Noble Tombs at Mawangdui:
Art and Life in the Changsha Kingdom,
Third Century BCE to First Century CE
An Exhibition Related Resource of China Institute’s Winter 2009 Gallery Exhibition
COSMIC JOURNEYS AND THE SEARCH FOR IMMORTALITY (GRADES 9-12)
Is there life after death? Can one’s lifespan be significantly extended? Can a human being live forever? Many religious and cultural traditions considered these questions. More than two thousand years ago the Chinese also began pondering them. Some of the answers affected how they buried the dead and sacrificed to ancestors. Others involved techniques for extending life and becoming immortal that not only shaped aspects of Daoist religion, China’s indigenous faith, but also suffused folklore, literature, and the visual arts.
The Mawangdui tombs provide a striking picture of early Chinese beliefs in the afterlife. The lacquerware, clothing, domestic objects and foods buried therein show that during the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) “tomb furnishings and grave goods were thought to provide for the deceased a celestial palace with all the comforts of an idealized home” (Beningson 2005: 1). These objects also reflect the luxurious material culture enjoyed by the ruling elite of south central China.
The idea that it was possible to extend life and even live forever also become important during the last centuries before the beginning of the Common Era. The famous “Physical Exercise Chart”(Daoyintu) from the third Mawangdui tomb shows breathing exercises and gymnastics practiced for good health and extending life (chang sheng) reminiscent of the qigong practiced today both in China and all over the world.
All these concepts—the afterlife, extending life, immortality—are seen in the Mawangdui tombs and other Han dynasty art. This lesson combines the Mawangdui finds and other Han artifacts with excerpts from relevant texts.
Essential Questions What ideas about life after death and extending life became important in early imperial China? What is Daoism? How do the visual arts express feelings and ideas without using words? Conversely, how do words express visual concepts without using images?
Instructional Objectives Students will become familiar with early Chinese views of the afterlife and immortality as well as some of the images, symbols, and stories that infused them with meaning. They will be able to compare China with ideas of transcendence developed in other societies, past and present. By closely reading and comparing visual and textual documents, students will also be able, in the words of the , to “use the resources of two or more disciplines in ways that are mutually reinforcing, often demonstrating an underlying unity.”
Resources/Materials Ten documents numbered in sequence. The first five are visuals, the last five are texts. Each students gets all ten documents.
Time: Three class sessions.
Preparing the Lesson
Activities Each student gets all ten documents. The teacher begins with some general questions about Daoism and, in response to student comments, writes notes on the blackboard. A consensus is arrived at concerning the basics of Daoism.
First Day : Each student gets all ten documents. The teacher begins with some general questions about Daoism and, in response to student comments, writes notes on the blackboard. A consensus is arrived at concerning basic Daoist ideas.
The class is divided into five groups and each group is assigned one of the visual documents. Groups discuss their visuals attempting to (1) define which Daoist ideas they represent and (2) how line, color, shape, and movement add to the ways these images express ideas and emotions.
Second Day : The class is divided into the same five groups and each group is now assigned one of the text documents. Groups discuss their documents attempting to (1) define which Daoist ideas they represent and (2) define aspects of the documents’ style. For instance, does the writer use special words or terms to affect the reader and express emotions and ideas? Are some of the texts more visual than others?
Third Day : Students form new groups. Each group should now ideally consist of “experts” on all the visuals and all the texts. The teacher tells the class they will now be pairing texts and visuals. After group discussion, each group in turn presents their pairs, the teacher making notes on the board. (Although others are possible, the table below gives appropriate pairings.)
After the pairs have been established, the class discusses the basic ideas each pair expresses. Also, which is more effective: text or visual? Are there things texts can do which visuals cannot and vice-versa?
The online resources for Noble Tombs at Mawangdui are made possible by the generous support of
2009 China Institute. All rights reserved. Special thanks to Jennifer Tai of New York University.
Document 1: The "Guiding and Pulling" Chart (Daoyintu)
This chart was found in Mawangdui Tomb No. 3. It shows forty-four people—men and women, young and old—engaged in a kind of gymnastics believed to heal some diseases and extend life. The chart is considered the ancestor of the exercises called qigong practiced today in China and all over the world.
“Guiding and pulling” (Daoyin) refers to the different postures involved in these exercises. The physical basis for daoyin is qi. In the last centuries before the beginning of the Common Era the Chinese came to believe that the whole world and everything in it was made of qi. Qi was the basis of Chinese medicine. Wellness was the result of qi circulating freely throughout the body. Exercises could help qi circulate properly.
The philosopher Zhuangzi (4th century BCE) criticized those merely interested in extending life through exercise. In the process he gives readers the names of some exercises:
“To huff and puff, exhale and inhale, blow out the old breath and take in the new, do the ‘bear stride’ and the ‘bird stretch,’ and to be interested in nothing more than longevity, these are the methods of those who practice the ‘guiding and pulling (of the vital breath) (daoyin)’” (Zhuangzi 15; Roth 1999: 170).
Document 2: Lady Dai’s Outer Coffin
The Marquise of Dai was buried with over 1,400 objects to accompany her into the afterlife. The compartments surrounding her three nested coffins contained food, clothing, utensils, pillows, and wooden figurines of servants and musicians. In addition, great pains were taken to preserve the corpse—so much so that when unearthed almost two thousand years later, it was extremely well-preserved.
The outer coffin is decorated with whirling cloud-like bands ridden by a host of human, animal, and animal-like figures (details, below). While Lady Dai’s tomb and her preserved corpse point to an afterlife resembling the world of the living, the coffin’s decoration hints at liberation from the everyday world.
This figure is playing a plucked instrument called a qin. It has seven silk strings and was favored by members of the upper classes.
This figure is an Immortal (xian). Notice the wings and the plants he holds. He might be drinking dew from them—dew was part of an Immortal’s diet.
Document 3: A Cosmic Journey on a Dragon (or Dragon Boat)
This third century painting on silk is one of the earliest existing Chinese paintings and is from the same area as the Mawangdui tombs. It’s believed to be a “name banner” used in funeral rites. It was found face-upward on the top of the deceased person’s coffin.
Many scholars believe it represents a heavenly journey. The traveler is accompanied by a carp swimming underneath and a crane standing on the back. Both animals had magical power to help people achieve immortality.
Document 4: Two Immortals and Plants of Immortality
Two Immortals (Xian) from a Han dynasty stone carving. They have wings and carry stalks of straw or hemp, symbols of immortality. They’re walking among what seem to be plants or mushrooms. These might be the same as what the Immortal from Document 2 (detail, left) seems to eating or drinking. According to Daoist tradition, Immortals don’t eat grain, they inhale the wind, sip dew, and ride on clouds.
Document 5: A Han Dynasty Incense Burner
Mountain-shaped from the Han dynasty have survived in great numbers. This one is cast in bronze and comes from Hunan, the same province where the Mawangdui tombs were found.
On the base, a giant stands on a group of fantastic animals. On the peak of the mountain is a bird thought to be a peacock.
Mountains were associated with the Heavens. High mountain caves were thought to give birth to clouds. With fragrant smoke curling out of its openwork caves, this incense burner would resemble a magical mountain hidden by clouds—a magic kingdom of the Immortals.
Document 6: The Holy Man and Cosmic Flight in the Zhuangzi
. . .there is a Holy Man living on faraway Gu’she Mountain, with skin like ice or snow, and gentle or shy like a young girl. He doesn’t eat the five grains, but sucks the winds, drinks the dew, climbs up on the clouds and mist, rides a flying dragon, and wanders beyond the four seas. By concentrating his spirit, he can protect creatures from sickness and plague and make the harvest plentiful. . .Though flood waters pile up to the sky, he will not drown. Though a great drought melts metal and stone and scorches the earth and hills, he will not be burned (Zhuangzi 1.5; Watson 1964: 27-28).
Document 7: Poem on the Mighty One
This is a section from a poem by Sima Xiangru (179-117 BCE), a famous Han dynasty poet. He was also a contemporary of the nobles buried in the Mawangdui tombs.
This poem describes escape “where far from the dust of this world, the poet no longer sees anything, neither the sky above nor the earth below” (Robinet 1997: 36). The theme of a cosmic journey became important in Daoist meditation and religious writings.
Document 8: Living in Harmony with the Seasons
The three months of summer one calls “thriving and fulfillment.” The qi of Heaven and earth mingle, the ten thousand creatures flower and ripen. Sleep at night and rise early, don’t be too greedy for the sunshine, restrain your feelings, let flowering fulfill its growth, allow the qi to seep out from you, as though something you desired were on the outside.
—This is the response to the qi of summer, the way to nourish the growing up. If you go against it you will harm the heart and in autumn will suffer from fevers; there will be too little provision for the gathering in.
. . .The three months of winter one calls “the shutting up and storing away.” Water freezes, the ground cracks, don’t put strain on the Yang. Sleep early, rise late, be sure to wait for the sunshine. Keep intent as though lurking, hiding, as though there was something you had already succeeded in. Avoid the cold, stay near the warm, don’t allow the seeping through the skin which lets the qi be quickly stolen away.
—This is the response to the qi of winter, the way to nourish the storing away. If you go against it you harm the kidneys and in spring will suffer from impotence; there will be too little provision for the giving of life (Adapted from Huangdi neijing suwen; Graham 1989: 352-354).
Document 9: Mountain Climbing to Reach the Heavens
If one climbs to a height double that of the Kunlun Mountains, that peak is called Cool Wind mountain. If one climbs it, one will not die. If one climbs to a height that doubled again, that peak is called Hanging Garden. If one ascends it, one will gain supernatural power and be able to control the wind and rain. If one climbs to a height that is doubled yet again, it reaches up to Heaven itself. If one mounts to there, one will be become a god (Huainanzi 4, “Zhuixing”; Major 1993: 158-159).
Document 10: Biography of an Immortal
Gu Chun held an official post in the reign of Emperor Cheng (r. 32-7 BCE) of the Han dynasty. Stricken with disease, he died except that his body did not grow cold. His relatives carried out the funeral ceremonies and went into mourning, but they were reluctant to nail up the coffin. Three years later, Gu Chun reappeared, sitting upon the railing of one of the town gates and still wearing his cone-shaped official hat. All the people in the town were amazed. His relatives came to bring him home but he would not go with them. They opened his coffin, and found grave-clothes but no corpse. For three days and nights Gu Chun remained where he was. Then he transported himself to the capital at Chang’an and took up a similar position above the Heng Gate. As soon as his people heard of it, they went after him and tried to get him to return. Again he departed, and took refuge on Mt. Taibo. A shrine was then built for him on the mountain, to which he would come from time to time and stay for the night (Adapted from Giles 1979: 29-30).
