SOAS University of London

Centre of Buddhist Studies

Reading Against the Grain – (Re-)Establishing the Chinese-ness of Xuanzang’s “Record of the Western Regions”

Max Deeg (Cardiff)

Date: 1 May 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 1 May 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Kamran Djam Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture


It is certainly not an exaggeration to claim that no other Chinese Buddhist text has been used as a quarry for “data” and information about non-Chinese Buddhism (in Central Asia and India) than Xuanzang’s 玄奘 Datang-xiyu-ji 大唐西域記, the “Record of the Western Regions from the Great [Dynasty] of the Tang”. Other than its biographical “counter-parts”, the Biography of Xuanzang (Datang-Ciensi-sanzang-fashi-zhuan 大唐慈恩寺三藏法師傳), and even more the Ming-period novel Xiyou-ji 西遊記, the Record was never really read as what it originally was written for, for a Chinese readership, or more precisely, for the second Tang emperor Taizong 太宗. This paper will reclaim the Chinese-ness of the Xiyu-ji and show how a reading and interpretation of certain passages of the text in their historical-contemporary Chinese socio-political context will enable us to throw new light on questions of structure, content, intentionality and motivation of an important historical source that has been and is decontextualized for the sake of a reading as an objective description of India (and Central Asia). This misconstruction of the text and a different hermeneutical approach of recontextualization will be illustrated by selected examples, mainly taken from the general description of India in the first half of the second fascicle of the Xiyu-ji.


Prof Deeg is specialising in Buddhist history and the spread of Buddhism from India to Central Asia and East Asia. He has a special interest in Buddhist narratives and their role and function for the construction of historical identities in Buddhist communities. He is also interested in other religions in the wider Asian context (Hinduism, Jainism, Daoism, Manichaeism, Eastern Christianity) and in the history of research and its impact on academic narratives about Asian religions. His latest  monographs to be published will be one on Buddhist foundation myths and a German annotated translation of the Sino-Christian inscription of Xi’an from the 8th century. He is currently working on an new English translation and an extensive commentary of the Xiyu ji, the “Records of the Western Regions”, by the Chinese monk Xuanzang (7th century). Prof. Deeg is member of several academic and editorial boards.

Organiser: Dr. Vincent Tournier

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