The "Lion and Kunlun Slave" Image:A Motif of Buddhist Art Found in Unified Silla Funerary Sculpture*
This paper explores two main issues. The first issue is the Southeast Asian figure of the Kunlunnu 崑崙奴 and the appearance of this figure in East Asian Buddhist art; specifically, how this figure is portrayed as the lion tamer of Mañjuśrī. The second concern is centered on examples of the "Lion and Kunlunnu" image that appear in the tombs of Unified Silla (676–935). Until now, the figure carved on the corner pillar of the Unified Silla royal tomb at Kujŏng-dong 九政洞 has been identified as a "Westerner with a polo stick." This paper proposes that the figure and the adjacent lion relief should be reinterpreted as a representation of the Buddhist image of the "lion and Kunlunnu" attendant of Mañjuśrī. Thus, this relief serves as an example of the close relationship between the sculpture of the Unified Silla royal tombs and Buddhist art.
"lion and Kunlunnu,", Mañjuśrī, Unified Silla dynasty, royal tombs, Buddhist art
There is a curious figure that appears in the visual repertoire of Buddhist art. In depictions of Mañjuśrī where the bodhisattva is portrayed astride a lion, an individual of distinct appearance leads the animal (Figure 1). This individual has dark skin, big eyes, wavy hair, and a large nose. Across that figure's upper body is a long piece of fabric draped diagonally while a sarong covers his lower body. Both of the individual's hands hold a stick with rounded ends that was presumably used to train or tame lions. The combination of "Mañjuśrī, lion, and tamer" is a scene that frequently appears in eighth-to ninth-century Chinese Buddhist art. However, it is the third character, the lion tamer, that is the primary focus of this article.
This study begins with questions regarding the identity and origin of the tamer. Furthermore, it will explore the iconographical aspects of this figure in the specific context of his portrayal in [End Page 153] images of of Mañjuśrī astride a lion. The figure has been identified as a "Kunlunnu 崑崙奴" or Kunlun slave, a reference to individuals who emigrated to China from Southeast Asia. However, although the term "Kunlun" is most closely associated with "Kunlunshan 崑崙山" (Mount Kunlun) situated in Central Asia, in the past it was a homonym used to describe a completely different region. Accordingly, it is also important to discover the connection between the terms "Kunlunshan" and "Kunlunnu," if any such connection even exists. Lastly, there is the matter of whether the Kunlunnu are historical or fictional figures who actually lived in ancient China. If the Kunlunnu did indeed exist, there is a need for subsequent queries into their exact place of origin within Southeast Asia, the motivation behind their emigration to China, and their role in ancient Chinese society.
Another element to consider is the fact that portrayals of the Kunlunnu are not limited to Chinese Buddhist art, but are found in Korean funerary art as well. Figures identical in appearance to the Kunlunnu are represented on the corner pillars of royal tombs dating to the Unified Silla dynasty (676–935) (Figure 2). Thus far, scholars have identified these figures as "Westerners with polo sticks" and interpreted their presence as a manifestation of different cultural elements such as jiqiu 擊毬—an ancient version of the game of polo—that were brought to the Unified Silla empire by foreigners from the West (Kwŏn Yŏngp'il 1997, 171; Min 2015, 135–38). Nonetheless, whether a "Westerner with a polo stick" or "Kunlunnu taming a lion," the figure depicted on the corner pillar of the Unified Silla dynasty royal tomb must be correctly identified. As this paper asserts that the latter identification is more likely, the most significant discussion point is determining the reason behind the introduction of a Buddhist image into the visual scheme of Unified Silla funerary art and its significance.
The "Kunlunnu" and their Emigration from Southeast Asia to China
The first question to address is whether the Kunlunnu found in Chinese Buddhist art are historical or fictional figures. According to Chinese historical records, there were people with "wavy hair and dark skin" known as Kunlun slaves from Southeast Asia. Such references can be found in several reliable texts, such as [End Page 154] Nanhai jigui Neifazhuan 南海寄歸內法傳 (A record of the Buddhist religion as practiced in India and the Malay archipelago), written by the Chinese monk Yijing 義淨 (635–713), Jiu Tangshu 舊唐書 (Old History of the Tang), completed in 945, and Xin Tangshu 新唐書 (New History of the Tang), completed in 1060. The three texts state that "all the people populating the region from Linyi 林邑 (Champa, central Vietnam) to the south have wavy hair and dark skin; they are known as Kunlun" (Taishō 54:2125.0205a18 NGN trans. Junjirō 1896, 14–18; Jiu Tangshu 197, 5271; Xin Tangshu 197, 5270). Additional references are found in the Tang poem "Kunluner 崑崙兒" by Zhang Ji 張籍 (circa 766–830), which describes the Kunlunnu as people "from Haizhongzhou 海中州 who wear gold earrings and have long wavy hair that is untied, dark skin, and an exposed upper body" (Quantangshi 全唐詩 385). The corresponding consistency between textual description and visual representation provides strong evidence in support of the positive identification of the foreign figure seen in Chinese Buddhist art as Kunlun—a claim that hitherto has not been refuted by any scholars (Liang 2004, 58–62; Ch'oe China 2007, 373–83).
By establishing that the Kunlun were indeed historical figures depicted in Chinese Buddhist art, the need for further information arises regarding several aspects: the exact geographical region of origin, motivations behind their emigration to China, their social status, and the Chinese perception of them.