Beningson, Susan L., and Cary Y. Liu 2005.
Providing for the Afterlife. New York: China Institute Gallery.
Giles, Lionel 1948.
A Gallery of Chinese Immortals. London: John Murray. Reprint 1979, New York: AMS Press.
Graham, A.C. 1989.
Disputers of the Tao. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court.
Harper, Donald 1999.
“Warring States Natural Philosophy and Occult Thought.” In Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (eds.). The Cambridge History of China—From the Ori gins of Civilization to 221 B.C. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 813-884.
Kohn, Livia 1993.
The Taoist Experience. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Loewe, Michael, and Edward Shaughnessy 1999.
The Cambridge History of Ancient China—From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Major, John S. 1993.
Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought: Chapters Three, Four, and Five of the Huainanzi. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Robinet, Isabelle 1997.
Taoism—The Growth of a Religion. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Roth, Harold 1999.
Original Tao—Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sivin, Nathan 1977.
"Chinese Alchemy and the Manipulation of Time." In N. Sivin (ed.), Science and Technology in East Asia. New York: Science History Publications, pp. 108-122.
Watson, Burton 1964.
Chuang Tzu—Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.
Records of the Grand Historian of China—Translated from the Shih chi of Ssu-ma Ch’ien. Vol II. New York: Columbia University Press.
Yü, Ying-shih 1964.
“Life and Immortality in the Mind of Han China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 25 (1964): 80-122.
The Last Emperor’s Collection
Painting and Calligraphy from the Liaoning Provincial Museum
A Web-Companion to China Institute’s Fall 2008 Gallery Exhibition
Zhu Zhanji (Xuanzong Emperor of the Ming dynasty, r. 1426-1435)
Ten-Thousand-Year-Old Pine Tree (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Last Emperor’s Collection features more than twenty-four works of painting and calligraphy from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Since all once belonged to the imperial collection, the exhibition is a broad survey of imperial collecting and connoisseurship. It’s also the story of the tragic loss of these treasures under Puyi (1906-1967), the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, and their journey through the turbulent world of early twentieth century China.
Before the twentieth century, educated Chinese regarded calligraphy and painting not only as polite arts, but also as a mark of what it meant to be civilized. With the intrusion of the West in the nineteenth century, the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, and the decades of war and revolution that followed, most aspects of traditional culture were called into question.
Also, modern, Western-style, visual media (graphics, photography, film) began to play a role in everyday life, changing people’s ways of seeing the world, particularly in urban areas. Traditional calligraphy and traditional painting didn’t vanish but they no longer occupied a central place in the lives of the elite. Perhaps a signpost in this new cultural landscape is the 1925 opening of the Forbidden City as a museum. It marked the transition of the imperial collection from a rarefied world of connoisseurship to the public realm of "Guobao" or "National Treasures."
In order to better understand The Last Emperor’s Collection and its varied contexts, this web-companion discusses the following historical/cultural themes:
These emphasize the multidisciplinary nature of historical understanding and underline the general need for students
They are also relevant to basic concepts grouped under "History," and "Civics, Citizenship, and Government" in New York State’s K-12 core curriculum for social studies:
Finally, Standard 4 of the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts ties these varied threads together:
1 From "Overview of Standards in Historical Thinking" () from the National Standards for History Basic Edition, 1996 ()
Shen Zhen (1400-1482)
The Studio of Zhulu Hut (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Chinese Emperor as Link between Heaven, Earth, and Humankind
The very was named Ying Zheng, king of the powerful Qin state from 247-221 BCE. In 221 Qin completed the task of , ending the turbulent Warring States period (479-221 BCE). Ying Zheng took the title "huangdi," a word commonly translated into English as "emperor."
"Huang" has connotations of "great," "august," or "magnificent"; "di" was the name of the high god worshipped as far back as the second millennium BCE. To emphasize that the Qin unification was unique, Ying Zheng also added "shi" ("beginning" or "first") to his title. Thus he became "Qin shi huangdi": the First Emperor of Qin. This was the beginning of imperial history. It was to end over two thousand years later with the brief reign of Puyi in the twentieth century.
This "uniqueness and superiority" was always at odds with the sovereign’s human side—very few rulers lived up to either the symbolic or practical demands of the office. According to the Song dynasty Confucian thinker Fan Zuyu (1041-1098),
Jie and Zhou were always mentioned in tandem, and condemned as bad last rulers. Puyi’s life was a study in frustration and powerlessness rather than the abuse of power. The last years of the dynasty and his brief reign as emperor were in sharp contrast to the first century-and-a-half of Qing rule.
4 W.J.F. Jenner (tr.). From Emperor to Citizen—The Autobiography of Aisin-Goro Pu Yi. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1987, p. 32.
5 Jacques Gernet. China and the Christian Impact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 105.
6 Jonathan D. Spence. Emperor of China—Self-portrait of K’ang-hsi. New York: Vintage Books, 1988, p. xii.
7 The existence or non-existence of the Xia dynasty (c. 2100-1600 BCE) is a matter of controversy. Text adapted from W.T. de Bary and Irene Bloom (eds.). Sources of Chinese Tradition. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 630-631.
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Calligraphy and Painting of the Orchid Pavilion (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor (r. 1908-1924), was the last of twelve Qing sovereigns, ten of whom ruled China proper.
The Manchus succeeded the native Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming founder, Zhu Yuanzhang, a commoner, ruled from 1368-1398. He was one of the most powerful despots in Chinese history. His successors governed a society undergoing "an irreversible shift from a predominantly subsistence base of production to a steadily expanding commercial economy."
By the seventeenth century, the dynasty’s power was nevertheless waning, weakened by inadequate emperors, corrupt officials and court eunuchs, outdated fiscal policies, and rebellious legions of the unemployed and disaffected.
When rebel armies took Beijing in April 1644, the last Ming emperor committed suicide. The Chinese general defending the easternmost pass of the Great Wall subsequently allowed Manchu forces to enter China.
The Manchus fiercely suppressed all resistance: "Those who follow us will be offered amnesty. . .those who resist will be exterminated." So wrote Prince Dorgon in the wake of the Yangzhou massacre in April 1645. By 1662 the last efforts to restore Ming rule had been crushed.
All Chinese men were ordered to shave their foreheads and wear, Manchu-style, a long braid or queue. Qing conquests shaped the map of , yet its actually embraced more territory, including Mongolia and parts of Central and Southeast Asia.
8 Evelyn S. Rawski. The Last Emperors—A Social History of Qing Institutions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, p. 1.The name "Manchu" was adapted in 1636.
9 Francesca Bray. Technology and Society in Ming China (1368-1644). Washington, DC: American Historical Association, p. 1.
10 Bray, p. 1.
11 Pei-kai Cheng and Michael Lestz (eds.). The Search for Modern China—A Documentary Collection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999, p. 31.
12 Evelyn S. Rawski and Jessica Rawson (eds.). China—The Three Emperors, 1662-1795. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, p. 23.
Portrait of the Kangxi Emperor in Informal Dress Holding a Brush (detail)
Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Anonymous court artists
The Palace Museum, Beijing
The Three Emperors
These early emperors were highly conscious of their Manchu heritage and were concerned lest it be lost. Every year Kangxi and Qianlong spent months outside the palace, either on campaign, engaged in great hunts, or touring the empire. Kangxi was an avid hunter:
In order to win over the Chinese, especially the elite who filled the ranks of the bureaucracy, Qing rulers were also educated in the classics, history and literature, and calligraphy. Kangxi, for instance, tells how
Self-cultivation also embraced interest in the arts. The Kangxi Emperor "assumed personal patronage of the arts and crafts as an inherited imperial obligation" and Yongzheng "passionately cared for and lived with works of art."
13 Rawski, p. 6.
14 Spence, pp. 12-13.
15 Spence, p. 59.
16 Rawski and Rawson, p. 213.
17 Rawski and Rawson, p. 243.
Calligraphy in Imitation of the Ten Thousand Character Essay by Huaisu
Liaoning Provincial Museum
Qianlong and the World of the Arts
Qianlong’s relation to the arts, particularly painting and calligraphy, eclipsed that of both his father and grandfather: "The Qianlong reign represented the high point for the amassing of art within the Qing palace. In this period, the greatest collection of calligraphy and painting ever assembled was used to support the authority of the Manchu rulers and to guarantee the legitimacy of their rule." Also, Qianlong’s love of painting and calligraphy exerted
On an inspection tour of Shandong province in 1748, he saw the Qiao and Hua mountains in person, was reminded of the painting, and had couriers bring it overland from the palace to compare it to the real thing.
24David Ake Sensabaugh, "Suitable for Sons and Grandsons: The Qing Emperors and the Imperial Collection of Calligraphy and Painting." In Willow Weilan Chang, et al. The Last Emperor’s Collection—Masterpieces of Painting and Calligraphy from the Liaoning Provincial Museum. New York: China Institute Gallery, 2008, p. 26.
25Craig Clunas. Art in China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 36-38.
26By the Yuan dynasty painter and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322).
27Chu-tsing Li. The Autumn Colors on the Ch’iao and Hua Mountains—A Landscape by Chao Meng-fu. Ascona, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 1965, p. 33.
28Holzwarth, p. 43.
Shen Zhou (1427-1509)
Evening Tour to the Thousand People Rock, 1497 (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Decline and Fall of the Qing Dynasty
By the time of Qianlong’s death in 1799, the expense of maintaining a large empire, widespread official corruption, and internal rebellion pointed to the difficulties the dynasty would face in the next century. These problems would be exacerbated by the intrusion of the West.
Qiu Ying (?-1552)
Qingming Festival on the River (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Life and Times of Pu Yi (1906-1967), Last Emperor of China
Puyi’s position is unique in Chinese history. He was not only the last ruler of the Qing dynasty, but also the last of a line of imperial rulers beginning with Qin Shi huang di in 221 BCE. His journey from three-year-old emperor to "reformed" citizen of the People’s Republic of China reflects the twists and turns of twentieth century Chinese history.
