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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Dharani Sutra (Informally called the "Leifengta Sutra")
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Leifengta cang jing [Lei-feng-t'a ts'ang ching]
Work Type
dated 975
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Five Dynasties period, 907-960
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Woodblock printed sutra mounted as a handscroll; ink on paper (with modern frontispiece painted by Chen Zengshou [1878-1949] in ink and light color on paper). The printed sutra commissioned by Qian Hongshu (929-988; reigned as the fifth prince of the Wu-Yue Kingdom, 948-978).
H. 7.5 x W. 209.8 cm (2 15/16 x 82 5/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Philip Hofer (1898-1984), Cambridge, MA, purchased in Hong Kong, March 1972; gift to Harvard Art Museum

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Philip Hofer
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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The printed inscription preceding this small sutra's frontispiece states that "the Prince of Wu-Yue, Qian Shu [Qian Hongshu], had 84,000 copies of this sutra printed in 975 for placement in the Xiguan brick pagoda." In fact, this and a large quantity of virtually identical sutras were found in the remains of the crypt of a tenth-century brick pagoda that collapsed on 25 September 1924--a pagoda that has been known at least since the eighteenth century as the Leifengta, or Thunder-Peak Pagoda. A devout Buddhist, Qian Hongshu had the pagoda built in 975 near West Lake in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang province; in addition, he commissioned the production of numerous printed sutras and other religious items with which to provision the pagoda's crypt. This scroll probably functioned more as a charm than as a strictly religious text; hence the Sanskrit name "dharani sutra," which means "charm text." Although the Chinese likely began to print with woodblocks in the sixth or seventh century, few examples of such early printing remain; in fact, this late tenth-century sutra ranks amongst the oldest specimens of Chinese printing in the United States. The frontispiece depicts the Buddha seated on a lotus pedestal before an altar; two bodhisattvas--or possibly disciples--flank the Buddha, who faces the sutra text, which he presumably is preaching. A pagoda, a temple building, and several other figures complete the composition.

Publication History

  • Pratapaditya Pal and Julia Meech, Buddhist Book Illuminations, Ravi Kumar (New York, 1988), p. 235, fig. 90
  • Eugene Wang, "The Rhetoric of Book Illustrations." In Treasures of the Yenching, ed. Patrick Hanan, The Chinese University Press, Harvard-Yenching Library, and Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass., 2003), pp. 180-217; p. 104, fig. 9, repr.
  • Eugene Wang, "Tope and Topos: The Leifeng Pagoda and the Discourse of the Demonic." In Writing and Materiality in China, ed. J.T. Zeitlin and L.H. Liu, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Mass., 2003), pp. 488-552; p. 492, fig. 11.3, repr.

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/12/2023 - 12/04/2023

Verification Level

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