Historiography (art)

Historiography (art), the study of the history of the visual arts, a field that can range from the detailed, objective cataloguing of works of art to philosophical musing on the nature of beauty.

It was not until the 19th century that art history became a fully fledged academic discipline, but its origins go back to Classical antiquity. The most important work dealing with art to survive from the ancient world is the encyclopedic Latin treatise Natural History, written by Pliny the Elder in the 1st-century ad. This work has often been criticized as careless and superficial, but it contains a good deal of valuable information and some entertaining anecdotes on painters and sculptors (the information on art is in the section on metals and stones and their uses). A century after Pliny, the Greek traveller Pausanias compiled a Description of Greece that is a fount of information on architecture, painting, and sculpture, and the ancestor of modern guidebooks.

The most substantial writings on art from the Middle Ages are the book On Buildings by the Byzantine historian Procopius (6th century), dealing with the architecture of the age of Justinian I, and a treatise on arts and crafts entitled De Diversis Artibus (On the Various Arts), written under the pseudonym Theophilus, probably in the early 12th century (the author was possibly Roger of Helmarshausen, a German goldsmith, and monk).

In the 15th century Leon Battista Alberti wrote treatises on architecture, painting, and sculpture, and the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti compiled a manuscript entitled Commentaries that includes a survey of ancient art (based on Pliny), notes on 14th-century Italian artists, and also his autobiography, the earliest by an artist to survive. The true founding father of art history, however, came a century later in Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the most famous and influential book ever published on the subject— Le Vite de’ Più Eccellenti Architetti, Pittori, et Scultori Italiani (The Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors), generally referred to simply as Vasari’s Lives. It was first published in 1550 and a second, much-enlarged edition appeared in 1568.

Vasari believed that the arts had reached a high level in Classical antiquity, then declined into barbarism in the Middle Ages, before being revived in Italy in the 14th century by artists such as Giotto and rising to a peak in the work of Vasari’s contemporary, Michelangelo, whom he idealized. This idea of art following a pattern of decay and renewal coloured thinking about the Renaissance for centuries, and Vasari’s biographical method inspired several important imitators, beginning with Karel van Mander (“the Dutch Vasari”), who in 1604 published Het Schilder-Boeck (The Book of Painters), which is the most important source of information on northern European artists up to that date. Among other major biographical compilations were those published in French by André Félibien (1666-1688), in German by Joachim von Sandrart (1675-1679), and in Spanish by Antonio Palomino (1724).

The next great milestone in art-historical writing came not from a biographer, however, but from the German classical archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who wrote two major books: Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks), published in 1755; and Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of Ancient Art), published in 1764 (the latter marks the first occurrence of the phrase “history of art” in the title of a book). Winckelmann saw art as part of the general evolution of thought and culture and he tried to explain its character in terms of such factors as social conditions and religious customs. His work was important in gaining for art history the recognition as a serious intellectual pursuit and in establishing Germany as its principal home.

The first university professorship in art history was established in 1844 in Berlin for Gustav Friedrich Waagen, an indefatigable traveller who published a mass of information on works of art in public and private collections, notably Treasures of Art in Great Britain (3 vols., 1854). Waagen was not the only outstanding compiler of his time, for he lived in the great age of fact-finding in art history, when prodigious work was done in archival research and the writing of comprehensive catalogues. Among the great enterprises from this period that formed a foundation for much subsequent work is the 20-volume series Le Peintre Graveur (1803-1821) by the Austrian authority on prints Adam von Bartsch; the numbering system used in this pioneering study of painter-engravers has been adopted by most subsequent scholars in the field.

Part of this process of the accumulation of knowledge resulted from trying to establish on stylistic grounds which artists were responsible for works that were not firmly documented. Giovanni Morelli (an Italian connoisseur who wrote in German) attempted to give attribution a scientific basis by minutely studying a painter’s treatment of details such as ears and fingernails. His work was very influential, this kind of connoisseurship becoming a major strand in art-historical studies well into the 20th century. Kenneth Clark, for example, wrote: “When I was an undergraduate [in the 1920s] the idea that art scholarship consisted in finding out who painted a picture on the basis of internal evidence alone had the same unquestioned prestige as textual emendation in the field of classical scholarship”.

