Volume I of this series studied the Buddhist art of the Han, Three Kingdoms and Western Chin periods in China as well as the art of Western Central Asia and the Southern Silk Road from Kashgar to the kingdom of Shan-shan from around the 1st to the 5th century A.D. This volume continues the study of the early Buddhist art of China and Central Asia by focusing in Part I on the art from the region of South China during the Eastern Chin (317-420) and from various dynasties of the North during the so-called period of the Sixteen Kingdoms (317-439), excepting that from the area of Kansu, which will be covered in Volume III. Part II turns to Eastern Central Asia, addressing sites of the Northern Silk Road mainly during this early period from ca. 3rd century into the 5 century, specifically those of Tumshuk, Kucha and Karashahr, each of which is a major site, with Kucha being the largest of the group. From the study presented it is clear that there is considerable vital contact between this area of Eastern Central Asia and the regions of both North and South China, not the least of which is the momentous connection afforded by the bringing of Kumārajīva from Kucha to China, first to Kansu and then to Ch'ang-an, during the later decades of the 4th century and early years of the 5th century.
The volume begins in one of China's darkest moments at the end of the Western Chin (265-317) and the flight of thousands to the South in refuge from the conquests of the “barbarian” ethnic groups which boldly and often violendy acquired and ruled the North in a series of kingdoms or dynasties until the T'o-pa Wei's conquest of the North in 439 A.D. During this period, known as one of political disunion, Buddhism not only survives but apparently grows with quite extraordinary momentum, despite often being submerged or entangled in the volatile political circumstances of the times. Through all this, foreign monks continue to come to China, such as Śrīmitra and Buddhabhadra, and China itself produces its first truly great Buddhist masters and leaders, such as Taoan, Hui-yüan and Chu Seng-lang. Elements of the many complex strands of this challenging yet invigorating time will be presented, but the primary intent will be to piece together the Buddhist art from studying the written records and actual surviving works, both in China and in Central Asia. Priority is given to understanding the local, regional conditions and art, and to the sources and inter-regional aspects involved in the art. It is only from taking a comprehensive approach, that is, in taking account of the historical and religious conditions as well as the archaeological and art historical materials . . .