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Korean Sculpture Timeline

Korean Sculpture Timeline

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  • 539

    The earliest known sculpture of Buddha is produced in Korea.

  • 751 - 774

    The Buddhist cave temple at Seokguram (Sokkuram) east of Gyeongju, Korea is built.

  • 759

    The earliest changsung - a village guardian post topped by a human face - is produced in Korea.

  • 771

    The large bronze bell at the Buddhist shrine at Bongdeoksa, Korea, also known as the Emille Bell, is cast.

South Korea - Timeline

1945 - After World War II, Japanese occupation ends with Soviet troops occupying area north of the 38th parallel, and US troops in the south.

1948 - Republic of Korea proclaimed.

1950 - South declares independence, sparking North Korean invasion.

1953 - Armistice ends Korean War, which has cost two million lives.

1950s - South sustained by crucial US military, economic and political support.

1960 - President Syngman Ree steps down after student protests against electoral fraud. New constitution forms Second Republic, but political freedom remains limited.

1961 - Military coup puts General Park Chung-hee in power.

1963 - General Park restores some political freedom and proclaims Third Republic. Major programme of industrial development begins.

1972 - Martial law. Park increases his powers with constitutional changes.

After secret North-South talks, both sides seek to develop dialogue aimed at unification.

1979 - Park assassinated. General Chun Doo-hwan seizes power the following year.

1980 - Martial law declared after student demonstrations. In the city of Gwangju army kills at least 200 people. Fifth republic and new constitution.

1981 - Chun indirectly elected to a seven year term. Martial law ends, but government continues to have strong powers to prevent dissent.

1986 - Constitution is changed to allow direct election of the president.

Flood and famine

1996 - Severe famine follows widespread floods 3 million North Koreans reportedly die from starvation.

1996 April - North Korea announces it will no longer abide by the armistice that ended the Korean War, and sends thousands of troops into the demilitarised zone.

1996 September - A North Korean submarine with 26 commandos and crew on board runs aground near the South Korean town of Gangneung. All but one on board is killed along with 17 South Koreans following several skirmishes.

1998 June - South Korea captures North Korean submarine in its waters. Crew found dead inside.

1998 August - North Korea fires a multistage long-range rocket which flies over Japan and lands in the Pacific Ocean, well beyond North Korea's known capability.

The Gwangju Uprising and its 40-year Global History: A Visual and Cultural Approach

Kim Koo Forum (Roundtable)

Forty years after the people’s uprising and state massacre took place in Gwangju during the spring month of May 1980, what is now widely known as “5.18” remains a contested history. Just these past years, we have seen new facts about the tragedy unearthed, new testimonies made on public record, and old fabrications and fallacies resurfacing in news feeds. In light of the increasing pertinence of people’s rise against social injustices across the globe today, this panel seeks to revisit the structure and semantics of platforms through which the newsreels, photographs, paintings, songs, and revolutionary affect of Gwangju have been documented and transmitted across geographic and temporal boundaries. This history of transmission, as much as the history of representation, is important particularly because the political potential of Gwangju lies not only in the actual event of coalition formation (“absolute community”) in the face of a state massacre, but also in the power of that historical fact as it traveled beyond the initial ten days in Gwangju. If the 20th-anniversary edited volume Contentious Kwangju reassessed the uprising in light of the institution of South Korean democracy in 1987 and the national politics of commemoration in the 1990s, this roundtable expands on the transnational and global aspects of 5.18 and its legacy. With the goal of situating 5.18 within the transnational history of revolution, the presentations highlight the interdisciplinary aspects of social movements and historicization of their potential impact on future revolutions.

Short-circuiting Seoul, Reaching Afar to Germany, Japan, and the US: The Photographs of Gwangju in 1980

Sohl Lee, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary East Asian Art, Department of Art, Stony Brook University

While the access to the truth of the Gwangju Uprising was limited for most citizens of South Korea, those living in Germany, Japan, and the US could view photographic images and documentary footage from Gwangju almost immediately after the uprising and its resultant massacre. The extent of transnational pathway through which the images of Gwangju travelled is testament to the transnational nature of South Korean pro-democracy movement, a significant aspect too often overlooked. What does the examination of media platforms that carried the message of Gwangju reveal today about the sociocultural significance of the event in the global scale--and the subsequent struggles against dictatorship and for citizenry rights that unfolded in 1980s South Korea? How did the spaces of anti-authoritarian state pro-democracy movement emerge by bypassing the state apparatus? What was the role of overseas Korean populations? Each set of stakeholders outside the peninsula forged distinct relationships with the event and its aftermath, and this diversity compels a reconsideration of the global significance of 5.18.

Sohl Lee specializes in modern and contemporary art and visual culture of East Asia, and her interdisciplinary research interests include aesthetics of politics, activist art, vernacular modernism, postcolonial theory, historiography, and curatorial practice. Her book manuscript tentatively titled “Reimagining Democracy: Minjung Art and the Cultural Movement in South Korea” has received a major publication subvention grant from the Korean Arts Management Service of the Ministry of Culture, South Korea. Her English publications have appeared in Art Journal, Yishu, Journal of Korean Studies, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, and InVisible Culture, and she has curated exhibitions in both the U.S. and South Korea.

“March for the Beloved” and the Making of a Counter-Republic in South Korea

Susan Hwang, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University Bloomington

In 1982, a group of writers and musicians gathered in Gwangju to clandestinely perform “March for the Beloved” (Im ŭl wihan haengjin-gok), a song created to honor the “soul marriage” of two activists who had died in the Kwangju Uprising two years prior. Over the following decades, the song emerged as a central piece in South Korea’s repertoire of resistance, resurfacing in March 2017 during months of sustained popular demonstrations that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. And beyond South Korea, the song would become a call to action in various other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. This paper examines the role that the Gwangju Uprising played in the process of South Korea’s democratization, and argues that “March for the Beloved” was instrumental in transforming the victims of state violence into martyrs and the subalterns of an unlawful republic into political subjects of a morally righteous counter-republic. This paper analyzes the people-oriented cultural practices behind the birth of the song, as well as the performative elements in the making of the song into an anthem of the counter-state. In conclusion, the paper discusses the ongoing controversy over the song as an occasion to think about the reification of Gwangju and the perpetual struggle over its signification in South Korea’s contemporary moment.

Susan Hwang is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Korean Literature and Cultural Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University. Her scholarship engages with the cultural practices of resistance in South Korea, as well as theories of translation and world literature. She is currently working on her book manuscript entitled “Uncaged Songs: Culture and Politics of Protest Music in South Korea." It is a cultural history of South Korea’s song movement that charts how songs became a powerful component of the struggle for democracy in South Korea during two of the nation’s darkest decades—the 1970s and the 1980s. ​ ​

Smoke Signals: Framing the Gwangju Uprising in North Korea

Douglas Gabriel, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Korean Studies, George Washington University

From May 18, 1980, news of the Gwangju Uprising dominated the North Korean media. Finally, it seemed, South Korean students had taken up Kim Il-sung’s call to “thoroughly defend the interests of the workers and peasants, go deeply among the masses of workers and peasants and fight in close unity with them.” In turn, North Korean cultural producers—including painters, illustrators, filmmakers and documentarians—began mythologizing the event through representational reconstructions. On the surface, these works asserted a correspondence between the actions of the protestors at Gwangju and the vision of reunification sponsored by the North Korean state. Images of South Korean youth activists functioned chiefly as a means of bolstering government policies by framing the southern half of the peninsula as an illegitimate puppet state of the United States. In the process, however, visual artists employed peculiar compositional framing devices aimed at keeping viewers at bay, often presenting the unruly figurative content of their works as dream images detached from the immediate circumstances of North Korean audiences who, it was implied, had no reason to revolt against their own government. Perhaps paradoxically, North Korean artists’ representations of the uprising had the effect of acknowledging and modeling ways of acting politically that exceeded the ideological lens through which they otherwise viewed the world.

Douglas Gabriel is a 2020-21 Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at GW. Douglas received his Ph.D. in art history from Northwestern University in 2019. His current book project, Over the Mountain: Realism Towards Reunification in Cold War Korea, 1980–1994, examines connections between the visual art of the minjung democratization movement in South Korea and the work of state-sponsored artists in North Korea. Previously, he was the 2019-20 Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. Douglas’s research on North and South Korean art and architecture has appeared in the Journal of Korean Studies and Hyŏndae misulsa yŏngu [The Korean Journal of Contemporary Art History]. His work has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Harvard Korea Institute, and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies.