30Yang Renkai, "The Story behind the Last Emperor’s Dispersal of the Imperial Painting and Calligraphy Collection." In Chang, et al., p.3.
31Yang, p. 6.
Calligraphy and Landscape after Mi Fu
Dong Qichang (1555-1636)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
The Dispersal of the Imperial Painting and Calligraphy Collection
After careful planning by Puyi and his staff, they began on Sept. 4, 1922 to first steal the precious and rare books of the Song and Yuan dynasties [late tenth to late fourteenth centuries] by awarding "gifts" to the royal brothers Pujie and Pujia. . .Since then, bundle after bundle of rare books were removed from the Forbidden City.
. . .Feeling secure after a trial period, Pu Yi and his men began to remove large quantities of painting and calligraphy masterpieces. . .from the imperial palace. At the beginning, these "gifts" were awarded once every several days, and each time ten or over a dozen books were given away.
When we conducted our sorting and counting process after 1949. . .The numerous occurrences of "awarding of gifts" had basically plundered the Qing court of all valuable scrolls in its original collection.
The artifacts removed by the Pu brothers included paintings, calligraphy, antique books, and jewelry. . .Thereafter, they crated the treasures into some seventy to eighty big containers and shipped them via railroad to a Western style mansion that had been purchased in the British Concession in Tianjin [where, from February 1925 on, Pu Yi was to remain for seven years].
Although a hefty annual subsidy of four million silver dollars was granted by the Republican government to the abdicated emperor. . .it was still far from enough to cover their huge expenses. . .They then came up with the idea of making money from the art works. . .they had smuggled out of the palace. . .It remains a mystery as to how many pieces of important painting and calligraphy were sold by Puyi. . .in Tianjin because many of these deals were not recorded.
34Jenner, p. 129.
35Jenner, p. 129.
36Jenner, p. 132.
Ma Shi, Li Zai, and Xia Zhi (active c. 1426-1435)
Coming Home—After the Poem by Tao Qian
Liaoning Provincial Museum
Cultural Property and Cultural Heritage: To Whom Does the Artistic Past Belong?
The works featured in The Last Emperor’s Collection were recovered in the early years of the People’s Republic of China and became part of the holdings of the Liaoning Provincial Museum. Other dispersed objects were returned to the palace in Beijing; still others, works considered the cream of the collection, were eventually taken by the Nationalists to Taiwan and became the core of the National Palace Museum in Taibei.
Both the Communists and Nationalists put tremendous effort (even in wartime) into reclaiming and safeguarding these works. The palace collection symbolized political legitimacy on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Such use of cultural property isn’t confined to China: Napoleon’s widespread confiscations of classical and post-classical art draped the new French empire in the mantle of imperial Rome. In the words of Arthur Danto:
Beginning with the occupation of Belgium in 1794 Napoleon appointed scholars and artists to accompany French armies. They were to supervise confiscation of art and "prepare instructions for generals in the field on the proper removal and confiscation procedures to be used."
Zhang Gao (act. 1736-1795)
Imperial Banquet (detail)
Liaoning Provincial Museum
Another famous example of art theft in the West is the . From 1801-1805 Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed sculpture and other parts of the and took them back to England. The return of these artifacts is still a bone of between the United Kingdom and Greece.
Like Napoleon, the Nazis attempted a systematic looting of Europe’s artistic heritage. They also employed experts and established over a thousand repositories (such as salt mines) to store objects. 41 Although World War II has been over for more than sixty years, the return of art looted by the Nazis is still a matter of .
Unlike his Qing forebears, Puyi’s interest in art was minimal. In 1959, after ten years of detainment and political reeducation, he returned to Beijing and visited his former home in the Forbidden City. He expresses regret that very little of the palace collection was left after the activities of the warlords, the Guomindang, "and its various guardians, myself included."
Puyi might have given two answers to the question "To whom does the artistic past belong ?" As a young man and emperor he would have said it was his personal property; as a citizen of the new China, he would have said that it belongs to the Chinese people.
38Sensabaugh, p. 29.
39Arthur Coleman Danto. Encounters & Reflections: Art in the Historical Present. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997, p. 318.
40Bette Wyn Oliver. From Royal to National: The Louvre Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale. Lantham, MD: Lexington Books, p. 41.
41See this with , an art historian and member of the team which searched out art stolen by the Nazis.
42Jenner, p. 478.
Beijing 2008: A Photographic Journey
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Summer 2008 Exhibition
When China won the competition to host the 2008 games in July 2001, it occasioned a swell of patriotic enthusiasm that has yet to subside. Although preparations for the Olympics, especially transmission of the torch, have been in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, many believe they symbolize hope for the future.
Perhaps this optimism is embodied in the many unique buildings erected in Beijing, the main venue for the games. Among them, the (called the "Bird’s Nest"), the (the "Water Cube"), the , , and the National Center for the Performing Arts (formerly called “The National Grand Theater”) have helped citransform the city into a world-class global metropolis. For a brief period in summer 2008 Beijing will be the focus of world attention.
In more than sixty photos, Beijing 2008: A Photographic Journey, displays both the city’s past and its energetic present. The exhibition includes
Links to additional web resources are provided so that readers can learn more about one of the world’s most important cities.
Quick link to:
Beijing’s history as a capital goes back to the late thirteenth century. In the wake of the Mongol conquest of north China, Khubilai Khan ordered the building of Dadu ("Great Capital") in 1266. Located north of the center of modern Beijing, remains of its walls can still be seen there today. Marco Polo, visiting Dadu in the late thirteenth century, marveled at the size of the Great Khan’s palace and the riches it contained.
Mongol rule in China—the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368)—lasted less than a century. In 1368, after driving out the Mongols and defeating his rivals, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
In 1417, the Ming relocated its capital from Nanjing ("Southern Capital") to what was then called Beiping Fu ("Northern Peace State"). They renamed it Beijing. Since then, it has served as the national capital and was occupied by twenty-four emperors over five centuries:
The scale and grandeur of Ming and Qing Beijing—across a span of more than five centuries—elevated its reputation to a position of extraordinary significance. Western visitors from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries wrote glowingly of the city’s exquisite imperial architectural ensembles including palaces, temples, gardens and, certainly, the impressive walls that surrounded them all.
During the sixteenth century the brick-faced city walls enclosed an area of twenty-four square miles, almost identical in area to Manhattan Island. Beijing was laid out along a north-south central axis extending almost five miles from one wall to the other; within this square lay the Imperial City and, within that, the Palace City more commonly known as the "Forbidden City." These huge architectural complexes made Beijing both a center of government and a religious center.
—the imperial household—contains almost a thousand buildings and was designed as a completely self-sufficient enclave. All necessary supplies were deposited in its storehouses or manufactured on-site. During the late sixteenth century
The Forbidden City, an area of quarter of a square mile, was covered with blocks of glaze-tiled palatial buildings and ceremonial halls and gates, marble terraces, and endless painted galleries. It was surrounded by the Imperial City, an area of no less than three square miles, also closed to the public. Within the enclosure were numerous avenues and several artificial lakes. In addition to imperial villas, temples, and residences of eunuch officials inside the compound, there were also supply depots and material-processing plants. Among them was the Court of Imperial Entertainments, which had the capacity to serve banquets for up to 15,000 men on short notice. Next to the bakery, distillery, and confectionary were the emperor’s stable, armory, printing-office, and book depository.
One of the most impressive political ceremonies was the emperor’s morning audience where, beginning and ending before sunrise, he met with all civil officials serving in the capital.
The Temple of Heaven in the suburbs of the capital was at the core of the emperor’s religious activities and was the most important
of all the dynastic altars and shrines built anywhere and at anytime in China. Indeed, the Temple of Heaven was entered only for the most important sacrifices of the year and only by the emperor himself.
Rites such as the worship of heaven at the winter solstice and sacrifice to Haotian Shangdi, the supreme heavenly deity, were performed there:
The extraordinary setting echoed ancient ideas central to the imperial cult:
The Temple of Heaven
These albums include photographs of the siege of the Foreign Legations in Beijing during the Boxer rebellion (June – August 1900).
1Ronald G. Knapp. China’s Walled Cities. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 62-63
Quick link to:
Beijing as Modern City
A second , the Yi He Yuan (“Garden of Nurturing Harmony”), which had also been plundered by troops in 1860, was restored and became the residence of popular tourist attraction today, it was often singled out during the Maoist heyday as an example of feudalistic extravagance at the expense of the people’s well-being.
With the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, assumed the role of President with Beijing as the capital. Yuan eventually attempted to enthrone himself as Emperor; this failed power-grab set off a prolonged period of local warlords vying for control over the capital. (Yuan, in fact, was the last person to perform the annual rites for a good harvest alluded to in the previous section).
After the Northern Expedition successfully reunified the country in 1928, Nanjing was officially designated the capital of China and Beijing reverted back to being named “Beiping” (“The North Pacified”). The Japanese occupied Beiping from 1937 to 1945. At the end of the end of a civil war between the Communist and the Nationalists in January 1949, Communist forces peacefully entered the city and reestablished it as the capital of the People’s Republic of China.
Events of the late nineteenth century through the establishment of the People’s Republic of China reshaped Beijing from an imperial capital to the capital of a communist nation struggling with its imperial heritage and eager to project a modern image.
The public square that now occupies the space south of Tiananmen Gate has changed significantly since the 1950s. Inspired in part by Moscow’s Red Square, Tiananmen has served for public rallies and military parades since on October 1, 1949, “on this day, the Chinese people stand up!” At 100 acres, it is the largest public square in the world.
In the center of the southern end of the square stands the , completed in 1958. This monument bears a calligraphic inscription by Mao that reads, “The People’s Heroes are Immortal!” At its base are eight main relief carvings commemorating important historical rebellions or uprisings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Standing at the foot of the monument and facing Tiananmen Gate to the North, one sees Mao’s famous portrait. To the East is the, and to the West is the , where the National People’s Congress convenes. Clearly reflecting a Soviet influence, these buildings were two of ten “great buildings” erected for the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the People’sRepublic of China. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, was unveiled in 1977, situated right behind the Monument to the People’s Heroes and completing the current symbolic ordering of the square.
