Buddhism on the
Silk Roads:
Xuan Zang 玄奘 and
the Transformation
of Chinese
Dialogues of Civilization
Summer, 2011
Course Description
This course traces the pilgrimage of the 7th century Buddhist monk Xuan Zang (602-664 CE) on the Silk Roads, from Xi’an
through Central Asia to India, and examines the multiple sites of cross-cultural exchange- religious, artistic, political, culturalthat were negotiated along the way. Accordingly, the course will attempt to not only map Xuan Zang’s journey from his own
perspective, as recorded in his memoirs and biographies, but also seek the significance of his travels in terms of the peoples,
cultures, and artifacts that he encountered on his travels. Finally, the course will attempt to critically appraise the legacy of
Xuan Zang’s journey on Chinese Buddhism, Chinese views of Central and South Asia, and the popular imagination,
particularly in regard to art and literature.
Ideally, the course should enable each participant to reflect on the following themes and questions:
The idea of religious pilgrimage. In what ways does Xuan Zang’s journey conform to what we would consider to be a “pilgrimage”
(i.e., a journey (usually of a long distance) made to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion)? What were his motivations
for journeying to the “West”? Would it be appropriate to describe his journey as “religious tourism”?
Cultural exchange on the Silk Roads. How were ideas, concepts, and ways of life communicated, interpreted, and transformed
on the Silk Roads? What concrete examples of cultural exchange and transformation can we identify on Xuan Zang’s
Anthropology of Central Asian cultures. What ways of life and modes of being are being described in Xuan Zang’s memoirs and
his biographies? How did his “Chinese” background color and shape his interpretations of local cultures?
The transformation of Chinese Buddhism. What can we say about Xuan Zang’s impact on the history of Chinese Buddhism?
Does the “failure” of Xuan Zang’s “Consciousness-Only” school (Weishi 唯識/Sanskrit, Vijñaptimātra) reveal something
about Chinese culture and society during the Tang? Could Xuan Zang’s most important contribution to Chinese
Buddhism be the growth of imperial patronage of Buddhist institutions?
Xuan Zang and the popular imagination. Why did the “legend of Xuan Zang” capture the popular imagination? What elements of
his journey seem most prominent in his hagiographies and legends?
(1) Photo Blog
Course Requirements
(2) Visit Presentation
(3) Participation
(4) Research Paper
Beal, Samuel, trans. The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang. Translated from the Chinese of Shaman Hwui li. 1911. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1973.
Beckwith, Christopher. Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present.
Ch’en, Kenneth. Buddhism in China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.
de Bary, Theodore, and Irene Bloom, eds. Sources of Chinese Tradition, Second Edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Devahuti, D. The Unknown Hsuan-Tsang. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Foltz, Richard. Religions of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange from Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century . New York: St.
Martin’s, 1999.
Graham, A. C. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1999.
Hall, David, and Ames, Roger. Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture. Albany: SUNY Press, 1995.
Lewis, Mark. China’s Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2009.
Li, Rongxi, trans. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and
Research, 1996.
Lokesh, Chandra, and Banerjee, Radha, eds. Xuanzang and the Silk Route. New Dehli: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2007.
Mitchell, Donald. Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Whitfield, Susan. Life along the Silk Road. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
Wriggins, Sally Hovey. The Silk Road Journey with Xuanzang. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996.
Yu, Anthony. The Monkey and the Monk: An Abridgment of the Journey to the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Pre-Trip Preparation
February: Chinese Texts and Philosophical Contexts.
Readings: de Bary, 3-224; Graham, 9-291; Hall & Ames, 181-282
March: Buddhism in China.
Readings: Mitchell, 9-150, 178-217; Chen, 3-240; de Bary, 415-43; Stanley Weinstein, “Imperial Patronage in the Formation of T’ang
Buddhism,” in Perspectives on the T’ang, eds. Denis Twitchett and Arthur Wright (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 265-306.
April: Central Asia and the Silk Roads.
Readings: Foltz, 1-60; Beckwith, 1-162; Lewis, 145-78, 207-40; Tansen Sen, “In Search of Longevity and Good Karma: Chinese Diplomatic
Missions to Middle India in the Seventh Century,” Journal of World History 12 (2002), 1-29; Devahuti, 1-68.
