VMPEA: Danni Huang
MAPH Student, UChicago
“Tang Tradition in the Liao's Hands: Narrating The Guanyin Pavilion at Dule Monastery”
Discussant: Wei-cheng Lin
Associate Professor of Art History and the College, UChicago
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At the point of its discovery by modern scholars in the early twentieth century, Dule Monastery (Dulesi 獨樂寺), located in Ji County (Ji xian 薊縣), Tianjin Municipality, was thought to be the earliest extant Buddhist monastery from the Liao dynasty 遼朝 in China. Many contemporary scholars refer to the monastery as a Liao dynasty building complex or the buildings an example of Liao-style architecture (Liaodai jianzhu 遼代建築), which seems to be a straightforward classification at first glance. Yet, the integrity of the original style intended for Dule Monastery has been compromised since it has experienced at least twenty-eight earthquakes and at least six large reconstructions. Traditionally, scholars used general dynastic and stylistic labels to classify art objects and architectural monuments. However, this classification is problematic, since dynastic categories suggest that dynastic style is a set of fixed, unchanging characteristics within a territorial boundary. By contrast, recent research indicates that diverse architectural and sculptural styles resulted from the different identities of the patrons and artisans of the reconstructions. This makes dynastic categories insufficient to describe the complexity of these sites and sculptures held within them. This paper will investigate the diachronic and geographical complexities of the Guanyin Pavilion (Guanyin ge 觀音閣) at Dule Monastery to reveal cross-dynastic and cross-geographical connections. My research indicates that the eclectic architectural styles that had developed since the Tang were motivated by the continuous demands of local rulers and practitioners of Esoteric Buddhism.
Danni Huang is currently a first-year MAPH student at the University of Chicago. She received her bachelor's degree in Art History and Asian Studies from Vanderbilt University. Her current research interest focuses on how religious spaces, like the ge and ta, dictate worshippers’ spiritual interaction with divinities in different ways, through complex assemblages of sculpture and architecture.
Wei-Cheng Lin is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. Lin specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture, with a focus on medieval period, and has published on both Buddhist and funeral art and architecture of medieval China. His first book, Building a Sacred Mountain: Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, was published in 2014 with the University of Washington Press. He has also written on topics related to traditional architecture in modern China. Lin is currently working on two book projects: Performative Architecture of China, explores architecture’s performative potential through history and the meanings enacted through such architectural performance. Necessarily Incomplete: Fragments of Chinese Artifacts investigate fragments of Chinese artifacts, as well as the cultural practices they solicited and engaged, to locate their agentic power in generating the multivalent significance of those artifacts, otherwise undetectable or overlooked.
Image details: Guanyin Pavilion, Dule Monastery (Photo: Danni Huang, 2021)