Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Maps of Wutai Shan
Wen-shing Chou, Hunter College, City University of New York
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5713, pp. 372-388
Section 3 of 5 (pp. 377-382)

Telling Stories

Figure 4: Cave of Mañjuśrī, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, Rubin Museum of Art.

On the middle right section of the map is a scene of a man fleeing from a wild tiger. The figure, followed immediately by a gaping tiger, gestures his arms wildly in the air. Right above him is the mantra of bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara “Om mani padme hum” inscribed in Tibetan uchendbu chen script. The man is enclosed by a protective net, originating from the fingertip of a deity on a cloud, which in turn emanates from the so-labeled Cave of Mañjuśrī (Wenshu dong). The identity of the rescuing deity, which is already suggested to be bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara by the inscribed mantra, is again confirmed in the Rubin print by the figure’s iconography. The figure wears a white robe and bodhisattva’s headdress, in consonance with popular depictions of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in China after the tenth century.12 However, two interpreations of the deity are visible on the Helsinki print, both the originally engraved iconography of the woodblocks, and a new interpretation put forth by the colorer. The deity in the Helsinki print is a seated figure in black hat, yellow robe, and bare feet, appearing more like a Daoist priest than a bodhisattva. Even though the mantra issued forth by the figure belongs exclusively to Avalokiteśvara, the person who colored the Helsinki print obviously understood otherwise, disregarding, or more likely unable to register the mantra inscribed in the Tibetan uchendbu chen script. Given that the artisan(s) who colored the print in China or Mongolia might not have been literate even in their native language(s), it is all the more likely that they would not be able to understand a Tibetan script used for the carving and writing of sūtras.13 Through the application of color, a new identity, or at least a new emanation, for the deity is created. It is a new guise that reflects the prevalence of indigenous priests and deities at Wutai shan.

Figure 5: Cave of Mañjuśrī, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, National Museum of Finland.

The original story of Avalokiteśvara’s special appearance in Mañjuśrī’s cave pictured on the woodblock print does not seem to have made its way to major textual references, which contributed to the malleability of this narrative. What is puzzling in this original story, before the change of character, is why Avalokiteśvara should emanate directly out of a Cave of Mañjuśrī. Competition between Mañjuśrī and Avalokiteśvara is documented in several popular legends of Wutai shan and [page 378] Putuo shan. In one instance, Avalokiteśvara visits Mañjuśrī at Wutai shan to engage in a discussion of the dharma. On their meeting agenda was the selecting and turning into immortals individuals who practice compassion. They therefore make a bet as to who between two famous villagers is truly compassionate, “Butcher” Zhang or “Pious” Li. Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara) roots for Zhang, who, although slaughtering animals for a living, is kind and generous to all. Wenshu (Mañjuśrī) roots for Li, a wealthy miser who chants sūtras all day and observes a vegetarian diet. Throughout the story, Guanyin and Wenshu variously appear in the guise of different characters to test Zhang and Li during the day. By night, they appear in the dreams of the characters they root for in order to give hints before each test. In the final test, Zhang drank the river water and turned into an immortal, while Li, drinking the same water, turned into a frog. Consequently, on his home turf, Wenshu lost the bet to Guanyin.14 Such a story reveals a friendly rivalry between the two principle bodhisattvas, which in turn provides another possible reason for the obscuration of the identity of Avalokiteśvara. After all, the primary purpose of this map was to expound the wonders of Mañjuśrī, not those of his counterpart Avalokiteśvara.15 Moreover, in a culture in which deities engage in friendly competitions and take on flexible forms of emanations, the crowning virtue of Mañjuśrī is exactly his adaptability – a quality which is sustained and carried out in this multi-step processes of printing and coloring.

Figure 6: Stupa of Tāranātha, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, Rubin Museum of Art.

Also lost among the textual memories of Wutai shan is the presence of Tāranātha (1575?-1634?), as commemorated by the large stupa of Tāranātha located at the center of the map just beneath the large white stupa. Here again, an inscription exists beside the stupa in Tibetan script only, so that those who do not read the script would not recognize Tāranātha’s name.16 Tāranātha was the most eminent scholar of the Jonang sect of whom the Jebdzundambas of Urga, the spiritual and political leaders of Mongolia, were considered to be reincarnations. The stupa’s inclusion in the print makes much sense considering that the carver of the map [page 379] proclaimed himself to be a follower of Jebdzundamba in the donative inscription.17 The stupa is not only marked by the Tibetan inscription, but also by a figure seated on clouds emanating from the stupa. The Rubin print dresses this figure in yellow robes and red inner robe, with his right arm exposed. Although not conforming to earlier iconography of Tāranātha, the monk’s outfit could still signify Tāranātha during this time period. The same figure in the Helsinki print has a more explicit identity. He is wearing a black lobed hat that closely resembles nineteenth- and twentieth-century depictions of Jebdzundambas of Urga. By specifying the identity of the cloud-borne emanation as a Jebdzundamba, the coloring reinforces the stupa’s connection to Mongolia and to the origin of the map-maker.18

Figure 7: Stupa of Tāranātha, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, National Museum of Finland.

