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Empire of Emptiness

Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China

Patricia Berger
Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    Empire of Emptiness
    Book Description:

    "The first complete translation of one of Candrakirti's major works into precise and readable English is a masterful achievement that might well encourage further collaboration between Western and Tibetan scholars. This is a contribution to be applauded."-Journal of Religion

    "Huntington's philosophical interpretation . . . is argued with force and clarity. It corrects (with panache) many of the misinterpretations of Madhyamika still current among Anglophone writers."-Journal of the American Oriental Society

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6236-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Raining Flowers
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1753, Hongli, the Qianlong emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, had himself painted into the role of Buddhism’s greatest layman, the Licchavi merchant Vimalakīrti (Plate 1). The artist, a court painter named Ding Guanpeng, took no chances with this important commission. He chose a composition that had been in use since as early as the fifth century to illustrate the sutra in which Vimalakīrti takes a starring role: theVimalakīrti-nirdeśa(Teachings of Vimalakīrti). Like many other early illustrations of the story, Ding’sBu’er tu(“Not Two,” or “Nonduality Picture”) seats the savant merchant Vimalakīrti on the right facing his...

  5. Chapter 1 Like a Cloudless Sky
    (pp. 14-33)

    In 1773, Jean Joseph Marie Amiot sent another in a long series of letters from the Jesuit mission in Beijing to Henri Bertin, noted sinophile and minister to the French king Louis XV. In his report, Father Amiot documented the return two years earlier of the entire Torghut Mongol tribe to the Qing empire, after more than a century in Russia, and the arrival of their leader Ubasi at the Qing summer retreat in Chengde. “The emperor,” he wrote, “had foreseen that this would come about one day; why should he not have been infused with every joy when he...

  6. Chapter 2 When Words Collide
    (pp. 34-62)

    Two imposing octagonal pavilions dominate the east and west sides of the third courtyard of the Yonghegong, the Palace of Harmony in Beijing, which, in 1744, was rededicated as a center specifically for Mongolian practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. The pavilions tightly contain two massive, rectangular steles that present one message four times: an edict composed by the Qing Qianlong emperor to celebrate the reuse of his father’s palace (and his own birthplace) as a “Jetavana Garden,” or Buddhist monastery.¹ Rendered in the four official languages of the Qing empire—Manchu and Chinese to the east, Mongolian and Tibetan to the...

  7. Chapter 3 Artful Collecting
    (pp. 63-82)

    Sometime in the 1750s, if his still youthful face is reliable evidence, Qianlong had Giuseppe Castiglione and his associates paint him in the role of a connoisseur of the arts (Plate 9). The portrait was intended as a clever triple entendre that played on both language and images. The emperor appears seated in a garden, surrounded by objects from his many collections, as an attendant unfurls a hanging scroll before him for his appreciation. Castiglione’s bland but pristine technique allows us to see that the scroll is none other than the Ming-dynasty master Ding Yunpeng’s version ofWashing the Elephant...

  8. Chapter 4 Remembering the Future
    (pp. 83-123)

    I have been arguing that the accounting of the imperial collection of religious art was designed from the outset to answer specific ideological needs. These included (but were by no means confined to) an initial desire to present the collection as a microcosmic embodiment of the empire as a whole, where two distinctive religious systems, Buddhist and Daoist, were combined under a single rubric. But the technologies of catalog production were intimately tied to a specifically Chinese system of selection, judgment, and connoisseurship that traditionally put religious pictures, calledxiangor “images,” with all the implications of representing authentic vision,...

  9. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  10. Chapter 5 Pious Copies
    (pp. 124-166)

    “Derivative” is a term often applied to the arts of the Qing court, sometimes in the same sentence as “formulaic.” But these value-laden words suggest that Chinese imperial art, indeed the bright flowering of Chinese imperial culture, stagnated after the Manchu conquest in 1644 and that the Manchus added little to what they appropriated except overblown taste and an ego-driven enthusiasm for misplaced written commentary. This perception of Qing court culture has also been used in the West to prop up the essentialist notion that China is eternal and unchanging, mired in the past, and incapable of the extensive cultural...

  11. Chapter 6 Resemblance and Recognition
    (pp. 167-198)

    The Tenth Panchen Lama of Tibet delivered what would be his last discourse from his monastic seat at Tashilunpo on January 17, 1989. Caught between China’s Communist government and his traditional, always politically sensitive, role in Tibet, he focused on his lineage’s close ties to China and conspicuously chose to speak in the idiom of the Beijing regime:

    The Panchen Erdenis have historically loved the ancestral land. They have made a series of outstanding contributions to the great enterprise of safeguarding its unification, including both the unity of all the peoples and the internal unity of the Tibetan people. To...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 199-232)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 233-238)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-252)
  15. Index
    (pp. 253-266)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-271)