As mentioned earlier, historical records described the "Kunlun" as people living in the region spanning from Linyi to the south. While Linyi is equivalent to present-day central Vietnam, ancient territories such as Funan 扶南 (southern Vietnam and Cambodia) and Langyaxiu 狼 牙修 (Langkasuka, Malaysia) made up the area to the south. Thus the geographically relevant region as defined by current cartography consists of central and southern Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia (Kang Heejung 2015, 34–35; Kwŏn Oyŏng 2017, 213–37). These same regions are embodied in Chinese portraits of foreign envoys, some of which include individuals with "wavy hair and dark skin." For example, subjects that display physical characteristics typical of the Kunlunnu are illustrated in the paintings Liang zhigong tu 梁職貢圖 (Exotic tributes of envoys in Liang) and Fanke ruchao tu 蕃客入朝圖 [End Page 155] (Foreign envoys arriving with tribute), which were completed in the early tenth century. As the regions represented by Kunlunnu figures are Langyaxiu in the former (Figure 3) and Linyi and Funan in the latter (Figure 4), the paintings serve as supporting evidence for the claim that the Kunlunnu hailed from Southeast Asia. Despite this, there are no indications that "Kunlun" was an independent nation or defined region, nor does it seem that these foreigners who were classified into a common category were a part of a specific community or society of people (Kang Heejung 2015, 48). Rather, as is evident in the previously discussed historical texts, the Tang Chinese used "Kunlun" as a general term to describe a minority ethnic group from Southeast Asia while "Kunlunnu" designated the individuals in the group who lived as slaves.
At the same time, the Tang Chinese were responsible for the confusion generated by the simultaneous application of "Kunlun" to both the mountain range of Central Asia and the foreign slaves who were members of Chinese society (Asanuma 1993, 67). After the Han dynasty, "Kunlunshan" emerged as the name of a mountain range 11,000 li 里 in height (Huainanzi 淮南子 4. Dixingxun 墬 形訓) located in the northwestern region of China where it was believed the immortal Xi Wangmu 西王母, the Queen Mother of the West, occupied the peak. By the Northern and Southern dynasties, the term "Kunlun," originally reserved to describe the far western region, was appropriated to also refer to the new foreigners with "wavy hair and dark skin" entering China from the South Sea. The coinciding use of the term "Kunlun" can be attributed to the widespread use of the family name "Gulong 古龍" which, according to Tongdian 通典 (Comprehensive statutes), was popular amongst many of the foreigners, including several kings (Tongdian 188, 5094), and had been assigned the Chinese transcription "Kunlun," as is recorded in ancient texts (Xin Tangshu 222, 6300). In such a way, the phonetic similarities between "Gulong" and "Kunlun," in combination with the shared mystical quality of both the western Kunlunshan and foreign Kunlun people, created a homonym with two distinct meanings that were often left undistinguished.
As for the route taken from Southeast Asia, the Kunlun people most likely used the then-active maritime Silk Road to enter Guangzhou 廣州. At this time, exchange between the two regions was lively and frequent, as is evidenced by the 125 delegations of envoys sent from Southeast Asia as official tribute missions to the Tang dynasty—all within a period spanning the Tang dynasty's establishment in 618 up until the last year of emperor Xuanzong's 玄宗 (r. 712–756) rule in 756 (Ch'oe Chaeyŏng 2009, 289–94). Further exchange also took place on a non-governmental or private level and reached a particularly large scale during the latter years of the Tang dynasty when trade operations with foreign entities were focused in southern port cities, such as Guangzhou and Yangzhou 揚州. Foreign products of all kinds filtered through these port cities and made their way into the hands of government officials and aristocrats who displayed their new possessions in private residences. Recasting the Kunlun people, who arrived along with these foreign products, into the role of slaves was yet another way for these influential men to demonstrate their wealth and power. Aside from the sale of Kunlun slaves, it was also a common occurrence for every nation in [End Page 156] Southeast Asia to offer Kunlunnu to kings. Some Kunlunnu accompanied official delegations to China but then settled down permanently after their arrival. Occasionally, clay models of the Kunlunnu were produced for burial in the royal tombs of kings (Figure 5). The fact that these clay models were excavated in tombs such as that of Zheng Rentai 鄭仁泰 (601–663) indicate that the Kunlunnu workforce in Tang China was not a small one. Zheng Rentai—a Tang dynasty general who was important enough to be interred in one of the auxiliary tombs of the Zhaoling 昭陵 burial ground of emperor Taizong 太宗 (r. 626–649)—was buried with a total of 466 clay models, though only one depicted a Kunlunnu (Shaanxisheng bowuguan 1972, 33–44). This particular model features physical characteristics typical of the Kunlunnu: wavy hair, a naked upper body, a long piece of fabric wrapped diagonally across the torso, and a lower body covered in a sarong. Whether it be a Tang dynasty novel about Kunlunnu being buried with a government official (Taiping guangji 太平廣記 339, 4370) or the frequently told story about the Kunlunnu's employment as slaves in aristocratic households (Taiping guangji 194, 2147), the cultural milieu of the time indicates that the use of Kunlun people as slaves was a typical albeit niche practice for the social elite of the Tang empire.
