Representing Childhood in Chinese Buddhism

Winston Kyan

in Little Buddhas

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860265
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979929 | DOI:

Series: AAR Religion, Culture, and History

Representing Childhood in Chinese Buddhism

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Pictorial and textual representations of the Sujati Jataka in medieval China illustrate more than the perfection of generosity that is the central message in numerous jataka tales; the specific description of a young boy cutting and offering his flesh to his starving parents involve complicated social and cultural issues of self-mutilation, cannibalism, and the parent-child relationship that illuminate the construction of childhood in medieval China. Focusing on visual representations of this narrative from Mogao Caves and original translations of this story from the Sutra on the Wise and Foolish and the Sutra on Repaying Kindness, this chapter situates representations of the Sujati Jataka into shifting attitudes toward childhood authority and parental responsibility that take place in medieval Chinese Buddhism from the sixth to eighth century, when tensions between Buddhist ideals of renouncing the family and Confucian imperatives of filial piety were particularly intense.

Keywords: Chinese Buddhism; childhood authority; filial piety; mogao caves; self-sacrifice; Sujati Jataka; Jataka tales

Chapter.  12458 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Buddhism

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