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A Review of Tangut Buddhism, Art and Textual Studies

Dr. Saren Gaowa
China Research Coordinator for the Ford Foundation project, National Library of China

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A Tangut Paper Fragment

Tangut Paper Fragment
?The British Library

Introduction

Tangut studies began with the excavation of artefacts and documents at Kharakhoto (in present-day northwest China) in the early twentieth century. Currently more than ten countries have institutes specializing on Tangut studies and have published a large corpus of scholarly work in the field. Following on from the pioneering work of former scholars, many new scholars are turning to Tangut studies and have achieved important advances in recent years. At the same time, new materials have been discovered, providing a wealth of information for research purposes. Various international conferences on different themes of Tangut studies have been held worldwide.

Excavations

1. Kharakhoto — Kozlov, Stein and Chinese excavations

2. Other Tangut sites — Chinese excavations



Painting of Mahasthamaprapta

Mahasthamaprapta, 13th century
?State Hermitage Museum

Review of international Tangut studies up to 1980

In China, significant research has been done on Buddhism and Tangut art. Tangut Buddhism took elements from the Buddhism practiced at the time among Chinese and Tibetans. Chinese histories including the Liao History, Jin History, and especially the Song History records six cases of the Tanguts seeking Buddhist sutras from the Song dynasty (960–1279), and then making the woodblocks. In addition, evidence of exchange between the Tanguts and the Song dynasty can be seen from Tibetan documents, such as the Mkhas Pavi Dgav Ston (A Feast for Scholars), The Red Annals, Biographies of Tibetan Emperors and Ministers, and The Sakya Hereditary History. The history of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who were appointed as royal tutors and other important positions in the Tangut kingdom is outlined in detail in Sun Changsheng's paper(1). A large amount of work has been done on Tangut Buddhism. A seminal text in this field is Shi Jinbo's Historical Sketch of Tangut Buddhism(2), which contains a detailed description of the development of Tangut Buddhism, Tangut sutras, Tangut temples and monks. In the chapter entitled 'Tangut Buddhist Art', Professor Shi discusses Tangut Buddhist painting in grottoes and temples, scroll paintings on silk or paper, wooden engraving on printed sutras, sculptures in grottoes and statues in temples, calligraphy of sutras, and Buddhist art from the perspective of temple structures. Professor Shi's research on the influences from the cultures of Tibet and the central plains of China on Tangut culture has been widely recognized by scholars of Tangut.

In China, significant research has been done on Buddhism and Tangut art. Tangut Buddhism took elements from the Buddhism practiced at the time among Chinese and Tibetans. Chinese histories including the Liao History, Jin History, and especially the Song History records six cases of the Tanguts seeking Buddhist sutras from the Song dynasty (960–1279), and then making the woodblocks. In addition, evidence of exchange between the Tanguts and the Song dynasty can be seen from Tibetan documents, such as the Mkhas Pavi Dgav Ston (A Feast for Scholars), The Red Annals, Biographies of Tibetan Emperors and Ministers, and The Sakya Hereditary History. The history of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who were appointed as royal tutors and other important positions in the Tangut kingdom is outlined in detail in Sun Changsheng's paper . A large amount of work has been done on Tangut Buddhism. A seminal text in this field is Shi Jinbo's Historical Sketch of Tangut Buddhism, which contains a detailed description of the development of Tangut Buddhism, Tangut sutras, Tangut temples and monks. In the chapter entitled 'Tangut Buddhist Art', Professor Shi discusses Tangut Buddhist painting in grottoes and temples, scroll paintings on silk or paper, wooden engraving on printed sutras, sculptures in grottoes and statues in temples, calligraphy of sutras, and Buddhist art from the perspective of temple structures. Professor Shi's research on the influences from the cultures of Tibet and the central plains of China on Tangut culture has been widely recognized by scholars of Tangut.

