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Imaging the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing in Late Imperial Chinese Gazetteers and European Travelogues

Wednesday 2 May 2018
China Seminar
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

The Baoensi Pagoda, commissioned by Emperor Yongle (1402-1424), was more than just a structure to hold the relics of the Buddha. Upon completion in 1428, with its soaring height, regal ceramic surface, pleasant wind chimes, and dazzling oil lamps, it created a spectacle in Jinling (now Nanjing). The pagoda is highlighted as a prominent feature of the Baoen Temple in the Jinling Buddhist Temple Gazetteer (1607). A few decades late, Dutch explorer Johan Nieuhof published his popular travelogue, An embassy from the East-India Company (1665). His fascination with the pagoda sparked an oriental fantasy of the “porcelain pagoda” across Europe. This talk treats the publication of these two books as indexical events that led to divergent trajectories of imaging the pagoda in late imperial China, and fantasizing and replicating it in Europe. In 2015, these two trajectories that were set apart in the seventeenth century converged in the seminal reconstruction of the pagoda on its original site. At the end of this paper, I will examine how this new pagoda constitutes a contested space for modern religiosity, cultural consumption, and nationalistic fervor. 

Fan Lin's broad interest revolves around the relationship between word and image in the middle-period China, with particular foci on the production and circulation of maps and mapmaking knowledge, and the spatial logic of wall paintings in Buddhist caves. 

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