Fieldwork of GCBS researcher Wen Xueyu

GCBS researcher Wen Xueyu just returned from China where she surveyed the Yungang and Longmen grottoes in the framework of her project on the development of apsara (feitian 飛天) iconography. During the fieldwork she collected a large number of photographs, including many 3D images.
Here, she kindly shares a few photos with us.
The Longmen cave complex as seen from the Yangtze River.
GCBS PhD researcher Xueyu Wen.


Main statue in Yungang Cave 13 (Maitreya).
The Southern wall of Yungang Cave 13.
The photo was taken inside Cave 13 of the, which was built between 471 and 494 CE. Between the window on the south wall and the entrance, in a large house-shaped niche, there are seven standing Buddha statues (the seven Buddhas of the past?).


Fieldwork concluding session (Cluster 3.4 of the FROGBEAR project), April 20, 2024

In April, final meetings of the various Research Clusters of the FROGBEAR project hosts the final meetings of its various Research Clusters under the general title “From the Ground to the Cloud: Insights from Seven Years of Fieldwork, Training, and Data Collection”. Among these is the concluding session of the Cluster 3.4 “Typologies of Text-Image Relations”, led by GCBS’s Prof. Christoph Anderl, which will convene on April 20th. If you are interested to participate, please register as soon as possible.

Time: 6:00-8:00am Vancouver | 9:00am-11:00am New York | 3:00pm-5:00pm Brussels | 9:00pm-11:00pm Beijing

Among else, the session includes presentations by three GCBS members:

Prof. Christof Anderl’s introductory talk “From the virtual to the physical, and back to the digital: Redefining fieldwork during and after the epidemic” will sum up the activities and research results of Cluster 3.4 during a period characterized by unpredictability and severe restrictions on physical mobility. The emphasis will be on the experiences made during the “virtual fieldwork” which was organized as response to severe travel restrictions during the lock-down periods. This will be contrasted to our “physical” presence in Bangkok when the research objects could be experienced with all our senses, rather than being projected on a two-dimensional screen. Both types of fieldworks naturally necessitated different approaches, as well as modifications in the scholarly and pedagogical methodologies applied in radically different contexts. However, both approaches eventually merged in the form of the digital data produced during and after the fieldwork activities, eventually being integrated in the Frogbear Database of Religious Sites in East Asia housed at the UBC Library.

Anna Sokolova and Massimiliano Portoghese will share their impressions from conducting fieldwork in Bangkok. In this presentation, actual “fieldworkers” will share their manifold experiences during their 10-day stay in Bangkok and – on a more objective level – reflect more generally on the status quo and future of Chinese temples in contemporary Thailand. We will discuss how Chinese temples are integrated into the urban landscape of contemporary Bangkok, how the temples link the interests of multiple social groupings in the area (such as between local residents and administrative units), how the temples have developed multiple extra-religious functions (such as turning into social gatherings/festivities/commemorative spots), and how the temples have engaged highly syncretic repertoires of the lore of deities and of their related ritual practices. Based on our field work experience, we will reflect on how the data that we have collected during our visits to the Chinese temples in Bangkok on the ground can be used to present the evolution of certain religious traditions in Thailand in a diachronically perspectives: in particular, we can trace how certain traditions commonly thought of as “authentically Chinese” have declined in certain areas over the last few decades, while other such traditions have flourished and/or merged with diverse popular believes and practices.

International research workshop and fieldwork “Chinese Religious Spaces in Thailand”, May 24–June 2, 2023

Within the framework of 2023 FROGBEAR Phase 2 Cluster Activities, the leaders of Cluster 3.4 Typologies of Text-Image Relations organized International Research Workshop and Fieldwork “Chinese Religious Spaces in Thailand”.

Dates: May 24–June 2, 2023.

Cluster leaders: Christoph Anderl, in collaboration with Marcus Bingenheimer, Oliver Streiter, Tzu-Lung Melody Chiu, and Ngar-sze Lau.

Site(s): Chinese temples in Bangkok, Thailand.

Language(s): English; knowledge of Chinese is desirable; language support for Thai will be provided.