Moderated by Paul Chang, Associate Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

To attend this event online, we ask that you please register via the following link:

As we approach the event date, you will receive a reminder email with the Zoom link.

The Styles That Contributed to Tang Soo Do

Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee is the person whom the majority of Tang Soo Do practitioners trace their lineage to. Throughout his life, sometimes on his own due to circumstances, Kee studied Tae Kyon (indigenous and ancient Korean fighting art), Okinawan karate styles including Shotokan, and Chinese martial arts styles like tai chi and kung fu. It is from these styles that Tang Soo Do was born.

Won Kuk Lee, another talented martial artist who influenced the art, also infused a significant amount of Shotokan into his teachings.

Korean Sculpture Timeline - History

Japan’s earliest sculpture was greatly influenced by the artistic nuances of China’s Wei 魏 kingdom (late 4th to 6th centuries), which featured a marked frontality, crescent-shaped lips turned upward, almond-shaped eyes, and symmetrically arranged folds in the robes. They were also influenced by the artistic styles of Korea’s Paekche 百済 and Silla kingdoms 新羅, especially the Korean preference for stock poses, most notably of Miroku Bosatsu.

Hundreds of bronze pieces, mostly gilt bronze, are still extant. Many are small, around 30 cm in height, and coated with a thin layer of gold (tokin 鍍金) or gold leaf (hakuoshi 箔押). See Techniques Page for details on casting and gilding methods. Viewing many of them in one glance gives us a good idea of the artistic styles then prevailing among the first wave of Korean and Chinese imports into Japan in the 6th & 7th centuries. These pieces allow us to surmise how Japan developed its own distinctive style. One of the most famous groupings of extant gilt-bronze images, from China, is the Shijuhatai Butsu 四十八体仏, the so-called Forty-Eight Buddhist Images, now kept at the Tokyo National Museum. Of these, the most frequently occurring are images of Kannon Bodhisattva (22 are identifiable as Kannon).

Korean Influence & Miroku Bosatsu
Prince Shōtoku Taishi, Japan’s first great patron of Buddhism, learned about Buddhism, it is said, mainly from two Korean monks. One hailed from the Korean Kingdom of Koguryo 高句麗 (Goguryeo), and was named Eji 慧慈 (えじ). The other hailed from the Korean Kingdom of Kudara 百済 (Paekche), and was named Esou 慧聡 (Esō えそう). Shōtoku also maintained strong relations with many immigrants from mainland Asia. Among these was Hatano Kawakatsu (秦河勝), the leader of the Hata 秦 clan, a group of immigrants from central Asia (as far west as Assyria) who traveled along the silk road, and finally made their way to Japan via Korea and China in the 4th century, bringing their Christian faith as well. (Editor’s Note: To people traveling east along the silk roads, Japan’s Naniwa and Nara areas were the eastern terminus. Conversely, for Japanese people traveling west, Naniwa or modern-day Osaka was considered the gateway to Korea, China, and greater Asia.) Hatano was, by many accounts, an important counselor to Prince Shōtoku. Shōtoku’s son, Yamashiro no Ōe no Ō 山背大兄王, took his name from the Yamashiro region in southern Kyoto where the Hata 秦 clan was established. This suggests that Shōtoku most likely maintained strong relations with this immigrant community. Prince Shōtoku was also apparently goods friends with Korean Prince Asa (kanji unknown), a contemporary of his (from what Korean Kingdom?).

Korean Influence on Early Japan
Says JAANUS: Sangokubutsu 三国仏. Literally “three countries Buddha.” Buddhist statues made from the fourth to the seventh centuries in Korea. At that time, Korea was divided into three kingdoms Koguryo (Goguryeo) 高句麗, Paekje (Paekche) 百済, and Silla 新羅. This period of Korean history is known in Japanese as the Sangoku Jidai 三国時代 (Three Countries Period), and Buddhist statues made during this period are known as Sangokubutsu 三国仏. The oldest of these kingdoms is Koguryo (Jp. = Kōkuri or Kōguryo), which developed in the third century in the northern part of the Korean peninsular. Buddhist culture was received and absorbed from China, and Buddhist statues were produced showing a very strong Chinese influence. The Paekje 百済 Kingdom (Jp. = Kudara) developed in the southwest part of the Korean peninsula around the mid-fourth century, and here too Buddhist statues were produced with a strong Chinese influence, received from the Chinese Fuyo culture. The Silla 新羅 Kingdom (Jp. = Shiragi), with its capital in Kyongju, the east-central part of Korea, also became important in the mid-fourth century. Its culture developed closely in line with northern China, and there was direct interchange with the Chinese Ryo 梁 and Chin 陳 cultures, as well as with Kanan province (South China). An example of Sangokubutsu, considered to be a masterpiece of ancient Silla culture, is the bronze hankazou 半跏像 image (half-cross-legged Miroku Buddha/Bosatsu) in the Tokujuguu 徳寿宮 Museum (Toksugung Museum), Seoul. <end quote from JAANUS>

Korean Influence on Temple Architecture in Early Japan. Shōtoku employed workers from Korea’s Paekche 百済 (Jp. = Kudara) Kingdom to build Hōryūji Temple (Houryuuji) 法隆寺, which today remains one of the world’s greatest extant treasure-houses of early Buddhist artwork and architecture in Japan. The temple in its heyday also housed people in adjacent areas where they studied the Buddhist teachings, art, and medicine. The original temple was destroyed, according to most records, in a fire in +670, although much of its artwork was somehow saved. It was rebuilt, according to most scholars, soon thereafter by artisans from Korea’s Paekche kingdom. Two other temples closely associated with Prince Shōtoku -- Hōrin-ji 法輪寺 or 法琳寺 and Hōkiji 法起寺 -- were most likely built by artisans of Korea’s Paekche kingdom.

Says JAANUS: Shiragibutsu 新羅仏 is a style of Buddhist sculpture made during the period of Korean history when the Silla Dynasty (Jp. = Shiragi 新羅) defeated the Koguryo (Goguryeo) 高句麗 and Paekje (Paekche) 百済 Kingdoms and united the Korean Peninsula. This period is known in Japanese as Shiragi Touitsu Jidai 新羅統一時代 (+654-935). The style of the sculpture was based on that of Tang Dynasty China (Jp Tou 唐, +618-907), combined with characteristic Silla simplicity and gentleness. The statue said to best represent this style is the stone statue known in Japanese as Keishuu Sekkutsuan 慶州石窟庵, one of a number of shiragibutsu preserved in temples in Kyongju 慶州 (Jp Keishuu), the capital of Korea’s Silla Dynasty. In addition to stone statues, shiragibutsu were also created in gilt bronze. Most are small figures (15-30 cm high) made in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, again using styles and techniques based on those of Tang China. <end quote from JAANUS>

Miroku Buddha/Bosatsu in Korean Art
(L) Half-cross-legged Miroku 半跏像 徳寿宮
(R) Famous half-cross-legged bronze Miroku 半跏像 徳寿宮

Strong Korean Influence

One of the most popular deities in the early years was Miroku Bosatsu/Nyorai. Hundreds of small gilt bronze statues of Miroku were imported into Japan from Korea (and also China) and then copied endlessly by Japanese artisans and court-sponsored workshops. The style of these statuettes was influenced primarily by Korean models. Below are some examples.