Clear links exist between Tangut art and Buddhism. Tangut art is mostly concentrated in Buddhist temples or paintings; in Buddhist documents; in sculpture and architecture in Buddhist grottoes. Scholars such as Duan Wenjie, Zhang Baoxi, Liu Yuquan, Sun Changsheng and Han Xiaomang have continued to work on Tangut art, focusing on the representation and artistic merits of cave wall painting (see Appendix 1). The Tangut Kingdom, the Chinese Song dynasty and Tibetan Empire coexisted in roughly the same historical period, see the Chronology of Chinese History in Appendix 2. An important characteristic of Tangut art is the deep influence from Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Professor Shi Jinbo has mentioned this in his work. Professor Xie Jisheng from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has also contributed important work on this topic. His paper(3) and book(4) have introduced the history and research of tangkas found in Kharakhoto, the contents and style of the images, the origin of the tangka, the form of tangas found in Kharakhoto, Tangut tangas and their origin in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Professor Xie has also analysed the influence from Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.

With the development of Tangut studies, the demands for collation, publication, and digitization of Tangut materials are significantly greater than before. In order to meet the needs of scholars, the holding institutions of the Tangut documents from Kharakhoto have published these materials. In 1993, the Shanghai Classic Publishing Company and the St Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, the Russian Academy of Sciences collaborated to edit and publish all the Kharakhoto documents held in Russia. Chinese scholars and editors went to Russia twice, and together with Russian scholars they worked to collate, catalogue and photograph these materials. Around 8,000 Russian Tangut documents have been published in eleven volumes since 1996. In 2002,the Northwest Second National Minority College (Now the Northern National Minority University) started a project entitled 'Collation of Kharakhoto Documents Held in Britain'. They have cooperated with the Shanghai Classic Publishing Company since 2005 and published the four-volume Documents from Khara-Khoto in the British Library.(5)

Compared to the publication of Tangut documents held worldwide, the collation and publication of Tangut documents in China has been slow. The Tangut documents are held in Beijing, Ningxia, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Xinjiang and other places. Some scholars have collated these documents and made catalogues, although this work has not been published in its entirety. Ningxia University set up a project for the collation of Tangut manuscripts in China in 2001, and began to work with the Gansu Research Centre for Collating Chinese Classics in 2004. Later on, another ten institutions took part in this project too. Now the Gansu Renmin Publishing Company and the Dunhuang Wenyi Publishing Company have published Tangut Manuscripts Collected in China — Beijing in twelve volumes. The digitization of the Tangut documents took place just before the publication. The National Library of China, as a major holding institution of Tangut documents, digitized 121 Tangut documents in 2002, as well as organizing an exhibition on Tangut culture and cataloguing all the papers on Tangut studies. These resources can be freely searched and used at the website of the National Library of China. The detailed references concerning Tangut documents held at the National Library of China are listed in Appendix 3.

Although the Tangut documents are now being rapidly collated and digitized in China, web resources are being developed individually and in isolation. Institutions, whether in Beijing or Ningxia, have digitized the documents according to their own standards without sharing information or resources. Thus to date there is no complete resource including the original images of the documents, catalogues or full texts of the research papers and books on Tangut studies, historical records of the Tanguts and the achievements of scholars of Tangut and holding institutions. Scanning PDF articles can no longer satisfy user requirements. The creation of some kind of knowledge database is needed to allow more in-depth analysis into the results of research already undertaken. The National Library of China digitization of the catalogues of Tangut documents and research is an example of pioneering work in this area. The database has not been maintained or updated however, resulting in no new data since 2002.

Funded by the Ford Foundation, the symposium on 25–27 April, 2007 on Tangut civilization will also propose the construction of a web resource of Tangut studies. Similar to the knowledge database mentioned above, we suggest that the database should be based upon the existing Internet resources and full-text images, with useful links added. Information on the related institutions and scholars should also be included, and all the historical records related to the Tangut kingdom should be included in the database, so as to set up a functional knowledge base. At this stage, we are just creating a simple homepage displaying references on Tangut Buddhism and art. We believe that all scholars present at the symposium are the experts who are able to comment on what should be included in the database on Tangut Studies, thus promoting further research. Your valuable opinions and suggestions are therefore welcomed.