Week 1: Setting out from Chang’an (Xi’an)
Readings: Wriggins, The Silk Road Journey, 1-18; Beal, 1-34.
May 9th: Arrive in Xi’an and check in at the Xi’an
Garden Hotel. Tour the City Wall
and Gates (Chengmen).
May 10th: Visit the Qin Terracotta Army Museum.
May 11th: Visit the Shaanxi Museum and the Big
Goose Pagoda (Da Yan Ta).
May 12th: Travel to Lanzhou. Check into
the Lanzhou Hotel.
May 13th: Tour the Binglingsi Shiku (Bingling Grottoes).
May 14th: Visit the Labrang Monestary
in Xiahe.
May 15th: Travel to Jiayuguan. Check
into the Jiayuguan Binguan.
“Time seems to stop. In despair he begins to retrace
his steps back toward China and the fourth watchtower.
But then he remembers his oath that he would rather
Die with his face toward the West than return and live
In the East. Again he sets off. For four days and five nights
the pilgrim and his horse struggle westward. Not a drop of
water anywhere. His mouth, lips, and throat are parched
by burning heat. The evening of the fifth day horse and
rider fall down exhausted. Xuanzang collapses on the sand.
He prays to the Compassionate One, Guanyin. Dew
begins to fall on the pilgrim and his horse. A cool wind
blows over them. He is able to slide into a deep slumber.
He dreams of a tall spirit holding a lance and standard
who calls out to him, ‘Why do you sleep?’ Once more he
sets out with his skinny horse.”
Week 2: The Western Frontier
Readings: Wriggins, 19-36, Beal, 35-84;
Dorothy Wong, “The Making of a
Saint: Images of Xuan Zang in East
Asia,” Early Medieval China 8
(2002), 43-98; Chandra & Banerjee,
May 16th: Visit the Jiayuguan Pass.
May 17th: Travel to Dunhuang. Check into
the Dunhuang International
May 18th: Visit the Mogao Caves (Part 1).
May 19th: Visit the Mogao Caves (Part 2).
May 20th: Visit the Mogao Caves (Part 3).
May 21st: Travel to Hami. Check into the
Hami Hotel.
May 22nd: Travel to Turpan. Check into the
Turpan Guesthouse.
Week 3: Oases of the Northern Silk Road
Readings: Victor Mair, “The Origins of the Iconographic Pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang,” T’ang Studies 4 (1986), 29-41.
May 23rd: Visit the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves.
May 24th: Visit the ancient city of Gaochang.
May 25th: Visit the ancient city of Jiaohe.
May 26th: Travel to Kucha. Check into the Qiuchi Binguan.
May 27th: Visit the ancient city of Subashi.
May 28th: Visit the Kizil Kara Buddhist Caves.
May 29th: Travel to Kashgar. Check into the Century Hotel.
Week 4: Passage to India
Readings: Wriggins, 37-54; Li Rongxi, 15-82.
May 30th: Visit the Three Immortals Buddhist Caves
(Sanxian Dong).
May 31st: Visit the Idkah Mosque and the ancient city
of Hanoi.
June 1st: Travel to Tashkent. Check into the Gulnara
June 2nd: Tour the Old Town and Chorsu Bazaar
and visit the Khast Imom.
June 3rd: Travel to Samarkand. Check into Antica.
June 4th: Visit the Registan and the Bibi-Khanym
June 5th: Travel to Delhi, Varanasi (Benares). Check
into the Uma Guesthouse.
Week 5: Seeing the Buddha
Readings: Wriggins, 55-136; Beal, 85-165;
Li Rongxi, 165-220; Chandra & Banerjee,
June 6th: Tour Varanasi.
June 7th: Visit Kapilavastu and Lumbini.
June 8th: Tour Sarnath. View the Dhamekh Stupa,
Ashoka’s Pillar, and Chaukhandi Stupa.
June 9th: Tour Deer Park and visit the Sarnath Museum.
June 10th: Travel to Bodh Gaya. Check into Hotel
June 11th: Visit the Mahabodhi Temple.
June 12th: Visit Nalanda.
June 13th: Travel to Delhi. Depart for Boston.
Final Reading: Yu.