The American art critic Bernard Berenson was the most famous practitioner of this kind of connoisseurship, and the various lists he compiled of the work of Italian Renaissance painters are still valuable, although many of his attributions have subsequently been questioned. Another approach to stylistic analysis was seen in the work of the Swiss scholar Heinrich Wölfflin, who tried to show that style followed evolutionary principles, most notably in his book Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (1915; Principles of Art History, 1932). Wölfflin’s visual analysis was much more subtle and searching than that of his predecessors, and Herbert Read wrote: “it could be said of him that he found art criticism a subjective chaos and left it a science”.

Alongside the methodology that placed paramount importance on the stylistic values of a work of art, there developed another, in which the work was studied as part of the intellectual history of its time, with a new emphasis on the interpretation of subject matter (iconography). The great pioneer of this approach was the German, Aby Warburg, whose superb library developed into a research institute, incorporated into the University of London in 1944 as the Warburg Institute. Many outstanding art historians have been associated with the Warburg Institute, notably Ernst Gombrich, but the scholar who is most renowned for his iconographical analysis is probably Erwin Panofsky, who spent most of his career at Princeton University in the United States. Kenneth Clark described Panofsky as “unquestionably the greatest art historian of his time” and he combined his immense erudition with rare sensitivity. Some of his followers have been accused of taking his methods too far, “overinterpreting” pictures to find “hidden symbolism” that does not really exist.

Connoisseurship and iconography continue to be important in art history, but since the 1970s there has been a reaction against traditional methodology in the subject. This reaction has been dubbed “the new art history”—“a capacious and convenient title that sums up the impact of feminist, Marxist, structuralist, psychoanalytic, and socio-political ideas on a discipline notorious for its conservative taste in art and its orthodoxy in research” (The New Art History, ed. A. L. Rees and Frances Borzello, 1986). Some traditionalists would reply that the new art history tends to be pretentious and jargon-ridden.

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Further Education


Further Education (FE), the tertiary sector of education, following primary and secondary education, and sometimes preceding higher education. Whereas in the rest of Europe the tertiary sector is generally confined to vocational education and training, in the United Kingdom FE embraces both academic and vocational or professional study programmes. FE in the United Kingdom has no direct equivalent in other parts of the world. Other systems tend towards separation of the vocational system from schools and universities.

Most full-time students in FE study in further education colleges between the ages of 16 and 19, but the majority of FE college students overall are adults and study part-time. FE is often regarded as the “college sector” which provides study opportunities between school and university. However, the boundaries between further education colleges and higher education institutions are becoming increasingly blurred.

FE offers study opportunities for those who need help with basic skills: literacy, numeracy, and key skills at a foundation level. The majority of students are following courses at level 1 to 3 (foundation, intermediate, and advanced), and there are more A-level students in colleges than in school sixth forms. About 20 per cent of FE colleges also offer some higher education, and several universities (generally the former polytechnics) offer some FE.


FE in the United Kingdom is a distinctly modern phenomenon. It has its beginnings in the mechanical and technical institutes of the early 19th century. The first institute was formally constituted in Edinburgh in 1821. The subsequent growth in institutes was phenomenal and was matched by the development of the first national examining bodies from the time of the RSA Examinations Board in 1856. The RSA has now merged with other examinations boards to become the OCR Awarding Body, one of several awarding bodies that also include City and Guilds and Edexcel.

From the early 20th century until the 1960s, the UK had a tripartite system of schools, grammar, technical, and secondary modern, and the role of FE was primarily as a provider of evening study programmes in the local technical college. Before 1940, the technical college was a place of vocational education for the employed. The end of World War II and the demand for new skills meant further education concentrated on day release from work and evening classes. A new era of partnership with industry began. This developed with the industry training boards and levy systems of the 1960s and 1970s and the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) of the 1980s, to the Training and Enterprise Councils of the 1990s.