The Tang Chinese perception of the Kunlunnu is best determined by consulting contemporary texts such as Chuanqi 傳奇 (Tales of strange events) by Pei Xing (active ca. 860–880) or Taiping guangji (Extensive gleanings of the reign of great tranquility), a compilation of ancient Chinese tales published in 978 by Li Fang 李昉 and others. Both texts are widely known and include an abundance of material on the Kunlunnu and other related subjects. For example, there is the mystical tale of the Kunlunnu Mo Le 磨勒, who held unwavering loyalty to his master for over ten years and had an uncanny ability to appear and disappear according to his master's unspoken needs (Taiping guangji 194, 2147). The story of Mo Le was immensely popular among the Chinese and caught the attention of the public. Thus, it was common for the Tang Chinese to attribute mystical and perhaps even supernatural qualities to characters such as Mo Le and the Kunlunnu in general.
At the same time, the Kunlunnu were occasionally perceived negatively. In 684, a Kunlunnu murdered a government official in Guangzhou named Lu Yuanrui 路元睿. The perpetrator had a knife hidden in his sleeve, which he used to murder several people, including Lu, at a government office before fleeing the [End Page 157] scene of his crime (Jiu Tangshu 89, 2897; Xin Tangshu 4, 83). Through a series of such events, the Kunlunnu garnered a reputation for being not only mystical but also powerful, threatening, and even frightening. Yet other depictions referred to the foreign laborers as animal tamers who were adept at handling wild beasts, such as lions. The poem "Du xiucai hua lizoushuiniu ge 杜秀才畵立走水牛歌 (Song of the water buffalo drawing of a prodigy with the surname Du)" by Gu Kuang 顧 況 (estimated 727–815) states that "[in the drawing of a prodigy with the surname Du] the Kunlun man rides the white elephant and seizes the lion by the scruff of its neck" (Quantangshi 265, 26). Similar remarks are also found in explanations of Taipingyue 太平樂 or Shiziwu 師子舞, the music and dance of Tang dynasty palaces. One such excerpt states, "the one who leads the lion wears the attire of a Kunlun" (Jiu Tangshu 29, 1059). These references confirm that the Tang Chinese recognized the Kunlunnu as tamers who had knowledge of special techniques used to control lions and other ferocious beats.
A good reflection of the Tang Chinese perception of the Kunlunnu can be found in Yiqiejing yinyi 一切經音義 (Pronunciations and meanings in the Buddhist canon) compiled in 807 by Hui Lin 慧琳 (737–820). The portion applicable to the Kunlunnu is as follows:
They are foreign barbarians from an island in the South Sea. They have very dark skin and live in a naked state, easily dominating beasts, such as the water buffalo and elephants, into submission. They are a diverse people and frequently arrive by boat . . . all are poor and lowly. They do not know civility, plunder as a way of life, and enjoy a cannibalistic diet. Additionally, their language is improper, thus differentiating them from other foreign barbarians, and it is said that in water they do not die [even if submerged].(Yiqiejing yinyi Taishō 54:2128.0835c15)
It follows that the ancient Chinese people had a multi-faceted understanding of the Kunlunnu. Although the Kunlunnu were considered loyal slaves and a source of joy for their masters (Taiping guangji 339, 4370; Li Jiping 1982), they were also brave animal tamers capable of controlling beasts such as lions with their superior strength, and mystical beings who possessed otherworldly traits.
Images of the "Lion and Kunlunnu" in Buddhist Art
It has been established that the dark-skinned individual leading the lion transporting Mañjuśrī in the previously mentioned wall painting of Dunhuang Cave 196 (Figure 1) is a Kunlun slave or Kunlunnu from Southeast Asia. It is certainly curious that Mañjuśrī's lion tamer is synonymous with the slaves of the Tang dynasty wealthy—more so as it seems to have been an abrupt development. In other words, the figure of the lion tamer was not an original component of such works. Beginning from the mid-seventh century, the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra were assigned left-right placements alongside a lion and elephant, respectively (Kojima 1995, 43–59; Pak Hyŏngguk 2004, 1–25). The Kunlunnu were absent from these initial depictions and it was not until the late eighth century that they emerged as a lion or elephant tamer. One such example demonstrating [End Page 158] the addition is the wall painting of Dunhuang cave 148, dated to 776 (Figure 6). Here the Kunlunnu is present beside Mañjuśrī and holds the reins of the bodhisattva's lion. Just as in the aforementioned painting, the Kunlunnu has dark skin, a long piece of fabric draped diagonally over one shoulder, a lower body covered in a sarong, and several accessories that include earrings and a necklace, in addition to bracelets and anklets. An identical Kunlunnu also leads the elephant pictured on the right-hand side of the painting; the figure of the animal tamer is not restricted in representation to the lion.
