The Emperor’s Eunuch and the Buddha’s Tooth
Asian Art and History: Fabulous Wonders of China
Artis—Naples Lifelong Learning
Dr. Timothy Brook, Republic of China Chair at the University of British Columbia
In March 1413, the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, Yongle, wrote to the senior Tibetan Lama, Tsongkhapa, to announce that he had come into the possession of a tooth of the Buddha from Ceylon. The person who was alleged to have acquired this precious relic was Zheng He, the eunuch who commanded seven voyages into the Indian Ocean. The announcement might look like evidence of Buddhist piety, but it had more to do with Yongle’s political illegitimacy. Behind the story of the tooth lurk some intriguing puzzles: Why did Yongle send Zheng He into the Indian Ocean? What was he doing in Sri Lanka? Did he actually obtain the tooth relic? And if he didn’t, how did the emperor convince everyone that he did?
Admission includes lunch and a discussion with the lecturer immediately following the lecture. This presentation is part of the Asian Art and History lecture series.