China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The Scripture for Humane Kings (Renwang jing) was written in fifth-century North China and revised at imperial behest by the Indian esoteric Buddhist master Amoghavajra (705-774). As Charles Orzech has shown, it integrates Confucian and Buddhist concepts to empower rulers and the Buddhist establishment. Though the Song court did not embrace this scripture as their Tang predecessors had, the text found favor in the so-called border kingdoms, including the Dali kingdom (937-1253) in what is now Southwest China. Dali images and art show how important this scripture was for the Dali court. The best known work of Dali-kingdom Buddhism is the 1170s Roll of Buddhist Images (Fanxiang juan), a long painting that depicts a wide range of Buddhist figures, starting with its patron, the Lizhen Emperor Duan Zhixing (r. 1172-1199). The opening scene of Duan Zhixing and his retinue is mirrored at the end of the painting with a scene of the “great kings of sixteen states” from the Scripture for Humane Kings as well as a dhāraṇī pillar from the scripture. Extant Dali-kingdom manuscripts, commentaries, subcommentaries, and ritual texts for the Scripture for Humane Kings underscore its importance for constructing Dali rulers’ images of Buddhist kingship. This paper uses the visual and textual sources tied to the Scripture for Humane Kings to argue that Dali-kingdom depictions of Buddhist kingship closely followed Tang models. Dali rulers portrayed themselves as heirs to Tang esoteric Buddhism by recentering Buddhist transmission to Dali and elevating Dali rulers above their counterparts in other polities.