Evidence supporting the foreign animal tamer's identification as Kunlunnu is present in several historical texts, though the most widely referenced is the Taiping guangji:
In 790, maidservant [to Lu Xu 盧頊] Xiaojin dreamt of an elderly man riding a large lion. The lion seemed to be carrying Mañjuśrī, but with a flutter of shining fur that passed so quickly that it could not be properly seen. Next to the lion holding its reins were two Kunlunnu.(Taiping guangji 340, 4376)
This excerpt clearly identifies the individuals holding the lion's reins as Kunlunnu. However, by the Tang dynasty, it was already understood that within the context of Buddhist art the Kunlunnu was a complementary figure to the lion in general—not only those accompanying Mañjuśrī. As stated in the text Lidai minghuaji 歷代名畵 記 (Record of famous paintings down through the ages) by Zhang Yanyuan 張彦遠 (circa 815–879):
Situated both inside and outside the main entrance of Jing'aisi 敬愛寺 [a temple built in Luoyang 洛陽 by Zhongzong 中宗 dedicated to his parents Gaozong 高宗 and Empress Wu Zetian 武則天] are two statues of Deva Kings, two statues each of lions and Kunlunnu, as well as a pair of jin'gang shenwang 金剛神王 (Vajra Kings), and four large lion statues, all made in clay by Dou Hongguo 竇弘果. (Lidai minghuaji 3 Jing'aisi) The subject of "lion and Kunlunnu" is represented in a variety of media that include the wall paintings of the Dunhuang and Yulin grottoes 榆林石窟 and extends to the sarira reliquary of Famensi Temple 法門寺 created in the ninth century (Figures 7 & 8). Across all media and in works [End Page 159] dating from the latter half of the eighth century up until the first half of the tenth century, the figure of a Kunlunnu always precedes the lion. In subsequent works, however, the figure of a Khotan 于闐 king replaces the Kunlunnu. This was a natural substitution parallel to the characterization of the Khotan as a ruler of lions capable of bringing the fierce beasts under his control in an instant(Im 2016b, 49−74).
Nonetheless, preceding this switch the lion tamer is portrayed exclusively as a Kunlunnu in depictions of Mañjuśrī, as in the case of the wall paintings located in Dunhuang Cave 17, dated from the late eighth to ninth century (Figure 9). Thus it is apparent that the combinative composition of "Mañjuśrī, lion and Kunlunnu" was a popular subject in Chinese Buddhist art of the ninth century.
Of the trio, the bestial component requires further study. As is already known, the animals represented by the East Asian sishen 四神 (four immortals) and shi'er zhi 十二支 (twelve zodiac animals) do not include the lion. This omission signifies that the lion was not an original member of traditional Chinese animal categories but rather a later addition. The Hou hanshu 後漢書 (History of the Later Han) dates this inclusion to the Later Han dynasty by way of the first official record [End Page 160] to contain references to lions in years 87 and 88, which describe the offering of lions as tribute in the regions Yuezhi 月支 and Anxi 安 息 (Parthia; Hou hanshu 3, 1580; 4, 1583).
The lion s from these western regions were absorbed into the Buddhist religion of India and soon became known as the "representative animal of Buddhism." Historical records frequently compare the form of Buddha to the lion, as is the case in Dazhidu lun 大智度論 (A commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra), which states, "The upper body of the Buddha resembles the dignity and solemnity of a lion" (Taishō 25: 1509.0681a02). Another such comparison is the "Buddha's two cheeks are similar to those of a lion" (Taishō 25: 1509.111a25). Furthermore, the seat of the Buddha was called the "lion seat" and the teachings of Buddha were described as the "voice of a lion" (Taishō 25: 1509.101a15). The lion was undoubtedly a creature of great significance in Buddhism, which is further evidenced by the abundance of research completed on the subject. However, the present paper is not concerned with the lion's general role in Buddhism but rather its presence in portrayals of Mañjuśrī, as it is in these depictions that the Kunlunnu also makes an appearance.
Historical records identify the figure leading the lion as a Kunlunnu—an idea further supported by the description of the Kunlunnu's attire in the text corresponding to that of the animal tamer as visually represented. In the Xin Tangshu, there are references to the Kunlunnu in their capacity as Tang dynasty musicians. In these excerpts, the Kunlunnu is either wearing a zhaoxiabu 朝霞布 wrapped around the shoulder and tied at the underarm, or various accessories. In both conditions, the text once again verifies the lion tamer's identity as a foreign slave or Kunlunnu:
All of the musicians are Kunlun people [with dark skin] who wear dark red cotton and cover their knees with a zhaoxiabu also known as a geman 裓襔. The zhaoxiabu covers both shoulders and is tied at the underarms. Rings and bracelets made of gold and precious jewels adorn their feet and arms.(Xin Tangshu 222, 6341; Xin Tangshu 1039)
Another version of the "Kunlun people" depicted in Buddhist art is the figure holding an incense burner (Figure 7, pictured on the left-hand side). If one were to [End Page 161] explore how the various versions of the Kunlunnu emerged in Buddhist art, there are two options to consider. The first is that the portrayals are realistic in nature and simply represent actual acts that the Kunlunnu performed, such as holding incense burners to guide worshipers or taming lions. The alternative explanation is that images of the Kunlunnu are connotative, meant to be interpreted as symbols rather than as an accurate description of their activities and function in society. As formerly stated, the Tang Chinese thought the Kunlunnu were in possession of a superior, almost supernatural, ability for taming lions and other creatures. This qualified the Kunlunnu as the best and possibly only candidates for leading and protecting the lion of Mañjuśrī—an animal representative of Buddhism. It was unimportant whether the Kunlunnu were followers of the Buddhist faith or not. Their transcendental and mystical strength is what caused the Tang Chinese to view the Kunlunnu as suitable guides and protectors of Mañjuśrī's lion.
Buddhist Images of the "Lion and Kunlunnu" in Unified Silla Funerary Sculpture
Interestingly enough, the Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu" also appears in Unified Silla funerary sculpture. The archetypal example is a four-sided pillar 73 centimeters in height and 31.5 centimeters in width. On one side is a figure of a man, while on an adjacent side of the same width there is a lion carved in relief (Figures 2 & 10-1, 2). The remaining two sides are absent of any carving and the top is slightly raised, which indicates that this particular example was used as a corner pillar.
