Chinese Calligraphy and Early Buddhist Manuscripts (3rd-5th Century)

Tsui, Chung-hui 崔中慧 (forthcoming) Chinese Calligraphy and Early Buddhist Manuscripts (3rd-5th Century). Oxford: Indica et Buddhica.

This monograph will examine the calligraphic style of Chinese Buddhist manuscripts, stone inscriptions and other materials written before the 5th century.

The development of Chinese Buddhism early in the Han dynasty was based mainly on the translation and composition of scriptures. This was a time when the art of Chinese calligraphy reached its height, and when many calligraphers worked in various styles. In the early twentieth century a significant number of early Chinese manuscripts were discovered in Dunhuang and Turfan. With an increasing demand for the academic study of these materials more attention needs to be given to the evolution of their calligraphic styles.

Tsui maps the development of Chinese calligraphy from the clerical to standard script style during the Han to Wei-Jin period. She also identifies a calligraphic style —the Northern Liang Style— created in the Northern Liang period with influence from Central Asian scriptural writing.

Tsui's work suggests that some manuscripts of the Sixteen Kingdoms period were written by Buddhist monks or professional scribes practiced in bilingual or multi-language scripts. She also suggests that these monks or scribes were often the beneficiaries of state sponsorship, which established Buddhist text translation bureaux or organized workshops, as well as a literary or secretarial system. In addition, it is suggested that they had a far-reaching impact on Buddhist scribal culture, and on the production of the Tripitaka, from the Northern Wei period onwards.