Chinese temples in Thailand (and many other locations in South and Southeast Asia) give witness to the complex history of the spread of Chinese Buddhism, and the co-existence of various forms of Buddhism in that area. In the context of Thailand – although characterized by a dominance of Theravada Buddhism – there is a large number of Chinese temples especially in the Bangkok area, most of them clustering in and around Chinatown. Despite their Chinese heritage, many agents associated with the temples (monastics and laypeople) have fully integrated in Thai society and do not speak Chinese anymore (this seems to be a feature quite different from Chinese religious institutions in other countries where even after several generations the Chinese linguistic heritage is preserved). The temples still play a significant role for the religious and cultural life, as well as the identity, of communities with Chinese ancestors. Naturally, most of the temples cluster in and around Chinatown of Bangkok. This contemporary function of these religious institutions will be one focus of the fieldtrip, and we aim to document as many temples as possible with photographic (including 3D survey images) and video materials.

In addition, we will focus on a specific aspect of material culture extant in many of these temples, concretely, inscriptional / epigraphic materials. Chinese immigration to Southeastern locations started several hundred years ago, and the earliest inscriptions date back to the 17th century. In our work, we will focus on inscriptions predating the 19th century. Here, we build on the monumental work of Wolfgang Franke who in 1998 published a survey of epigraphic materials in Thailand. In our fieldwork, we aim to both trace Franke’s documented materials in the contemporary temples, document them with high-resolution images, in addition to complementing the records of Franke.

This will also enable us to gain an impression of the current condition of these materials, and their significance for religious practices and for the heritage / touristic activities of the individual temples. We will not only document materials in Chinese but also in Thai (or other languages such as Pali).

Participants and collaborators 

The field trip is organized by Christoph Anderl (Ghent University), in collaboration with Marcus Bingenheimer, Oliver Streiter, Yoann Goudin, Elsa Ngar-sze Lau, and Chiu (Melody) Tzu-Lung. Without the immense preparatory work of and their vast experience in documenting Chinese temples in Taiwan and South and Southeast Asia of Bingenheimer, Streiter and Goudin, this fieldwork would not be possible. In addition to these specialists, we will be accompanied by ca. fifteen graduate students and PhD researchers from various universities, working in five groups. Each group will also include one local translator.

We are also in the fortunate situation to be supported by the Bangkok based Thammasat University who will help with the logistics and provide expertise for the training sessions and the fieldwork. Thammasat representatives will also accompany some of the fieldwork groups. We are especially indebted to Thomas Bruce, Paul McBain, John Johnston, and Ornthicha Duangratana for their support.


May 23
Arrival of the participants

May 24 (Thammasat)
10:00-10:20 Christoph Anderl: “Welcome and brief introduction” / Welcome by Thammasat representative
10:20-10:50 Marcus Bingenheimer: “Chinese temples Bangkok – a survey” (lecture)
10:50-11:30 Paul Mcbain: “Introduction to reality scan, reality capture, 360 cameras, matterport” (training)
14:00-14:40 Oliver Streiter: “Following the Traces of Wolfgang Franke in Thailand: Impressions, insights and questions from out fieldwork in 2019 and 2023” (lecture)
14:40-15:20 Elsa Ngar-sze Lau: “Doing ethnographic research at religious site: observation and interview” (lecture)
15:40-17:00 Marcus Bingenheimer / Oliver Streiter: “Introduction to temple documentation, data collection, data input” (training / discussions)

May 25
09:00-12:30 FIELD WORK 1 in five groups
14:30 Gathering at Thammasat
14:30-15:20 John Johnston: “Contemporary Developments in Thai Buddhist Material Culture.” (lecture)
15:20-16:00 Melody Tzu-Lung Chiu: “Fieldwork practices and experiences in transnational Buddhist temples: Taiwan, Mailand China, Myanmar and Thailand.” (lecture)
16:00-16:40 Oliver Streiter: “How to identify objects (e.g., deities and symbols) in Chinese temples?” (training)
16:40-ca.18:00 Questions and discussion: Our experiences during the first fieldwork day

May 26 / 27 / 28 / 30 / 31 / June 1

09:00-17:00 FIELD WORK in five groups / work on fieldwork data

June 01 18:30-20:00 Lectures at Siam Society Bangkok

 June 02
10:00-11:00 Paul Mcbain: “From a Buddhist utopia to a secular paradise: tracing changing ideals of the city of Bangkok from 1800-the present.” (lecture)
11:00-16:00 Final gathering and group reports / discussion of fieldwork data / Q&A / socializing)

June 03
Departure of the participants

International workshop and fieldwork “Image – Text – Reality in Buddhism: Interrelation & Internegation”, May 23–25, 2022

“Image – Text – Reality in Buddhism: Interrelation & Internegation”

International Workshop, May, 23-25 (online via Zoom)

