Organizer: Amy McNair, University of Kansas
Chair and Discussant: Marsha S. Weidner University of Kansas
The dominance of Confucian ideals and notions about the decline of post-Tang Buddhism long prejudiced our view of later Chinese culture, obscuring many of its Buddhist dimensions. Exploration of artistic and literary aspects of Buddhist culture in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing periods has only just begun. In pursuing such an exploration, this panel takes its cue from recent studies such as those presented at the 1994 symposium on later Chinese Buddhist culture that accompanied the exhibition Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850. The four papers examine manifestations of Buddhism in popular and elite culture; address the marginalization of Buddhist meanings and cultural interpretations; and recover Buddhist aesthetic experiences.
Two authors focus on the visual arts, while two look to literature. Amy McNair addresses critical responses to sutra transcriptions by the noted 13th-century calligrapher Zhang Jizhi. Hsing-li Tsai reinterprets a figure painting by the 17th-century master Chen Hongshou as a manifesto of Pure Land Buddhism. Janet Lynn Kerr draws attention to Buddhist elements in Ming and Qing "precious scrolls" (baojuan), a major literary expression of popular religion. Beata Grant employs a variety of literary sources, from Confucian didactic texts to writings by nuns, to take us into the heart of female monasticism of the same period. Thus, through the windows of art criticism, painting, popular stories, and elite literature, these papers offer new perspectives on Buddhist thought and culture in late imperial China and illuminate areas that hold great promise for future interdisciplinary research.
Zhang Jizhi's Transcriptions of the Diamond Sutra and the Critical Response to
Amy McNair, University of Kansas
Based on colophons attached to the scrolls and remarks in critical texts, this paper identifies and examines three types of responses to transcriptions of the Diamond Sutra made by the 13th-century calligrapher, official, and Buddhist Zhang Jizhi. The first type of response is exemplified by a 14th-century Confucian instructor who denigrated Zhang's calligraphic style. He and other Yuan-dynasty critics never overtly disparaged Zhang's involvement with Buddhism, but the nature of their comments suggests it contributed to their view of his style as unrestrained and unorthodox. A second kind of response came from a pair of 17th-century connoisseurs, Bi Xizhi and Dong Qichang, who were, like Zhang Jizhi, scholar-officials and Buddhist believers. Admiring Zhang's calligraphy, Bi and Dong took as their critical mission the identification of a high-status source for his creativity, which they located in the classical tradition of calligraphy and in the Chan self, respectively. A third response is represented by several Buddhist monks who, over the course of the 14th century, wrote colophons on a Diamond Sutra scroll by Zhang. Their position on the aesthetic significance of Buddhist calligraphy was ambivalent, in keeping with the message of the scripture itself, which teaches that all appearances of reality are illusion. The comments of these various writers are indicative of the ways in which the content of a calligrapher's text, in this case Buddhist content, could color the critical reception of his art.
Mountaintops and Dungeons: Borrowings from Buddhism in Precious Scrolls
Janet Lynn Kerr, Valparaiso University
Precious scrolls (baojuan) were one of the principal media of popular religion in Ming and Qing China. They incorporated religious stories, teachings, and records of ritual actions from a variety of sources into a public and legitimate discourse. Some of the prominent features of precious scrolls borrowed from Buddhist culture include: (1) emphasis on reciting Buddha's name; (2) description of a mountaintop gathering of gods and humans referred to as a Dragon Flower Assembly (longhua hui); and (3) depiction of suffering in hell, or in prison, as one of the necessary steps to salvation.
This paper examines the use of these Buddhist elements in selected precious scrolls. It examines first what the word "Buddhist" meant to the authors and audiences of precious scrolls, in what ways they took the above-mentioned features of their texts to be Buddhist, and how their understanding might have differed from that of members of other Buddhist communities. Second, this paper explores the ways in which Buddhist elements within the precious scrolls were reinterpreted as they were absorbed into mainstream popular religious culture. In pursuing these questions, this study contributes to the wider discussion of the boundaries dividing, and interactions between, Buddhism and popular religion in Ming and Qing China.
A Late-Ming Pictorial Manifesto of Pure Land Buddhism: Chen Hungshou's Literary
Hsing-li Tsai, Gettysburg College
Chen Hongshou's Literary Gathering (Yaji tu), a handscroll in the Shanghai Museum of Art, can be read as a pictorial manifesto of one of the most significant cultural developments of the late-Ming period: the widespread acceptance of Pure Land Buddhism among intellectuals. The scroll presents a monk and eight scholars, including the Gongan School literary theorists Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610) and his brother Yuan Zongdao (1560-1600), gathered around a figure of a Buddhist deity in a garden setting.
The subject of this picture has been identified as a meeting of the Grape Society, a literary club organized by the Yuan brothers in Beijing in the last years of the 16th century. In this paper, however, I argue that this work neither represents the Grape Society nor falls within the familiar category of literary meeting pictures. Rather, it treats a theme with special meaning for the artist and patron of the scroll as well as for the individuals portrayed, namely a shared belief in Pure Land Buddhism. The composition can be linked to the most famous painting inspired by a Pure Land gathering of laymen and monks, The Lotus Society by the Northern Song master Li Gonglin. A more immediate source of inspiration, however, was undoubtedly Yuan Hongdao's Xifang helun ( Comprehensive Commentary on the Western Paradise).
This paper intends to provide a greater awareness not only of the religious content of Chen Hongshou's art, but also of the possibilities of such content in other 17th-century paintings.
Embroidered Words: Religion and Poetry in the Lives of Eighteenth-Century Chinese
Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen
Beata Grant, Washington University, St. Louis
This paper explores the relationship between literary expression and religious aspiration in the lives and writings of a group of eighteenth-century Buddhist nuns and laywomen from Jiangsu province. Traditionally, Chinese Buddhist monks and laymen (especially Chan Buddhists) prided themselves on their "non-reliance on words and letters." Those who indulged in poetry-writing (as opposed to purely religious, didactic writing) often anguished -with varying degrees of persuasiveness-over their inability to rid themselves of this attachment, or "addiction" as it was often called.
Eighteenth-century religious women also worried about their "addiction" to poetry. However, for these educated women, who had only relatively recently been allowed the classical education that enabled them to write poetry at all, the implications of this attachment were different then they were for their male counterparts. For example, many Qing literati-including many Buddhist monks-still adamantly believed that it was not only unsuitable but even sinful for a woman to write poetry. A popular adage warned that female literary talent presaged early death, and other women were advised that it was because of their poetry addiction in a previous life that they were consigned to a lowly female body in the present existence. Despite this barrage of ideological arrows, many religious women were profoundly reluctant to give up the writing of poetry, preferring instead to weave it into the fabric of their religious lives. In fact, it could be said that for these women, the practice of poetry-writing was as much a religious practice as meditation and sutra-recitation. Both provided a crucially important means of ameliorating, if not completely transcending, not only personal sorrows, but many socially imposed limitations and restrictions as well.