Ksitigarbha images from the Turfan region: An aspect of Uyghur Buddhist art of the 9th to 14th centuries

Miki Morita, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation attempts to reveal an aspect of the Uyghur people centered in northwestern China between the ninth through the fourteenth centuries through visual remains discovered in the Turfan region. Despite their importance in East and Central Asian history, art history, and religious history, actual societal conditions of the Uyghurs of this period, especially before the thirteenth century, are still unclear in many aspects primarily due to the scarcity of written records. The theme of Ksitigarbha and scenes of posthumous torments were selected because they serve as good comparative materials to further our understanding of the religious art of Central and East Asia. In this study, the author first overviews the scriptural and visual remains of Ksitigarbha and related themes from India to China through the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) to establish a standard for comparison. Subsequently, materials from the Turfan region are catalogued to portray the overall picture of the cult and images of this bodhisattva in the Turfan region. The latter half of the dissertation serves as case studies on two important paintings of Ksitigarbha from the Turfan region, dated to the Uyghur period. These two surveys reveal that the cult and images of Ksitigarbha in the Turfan region were interlocked with those in other parts of China, and suggest that the bodhisattva was revered primarily as a savior from posthumous courts and torments by the Uyghur people. Simultaneously, the unusual use of iconographic features in one of the case studies demonstrates adaptation of unique features in the representation of Ksitigarbha. The other case study reconfirms the multitude of cultural exchanges surrounding Uyghur art through comparison with pieces from northern and southern China, and also from Japan. While this study focuses on one of many topics in Uyghur art, it sufficiently demonstrates their cultural complexity as developed through its trans-Eurasian networks.

Subject Area

Asian Studies|Art history

Recommended Citation

Morita, Miki, "Ksitigarbha images from the Turfan region: An aspect of Uyghur Buddhist art of the 9th to 14th centuries" (2014). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3667876.