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May 22, 2017

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Celebrating Buddha’s teachings

BUDDHISM’S spread through China was attributed to Emperor Hanming in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It is said that he saw in a dream a god whose body had the brilliance of the sun flew to his palace. A scholar told him that god must be Buddha from India.

Then the emperor sent an envoy to Tianzhu (India) to inquire about the teachings of Buddha. Buddhist scriptures were sent back to China with two Indian monks.

Buddhism spread and evolved into one of the main religions in the country. Millions of devout believers worshipped Buddha and built temples across China.

It finally melded with Chinese culture and became an epitome of the country. Buddhism has deeply influenced a wide variety of areas including art, architecture, medicine, philosophy and literature.

The West Lake Gallery is displaying 120 Buddhism figurines ranging from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-581) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The first section showcases antiques from the Southern and Northern Dynasties, when Buddhism figurines began to be worshiped widely.

Artisans were inclined to use metal, through which they aimed to showcase Buddha’s immortal body.

By then, hairstyles and costumes had already converted from Indian designs to Chinese style.

When Xianbei, a minority group in northern China, ruled the country, the figurines started to feature their ethnic characteristics.

At the same time, a new style figurine was created, which later became a popular design in Buddhist sculpture.

One of Buddha’s hands supported head and the elbow rested on a leg.

The Chinesization in figurines was thorough in the Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties.

Buddhism was prevalent in the then country and almost all of the Tang Dynasty emperors supported it. They dispatched envoys to fetch and translate Buddhist scriptures from Tianzhu.

Many important schools in Buddhism originated in China at the time. The religion thrived, and so did the sculpture.

The Tang-style sculptures have more vivid expressions and better-proportioned bodies. As chubbiness was favored over slimness then, the exhibits feature a plump face.

Also, body lines were smoother and often twisted into the shape “S.”

The costumes always covered with gauze and exquisite accessories. Generally, they presented much higher level of carving techniques.

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), sculptures started to be infused with Confucianism and Taoism.

Figurines became more realistic catering to popular aesthetics. Buddha became feminine, often sat on lotus-flower seat. Meanwhile, Budai Monk who symbolized happiness in the religion, popped up in the Song Dynasty.

In order to lower the weight of figurines, craftsmen created new techniques — coating a layer of lacquer on the clay sculpture, and then wrapping it with ramie fiber and then carved. In the end, they took the clay body out, only left the outside shell. Much like a mold.

In the Song Dynasty, there was a Dali Kingdom in modern-day Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces. The sovereign used the religion to rule the kingdom, during which elaborate figurines were created.

Three figurines from the Dali Kingdom are on display, carved with a layer of red lacquer and gilded with gold.

In Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha had three forms. Dipankara is said to have lived on Earth 100,000 years ago. Maitreya appears on Earth in the future achieving complete enlightenment.

Gautama Buddha is recognized by Buddhists as an enlightened teacher who attained enlightenment, and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering.

Siddhartha Gautama is the name of the Nepali man who became Buddha in Bodhi, in India.

The exhibition also features arhat figurines made in the Ming Dynasty. Other Buddhist traditions have used the term for people far advanced along the path of enlightenment, but who may not have reached enlightenment.


Date: Through June 25

Address: 25 Gushan Rd

Admission: Free


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