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 5 of 5 (p. 13)

Mediating Sacred Geography

Historians of Chinese religions have long been interested in the question of how Buddhism, coming from India, impressed its sacred character on an already meaning-filled Chinese landscape.29 The contextualized responses have tended to focus on the process as a negotiation between, on the one hand, the foreign and the Buddhist and, on the other, the local and the pre-Buddhist.30 Versions of the Cifu Temple map have inspired a more fluid and heterogeneous narrative about the transformations of a Chinese Buddhist landscape, one based not so much on the negotiations between two traditions, but on the plurality of those traditions’ mediating agents. Differences in various versions of the same map serve to highlight this constant process of mediation. Every step in the image-making process mediates a new understanding of Wutai shan, proving the impossibility of pinning down “one Wutai shan” at any given moment; from carving and printing to the dispersal, coloring, mounting, and acquisition of the prints, the landscape that the image captures transforms accordingly. Even as a finished piece of work in a museum’s permanent collection, the image continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted by viewers throughout time. The Wutai shan conference and exhibit, which featured an interactive Wutai shan map designed by David Newman and Karl Debreczeny, with photographs by Gray Tuttle, are in every way a continuation of that process of updating, completing, highlighting, realizing, and disseminating Wutai shan through the use of the most effective and efficient technology possible.31 That the maps at their various states represent but one from among the many revealing aspects of the materials from this period furthermore brings into question the usefulness of working out a coherent narrative for such a process; along with other materials examined by authors in this volume, they invites us to consider instead the interrelationships between the many narratives and visions, be they complementary or conflicting.

[29] See Koichi Shinohara, “Literary Construction of Buddhist Sacred Places: The Record of Mt. Lu by Chen Shunyu,” Asiatische Studien 53 (1999): 937-64; James Robson, “Sites of Conversion: Locating Buddhist Sacred Sites within the Chinese Religious Landscape” (Paper presented at the international symposium “Images, Relics, and Legends: Formation and Transformation of Buddhist Sacred Sites” at the University of British Columbia, October 15-16, 2004.); Tansen Sen, Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003): 55-101.
[30] “Subjugation” and “conversion” are topoi often used to describe the ways by which demons and mountain spirits were quelled by Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Buddhists. They are also frequently seen in the gazetteers of Wutai shan. For an analysis of these topoi in the Chan Buddhist tradition, see Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversight: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993): 161-74; for a rereading of subjugation tales in the Tibetan mythology, see Janet Gyatso, “Down with the Demoness: Reflection on a Feminine Ground in Tibet,” in Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet, ed. Janet Willis (New York: Snow Lion, 1988): 33-51.
[31] The interactive website and photographs can be viewed at: http://wutaishan.rma2.org/rma_viewer.php?image_id=1&mode=info.

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 ).