some iconographic problems in early daoist-buddhist sculptures in china

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  • Some Iconographic Problems in Early Daoist-Buddhist Sculptures in ChinaAuthor(s): Jean M. JamesSource: Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 42 (1989), pp. 71-76Published by: University of Hawai'i Press for the Asia SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 13/06/2014 08:58

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  • Brief Notices

    Some Iconographie Problems in Early Daoist Buddhist Sculptures in China

    Jean M. James The University of Iowa

    In an article published in 1984 Ding Mingy i noted that the

    question of the origin of Daoist images, whether products of

    the interaction between Buddhist and Daoist texts or those of

    the influence of Buddhist images on Daoist types, was well

    worth studying. In a subsequent article Ding did investigate this question and produced a chronology of images and their

    iconographie attributes. But he left the problem of origin un

    solved. Wu Hung, however, writing in Artibus Asiae, has of

    fered a solution stating that Daoists used Buddhist iconog

    raphy, adapting it to their own purposes when cutting the large

    figures carved in cliffs at Kongwangshana in Jiangsu, dated to

    the second and third centuries a.d. Therefore these early rock

    carvings are not in fact Buddhist images but are early Daoist

    images that also point to one of the ways in which "the Chinese

    received Buddhism?the incorporation of Buddhist elements

    by Taoist [sic] art. "

    The process of intermingling Buddhist

    iconographie elements with indigenous Chinese motifs as

    sociated with Chinese deities, especially Xiwangmu,b began even earlier and is evident in Eastern Han (a.d. 25-220) arti

    facts and monuments of the second century.1 There are, then,

    ample precedents for the sort of intermingling and conflation

    of Buddhist and Daoist imagery we see in the later votive

    sculptures and stelae dedicated by laymen during and after the

    fifth century.

    Ding Mingyi's chronology is based on a group of eighteen extant stone figures and two ink squeezes taken from stelae that

    no longer exist. Nine of the figures are in museums or temples in Shaanxi, one is in Tokyo, one in the United States (see Fig.

    8), the rest elsewhere in China. Unfortunately, Ding did not

    include reproductions of all twenty examples, but we can still

    use his conclusions as the basis for a discussion of a much larger

    group of small votive stone sculptures in the Field Museum of

    Natural History in Chicago, all of which were purchased in Shaanxi province between 1908 and 1910 by Berthold Laufer

    for the museum.

    The identification of a votive image is usually done by its

    inscription, if any, and by the iconographie attributes given to

    the figures. But the apparent mingling of Buddhist and Daoist

    beliefs in the minds of religious people in China produced inscriptions that refer to both religions. Ding gives the follow

    ing examples: on a stele dated to a.d. 424 we find both Bud

    dhist and Daoist images; on a 548 stele is written "Three sages of the Great Dao and Sakyamuni"; on a 557 stele "Images of

    two worthies, a Buddhist and a Daoist"; on a 562 stele "Images of Sakyamuni, Taishang Laojun,c and all the Bodhisattvas."

    On another Daoist stele excavated near Luoyang we find "In

    the fourth month of Kaihuangd [582] the Buddhist-Daoist

    layman Fang Guanjine respectfully makes a stone image of

    Laojun. " Other images dedicated by Buddhists in the late sixth

    century mention only the Buddha. Similarly, Daoists of the

    late sixth century and subsequently call themselves Daoists,

    although some, like Fang Guanjin, use both terms.2 The Field Museum figures amply reflect the combination of both reli

    gions in the popular mind in north China, as we shall see. It

    does, however, seem clear that the roots of this combination

    were not engendered by stone carvers; they are historical, not

    art historical.

    Many scholars have written at length on the doctrinal and

    scriptural comingling of early religious Daoism with Bud

    dhism especially during the fifth and sixth centuries a.d.3 Here a brief historical outline will have to suffice.

    Daoists during the Eastern Han dynasty adopted Buddhism

    rather than rejecting it as foreign and un-Chinese. A commu

    nity of Buddhist monks was established in a.d. 65 by a Daoist

    ruler of one of the subsidiary kingdoms of the Han empire located in the present-day province of Hebei in the city of

    Pengcheng.f In 166 Emperor Huan sacrificed to the Buddha

    and to the Daoist deity Huang-Lao, s who was a combined

    form of Lao Zi,h the Warring States (403-221 b.c.) sage of

    philosophical Daoism, and the mythical Yellow Emperor.4 The sect called the Way of the Celestial Masters, originating in the mid-second century, and led by Zhang Daoling,1 is the first

    of the religious Daoist sects; it had a doctrine and scriptures and its chief deity was Laojun,J a deified form of Lao Zi. This sect, and another called the Five Pecks of Rice, spread widely,

    but we have no images attributable to either sect. We do have

    the images on the cliff at Kongwangshan discussed by Wu

    Hung, who, it bears repeating, has identified them as Daoist

    figures in adopted Buddhist guises. The formal promotion of

    Daoism as a religion the equal of Buddhism took place during the reigns on the first two emperors of Northern Wei (386

    534). In 409 the Emperor Ming Yuan Di,k wishing to show his reverence, ordered that statues of the Buddha, the Yellow

    Emperor, and Lao Zi be set up "in all corners of the capital" and commanded the monks to "guide the people's customs."

    A parallel in art to this even-handed approach can be seen on

    a Buddhist-Daoist stele found in Shaanxi, which was within

    the Northern Wei realm, and dated to 424. It has two niches,

    showing a Daoist priest on the left and a Buddha on the right. On the base are donors shown on each side of a central incense

    burner. On the right is a man, on the left, a Daoist nun and

    another man.5 The two religions are thus treated as equals. It is interesting that 424 is also the year in which the Daoist

    partisan Gou Qianzhi1 (d. 432) received the approval of the Wei emperor, who appointed him Celestial Master and authorized

    him to lead the faithful. Later, Tao Hongjingm (452-536) or

    ganized a Daoist pantheon including two forms of the deified Lao Zi, Laojun and Taishang Laojun, of the Celestial Masters

    sect. In 514 Tao produced a synthesis of Daoist doctrines by

    combining the liturgies of two more sects, the Lingbao11 and

    the Shangqing.06 Buddhists were persecuted twice during the Six Dynasties

    period, once from 444 to 446 by the Northern Wei emperor, and again from 574 to 577 by the Northern Zhou emperor. Later, in the History of the Sui Dynasty (581

    ? 618) the three

    religions?Confucianism is now included?are described as

    equals: Buddhism is the sun, Daoism is the moon, and Con

    fucianism is the five planets.7 Fervent adherents of Buddhism and of Daoism did do battle

    over which religion was superior, but their doctrinal wars were

    of little interest to the lay faithful who sought salvation and a

    new life in a Western Paradise available to all of them. The

    point is made by Z?rcher as follows:

    Perhaps we are?as so often happens?handicapped by the fact that we

    can only observe Buddhism and Daoism at the very highest level, that

    of the religious "professionals" and their written texts?the tops of

    two pyramids. We may consider the possibility that at a lower level

    the bodies of the two pyramids merged into a much less differentiated

    lay religion, and that at the very base both systems largely dissolved

    into an indistinct mass of popular beliefs and practices . . . the two

    teachings are "two branches springing from a single trunk. "8


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  • This merging of the two religions into a single mass in the

    popular mind is clearly evident in the amalgamation of the two

    religions in the votive sculptures discussed here, first in their

    inscriptions, and second in their iconography, as we shall see.

    This combination provides concrete evidence for what

    Z?rcher describes as a possibility. Ano