brick pagoda at Songshan in Henan, dated to around 520, and a stone square-image pagoda with four entrances (simenta), dated 611, at the ancient Shentongsi in Shandong.

Tang dynasty (618–907) and the Five Dynasties (907–960)

Although the collapse of the Sui in 617 and the formative decades of the Tang brought an initial hiatus in the production of Buddhist art, the eventual long-lasting cohesion helped to engender unprecedented developments in Buddhism and its arts in China. Except for Dunhuang, where the opening of new cave chapels continued at a more or less constant rate, it was not until around the 640s that Buddhist art began to appear with prominence in central China, mostly in the capital at Chang'an and at Longmen near Luoyang. With the return of the monk-pilgrim Xuanzang (ca. 600–664) from his astonishing travels to India from 628 to 645, the emperor sponsored the building of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda in the capital to house the manuscripts he brought back. Austere, grand, and monumental, this Tang brick pagoda still remains a beloved landmark overlooking the city. Activity at the Longmen caves dominated the latter part of the seventh century with the most spectacular work being cave 19 (672–675) with its colossal image of Vairocana, the mystical/cosmic buddha of the Huayan school, the branch of Buddhism in China founded on the study of the Huayan jing (Avataṃsaka-sūtra) and brilliantly expounded by Huayan masters, such as Zhiyan (602–668) and Fazang (643–712), in the seventh century. Cave 19 may have been a conscious reflection of the grandeur of the Tang empire, which reached a new dimension with its conquests throughout the century into Central Asia.

Pure Land Buddhism flowered in the seventh century under Shandao and found expression in depictions of AmitĀbha's Pure Land, Sukhāvatī, many of which survive in wall paintings at Dunhuang, beginning with the earliest complete representation in cave 220, dated 642, and evolving throughout the Tang into masterworks of huge scale and detailed imagery. These paintings particularly followed the Guan Wuliangshou jing (Sūtra on the Meditation of Amitāyus) that incorporates the sixteen meditations of Queen Vaidehī, as seen in the early eighth-century wall painting in cave 217 at Dunhuang. By the time of cave 148, dated to around 775, a vast panoramic vision is presented in the boneless technique of using planes of color without line. These color washes create a fluid, shimmering, ethereal effect on the broad, tilted plane that conjures vast space, reflecting developments in Chinese landscape painting that evolved during the Tang period.

During the mid-seventh to early eighth centuries, elements of esoteric Buddhism appeared in, for example, figures of the eleven-headed Guanyin, but it would not be until the second half of the eighth century, with the teaching of the Indian monk Amoghavajra, that the full panoply of tantric maṆḌala imagery would become well established. A group of marble images dating from around 775 from the site of the Anguosi in Chang'an offers the best surviving early examples of these esoteric teachings, which became especially influential at Wutaishan and later in Shingon Buddhism (of the yoga tantra type), which was introduced by KŪkai (774–835) to Japan following his study in China from 804 to 806.

Sculpture from the first half of the eighth century reached a high degree of naturalism, tempered by abstract patterning. The Tang caves at Tianlongshan, such as caves 21, 14, 6, 18, and 17 (in chronological sequence), have the most splendid array of stone sculptures from the first half of the eighth century. The seated buddha from cave 21 (possibly the cave of the 707 stele describing the donation made by General Xun [of Korean descent] and his wife) is a marvel of powerful muscular body, with subtly defined limbs and torso. The body is draped with a robe whose rib folds form patterns of lines that help to clarify the articulate parts of the body in an independent yet complementary manner. The moon-shaped face is tense and the features carved into strongly modeled eyes and a dramatically curled mouth. The styles of the Tianlongshan imagery of this time derive from artistic modes of contemporary art of Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, probably stimulated by renewed contact over the Silk Road during the seventh century and first half of the eighth century.

By the late eighth to ninth centuries the style of sculpture became more mannered and consciously antinatural while still retaining naturalistic elements that had evolved since the early Tang. Images became otherworldly in defiance of weight and normality of proportioning. At Dunhuang this development appears in the images of cave 159 and in central China in the stucco sculptures of the main shrine hall of the Foguangsi Monastery at Wutaishan, where the images reach a height of manneristic naturalism, combining naturalistic qualities with mannered distortions. The Foguangsi shrine hall was built in 857 after the third and most devastating of the Buddhist persecutions in China from around 845 to 847. It remains today as the oldest large wooden temple structure in China. The main hall of the nearby Nanchansi was built earlier, before 782, but it is only a three-bay hall, whereas the Foguangsi hall is a seven-bay structure. Foguangsi's monumental Tang style timber construction has strong simple bracketing, bold powerful lines in the façade, and a rare early method of construction. In the words of Liang Sicheng, an early pioneer of architectural studies in China, the structural parts "give the building an overwhelming dignity that is not found in later structures."

