Picturing the True Form investigates the long-neglected visual culture of Daoism, China’s primary indigenous religion, from the tenth through thirteenth centuries with references to both earlier and later times. In this richly illustrated book, Shih-Shan Susan Huang provides a comprehensive mapping of Daoist images in various media, including Dunhuang manuscripts, funerary artifacts, and paintings, as well as other charts, illustrations, and talismans preserved in the fifteenth-century Daoist Canon. True form (zhenxing), the key concept behind Daoist visuality, is not static, but entails an active journey of seeing underlying and secret phenomena.
This book’s structure mirrors the two-part Daoist journey from inner to outer. Part I focuses on inner images associated with meditation and visualization practices for self-cultivation and longevity. Part II investigates the visual and material dimensions of Daoist ritual. Interwoven through these discussions is the idea that the inner and outer mirror each other and the boundary demarcating the two is fluid. Huang also reveals three central modes of Daoist symbolism—aniconic, immaterial, and ephemeral—and shows how Daoist image-making goes beyond the traditional dichotomy of text and image to incorporate writings in image design. It is these particular features that distinguish Daoist visual culture from its Buddhist counterpart.
Picturing the True Form undertakes a path-breaking and comprehensive treatment of a highly important topic in the study of Chinese religions: the nature and cultural import of Daoist art. With an unprecedented level of analysis and meticulous attention to detail, Susan Huang considers Daoist artworks from the perspective of cultural history and presents exciting new data on how Daoist art differed from that of Buddhism. The result is not only an assiduous investigation of Daoist visual culture, but a veritable history of Daoism itself.
Huang’s book is an enormously valuable and monumental undertaking, highly recommended, and will go far to spread awareness of the vast Daoist visual lexicon.
The first of its kind, Picturing the True Form is a comprehensive mapping of Daoist images found in various media—paintings, diagrams, drawings, and woodblock prints scattered throughout the Daoist canon. Not only is the sheer magnitude of such an undertaking remarkable, but the judicious discrimination the author brings to bear in sorting out the visual materials makes this book all the more commendable. A sturdy building block in laying out a new field in the study of Daoist images, it will easily become a go-to volume on the nature and use of Daoist images.
- 526 pages
- 8 x 10 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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