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Empire of Emptiness

Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China

Patricia Berger

Publication Year: 2003

“The first complete translation of one of Candrakirti's major works into precise and readable English is a masterful achievement that might well encourage further collaboration between Western and Tibetan scholars. This is a contribution to be applauded.” —Journal of Religion

“Huntington's philosophical interpretation . . . is argued with force and clarity. It corrects (with panache) many of the misinterpretations of Madhyamika still current among Anglophone writers.” —Journal of the American Oriental Society

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

The origins of this book lie in Mongolia, where I first traveled in 1991 with my good friend and colleague Terese Bartholomew, curator of Himalayan art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. We were on a self-propelled mission to persuade the newly democratic Mongolian government to allow us to organize an exhibition of their national treasures, which eventually opened at the Asian...

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Introduction: Raining Flowers

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pp. 1-13

In 1753, Hongli, the Qianlong emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, had himself painted into the role of Buddhism’s greatest layman, the Licchavi merchant Vimalakīrti (Plate 1). The artist, a court painter named Ding Guanpeng, took no chances with this important commission. He chose a composition that had been in use since as early as the fifth century to illustrate the sutra in which...

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Chapter 1. Like a Cloudless Sky

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pp. 14-33

In 1773, Jean Joseph Marie Amiot sent another in a long series of letters from the Jesuit mission in Beijing to Henri Bertin, noted sinophile and minister to the French king Louis XV. In his report, Father Amiot documented the return two years earlier of the entire Torghut Mongol tribe to the Qing empire, after more than a century in Russia, and the arrival of their leader Ubasi at the Qing...

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Chapter 2. When Words Collide

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pp. 34-62

Two imposing octagonal pavilions dominate the east and west sides of the third courtyard of the Yonghegong, the Palace of Harmony in Beijing, which, in 1744, was rededicated as a center specifically for Mongolian practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. The pavilions tightly contain two massive, rectangular steles that present one message four times: an edict composed by the Qing Qianlong...

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Chapter 3. Artful Collecting

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pp. 63-82

Sometime in the 1750s, if his still youthful face is reliable evidence, Qianlong had Giuseppe Castiglione and his associates paint him in the role of a connoisseur of the arts (Plate 9). The portrait was intended as a clever triple entendre that played on both language and images. The emperor appears seated in a garden, surrounded by objects from his many collections, as an attendant unfurls a hanging...

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Chapter 4. Remembering the Future [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 83-123

I have been arguing that the accounting of the imperial collection of religious art was designed from the outset to answer specific ideological needs. These included (but were by no means confined to) an initial desire to present the collection as a microcosmic embodiment of the empire as a whole, where two distinctive religious systems, Buddhist and Daoist, were combined under a single rubric...

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Chapter 5. Pious Copies

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pp. 124-166

“Derivative” is a term often applied to the arts of the Qing court, sometimes in the same sentence as “formulaic.” But these value-laden words suggest that Chinese imperial art, indeed the bright flowering of Chinese imperial culture, stagnated after the Manchu conquest in 1644 and that the Manchus added little to what they appropriated except overblown taste and an ego-driven enthusiasm for...

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Chapter 6. Resemblance and Recognition

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pp. 167-197

The Tenth Panchen Lama of Tibet delivered what would be his last discourse from his monastic seat at Tashilunpo on January 17, 1989. Caught between China’s Communist government and his traditional, always politically sensitive, role in Tibet, he focused on his lineage’s close ties to China and conspicuously chose to speak in the idiom of the Beijing...


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pp. 199-231


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pp. 233-237


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pp. 239-251


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pp. 253-266

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About the Author

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p. 267

Patricia Berger is an associate professor in the Department of the History of Art, University of California, Berkeley, after spending many years as curator of Chinese Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. She is co-author, with Terese Bartholomew, of Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan (1995), a contributor to Latter Days of the Law: The Chinese Transformation of Buddhist Art...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862367
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825638

Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 52859385
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Empire of Emptiness

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Subject Headings

  • Art, Chinese -- Ming-Qing dynasties, 1368-1912.
  • Art and state -- China -- History.
  • Buddhist art and symbolism -- China.
  • Buddhist art -- China.
  • Buddhism -- China -- Tibet Autonomous Region -- Influence.
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