Although the colors of the Helsinki print do not seem to match the Tibetan inscriptions, they reinforce the color conventions of Qing monastic structures, a trait also seen in other versions of the map.19 That is, the roofs of temples with predominantly imperial sponsorship are painted with bright yellow, while others remain blue. This displays not only a familiarity with either the established system of coloration or the factual colors of roof tiles, but also a concern for Qing imperial policy and institution at Wutai shan during the time when the map was carved. In the Rubin print, however, temples are uniformly painted with blue roofs and red walls with the exception of the central temple of Pusa Ding. Here, more attention [page 380] is paid to articulating the details of celebrity visits and visitations than it does differentiating the sponsorship of monasteries

Figure 8: Person saved by golden hand, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, National Museum of Finland.
Figure 9: Person saved by golden hand, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, Rubin Museum of Art.

In another miraculous episode appearing on the left-hand side of the map, a person diving off a cliff is being saved by a golden hand reaching through a cloud. In the Helsinki copy, we also see larger-than-human beasts pressing behind, showing that the person is jumping to escape. In the Rubin print, however, the beasts were seemingly absent. Only upon closer inspection can we see the original engraved outlines of two animals, which were covered by the green coloring of the hills. Without the ravenous animals, the scene can be interpreted as depicting a different tale. In fact, the diving position of the figure easily reminds us of the Mahāsattva’s tale, in which a young prince, one of Śakyamuni’s previous lives, sacrifices his life for a hungry tigress by leaping off a cliff. A place by the name of “Mahāsattva’s Cliff” (Saduo yai) is also recorded in Qing dynasty gazetteers of Wutai shan. The described location of the place corresponds to where this episode is taking place on the map below the Western Terrace (Xi Tai).20 In the story, a young woman fled to Wutai shan to escape her arranged marriage, surviving solely on forest herbs and dew. When her parents came to take her back, she chose instead to commit suicide by jumping off the cliff. But as she dove down, she flew away instead. The site was thus named “Mahāsattva’s Cliff,” after this miraculous occurrence. It is [page 381] likely that the colorer of the Rubin print possibly conflated the scene depicted in the woodblock prints with a version of this earlier and more well-known story preserved in the gazetteers.21 That parts of the engraved content could be ignored and others reinterpreted shows just how selective the coloring of originally monochrome woodblock prints can be; it completes the picture of Wutai shan, by labeling, highlighting, and accentuating details amid an overload of information.

Figure 10: Colophon, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, National Museum of Finland.
Figure 11: Concealed colophon, Panoramic View of Wutai Shan, Rubin Museum of Art.

An important detail highlighted in the Helsinki print that is entirely hidden in the Rubin print is the colophon in Chinese and Mongolian on the upper-left-hand corner. The inscribed colophon documents both the date in which the map was carved, which fell on the fifteenth day of the fourth month during the twenty-sixth year of the Daoguang reign (1846), and the instruction that the woodblocks were (to be) kept at Cifu Temple, a Mongolian monastery first established in the wooded areas behind Pusa Ding in the early years of the Daoguang reign (r.1821-51).22 This is the single most important piece of information to speak directly of the Mongolian provenance of the map; but its revelation in one and concealment in [page 382] another reveal something more than Tibetan and Mongolian cultural priorities. It raises the question of where the sacredness lies in an image.


[12] Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (New York, Columbia University Press, 2001), 6.
[13] For a study on artisans’ involvement in Buddhist art production in a different context of, see Sarah Fraser, Performing the Visual: The Practice of Buddhist Wall Painting in China and Central Asia, 618-960 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
[14] Zhongguo minjian wenxue jicheng quanguo bianji weiyuanhui, ed., Zhongguo minjian guoshi jicheng: Shanxi Juan [Collected Works of Chinese Folk Legends: Shanxi Province] (Beijing: Zhongguo minjian wenxue jicheng quanguo bianji weiyuanhui, 1999), 132.
[15] For a discussion of the counterpoised identifications of the Qing emperors and the Dalai Lamas as the emanations of Mañjuśrī and Avalokiteśvara, respectively, see Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” 37-39.
[16] They are among a small group of Tibetan-only inscriptions. Most of the inscriptions appear in Chinese with Tibetan transliteration.
[17] For transcriptions and translations, see the exhibit catalogue in Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain.”
[18] I thank Karl Debreczeny for this observation.
[19] The Library of Congress version acquired by Rockhill also follows this convention; it is otherwise rather plainly and loosely colored in comparison with the Helsinki and Rubin versions.
[20] The same description of Mahāsattva’s Cliff exists in all three versions of Wutai shan gazetteers printed in the Qing dynasty. See Gugong bowuyuan (故宮博物院), ed., Qingliang shan zhi [清涼山志, Qingliang shan Gazetteer], juan 2, 5; Qingliang shan xin zhi [清涼山新志, New Qingliang shan Gazetteer], juan 2, 4; Qinding Qingliang shan zhi [欽定清涼山志, Imperial Gazetteer of Qingliang shan], juan 9, 10.
[21] This is likely considering that the same story is also well-cherished in Tibetan sources. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama reiterated the story in poetic verses in his praise poem of Wutai shan. See Thub bstan rgya mtsho, Rje btsun ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyi gnas la bstod pa dwangs gsal mdzes pa’i me long [Beautiful Clear Mirror: A Praise to Lord Manjughosha’s Abode], in Collected Works of Dalai Lama XIII (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1981), vol. 3, 400.6-400.7.
[22] See Miaozhou, Mengzang fojiao shi [History of Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhism] (Beijing: Jingcheng chubanshe, 1935), 88.

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 ).

Bibliography Citation

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 ).