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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Unfurled and Unfolded: East Asian Buddhist Manuscript Cultures
3: Translating Bodies, Scripts, and Material Practice: Nuancing Appropriation and Soft Power in an Eighteenth-century Cultural Miscellany
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
The University of Arizona, United States
Images of Tibetan Buddhist practice produced in China reveal complex dynamics of exchange, appropriation, and translation that have become increasingly crucial to address in the contemporary climate of Xi Jinping’s policies on “Sinicization of Religion.” This paper responds to the need for a more nuanced vocabulary for describing images of Tibetan Buddhist practice produced in the Chinese courtly context. In analyzing modes of representing Tibetan Buddhism in the form of scripts, objects, buildings, and bodies within a cultural miscellany printed in eighteenth-century Beijing, it paves the way for new conversations on plurality in the Qing Buddhist imaginaire.
This xylograph manuscript, entitled “Numerous Letters and Drawings of India and China, Kashmir, Nepal and Mongolia,” [Tib. Rgya dkar nag rgya ser ka smi ra bl bod hor gyi yi ge dang dpe ris rnam grangs mang ba bzhugs so] is a collection of scripts and images of ritual implements, monastic rules, temple architecture, surgical implements, and tantric bodily practices. The creator of this album has been identified as Ngag dbang blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan (1770-1845), a Mongolian Buddhist master who travelled between Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and the Qing court. He was a student of the Qianlong emperor’s guru, Lcang skya rol pa’rdo rje and performed a long-life ceremony for the emperor years after that imperial guru’s passing. This paper reveals how the context for producing and using the cultural miscellany suggests new directions for exploring how Tibetan Buddhism has been collected, curated, translated, and reimagined in China.