Entering the Seemingly Unattainable Country of Laṅkā: Carving the Laṅkāvatāra Sutra at Mount Gang in Shandong

2021 Sammy Lee Seminar

Photo for Entering the Seemingly Unattainable Country

Photo taken by Hsueh-man Shen

Friday, November 5, 2021
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Live via Zoom

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Among all stone sutra sites in China, Mount Gangshan stands out because of the visuality it creates and the experience it affords. This paper explores the way in which the carving and subsequent placement of the Laṅkāvatāra Sutra across many rocks on the mountain create an immersive experience that prompts visitors to contemplate the sutra doctrine of the absence of an independent, permanent nature in everything. It shows that the design intentionally confuses spectators, making them fuse the images of Laṅkā and Mount Gang in their minds. This mental process makes one realize that all phenomena are but mental projections. Once he realizes this, he obtains the key to the Unattainable Country of Laṅkā.


Hsueh-man Shen is Ehrenkranz Associate Professor in World Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Prior to joining the faculty of NYU, she taught at the University of Edinburgh, U.K. She also held several curatorial positions in the U.K., U.S., and Taiwan. Shen received her Ph.D. in Archaeology at the University of Oxford and M.A. in Art History at National Taiwan University.
Professor Shen’s research on the art and material culture of premodern China focuses on the transmission of ideas, technologies, and objects across time and space. She has published books, articles, and book chapters, as well as curating exhibitions of varied subjects. She is author of the recent book entitled Authentic Replicas: Buddhist Art in Medieval China (2019). Among her exhibitions was Gilded Splendor: Treasures of China’s Liao Empire that opened at the Asia Society Museum in New York and subsequently travelled to Germany and Switzerland (2006-2007). More recently she co-curated the special exhibition, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, to open at the Getty Center in 2016. She is currently working on a book manuscript to explore how maritime connections reconfigured the cultural boundaries of East Asia during the long twelfth century.


About the Sammy Yukuan Lee Lecture Series

First presented in 1982, the Sammy Yukuan Lee Lectures on Chinese Art and Archaeology honors the life and philanthropy of respected businessman, art collector, and Chinese art authority, Sammy Yukuan Lee. This series is presented annually by the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies with support from the Sammy Yukuan Lee Foundation.

Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, we have temporarily shifted the lecture series to an online Zoom-based platform for 2021. This year we are pleased to feature two renowned speakers in their respective fields, Hsueh-Man Shen (Ehrenkranz Associate Professor in World Art, NYU) and Dr. Zhouyong Sun (Shaanxi Province Academy of Archeology). Each speaker will lead a graduate workshop and deliver a public lecture, with Professor Shen speaking on November 5-6, 2021 and Dr. Sun on November 19-20, 2021. All events are free and open to the public.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies