Hardcover, 392 pages, 132 illustrations (113 in colour), Honolulu 2018, new
As belief in the Buddha grew and his teachings were transmitted across Asia, Buddhist images, scriptures, and relics were duplicated and reduplicated to satisfy the needs of increasing numbers of the faithful. Yet how were these countless copies of sacred objects able to retain their authenticity and efficacy? Authentic Replicas explores how Buddhists in medieval China (seventh to twelfth centuries) solved this conundrum through the use of traditional methods of replication such as stamping, mold casting, and woodblock printing to create objects that fulfilled the spiritual aspirations of those who possessed them. Setting aside Western notions about the relative value of copies versus the “original,” the book posits Buddhist ideas on what imbues an object with credibility and authority and offers fresh insights into the ways authenticity was represented and reproduced in the Chinese Buddhist context.
Each section of the volume focuses on an area of artistic output to provide readers with a thorough grasp of the theological concepts underpinning each act of duplication. Part I looks at the replication of sutras to clarify how the spiritual value of a handwritten sutra differed from a printed one. In Part II, clay tablets, woodblock prints, silk paintings, and cave murals are examined to trace iconographic lineages and uncover the divine identity in each new replica. The chapters in Part III describe in detail the copying of the Buddha’s bodily relics and the endlessly repeated votive act of burying these in stupas. Of particular significance is the visual and textual vocabulary used on reliquaries to persuade adherents to believe in the actual presence of the Buddha concealed inside.
Deftly weaving together data and research from several disciplines, including Buddhist studies, archaeology, and art history, Authentic Replicas vividly conveys how replication lay at the heart of Buddhist worship in medieval China, offering a new understanding of how religious belief guided the artistic output of an entire age.