Miroku Bosatsu (Two views of same statue)
7th Century AD, Wood
Chuuguuji Temple 中宮寺 (Nara)
87 cm in height

Miroku Bosatsu 弥勒菩薩
Copper with Gold Plating.
Kudara Kingdom 百済 , Korea
7th Century, 16.4 cm in height
Kanshō-in Temple 観松院 , Nagano Pref.
Temple Web Site Here (Japanese Only)

Miroku Bosatsu 弥勒菩薩
Copper with gold plating.
Three Kingdoms Era, 6-7th Century AD
Houryuu-ji Temple, 20.4 cm in height

Miroku Bosatsu 弥勒菩薩
Copper with gold plating.
Three Kingdoms Era, 6- 7th Century AD
Houryuu-ji Temple, 23.6 cm in height

Miroku Bosatsu
7th Century AD
Houryuu-ji Temple
Copper with Gold Plating
H = 22 cm

Miroku Bosatsu
Early 7th C. AD, Wood
Kouryuu-ji Temple
H = 66.4 cm

Miroku Bosatsu
7th Century, Kyoto, National Treasure
Koryuji Temple 広隆寺, Wood, H = 84.2 cm
Photo from book entitled Concise History of Japanese Buddhist Sculpture (page 015) Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, ISBN 4-568-40061-9

Asuka Daibutsu
One for the History Books
Constructed +609
Asuka Dera 飛鳥寺 is generally regarded as Japan's oldest temple. Located near Nara city in Japan’s Asuka district, the temple was built sometime around +588 and +596, and is also known as Gangōji 元興寺, Angoin 安居院, Hon-gangōji 本元興寺, and Hōkōji 法興寺. The temple was relocated when the capital moved to Heijōkyō 平城京 (today's Nara city). Its Nara-city counterpart is known as Gangōji 元興寺 (also spelled Gangouji, Gangoji), one of the Seven Great Temples of the Nara Period.

The temple in Asuka (not Nara) houses what is claimed to be Japan’s oldest Buddhist statue, the Asuka Daibutsu (Daibutsu literally means Big Buddha). Despite repairs and alterations, the statue's facial features and hands are still the originals. The Asuka Daibutsu, made of bronze, is said to be the work of Kuratsukuri no Tori 鞍作止利, a noted sculptor of those days whose ancestors came to Japan from China (others say Korea). The seated Asuka Daibutsu sculpture is 275.2 cm (2.75 meters) in height, and is designated an important cultural asset. More details about the statue are presented near the end of this section.


  • Asuka Dera TEL: 0744-54-2126
  • Hours: 9:00 - 17:15 (or 9:00 - 16:45 from Oct. to March )
  • Open 7 days a week
  • ADDRESS: 682 Asuka, Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun
    Nara-ken, Japan
  • For a fine review of the temple, please see Asukadera - A Battered Buddha by Ad G. Blankestijn (external link)

The important Sanron School 三論宗 (literally Three Treatise School) of Buddhist philosopy was introduced to Japan around +625 by the Korean monk Hyegwan (Jp. = Ekan 慧灌, who hailed from the Korean kingdom of Kōkuri 高句麗 (often spelled as Koguryo or Goguryeo). Ekan resided at Gangōji Temple 元興寺 (aka Asuka Dera), a temple in the Asuka district that was built by the powerful Soga clan in the late 6th century. In the decades prior to his arrival, Asuka Dera had been the home of two other important Korean monks. One hailed from the Korean Kingdom of Koguryo 高句麗 (Goguryeo) and was named Eji 慧慈 (えじ). The other hailed from the Korean Kingdom of Kudara 百済 (Paekche) and was named Esou 慧聡 (Esō えそう). Both served as teachers and mentors to Prince Shōtoku Taishi. Many resources, both English and Japanese, say all three lived at Asuka Dera, but none say they lived together at the same time, or that they actually met each other. One source says Shōtoku gave this temple to Eji 慧慈.

Says the
Asuka Historical Museum: “The Asuka Daibutsu was the main object of worship (honzon) in the Asuka Dera's original Chū-Kondō 中金堂 (central main hall). It was cast in +609 (the 17th year of Empress Suiko's reign) by the master Busshi 仏師 (literally Buddhist teacher, master, or sculptor) known as Kuratsukuri no Tori 鞍作止利 (aka Tori-busshi), son of a Korean immigrant. (Editor’s Note: Most sources say his grandfather immigrated from China, not Korea.) It is the oldest extant Buddhist image in Japan whose date of construction is definitely known. Repairs and alterations from later times are clearly in evidence, but in such features as the elongated face and the shape of the eyes may be seen the original characteristics of the Tori-shiki 止利式 (Tori style) of Buddhist imagery shared also by the Shaka Triad at the Hōryūji Temple. The granite base is original, as are the socketed stands (hozoana) presently placed on either side and serving to support the flanking attendant figures. Comparing the Asuka Daibutsu with the Horyu-ji Shaka triad, one is reminded of the power possessed by the Soga 蘇我 family, who were able to commission the building of a joroku-zo (see below note), or what was considered to be a full-scale image, one jo and six shaku (or about 4.8 meters) high, several times larger than the central figure of the Horyuji triad. Thus, if the sitting statue of the Asuka Daibutsu could stand up, the statue would be about five meters tall.”

NOTE: Jōroku (Joroku) 丈六
One Jō and Six Shaku (about 4.8 meters)
Jo-roku (or joroku) is equivalent to roughly 4.8 meters. Many “standing” sculptures in the early years of Japanese Buddhism are made to this specification. Jo is a unit of length, about three meters, and Roku means “six,” and this refers to six shaku (shaku is another Japanese unit of length, about 0.30 meters). Thus, Jo-roku is equivalent to roughly 4.8 meters. Actually, if the sitting statue of the Asuka Daibutsu could stand up, it would be taller than five meters.

Some say Yakushi Buddha, others say Shaka Buddha

  • Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine & Healing Buddha. Says the Nara Prefecture Web Site: “Established in +596 by Soga-no-Umako 蘇我馬子 (an enthusiastic supporter of Buddhism in Japan), Asuka-dera 飛鳥寺 is mentioned in old reports as being three times as large as Hōryūji Temple. (Editor’s Note: The Asuka Historical Museum says the temple compound, during its heyday, was 200 meters on each side.) Such a gigantic temple reminds us of the powerful Soga 蘇我 clan of the times. The Asuka Daibutsu is an effigy of Yakushi Nyorai, a divine savior said to relieve people's present agony. It is the earliest large-sized Buddha statue in Japan, and is designated as an important cultural asset.”
  • Shaka Nyorai, the Historical Buddha. Says the JAANUS Database: “The Asuka Daibutsu 飛鳥大仏 is a bronze statue 2 m 75 cm high, thought to represent Shaka Buddha 釈迦 (the Historical Buddha). It is the oldest surviving Buddhist statue in Japan today, estimated to have been completed in the year +609. Temple legend says that the sculptor was the famous Kuratsukuri no Tori 鞍作止利. The statue sits on a stone pedestal in the cross-legged posture known as kekkafuza 結跏趺坐 (outside link).”

According to tradition, Buddhism was introduced to Japan in +538 (some say +552) when the king of Korea sent the Japanese court a small bronze Buddha statue, some Buddhist scriptures, and a message praising Buddhism (none of these early artifacts have survived). Most scholars believe it was the king of Kudara 百済 (aka Paekche, Paekje, Paikche, Baekje), a kingdom in Korea, who presented these gifts to the Japanese court then located in the Asuka region. Legend contents that the bronze statue was entrusted to the leader of the Soga 蘇我 clan, who acted as the chancellor of the young Japanese nation. But soon thereafter an outbreak of smallpox occurred, and clans opposed to Soga influence and Buddhism’s introduction claimed the statue was responsible for the sickness afflicting Japan. The emperor, hoping to diffuse the situation, ordered the statue thrown into the Naniwa River, near the court’s palace in current-day Osaka City. The statue was, according to legend, thereupon pitched into the river. The discarded statue, it is said, was later fished out of the river following the victory of the Soga clan, and is still, to this day, installed at Asuka Dera. This legend is incorrect, for the extant statue installed at Asuka Dera was cast in +609, and is much too large to be the legendary “first” Buddha statue to arrive in Japan. Perhaps the extant statue is a giant copy of that first small Buddha statue? This latter issue has never been resolved.

TENNIN (Apsaras)
Celestial Beings
Wood, H = 49.2 cm
7th C., Hōryūji Temple 法隆寺


Below we present some of the most famous extant wood statues from this period.

Wood sculpture during Japan’s 6th and 7th centuries was made primarily of camphor (kusu 樟), carved from a single block of wood using the ichiboku-zukuri technique, and gilded or painted. However, wood sculptures were surpassed in quantity by the great number of bronze statues (kondou 金銅) that were made and imported during the period.