For many people, the events surrounding the pro-democracy student movement and its suppression on , made an indelible impression on how we understand and read Tiananmen Square as a public space. The student protests during this time are but one instance in modern Chinese history where the space has been the site of important historical public protests: the protests in 1919 against the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that inspired a new sense of nationalism, during the Cultural Revolution, the , as well as the 1989 incident. Standing in the center of the square, one gets a full appreciation of the tremendous changes Beijing underwent during the twentieth century.
Quick link to:
While the Olympic Village and the many venue buildings associated with the games will no doubt attract much notice, Beijing has witnessed a creative flourish of construction throughout the city that also demands attention. The new Paul Andreu designed (colloquially known as “the Egg” and formally known as “The National Grand Theater”), for example, stands in stark contrast to both the careful cosmological symbolism of the Forbidden City’s layout and the carefully designed symbolic arrangement of past and present in the buildings surrounding Tiananmen Square. If nothing else, the “Egg” announces a new era in Beijing architecture that is spurring debate between supporters and detractors.
Government sponsored construction is not alone in boldly advancing Beijing’s global city status. Contemporary Beijing is a hotbed of independent artistic and architectural activity. Places such as (a former East German-designed factory refurbished into a trendy gallery and café complex) and the (a private “architectural museum” of residential buildings designed by contemporary Chinese and Asian architects now serving as a luxury hotel) demonstrate how artists and architects are molting off their socialist past and positioning themselves as trendsetters for a transnational, cosmopolitan generation.
But for all of Beijing’s new-found glamour and assertiveness as a global city, it also faces daunting local challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge on Beijing’s horizon is a growing Plans are underway to divert water from more water-plentiful southern regions through an ambitious Similar critical innovations in addressing growing energy needs will also play a decisive role in shaping Beijing and its population in the future.
For now, Beijing stands prepared to show the world this summer its pride in its glorious past and its hope for continued prosperity.
Geremie R. Barme, 2008.
Madeleine Yue Dong, 2003.
Michael Dutton, et. al., 2008.
Stephen G. Haw, 2007.
Susan Naquin, 2000.
Robert L. Thorp, 2008.
Wu Hung, 2005.
Enchanted Stories: Chinese Shadow Theater in Shaanxi
Treasures from the Shaanxi Provincial Art Gallery
A Web-Companion to China Institute’s Spring 2008 Gallery Exhibition
Monkey King’s Tour of Inspection Qing dynasty,
125 x 67 cm
The magic of the movies had a predecessor in the pre-modern world. For centuries, shadow theater — two-dimensional stick-controlled puppets projected onto a translucent, backlit screen — flourished in India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Egypt, Turkey, China, and Europe. All across Eurasia audiences marveled as flickering oil lamps revealed gods and heroes, lovers embracing, and monsters and demons savaging the innocent.
Although shadow theater was widespread, its origins are uncertain: Scholars generally agree that the shadow theater originated in Asia, either in India, Indonesia, Central Asia, or China. Although the most sophisticated traditions of this art form developed in China and Indonesia, there is still a lack of reliable documentary and archaeological proof to show that the shadow theater originated in these countries. The earliest evidence for shadow theater in China dates from the Song dynasty (960-1279)2. Also, a cryptic passage from an early history book has long been cited as evidence for shadow theater beginning in the reign of Han dynasty emperor Wu (r. 140-87 BCE) — a magician visits the emperor and makes a beloved dead concubine appear on a curtain. This story probably has nothing to do with shadow theater3, but its setting in the emperor’s court at Chang’an conveniently (and romantically) transports us to Shaanxi province, home to the capitals of thirteen dynasties.
Shaanxi is an ancient center of Chinese culture. One of its treasures is shadow theater, called pi ying xi(literally "leather shadow play") after the figures puppeteers used. As late as the 1980s, every county in the province had at least one troupe, replete with properties dating back to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). With an extant repertoire of five hundred plays, Shaanxi shadow theater includes myth, folktales, historical legends, love stories, Buddhist hell stories, and comedies.
Enchanted Stories–Chinese Shadow Theater in Shaanxi consists of about ninety figures and stage settings (gates, towers, carriages, furniture, etc.) cut from leather and elaborately colored and decorated. They transport us back to a time before electricity, movies, and television. They come alive as shadows that represent Princes and Princesses, Soldiers, Buffoons, and other Characters, whose gestures are so comformable to the Words of those who move them. . .that one would think the Shadows spoke in reality. So wrote the Jesuit J.B. Du Halde (1674-1743) in his Description of the Empire of China, an influential Enlightenment account of Chinese history and culture. Du Halde’s wonderment resonates in the words of a modern observer: I was amazed to see the delicate carving and imaginative decorative patterns of these thin and colorful animal-hide figures and also the skill of the puppeteer, who could make figures walk, a horse run, and smoke rise from tobacco lit by an old man. Manipulating the wooden sticks attached to each figure requires years of training. In addition to the puppeteer, each shadow troupe consists of five or six people. A lead singer performs all the vocal roles and plays a hand gong and drum; the others are masters of some sixteen musical instruments. The figures walk and run, tremble with emotion, fly, appear and disappear at will, and change shape–"each figure is a signature of sound and movement…With the orchestra playing, the music’s union with the figure’s movement is a distinct, palpable delight. Popular stories such as Journey to the West, The Western Chamber Romance, and Madame White Snake have thrilled and moved viewers down through the centuries. Enchanted Stories — Chinese Shadow Theater in Shaanxi includes figures and decor used in performances of all of these.
In common with Chinese drama as a whole, shadow theater is closely linked to religion, ritual, and the daily life of the community. Families, lineages, or even whole villages would have plays performed to seek the assistance of, or give thanks to the gods.7 Shaanxi shadow troupes would be hired to perform at
Enchanted Stories reflects this relationship between theater and religion through figures depicting the gods of Good Fortune, Wealth, and Longevity; officials of the heavenly hierarchy; Buddhist and Daoist luminaries; and images of hell and its functionaries engaged in the grisly business of punishing wrong-doers.
Also, Chinese religion, with its Jade Emperor and heavenly bureaucracy, created a world that was a mirror of the earthly world of imperial China. Since the state popularized this image throughout China in late imperial times, "the gods of popular religion, in their relationships to one another and to mortals, identified local communities with the organization of the Chinese state and cosmos. Shadow theater thus played a role in integrating local cultures.
All of this makes Enchanted Stories meaningful to K-12 educators as it provides students with insight into both daily life in traditional China and the ideas that shaped it. In addition,
This web-companion gathers together various resources for better understanding shadow theater and its cultural contexts.
1 Fan Pen Chen, "Shadow Theaters of the World," Asian Folklore Studies 62 (2003), p. 25.
Chinese Shadow Theater
Two videos from a student of traditional theatrical genres. Recorded at a performance in a Shaanxi village, one is taken from out in the audience, the other from backstage showing how the puppeteers work.
Objects from China Expedition (1901-1904) (Anthropology Department, American Museum of Natural History)
On the search menu choose "China" and enter "shadow puppet." You’ll access more than twelve hundred high quality photos of shadow puppets and shadow theater paraphernalia.
Chinese Theater, Opera, and Related Arts
A well-documented Wikipedia article. Beijing opera attained great popularity during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) was not only of the greatest exponents of Beijing opera’s female roles, but also brought his art to international audiences in the first half of the twentieth century.
Chinese Storytelling (Shuoshu.org)
"From the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279) historical sources testify not only to the existence, but also to the popularity of professional storytelling in China…This traditional art has developed and continued into the present."
Chinese Shadow Theater–Stories and Characters
Sun Wukong (Monkey King)
Life of Hanuman
The Nianhua Gallery (James A. Flath, University of Western Ontario)
"Nianhua" are the New Year’s woodblock prints that decorated homes throughout traditional China. The gods, heroes, and literary figures depicted in them were also the stuff of shadow plays.
Bodhisattvas are beings who delay entrance into nirvana to help others reach enlightenment. They’re of central importance in Mahayana, the school of Buddhism that spread from India to East Asia in the early centuries of the Common Era.
(Kenneth E. Brashier, Reed College)
Buddhism introduced the concept of Hell and its punishments to China. The gruesome punishments awaiting the dead inspired shadow theater story tellers.
Buddhist Sculpture from China:
Selections from the Xi’an Beilin Museum Fifth through Ninth Centuries
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Fall 2007 Exhibition
A Web Companion Overview
To the northeast of the royal city there is a mountain, on the side of which is placed the stone figure of Buddha standing, in height one hundred or one hundred and fifty feet. Its golden colors sparkle on every side and its precious ornaments dazzle the eyes with their brightness (Beal 1969: 121).
So wrote the monk Xuanzang (c. 596-664), China’s most famous Buddhist pilgrim. He was talking about the at Bamiyan in present-day Afghanistan, a sight which awed travelers from all over Asia until its destruction by the Taliban in 2001. Its iconography and style were a model for sculpture both in China and Japan. As a universal faith transcending barriers of culture and language
Images were central to carrying the Mahayana Buddhist message of universal salvation to China: "In the first centuries of its introduction into China, Buddhism was known as ‘the religion of images’" (Lopez 2002: 92).
The religion of images became part of Chinese culture during one of the most turbulent periods in its long history: the era of division between the fall of the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) and reunification under the Sui (581-618). From the early fourth century on, China was divided in two, the north ruled by a succession of nomad peoples and the south governed by Chinese émigrés who had fled the north. The violence and uncertainty of these times was fertile soil for the establishment and growth of Buddhism, a foreign religion, and Daoism, China’s indigenous faith.
Buddhist Sculpture from China focuses on objects from the late fifth through the ninth centuries, that is to say, Northern Wei (386-534), Western Wei (535-556), Northern Zhou (557-581), Sui (581-618), and Tang (618-907).
The institutions established by Northern Wei and subsequent dynasties marked the beginning of transition from political fragmentation to a unified empire under the short-lived Sui and its successor, the Tang dynasty (618-907). The Wei rulers, Tuoba people from what is today Manchuria and eastern Mongolia, were of Buddhism.
The Beilin ("Forest of Stone Steles") in Xi’an houses one of the most important collections of stone artifacts in China. Xi’an was formerly known as Chang’an. It was a capital city for more than a thousand years and a center of Buddhism since the fifth century. It was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Roads, the caravan routes that were a main conduit for the entry of Buddhism into China.
