Chinese Monumental Art

Chinese Monumental Art

Chinese Monumental Art

Chinese Monumental Art

Excerpt

A great many of the finest examples of monumental art in China owe their creation to Buddhist inspiration. For this reason it might be helpful by way of introduction to examine the way in which Buddhism was adapted by the Chinese and into what cultural tradition, as well as very briefly to describe the nature of Buddhism itself.

The monuments of China reproduced in this book span a period of two thousand years. They are the products of one of the world's most individual cultures. In the history of civilization such independent cultural systems are comparatively few; they include the ancient Near East, Egypt, pre-Columbian South America, Europe, India and China. Of them all, the Chinese shares with the Indian the longest unbroken tradition. Of the two, that of China has on the whole been least influenced by other cultures. The material remains of China's past give evidence of prodigious vitality, resilience and refinement. Whatever it created has the unmistakable imprint of its genius.

Chinese civilization grew up in isolation and accepted little from beyond its natural boundaries, except for the one major impact which came from India. A large part of this book is concerned with Indian influence on Chinese art, of artistic, religious and philosophical ideas from a land which had developed a fundamentally different way of life and thought, because it was from India that Buddhism came to China. In this respect China was for a time a country invaded by religious missionaries, but the Chinese solved the problems created by the arrival of Indian culture with Buddhism in their own particular manner!

However, the influence on China of Indian Buddhism and all the traditions to which it was heir is only part of a long history--in fact it occupies at most only one thousand of about four thousand years of unbroken civilization in this centre of the Far East. In order to understand Chinese non-Buddhist art as well as their remarkable Buddhist monuments, it is important to consider briefly some of the fundamentals of Chinese artistic thought, to map out some of the underlying aspects and principal . . .

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