By the late 7th and 8th centuries, wood sculpture also competed with dry-lacquer statuary (kanshitsuzou 乾漆像) and clay figurines (sozou 塑像). See Techniques for more on these various art forms. In both the Asuka and Nara periods, the primary materials used in Buddhist statuary were bronze, earthenware, laquer, and wood. It wasn’t until the Heian Era that wood sculpture dominated the world of Japanese Buddhist statuary.

Japan’s earliest wooden sculptures were greatly influenced by the artistic nuances of China’s Wei 魏 kingdom (late 4th to 6th centuries), which featured a marked frontality, crescent-shaped lips turned upward, almond-shaped eyes, and symmetrically arranged folds in the robes.

They were also influenced by the artistic styles of Korea’s Paekche and Silla kingdoms. Buddhist images were made primarily by artisans of Korean or Chinese stock who lived in Japan. The period's mainstream works are credited to the Tori School, which originally hailed from Korea. Japan’s imperial court quickly set up guilds and workshops for painters, metal workers, wood carvers, and other artists.

Guze Kannon (Guse, Kuze, Kuse) 救世観音、夢殿観音
Reportedly made in the image of Prince Shoutoku
Also called Yumedono Kannon

This is the earliest extant wooden statue in Japan (first half 7th century). Carved from one piece of camphor 樟 wood, in the style of those times. Gold leaf is applied over the surface, and the coronet and other details are made from gilt bronze. The effigy is the non-esoteric form of Kannon, as Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyou 密教) did not arrive in Japan until the 9th century. Guze is also a name used for sculptures of the Asuka period, specifically for sculptures of a crowned Bodhisattva (Bosatsu) holding a jewel.

This statue was kept hidden for centuries inside the Yumedono Hall 夢殿 at Houryuuji Temple -- even the priests were forbidden from viewing the statue, which was wrapped in some 500 yards of white cloth. The practice of maintaining Secret Buddha (Jp. = Hibutsu 秘仏) most likely originated among Japan’s esoteric sects (Shingon & Tendai) during the Heian period. The statue was finally unveiled in 1884, when the Japanese government allowed Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) and Okakura Tenshin 岡倉天心 (1863-1913) to discover its secrets. Fenollosa thought it to be of Korean origin, but no concensus was ever reached. Some think it displays the style of Japan’s Tori school of Buddhist sculptors who originally emmigrated to Japan from Korea. Today it is considered to be one of Japan's greatest art treasures for this period. It still remains a HIBUTSU at the temple, but for a small time every spring and fall it is open for viewing. <See JAANUS for more details on Guze Kannon>

Below text by
Henry Smith at Columbia University
From “Prince Shōtoku’s Temple, The Riddles of Hōryūji”
Editor’s Note: A wonderful presentation, highly recommended.

Prince Shōtoku was, after all, like Shakyamuni (the Historical Buddha), a royal prince who renounced his inheritance in pursuit of spiritual ideals. Following Shōtoku’s death in + 622, his family continued to patronize Hōryūji Temple until 643, when his son and heir, Prince Yamashiro Ōe no Ō 山背大兄王 (Yamashiro Ōji 山背王子 for short), was forced to commit suicide by the Soga clan leader, who was fearful of the threat that Yamashiro posed to Soga power. With this, the direct line of Prince Shōtoku came to an end. The temple survivied, however, in close association with the memory of Shōtoku.

But as far as we can tell, the Yumedono Kannon was never seen by anyone from the time of its consecration in the eighth century until 1884, when an inquisitive American scholar named Ernest Fenollosa managed to unwrap it. Fenollosa survived the catastrophe predicted by the priests of Hōryūji, but even today, the Yumedono Kannon is on public view for only a few weeks every year.

YUMEDOMO KANNON (aka Guze Kannon). Centuries of oral tradition confirm what you have probably already suspected, that this image is in fact a representation of Prince Shōtoku, now transformed into a saving Kannon. This association probably explains some very curious features of the statue. To begin with, the hands are overly large, and reach sensuously around what you may recall from the rooftop ornament: another reliquary, in effect, Prince Shōtoku seems to be holding his own remains. The face is equally unique, featuring a wide nose, prominent lips, and very narrow eyes, all said to be personal attributes of the prince himself.

But there is a very different school of thought which sees the smile as oriented outward, a sinister leer which threatens more than it saves, particularly when seen from below as the normal worshipper might. This has led to the eerie interpretation that the Yumedono Kannon is not a gentle and grace-giving Kannon, but rather the restless angry ghost of Prince Shōtoku himself. In support of such a theory consider a comparison between the Yumedono Kannon and the famous Kudara Kannon statue (also found at Hōryūji). The point of the comparison lies in the haloes. Whereas the halo of the Kudara Kannon is supported by a slender bamboo pole, that of the Yumedono Kannon is attached by a large nail driven into the back of the head. This highly unusual method of attachment, it is argued, is just like the voodoo technique of sticking pins in dolls, an effort to subdue the spirit of Prince Shōtoku rather than save it. This might also help explain why the image was kept wrapped up for so many centuries. The remaining mystery, however, is why the revered Prince Shōtoku should be so angry. The most persuasive theory is that his ghost was angered by the termination of his family line in + 643, when his son was forced to suicide by the Soga clan leader. <end quote from Henry Smith at Columbia University>

Shotoku did dispatch envoys in 607 CE, all of them being of Korean descent who could read Chinese the boat coasted the Korean shoreline as a direct passage was too dangerous. Ancient records report that the Chief Envoy (a Korean) asked the Chinese emperor to address Japan as "Land of the Sun" instead of "Land of Dwarfs," but this was not done until 670 CE (again at the suggestion of a Korean who felt the term insulted Japan). Nothing much with regard to the exchange of gifts from these early voyages is recorded in the Nihongi.(Carver and Covell 63)

In 621 CE Prince Shotoku died in his sleep. As was the custom, Hye-che ordered a gilt bronze statue to be made "in the image of Prince Shotoku." This statue became known as the "Dream Hall Kuanyin" or Yumedono Kannon. Probably this statue was placed in "The Dream Hall" of the first Horyu-ji. It was rescued by monks during the fire of 670 CE. For centuries this statue was considered "sacred" and was worshipped in a closed black lacquer case without being opened or unwrapped. In modern times, this statue is seen only once a year.

When the statue was first unwrapped after many centuries, Ernest Fenollosa, an American enthusiast of Japan's traditional arts, particularly Buddhist pieces, remarked "Korean of course." Apparently Fenollosa felt that the statue was not "Japanese" and not "Chinese," and knowing the great influence of Korea on the Asuka-based kingdom, reached the only reasonable conclusion.

The "Dream Hall Kuanyin" is a little short of six feet. (Supposedly Shotoku was this tall, a descendent of 'Horseriders' from the north. These people were taller than ordinary Japanese at this time (5Ɖ"). The gold leaf is in very good condition due to the fact that it was covered all those years. The statue has a two dimensional quality, has 'fins' or sawtooth-cutouts along the outer edges of the robe, a technique or mannerism begun by Wei-dynasty bronze casters. It possesses the most intricate bronze crown of any statue in Asia. It appears to be a mixture of several styles (all Korean) and designs no known parallel exists with purely Japanese workmanship. Evidently it was shaped and cut out by a master craftsman, someone having a long tradition of metal technology behind him. The basic design was drawn from the tradition of the Horseriders, as evidenced by their objects in iron, bronze and gilt-bronze. Koguryo tomb painting also has similar designs, such as the "climbing flame," and the eagle with outstretched wings, plus a slightly modified honeysuckle pattern. The crown bears jewels of several types, the most noticeable being the lapis-like blue globes. These outline the figure of a human being in their placement. At the pinnacle of the crown stand onion-dome type cutouts, pieces which take the shape of the sacred fire of Buddhism. (This motif is shared by both Koguryo and Paekche.) The Dream Hall Kuanyin originally had pendants hanging from each side like the crowns unearthed in Kyongju tombs. The one on the left side of the head is preserved, but the other is missing. The face shows a softness of the brow ridge. It merges as naturally as possible into the forehead, as those of a lifelike person. The Korean eye and brow ridge together were to continue through Unified Silla even though the chubby-cheeked Buddhas of this period show Tang Chinese influence.(Carver and Covell 68)

Kudara Kannon
7th Century

Click any image to enlarge.
Hōryūji (Horuyji) Temple 法隆寺, Nara
Wood (Gilded Camphor 樟 )
with Polychromy, H = 210 cm

Most scholars believe this statue came from Korea or was made by Korean artisans living in Japan. The name of the statue -- Kudara Kannon 百済観音 -- literally means "Paekche Kannon." Paekche (Paekje 百済) was one of three kingdoms in Korea during this period, and Kannon is one of the most beloved Buddhist deities in Asia. The statue’s extreme thinness seems at first bizarre, but the serenity in the face and the beautiful openwork bronze in the crown are marvelous. The vase symbolizes the “nectar” of Kannon’s compassion -- it pacifies the thirst of those who pray to Kannon for assistance.