(3am-9am PDT | 6am-12pm EDT | 12-18 pm CET | 6pm-9pm CST)

Organized by Prof. Dr. Christoph Anderl (Ghent) and Dr. Polina Lukicheva (Zurich)
as part of FROGBEAR 3.4 cluster activities “TYPOLOGIES OF TEXT – IMAGE RELATIONS”

Co-sponsor: Institute for Popular Chinese Culture Studies of Sichuan University, Sichuan University  四川大学中国俗文化研究所

Registration link:

View Full Program

Cluster 3.4: Typologies of Text – Image Relations (Cliff/ Caves) 2022

Based on the impact of the pandemic, travel to China with a group of researchers is still impossible in 2022. However, we will go ahead with an adapted cluster program and will experiment with “virtual fieldwork” activities.

In order to offer a varied program, we will approach the interrelation of text and image media in the context of Buddhism from various angles, some more theoretical and others based on concrete case studies. With this we hope to provide a more comprehensive overview of the state-of-art developments in this field. The theoretical part will be further emphasized by the participation of Dr. Polina Lukicheva from the University of Zurich as co-organizer, who is a specialist in research on theoretical, philosophical, and soteriological issues related to visual media in religions.

Concretely, the event will be divided into two main parts, a three-day seminar during which theoretical and methodological aspects will be addressed, and field studies presented. The second part will consist of four to five days of virtual field work, focusing on several Buddhist sites in the Anyue district of Sichuan.

Duration of the event:

May 23-25 (3am-9am PDT | 6am-12pm EDT | 12-18 pm CET | 6pm-9pm CST)
May 26 Introduction (time TBD depending on location of participants)
May 27-31 (in at least 3 time-zone groups, TBD depending on location of participants)

Part One – Seminar (the list of participants / lecture titles are tentative):

“Image – Text – Reality in Buddhism: Interrelation & Internegation”

International Workshop, May, 23-25 (online via Zoom)
Organized by Prof. Dr. Christoph Anderl (Ghent) and Dr. Polina Lukicheva (Zurich)
as part of the cluster activities “TYPOLOGIES OF TEXT – IMAGE RELATIONS”

Conference website:

Registration link:


Text and image are the major modes by which humans make sense of the world and, more categorically speaking, construct the (meaningful) world.

In the context of a religious teaching, the role of text and image is subordinated to a soteriological goal – a progress towards the fundamental awareness of the ultimate reality or some specific form of salvation (e.g., rebirth in paradise, or in another favourable sphere of existence). While the soteriological goal is often understood to be beyond any form of representation and meaning-making, the essential value of text and image for elucidating the fundamental truth is also often acknowledged. Thus, the following tensions arise regarding functions of text and image within a religious context: How can text and image furnish the progress towards that which transcends any sort of representation and meaning-making? How to reconcile the inevitably conventional status and metaphorical nature of textual and pictorial signs with the ultimate truth they are meant to convey?

Solutions to these tensions offered by different religious traditions range from those that tend to dismiss any or at least some forms of textual and visual representation and meaning-making, to those that assert the fundamental sameness of these forms with the real.

During the workshop, we hope to gain important insights about the topic of text-image relations through studying how Buddhist teachings solved tensions of this kind. That is, we will discuss textual and visual ways of referencing, signification and meaning-making within a larger framework of Buddhist views on relations between the conventional and the real. Ideally, we will be able to reach some conclusions about whether there exist regularities between notion(s) of reality embraced by a teaching, on the one hand, and particular forms of representation and meaning-making this teaching chooses to prioritize or discard, on the other.

The seminar will feature presentations on how sources from Buddhist traditions and other relevant theoretical literature engage with  the complex interrelations between psychological and ontological aspects of meaning-making and representation – both from a broader philosophical perspective, as well as dealing with more specific themes, such as

– differences, congruities or patterns of interaction between textual and visual representational structures and referential
– exegetical procedures, perceptual mechanisms and, possibly, cognitive transformations that, according to sources, are involved in aligning ordinary semantics and pragmatics of texts and image with the fundamental meaning of a teaching.

