The Decline and Fall of Chinese Buddhist Literary Historical Consciousness The Compilation of the Lidai sanbao ji 歷代三寶紀, in Light of the Dunhuang Fragments of the Zhongjing bielu 眾經別錄
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The problematic Sui-dynasty catalog Lidai sanbao ji 歷代三寶紀 is well known for its many incorrect translator attributions for early canonical Chinese Buddhist texts, attributions that in large measure were accepted by the later tradition and which have remained in place even within modern editions of the Chinese Buddhist canon. The question of how its compiler Fei Changfang 費長房 arrived at his information—and whether he acted in good or bad faith in presenting it—has long been debated. Recent scholarship has argued that patterns in how the Lidai sanbao ji draws from earlier sources demonstrate that Fei Changfang engaged in a deliberate manipulation of his data. This essay, in contrast, introduces manuscripts from Dunhuang of earlier and otherwise lost catalogs of Chinese Buddhist texts to demonstrate that these patterns can be explained in other ways. More broadly, it is suggested that the errors of the Lidai sanbao ji should be understood not as the products of a solitary forger, but as a sign of a wider loss of literary historical consciousness that impacted Chinese Buddhism between ca. 550–650 CE .