This corner pillar was excavated from a rectangular tomb located in Kujŏngdong 九政洞 of southeast Kyŏngju Province where it was found in 1977 during construction work. After its discovery, the pillar was brought to the Gyeongju National Museum where it is still preserved today. Initially, the exact function of the pillar was unknown. However, the completion of construction allowed for subsequent studies of the site, which in combination with observations of the pillar's size, allowed scholars to determine that the object is a corner pillar for the right side of the Kujŏngdong rectangular tomb (Pak 1994, 2). The tomb itself is currently classified as Historic Site number 27 and is considered significant, as it is the only Unified Silla period tomb with a rectangular plan (Figures 11, 12 & 13). Another aspect that makes the Kujŏng-dong tomb distinctive is the carved corner pillar, as it is the only example known to date to have reliefs of both a figure and a lion existing simultaneously on a single pillar.
The corner pillar's site of [End Page 162] discover y was already well known in academic circles due to research performed by the Japanese Government-General of Korea during the latter half of the 1920s. The rectangular tomb of Kujŏng-dong was found during the Japanese colonial period along with most of the stonework that would have once surrounded the tomb. At the time of discovery, the ceiling portion of the stone chamber was exposed and the tomb had already been robbed. Fortunately, the excavators were still able to recover the coffin's gilt bronze decorations, buckle and horse ornaments made of silver, miscellaneous accessories, and other such items (Arimitsu 1936, 82). After a brief period of neglect, the tomb was restored to its present state in 1964 (Son 1965, 152–53). The tomb is relatively small with a length of 9.5 meters and a height of 2 meters. Each side contains three images of a zodiac animal deity for a total of twelve panels placed equidistant to one another (Figure 12). The interior of the tomb is comprised of an antechamber and main chamber (Figure 13). In 1977, the private homes in the tomb's vicinity were demolished and the pillar was unearthed during construction work on the drainage system. It was at this point in time that scholars determined the pillar to be one of the four corner pillars that were all decorated in the same manner (Pak 1994, 2).
Freestanding stone and lion statues are typically located within the general area of royal tombs or at the entrances of the burial mounds. In stark contrast, the Kujŏng-dong tomb displays its stone sculpture on the corner pillars in the form of reliefs. Although only one example of these pillars has survived, it is highly likely [End Page 163] that there were at least two corner pillars at the front of the structure and perhaps even a total of four identical pillars in each corner. It should be noted that there are no extant examples of royal tombs dating to the Unified Silla period with a structure that is identical to the Kujŏng-dong rectangular tomb—more specifically, in terms of its corner pillars and their reliefs. However, the typical Unified Silla period royal tomb is always guarded by four stone sculptures of both figures and lions placed in the vicinity of the tomb. Thus, a connection can be made to suggest that the corner pillars of the Kujŏng-dong tomb would have originally numbered four in total and that each pillar would have been decorated with reliefs of lions and figures. This suggested sculptural arrangement and its placement on four corner pillars is rather convincing, as it keeps the Kujŏng-dong tomb consistent with the other royal tombs of the same period. As discussed earlier, scholars have thus far identified the figure carved on the surviving corner pillar of Kujŏng-dong as a "Westerner with a polo stick" and interpreted his presence as a visual representation of the influx of Sogdians or other foreigners during the Unified Silla period (Kwŏn Yŏngp'il 1997, 171; Min 2015, 135–38). This analysis has faced little criticism and is still widely accepted today. It follows that the Kujŏngdong pillar and the stone statues in the royal tomb of King Wŏnsŏng are illustrative examples that demonstrate the exchange between the Unified Silla dynasty and the Western regions (Kwŏn Yŏngp'il 1997, 164–80; Figure 18, image to the left). Despite the established theory, this paper asserts that the figure pictured on the corner pillar is not a "Westerner with a polo stick" for the following reasons.
First, the stick held in the figure's hands is not long enough to be a polo stick or mallet, which typically has a length of about 150 centimeters (Figure 14). Apart from length, one end of a polo mallet curves at an angle and is L-shaped. However, the figure's stick is short and rounded at the ends, visually similar to the stick in possession of the Kunlunnu portrayed in the Dunhuang Cave wall paintings. Additionally, sticks of this specific aesthetic design are pictured in other Tang dynasty wall paintings—specifically in scenes where the stick is used to tame animals, such as tigers (Figure 15).