Review of Tangut studies in China



Timeline

朝代
Dynasty
帝王
Emperor
公元起讫
Dates (AD)
年号
Era names (Nian hao)
北宋
Bei song
宋太祖赵匡胤
song tai zu zhao kuang yin
960–963
963–968
968–976
建隆 jian long
乾德 qian de
开宝 kai bao
宋太宗赵灵
Song tai zong zhao ling
976–984
984–987
988–989
990–994
995–997
太平兴国 tai ping xing guo
雍熙 yong xi
端拱 duan gong
淳化 chun hua
至道 zhi dao
真宗赵恒
Zhen zong zhao heng
998–1003
1004–1007
1008–1016
1017–1021
1022
咸平 xian ping
景德 jing de
大中祥符 da zhong xiang fu
天禧 tian xi
乾兴 qian xing
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1023–1032
1032–1033
天圣 tian sheng
明道 ming dao
西夏
Xi xia
景宗李元昊
Jing zong li yuan hao
1032–1034 显道 xian dao
1034 开运 kai yun
1034–1036 广运 guang yun
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1034–1038 景祐 jing you
西夏
Xi xia
景宗李元昊
Jing zong li yuan hao
1036–1038 大庆 da qing
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1038–1040 宝元 bao yuan
西夏
Xi xia
景宗李元昊
Jing zong li yuan hao
1038–1048 天授礼法延祚 Tian shou li fa yan zuo
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1040–1041
1041–1048
康定 kang ding
庆历 qing li
西夏
Xi xia
毅宗李谅祚
Yi zong li liang zuo
1049 延嗣宁国 yan si ning guo
1050–1052 天祐垂圣 tian you chui sheng
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1049–1054 皇祐 huang you
西夏
Xi xia
毅宗李谅祚
Yi zong li liang zuo
1053–1056 福圣承道 fu sheng cheng dao
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1054–1056
1056–1063
至和 zhi he
嘉祐 jia you
西夏
Xi xia
毅宗李谅祚
Yi zong li liang zuo
1057–1062 奢单都 she dan du
1063–1067 拱化 gong hua
北宋
Bei song
仁宗赵祯
Ren zong zhao zhen
1064–1067 治平 zhi ping
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xu
1068–1077 熙宁 xi ning
西夏
Xi xia
惠宗李秉常
Hui zong li bing chang
1068–1069 乾道 qian dao
1070–1074 天赐礼盛国庆 Tian ci li sheng guo qing
1075–1085 大安 da an
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xu
1078–1085 元丰 yuan feng
西夏
Xi xia
惠宗李秉常
Hui zong li bing chang
1086 天安礼定
Tian an li ding
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xu
1086–1094 元祐 yuan you
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺 1086–1089 天仪治平 tian yi zhi ping
1090–1097 天祐民安 tian you min an
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xu
1094–1098
1098–1100
绍圣 shao sheng
元符 yuan fu
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺
Chong zong li qian shun
1098–1100 永安 yong an
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xn
1101 建中靖国 jian zhong jing guo
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺
Chong zong li qian shun
1101–1113 贞观 zhen guan
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xn
1102–1106
1107–1110
1111–1118
崇宁 chong ning
大观 da guan
政和 zheng he
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺
Chong zong li qian shun
1114–1118 雍宁 yong ning
北宋
Bei song
神宗赵顼
Shen zong zhao xu
1118–1119
1119–1125
重和 chong he
宣和 xuan he
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺
Chong zong li qian shun
1119–1127 元德 yuan de
北宋
Bei song
钦宗赵桓
Qin zong zhao huan
1126–1127 靖康 jing kang
西夏
Xi xia
崇宗李乾顺
Chong zong li qian shun
1127–1134 正德 zheng de
1135–1139 大德 da de
仁宗李仁孝
Ren zong li ren xiao
1140–1144
1144–1148
1149–1169
1170–1193
大庆 da qing
人庆 ren qing
天盛 tian sheng
乾祐 qian you
恒宗李纯祐
Heng zong li chun you
1194–1206 天庆 tian qing
襄宗李安全
Xiang zong li an quan
1206–1209
1210–1211
应天 ying tian
皇建 huang jian
神宗李遵项
Shen zong li zun xiang
1211–1223 光定 guang ding
献宗李德旺
Xian zong li de wang
1223–1226 乾定 qian ding
末主李睍
Mo zhu li xian
1226–1227 宝义 bao yi


Bibliography

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