As the Tang empire declined during the late ninth century, Buddhist art diminished in general, except for areas such as Sichuan and Dunhuang, both of which saw major productions at this time. Dunhuang, which had been under Tibetan occupation from the 780s to 840s, flourished under the local control of the Zhang and then the Cao family well into the tenth century. Many of the silk paintings found by Aurel Stein in the "library" room of cave 17 and taken to the British Museum date to this period. The earliest Chan paintings appeared during the late ninth to early tenth centuries. The Chan school had become one of the major movements of Buddhism in China from the seventh century. The Luohan paintings by Guanxiu are the earliest works related to what came to be known as a Chan interpretation. In some paintings Guanxiu used a broken-ink technique that, along with the individualistic styles of Shike of the tenth century, was destined to make a lasting impact on Chinese painting.

During the Five Dynasties, a formality appeared in the sculptures at Dunhuang, and wall paintings tend to repeat in minute detail the depictions of various sūtras, a development that had become popular during the later years of the Tang. In the numerous large caves of this time the effect is astounding for its detail. In cave 61, for example, there are large female donor figures of the Cao family, and the entire back wall is occupied by a mythical "map" of Wutaishan as a sacred place. At this point, a real geographic place in China was treated as an icon itself, thus merging the concept of Pure Land with sacred spaces on earth. In general, the art of the Five Dynasties period prolonged the styles of Tang into its final, more formalized stage.

Northern Song (960–1127), Liao (907–1125), Xixia (late tenth–1223), Jin (1115–1234), Southern Song (1127–1279), and Dali in Yunnan (937–1253)

Though a culturally high period in China, the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries were not without fragmentation. In the South, at the Yanxiadong during the mid-tenth century in Hangzhou there is an early example of the group of sixteen (or eighteen) Luohans with Guanyin, a theme that came to pervade this period. Guanyin is sometimes shown garbed in a robe covering the head and body, a depiction that came to be known as the "white-robed" Guanyin. Various forms of Guanyin had been growing in popularity since the sixth century, but the blossoming and expanding of these forms became a major factor in Chinese Buddhist art of this period. For example, the independent kingdom of Wuyue in the South produced a distinctive bodhisattva portrayal with prominent jewel-encrusted ornamentation and a stiff and quiet body with a gentle face. Throughout the Song period Dazu in Sichuan developed into a major site of impressive reliefs that connote a great mandala for pilgrimage based in large part on the plans of the founding monk, who consciously incorporated local popular, as well as esoteric, themes into the Buddhist tableaux. In addition, Maijishan in Gansu produced numerous stucco images at this time.

The Xixia kingdom in the northwest emerged as a major state from the late tenth century until its defeat by Genghis Khan's troops in 1223. In addition to Buddhist art in a variant of the Song mode, from the late twelfth century the Xixia produced a major body of art in Tibetan style, especially paintings, probably introduced by the Bka' brgyud (Kagyu) and possibly also by Sa skya (Sakya) lamas who came to the Xixia court from central Tibet. Many of these remains, which are also recognized as a major branch of early central Tibetan style painting, now reside in the Khara Khoto collection in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Dunhuang is dominated by the Xixia, which not only did extensive renovation of the site, but also opened important new caves, as it also did at Yulin, where esoteric Tibetan style imagery exists side by side with Song style imagery.

Much of the Buddhist art during the Northern Song period survives in the Shanxi, Hebei, and Manchuria regions; most of it was produced under the Khitan Liao. Great temples such as the Duluosi of 984 in northern Hebei, the Fengguosi in Manchuria, and the

Upper and Lower Huayansi in Datong (northern Shanxi), as well as numerous brick pagodas throughout the area, express the activity of the Liao. Ensembles tended to center on Guanyin and on esoteric imagery of the Five Tathāgathas. The tallest and oldest wooden pagoda survives in Yingxianin Shanxi; built during the mid-eleventh century, it is a marvel of timber construction, with each story containing a central altar with large stucco statues. Dozens of magnificent remains of statues of Guanyin, mostly in polychrome and gilded wood and portraying the bodhisattva as seated in a rocky grotto in a pose of royal ease, testify to the continuing and dominant focus on Guanyin. The Luohans also rose to great prominence in this period, an early set being the famous ceramic statues from Yizhou in Hebei, datable to the early eleventh century. These sculptures all exemplify the naturalistic trends of the Song period, expressed in the realism of the face and hands and the heavy, naturally folded drapery, without recourse to abstract patterns. The Song image represents a truly humanistic interpretation of the most popular Buddhist images, those indicative of compassion (Guanyin) and exemplary teachers (Luohans), in large part spurred by the active Chan and Huayan thought of this time.

