China Magnificent: Five Thousand Years of Chinese Art

By Dagny Carter | Go to book overview

IX
CAVE TEMPLES

THE epoch-making new idea which came to Chinese art with Buddhism was its glorification of the human body as the dwelling place of the divine and the importance which this new idea gave to the individual.

Until the coining of Buddhism the individual's part in the universe had been considered by the Chinese unimportant and finite, as compared to the succession of the race as a whole and to the infinite eternal elements in nature. In the Chinese life-conception, man became significant as a part of a greater whole, family, clan, cause or as a particle of the universe itself.

In contrast to this Chinese conception, Buddhism, influenced by Hellenistic art in its early years in India, found through the centuries its chief artistic expression in the human body. Mountain caves became sacred shrines where the praise of Buddha was painted on the walls and hewn in the rocks in scenes from the sacred life. Like a flood of light, the new faith surged up through Central Asia, carried by fervent missionaries through the desert oases to the Chinese border.

Several small kingdoms founded by invading nomadic tribes in the North from the fourth to the sixth century of our era, became the gateway for this intense Buddhist propaganda from without. A consolidated indigenous China with Confucianism in the saddle would probably never so completely have embraced the negative, world-renouncing Buddhist faith, so foreign to the rational, intellectual Confucian mind. The political disintegration and turmoil of these centuries became Buddhism's great opportunity.

The various nomadic tribes, who, during these centuries, had almost complete control of China north of the Yangtze River, had themselves

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China Magnificent: Five Thousand Years of Chinese Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Part One - Graves and Altars 1
  • I - Stone-Age Graves And Prehistoric Sites 3
  • II - Feudal China 11
  • III - Nomad Invasions 27
  • IV - The Empire Builder 41
  • V - Imperial Expansion 49
  • VI - The Graves of the Sons of Han 59
  • Part Two - Temples and Palaces 73
  • VIII - The Dark Ages 83
  • IX - Cave Temples 95
  • X - The Glory That Was T'Ang 109
  • XI - The Art of the T'Ang Era 117
  • XII - Artistic Fulfilment 135
  • Part Three - Shops and Marts 153
  • XIII - Conquered China 155
  • XIV - Ming Nationalism 165
  • XV- The European Expansion and China 181
  • XVI - The Manchus 191
  • Bibliography 209
  • Index 217
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