By far one of the most important objects of worship in the Buddhist tradition, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is regarded as the embodiment of compassion. He has been widely revered throughout the Buddhist countries of Asia since the fifth century CE. While he was closely identified with the royalty in South and Southeast Asia, and the Tibetans continue to this day to view the Dalai Lamas as his incarnations, in China he became a she - Kuan-yin, the "Goddess of Mercy" - and has a very different history. The causes and processes of this metamorphosis have perplexed Buddhist scholars for centuries. In this comprehensive study, Ch n-fang Y explores this dramatic transformation of the (male) Indian bodhisattva Avalokitesvara into the (female) Chinese Kuan-yin - from a relatively minor figure in the Buddha's retinue to a universal saviour and one of the most popular deities in Chinese religion.
Focusing on the various media through which the feminine Kuan-yin became disseminated and constructed in China, Y thoroughly examines Buddhist scriptures, miracle stories, pilgrims' accounts, popular literature, and monastic and local gazeteers - as well as images of Kuan-yin and the evolution of his/her aesthetic representations - to determine the way this material reflected the changing perceptions of the bodhisattva. The book depicts the transformation of Kuan-yin as a case study of the transformation of Buddhism in China and elucidates the ways this domesticated "Goddess of Mercy" affected Chinese religion as a whole.