March 15, 2022
119 color illus., 11 maps, 4 tables
10.00 Inches (US)
7.00 Inches (US)
2.35 Pounds (US)
$65.00 USD, £54.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Temples in the Cliffside

Buddhist Art in Sichuan

At sixty-two meters the Leshan Buddha in southwest China is the world's tallest premodern statue. Carved out of a riverside cliff in the eighth century, it has evolved from a religious center to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. But this Buddha does not stand alone: Sichuan is home to many cave temples with such monumental sculptures, part of a centuries-long tradition of art-making intricately tied to how local inhabitants made use of their natural resources with purpose and creativity. These examples of art embedded in nature have altered landscapes and have influenced the behaviors, values, and worldviews of users through multiple cycles of revival, restoration, and recreation. As hybrid spaces that are at once natural and artificial, they embody the interaction of art and the environment over a long period of time.

This far-ranging study of cave temples in Sichuan shows that they are part of the world's sustainable future, as their continued presence is a reminder of the urgency to preserve culture as part of today's response to climate change. Temples in the Cliffside brings art history into close dialogue with current discourse on environmental issues and contributes to a new understanding of the ecological impact of artistic monuments.

About the Author

Sonya S. Lee is professor of Chinese art and visual cultures at the University of Southern California and author of Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture.


"[A] very inspiring contribution to our understanding of ecological art history from the perspective of Asian art. It should be read by anyone who is interested in the interrelationships among Buddhist studies, art history, and environmental humanities."—H-Environment

"Sonya Lee's Temples in the Cliffside is a welcome addition to studies of the religious cliff sculpture of southwestern China."—Journal of Chinese History

"[A] truly multidisciplinary work of scholarship that examines Buddhist art from intertwined technical, environmental, religious, historical, aesthetic, economic, and political perspectives...Temples in the Cliffside innovatively locates religious art within its historical, political, and natural landscapes to show how people have managed their relationships to nature, and nonhuman entities in general, in different contexts. At a time when floods will likely wash the Great Buddha's feet more and more frequently, thinking about art holistically and ecologically is particularly urgent."—CAA Reviews


"The first book to systematically bring together scholarship on the Buddhist art, heritage management, and environmental histories of China. By emphasizing and synthesizing different modalities of imagining cave architecture, Lee offers a novel approach to the study of space and place."—Sugata Ray, author of Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850

"By situating her study of cave temples in relation to questions of environmentality and sustainability Sonya Lee takes the study of Buddhist art and its entanglements with society and the natural world to a whole new level. Indeed, her work compels us to reimagine the meaning and nature of art during not only the long durée, but also as we go further into the Anthropocene."—Johan Elverskog, author of The Buddha's Footprint: An Environmental History of Asia

"In Temples in the Cliffside, Sonya S. Lee achieves something remarkable: she transforms the historical study of Chinese Buddhist art into a powerful means of addressing the most pressing global concern of the present—ecological sustainability. Weaving together religious studies, environmental history, heritage studies, and more, Lee proposes a compelling approach to art history and provocative interpretations of well-known sites."—Phillip E. Bloom, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

"Impeccably researched yet immensely readable, Sonya Lee's creative study of the rock-cut art of Buddhist sites in Sichuan ranges across time and discipline to demonstrate how the past lives in multiple presents of human engagement with the environment. The book is a masterful display of interdisciplinary scholarship and a timely model of ecological art history with ramifications that extend far beyond China's past."—Peter Sturman, University of California, Santa Barbara

9780295749303 : temples-in-the-cliffside-lee
296 Pages
$65.00 USD

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