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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.1 (2018): 226–247;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism in the West)

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Arthur Waley, Xu Zhimo, and the Reception of Buddhist Art in Europe: A Neglected Source

SOAS, London

Abstract: This paper examines the creation of ‘Zen Art’ in the Anglophone world. In particular, I examine the celebrated translator Arthur Waley’s conceptualization of Zen art, and argue that he wrote an anonymous review of Anesaki Masaharu’s 姉崎正治 English-language treatise on Buddhist art and ideals with the help of Xu Zhimo. This overlooked review is an important text to trace the twentieth century discussion and translation of Zen writings on art and aestheticism. While discussing both Anesaki and Waley’s respective works on Buddhist art, in addition to Waley’s interactions with Japanese Zen writers, I outline the cast of characters and the networks that created a popular concept of ‘Zen Art’ in the Anglophone world that did not exist in East Asia.

Keywords: Arthur Waley, Xu Zhimo, Anesaki Masaharu, Zen art, translation


About the Author: Tim H. Barrett is Emeritus Professor of East Asian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He studied Chinese at Cambridge and Buddhist Studies at Yale, and spent much of his career publishing on the history of the religious traditions of East Asia, primarily with regard to China. His books include Li Ao: Buddhist, Taoist, or Neo-Confucian? (1992), Taoism Under the T’ang (1996), The Woman Who Discovered Printing (2008)and From Religious Ideology to Political Expediency in Early Printing (2012).


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.