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  • Guoying Stacy Zhang

An Illuminating Exhibition on the Transmission of Buddhist Art at the Palace Museum in Beijing

The transmission of Buddhist art from India to China is a fascinating topic. Indeed, how did pious and profound art, along with a complex belief system, transform between two sophisticated civilizations over more than a millennium?

What we know about the Buddhist transmission today is mainly derived from texts preserved in Chinese, including travelogues by eminent monks, their biographies, and translated sutras. Nevertheless, as Erik Zürcher (1928–2008), author of The Buddhist Conquest of China, remarked, these materials reveal little about the ways in which visual representations were spread when Buddhism was introduced to China from India. The ongoing exhibition Across the Silk Road: Gupta Sculptures and their Chinese Counterparts during 400–700 CE at the Palace Museum in Beijing is a rare opportunity to view 56 Indian sculptures and 119 Chinese Buddhist sculptures presented all at once. The exhibition, which opened on 28 September, is intended to showcase the regional characteristics and diversity in the diffusion and development of Buddhist sculptural art within two countries respectively as well as across borders.

Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, 5th century, sandstone, 119 x 43 x 23 cm.

Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Image courtesy of the author

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