The exhibition consists of seventy-three pieces, some excavated from burial sites within the last twenty-five years. They provide a unique look at the relation between Buddhist art and Chinese society during these centuries.
The period covered by Buddhist Sculpture from China fits within of the National History Standards, "Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300-1000 CE": Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu Traditions: Not only Islam but other major religions also spread widely during this 700-year era. Wherever these faiths were introduced, they carried with them a variety of cultural traditions, aesthetic ideas, and ways of organizing human endeavor. Each of them also embraced peoples of all classes and diverse languages in common worship and moral commitment.
The entry of Buddhism into China and East Asia at the beginning of the Common Era is central to any perception of cultural exchange as playing "a crucial role in human history, being perhaps the most important external stimuli to change, leaving aside military conquest" (Curtin 1984: 1).
This web-companion provides a variety of background material on Buddhism. It will be useful to educators who either visit Buddhist Sculpture from China with their students or for anyone interested in gaining a deeper appreciation of Buddhism.
Buddhist art is a powerful lens for multidisciplinary inquiry into Chinese history and culture. In pre-modern China, Buddhism touched the daily lives of all classes of society. Also, over the last fifty years it has experienced a major resurgence in the Chinese-speaking world.
An Introduction to Buddhism
This brief introduction and passages cited elsewhere as "Yü 2005" are part of "Religions Along the Silk Roads" in , a curriculum guide published by China Institute. Chün-fang Yü, a distinguished scholar of Chinese Buddhism, teaches at Columbia University. She is the author of Kuan-yin–The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (Columbia University Press, 2001), among other works.
Founded by the Buddha, the Enlightened One, who lived during the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, Buddhism shared with Brahmanism, the dominant religion of India, basic beliefs about the world and the human condition. Human beings constitute one of six realms of existence, the other five being gods, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hellish beings. One is bound to be reborn in any one of these realms after death, depending on the moral quality of the life lived or one’s karma. The perpetual rebirth, or samsara was regarded as painful. But unlike Brahmanism, early Buddhism did not rely on religious rituals or gods to gain release from samsara. Instead, it was by following the Dharma or the Truth, which the Buddha himself experienced, that one would gain the insight leading to nirvana or the cessation of rebirth. Soon after the Buddha’s enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, he preached the of the Four Noble Truths. The audience for this first sermon was a group of five ascetics. These men had been his disciples in the pursuit of enlightenment through , a path the Buddha came to reject for being as extreme as the reckless pursuit of pleasure. The Four Noble Truths state succinctly that human existence is painful, that the pain is caused by desire, that nirvana is the end of pain, and that the way to nirvana is the Eightfold Noble Path. This path includes training in morality and meditation and results in wisdom. With the conversion of the five ascetics, who had left the Buddha when he put aside the practice of self-mortification, the Buddhist Sangha came into being. Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are the Three Treasures that all Buddhists of later generations living in different parts of the world honor. By taking refuge in the Three Treasures, one becomes a Buddhist believer (Yü 2005: 28).
Buddhism is the first world religion. Like Christianity and Islam centuries later, its message is for everyone. In Early Buddhism, although there is a difference in status between the monastics and lay believers, the difference is not hard and fast. If one chooses to lead the life of a monk or nun, one devotes oneself to meditation and study. But if one is not ready to give up the life of a householder, then one can engage in merit-making activities such as feeding the monks, giving donations to temples, having a Buddha image made, or sponsoring sutra recitations. Such merit is believed to bring good fortune in this life and a better rebirth in the next. Through merit making and good karma, everyone can eventually be fortunate enough to become a monk and nun. Good intention and hard work unfailingly bear results. This is a positive and optimistic belief. It offers hope and encouragement to those who must rely on their own efforts to succeed in life. The Mahayana message of compassion is even more attractive (Yü 2005: 30).
In China, after the fall of the Han dynasty [202 BCE-220 CE] in 220, there was unrest and turmoil until 589 when the country was united under the Sui dynasty. It was during these centuries that Buddhism took root in China. There is good reason why Buddhism could make its conquest at a time of political and social disorder. When the world is in chaos and life is full of uncertainties, how can one live in equanimity? It is perhaps during times such as these that the Buddhist ideals of wisdom and compassion could be truly appreciated (Yü 2005: 30).
From the record of Chinese translation of Buddhist sutras, we know that the earliest types of literature translated were the meditation texts of Early Buddhism, which were followed by the Mahayana scriptures known as the Perfection of Wisdom. What do these scriptures preach? The message, which is reiterated, is that everything is sunya or empty. The Diamond Sutra, which is the best-known scripture in this group, declares:
This fleeting world is like
Wisdom is the realization of the insubstantial nature of all things, including oneself. To view the world in this way will initially lead to detachment and equanimity. But the final realization is not the rejection of the world but rather the acceptance of all: be it war or peace, misfortune or good luck, foe or friend. This is the wisdom of the Buddha and the bodhisattva (Yü 2005: 30-31).
"BuddhaNetTM is the result of a vision to link up with the growing world-wide culture of people committed to the Buddha’s teachings and lifestyle, as an on-line cyber sangha. . .BuddhaNet is a non-sectarian organization, offering its services to all Buddhist traditions." for BuddhaNet’s "Basic Buddhism Guide."
This 136 page guide includes an overview of Buddhism in India, China, Japan, and the contemporary world; a vocabulary list, four lesson plans, and a resource guide.
The BBC’s Religion & Ethics websites cover over thirty belief systems including atheism. Topics are of both historical and contemporary relevance.
This ever-expanding website explores many aspects of the Silk Roads including arts, architecture and cities, traditional cultures, and geography.
"The goal of this ‘visual sourcebook’ is to add to the material teachers can use to help their students understand Chinese history, culture, and society. It was not designed to stand alone; we assume that teachers who use it will also assign a textbook with basic information about Chinese history."
Buddhist Sculpture from China:
Selections from the Xi’an Beilin Museum Fifth through Ninth Centuries
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Fall 2007 Exhibition
Indian Religion: Hinduism and Jainism
An article from Education About Asia, a journal for K-12 educators published by the Association for Asian Studies. It defines Hinduism, discusses its core values and texts, and places it in the context of both Indian religion and world history.
These information-filled BBC websites discuss topics ranging from history and beliefs to ethics and everyday life.
The Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha
We can distinguish two separate but related understandings of what a Buddha is. In the first understanding the Buddha (represented in English with a capital B) was an unusual human being born into a royal family in ancient India in the sixth or fifth century BCE. He renounced his birthright, followed established religious teachers, and then achieved enlightenment after striking out on his own. . .In the second understanding a buddha (with a lowercase b) is a generic label for any enlightened being (Teiser 1999: 100).
From an inscription dated 156. Fo, The character for "Buddha."
The word Fo ["Buddha"] does not make literal sense in Chinese. Instead it represents a sound, a word with no semantic value that in the ancient language was pronounced as "bud," like the beginning of the Sanskrit word buddha. . .In Sanskrit the word "buddha" means "one who has achieved enlightenment," one who has "awakened" to the true nature of human existence (Teiser 1999: 98).
"This ‘Life of the Buddha’ has been prepared for secondary school students. There are exercises with each story which teachers can elaborate on when it is used as a text book. However, while the stories are simple and brief, they do follow the scriptural tradition and so are of value for the general reader who wishes to learn about the Buddha’s life."
This website (a work in progress) was created as a result of a series of teacher institutes for California middle and high school educators. It was designed to "present sets of visual materials to enrich the state-mandated curriculum on world history and to address visual literacy skills."
Pali was the sacred language of northern India used in Theravada Buddhism. Theravada ("Way of the Elders") is the Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos
The Jataka are popular stories about the former lives of Shakyamuni Buddha. In these morality tales the future Buddha may appear as a king, a beggar, or even an animal. Painters and sculptors have drawn inspiration from them for centuries. Many Jataka have been published on the internet, including this collection.
From an inscription dated 156. Fa, The character for "dharma."
The Dharma includes the doctrines taught by the Buddha and passed down in oral and written form, thought to be equivalent to the universal cosmic law. . .As a literary tradition the dharma also comprises many different genres, the most important of which is called sutra in Sanskrit (Teiser 1999: 101).
"The Wheel of Life describes the cause of all evil and its effects, mirrored in earthly phenomena just as it is experienced by everyone from the cradle to the grave. Picture by picture it reminds us that everyone is always his or her own judge and responsible for their own fate, because, according to Karma, causes and their effects are the fruits of one’s own deeds." Click here for an interactive tour of another version of the Wheel of Life.
Tibetan Buddhism, sometimes called Lamaism, was important to both the Mongols and the Manchus, peoples who had ruled China as conquest dynasties: the Mongols as the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and the Manchus as the Qing (1644-1911).
The heart of the Buddha’s teaching lies in the Four Noble Truths which he expounded in his very first sermon (Rahula 1959: 16):
The Fourth Noble Truth is that of the Way leading to the Cessation of Dukkha [Suffering]. This is known as the "Middle Path" because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses. . .the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of asceticism. . .Having himself first tried these two extremes, and having found them to be useless, the Buddha discovered the Middle Path. . .generally referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path (Rahula 1959: 45):
The Dhammapada ("Path of Dharma") is one of the most popular works in the Pali canon. Although a Theravada text, it is widely read among all Buddhists. The 423 verses were traditionally believed to have been spoken by the Buddha and are considered one of the most concise expressions of his teachings.
Coin with portrait of King Menander (Milinda) British Museum
Alexander the Great’s fourth century BCE conquests spread Hellenic culture into Central Asia and across the Indus River. During the second century BCE, Milinda (Menander in Greek) ruled an Indo-Greek kingdom covering parts of northwest India and Pakistan.
The Questions of King Milinda is an important Theravada text discussing basic questions of interest to laypeople. It purports to be a record of conversations between the king and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. In the end Milinda is converted to Buddhism.
From one of the East Asian history textbooks prepared by Gregory Smits, a historian of Japan at Penn State University.
A brief description of the Buddhist canon.
The Chinese word for "sangha," pronounced "sengqie" in modern Chinese.
The third jewel is sangha. . .meaning "assembly." Some sources offer a broad interpretation of the term, which comprises the four sub-orders of monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women. Other sources use the term in a stricter sense to include only monks and nuns, that is, those who have left home, renounced family life, accepted vows of celibacy, and undertaken other austerities to devote themselves full-time to the practice of religion (Teiser 1999: 101).
