Painting and Performance

Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis

by Victor H. Mair

In this extraordinary work of scholarship, Victor Mair traces the global development over a thousand years of a genre of popular Buddhist folk literature from China known as pien-wen, pointing out its origins in India as a form of oral storytelling using painting as an aid, and showing how that form has influenced performance and literary traditions in India, Indonesia, Japan, Central Asia, the Near East, Italy, France and Germany.

Pien-wen, which date from the T'ang period (618–906), are extremely important in the history of Chinese literature because they were the first extended vernacular narratives there. Since they were discovered in Tun-Huang in the early 1900s, they have been the subject of controversy. Examination of contemporary historical writings suggest that they derived from a type of storytelling with pictures. In searching for the origins of the oral antecedents of pien-wen, Mair discovered numerous parallel traditions in other countries that were much better documented. His research has important implications for students and scholars of literature, folklore, painting, religion, history, art, and theater and the performing arts, not to mention Chinese popular culture and Indian civilization.

"This is one of the most important works of Asian cultural history produced in our century. Encyclopedic in its presentation of evidence, open-minded to the breadth of hermeneutic possibility, it is a monumental work of scholarship. It will remain a major reference work for a long time to come..." —Barbara Ruch, Columbia University

Victor H. Mair is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He previously taught at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1976. He also holds degrees from Dartmouth College and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

304 pp, 6.25 x 9.5, Soft
8 pp color illus, 100 b&w illustrations
Maps, notes, bibliography, index
Literature / Chinese literature
ISBN: 978-1891640-55-1