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Building a Sacred Mountain

The Buddhist Architecture of China's Mount Wutai

by Wei-Cheng Lin

Publication Year: 2014

Published by: University of Washington Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Chronology of Chinese Dynasties

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pp. xi-xiv

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introduction. Early Buddhist Monastic Architecture in Context

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pp. 1-18

Mountain cults in China may have developed long before the creation of the written word.1 Since antiquity, mountains were thought to embody the mythical and primordial power and energy that created cosmological order, structured geographical hierarchy, and sanctioned political authority. Soaring between heaven and earth, mountains...

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One. Building the Monastery, Locating the Sacred Presence

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pp. 19-58

In 248 ce, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220–65), a monk of Sogdian ancestry named Kang Senghui (d. 280) arrived in Jianye, present-day Nanjing, the capital of the Wu Kingdom in the south. Buddhism was not yet popular then in southern China, and Kang, determined to establish the practice there, “built a hermitage, set up...

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Two. Entering the Mountains, Localizing the Sacred Presence

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pp. 59-96

In 645, in a dedicatory prayer to Mount Heng (Hengshan), the Northern Sacred Peak, Emperor Taizong (r. 626–49) wrote:
The dignified peak of the sacred mountain [lingshan] that extends across the northern wilderness marks the most extraordinary [landscape]. Beasts roar and dragons ascend where wind and rain...

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Three. The Sacred Presence in Place and in Vision

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pp. 97-118

Vision was critical in Mount Wutai’s conversion into a Buddhist sacred site. Traditionally in China, great mountains were admired foremost for their towering height. The renowned Sacred Peaks (Yue) were eulogized in a poem from the...

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Four. Mediating the Distance to Mount Wutai

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pp. 119-138

Around the end of the seventh century, Mount Wutai underwent a critical transition: the occult vision of the divine, icons, topography, and architecture all changed, decisively shifting the focus from the mountains to the bodhisattva. As its unique characteristics were construed as “traces” and “signs” of the divine presence associated...

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Five. Reconfiguring the Center

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pp. 139-162

In 766, Amoghavajra (705–74), the master of the Esoteric Buddhism —Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place (Mijiao) school at court, petitioned the emperor Daizong (r. 762–79) in a memorandum to support the building of a monastery, called Monastery of the Golden Pavilion ( Jin’gesi), at Mount Wutai:...

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Six. Narrative, Visualization, and Transposition ofMount Wutai

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pp. 163-202

In the years after the death of Amoghavajra, the dominance of Esoteric Buddhism at Mount Wutai began to wane,1 but this did not reduce Mount Wutai’s importance as a national pilgrimage site. From the last year of Emperor Daizong’s reign in 779 to the persecution initiated by Emperor Wuzong (r. 840–46) in 845, the number of eminent...

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Conclusion. Revisiting Foguang Monastery

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pp. 203-210

Monastic architecture in early Chinese Buddhism was not a readily defined category of architecture, nor was its discussion and understanding limited to structural aspects. Serving an initially foreign religion as a place of divinity, monastic architecture in China developed as the belief and its practice evolved and became integrated in the religious...

Appendix 1. The Creation Legend of the True-Presence Icon of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī at Huayan Monastery

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pp. 211-214

Appendix 2. Transcription and Translation of the Inscription on the Dongzhang Stone Lantern

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pp. 215-218

Appendix 3. Transcriptions of Key Passages from Chinese Texts Used in This Study

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pp. 219-220

Conventions and Abbreviations

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pp. 221-222


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pp. 223-268


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pp. 269-282


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pp. 283-316

List of Illustrations

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pp. 317-320


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pp. 321-329

E-ISBN-13: 9780295805351
E-ISBN-10: 0295805358
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295993522
Print-ISBN-10: 0295993529

Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Wutai Mountains (China) -- History.
  • Buddhist architecture -- China -- Wutai Mountains.
  • Buddhist monasteries -- China -- Wutai Mountains.
  • Buddhism and culture -- China -- Wutai Mountains.
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