A brief description of the ordination of monks and nuns and monks and nuns in different Buddhist traditions.
Photos and commentary on monks in Chinese Buddhism.
Various materials (photos as well as text) on the lives of Korean Buddhist monks and nuns, including "The Life of a Korean Zen Nun," and "Daily Life of Korean Monks and Nuns."
"The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka, is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built. It includes not only the rules governing the life of every Theravada bhikkhu (monk) and bhikkhuni (nun), but also a host of procedures and conventions of etiquette that support harmonious relations, both among the monastics themselves, and between the monastics and their lay supporters, upon whom they depend for all their material needs."
Buddhist Sculpture from China:
Selections from the Xi’an Beilin Museum Fifth through Ninth Centuries
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Fall 2007 Exhibition
Buddhism as a World Religion
Over the course of many centuries after the death of the Buddha, his words and his image made their way from India to the nations now named Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. Over the past two centuries, Buddhism has become established in Europe, Australia, and the Americas (Lopez 2002: 7). These websites focus on the spread of Buddhism from India through Central Asia to China along the Silk Roads.
The Kushans (c. 2nd century BCE-3rd century CE) controlled parts of northwest India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the southern routes of the Silk Road across the Tarim basin in northwest China. Kushan control of the Silk Roads facilitated the spread of Buddhism to China.
Gandhara, a region in northwest Pakistan formerly occupied by Alexander the Great’s successor’s, was a center of the Kushan empire. Consequently, was influenced by Greek and Roman myths and art styles. The first images of the Buddha were produced in the Kushan period.
Buddhism in China–Historical and Cultural Contexts
Buddhist monks and nuns added a new group to the traditional Chinese "four classes of people": farmer, scholar-official, craftsman, merchant. Early texts emphasized the contradictions between Confucian family values and the Buddhist ideal of "leaving the family" (chu jia) to pursue enlightenment. Although this excerpt from the sixth century Lives of Eminent Monks (Gao seng zhuan) might be considered a kind of Buddhist propaganda, it hints at some of these social fissures. Here a young man named Du, having become a monk, is upbraided by his fiancé and bids her farewell:
"The ancestral temples should not be abandoned as you, Du, the monk, have done. Moreover, considering the teaching of Confucian society you should abandon your lofty hermit ideal, and arousing your talents make a name for yourself in the world."
Seng Du [Monk Du] responded, "Serving the king, as demanded by Confucianism, is to assist in the ruling of one’s country. That cannot be compared with pursuing the Buddhist path for all peoples. Serving one’s parents means to establish a family of one’s own; but that cannot be compared with following the Buddhist path for the sake of all beings in the three realms. . .Dear one, let this be the last parting and let all the karmic ties from ten thousand years that brought us together end here" (Ebrey 1993: 99-100).
As Buddhism became part of the Chinese landscape, its critics also objected to the wealth of monasteries and the fact that they and their monks were tax-exempt.
Sections on "Buddhism in India and Central Asia, "Buddhism of the Kushana Empire," "Buddhism of Khotan" (a major oasis in the Tarim Basin), "Tibetan Buddhism on the Silk Road," and others.
Sections on "Buddhism in India and Central Asia, "Buddhism of the Kushana Empire," "Buddhism of Khotan" (a major oasis in the Tarim Basin), "Tibetan Buddhism on the Silk Road," and others.
Buddhist Thought in China
Buddhist doctrine was different from anything the Chinese had encountered in their native Confucian and Daoist traditions. The earliest translations of Indian texts were made during the second century CE by non-Chinese working with groups of Chinese assistants. There were many difficulties involved in translating Indian Buddhist terms and concepts. It was only during the Tang dynasty (618-907) that Buddhist doctrine became fully "Chinese," in part through the efforts of monk-translators such as Xuanzang (c. 596-664), who knew both Sanskrit and wrote literary Chinese.
It is important to note that viewing Chinese Buddhism in terms of mutually incompatible schools or sects tends to distort a tradition where, although
"monks and other literati did indeed make sense of their history by classifying the overwhelming number of texts and teachings they inherited under distinctive trends. . .any clear-cut criterion of belief, like the Nicene Creed, or a declaration of faith like Martin Luther’s, is lacking (Teiser 1999: 104).
Furthermore, the view that all scriptures [whether Theravada or Mahayana] represented the word of the Buddha tended to blur. . .the doctrinal differences that might have distinguished one sect from another. . .Some Chinese monks are claimed as patriarchs by as many as three or four different schools" (de Bary 1999: 434).
These websites, some informational and others linked to key texts, are by necessity limited to a few highpoints. For more on this subject see Section 11, "Suggestions for Further Reading.".
The Chinese Buddhist Schools (BuddhaNet.net)
The Lotus Sutra–"The Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Kanzeon [Guanyin]" (Ch. 25) (Tr. by Burton Watson; Lotusnichirenshu.org)
Bodhisattvas (Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization)
Section 4 discusses the importance of the Lotus Sutra and the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. As Buddhism became part of daily life in China, so did the figure of the Bodhisattva:
For Central Asian and Chinese Buddhists, the most important bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara or Guanyin. He is the all-compassionate and all-powerful savior. One does not have to earn his favor by scriptural study, moral perfection, or meditative proficiency. Most amazingly, in order to get all these benefits, all one must do is simply call his name with single-minded sincerity. With the cult of Amitabha Buddha [see below] and the cult of bodhisattvas such as Guanyin, Mahayana Buddhism can be called an “other power” religion. Unlike Early Buddhism that stressed “self power,” a Mahayana believer is not alone in his or her endeavors. Through the free gift of divine grace, salvation is no longer beyond the hope of ordinary men and women (Yu 2005: 30).
Ch. 25 of the Lotus is read separately as the Guanyin Sutra. Its popularity in pre-modern China is reflected in the thousands of copies preserved in libraries around the world (Yü 2001: 75).
"Introduction to Pure Land and the Amithaba Sutra" (J.C. Cleary)
The Amitabha Sutra (Tr. by J.C. Cleary)
Pure Land of the Patriarchs (Hanshan Deqing [Han-Shan Te-Ch'ing], 1546-1623) (Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada)
Pure Land and Chan (Japanese: Zen) are the two major forms of Buddhist practice in China. The Pure Land sect emphasized salvation by faith and became the most important popular form of Buddhism in China. . ."The Pure Land" is the sphere believed by Mahayana Buddhists to be ruled over by the Buddha Amitabha. . .anyone who meditates or calls upon his name in good faith will be born in his Buddha-world (de Bary 1999: 481-482).
Zen Buddhism (Thematic Essay, Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline of Art History)
The Ten Oxherding Pictures (Prints by Tomikichiro Tokuriki; Tr: Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps)
The "Ten Oxherding Pictures" are about cultivating the mind: the ox represents the mind and the herdboy represents the seeker of truth.
Book of Zen (Tsai Chih Chung, Asianet.net)
The word "Chan" (Zen in Japanese) comes from the Sanskrit "dhyana," which means meditation.
As Chan developed in China, it came to style itself as "a separate transmission outside the scriptures, not dependent on words and phrases" and to describe its teaching as "transmitted from mind to mind."
"To see into one’s own nature and become Buddha" was the objective of all Chan practitioners, and it was to this end that all study was directed. Different Masters developed various techniques to bring the student to realization and awakening. In addition to meditation over a period of months and years, physical work. . .was stressed and became an integral part of the Chan training program (de Bary 1999: 491, 492).
Dunhuang Scroll of the Sutra of the Ten Kings (British Library)
Buddhism introduced strong notions of sin and guilt into Chinese culture. Punishment in hell and evil rebirths awaited those who violated basic Buddhist precepts against taking life, theft, profiting from human or animal suffering, engaging in sexual misconduct, lying, speaking poorly of others or gossiping, and using alcohol. This scroll illustrates the stages through which souls of the dead must pass through after death.
Buddhist Pilgrimage: "In the Footsteps of the Buddha"
Buddhist pilgrimages, like many others, were directed toward places sanctified by history and marked by remains of enlightened beings. As in other religions with identifiable founders, later followers of the Shakyamuni Buddha (sixth to fifth century BCE) wanted to travel to the sites in India commemorated by his life, specifically his birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and death (Naquin 1992: 5).
China’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
This section of Faxian’s account discusses important Indian shrines associated with relics of the Buddha.
Xuanzang (c. 596-664) is the most famous of all Buddhist pilgrims. Once in India, he visited sacred sites connected to the life of the Buddha, debated with learned monks, and devoted himself to study. In all, his pilgrimage took sixteen years (629-645). Xuanzang eventually became a folk hero. In the sixteenth century, legends about his travels went into the making of China’s most popular novel, Journey to the West.
Buddhist Art and Architecture
It is difficult to overstate the importance of images in Buddhism. In the first centuries of its introduction into China, Buddhism was known as "the religion of images." In societies where only a tiny portion of the population was literate, other modes of communication played a far larger role then the texts that have so often provided the primary focus for our understanding of Buddhism (Lopez 2002: 92).
This 136 page guide includes an overview of Buddhism in India, China, Japan, and the contemporary world; a vocabulary list, four lesson plans, and a resource guide.
Gandhara, a region in northwest Pakistan once occupied by Alexander the Great’s successor’s, was a center of the Kushan empire. Consequently, was influenced by Greek and Roman art styles. The first images of the Buddha were produced in the Kushan period.
Winding through northwestern China, Central Asia, Iran, and the Middle East, the Silk Roads were arguably the most important conduit of cultural exchange in world history. Although not the only avenue for the introduction of Buddhism to China and East Asia, the Silk Roads were central to the eastward spread of this, the first world religion.
By the late fourth century Dunhuang (in today’s province) was a key oasis in western China. It was from there that the two main routes of the Chinese Silk Roads split, traversing the northern and southern edges of the in the Tarim Basin.
Outside Dunhuang the Mogao caves, over half of them decorated, became a place of residence and worship for Buddhist monks. Long before the site was abandoned in the fifteenth century, some fifty thousand documents and artifacts were stored in one of the caves, which was then sealed around the year 1000, probably out of fear of an invasion. In 1900 it was discovered. News about the hidden treasures brought the British explorer in 1907. He succeeded in buying seven thousand complete manuscripts and six thousand fragments as well as several cases of paintings, embroideries, and other artifacts, for the price of 130 British pounds. He was soon followed by French, German, Russian, Japanese, and American explorers, who made the same trip and carried away as many documents and silk paintings as they could (Yü 2005: 26).
