Wednesday 28 April 2021, 1.00PM
Speaker(s): Dr Wu Hong, Fudan University
This talk reconsiders the genesis of Buddhist image worship in early medieval China. Image worship has traditionally been understood as an intrinsic part of Buddhist practice, so much so that Buddhism was even known as the “Religion of Images” in China. However, as objects made by human hands, the process through which Buddha images gained sacredness in Chinese understanding has received little attention in previous scholarship, as if Buddha images were a priori holy and the Chinese, whose indigenous culture held an attitude against the worship of lifeless idols, embraced this notion immediately without any difficulty upon the arrival of Buddha images.
By examining the evolution of the worship of Buddha images in India and Gandhara, the discussion of image worship in textual records, the chronological distribution and functions of Buddha images made in early medieval China, I will argue that the worship of Buddha images did not become widely established in China until centuries after the arrival of Buddhism and was a result of the synthetic interplay of Buddhist ideas and local Chinese thoughts.
Image caption: Seated Buddha Shakyamuni in Meditation with Flaming Shoulders, Gandharan style, Chinese, Six Dynasties period, 3rd–early 4th century Gilt bronze (Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University)
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