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Asian Art and History

The Emperor’s Eunuch and the Buddha’s Tooth

Stabile Building

Feb 12, 10:30am
Stabile Building 10:30am
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Lecture

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.

Timothy Brook

Timothy Brook


Timothy Brook is Republic of China chair at the University of British Columbia, Canada. A historian of China, he held the Shaw Chair in Chinese Studies at Oxford and has taught at the University of Toronto and Stanford. His work is rooted in China but extends outward to global history. Brook is the author of Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World and Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer, among many others. He was the editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press’ five-volume history of imperial China. His overview of China’s last eight centuries, Tales from the Great State: China and the World since the 13th Century, is due out next year.

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