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Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism: Visualizing Enlightenment at Baodingsh ...

Chapter 1:  Baodingshan and Concepts of Time
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Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism:

relates to ritual praxis. A third distinguishing feature of Baodingshan is the presence of inscriptional evidence showing continual use of the site from its inception in the late twelfth-century through to the present day. These inscribed texts give voice to visions of Baodingshan across time, providing glimpses of past activity and audience.

Baodingshan is like a Buddhist cave turned inside out, its subject matter eclectic, and its mode of representation not truly akin to earlier-carved precedents (fig. 2). Because Baodingshan is composed of so many disparate elements, considering the site from the perspective of time provides greater latitude in looking at not only twelfth-century societal beliefs, but also at the thoughts and actions of later worshippers and visitors to the site up through the twenty-first century. This is in contrast to earlier scholarship on Baodingshan that focused on singular works found at the site or placed it within a larger, regional arrangement of Buddhist sites in the twelfth century. These studies will be discussed as needed throughout the following chapters.

Baodingshan as Place

Baodingshan consists of a timber-frame monastic complex and two rock-cut areas, commonly referred to as Little Buddha Bend 小佛彎 and Great Buddha Bend 大佛彎 due to the crescent shape of the cliff-faces into which they were carved (fig. 3). The site is located on a limestone outcropping at an elevation of 500 meters, fifteen kilometers north of the city of Dazu 大足 historically part of Sichuan Province 四川, but governed by the municipality of Chongqing 重庆since 1997. Dazu County covers 1400 square kilometers northwest of Chongqing on the road to Chengdu 成都. During the Song Dynasty 宋朝 (960–1279 CE), this area of the Chengdu plain was considered one of the wealthiest regions in China.2 Its administrative and economic center is Dazu City, a market town that dates to 758 CE. It is not necessary to travel far to reach remnants of Dazu’s past, the city being ringed by religious sites dating from as early as the ninth century.