China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The Cao Tiandu Pagoda, made out of stone in 466 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty, is among the earliest examples of miniature pagodas found in China. Its tower part has been taken to Japan during World War II and later returned to Taiwan, while the umbrella top remains preserved at Shuozhou, where the pagoda was rediscovered at early-twentieth century. Its outstanding craftsmanship and well-preserved inscriptions make it significant for architectural historians to reconstruct the appearance of Northern Wei pagodas in built form.
Since the early twentieth century, miniature stone pagodas, especially those dated prior to the seventh century AD, have been extensively studied by architectural historians for reconstructing the appearance of pagodas in built form studied, as rarely any pagodas in built form survived from this period. This approach contributed specifically for the delineation of an evolutionary history of Chinese architecture, however, it at the same time over-simplified the study of miniature pagodas due to the lack of considering their religious and historical contexts. Reexamining the evolutionary approach applied in the study of early medieval Chinese pagodas, this paper argues that the rendering of miniature works as models of real buildings is problematic in the methodological concern, and intends to relocate the Cao Tiandu pagoda back into its artistic, religious and historical context by exploring its connections to a group of miniature stone pagodas found in the same region in the fifth and sixth centuries.