Art, Ritual, and Secret Space in the Tangut Kingdom

Ning Qiang, Capital Normal University, Beijing


This presentation reveals the secrecy of mythical rituals on death, divinity, food, wealth, and political legitimacy in the vanished Tangut Kingdom (1028-1227 C.E.), once existed in the area of current northwestern China. By examining the pictorial program of a re-discovered 12th century Tangut cave remaining at the cave site in Yulin near Dunhuang, this paper explores the interplay of ritual, religion, politics, and visual art in the context of cultural exchanges among the Tangut Kingdome, Tibet, and Song China. It raises the following questions: What are the unique features of Tangut art and culture? What are the appropriate ways of viewing the visual designs in the Tangut secret cave-shrines? Should we take a different approach to study non-Chinese Buddhist art? I will discuss these issues with a case study of Yulin Cave 29 and other relevant archaeological discoveries from the Tangut period.