Although Buddhism was brought to China by at least the first century B.C.E. during the early part of the Late (Eastern) Han dynasty, it was not widely practiced at first. The only known remains of Buddhist sculpture that date back that far appears in such contexts as in bronze “money trees” or tomb walls. From the fifth century onward, Buddhist teachings spread and Buddhist image production flourished under the Northern and Southern dynasties. However, there are several confirmed gilt bronze Buddha statues depicted in older styles that are thought to have been produced even earlier, during the fourth century under the Eastern Jin or Sixteen Dynasties period.
Known as old-style gilt bronze Buddhas, many are seated, but this unusual image depicts a standing Buddha. The lotus flower-topped base was made separately from the figure, which is inserted into the stand, but the image is currently so tightly inserted into the base that the two cannot be separated. There is a discernable inscription on the side of the base reading in Chinese characters, “nine figures produced.” Strong similarities to Gandharan-style statuary include the hair arrangement on top of the head with strands depicted by incised lines (rather than snail-shell curls), the clear, expressive eyes, and rather thick mustache. The way in which the robe is draped upon the body (with both shoulders covered) is also Indian in style. These features indicate that this statue could have been produced as early as the fourth century. However, recent research has revealed that among Indian or Gandharan-style images, there were some more recent statues produced from the Northern and Southern Dynasties onward that were based upon the older styles. If this type of research progresses, it may be necessary to reassess production dates.