Publications by Type: Book


A traditional approach to the study of East Asian Buddhist art revolves around the notion of artistic relay: India is regarded as the source of inspiration for China, and China, in turn, influenced artistic production on the Korean Peninsula and in Japan. Likewise, the transmission of Buddhism is often described in a linear fashion, but, as many scholars have observed, the religion’s dissemination was a complex, multifaceted, and multidirectional process. The linear model of the transmission of Buddhist art also implicitly assumes that art in a host country or region is only derivative of foreign styles, precluding a deeper understanding of the complexity of transnational and transregional exchanges.

            Examining the various patterns of East Asian Buddhist art exchange between the fifth and 13th centuries, this volume aims to go beyond the conventional query of origin tracing and the notion that the meaning of an image or motif remains constant through time and space. The essays comprise a series of case studies mapping exchanges and their outcomes, investigating the agency of the “receivers.” Several common themes addressed across the essays include: the importance of understanding local conditions and circumstances; the vital role played by Buddhist texts, from availability of versions to apocryphal compositions; and the dissemination and reception of copies.

            The volume is divided into three sections. The three chapters by Jinchao Zhao, Li-kuei Chien, and Hong Wu in Section I, “Transmission and Local Interpretations,” address issues of transnational dissemination of Buddhist imagery and figural styles, and subsequent alterations or adaptations based on local preferences, perceptions, and interpretations. The chapters by Dorothy C. Wong, Imann Lai, and Clara Ma in Section II, “Buddhism and the State,” attend to the political dimensions of Buddhist art, the ways in which the transmission of Buddhism influenced political ideologies and notions of kingship in Asian polities. Section III, “Iconography and Traditions,” comprises studies by Sakiko Takahashi, Suijun Ra, and Tamami Hamada that explore the transmission of and subtle variations in iconography and style of specific Buddhist deities, notably deities of Esoteric strands such as the Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara.



A common style in East Asian Buddhist art emerged in China, Japan and Korea in the middle of the seventh century and prevailed for about a hundred years. What took shape from the exchange of ideas, practices, and art forms between China and the surrounding regions was a synthetic art style uniform in iconography and formal characteristics. In this richly illustrated study, Dorothy C. Wong argues that notions of Buddhist kingship and a theory of the Buddhist state were in the ascendant across East Asia during this period, and that these religio-political ideals found visual expression in the new art style. Wong asserts that Buddhist pilgrim-monks (traveling between the courts and religious centers) were among the key agents in the transmission of these ideals, and her work assesses their role in the spread, circulation, adoption and transformation of the visual language of state Buddhism, and of the attendant rituals and practices. Transcending cultural and geographical boundaries, this cosmopolitan visual style of Buddhism helped shape the cultural landscape of Northeast Asia.


Wong D, Heldt G. China and Beyond in the Mediaeval Period: Cultural Crossings and Inter-regional Connections. Singapore; Amherst, NY; New Delhi: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies; Cambria Press; Manohar Publishers; 2014.
This volume examines China’s contacts with neighboring cultures in Central, South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia, as well as contacts among those cultures from the beginning of the Common Era to the tenth century and beyond. During this period, transregional and crosscultural exchanges were fostered by both peaceful and aggressive activities and movements of peoples across Eurasia along land and maritime routes. Such movements played an important role in world history in the medieval period, and yet many aspects of cultural exchanges across Eurasia remain understudied. The lack of knowledge is particularly evident in treatments of Chinese history between the Han and Tang empires. Examining relations with neighboring cultures during this period calls into question notions of China as a monolithic cultural entity.



Wong D, Field EM. Hōryūji Reconsidered. New Castle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 2008.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, the Hōryūji temple complex includes some of the oldest and largest surviving wooden buildings in the world. The original Hōryūji temple was built between 601 and 607 by Prince Regent Shōtoku (573?-622), one of Japan's best-known cultural heroes. The construction of the temple marked the introduction of Buddhism and Buddhist art and architecture to Japan from China, by way of the Korean peninsula, as promoted by Prince Shōtoku. After a fire in 670 that destroyed the site, the temple was rebuilt and enlarged. Hōryūji became one of Japan's leading centers of Buddhist scholarship as well as a focus for the cult of its founder, Prince Shōtoku. This volume of essays originate from the "The Dawn of East Asian International Buddhist Art and Architecture: Hōryūji (Temple of the Exalted Law) in Its Contexts" symposium held at the University of Virginia in October 2005. Covering the disciplines of archaeology, architecture, architectural history, art history, and religion, these essays aim to shed new light on the Hōryūji complex by (1) examining new archaeological materials, (2) incorporating computer analysis of the structural system of the pagoda, and (3) including cross-cultural, interdisciplinary perspectives that reflect current research in various ways.


Wong D. Chinese Steles:Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press; 2004.

Buddhist steles represent an important subset of early Chinese Buddhist art that flourished during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (386-581). Adapted from the traditional Chinese stone tablet (bei) used for carving Buddhist images, symbols, and allegorical stories, this hybrid form epitomizes the close interactions and synthesis of indigenous Chinese and Indian Buddhist traditions on many levels: religious, social, cultural, and artistic. The phenomenon of Buddhist steles lasted only about a century (from the late fifth through the sixth century), yet this brief period yielded many works of superb artistic quality. These steles also offer important insights into the role Buddhism played in the history and culture of early medieval China and the process of adaptation and transformation by which the foreign religion was assimilated into Chinese society and became part of its civilization.

More than two hundred Chinese Buddhist steles are known to have survived. Their brilliant imagery has long captivated scholars, yet until now the Buddhist stele as a unique art form has received little scholarly attention. Dorothy Wong rectifies that insufficiency by providing in this well-illustrated volume the first comprehensive investigation of this group of Buddhist monuments. She traces the ancient roots of the Chinese stele tradition and investigates the process by which Chinese steles were adapted for Buddhist use. She arranges the known corpus of Buddhist steles into broad chronological and regional groupings and analyzes not only their form and content but also the nexus of complex issues surrounding this art form — from cultural symbolism to the interrelations between religious doctrine and artistic expression, economic production, patronage, and the synthesis of native and foreign art styles. In her analysis of Buddhism's dialogue with native traditions, Wong demonstrates how the Chinese artistic idiom planted the seeds for major achievements in figural and landscape arts in the ensuing Sui and Tang periods.

Considering the use of the upright stone by artists in many civilizations, this study of traditional Chinese bei and their Buddhist adaptations contemplates subjects that transcend the steles' own time and place, thus entering the larger discussion of the nature of symbolic forms.