There are many indications that the statue came from Korea (or was made by Korean artisans in Japan). The superior workmanship of the piece, plus many of the stylistic nuances (faint smile, slender face, thin body, folds in garment, halo) are all hallmarks of Paekche artisans and generally conform to artwork from Korea’s Three Kingdom Period. In the book Korean Impact On Japanese Culture (Korea: Hollym International Corp., 1984), authors Jon Carter Covell and Alan Covell say the foremost clue of Paekche influence is the crown's honeysuckle-lotus pattern, which can also be found among the artifacts discovered in the tomb of Paekche's King Munyong (reigned +501-523). The coiling of the vines, they say, plus the number of protrusions from the crown petals, are nearly identical to similar extant Korean pieces.

Tamamushi Shrine 玉虫厨子
7th Century, Wood, Hōryūji (Horuyji) Temple 法隆寺, Nara
Korean art presented to Japan, H = 226.6 cm W = 136.7 cm

Says Ernest F. Fenollosa in “Epochs of Chinese & Japanese Art:”
Another great monument of 6th (or 7th century) Korean art is the Tamamushi Shrine, a miniature two-story temple made of wood, to be used as a reliquary, which was presented to the Japanese Empress Suiko about 597 AD, and which still stands in perfect preservation upon the great altar at Houryuuji Temple 法隆寺 (Nara). The roof is finished in metal in the form of tiling. Lower story has painting on all four sides. Upper story opens with miniature temple doors, and is elaborately painted on the exterior. Long lanky Buddhist angels fly through the air. The finest paintings, and the best preserved, are the two tall thin Buddhist deities upon the doors, which show a relationship to the thin art of the Northern Wei. But the most striking feature about the shrine is the elaborate finish of all the corners and pillars and transverse beams with an overlay of plates of perforated bronze, which were probably gilded, the patterns of the perforation being among the finest specimens of the Korean power over abstract curvature.

NOTE: Today, Japan’s scholars date this piece to sometime in the 7th century (to Japan’s Nara Period). Zushi 厨子 is the Japanese word for a miniature shrine, wherein are kept Buddhist images or sutras 経.

The first three (two already appeared above) are shown here to give the viewer a good idea
of the Chinese & Korean models that influenced the early creation of Buddhist sculpture in Japan.
Click any photo to begin. Each is accompanied by deity name, material, size, and location.

Korean Sculpture Timeline - History

The predecessor of this genre was Hong Kil-ton Chon, generally considered to be the first Korean novel, written in the early 17th century to criticize the inequalities of Choson society. This trend was reinforced during the late 19th century by the introduction of Western influences, as writers were inspired by ideas of enlightenment, freedom and independence. Modern writers have also focused on social injustice, particularly under the authoritarian regimes, as well as the dehumanizing influence of industrialization and modernization.

Traditional: Korean literature shows a significant difference before and after Western influences. In the pre-Western period, literature was influenced by Shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Under these influences, individuals accepted the status quo and had a fatalistic view of life. Early literature depicted a love of nature and man and held that nature and man are one. Another special aspect of the early period of Korean literature was that it began as an oral tradition. Therefore, many literary works, also tales and legends sung or spoken by the ancestors of various Korean tribes, were presented at tribal rites, religious festivals, sacrifices and political gatherings.

Influenced by social norms, morals and customs, in Korean literature good is rewarded and evil is punished. Early literature stresses behavior patterns like loyalty to the king, filial piety, respect for seniors, true friendship and chastity of women.

Modern: After western influences, modern Korean literature has shown dissent both political and moral, and has deviated from traditionally restricted subject matters to encompass varied themes. The first Korean writing was produced in the Shilla Kingdom in the 8th century.

The script-type language partially adapted from Chinese letters by phonetic sounding was called Idu. Only 25 poems called Hyangga remain in this style. During the Koryo Dynasty, a popular type of verse called Longer Verses came into fashion. At the latter part of the dynasty, a new kind of lyric, shijo, gained popularity. The shijo usually consisted of three-line stanzas conveying compact messages. After the Han-gul alphabet was invented, various kinds of love-poetry were attempted. In the mid-Choson Period, the lyrical form known as kasa was widely composed. Written in Chinese as a kind of typical Korean lyric verse, the literati expressed their attachment to the beauties of nature through their kasa. After the introduction of Sirhak (Practical Learning) in the 17th and 18th centuries, Western influence brought new developments to Korean literature, often through Christianity. The concept that all men are equal became a common theme and attacked the inequality of traditional society. Once great change in the literature field was the outpouring of works in Han-gul. Authorship also diversified from the literati to commoners.

New Stories of the Golden Turtle written in Chinese by Kim Shi-sup (1435-1493) is usually regarded as the beginning of fiction in Korea. Only the first book. containing five stories, survives today. The stories are marked by Korean settings and tragic endings in contrast with the Chinese settings and romantic happy endings that characterized earlier works. Ho Kyun's King Kil-ton Chon is considered the first vernacular novel. Written in the 17th century, it is a social commentary that attacks the inequalities of Choson society. In the 19th century, p'ansori, or the "one man opera" form gained popularity. P'ansori were tales sung by professional artists to an outdoor audience. The text of p'ansori usually contained satirical messages that lampooned the upper class.

In the years before and after annexation by Japan in 1910, the new national consciousness depicted through the medium of literature was written in Han-gul called shinmunhak or new literature. Ch'oe Nam-son published the inspiring poem, From the sea to a child, in the magazine Sonyon (Child) in 1908, giving birth to modern poetry or free verse in Korea. Also, Yi Kwang-su started to write modern novels in the magazine Ch'ongch'un (Youth) in 1914, and his contribution to modern Korean literature is highly regarded. Up to the late 1960s, creative talents expressed themselves in the genre. Favorite themes were social injustice, the dehumanizing influence of industrialization and modernization. Works of noted writers such as Yi Mun-yol and Han Mu-suk have been translated into various foreign languages including English and French. Since the quality of writings and translations continues to rise, in the near future it is hoped that the works of Korean writers will be appreciated in other countries as much as they are in Korea.

Economy of South Korea

South Korea is one of Asia's Tiger Economies, ranked fourteenth in the world according to GDP. This impressive economy is based largely on exports, particularly of consumer electronics and vehicles. Important South Korean manufacturers include Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Per capita income in South Korea is $36,500 US, and the unemployment rate as of 2015 was an enviable 3.5 percent. However, 14.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The South Korea currency is the won. As of 2015, $1 US = 1,129 Korean won.

Asia Timeline

Neolithic potters in Japan during the Jomon period produce containers that are among the world's earliest ceramic wares and are characterized by surfaces decorated with cord-markings (the meaning of the term jomon) and dramatic shapes. Read more.

5000 BC–4000 BC

Pottery containers made in the Chinese Neolithic village of Banpo are painted with geometric designs and linear patterns for funerary and domestic use. Read more.

C. 3300 BC–c. 2200 BC

The Neolithic Liangzhu civilization of coastal China makes finely crafted and polished jade personal ornaments and religious implements for graves, possibly to convey and herald the status of the deceased. Read more.

C. 3000 BC

Black-burnished pottery vessels with remarkably thin walls are distinctive to China's Neolithic coastal cultures. In particular, the Dawenkou culture is credited with developing the fast potter's wheel at about the same time as the ancient Egyptians, although there is no indication of mutual influence. Read more.

C. 2500 BC–c. 1500 BC

Small stone seals with short inscriptions and figural images, frequently of a horned bull, are used by the inhabitants of the Indus Valley or Harappan culture, South Asia's earliest civilization. These seals may have served an administrative function facilitating trade. Read more.