1.1 Theoretical, methodological, and philosophical issues related to the interplay of text and image

  • Polina Lukicheva (“Forms of Presentation of Meaning in Buddhist Teachings”)
  • Imre Hamar (“Samantabhadra images in East Asia and their Relation to Mahayana sutras”)
  • Rafael Suter (“Perceiving Doctrine? Visualization and Fazang’s Gold Lion”)
  • Roy Tzohar (“Perspectivism and the Openness of Interpretation: Only in Buddhist Texts?”)
  • Fabio Rambelli (“Text, Image, and Sound: Gagaku between Performance and Metaphysics”)
  • Eric Greene (“Text, Vision, and Ritual in the Scripture on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life”)
  • Henry Albery (“Avadāna as Analogy: Tracing the Emergence of a Narrative Mode”)

1.2 Lectures with a focus on case studies

  • Monika Zin (“Textual and Visual Narratives from Kizil”)
  • Satomi Hiyama (“Image-Text Relations in the Case of the Early Sarvāstivāda Monasteries of Kucha”)
  • Wendi Adamek (“Reading the Images and Texts of Mortuary Niches at Baoshan, Henan”)
  • Petra Rösch (“The “Sutra of the Seven Roster Buddhanames” (七階佛名經) revisited”)
  • Sonya Lee (“Buddhist cave temples in Bazhong, Northern Sichuan”)
  • Karil Kucera (“Creation, Consumption, Reception: Reading the Meanings Behind Texts and Images at Baodingshan”)
  • Lindsey De Witt (“Mountain Buddhism in East Asia: Cosmology and Practice in Comparative Perspective”)
  • Sueyling Tsai (“A New Look at Text and Image in the Grove of the Reclining Buddha (Wofo yuan 臥佛院) in Anyue 安岳, Sichuan”)
  • Manuel Sassmann (“Technical Aspects of Field Research at Wofo yuan”)
  • Christoph Anderl (“Techniques of Textual Adaptation to Local Spaces”)

1.3 Project presentations by PhD / master students / round table discussions


Part Two – Virtual Field work

With the background of the theoretical part and introduction to key sites in the framework of the seminar, the virtual field studies involve studies directly related to specific sites in Anyue. Since we cannot directly visit the sites, the work will be based on high-resolution images taken during previous field trips and other materials. The researchers will study these materials, extract images, write descriptions and prepare them for input in the FROGBEAR Database of Religious Sites in East Asia.

The sites selected for “fieldwork” are the following, all situated in Anyue district:

        • Yuanjue dong 圓覺洞
        • Pilu dong 毗盧洞
        • Huayan dong 華嚴洞
        • Da Bore dong 大般若洞
        • Wofo yuan 臥佛院
        • Kongque dong  孔雀洞
        • Qianfo zhai 千佛寨


Fieldwork research will be primarily based on the photographic materials, and will also involve specific research questions related to the particular features of the individual sites (more information will be provided later). However, we will try to extend the sources / flow of information, including the following:

– Researchers will work in groups (divided according to time zones), similar to those involved in “real” fieldwork, and also applying a “division of labor” approach;

– Zotero Library (Ghent MA students have prepared a large Zotero web library with many full-text PDFs, which can be used to retrieve information on specific sites during research);

– We will try to involve “eyes in the field”, meaning that local collaborators interact with the researchers, and jointly investigate specific sites (e.g., communicate details about a site, inspect the surrounding, take additional photographs, etc.);

– “Ask the expert” (if possible, we will try to involve local experts who in direct communication can answer specific questions about a motif / site / context/ etc.);

– Throughout Spring 2022, ca. 20 Ghent MA students will closely deal with several aspects of the sites, as well as produce introductory materials; during the field work, the MA students will directly interact with the researchers and try to assist them in their studies;

– In addition, a number of supervisors will also involve in the research process;

– The concrete workflow will be communicated later; all relevant materials and information will be provided via the Ghent Ufora teaching platform;

– Research findings will be communicated every day in very short presentations and gatherings;

– Researchers will use other media of communication in addition to Zoom (and the breakout rooms), such as platforms for jointly working on documents, file sharing, etc.;

– Before the seminars / field work commences, we will provide thorough information and sample records, as well as all relevant forms, through Ufora.


Concise background information concerning the “virtual research sites”

The Anyue sites, situated in the Anyue district in Sichuan, and dating mainly between the mid-Tang and the Song period, are among the most interesting regions in China in terms of the integration of and the interplay between text and image at Buddhist sites. As such, a (virtual) field trip to this area is highly significant in the context of the Topologies of Text-image Relations cluster. Earlier field trips conducted by the Ghent Centre of Buddhist Studies have focused on the Dazu area, including the famous Baoding-shan which also has been the subject of intense studies during recent years (Kucera 2001, Kucera 2016, Suchan 2003, Howard 2001, Xu 2010, Lü 2015, Zhao 2018, Zhang 2017, etc.).

