Segments in this Video

China Embraces Buddhism (03:07)


Early Chinese statues of the Buddha depicted him as lean and muscular. Gradually, his appearance became more like that of a Chinese scholar.

Silk Road (03:19)

Susan Beningson shows a map of the ancient network of trade routes that connected East and West. Asian and European merchants traded silk, textiles, ceramics, silver, and other goods.

Travelers and Their Gear (03:37)

Buddhist monks traveled with merchants. A sculpture depicted travelers and an ornate traveling coffer that was made in Wenzhou.

Cave Temples and Guanyin (03:35)

Buddhists built cave temples along the Silk Road. Guanyin’s depiction gradually became more feminine as it was incorporated into Chinese beliefs.

Pattern and Missing Sutras (03:10)

The thousand Buddhas pattern was a meditation tool. Lokapala figures were often depicted with foreign faces. Buddhist sutras were not introduced to China in sequential order, leading to gaps in doctrine. Buddha was sometimes depicted standing next to Vishnu.

Buddha Icons and Changes (05:32)

Buddha statues needed to be ritually activated before being used for worship. Depictions of the Buddha started to appear less Indian and more Chinese. The “do not fear mudra” was a reassuring gesture.

Depictions in Korea and Japan (04:05)

A rare statue of a seated bodhisattva was made during the Zhou Dynasty; see a Korean Buddha from the Three Kingdoms era. Korean Buddhas tended to be less formal in appearance than Chinese Buddhas; Korea depictions arrived in Japan.

Reliquary Stupas (03:07)

The Brooklyn Museum received a series of reliquary stupas. One contained a detailed inscription that provided the year of commission, the name of the artist and the address of the monastery where it was consecrated.

More Bodhisattvas (03:12)

The Seated Buddha Shakyamuni was made during the Liao dynasty. A Standing Bodhisattva was made during the Jin dynasty. Both come from periods when non-Han Chinese ruled.

Bodhisattva Guanyin (04:00)

This bodhisattva was made in the Yunnan province. The icon was created during the Dali Kingdom; x-rays revealed relics still inside.

Outside Influences (06:07)

The Cloisonné shrine was created during the Qing dynasty, emphasizing foreign influences. Collector Samuel Avery donated the piece to the Brooklyn Museum, along with dozens of other artifacts, in 1909.

Qianlong Emperor (06:37)

The Qianlong Emperor of the 18th century had extensive contact with foreigners. The emperor’s favorite court artist was an Italian Jesuit named Giuseppe Castiglione. Paintings documented French, Tibetan, and other influences. (Credits)

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How the Buddha Became Chinese

Part of the Series : Exporting Enlightenment
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The origins of Buddhist devotional art can be traced to its roots in India, but images and doctrine were transmitted by monks as they travelled with merchant caravans across the dangerous deserts of Central Asia on the ancient Silk Road. The image of the Buddha was transformed and assimilated in China as the foreign religion of Buddhism encountered the rich and potent traditions of the Chinese cosmological past. Susan Beningson explores the introduction of Buddhism into China, the evolution of the Buddha image, and how these images may have been used in ritual worship.

Length: 50 minutes

Item#: FMK143730

ISBN: 978-1-64481-079-8

Copyright date: ©2013

Closed Captioned

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