The second reason concerns clothing style. Until now, scholars have concluded that the figure is wearing a kaftan or jacket with collar opened to the [End Page 164] left along with knee-high boots. This outfit reenforces the figure's identification as Sogdian because it is identical to the clothing worn by the Sogdians living in Tang dynasty China (Kwŏn Yŏngp'il 1997, 17; Min 2015, 135–38; Figures 10-1 & 16). Upon closer inspection however, it is apparent that the figure is not wearing a kaftan but rather a long piece of fabric placed diagonally from the left shoulder to the right hip over his naked upper body. Figures wearing the same diagonally draped fabric are also present in wall paintings of the Dunhuang Caves (Figures 1 & 2). A large cloth covers the figure's lower body from which various accessories hang. Furthermore, deeper observation reveals that the figure is not wearing boots but is barefoot, although thick anklets cover each of the figure's ankles. Thus, the figure portrayed on the corner pillar displays more affinity in appearance with the tamer of Mañjuśrī's lion than with a Sogdian. Even if one were to defend the figure's initial identification as Sogdian, it is difficult to rationalize the presence of a lion on the same pillar. The placement of figure and lion on adjacent sides of the pillar implies a contextual connection, but none exists if the figure is indeed a Sogdian. On the other hand, there is a sure connection between the lion seen on the pillar and the lion pictured with Mañjuśrī. The similarities are especially evident in the shape of the lions' mouths and coiled manes. The only difference between the two lions is that one has a rider while the other does not. By extension, it makes the most sense to identify the pillar figure as a Kunlunnu, the tamer of beasts and lions, such as the one depicted on the next side. For these reasons, this paper reinterprets the pillar's coupled reliefs of lion and figure holding a stick as a Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu."
Then there is the question of the tomb's owner. The scholar who first discovered the tomb during the 1920s believed it to be an abandoned site, one that was forgotten after the king's body was moved to another tomb (Nakamura 1929, 32). This assessment was primarily based on the ruined state of the site at the time of discovery. Once restoration was complete and it was established that the tomb was decorated with twelve panels of the zodiac animal deities, common perception changed accordingly and the site is now believed to be the royal tomb of a king. This is because royal tombs dating to the Unified Silla period with burial mounds surrounded by panels of the twelve zodiac deities belong almost exclusively to [End Page 165] kings (Figure 19, image to the left). Of the thirty-eight surviving Silla dynasty royal tombs, ten have extant examples of zodiac deity sculptures, and can be attributed to a period of 150 years starting from the late eighth century up until the late Unified Silla period (Lim 2017, 2). The available evidence makes it highly likely that the Kujŏng-dong tomb belongs to a king, though there are conflicting viewpoints on who the exact owner is. Several scholars have proposed different candidates, such as Minaewang 閔哀王 (r. 838–839) the 44th king of Silla (Yi Kŭnjik 2012. 301–36), Kyŏngmunwang 景文王 (r. 861–875) the 48th king of Silla (Kim Yongsŏng and Kang Chaehwan 2015, 196–97), and Kyŏngmyŏngwang 景明王 (r. 917–924) the 54th king of Silla (Chŏn Tŏkchae 2013, 488).
Each of the royal candidates is a viable possibility based on the structure and layout of the tomb as well as the site's location. It is important to note, however, that the common rectangular tomb is a layout exclusive to the Silla period while the stone chamber tomb represents the last stage of structural development, as this particular form generally persisted throughtout the ensuing Koryŏ period. Scholarly consensus dates the Kujŏngdong tomb to after the mid-ninth century (Kim Yongsŏng and Kang Chaehwan 2015, 183). Based on the rough modeling of the twelve zodiac animal deities and the low placement of the reliefs, it seems reasonable to date the tomb's construction to the late Unified Silla period or, more specifically, sometime during the latter ninth century to the first half of the tenth century (Figure 17). Relief panels of the twelve zodiac animal deities are placed at greater heights in the case of royal tombs built during the eighth century. The placement of the panels was gradually lowered throughout the ninth and tenth centuries, providing scholars with an informal method of sequencing the various Unified Silla period tombs, such as the one in Kujŏng-dong. On a side note, the same development is also observable in the placement of niche sculptures for Buddhist stupas (Im 2013a, 150).
With the reinterpretation of the corner pillar reliefs as a Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu" come a few remaining issues to address. The first is whether the Unified Silla people developed the image of "lion and Kunlunnu" from direct observation or merely recycled a Buddhist image when creating funerary sculpture. Taking into account the large numbers of Kunlunnu that arrived in Guangzhou via Tang-dynasty Kunlun ships, it is entirely possible that some of these people also set foot in Unified Silla. Nonetheless, a lion population in Unified Silla or an [End Page 166] understanding of the Kunlunnu as a beast tamer among the Unified Silla people are both doubtful prospects. In light of these details, the appropriation of a Buddhist image for the purposes of creating tomb statues is a far more probable scenario, especially considering the close relationship between Unified Silla funerary sculpture and Buddhist art.
The Tang dynasty system of tomb construction had a general influence on the royal kingdom of Unified Silla. Yet, an aspect particular to the Unified Silla culture is a particular form of warrior statue that resembles Vajrapāṇi. A representative example is the set of stone statues at the site of the tomb of King Wŏnsŏng 元聖 (r. 785–798) (Figure 18, image to the left) that were thus far identified as foreigners, perhaps Westerners, but seem to have more in common [End Page 167] with Vajrapāṇi (Im 2016a, 137–40). Furthermore, the stonework dispersed throughout the burial site features the twelve zodiac animal deities who function as protectors of the royal tomb. There are also similarities between the armor of the animal deities and the armor worn by the Four Heavenly Kings featured on stupas (Figure 19). These stupas were erected contemporaneous to the Unified Silla tombs, and the guardian statues carved on the stupas' surface probably served as the model for the animal deity reliefs of the Unified Silla tombs. The placement of these reliefs around the burial mound is unique to Unified Silla in the East Asian region and is reflective of the Buddhist tradition of decorating stupas with various carvings. In this way, one of the most distinctive traits of Unified Silla funerary sculpture is its strong affinity to Buddhist art that is most apparent in the stonework of the royal tombs (Im 2012, 7–33; Im 2013a, 135–62). To such a degree, the "lion and Kunlunnu" image of the Kujŏng-dong tomb is yet another example of how the Unified Silla people borrowed a Buddhist image and adapted it for use in another context, which in this case is funerary sculpture.
