The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Tang Dynasty, 675 A.D.
The Fengxian cave, also known as the "Great Image Niche," was commissioned by Wu Zetian, then fifty years old and the empress of Tang Gaozong, in order to consolidate and strengthen her position as supreme ruler of China;
for so she was, in all but name, the Emperor Gaozong having been incapacitated by a stroke in 660 A.D. Formerly a concubine of Gaozong's father Taizong, in her rise to power she had cruelly murdered not only Gaozong's wife and concubine, but even her own newborn daughter.
Winning over the religious establishment by enormous donations of land and money for monasteries and temples, she built the Fengxian grotto not out of piety, but rather as a masterpiece of "pork barrel" politics and religious propaganda.
The viewer is dwarfed by these towering sculptures, which nevertheless inspire rather than intimidate, welcoming the worshiper to participate in the grand assembly.