Maps of Wutai
Individuating the Sacred Landscape through
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5713, pp. 372-388.
© 2011 by Wen-shing Chou, IATS, and THL
Abstract: This essay considers the practice of coloring Buddhist sacred maps by comparing two hand-colored xylographs of Wutai shan derived from the same set of woodblocks that were carved in 1846 by Mongolian bla ma LhündrupLhun grub at Wutai shan’s Cifu Temple. Despite their origin in the same set of blocks, notable differences in the style, technique, and choice of coloring reveal two divergent visions of the sacred place. These differences reflect two modes of devotion toward the mountain range: in the print from the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, Wutai shan is presented as an eternal, scriptural, and idealized landscape, and in the print from the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki, Wutai shan is seen as a localized, lived, and familiar terrain. An examination of these two differently colored maps sheds light on how, why, and what makes a sacred mountain sacred for various participants of Wutai shan’s pilgrimage culture.
The Qing imperial court affected profound transformations on the landscape of Wutai shan.1 As contributing authors of this volume show, the Manchu emperors achieved this through their endorsement of multi-lingual gazetteers, appointment of Tibetan and Mongolian lama officials, donations to and constructions of monasteries, as well as sponsorship of Buddhist rituals and festivals.2 The flurry [page 373] of activities contributed to Wutai shan’s fame in Tibet and Mongolia, as attested to by the rise of the Mongol pilgrimage cult of Wutai shan, the flourishing of Tibetan visionary poetry on Wutai shan, and the establishment of branch monasteries at Wutai shan.3 This multivalent transformative process explored from various perspectives in the present volume is meticulously pictorialized in the painted xylograph of Wutai shan dated to 1846.4 As I have shown in a full-length study, the map articulates a vision of an especially fluid landscape, caught between upholding Wutai shan’s contemporary identity as a predominantly Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhist site and the mountain’s layered Chinese past in which this new identity also firmly rooted itself.5 However, not even the map itself, the purported receptacle of cultural, religious, and historical transformations, can evade the process of continued revisions. The mapping of Wutai shan, as this essay will show, is as mediated and unstable as the place itself.
Figure 1: Gelong LhündrupDge slong lhun grub, Panoramic View of Wutai shan, 1846, woodblock print on linen, hand-colored. Woodblocks from Cifu Temple at Wutai shan. 118 x 165 cm. Rubin Museum of Art, New York.
According to the inscription on the upper left hand corner (covered by paint on the Rubin Museum copy), the map was carved by Gelong LhündrupDge slong lhun grub (Gelong Longzhu) in 1846, in a monastery called Cifu Temple (Cifu si) located just behind Pusa Ding. The map is entitled “Panoramic Picture of the Sacred Realm of the Mountain of Five Terraces” in Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian across the top register. Beside each site of interest is a pair of small inscriptions in Chinese and Tibetan transliteration, and above some temples hovers a ball of clouds carrying roundels in which deities or eminent monks associated with the temple are seated. The five terraces of Wutai shan are parabolically aligned across the top of the composition, each capped with a temple housing an image of Mañjuśrī (Wenshu) inside. The area below the five major peaks is interspersed with steeply winding but visibly connected passageways, dotted by pilgrims in straw hats riding on animals or performing obeisance to the [page 374] mountain. While its central register is dominated by a large procession, the more mountainous regions in the peripheral areas accommodate stupas, grottoes, small shrines, and mythical wild animals. At the bottom of the prints are lengthy donative inscriptions in Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan, which detail the purpose of this mapping project.6
Figure 2: Gelong LhündrupDge slong lhun grub, Panoramic View of Wutai shan, 1846, woodblock print on linen, hand-colored. Woodblocks from Cifu Temple at Wutai shan. 118 x 165 cm. National Museum of Finland, Helsinki.
The Rubin copy of the Wutai shan xylograph is one amongst many images printed on linen from the same set of woodblocks that were widely disseminated around the world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.7 Judging from identical traces of line breakage from these prints, we can assume that several unevenly sized blocks were probably assembled together to make up the woodblock set. Once printed, most of these maps were hand-colored and presumably sold at different locations in and [page 375] outside of Wutai shan.8 Therefore, the process of coloring is what mediates between the original carvings and the ultimate visible results. Notable differences in the style, technique, and choice of coloring among these different versions indicate that those who were involved in coloring operated with relative freedom. Their freedom of interpretation resulted in, and indeed from, divergent visions of this sacred mountain. This essay therefore approaches the question of how Wutai shan came to be understood by its Tibetan Buddhist devotees by comparing the result of two colored prints: The Rubin print and another print, which was acquired by members of a Finnish expedition to Mongolia in 1909 and was reproduced by the National Board of Antiquities in Helsinki in 1987 (referred to as the Helsinki print hereafter).9 What on the surface appear to be tenuous and negligible differences, conditioned by the colorers own artistic traditions and personal preferences, in fact reveal two modes of devotion toward the mountain range: in the former print, Wutai shan is venerated as an eternal, scriptural, and idealized landscape, and in the latter, its terrains are localized, lived, and familiar. This difference in turn sheds light on how, why, and what makes a sacred mountain sacred.
Note Citation for Page
Wen-shing Chou, “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713 (accessed ).
Note Citation for Whole Article
Wen-shing Chou, “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 372-388, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713 (accessed ).
Chou, Wen-shing. “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 372-388. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713 (accessed ).