The same cannot be said of the royal mausoleums and auxiliary tombs of China, because a special relationship between the stonework of the Chinese royal tombs and Buddhist art is nonexistent. General funerary stonework progresses at a slow pace as it is most resistant to change and is the most conservative genre of Chinese art. In fact, there were no significant changes to Chinese funerary stonework of the eighth to ninth centuries after the establishment of a standard with the construction of Qianling 乾陵, the mausoleum of Emperor Gaozong 高 宗 (r. 649–683) (Liu 2012, 81–88). Animals, such as horses, sheep, camels, and lions, as well as imaginary creatures, frequently appear in the sculptural scheme of Tang dynasty royal mausoleums, but none have any relation to Buddhist imagery. Neither are there any stone statues resembling Vajrapāṇi or reliefs of the zodiac animal deities in the vicinity of the burial mounds. The only zodiac animal deities to be found in Tang mausoleums are in the form of interior wall paintings or clay models placed inside the tomb (Figures 20 & 21).
In order to explain the connection between Buddhist and funerary art in [End Page 168] Unified Silla and the lack thereof in China, one must examine the royal burial structure of the Tang dynasty. The royal mausoleums of China often include auxiliary tombs for relatives as well as meritorious subjects or distinguished officers. There can be as few as ten or as many as two hundred. The tradition of creating auxiliary graves began as early as the Han dynasty, but was not fully standardized or implemented until the Tang dynasty with the construction of Xianling 獻陵, the royal mausoleum of Gaozu 高祖 Li Yuan 李淵 (566–635), which contains 93 auxiliary tombs (Liu 2012, 359). The following passage is contained in Quantangwen 全唐文 (Complete prose literature of the Tang) concerning Taizong 太宗 Li Shimin 李世民 (599–649): "from this point forward, upon the death of a meritorious subject, the government is to provide a suitable burial plot in the area left of Xianling, objects necessary for the funeral, and a sincere heart in all tasks. . ." (Quantangwen 6:24). The opportunity to be entombed in a grave auxiliary to an emperor's burial site was an honor highly sought after, as it was reserved for subjects with the most meritorious records. Emperor Taizong granted magnificent state funerals to those who warranted burial in auxiliary tombs and some subjects were even allowed to have their grandchildren and great-grandchildren buried alongside them. These additional tombs continued to be constructed at the Zhaoling 昭陵 mausoleum of Emperor Taizong from 637 up until 739, and ultimately amounted to 194 auxiliary tombs (Liu 2012, 359).
Soon the government formed the necessary committees to oversee different aspects of the ever-increasing number of auxiliary tombs. There was also an organization specifically in charge of the various funerary sculptures—including the stone statues and other miscellaneous sculptures created for the auxiliary tombs, which required intensive labor. This organization was known as Zhenguanshu 甄官署 and its forty members were tasked with manufacturing all funerary tools and furnishings, including stone figures and stone horses (Jiu Tangshu 44, 1896; Xin Tangshu 48, 1274). The existence of an organization solely tasked with supplying the demand of funerary sculptures for both the royal [End Page 169] mausoleum and its ancillary tombs is also the reason why there is almost no change in the sculptural aesthetic. Once a standard was established, aesthetic development of the various stone statues and animal sculptures remained limited. In such a stable system, there was neither need nor room for elements of Buddhist art to be incorporated into Tang dynasty funerary art.
The opposite is true for Unified Silla. The production of stonework for the royal tombs was a sporadic event, occurring as needed and in far smaller quantities than in Tang China. It follows that special tools or apparatuses and artisans devoted specifically to creating funerary sculpture for the royal tombs did not exist in Unified Silla. Instead, skilled artisans were employed on a temporary basis for each royal tomb and tasked with the creation of all stonework, including stone statues, such as lion statues and reliefs of the zodiac animal deities. At the time, the most important and skilled artisans were those creating stone Buddhas. These same artisans were undoubtedly preferred for this work, which explains the inevitable presence of Buddhist elements in Unified Silla funerary sculpture. This was of course a phenomenon made possible only because those buried had preexisting connections to the Buddhist faith.
The final issue concerns the choice of subject matter. More specifically, why the Unified Silla people chose to depict the image of "lion and Kunlunnu" out of the multitude of known Buddhist motifs. For starters, the Unified Silla people were most likely aware of the Kunlunnu and had knowledge of the Kunlun people. The person to credit for this is Ch'oe Ch'iwŏn 崔致遠 (857–?), who studied and worked in Tang China under his benefactor Gao Pian 高騈 (821–887) from 880 until 884 (Ch'oe Yŏngsŏng 2016, 32–34). Ch'oe Ch'iwŏn accompanied Gao Pian to Japan, where he became acquainted with Pei Xing 裵鉶 who also worked under Gao Pian in government service during the Xiantong 咸通 (r. 860–874) reign. Through this encounter, Ch'oe Ch'iwŏn would have become familiar with Pei Xing's work, including the Chuanqi, which Ch'oe most likely read. Additionally, Ch'oe would have had ample opportunity to see the Kunlunnu people and the wall paintings or sculptural depictions of the Kunlunnu as Mañjuśrī's lion tamer during his time in Tang China. It is no coincidence that the ancient Silla narrative Silla suijŏn 新 羅殊異傳 (Silla tales of wonder) shares many similarities with the Tang dynasty Chuanqi—a correlation that cannot be considered without involving Ch'oe, who returned to Unified Silla in 885. With his return, Ch'oe Ch'iwŏn brought with him knowledge of the mystical figure of the Kunlunnu as described in Chuanqi, thus introducing this character to the people of Unified Silla.