A multimedia tour of a nineteenth century Buddhist temple in Singapore.
"The mission of Himalayan Art Resources is to create a comprehensive research database, a virtual museum, of Himalayan and Tibetan art."
"DharmaNet International’s Internet clearinghouse for Buddhist study and practice resources has been online since 1991. Dharmanet hosts its own in-house databases and collections, as well as providing links to worldwide online Buddhist resources, large and small."
"The Journal of Global Buddhism has been established to promote the study of Buddhism’s globalization and its transcontinental interrelatedness."
TEA, WINE AND POETRY
Qing Dynasty Literati and Their Drinking Vessels
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Spring 2007 Exhibition
Tea, Wine and Poetry—Qing Literati and Their Drinking Vessels documents the production of Yixing tea ware during the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). The pieces on display reveal the close connections between potters and the men of letters who participated in the making and decoration of these treasured ceramics.
Yixing, on the western shore of in southern Jiangsu province, became famous for a type of ceramic known as zi sha or "purple sand," the purple color resulting from the high iron content of the clay (Bartholomew 1977: 13). The teapots featured in this exhibition are
renowned for their ability to retain the taste, color and aroma of the tea leaves. Even in hot weather, tea left overnight in an Yixing teapot will stay fresh. These teapots were never washed; the old tea leaves were simply removed and the interior of the pots rinsed in cold water. As a result, the pots that have been in long use often have a rich patina that has been produced by the years of handling (Bartholomew 1977: 13).
The names of hundreds of Yixing potters are known beginning with the Wanli period (1573-1619) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). This is unusual in the history of Chinese ceramics, since most potters have remained anonymous. "The signing of the wares is an indication that the potters must have been proud of their work and considered themselves as more than mere craftsmen making utilitarian objects." It also reflects patronage received from the literati class. Men of letters would sometimes select the clay, design the pots, and supply verse written in elegant calligraphy for engraving on the pots themselves (Bartholomew 1977: 16, 17).
Broadly speaking, these artistic activities contributed to the image of the man of letters as a civilized person, a cultivated connoisseur of poetry, painting, calligraphy, antique bronzes, jades, inkstones, finely printed books, and well-prepared tea (Clunas 1993: 104-105).
The idea of what it means to be civilized in terms of Chinese culture and society evolved and changed over the centuries along with Chinese culture and society itself. Tea, Wine and Poetry looks at the notion of the civilized human being in late Ming and Qing through the lens of material culture, that is to say, through the elegant luxury products produced by Yixing potters. In turn, this web-companion expands the exhibition’s content in a decidedly multidisciplinary way in keeping with the fourth of the National History Standards’ "Historical Thinking Standards for Grades 5-12." These stress
the importance of providing students documents or other records beyond materials included in the textbook that will allow students to challenge textbook interpretations, to raise new questions about the event, to investigate the perspectives of those whose voices do not appear in the textbook accounts, or to plumb an issue that the textbook largely or in part bypassed
Wine and Wine Drinking in Poetry
Ivory goblet inlaid
H 30.3 cm Late Shang
Period (c. 1200 B.C.)
From Tomb 5, Xiaotun
Locus North, at
Excavated in 1976
The Institute of
Academy of Social
From ancient times, alcoholic drinks brewed from rice or other grains played an important religious and social role in Chinese society. As early as nine thousand years ago, fermented beverages of rice, honey, and fruit were made in China (see item 2G in resource list, below). "Wine" brewed from millet figured importantly in religious ritual at least as early as the Shang dynasty (c. 1570-1045 BCE):
that the offering of wine, whose fragrance and taste, like the smoke from roasting meat, was pleasing to the Powers would have been an important part of the Shang cult. This conclusion is based on the large numbers of . . .for heating and pouring wine; the evidence that a Shang industry existed for brewing alcoholic beverages; and the Duke of Zhou’s . . . command that the Shang elites (and other lords) should desist, upon pain of death, from wine drinking (Keightley 1999: 258).
The rites have all been accomplished,
Getting the spirits drunk brought blessings to those conducting the sacrifice. Shijing also mentions drunkenness with earthly consequences:
When the guests first take their seats,
When guests are drunk they howl and bawl,
Wine drinking, its contexts, customs, and consequences would become a common theme in Chinese poetry. In Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) ballads, for instance, wine and food make us forget the fleeting nature of earthly existence:
So make merry!
Drink strong wine! Roast the fat ox!
Wine-drinking was part of the cultural baggage accompanying the growth of poetry as a medium for personal expression during the first few centuries of the Common Era. (365-427) love of "the thing in the cup," for instance, was to become legendary. Wine and drunkenness became part of his artistic persona along with dislike for the world of officialdom, love of natural beauty, leisurely reading and study, and delight in his young sons:
Thick thick the woods before my hall,
An anthology of poems about or including wine drinking would be enormous and include all the great Chinese poets.
Drinking was often accompanied by drinking games. The Tang poet and essayist Liu Zongyuan (773-819) describes one game where guests sat on rocks in a stream:
Sitting apart on them, we first filled our cups and set them afloat for others to take up and drink. Then we made this rule: when it was someone’s turn to drink, he must throw three bamboo slips about ten inches long upstream; if the slips were neither caught by an eddy, blocked by a boulder nor sunk, he need not drink. But each time one of these things happened, he must drain a cup (Nienhauser 1973: 64).
Wine drinking as part of an elite lifestyle bringing its practitioners nearer and nearer the "white clouds" that Tao Yuanming so loved was always a kind of illusion. With the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, such aspirations were firmly tied to a vanished, unlamented past. For example, Lu Xun, the great twentieth-century modernist writer, uses the figure of a drunken scholar repudiating worldly concerns in his satiric short story "."
Kong Yiji, a constant source of ridicule at the wine shop he frequents, is a social pariah whose affectation of scholarship and refinement are undercut by his failure to pass the imperial examination and his chronic alcoholism. Lu Xun’s telling the story of this stock character and his cruel fate speaks to the harsh social and cultural changes China underwent at the beginning of the twentieth century. The cherished tradition of literati drinking wine and pursuing a lifestyle "above the dusty world" seemed incompatible with the gravity of China’s social and political plight.
1 More properly called "ale" since it’s brewed, not fermented like grape wine.
2 The Duke of Zhou (Zhou gong) was the brother of the king who led the conquest of Shang and established the Western Zhou dynasty (1045-771 BCE). As regent for an underage King Cheng from 1042-1036 BCE, his policies enabled the new dynasty to survive past its founding generation. He was a hero whose name was invoked down until modern times.
Drinking Vessels and Material Culture
Although a modern paper cup and an eighth century hold drinks equally well, it’s the differences between the two that tell us about the societies that created them. Once you subtract the physical capability to contain liquids, what you have left is culture,
the total way of life held in common by a group of people, including technology, traditions, language, and social roles. . .learned and handed-down from one generation to the next by non biological means. It includes the patterns of human behavior (i.e. ideas, beliefs, values, artifacts, and ways of making a living) which any society transmits to succeeding generations to meet its fundamental needs.
What people drink and how they drink it is also a part of culture.
In the United States, for instance, beer is an extremely popular recreational drink with its attendant rituals and practices. In the , beer’s intoxicating properties were regarded as divine. The importance of beer in the ancient Near East can be seen in the , the goddess who introduced the art of brewing to humankind.
A Web-Companion to China Institute Gallery’s Spring 2007 Exhibition
Chinese Tea and the Non-Chinese World
In addition to playing a crucial role in its domestic economy, for centuries the tea trade was an important part of China’s foreign relations. Tea bricks were used as a form of currency in remote regions of Central Asia. They were also avidly sought by foreign merchants as part of the ancient tribute system structuring relations between the imperial court and other nations.
Tea was also an important commodity transported along the "" linking China with its southwestern neighbors, snaking through modern-day Sichuan, Yunnan and into the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Chinese horse caravans brought tea, sugar and salt to exchange for horses, cattle, furs and other goods. Tibetans developed a distinctive that for centuries cemented relations between China and Tibet.
The Tea and Horse Caravan Route also played a decisive role during WWII. It was used as a supply route for the Republican government seated in Chongqing deep in the heartland of China and cut off from major ports due to Japanese occupation. Today the trade route has come upon hard times as more efficient forms of transportation have largely made the caravan route obsolete.
Chinese Tea and the Opium Trade
Perhaps the most dramatic role tea has played in China’s international relations was during the late 17th century up to the 20th century, when international trade of narcotics and other goods intensified and created an unprecedented interconnected world economy. Silver from Peru and Mexico began to circulate, as did sugar from the West Indies (grown by slave labor supplied by the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade), coffee from the Horn of Africa, cacao from Mexico, coca from the Andes, tobacco from North America, opium (eventually) from India – and tea from China.
Between 1400 and 1800 China assumed a central role in the world economy due to its
economic preeminence in production and transport. China was unrivaled in porcelain ceramics and had few rivals in silk. . .The other important factor was China’s position and function as the final "sink" for the world’s production of silver" (Gunder Frank 1998: 111).
After 1600 tea became part of this international equation. In fact, during the eighteenth century tea imports to England had risen by “perhaps 40,000 percent” (Pomeranz 2006: 79). Although tea was originally a luxury reserved for aristocrats, its use became more and more widespread. During the industrial revolution tea breaks became an integral part of an increasingly regimented and monotonous work-day. It became apparent, however, that
dependence on tea. . .had its price—one that the British did not wish to continue paying. As its import bills (all settled in silver) soared, the English sought in vain for a good they could sell to China in equal amounts. The answer they eventually found was opium grown in their Indian colonies, leading to war, dislocation, and a massive addiction problem in China (Pomeranz 2006: 79).
This set into motion a series of events that culminated in the disastrous defeat China suffered during the First (1840-42). By the end of the 19th century, the tables had turned on the British-Chinese trade relations, as tea production had successfully been transplanted to the British colony of Assam. Now silver flowed from China’s treasury as it had to pay an exorbitant indemnity as a result of its defeat in the Opium War. The straining effect on China’s economy was compounded, of course, by the heavy toll opium addiction took on its working populace.