1300 BC–1100 BC

Large anthropomorphic bronze statues are buried in pits along with elephant tusks, trees made of bronze and weapons made of bronze and jade in present-day Sanxingdui in Sichuan county, China. The technical sophistication of these objects and their use of imagery that is strikingly different from that found in central China indicate that early dynastic China consists of not one but several distinctive cultural centres. Read more.

C. 1200 BC

Royal consort Fu Hao is buried in the Shang-dynasty capital in a tomb filled with numerous, large and skilfully crafted bronze vessels, jade implements and ceremonial weapons and lacquer coffins. The only Shang royal tomb found intact, the contents indicate the wealth and sophistication of ancient China and the inscribed oracle bones provide much useful information. Read more.

C. 600 BC

Nomadic peoples of Central Asia, some of whom are known as Scythians, fashion gold horse trappings and portable ornaments, often in the shape of powerful animals. Read more.

C. 550 BC–c. 330 BC

The Oxus Treasure, found on the banks of the Oxus River in Bactria (present-day Uzbekistan), consists of nearly 200 precious objects that may have originally been used for temple rituals. Active trade exchange is indicated by the variety of regional styles visible in the objects in the hoard. Read more.

C. 433 BC

The tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng contains several lacquer-painted carvings of animals, some of which immitate real animals such as ducks, while others represent fanciful beasts with horns and protruding tongues. Read more.

C. 300 BC–200 BC

Large kettledrums are made of bronze and decorated with geometric patterns and miniature frogs, animals, warriors and human figures in Dong Son in northern Vietnam. Read more.

300 BC–100 BC

Influenced by nomadic peoples to the north and northwest, Chinese metalworkers produce portable accoutrements such as belt plaques and clasps decorated in animal forms derived from Central Asian motifs for both the domestic market and for trade with northern peoples. Read more.

259 BC–210 BC

China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi joined existing defensive barrier fragments to establish one of the world’s most notable architectural structures, the Great Wall, effectively demarcating his territory as a unified and fortified nation. Read more.

C. 250 BC

As part of King Ashoka's energetic support of Buddhism and its spread throughout the Indian subcontinent, he commissions many building projects, including the erection of a series of columns with symbolic references to the Buddha and his teachings. Read more.

221 BC–210 BC

A massive, life-size army of terracotta warriors is created by China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi to protect him in the afterlife in his magnificent tomb in Xi'an. Read more.

C. 200 BC

Remnants of the world's earliest paper found in tombs in Xi'an date to the early Han dynasty. Paper is initially made of hemp fibres, producing a course tissue paper-like substance. Read more.

200 BC–100 BC

Mystical Daoism's rise in popularity inspires the production of bronze incense burners (boshan lu) in the shape of magical mountains. These censers are among the first representations of mountains in Chinese art, which become one of its most important subjects. Read more.

C. 150 BC

Sanchi temple in central India is expanded and renovated with an upper level for circumambulation added to Stupa 1, which is said to contain some of the remains of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. A century later four gates or torana are added that are richly sculpted with instructional narratives of the life of the Buddha. Read more.

C. 150 BC

Relief sculptures that originally decorate the railings and gates of the Bharhut Stupa incorporate among the representations of the Buddha's life foreign imagery and such pre-Buddhist indigenous deities as male and female earth spirits (yaksas and yaksis respectively) and serpent kings (nagarajas). Read more.

C. 140 BC

The Marchioness of Dai is buried in a tomb at Mawangdui in Hunan province in a series of wooden coffins topped by a painted silk banner that provides China's earliest complete painting and reveals the religious beliefs and artistic practices of the day. Because the tomb was never looted, the varied and sumptuous furnishings and even the body of the noblewoman remain in exceptionally good condition. Read more.

100 BC–1 BC

Voluptuous females who look filled with life and fecundity are represented on terracotta plaques made in northern India in the Mauryan and Shunga periods. The visual appeal of these images is heightened by abundant surface decoration and production speed is aided by the use of moulds. Read more.

C. 65 BC

Parthian coins are struck with figures shown in an innovative frontal pose, a distinctive element of Parthian art that appears in temple sculptures as well as portraits on coins. Read more.

C. AD 1–c. AD 200

The Great Stupa at Amaravati in southern India is refurbished with numerous religious and decorative images rendered in relief on the stupa railings and surrounding gates. Read more.

AD 1–AD 200

Dotaku, cast bronze bells, are among the most impressive and distinctive examples of early Japanese metallurgy. Based on Korean horse bells, Japanese dotaku, which could be quite large, have some of Japan's earliest pictorial scenes cast in relief on their sides. Read more.

AD 100–AD 200

Chinese bronze-casters laud the speed and grace of horses imported from Central Asia and are inspired by them to cast one in full gallop with only a single hoof alighting on a flying swallow. Read more.

AD 100–AD 500

A large Buddhist monastery is cut into the rock walls at Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Flanking the monks' cells are two colossal stone Buddhas (destr. 2001) that attract pilgrims from miles away and epitomize the concept of the Universal Buddha. Read more.

AD 344–AD 407

Court painter Gu Kaizhi sets a style, as seen in his Admonitions of the Court Instructress, for figure paintings that incorporates firm and fluid brushwork and subtle expression, which is revered for millennia. Read more.

AD 353

The famous Orchid Pavilion preface, known in Chinese as Lanting xu, is written by China’s most revered calligrapher Wang Xizhi. It forms an important step inf the evolution of writing and brushwork from a tool for scribes to a highly expressive and dynamic art form. Read more.

C. 400–c. 430

The richly decorated stupa at Svayambhunatha is built and becomes the most important Buddhist site in the Kathmandu Valley. Read more.

C. AD 400–c. AD 450

Emperor Nintoku's keyhole-shaped tomb in central Japan is the largest burial site of its type. It is thought to have been covered with more than 10,000 clay haniwa offering cylinders, including the earliest known one in the shape of a human. Read more.

C. AD 460–c. AD 475

Rulers of the Northern Wei dynasty commission the construction of a series of elaborately carved and painted caves at Yungang in northern China. The centrepiece of this religious site is a massive sculpture of Shakyamuni Buddha, carved from the limestone cliffs. Read more.

C. AD 460–c. AD 480

The Buddhist monastery and pilgrimage site at Ajanta realizes its most vigorous period of growth. Excavated from the cliffs, the rooms are decorated with some of the oldest surviving Buddhist paintings in India. Read more.

C. AD 500–c. AD 535

Xie He writes the Six Laws of Chinese painting, the earliest known and one of the most influential texts on painting theory. Read more.

C. AD 500–c. AD 600

Chinese potters are the first in the world to invent porcelain. Read more.

C. AD 500–c. AD 700

Large, free-standing images of the Buddha are sculpted in Sri Lanka. All present him as a monk, standing frontally and with little sense of movement, which conveys a sense of monumentality. Read more.

AD 500–AD 800

One of the earliest sources of silk outside China is Sasanian Iran, which produces and trades silk with China. Weavers in other regions, including China, adopt and adapt Sasanian decorative motifs. Read more.

C. AD 550

Benefitting from imperial patronage and highly skilled craftsmen, the Shaiva cave temple at Elephanta contains technically and icongraphically sophisticated sculptures of Shiva. Read more.

C. AD 550–c. AD 600

Horyuji temple in Nara is established by Prince Shotoku. The wooden buildings and sculptures are among the earliest surviving examples of 7th-century Buddhist art in Japan. Read more.

AD 600–AD 700

Statues representing the bodhisattva Maitreya in a graceful seated pose are made. With fluid drapery, serene facial expressions and delicate modelling, they exhibit all the features of early Korean Buddhist sculpture. Read more.

C. AD 618–c. AD 907

The Mandala of Five Divinities of Avalokitesvara is painted on silk and stored in one of the 500 cave-temples at Dunhuang on the Silk Route. Elegant in execution and opulent in detail, the colourful visualization of a saviour deity in a celestial realm epitomizes the complexity of Buddhist thought and the splendour of Tang-dynasty art. Read more.

AD 672–AD 675

Carved by imperial commission, the 13-metre tall seated stone image of Vairochana, the Universal Buddha, at Fengxian Temple at Longmen, China embodies prevalent esoteric Buddhist concepts of deities with great power. The energetic sense of movement of the surrounding attendant figures shows artistic developments of the period. Read more.