These trends continued into the Southern Song period. Cycles of Luohans, many portrayed in paintings following the Li Gonglin model, using rich color and a landscape setting, as well as refined depictions of Amitābha and his bodhisattvas, are masterful works by academic painters or by the ateliers of professional Buddhist painters in the South, especially centered in Ningpo. The Dali kingdom in Yunnan saw a flourishing Buddhist culture at this time that also produced exquisite art. However, the most innovative Buddhist art comes from the contributions of Chan painters, especially the paintings of Liangkai and Muqi during the first half of the thirteenth century. Both of these masters had the ability to not only offer a fresh interpretation of Chan themes, many of which were new to the Buddhist art repertoire, but also to express these themes in such a way that the very manner of execution becomes a Buddhist statement. The depth of understanding raised Buddhist art to its highest level, where the way in which the subject is painted is as much an expression of Buddhist thought as is the Chan content of the painting. The work of Liangkai and Muqi established a Chan painting tradition that was carried on by others into the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, though never with such resounding success as by these two masters.

Yuan (1234–1368), Ming (1368–1644), and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties

Buddhist art in the Yuan dynasty followed several streams. Besides Chan painting, which includes Chan legendary characters, portraits of Chan masters, Guanyin, nature themes, calligraphy, and so on, there was the academic style of colorful paintings, especially on the subject of Luohans, of which there are many wonderful sets. In sculpture, powerful, heavy images of Guanyin seated on craggy rocks—a theme popular from the eleventh century and probably representing Guanyin from the Gaṇḍavyūha of the Huayan jing—continues as a major icon in the Yuan and early Ming dynasties, which produced especially powerful examples with robes full of movement. Other trends evolved in sculpture, especially those with a Nepalese-Tibetan cast, such as the styles brought to China by Anige, the Nepalese artist introduced to Kublai Khan by Phags pha, the influential Sa skya hierarch at the Yuan court. The impact of Tibetan Buddhist art on China was strong during the Yuan (Mongol ruled) period and can be seen in the sculptures of the Feilaifeng in Hangzhou, in the magnificent cycle of esoteric paintings of Śākya lineage in cave 465 at Dunhuang, and at the Buddhist sanctuary at Wutaishan, where the enormous Indo-Tibetan style pagoda at the Tayuansi dominates the valley.

The Ming dynasty produced some impressive sculptures, such as the colossal one thousand-armed Guanyin, and the one thousand-armed Wenshu and Puxian bodhisattvas at the Zhongshansi in Taiyuan (Shanxi). Many gorgeous paintings and wall paintings, often of extraordinarily intense color and skillful drawing, such as those at the Fahaisi near Beijing and still surviving in many temples of Qinghai province, document the flourishing painting schools and active temple building and decorating, especially during the early Ming. Paintings, sculptures, and superb huge kesi woven tapestries made during the Yongle era (1403–1425) were often sent to Tibet as gifts, where they influenced Tibetan Buddhist art forms during the fifteenth century. From this time on, China and Tibet have a particularly close interrelation in Buddhist art. This is notable during the reign of the Qing dynasty Qianlong emperor in the eighteenth century. With the building of the Yonghegong in Beijing, a center for the Dge lugs (Geluk), the order of the Dalai Lamas, the influences of Tibetan Buddhism were further solidified. Many of the monasteries around Beijing, the Chinese capital since the Yuan, have imagery that is strongly Tibetan in character and iconography, including the many forms of Buddhist icons common to Tibetan tantric Buddhist practice, such as those similar to the splendid seventeenth-century sculpture of Paramaśukha Cakrasaṃvara. This final productive phase of Buddhist art in China was wedded to Tibetan Buddhist traditions, but there were also occasional masterworks of Buddhist art produced by the leading painters of the time and some sculptural styles following older traditions, especially in the south.

Since the 1960s the Chinese continue to discover, document, and study major segments of their Buddhist art, and specialized studies by Western scholars probe new directions, such as the role of patron-donors; the interaction with popular art and with Daoist art; the beginnings of specific imagery, such as Pure Land imagery; the incorporation of data from local records; iconographic, religious, and interpretive issues; sources of the art; regional distinctions; problems of chronologies and dating; the relationships with Central Asian art; and the impact of Chinese Buddhist art on that of surrounding areas, particularly Korea and Japan. All of these diverse and complex studies are ongoing and will surely open up new understandings of the vast and deep subject of Chinese Buddhist art.

See also:Arhat Images; Bodhisattva Images; Buddha Images; Cave Sanctuaries; Chan Art; Huayan Art; Monastic Architecture; Pure Land Art


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Marylin Martin Rhie

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