Building a Sacred Mountain

The Buddhist Architecture of China's Mount Wutai

Wei-Cheng Lin

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  • Published: 2014
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Archaeology; History
  • Bibliographic information: 344 pp., 102 illustrations, 10 maps, 7 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

By the tenth century CE, Mount Wutai had become a major pilgrimage site within the emerging culture of a distinctively Chinese Buddhism. Famous as the abode of the bodhisattva Mañju r (known for his habit of riding around the mountain on a lion), the site in northeastern China's Shanxi Province was transformed from a wild area, long believed by Daoists to be sacred, into an elaborate complex of Buddhist monasteries.

In Building a Sacred Mountain, Wei-Cheng Lin traces the confluence of factors that produced this transformation and argues that monastic architecture, more than texts, icons, relics, or pilgrimages, was the key to Mount Wutai's emergence as a sacred site. Departing from traditional architectural scholarship, Lin's interdisciplinary approach goes beyond the analysis of forms and structures to show how the built environment can work in tandem with practices and discourses to provide a space for encountering the divine.

For more information:
Wei-Cheng Lin is assistant professor of Chinese art history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"A well-researched, serious, significant book on fascinating subjects with profound impact on Chinese civilization."
-Nancy Steinhardt, University of Pennsylvania
Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
1. Building the Monastery, Locating the Sacred Presence
2. Entering the Mountains, Localizing the Sacred Presence
3. The Sacred Presence in Place and in Vision
4. Mediating the Distance to Mount Wutai
5. Reconfiguring the Center
6. Narrative, Visualization, and Transposition of Mount Wutai
Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Conventions and Abbreviations
List of Illustrations

"A must read for any reader interested in Buddhist arts and architecture, or the history of East Asian religious traditions, Building a Sacred Mountain is a superb piece of scholarship and a model of appreciation for the integral relationships between religion and the arts."
-John Renard, Religion and the Arts

"Reflects a remarkably ambitious and rigorous scholarly undertaking. It illustrates the reciprocal relationship between a unique geographic phenomenon and a sensitive and enlightened human response. The wide-ranging and exhaustive research that supports this book will give it enduring value to a wide range of scholars. "

"[T]he overall themes of visions, buildings, and pilgrimage that run throughout this beautifully illustrated, meticulously documented book are consistently compelling: there was, Lin demonstrates, much more to building Wutai than buildings."
-John Kieschnick, Journal of Asian Studies

"As Lin's insightful work makes abundantly clear, through the ontology of Wutaishan-from mountain, to monastery, to mandala, to mural, and from vision to built environment-Mount Wutai was always something like a 'virtual mountain.'"
-Johan Elverskog, American Historical Review

"[A] rich and nuanced historicization of Mount Wutai's ascent and transformations from the third through the tenth century, and an insightful account of the ever-shifting and contextual grounds of sacred geography. Lin's book is a substantial contribution to the recent wave of scholarship on Mount Wutai, but it's impact will be felt well beyond the borders of this subfield. . . . Elegantly written and produced. . . . [A] careful reader is rewarded with an expanded vista from which to see the Foguang Monastery, and through which to enter the field of sacred geography anew."
-Wen-shing Chou, Monumenta Serica