In the 1960s, with the arrival of comprehensive schools, many local education authorities (LEAs) wanted to offer second-chance opportunities to students at 16 and evening classes to adult students. The tertiary college was born. Many LEAs reorganized in order to set up tertiary colleges for all post-16 students and adults. The FE sector as we know it was created, although the process of providing schools for just 11- to 16-year-olds was not continued, and there is therefore now a diverse system.

FE today is provided by various institutions, including general further education colleges, agricultural and horticultural colleges, art and design colleges, and other specialist colleges; sixth forms in secondary schools, sixth-form colleges (England and Wales only), and universities. In 1999-2000 there were approximately 3.1 million students in FE in England; 22 percent were full-time students and 78 percent part-time. The government has actively encouraged the increase in FE provision.


The structures of funding and quality assurance are different within England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In England, Wales, and Scotland, colleges of further education, tertiary colleges, and sixth-form colleges, which previously received grants directly through their LEAs, have since April 1993 had the autonomy to run their own affairs within the further education sector. Northern Ireland followed suit in 1998. Internal organization, as well as finance and management issues (including pay and conditions of service contracts), are matters for each college to determine. All have governing bodies, which include representatives of the local business community and many courses are run in conjunction with local employers. In April 2001 a national Learning and Skills Council (LSC) was established in England, taking on the funding responsibilities of the English Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) and the functions of the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs).


In the United Kingdom,, the aim is to establish a qualifications framework which includes both academic and vocational qualifications, overcoming traditional barriers and promoting greater flexibility within the system. The intention is that individuals and employers will establish systems to allow employees to attain progressively higher levels of skill. There is close cooperation between the regulatory bodies in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In England, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) is responsible for a comprehensive qualifications framework, including accreditation for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). This accreditation also extends to Wales and Northern Ireland. In Wales, the Qualification, Curriculum, and Assessment Authority (ACCAC) perform a similar role to the QCA, while the Welsh Joint Educational Committee offers A-level and GCSE assessment. In Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is a regulatory and awarding body. The main thrust of the framework there is to offer parity of esteem for all qualifications across the system and to include the new competence-based system that has been devised by industry.

In September 2000 a new curriculum, known as “Curriculum 2000”, was introduced. This gives students the opportunity to study more subjects (normally four or five in one year) at AS (Advanced Subsidiary) level, and they can then specialize in two to four subjects in the second year, at the A2 level. The former GNVQs have been renamed as vocational A levels. Key skills of numeracy, literacy, and IT (information technology) efficiency are also examined within the curriculum at different levels.


College systems overseas tend to concentrate exclusively on the vocational provision, as compared with the UK FE college system, which combines academic and vocational provision. Other countries have priorities similar to those of the United Kingdom, including curriculum, qualification, and funding reforms; the decentralization of decision-making; the encouragement of links between industry and education; quality and standards; guidance and counselling; progression; and non-completion. Generally, vocational qualifications have the same low status overseas as in the United Kingdom; however, governments everywhere are aiming to change this perception.

Contributed By:
British Training International

Credited Images:aliexpress


United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), agency of the United Nations (UN), created in 1946 to promote world peace by focusing on the areas of culture and communication, education, natural sciences, and social and human sciences. UNESCO’s principal decision-making body is the General Conference, which is composed of representatives of the 188 member states (UNESCO also has 6 associate members). The General Conference elects the members of the executive board and appoints the director-general. The executive board is made up of representatives of 58 member states and meets twice a year, between the sessions of the General Conference, to supervise the execution of UNESCO’s two-year programmes. The two-year programmes are executed by the secretariat, which is headed by the director-general. Koichiro Matsuura became director-general in November 1999.

