"Practicescapes and the Buddhists of Baoshan"

2021
Author(s):
Wendi Adamek
Publisher
Bochum/Freiburg: projektverlag

To the North of Henan Province in mainland China, Baoshan stands at the center of an extensive rhizome of Buddhist sites of worship. It is an area richly inscribed with memorials and biographical notes, textured by carvings, statues, reliquary niches, and cave shrines, and transformed through more than 1,400 years of Buddhist practice. While historical developments have led to the ongoing erosion of religious heritage—rituals were discontinued, spaces abandoned—the cultural significance of the landscape remains. In 2005, during one of her field trips to the site, Wendi Adamek has documented the then-current state of preservation in great detail. The corpus of photography she produced marked the beginning of a decade-long project on Baoshan as a practicescape, i.e. a landscape shaped by practice but also designed to facilitate the escape from worldly ways of living—ultimately, even from the cycle of birth and death itself.

Adamek's argument follows multiple vectors and interweaves such vastly different perspectives as philology and iconographical analysis of the materials in situ; the history and historiography of millenniarism and repentance in Chinese Buddhism, even up to the present day; the intradenominational debates on problems related to terminology, soteriology, practice, and gender; and studies in the theory and performance of reliquary and mortuary rites. Together with the photographical documentation of locations, images, and inscriptions, this holograph of the Baoshan practicescape truly breaks new ground. For one, it partially conserves the no-longer existing state of a one-and-a-half-millennium old network molded on Buddhist ideas and practice. And while the site introduced and studied here is located not at the center but at the margins of religious history, the following pages succeed admirably in illustrating its importance for understanding Chinese Buddhism, past and present. On a methodological level, the author convincingly underscores the scholarly importance of considering overlooked topics and topoi, and of directing theory-driven questions at a multiplicity of materials.