Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Travel Records of Chinese Pilgrims Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing

SOURCES FOR CROSS-CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN ANCIENT CHINA AND ANCIENT INDIA By Tansen Sen

I normally do redirect you to other material just for the heck of it. So I give you an abstract from the above 10-page work by Professor Tansen Sen. It has rich maps that I am sure you will love. So click, read and ensoy.

The spread of Buddhist doctrines from India to China beginning sometime in the first century CE triggered a profusion of cross-cultural exchanges that had a profound impact on Asian and world history. The travels of Buddhist monks and pilgrims and the simultaneous circulation of religious texts and relics not only stimulated interactions between the Indian kingdoms and various regions of China, but also influenced people living in Central and Southeast Asia.  Indeed, the transmission of Buddhist doctrines from India to China was a complex process that involved multiple societies and a diverse group of people,  including missionaries, itinerant traders, artisans, and medical professionals.

Chinese pilgrims played a key role in the exchanges between ancient India and ancientChina.They introduced new texts and doctrines to the Chinese  clergy, carried Buddhist paraphernalia for the performance of rituals and ceremonies, and provided detailed accounts of their spiritual journeys to India. Records of Indian society and its virtuous rulers, accounts of the flourishing monastic institutions, and stories about the magical and miraculous prowess  of the Buddha and his disciples often accompanied the descriptions of the pilgrimage sites in their travel records. In fact, these travel records contributed to the development of a unique perception of India among members of the Chinese clergy. For some, India was a sacred, even Utopian, realm. Others saw India as a mystical land inhabited by “civilized” and sophisticated people. In the context of Chinese discourse on foreign peoples, who were often described as uncivilized and barbaric, these accounts significantly elevated the Chinese perception of Indian society.

Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing were among hundreds of Chinese monks who made pilgrimages to India during the first millennium CE. The detailed accounts of their journeys make them more famous than others. These travel records are important historical resources for several reasons. First, they provide meticulous accounts of the nature of  Buddhist doctrines, rituals, and monastic institutions in South, Central, and Southeast Asia. Second, they     contain vital information about the social and political conditions in South Asia and kingdoms situated on the routes between China and India. Third, they offer remarkable insights into cross-cultural perceptions and interactions. Additionally, these accounts throw light on the arduous nature of long-distance travel, commercial exchanges, and the relationship between Buddhist pilgrims and itinerant merchants.

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