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Manuscript fragment of Datong fangguang chanhui miezui zhuangyan chengfo jing (Sutra on solemn attainment of Buddhahood by means of repentance to extinguish sins in a great, thorough, and broad way)

Photo: Scott Leen

Manuscript fragment of Datong fangguang chanhui miezui zhuangyan chengfo jing (Sutra on solemn attainment of Buddhahood by means of repentance to extinguish sins in a great, thorough, and broad way)

8th century

This Buddhist sutra (scripture) can be dated by its elegant calligraphic style to around the 7th–8th century and appears to come from the ancient desert city of Dunhuang in western China. The text provides long lists of the Buddha’s names, recited as confessional rites to wipe away one’s sins. The high-quality paper has even, horizontally laid lines that are impressions from the papermaking sieve. Its dark yellow color comes from dye that is repellent to insects, and the scalloped edges are from water damage that occurred when the work was rolled up. Laboratory analysis confirms that the paper’s fibers are from the mulberry family and consistent with other Dunhuang manuscripts in the Aurel Stein Collection at the British Museum. Approximately nine other fragments of this sutra’s text survive, three of which were discovered at Dunhuang in the early 20th century.
Handscroll; ink on mulberry-fiber paper
10 5/8 x 19 5/16 in. (27 x 49 cm)
Gift of Anna M. Bille, Fook-Tan, and Clara Ching
2017.21
Provenance: Library Cave (Cave 17), Mogao, Dunhuang, Gansu province, June 1900; Rao Yingqi (1837-1903), Governor of Xinjiang and Gansu provinces, Urumqi, Xinjiang province, 1900-1903; {possibly to his wife, Mrs. Rao Yingqi (née Wang, d. 1914), Enshi, Hubei province, 1903-1914}; to their son, Dr. Rao Fenghuang (1876-1953), Enshi, Hubei and Beijing, China, ca. 1914-ca. 1932; to his daughter, Rao Yu’ai (1912-1981), Beijing, China, ca. 1932; to her English professor, Anna Matilda Bille (1879-1942), Beijing, China, and Honolulu, Hawaii, 1932-1942; to her friend and colleague at Tsinghua University, Fook-Tan Ching (Chen Futian) (1897-1956), Honolulu, Hawaii, 1942-1956; to his son, Yi-chuan Ching, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1956-2017; to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 2017
Photo: Scott Leen
location
Not currently on view

Resources

Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing [on view Feb. 8, 2020 - July 11, 2021].
Published ReferencesFoong, Ping, Xiaojin Wu, and Darielle Mason. "An Asian Art Museum Transformed." Orientations vol. 51, no. 3 (May/June 2020): pp. 66-67, reproduced fig. 27.

Foong, Ping. "One of the First to Emerge from the Library Cave: The Seattle Art Museum Sutra Fragment." Silk Roads Archaeology and Heritage vol. 1, no. 1 (2024): 77–99.

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