The main priorities of UNESCO’s programmes include achieving education for all, establishing a culture of peace through education, promoting the free flow of information between countries, as well as freedom of the press, protecting natural and cultural heritage, and supporting the expression of cultural identities. Prioritized issues include education, development, urbanization, population, youth, human rights and parity for women, democracy, and peace. Examples of research activities include the ways in which societies react to climatic and environmental change and change affecting women and families. UNESCO’s social and human sciences programme gives high priority to the problems of young people who are the first victims of unemployment, economic and social inequalities, and the widening gap between developing and industrialized countries. The budget for 2002-2003 was just over US$544 million.


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Educational Psychology


Educational Psychology, field of psychology concerned with the development, learning, and behaviour of children and young people as students in schools, colleges, and universities. It includes the study of children within the family and other social settings, and also focuses on students with disabilities and special educational needs. Educational psychology is concerned with areas of education and psychology which may overlap, particularly child development, evaluation and assessment, social psychology, clinical psychology, and educational policy development and management.


In the 1880s the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus developed techniques for the experimental study of memory and forgetting. Before Ebbinghaus, these higher mental processes had never been scientifically studied; the importance of this work for the practical world of education was immediately recognized.

In the late 1890s William James of Harvard University examined the relationship between psychology and teaching. James, who was influenced by Charles Darwin, was interested in how people’s behaviour adapted to different environments. This functional approach to behavioural research led James to study practical areas of human endeavour, such as education.

James’s student Edward Lee Thorndike is usually considered to be the first educational psychologist. In his book Educational Psychology (1903), he claimed to report only scientific and quantifiable research. Thorndike made major contributions to the study of intelligence and ability testing, mathematics and reading instruction, and the way learning transfers from one situation to another. In addition, he developed an important theory of learning that describes how stimuli and responses are connected.


Educational psychology has changed significantly over the 20th century. Early investigations of children as learners and the impact of different kinds of teaching approaches were largely characterized by attempts to identify general and consistent characteristics. The approaches used varied considerably. Jean Piaget, for example, recorded the development of individuals in detail, assessing changes with age and experience. Others, such as Robert Gagné, focused on the nature of teaching and learning, attempting to lay down taxonomies of learning outcomes. Alfred Binet and Cyril Burt were interested in methods of assessing children’s development and identifying those children considered to be of high or low general intelligence.

This work led to productive research which refined the theories of development, learning, instruction, assessment, and evaluation, and built up an increasingly detailed picture of how students learn. Educational psychology became an essential part of the training of teachers, who for several generations were instructed in the theories emanating from its research to help train them in classroom teaching practice.

A Changing Approaches

Recently the approach of educational psychology has changed significantly in the United Kingdom, as has its contribution to teacher education. In part these changes reflect political decisions to alter the pattern of teacher training: based on the belief that theory is not useful, and that “hands-on” training is preferable. However, discipline and teacher education have each been changing of their own accord. Moving away from the emphasis on all-encompassing theories, such as those of Jean Piaget, Sigmund Freud, and B. F. Skinner, the concerns of educational psychologists have shifted to practical issues and problems faced by the learner or the teacher. Consequently, rather than, for example, impart to teachers in training Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, and then seek ways of their applying it in classrooms, educational psychologists have tended to begin with the practical issues—how to teach reading; how to differentiate a curriculum (a planned course of teaching and learning) across a range of children with differing levels of achievement and needs; and how to manage discipline in classrooms.

Theory-driven research increasingly suggested that more elaborated conceptions of development were required. For example, the earlier work on intelligence by Binet, Burt, and Lewis Madison Terman focused on the assessment of general intelligence, while recognizing that intellectual activity included verbal reasoning skills, general knowledge, and non-verbal abilities such as pattern recognition. More recently the emphasis has shifted to accentuate the differing profiles of abilities, or “multiple intelligences” as proposed by the American psychologist Howard Gardner, who argues that there is good evidence for at least seven, possibly more, intelligences including kinaesthetic and musical as well as the more traditionally valued linguistic and logico-mathematical types of intelligence.