Simultaneous to the construction of the Kujŏng-dong tomb that took place from the latter ninth century to the first half of the tenth century, Unified Silla artisans created images of Mañjuśrī astride a lion and Samantabhadra astride an elephant. Although images of the two bodhisattvas and the accompanying animals would have been frequently produced, there are only a few surviving examples located at Pulguksa 佛國寺 and Pŏpsusa 法水寺 Temples. These are in poor condition and only the lion and elephant portions remain (Figure 22). During the ninth century, the Buddha Vairocana was an immensely popular subject and thus made frequent appearances in Unified Silla period Buddhist art. As Mañjuśrī and [End Page 170] Samantabhadra are the attendant bodhisattvas of Vairocana, it is probable that they were also prominently featured subjects by default. However, not a single intact example of Mañjuśrī astride a lion, and by extension the Kunlunnu animal tamer, has survived to this day. Despite the lack of a tangible example, it is clear that the Unified Silla people were aware of the "Mañjuśrī, lion and Kunlunnu" subject and produced the image themselves. By the latter half of the eighth century, the Unified Silla people were familiar with Mount Wutai 五臺山 in Tang China and in the mid-ninth century, the Mañjuśrī bodhisattva faith based on it became widespread throughout Unified Silla (Pak Kwang'yŏn 2015, 226). The newly popular faith would have prompted many commissions for portrayals of Mañjuśrī along with a lion and Kunlunnu figure in various media, including paintings or drawings. Unfortunately, there are almost no surviving examples of Unified Silla period paintings and consequently no images of "Mañjuśrī, lion, and Kunlunnu" in this specific medium. There is, however, a wooden shrine currently housed in Songgwangsa Temple 松廣寺 of Sunch'ŏn 順天 that contains a carving of a Kunlunnu figure (Figure 23). To the left and right of the shrine are a lion and elephant, respectively. A Kunlunnu stands at the front and holds the reins, leading and taming both beasts.
The Unified Silla people implemented the Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu" in the sculptural scheme of later Unified Silla period royal tombs. The creation of such an image was the product of joining two initially separate elements: the lion statues dispersed throughout the royal burial site and the lion tamer or Kunlunnu. The final result is the sculptural image of "lion and Kunlunnu" placed at the four corners of the burial mound as protectors of the site. [End Page 171]
I have continuously argued that among the various East Asian cultures, Unified Silla funerary sculpture demonstrates the deepest connection to Buddhist art (Im 2012, 7–33; Im 2013a, 135–62; Im 2013b, 423–56; Im 2016a, 137–40). Other scholars have previously explored this connection, but while their focus was on the stone handrail surrounding the burial mound or on the similarities between a tomb's lion statues and Buddhist lion statues, my research has extended the scope of analysis. A wider perspective also includes the warrior statues standing at the entrance of the tomb, which were previously thought to resemble Western foreigners but are more closely related to Vajrapāṇi. Similar to the way in which Vajrapāṇi protects temples from its position at the entrance, warrior statues resembling Vajrapāṇi at the entrance of royal tombs also function to protect the site.
The same logic applies to the reliefs of the twelve zodiac animal deities placed around the burial mound. The animal deities' appearance recalls the Buddhist images of the Four Heavenly Kings, mostly due to the identical appearance of the armor worn by the two different types of entities. This particular form of the animal deities as seen on the protective stones of the burial mound is a creation exclusive to Unified Silla, and thus cannot be found at the sites of the royal mausoleums of China, as the Chinese portrayed the animal deities in the tomb's interior. Unified Silla, on the other hand, placed reliefs of the animal deities on the stonework encircling the burial mound, much like the animal deities carved on stone stupas or the reliefs of the Four Heavenly Kings. In this way, the stonework of royal tombs of the Unified Silla period demonstrates significant Buddhist influence.
The present paper has focused on the image carved onto the corner pillar of the rectangular tomb of Kujŏng-dong. Though previous studies have identified the figure as a "Westerner with a polo stick," this paper understands the subject matter as a Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu." Following this reinterpretation, some of the issues addressed included who the Kunlunnu were, their place of origin, the motivation behind their emigration to China, and the nature of the representation of the Kunlunnu in Buddhist art. The overarching conclusion to the various points of analysis is that the Buddhist image of "lion and Kunlunnu" was appropriated for expression in a different genre, namely Unified Silla funerary sculpture.
The main idea of this paper is that the sculpture of Unified Silla royal tombs is deeply rooted in the tradition of Buddhist art. This idea is expressed through a number of previous papers I have authored, and the "lion and Kunlunnu" relief portrayed on the corner pillar of the Kujŏng-dong tomb is no exception. This unique image is evidence of the relationship between Unified Silla period funerary and Buddhist art—two deeply connected genres of Korean art. [End Page 172]
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* This research has been supported financially by the POSCO TJ Park Foundation's Research Grants for Asian Studies.