In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Buddhist Art and Architecture In China

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Image Archives

Buddhism Buddhist Art and Architecture In China
Karen S. Hwang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0071


Buddhist art has played a crucial role in the dissemination and development of Buddhism in China, which began in the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE). Rigorous scholarship on the works as objects of art, however, began only in the early 20th century, primarily by Japanese and Western scholars, who had access to Buddhist images in China and in their respective countries. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in 1949, important contributions have been made by Chinese scholars. Some of the best American scholars emerged while China’s doors were closed to the United States. These scholars moved the field forward with remarkable textual studies based on secondary documentation as well as on the limited body of visual material to which they had access. The early art historical scholarship focused on establishing a chronology of formal development; style and iconography were the primary tools for organizing the extant Buddhist works of art. Gradually, an increasing number of scholars shifted to more thematic studies, probing issues of form and meaning; patronage; word–image dynamics; ontological status of image as divine substitute, or representation; the relationship between ritual and art; and so on.

General Overviews

The subsections in this category—namely, Textbooks, Compendia, and Museum Resources—represent a broad spectrum of introductory-level resources. All items are recommended for beginners and advanced students alike, but many—especially the more recent publications—will prove surprisingly useful for specialists researching particular aspects of Chinese Buddhist art and architecture.

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