New Cambria Press Publication: Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism

Cambria Press is pleased to announce a new publication Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism: Visualizing Enlightenment at Baodingshan from the 12th to 21st Centuries by Karil J. Kucera.

This book will be launched at the upcoming 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Seattle.


The following are excepts from the book, which includes 159 color images:

The earliest image made of Baodingshan dates to 1873 where it is shown as one of seven sites in the county gazetteer. This nineteenth-century depiction is of interest to this study as much for what it doesn’t show as for what it does.


One of the most striking images within Great Buddha Bend is the colossal Revolving Wheel of the Six Paths or Wheel of Rebirth. A rare three-dimensional depiction of what was a painted image at other sites, the Wheel of Rebirth bridges ritual activities of the lay community and those of the monastic establishment at Baodingshan.

Baodingshan Wheel of Rebirth

The idea that Baodingshan was centered on Esoteric doctrine, as Howard and others have argued, makes little sense when the site as a whole is considered and none at all when Esoteric practice is the goal. Although a portion of the site includes Esoteric deities, the overall ethos of the site is not Esoteric, but a synthesis of a variety of Buddhist philosophies.

Baodingshan Esoteric doctrine

At Baodingshan, no longer is the audience simply privy to the Buddha’s written inner thoughts within the jātaka tales; thanks to the image, they are physically present to witness his actions. With the dialogue construct, the worshipper is present at the conversation, joining in with the ahistorical masses to hear the Buddha tell his story.

Baodingshan Buddha

One feature of the Kindness of Parents text is its underlying erotic aspect,… the gilded breasts of the mother focus the worshipper’s attention on the importance of the transaction taking place, making them signifiers for a debt that could not easily be repaid.

Baodingshan Kindness of Parents

Scattered throughout Baodingshan, these writings add another layer of meaning to the site, presenting text as image of a different sort. These works not only represent an image of power, seen by the uneducated as marks of immortality made by the educated elite, they also represent an image of time passed. “Time passed” by men of a certain amount of leisure who saw it as their duty to remark upon who they were, why they came, and what they thought of the sites and sounds of Baodingshan.

Baodingshan immortality

The designation of Baodingshan as a World Heritage Site added a new layer of meaning and a new way of reading the works. … Moving beyond the linear historical narrative of the site, Baodingshan becomes part of a universal framework, transcending time, sharing in a global meta-narrative.

Baodingshan World Heritage Site

Watch the video with Dr. Karil Kucera discussing her book.

Learn more about the book and recommend it.

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