Tea and Tea Culture in China
It’s a matter of controversy among scholars as to when tea was first used in China. Myth, however, ascribes its discovery to the legendary culture hero Shen Nong ("Divine Cultivator") who taught humankind how to farm and use the natural world as a source of medicines.
Buddhist legend attributes it to Bodhidharma, an Indian prince said to have arrived in China in the early sixth century CE where he became the First Patriarch of Chan Buddhism (Zen in Japanese). Troubled by his inability to stay awake during meditation, Bodhidharma cut off his eyelids. They fell to the ground and sprouted to become the first tea leaves. This story, of course, alludes to tea’s caffeine content.
By Tang times (618-907) tea had become a popular drink in north China. A scroll found at the Silk Road’s oasis of Dunhuang even preserves a Discourse between Tea and Wine (Cha jiu lun)5 where the two praise themselves and criticize the other.
Buddhist monks played a decisive role in spreading the custom of tea drinking. Buddhist influence on tea culture was not only related to the notions of tranquility and refinement attached to the image of cordial relations between literati and monks, it was also economic in character:
Buddhism continued in later periods to play a prominent role in the development of habits and objects associated with tea. Monks continued to produce tea at their monasteries; in fact, monastic growth of tea in the Song [960-1279] was of a scale that the state (which at this point claimed a monopoly on the sale of tea) found it necessary to insist that monks grow tea only for monastic use and not for sale (Kieschnick 2003: 275).
Monks also valued tea for its medicinal properties and, because it was a mild stimulant, it helped them stay alert during extended periods of meditation.
Poets make abundant references to the tranquility of sipping tea, reading Buddhist texts, and conversing with monks. A painting by Qiu Ying (1494-1552), for example, , depicts one facet of the relationship between literati and Buddhism vis-à-vis tea.
Monks are also credited with developing the Yixing ceramics featured in Tea, Wine, and Poetry. It’s thus not an exaggeration to say that
the utensils used in the preparation of tea, the way harvested leaves were treated, the location in which tea plants were grown, and the habit of tea drinking itself all in some degree owe a debt to the introduction and spread of Buddhism in China (Kieschnick 2003: 275).
Just as Buddhism was the vehicle for the spread of Chinese culture to Korea and Japan beginning in the early centuries of the Common Era and reaching a high point during the Tang dynasty, it also introduced tea to those societies.
The spread of tea drinking during Tang is of a piece with the cosmopolitanism of Tang society itself. The Tang capital of Chang’an was the largest city in the world and home to people from all over Eurasia.
Lu Yü’s (733-804) Cha jing ("Classic of Tea"), the seminal work on tea, is a product of Tang culture. In the section entitled "Drinking" Lu compares tea to water and wine and also contrasts the constant work of nature ("Heaven") and the transitory activities of human beings. From its manufacture to the act of drinking, tea is part of an elegant lifestyle:
If you want to satisfy thirst, take water and drink it. If sorrow or anger strike, take wine and drink it. If one would dispel evening drowsiness, take tea and drink it.
. . .Heaven’s nurturing of the ten thousand living and inanimate things is subtle in the extreme. That which results from human skill is done only for the sake of ease and comfort:
Each room where he lives is fastidious; each garment which he wears is fastidious; in the food and drink which satisfy him, he is fastidious about both food and wine.
There are nine difficulties with respect to tea:
He must manufacture it.
He must develop a sense of selectivity and discrimination about it.
He must provide the proper implements.
He must prepare the right kind of fire.
He must select suitable water.
He must roast it.
He must grind it well.
He must brew it to ultimate perfection.
He must drink it (Adapted from Carpenter 1974: 116, 118).
Lu Yü here defines tea drinking as a way (dao) of life rather than merely a pleasant social custom. The cult of tea was to become a mirror of refined personality. In the words of a late Ming scholar,
As a beverage, tea is best suited for inspired and cultivated persons. . .Such a person should practice this [art of tea making] diligently and regularly, not sporadically—only then may he fully appreciate its true flavor. Intoxicated with the fine taste of tea, he will soon realize that it is comparable to the finest wines. At this a gentleman becomes a true tea connoisseur. But, if the drinker is a common fellow, then the fine tea is wasted, which would be like watering an unworthy weed with clear cascade water. This would be a major offense (Chang 2003: 34).
In a less rarefied context, teahouses have long been an important gathering place for people from all walks of life. By supporting regional opera and story-telling traditions, they were spaces where native-place identity flourished. Also, some scholars argue that Chinese teahouses exhibit characteristics similar to eighteenth century European coffeehouses, which crucially functioned as where civil society developed and flourished during the Enlightenment (see Rowe 1993).
During the Republican era (1911-1945), however, teahouses fell out of favor. Many saw them as a debilitating reminder of leisurely traditions incompatible with promoting a more “modern” nation-state. By contrast, new venues such as sport stadiums and parks were extolled as public spaces offsetting the image of China as "the sick man of Asia" where citizens could enjoy open-air exercise and commingling (see Shao 1998). The fate of teahouses in contemporary China has fluctuated over the decades, and news reports note how the of public space threatens traditional teahouse culture.
WRITING, PAPER, AND PRINTED BOOKS IN PRE-MODERN CHINA
A Web-Companion to Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary China
These web links and questions provide background for both contextualizing and appreciating China Institute’s first exhibition of contemporary art, Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary China.
Contemporary Chinese artists draw upon (and react against) more than three thousand years of a visual culture in which writing and books played an important role. They also live in a world in which change is occurring at a rapid pace. These are perhaps the two major stimuli for "reinventing the book."
"Reinvention" means making something over completely. In learning about the Chinese book and asking why Chinese artists would want to reinvent it, students and teachers will both learn about contemporary Chinese art and contemporary Chinese society.
The Written Word and Books in China
Writing and books occupy a central place in Chinese culture. In pre-modern times the written word helped unite a geographically large and linguistically diverse empire. Written documents were not only part of everyday life, but also inseparable from scholarship and the visual arts.
Paper was invented and in use before the beginning of the Common Era.1 Woodblock printing developed during the Tang dynasty (618-907), centuries before Gutenberg "invented" printing in the 1450s. By the second millennium CE, printed books circulated all kinds of information among a sizable minority of literate people, mostly men.
Based on their knowledge of the classics, history, and literature, these "literary men" (wenren ) qualified to serve in the imperial bureaucracy by taking civil service examinations. Although there were many more applicants than jobs, the examinations remained the most prestigious path of upward mobility until the beginning of the twentieth century. Books and written texts were at the core of this phenomenon.
The intrusion of the West in the nineteenth century brought the rise of modern printing, publishing, and journalism. Western-style lithography was introduced as early as 1834. By the end of the century, Western language books of all kinds were being translated into Chinese.
After the fall of the last imperial dynasty in 1911, reformers sought to discard literary Chinese (wenyan ) as a written language in favor of the modern colloquial (baihua ). After 1949, language reform in the People’s Republic of China resulted in the adoption of simplified characters (jianti zi), making it easier to learn how to read and write.
The late 1970s and 80s were a period of tremendous change witnessing the abandonment of collective farming and China’s opening to Western investment. It also marked the beginning of exhibitions of experimental art (shiyan meishu ) of the kind featured in Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary China.
1 Centuries before the traditional date of its invention by Cai Lun in 125 CE.
What Is Experimental Art?
Experimental art doesn’t advocate any particular style, subject matter, or political point of view. It’s a reaction against four major trends in contemporary Chinese art:
Such opposition to the contemporary mainstream caused artists to focus on issues such as the book’s political power to manipulate masses of people and its role in the "banality of popular culture." This resulted in the use of existing books as ready-made art objects or the creation of unique books as independent objects or as part of installations ().
On a more personal level, experimental artists were concerned with
These issues, relevant to other contemporary societies as well as China, readily find a place in the multi-disciplinary classroom. Also, their relevance to the National Standards for History and its emphasis on understanding "worldwide cultural trends of the second half of the 20th century" is apparent.
Compared to their teachers, most students are less burdened by preconceptions of what "art" should be; therefore exposure to Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary China will lead to fresh insights on these important issues.
This collection of web-links is divided into (1) , (2) , and (3) . After each there is a group of questions. Most are simple knowledge-oriented questions, others point to broader issues requiring critical thinking.
2 Standard 2F, see .
A brief essay on the history of Chinese writing.
Discussion on using the brush and the various styles of calligraphy, as well as questions and exercises.
This selection of works from the National Palace Museum in Taiwan includes information on the calligraphers and large color reproductions.
This article, from a web-magazine called Intersections, describes a secret women’s script from Hunan province in south China.
The character for "paper" (zhi).
Calligraphy by Zhi Yong of the Sui dynasty (589-618).
Jonathan Bloom traces the history of paper’s spread from China westward and its uses in various cultural contexts across Eurasia.
The five steps: (1) Steeping and washing cut bamboo; (2) Cooking the inner mass of bamboo in a pot; (3) Collecting bamboo pulp on top of a screen; (4) Removing and pressing paper sheets; (5) Drying paper sheets.3
Yunnan, in southwest China, is home to a number of China’s ethnic minorities. Through interactive features and a video, this website describes the papermaking traditions of people such as the Bai, Naxi, and Dai.
An illustrated description of pre-and post-industrial paper making in the West.
3 For a full description see: Sung Ying-hsing. Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century–T’ien-kung k’ai-wu. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.,1997, pp. 222-229.
This brief "history of communications technology in China" sketches the media used to carry Chinese writing from ancient times to the internet.
Website based on an exhibition held at the Printing Museum of China.
The Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), one of the founders of Catholicism in China, writes about printing and printed books.
In 1900, thousands of manuscripts were found sealed in a cave outside the Silk Roads oasis of Dunhuang. This website uses some of these treasures to discuss traditional Chinese bookbinding.
This scroll of the Diamond Sutra, dated 868, was found in the Dunhuang cave mentioned above.
An overview of the history of the book, mostly about the West. Also, for a universal timeline of media history from prehistoric rock carvings to the 1999 Ikonos satellite (The Media History Project at the University of Minnesota).
How to repair a book using the traditional Chinese (referred to here as Japanese) stitched binding method.
Posters from an exhibition at the Libraries of the Sinological Institute, Leiden University. "The posters exhibited here focus on . . .changing attitudes of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] towards books, book knowledge and learning in general" from the 1950s to the 1990s.
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