Art, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China

Art, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China: The Dunhuang Cave of the Zhai Family

Ning Qiang
Copyright Date: 2004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqsph
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  • Book Info
    Art, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China
    Book Description:

    The cave-temple complex popularly known as the Dunhuang caves is the world's largest extant repository of Tang Buddhist art. Among the best preserved of the Dunhuang caves is the Zhai Family Cave, built in 642. It is this remarkable cave-temple that forms the focus of Ning Qiang's cross-disciplinary exploration of the interrelationship of art, religion, and politics during the Tang. The author combines, in his careful examination of the paintings and sculptures found there, the historical study of pictures with the pictorial study of history. By employing this two-fold approach, he is able to refer to textual evidence in interpreting the formal features of the cave temple paintings and to employ visual details to fill in the historical gaps inevitably left by text-oriented scholars. The result is a comprehensive analysis of the visual culture of the period and a vivid description of social life in medieval China.

    The original Zhai Family Cave pictures were painted over in the tenth century and remained hidden until the early 1940s. Once exposed, the early artwork appeared fresh and colorful in comparison with other Tang paintings at Dunhuang. The relatively fine condition of the Zhai Family Cave is crucial to our understanding of the original pictorial program found there and offers a unique opportunity to investigate the visual details of the original paintings and sculptures in the cave. At the same time, the remaining traces of reconstruction and redecoration provide a new perspective on how, for over three centuries, a wealthy Chinese clan used its familial cave as a political showcase.

    color & b/w illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6149-0
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Map of the Silk Road
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. Chronology of the Mogao Caves
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Buddhism and Buddhist art occupied an extremely important position in the culture and society of the Tang dynasty (618–907 C.E.), a period often referred to as the golden age of Chinese civilization. The vast number of Buddhist monuments surviving today provides us with the opportunity to understand the glorious and complex visual culture of this great period in Chinese history. The largest remaining site containing the most diverse examples of Chinese Buddhist art is the cave-temple complex Mogaoku (Mogao caves), more popularly known as the Dunhuang caves. Mogaoku is in the desert near the modern town of Dunhuang, Gansu...

  9. Chapter One Iconography of the Original Early Tang Paintings: A Reexamination
    (pp. 11-63)

    In the early years of the Tang dynasty, Dunhuang, Tang China’s westernmost territory, was politically unstable. Local warlords rebelled several times and challenged Tang authority. At the time of the fall of the Sui (581–618 C.E.) and the rise of the Tang dynasty, the small kingdom of Liang in the Hexi corridor (the western part of present-day Gansu Province) was destroyed. As a result Dunhuang, which had been a part of the Liang kingdom, became a part of the Tang empire in 619, the second year of the reign of the first Tang emperor, Gaozu. Dunhuang came under the...

  10. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter Two Reconstruction: Historical Layers of the Zhai Family Cave
    (pp. 64-105)

    In the preceding chapter, I focused on the iconographies of the original early Tang paintings and carefully examined the motifs depicted on the north, south, east, and west walls of the Zhai family cave. These paintings, I believe, express the political ideology and religious feeling of the early Tang patrons. However, this cave was repeatedly redecorated and expanded by later generations of the same clan according to new sociopolitical circumstances and for shaping the public image of this prominent clan.

    That the Zhai family cave has been redecorated several times is well known. However, Fujieda Akira is the only scholar...

  12. Chapter Three Historical and Cultural Values of the Zhai Family Cave
    (pp. 106-134)

    This case study of the original pictorial program of the Zhai family cave and its reconstruction history suggests that the meaning and function of the cave are closely tied to the religious, political, and social changes within the local context. If research is limited to using only Buddhist scriptures to explain the paintings and sculptures in the cave, or if energy is concentrated solely on describing the formal features of the artwork, a full understanding of this important cave-temple cannot be achieved.

    In the first two chapters, attention was paid to the political intentions of the original pictorial program and...

  13. Appendix One Illustrations of the Bhaiṣajya–guru Sūtra in the Mogao Caves
    (pp. 135-136)
  14. Appendix Two Illustrations of the Western Paradise in the Mogao Caves
    (pp. 137-138)
  15. Appendix Three Illustrations of the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra in the Mogao Caves
    (pp. 139-140)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 141-154)
  17. List of Chinese Characters
    (pp. 155-160)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 161-170)
  19. Index
    (pp. 171-178)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-185)