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Local Monuments, Local Narratives: The Emergence and Development of Buddhist Rock Carvings in Northern Sichuan, 618-907 CE

Yang, Xiao

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This dissertation examines the emergence and development of Buddhist grottoes in Northern Sichuan 四川, southwestern China, during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). The discussion centers on twelve rock carvings sites scattered in Guangyuan 廣元, Mianyang 綿陽, Bazhong 巴中, Nanchong 南充, Guang’an 廣安, and Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture 阿垻藏族羌族自治州, marking the early traces of Buddhist grottoes in this area. This dissertation aims to move the discussion of these sites beyond the present discourse of central-peripheral dichotomy by focusing on the construction of the sites in their physical and social contexts. By employing an interdisciplinary approach using archaeological, art historical and historical geographical research methods to examine these sites, I have been able to reconstruct the generation of Buddhist sites within the dynamic complex web of influences both local and external, past and present from which these sites emerged. In so doing it gives a voice to Buddhist material culture of local monuments in the local perspective and also to regional social histories recorded in the grottoes which has hitherto been silenced by the over-arching narrative of “Localization”. It is herein argued that Buddhist grottoes in Northern Sichuan are not a derivation of the monumental sites in Northern China, but a varying combination of elements from the three most important types of Buddhist material culture in medieval China: the construction of Buddhist grottoes in the Northern Dynasties (386-581 CE), the sculptural art style of the Southern Dynasties (420-589 CE), and the “Tang Metropolitan Art Style” of the Tang dynasty. The earliest group of Buddhist sites in this area follows the practice of constructing niche-based grottoes through collective patronage which originated from Northern China during Northern Dynasties, while the carvings themselves follow the Buddhist artistic tradition of the Southern Dynasties centered in Chengdu, Sichuan. The agents of this integration were migrant monks fleeing civil unrest and government officials who had been assigned to this area from the north in the early seventh century. From the end of the seventh century to the mid-eighth century, the new metropolitan style of the Tang dynasty, which originally developed as a regional art style in Chang’an 長安 and Luoyang 洛陽, became an important new element in the Buddhist art of Northern Sichuan. The adoption and adaption of these external influences was not passive. The importance of the local as an active agency is highlighted by the differentiation in the rock carvings in the two regional centers, Guangyuan and Bazhong. Although to date the difference between these two centers has generally been explained as being a direct consequence of the two different roads linking Chengdu to Chang’an and Luoyang, it is herein argued that the asymmetric development appears to have resulted not only from the temporal-spatial variation in the matrix of Buddhist art but also from their different attitudes and responses past-present and internal-external influences.

Document type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Fraser, Prof. Dr. Sarah E.
Place of Publication: Heidelberg
Date of thesis defense: 10 March 2021
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2021 06:57
Date: 2021
Faculties / Institutes: Philosophische Fakultät > Zentrum für Ostasienwissenschaften (ZO)
Philosophische Fakultät > Institut für Kunstgeschichte Ostasiens
DDC-classification: 720 Architecture
950 General history of Asia Far East
Controlled Keywords: Buddhist monuments, the Sichuan area, Localization
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