As compared to the “central” Dazu area, which is close to Chongqing, many of the Anyue sites are relatively distant and not so easily accessible (some of the sites are also not open to the general public). Furthermore – whereas image material in books, articles, and on the web are relatively plentiful in the case of Dazu – the Anyue sites are both under-studied and under-documented and have received far less scholarly attention (e.g., Sørensen 1998, Ledderose and Sun 2014, Sichuan Cultural Relic Administration 2015, Sun 2018). However, as the Dazu and the Anyue sites are directly related in terms of the temporal and geographical spread of specific motifs, narratives, genres, artistic styles, etc., the Anyue area would provide materials that are indispensable for a reconstruction of the Buddhist textual and visual programs of the entire Sichuan region and will be of great importance for the study of the development of Buddhist image and text production in the form of rock carvings and rock caves in China. Another interesting aspect of the sites consist of their syncretic features, integrating texts and visual motifs of various Buddhist schools (especially Chan and Huayan), esoteric Buddhism, local religious imaginations, as well as Daoism and Confucianism.

As such, research questions during the fieldwork will include the following aspects:

– The temporal layers observed in specific tableaux/sites and the diachronic changes traceable;

– Visualizations of canons and texts (e.g., the revolving book pagoda at Kongque dong);

– The integration of sūtra inscriptions at various cave sites (with a focus on Wofo yuan)

– The transformation of Buddhist narratives in text and image as observable at Pilu dong (e.g., the Liu benzun tableau; with comparisons to the Dazu version of the motif);

– Donor activities and their visualization in text and image (e.g., at Pilu dong where the family names of donors are preserved, inscribed on small Buddha/bodhisattva carvings, each of them iconographically “unique”; in the context of the field study, we will try to systematically record all ca. 320 extant combinations of small buddha carvings and inscribed family names)

– The transformation of textual and image material based on the “merging” of Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian motifs (e.g., Da bore dong; Yuanjue dong);

– The integration and identification of so-called “esoteric” elements (e.g., Wofo yuan and Pilu dong);

– The programmatic compositions of large-scale tableaux/sites (with an emphasis on the Nirvana Buddha at Wofo yuan).

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Tianzhu Fieldwork Fellowship 2018-2019: Jasper Roctus

Tianzhu Foundation provides funding for one Ghent University graduate student to travel to East Asia to do Buddhism-related fieldwork. We are happy to announce that for the academic year 2018-2019, this award has been given to Jasper Roctus (MA student Chinese Language and Culture).·

Jasper Roctus is a Dutch student at Ghent University’s faculty of Arts and Philosophy. After finishing his bachelor of “Oriental languages and Cultures: China” with summa cum laude honors in 2018, Jasper is currently pursuing his master studies. Jasper has proven himself able to deal with complex and difficult materials including pre-modern Buddhist texts and manuscripts. For his MA course “Buddhism: Text and Material Culture”, Jasper has translated and interpreted some of the Baodingshan 宝顶山 rock carvings, connecting it to a historical framework of the development of filial piety in Chinese Buddhism. Jasper will prepare for his participation in the FROGBEAR “From the Ground Up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions” Dazu 大足 field research of May 2020 and will be going on exchange to the Renmin University (人民大学) in the People’s Republic of China during the fall semester of 2019.

Tianzhu Fieldwork Fellowship 2017-2018: Daphne Stremus

Tianzhu Foundation provides funding for one Ghent University graduate student to travel to East Asia to do Buddhism-related fieldwork. We are happy to announce that for the academic year 2017-2018, this award has been given to Ms. Daphne Stremus, who will travel to Sichuan in August.

Daphne Stremus obtained a B.A. in Oriental Languages and Culture at Ghent University in 2017 and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Oriental Languages and Cultures. Daphne has a profound interest in China’s classical religions and philosophy and in 2018 she was awarded the Tianzhu scholarship, which provided her with the opportunity to enroll at Sichuan  University where she conducted fieldwork at Chengdu’s various religious sites. Being especially curious about the issues of women and gender in contemporary Buddhist monastic life, the main focus of Daphne’s research is on the nunnery of Jinsha (Jinsha An 金沙庵), located in Chengdu’s Qingyang 青羊 district, which also hosts the famous Wenshu Monastery (Wenshu yuan 文殊院) and Aidao Nunnery (Aidao An 爱道庵). Jinsha currently houses a small community of about twenty nuns, but having witnessed the succession of thirteen generations, the nunnery is a landmark in the female history of Buddhism.