AD 700–AD 800

Sogdian weavers in Central Asia make silk garments that combine fine workmanship with motifs drawn from various regions, inspired by the goods traded by Sogdian merchants. Read more.

C. AD 743

Emperor Shomu constructs the Buddhist temple Todaiji in the capital city of Nara. Todaiji's storehouse, called the Shosoin, is one of the richest repositories of Buddhist and secular treasures, containing items obtained throughout East Asia and the regions around the Silk Route. Read more.

AD 751–AD 774

The carved granite Seated Buddha at Sokkuram cave temple, Korea is among the most important and imposing examples of Buddhist art in East Asia and is stylistically closely related to the Tang sculpture of China. Read more.

C. 775–c. 800

Kailasa Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is the most important rock-cut temple at Ellora. Filled with imposing relief sculptures, the temple is viewed as the abode and sacred mountain of Shiva. Read more.

C. 800

Borobudur, the largest religious structure in Indonesia, is built as a monumental stone manifestation of a Buddhist mandala and as a celebration of the power of the new Shailendra dynasty. Over 1300 carved panels are used to decorate with walls and balustrades with narrative reliefs. Read more.

AD 868

The oldest surviving printed book in the world is preserved in the repository at the Buddhist site of Dunhuang. This illustrated text is a Chinese-language version of the Diamond Sutra and is now in the British Library. Read more.

C. 920–c. 930

The Samanid rulers build a mausoleum at Bukhara of fired brick that is decorated with vegetal and geometric patterns. Read more.

C. 1000–c. 1050

Fan Kuan paints one of the most famous Chinese paintings, Travellers among Mountains and Streams, which epitomizes the towering peaks, diminuitive figures and varied brushstrokes of the monumental landscape tradition. Read more.

C. 1020–c. 1029

King Vidyadhara commissions the Kandariya Mahadeva temple, a complex and richly decorated structure that exemplifies mature sacred architecture in central India. Read more.

C. 1020–1057

Japanese sculptor Jocho develops the joined-woodblock technique whereby a statue is made of several, hollowed-out sections joined together. This system makes it possible to make larger sculptures with a wider variety of postures that give them a greater sense of movement and dynamism. This method also ushers in the workshop system. Read more.


Su Shi, a renowned government official and poet, develops the idea of literati painting that emphasizes the expression of artistic spirit over capturing the physical appearance of the subject. This concept assumes paramount importance in later Chinese painting connoisseurship. Read more.

Court painter Guo Xi's Early Spring captures a mountainous landscape suffused with the mists of the season, capturing a specific time and atmosphere in nature. Read more.


Artist, connoisseur and patron, Emperor Huizong assembles the finest painters in the country at the Hanlin Painting Academy. Chosen by means of an examination, these artists produce images for the court that set a standard that continues to influence artistic tastes throughout East Asia. Read more.


One of the world's most sublime and short-lived ceramic wares is made for Emperor Huizong's court. Ru ware has a thick and creamy greenish-blue glaze with a buttery texture coating thinly potted vessels with forms derived from nature. Read more.

C. 1100

The Cholas in southern India favour portable Hindu images cast in bronze. One of the most graceful and symbolically rich images is that of Shiva Nataraja, depicting the god performing the dance of destruction and creation. Read more.

C. 1100–c. 1150

The Buddhist monastery of Alchi in northern India is built, perhaps by the Tibetan teacher and 'great translator' Rinchen Sangpo. Situated in an isolated area, the treasure house remains intact and its murals of deities and mandalas are among the most complete. Read more.

C. 1105

King Kyanzittha builds Ananda temple in his capital of Pagan, Burma. Consisting of four shrines situated back-to-back, this large structure contains four colossal wood sculptures of the Buddha and a storehouse of rare sacred treasures. Read more.

C. 1120–1140

The earliest known illustration of the Tale of Genji is painted for the enjoyment of members of the imperial court. This series of paintings of scenes from the world's first novel is part of the beginning of the Japanese fondness for illustrated narratives. Read more.

C. 1150

Monumental images of Buddha are sculpted from the living rock at the monastery complex at Polonnaruva in Sri Lanka. Read more.

C. 1150

King Suryavarman II builds the magnificent temple-mountain of Angkor Vat, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and expressive of his own position as god-king. Read more.

C. 1150– 1300s

Sanggam or inlaid celadon ware marks the technological peak of Korean ceramic production and epitomizes the elegance and sophistication of the Korean Koryo court. The Chinese court terms this ware 'first under Heaven'. Read more.

C. 1190–c. 1225

Court artist Ma Yuan paints delicate images of nature with soft colours and highly skilful brushwork that capture the philosophic and aesthetic interests of the Song dynasty. Read more.

The Quwwat al-Islam Mosque is the first congregational mosque built in Delhi and incorporates such native characteristics as the use of sandstone and the decorative scrolling lotus motif. Read more.


Sculptors in Sukhothai, Thailand develop a distinctive type of free-standing walking Buddha. Rendered in bronze, the arms of these figures typically show one hand making a religious gesture (mudra) and the other moving in counterbalance. Read more.

C. 1260–c. 1280

Following his construction of several stupas for Kublai Khan in Tibet, Nepalese artist Arniko becomes director of the imperial workshops in Beijing and designs the famous White Pagoda, a stupa illustrating the fusion of Indian and Nepalese architectural styles. Read more.

C. 1300

Artist, scholar and government official Zhao Mengfu paints Autumn Colours on the Qiao and Hua Mountains, one of his landscape compositions in which he uses archaic imagery to develop a new kind of expressive painting style. Read more.

The so-called 'David vases', once owned by Sir Percival David, are a pair of exceptionally large and dated vases made for a temple in China. They are a prime example of blue-and-white porcelain produced during the Yuan dynasty. Read more.

C. 1400–1404

The great conqueror Timur (also known as Tamerlane) is buried in Samarkand in the Gur-i Amir, which displays several features typical of architecture of that period, such as monumental size and colourful tiles. Read more.


The robust and bold designs of punch'ong wares develop from Korean potters' desire to capture the uniqueness and dynamism of nature. This stoneware, decorated with a pale green transparent glaze and white slip, has a profound effect on the evolution of ceramic production techniques and aesthetic tastes in Japan. Read more.

Under the orders of Emperor Yongle, construction begins on the Forbidden City in Beijing. This extensive series of formal audience halls, workshops and residences remains the home of China's emperors until 1912. Read more.

Iskandar Sultan is the first Timurid leader to patronize the arts of the book and commissions the great calligrapher Mahmud al-Hafiz al-Husayni to compile an illuminated anthology of poetry. Read more.

A bottle dated to 1450 and painted with underglaze cobalt blue decoration in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul provides a time frame for the production in Vietnam of blue-and-white ceramics for domestic consumption and foreign trade, while also revealing the technical and stylistic influences of Chinese prototypes. Read more.

C. 1450

The dry-landscape garden of Ryoanji temple in Kyoto comprises 15 large rocks set amidst a bed of raked white gravel. Set outside the abbot's residence, this garden is constructed as an aid to Zen meditation. Read more.

C. 1463–1868

Supported by the country's most powerful military leaders, Kano Masanobu establishes Japan's most enduring and influential school of painting. The Kano school derives its style from a mastery of Chinese painting techniques adapted to form a uniquely Japanese style.. Read more.

Warlord Oda Nobunaga gives Kano Eitoku his most important commission, the decoration of the interior of Azuchi Castle. Eitoku develops a painting style that employs large formats, bold and rough brushwork and big forms that result in colourful and powerful images that impress his samurai patrons. Read more.

Ca. 1580–1591

Master of the tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu develops the concept of wabicha, which values austerity, rusticity and naturalness. This aesthetic exerts a profound influence not just on the tea ceremony and arts associated with Zen Buddhism, but on Japanese culture as a whole. Read more.

C. 1605

The accomplished artist Manohar paints Emperor Jahangir Receiving his Two Sons, combining precise miniaturist painting techniques, astute observation and rich colours to create scenes that dazzle the eye and enhance the prestige of the Mughal court. Read more.

