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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.1 (2022): 167–200;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Text and Image & Buddhist Biography)

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From Scriptural to Familial: Textual Shifts of Zunsheng Dhāranī Tomb Pillars in Middle Period Northern Shanxi

National University of Singapore

Abstract: In Middle Period China, how did changes in inscriptional content and format affect people’s perception of the imagined salvation powers of Zunsheng dhāranī pillars? While the existing scholarship focuses on Tang-dynasty pillars, which were commonly inscribed with a full set of the Zunsheng Dhāranī Sūtra, this article sheds light on Zunsheng tomb pillars in the post-Tang periods. It analyses how textual shift on the pillar surfaces indexed changing perception of the pillars’ merit-making performance. Drawing on extant Zunsheng tomb pillars and published inscriptions from northern Shanxi and neighbouring communities, I argue that after the Tang, the scriptural texts that had been the essence of Zunsheng dhāranī pillars were displaced by familial texts on pillar surfaces, as local people inscribed increasingly lengthier familial records that extended from epitaphs of individuals zup the conviction that the scriptural texts’ material presence was necessary for the Zunsheng tomb pillars to contain efficacy. Instead, the imagined efficacy of a tomb pillar hinged on people’s recognition of it as a Zunsheng pillar.

Keywords: Zunsheng Dhāranī Sūtra, tomb pillar, Middle Period China, Tang dynasty, Song-Liao-Jin-Yuan periods, genealogical qriting, salvation powers


About the Author: Wang Jinping 王錦萍 is an assistant professor of History at the National University of Singapore. She is a social-cultural-political historian of pre-modern China, and holds a Ph.D. from Yale University (2011). Her research interests include Chinese history, Chinese religions, regional studies, and the Mongol-Yuan and Ming Empires. Her first book In the Wake of the Mongols: The Making of a New Social Order in North China, 1200–1600 was published by Harvard in 2018. Wang is currently working on two new projects, ‘Cultural History of Quanzhen Daoism’ and ‘Empire on the Ground: A Social History of Ming-Mongol Relations in the Northern Frontiers’.


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.