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HOME > Exhibition > Permanent Exhibition > Thematic display > Exhibition of Buddha Statues of Ancient China
Exhibition of Buddha Statues of Ancient China
Preface

Originating in ancient India in the sixth century BC, Buddhism was founded by Shakyamuni who was respectfully called the Buddha during the later ages, literally meaning the sage or the enlightener. 
Buddhism in China has a history of over 2,000 years. It was first introduced from the Western Regions (a vast area including what’s now Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia), and was gradually rooted in the Central Plains (comprising the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River). Historically the Buddha image - in a broad sense including various images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Arhats, the Protectors of the Faith, all the devas of heaven, and so on - had played a very important role in the process of transmitting the dharma by Buddhists. Early Buddhist art only borrowed the images of stupas, lotus flowers, bodhi trees, dharmachakras (wheels of the dharma) or foot-prints to indicate the existence and activities of the Buddha. In the first century AD, the Buddha-image art emerged from ancient India. The image of Buddha for worship exclusively didn’t appear in the interior of China until the period of the sixteen kingdoms (AD 301-460, mainly established by five minority nationalities in north China). The statues of Buddha in the collection of Liaoning Provincial Museum are mostly made of stone or bronze. Of them stone statues date from the Northern Dynasties (386-581) to the Sui-Tang period (581-907), whilst the gilded bronze ones boast a history spanning a long series of historical stages, from the sixteen kingdoms until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In general, these precious artworks embody the Han and Tibetan style respectively. They are gems of ancient Chinese art, constituting a significant part of our traditional national culture.


Unit One  The Buddha-image Art of Han Buddhism

Han Buddhism refers to the sect that prevailed in the interior of China and was disseminated via Chinese language. Over 2,000 years, under constant influence of Chinese culture, the Buddha-image art of Han Buddhism presented distinctive styles at different historical stages; for instance, the statues had an elegant bearing during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589), looked dignified in the Sui-Tang period, wore a natural expression in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), gave an appearance of being amiable in the Ming-Qing dynasties (1368-1911), hence evolving a unique mode of expression with Chinese characteristics. The development of the art form most vividly reflects the course of the Buddhist religion getting sinicized, and these statues in various postures are dazzling pearls in the gallery of ancient Chinese art.


Unit Two  The Buddha-image Art of Tibetan Buddhism


Prevalent mainly in the areas of Tibet and Mongolia, the Buddha-image art of Tibetan Buddhism covers a wide range of subjects, forming a sharp contrast with that seen in the Han region in style and embodying the distinctive religious pursuits and aesthetic conceptions of the Tibetan and Mongolian people. Subject to political and geographical influences, early Tibetan Buddha-image art bore many exotic features. Since the Yuan Dynasty when Tibet came under the jurisdiction of the central government, the Tibetan statues tended to have an air of the Han-styled ones. This shift of style can be best represented by large numbers of Buddha statues specially provided for the imperial court during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Such an evolutionary course from an aspect reflects the increasingly close political and cultural ties between Tibet and the interior of our country.

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