Painter, calligrapher and theorist Dong Qichang develops a new painting style as seen in such works as Qingbian Mountains. Dong draws on brushstroke techniques and compositional formulas of past masters, but alters their emphasis to focus on geometric forms and the graphic effects of brushwork. Read more.

C. 1618

Painter to the Mughal court Balchand sketches a simple and sparse portrait of the dying official `Inayat Khan. This image of the weak and emaciated man is deeply moving and disturbing. Read more.

C. 1620

Accomplished calligrapher, landscape designer and potter, Hon'ami Koetsu produces one of his most famous teabowls, decorated with half-black, half-white glaze representing Mt Fuji. Koetsu's raku-ware bowls are esteemed for their vigor and naturalism. Read more.


Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan mourns the death of his beloved wife Arjumand Banu Begum by building the Taj Mahal in Agra to serve as her tomb. Read more.

While the practice of decorating textiles with a resist-dyeing technique called batik is known in many countries, the method is most closely associated with the island of Java in Indonesia. Although produced for centuries, the first historical use of this word occurs in records from a European ship. Read more.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa is rebuilt in order to serve as the Dalai Lama's winter palace and the seat of religious and political functions. Read more.

The eccentric painter, calligrapher and poet Zhu Da, also known as Bada Shanren, paints Moon and Melon. Frequently couched in Buddhist, political or poetical references and elusive meanings, Zhu Da's simplistic yet highly expressionistic compositions contain messages that are difficult to comprehend. Read more.

C. 1701

Ogata Korin, the versatile artist who worked in paint, ceramics and textiles, decorates several folding screens with vibrant images of irises against a glittering background of gold leaf. His compositions are very decorative and patterned, although their theme ultimately derives from classical Japanese literature. Read more.


Giuseppe Castiglione (also known as Lang Shining), an Italian painter, architect and Jesuit lay brother, travels to China as a missionary, and subsequently becomes court painter for three emperors during the Qing dynasty. Castiglione is the only Western artist to be included in the Chinese imperial collections. Read more.

Panoramic View of the Diamond Mountains by Chong Son uses refined Chinese painting techniques to represent one of the peninsula's most beloved natural settings and thereby brings the Korean landscape painting tradition to maturity. Read more.

1745–c. 1814

Kim Hong-do, one of the most talented painters in the Korean Choson court's Bureau of Painting, depicts scenes from daily life with great humour, careful observation and skilful brushwork as part of a movement of increasing interest in native imagery during the late 18th century and early 19th. Read more.

C. 1760

Painters in the principality of Guler, in northern India, develop a distinctive version of the Pahari painting style, visible in such works as Lady with Hawk, that merge the bright Pahari palette with Mughal naturalism. Read more.

C. 1812

Persian painter Mihr 'Ali creates the best of his series of full-length oil paintings of Qajar ruler Fath 'Ali Shah, showing the monarch in a gold brocade costume and large crown. Read more.

C. 1829–1833

Katsushika Hokusai produces the series of woodblock-print landscape images known as the Fugaku sanjurokkei ('Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji'). Taking the sacred mountain as a focal point, Hokusai creates a series of imaginary scenes filled with colour, dynamism and emphasis on graphic patterns. Read more.

Ren Xiong paints a self-portrait of himself standing with his head shaven, his chest bared and his gaze stern and unwavering. This unconventional picture is ambiguous in meaning and intent and consolidates many trends and struggles experienced in China during this period of great change. Read more.

Lampung weavers of Sumatra make small cloth squares (tampan) with complex designs to trade ritually during important ceremonies. Read more.

C. 1851

Soon after returning to Java, Raden Saleh paints The Storm, in which he employs the techniques and styles adopted during his many years travelling and studying in Europe to depict local imagery. His work represents the close connection between Europe and Indonesia in the 19th century. Read more.

South Korean artist Nam June Paik's The More, The Better is representative of his work as one of the first artists to have comprehensively realized the potential of television and video as an artistic medium. Read more.

Monumental rock-cut sculptures of Buddhas at Bamiyan in northern Afghanistan, dating from the 2nd century AD to the 5th, are destroyed by the Taliban. Read more.

Korean Sculpture Timeline - History

Korean society is presently a unique multi-religious society. Confucian ethics dominate the daily life of Koreans, and hyanggyo, Confucian educational institutions, are found scattered throughout the country. At every scenic spot, there is a Buddhist monastery, and most of the nation's tangible cultural assets are Buddhist. Yet when entering any Korean city, one is immediately impressed by the number of Protestant churches. During the 1980s, Catholic churches have served as the representative of the conscience of Korean society.

At present, Buddhists number 25.3%, with 19.8% for Protestants, and Catholics make up about 7.3% percent. Thus, Korea is the most actively Christian society in East Asia. In addition to these groups, there are numerous shamanism devotees, new religions and, in particular, Confucianists, who are still not represented in religious surveys. For this reason, Korea's religious population is much larger than superficial survey-counts indicate.

In addition, an Imam attached to the Turkish army (one of the 16 U.N. forces which participated in the Korean War) introduced Islam to Korea. Through his efforts, some Koreans worshipped with the Turkish soldiers and converted to Islam. In 1966, a Korean Islamic organization was formed and in the same year, a mosque was erected in Seoul. Since then, seven more have been established. There are now more than twenty thousand Moslems in Korea.

Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are the representative world religions which have made a decisive contribution to the formation of the various aspects of world culture. Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, in particular, respectively represent the classical cultures of China, India, and Western monotheism. Although these religions all coexists in Korea, at present none of them is able to represent Korean culture.

In addition, since the prehistoric period, shamanism, diverse folk beliefs and countless indigenous religions have developed in Korea. As a result, Korea has an abundance of religious holidays, i.e. New Years, which are celebrated according to both lunar and solar calendars, Buddha's Birthday, Ch'usok (the Harvest Festival), Kaech'aonjol (Foundation Day) and Christmas. Korea is probably the only country in the world to have such a diverse range of religious holidays.

Other multi-religious societies live under the threat of disintegration, but Korea's diverse religions have managed to coexist since ancient times. During Korea's long history, dynastic change has been brought about under the name of religion, but religion has never led to the division of the people. Even among Koreans today, there is nobody who wants to divide the Korean people on religious grounds. To this extent, Korean's homogeneity is considered to be more important to Koreans than any religious value.

From mythical times onward, Koreans have been confident about their unique identity as a people. On the other hand, Koreans have zealously imported foreign culture. By looking at these seemingly divergent aspects of their culture as complementary, Koreans have been able to develop a creative culture and philosophy. Ideologically, when a synthesis of divergent aspects has been reached, harmony prevails. For this reason, Koreans' creative efforts, regardless of which form they take, always culminate with the ideal of harmony.

From ancient times, this harmonious spirit has enabled Koreans to maintain their cultural identity while actively introducing culture from the rest of the world. Classical Confucian and Buddhist culture has gloriously upheld its prestigious position in Korean society, and Christianity is alive and well. Through Buddhist art, aspects of ancient Greek culture are still alive, and the cultures from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia have established deep roots in Korea as well. In this sense, Korea serves as a repository of the world's classical cultures.

In the 1960s, Korean society entered the path towards industrialization. Since then, numerous universities and research institutes have competitively acquired modern thought. As a result, Korean society now embraces the cultural traditions of both the East and West. Western technology, modern social thought and the Christian faith are no longer seen as foreign. Within the East Asian sphere of traditional cultures, Korea represents the greatest success of Christian Evangelism. In this sense, Western culture has been assimilated by Korean culture. This harmonization of diverse cultural elements is a legacy from the ancient past that gives Koreas confidence to meet the changes of the modern world. Yet, it must be kept in mind that Koreans did not begin to actively acquire modern thought until the 1960s, so time is required before they can recreate modern thought in a Korean form.

A multicultural society easily slides into chaos. Moreover, the Korean people have passed the last half century amid continual, violent social upheavals. Within this turmoil, Korea has not yet been able to over come conditions forced upon it by history. For this reason, Korea is often seen by outsiders as an unstable and aggressive society that is inherently chaotic. However, the problems that Korea faces are actually a miniature version of the shrinking "global village." In this sense, Korea efforts to solve their own problems may also lead to solutions for the world at large. Koreans, with their unique history, have thus assumed an important role in the history of mankind.

Information provided by the Korean Embassy

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