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In Session: On the Reception of Foreign Landscape Elements in Asia, with A Focus on Garden-Architecture Relationship
3: Buddhist Monastic Landscapes in Early Medieval China: Indian Sources and Their Transcultural Adaptations
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Medieval Chinese Buddhist monastic landscapes and their cultural ties with India received much less attention than their architectural counterparts. Through an examination of existing and archaeological sites in relation to literary records it becomes possible to interpret their conception and organization of water ponds, mountains, and groves, looking into their historical significance in the context of cultural interactions. The earliest monastic landscapes in China, as seen in the north by the sixth century, were typically fruitful groves and water tanks freely scattered around the built precinct of a monastery. They provided isolated places for meditation, food supply and irrigating fields that shared many characteristics of Indian landscape traditions. The pursuit of being in harmony with nature, a Chinese philosophical concept influential in the south, drove Buddhist elites to seek a new relationship between monastic architecture and landscape. This conceptual shift saw a prominent role of natural elements in shaping monastic spatial order, giving birth to mountain monasteries, garden-temples and cosmic monasteries through the fifth to sixth centuries. The research further traces the development of Pure Land landscape during which process the Indian water tanks obtained symbolic significance in Chinese textual and pictorial representations, and was eventually transformed into the sacred landscape in Heian Japan. In such ponds, landscape was treated equally important as architecture in portraying a heavenly picture of Amitabha’s Sukhāvatī. Grounding East Asia’s medieval landscape-making in the transcultural history, this study reveals how cultures could represent, translate, and transform foreign landscape ideas in spatial paradigms.