Our group, The Tranny Diaries, focused on the transformation of Guanyin from male to female and how the current context parallels this transformation.

For me, I found it really interesting to be working on this topic about transformation and linking it to the transgender community in today’s society as my knowledge about these people are very limited. When I look at the non-straight people, I would just categorise them into either gays, lesbians or bisexuals. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the ‘T’ stood for in LGBT until I was working on this project. So this project has given me insights to how transgender people act and dress.

With each layer of transformation, I found out what each layer symbolises to the transgender people. The further we researched for this project, I found out how these people were being treated by society all over the world. I had initially thought that they were widely accepted due to the gays, lesbians and bisexuals being more accepted and supported in our community. However, it turns out that they are being treated by how society views their physical gender to be instead of who they really want to be. I’ve always thought the topic on LGBT to be fascinating, but this project has really broadened my perspective on things which I was ignorant of.

At the start, I was worried about our project as during the presentation of ideas, we still weren’t sure about what our end product would look like. We only had a rough idea but it was confused with our chosen subject, the transformation of Guanyin, and our main aim, touching on the LGBT groups in modern society. However, after a final round of discussions we came up with a concrete plan and I was really relieved that we could start on the end product already for our next meet up.

The photoshoot was a lot of fun as it was my first time helping someone to put on make up. It wasn’t a stressful serious meeting but more of an exploration of tools and poses. However, the best part was when we were finished with the taking of photos because that meant one less load off our shoulders.

Overall, this experience has taught me that ancient religious art can be linked to issues of modern society in ways that we may not think is possible.

Research paper

Chinese Buddhist Art started out as similar representations of prototypes from India, and transformed over time due to the influences of Chinese culture and values.[1] Many new celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were included in Chinese Buddhist Art, extending its focus to others besides Buddha Shakyamuni.[2] From the time period of the Northern Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, and through the comparison of the Colossal Buddha in Cave 20 of Yungang of the Northern Wei Dynasty and the Buddha Vairocana in the Longmen Caves of the Tang Dynasty, we would be able to address the changes in art and religion when Buddhism arrives in China.


Buddhist Art in China could be characterized into three stages of development, with each stage being further integrated into China’s culture and artistic traditions.[3] The first stage of Chinese Buddhist Art, in the context of the Northern Wei Dynasty, closely revolved around foreign techniques and iconography. The second stage portrayed the combination of local art and techniques.[4] The third stage was during the Tang Dynasty, where “naturalistic representation renders the various Buddhist deities in a life-like and approachable manner.”[5]


Figure 1: Shakyamuni Buddha with attendant Buddha, Cave 20, Yungang, China, 45 feet high, Source: WC

Figure 2: Buddha Vairocana, flanked by disciples Ananda and Kasyapa, as well as attendant Bodhisattvas, built by Wu Zetian, Fengxian Longmen Grottos, Luoyang, China

The changes in Chinese Buddhist Art could be due to the changes in influences on Chinese Buddhist Art from different eras or places from travels.[6] In Figure 1, the details of the sculpture suggest close adherence to foreign influences in early Chinese Buddhist Art. Such details are the large wide eyes, the stiff smile, the prominent nose and the robes that cling onto the body of the Buddha. These features are largely similar to Indian Buddhist Art. Additionally, features such as the urna, the wisdom bump, the elongated earlobes and the seated position of the Buddha, similar to Indian influences of the Buddha in dhyanasana under the Bodhi tree.[7] Furthermore, the Yungang style is “characterized by the flattened zigzag folds on the diagonal hemline across the chest. The schematic rendering of the hemline has been associated with Central Asian styles…”[8] In Figure 2, the Buddha Vairocana has similar features to Figure 1, such as the wisdom bump, elongated earlobes and the seated formation. However, in contrast, the sculpture appears to have a more naturalistic style, with its robes flowing more realistically. “The rich bas-relief carving of the halo recalls late Indian prototypes…”[9] Tang Dynasty Art transformed into a more life-like and classical form, which was inspired by the Indian art of the Gupta period. This resultued from the Tang Dynasty’s openness to foreign influences and “renewed exchanges with Indian culture due to the numerous travels of Chinese Buddhist monks to India from the 4th to the 11th century.”[10]

[1] “A Closer Look – The Art of Buddhism – China,” Smithsonian, accessed March 9, 2016,

[2] “Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: Characteristics, History,” Encyclopedia of East Asian Art, accessed March 9, 2016,

[3] Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Chinese Religious Art (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2014), 271

[4] Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Chinese Religious Art (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2014), 272

[5] Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Chinese Religious Art (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2014), 274


[6] Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, “The Changing Face of Buddhist Sculptures,” New York Times, January 21, 2009, accessed March 17, 2016,

[7] Banerji, “Indian Inputs to Chinese Art.”

[8] Dorothy C. Wong, Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 48

[9] Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, Chinese Religious Art (United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2014), 287

[10] “Buddhist Art,” last modified November 10, 2015, accessed March 17, 2016,