Women, Children and the Inner Chamber in the Life of the Buddha: Chinese Buddhist Woodblock Illustrations in Late Imperial China

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-9703-4562
Zhang, Jie, East Asian Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Heller, Natasha, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Skerritt, Henry, AS-Art (ARTD), University of Virginia

The Shishi yuanliu yinghua shiji 釋氏源流應化事跡 (Events of Response and Incarnation in the Origin and Development of the Shakya Clan) is a woodblock-printed illustrated book on the life of the Buddha and the development of Buddhism in China, compiled by the Ming Dynasty monk Baocheng 寶成 (fl. 1425). There were four distinct compilations of this illustrated text between 1425-1794, with at least seventeen different known editions that were reprinted up till the 20th century. I employ visual analysis to compare Buddhist illustrated woodblock prints with paintings and other secular genres of woodcut illustrations produced in late imperial China, as well as comparing the text-image relationship of the illustrated book. The book series of The Shakya Clan shows a transfer of popular visual themes of “family auspicious pictures”, garden and palace scenes, as well as “children at play” and “one hundred boys” between secular paintings and Buddhist woodblock illustrations. Together, they depict women in the life of the Buddha as caregivers of young boys, confined to their inner chambers. I argue that the compilers of this popular book series actively considered women to be part of their potential readership. As a result, the compilers deliberately embedded “educational” messages for women, in line with the social expectations and normative gender roles in late imperial China, further accentuated with the added layers of Buddhist expectations on how to be good mothers and wives.

MA (Master of Arts)
Buddha, women, woodblock prints, children, architecture
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