Monday, 4 June 2012

Xuanzang and the "Records of the Western Regions"

Timothy H. Barrett, “The Xiyu-ji and Chinese Historiography”
Although a considerable quantity of Buddhist and non-Buddhist literature survives from the first millennium of the Common Era describing the world as the Chinese knew it, the Xiyu ji is generally regarded as representing the apogee of detailed Chinese knowledge of other parts of the world during this period.  Certainly it provides a clear picture of China as but one of a number of civilisations which remained part of the heritage of Chinese knowledge of the wider world for as long as it was read or its influence was indirectly felt.  Yet Xuanzang, for all his travels, did not arrive at his own appreciation of China’s place in the world; rather, he drew on earlier traditions of knowledge.  These require examination.  Equally, there is no reason to assume that once the Xiyu jiitself no longer represented current knowledge its picture of the world receded entirely in importance.  No matter how sharply China turned inwards, the broader conception of the inhabited world captured in its pages still survived in some unremarked but quite important contexts.

Max Deeg, “The ‘Record of the Western Regions’ Between Chinese Text and Western Historical Imagination”
The Xiyu-ji (‘Record of the Western Regions’) has been used, since its first translation into a Western language through the French sinologist Stanislas Julien, as a source for the study of Buddhist and history in general of Central Asia and India in a assumedly positivist-objective way without really questioning the hermeneutical approach to the text in its Chinese historical context. This has led, paradoxically, to a “romanticized” view of the text as the personal account of a Chinese Buddhist monk of his travels through Central Asia and India which is historically correct and precise in its description which was, however, influenced by a confusion with another text, the Xuanzang-biography (Ciensi-sanzang-fashi-zhuan). The paper will present some examples where this confusion has resulted in an imagined Western historical reality which does not take into account the intentionality of the original text of the Xiyu-ji.

Antonello Palumbo, “Between religious disputation and imperial  mentorship: Xuanzang as Buddhist partisan and ideologist”
Xuanzang's astonishing life is usually labelled under two main rubrics: the travelling monk, author of the Xiyu ji and first-hand knower of Indian and Central Asian Buddhism; and the consummate scholar, impeccable translator of scores of Sanskrit texts and expert of Yogācāra doctrine. Far less studied is Xuanzang's involvement in court politics and in the ideological argument of his days, which saw him as the single most authoritative spokesman for the elite Buddhist clergy between 645 and 664. This paper will offer a preliminary exploration of this intriguing facet of Xuanzang's life, focusing on his role in the Buddhist-Taoist polemic and his exchanges with the throne, as recorded especially in the Si shamen Xuanzang shangbiao ji.

Tokio Takata, “Old Japanese Manuscript Copies of the Da Tang Xiyu ji and Their Value”
A considerable number of manuscript copies of the Da Tang Xiyuji have been transmitted until now in Japan. They were hand-copied by Japanese Buddhist monks in the Heian period (794-1185) and theKamakura period (1185-1333). The oldest one even dates back to 785 AD ( 4th year of Enryaku延暦), much older than Dunhuang manuscript fragments. The text of these Japanese manuscript copies differ in many cases from the text extant in the printed editions of the Chinese Tripitakas, and considered to represent an earlier version of the work, i.e. the text of the Tang period. They are extremely important for establishing a critical edition of the Da Tang Xiyuji. The paper attempts to shed light on the scope and nature of the emendation undertaken in the Tang court by collating all the seven ancient Japanese manuscripts available to us now, the Dunhuang fragments, and the versions in the Tripitakas.

Giovanni Verardi, “Xuanzang’s Account as Testimony of the Difficulties Faced by Buddhism in the Second Half of the Sixth and at the Beginning of the Seventh Century”
The dismal state of Buddhism in many regions of India as reflected in the Xiyuji has been the object of various evaluations, although we can say that it has been mostly attributed to a long process of decay coupled with external factors such as the invasion of the Hūṇas. But it is more appropriate to single out two periods of crisis, the first of which corresponds to the establishment of the Gupta dynasty and the acceleration of the process of Brahmanical colonization of a large part of the Indian fertile lands and the imposition of varṇāśramadharma (fourth and early fifth century).
As to the second period of crisis, it was due to the formation, in the sixth century, of regional states modelled on the Gupta state and politics in the Deccan and in Bengal, and to the instrumental use by the Brahmans of the foreign invaders, who were directed, as for instance in Gandhāra, against the representatives of the religion of Dharma. The Xiyuji mirrors this second period of crisis, although it was conceived when Harṣavardhana, for about half a century, succeeded in creating a powerful bulwark against Brahmanical revivalism.

Dorothy Wong, “Xuanzang as an Agent of Artistic Transmission”
The accomplishments of Xuanzang are multifaceted. This paper examines the role this celebrated pilgrim-monk played in the transmission of Buddhist art from India to China, and the subsequent impact he had on East Asian Buddhist art. From the icons he brought back to China to his own personal devotional focus and the Buddhist texts that he translated, he directly and indirectly contributed to the dissemination of a new Indian Buddhist art style as well as generated interests in new subjects. Some of the topics investigated in this paper include the Buddha type associated with Bodhigaya (with right hand in earth-touching gesture), renewed interests in devotion to Maitreya and Avalokiteśvara, the practice of dedicating numerous stamped clay tablets, and also Xuanzang’s request of the building of a stūpa in Indian style.

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