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  • Buddhist Stone Sutras in China, Shandong Province, Volume 2 ed. by Wang Yongbo and Claudia Wenzel
  • Bart Dessein (bio)
Wang Yongbo and Claudia Wenzel, editors. Buddhist Stone Sutras in China, Shandong Province, Volume 2. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag; Hangzhou: China Academy of Art Press. 2015. xi, 473 pp. Hardcover €154, isbn 978-3-447-10329-9.

The present volume, the second on cliff inscriptions in Shandong, is part of the outcome of the five-year research project “Chinese-German Cooperation in Research and Survey of Stone Sutras from the Northern Dynasties in Shandong” that was launched in 2004. The project was itself the result of a cooperative agreement between the Shandong Museum of the Art of Stone Carving and the Heidelberg Institute for East Asian Art History. While the first volume on Shandong is a study of the sites in Dongping and in Pingyin, that is, the area on the northwestern edge of the highlands around Lake Dongping, the present volume describes and studies the inscriptions on Mount Yi, Mount Tie, Mount Ge, and Mount Gang: four mountains around the present-day city of Zoucheng, the home of Mencius (372–289 b.c.e.), located at the base of the foothills to the southwest of the Shandong highlands, south of Qufu, and east of Jining city.

Mount Yi (discussed on pp. 43–83), the southernmost of the four sites, is engraved twice with the same passage of the Sutra on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Spoken by Mañjuśrī (Wenshuli suo shuo mohe bore boluomi jing; T.8.232), as well as with three historical inscriptions. These inform us that the inscriptions on Mount Yi were done between 564 and 572 and were inspired by the inscription work done at Mount Hongding, the most vast and most important site of the area of Lake Dongping, described in the first volume on Shandong of this series. That the inscriptions on Mount Yi were financed by lay donors who came from hundreds of miles away makes this site different from the Dongping site, where the donors are almost exclusively monks. Some of the inscriptions on Mount Yi were only discovered in 1834 and others even only in 1991, this despite the fact that the Mount Yi site accommodates a stele dated 219 b.c.e., commemorating the unification of the empire by the first emperor. This and the dating of the inscriptions hint at the seclusion and special devotedness to Buddhism also of laypeople in this erstwhile Confucian area starting from the sixth century.

The interest of the secular world in the religious world of Buddhism after the fall of the Han dynasty is corroborated in the evidence revealed on Mount Tie (pp. 84–189). The “Stone Hymn” that is engraved in Mount Tie and to which the volume dedicates a separate chapter (pp. 31–40) is especially important in this respect. The hymn describes how descendants of Kuang Heng, Great Minister of the Han, led a team to Zoucheng to make the inscriptions, a task which was completed in 579 and represented cooperation between the Kuang family and a monk calligrapher. The year 579 situates the carving immediately after the period in which Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou (r. 561–578) ordered the persecution of Buddhism, a policy he initiated in 573 and that, after the defeat of the [End Page 189] Northern Qi dynasty in 577, was extended into present-day Shandong. When Emperor Wu died in 578, the persecution came to an end. The carvings in Mount Tie can thus be interpreted as a statement of triumph after the persecution, anticipating the renewal of Buddhism under Emperor Wen of the Sui, who seized power in 581. The “Stone Hymn” also refers to Mount Yi and Mount Tai. As these mountains contain a stele that commemorates the unification of the empire under the first emperor, the message the hymn reveals appears to be that the region is now reunited in a Buddhist realm (p. 110). This interpretation is corroborated in the choice of the sutra passage that is engraved on Mount Tie: a part of the fifth chapter (Chapter on the Bodhisattva of Ocean-like Wisdom; Haihui...


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