There has also been a shift in emphasis from the student as an individual to the student in a social context, at all levels from specific cognitive (thinking and reasoning) abilities to general behaviour. For example, practical intelligence and its links with “common sense” have been addressed and investigations made into how individuals may have relatively low intelligence as measured by conventional intelligence tests, yet be seen to be highly intelligent in everyday tasks and “real-life” settings. Recognition of the impact of the environment on a child’s general development has been informed by research on the effects of poverty, socio-economic status, gender, and cultural diversity, together with the effects of schooling itself. Also, the emphasis has changed from one of regarding differences in their performance on specific tasks as deficits compared with some norm, to an appreciation that deficits in performance may reflect unequal opportunity, or that differences may even reflect a positive diversity.

It is now apparent that there are also important biological factors determined by a child’s genetic make-up and its prenatal existence, as well as social factors concerned with the family, school, and general social environment. Because these various factors all interact uniquely in the development of an individual, consequently there are limitations in the possible applicability of any one theory in educational psychology.


Professional educational psychologists (EPs) draw upon theory and research from other disciplines in order to benefit individual children, their families, and educational institutions, particularly schools through the following activities:

A Individual Children

An EP may be asked to advise a parent on how to deal with a pre-school child with major temper tantrums; to assess a young child with profound and multiple disabilities; to advise teachers on the nature of a 7-year-old’s reading difficulties; to advise teachers and parents on an adolescent’s problematic behaviour; to undertake play therapy with an 8-year-old who has been sexually and physically abused; or to give an adolescent counselling or psychotherapy.

In each case there is an assessment to identify the nature of the problem, followed by an intervention appropriate to this analysis. The assessment may include the use of standardized tests of cognitive abilities, not necessarily to derive an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but to investigate a range of aspects of intellectual development; informal assessment and standardized tests of attainment (such as reading and spelling); interviews; observation of the child in class, or with parents or friends; or methods designed to understand the child’s view of their world, including play and structured pictures and tasks where the child arranges the materials to represent their own views of family, or other social arrangements. The interventions (planned procedures) may be equally wide-ranging. In some cases the EP will try to help key adults to understand the child and the nature of the problem. In other cases, more direct advice may be given on how to handle disturbing aspects of a child’s behaviour. In other instances the EPs may advise or produce a specific programme of work, counselling, or behaviour change, which they might implement directly, or they may advise on and monitor the practices of teachers and parents.

In some instances the main basis for advice might be evidence obtained from research on child development; or evidence on intellectual development and its assessment in ethnic minority populations; or theories of learning and instruction as applied to helping a child with literacy difficulties; or theories of counselling or psychotherapeutic intervention may help an adolescent with significant emotional problems. EPs normally work collaboratively with teachers and parents, and with medical and other colleagues. They play a major role in providing advice to local education authorities or school districts in those countries which make statutory assessments of students’ special educational needs.

B Institutions

Often the involvement of an EP with an individual child in a school will lead teachers to recognize that the same issues apply more generally. For example, other children may also have similar learning difficulties or problems in controlling aggression. The EP may then provide a consultancy service to the teacher or school. In some cases this service may be sought direct, for example when a new headteacher wishes to review a previous assessment or the school’s current behaviour policy. Research has indicated, for example, how schools can reduce bullying, improve pupil performance by rearranging classrooms, for example, and optimize the inclusion of children with special educational needs.


Educational psychology continues to provide a major basis for the initial education of teachers, particularly in management of learning and behaviour, but also on curriculum design, with special attention given to the needs of individual children. Increasingly, educational psychology is also contributing to student teachers’ understanding of the school as a system and the importance of this wider perspective for optimizing their performance; to their professional development by helping them analyse their own practice, beliefs, and attitudes and, once they begin the practice of teaching, to their continuing professional development based on experience in schools—particularly in areas such as special needs and disability. The impact of information technology and the increasing development of inclusive education provide particular challenges.

Contributed By:
Geoff Lindsay

Credited Images: Yesstyle



Animal Behaviour


Animal Behaviour, the way different kinds of animals behave, which has fascinated inquiring minds since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle. Particularly intriguing has been the ability of simple creatures to perform complicated tasks—weave the web, build a nest, sing a song, find a home, or capture food—at just the right time with little or no instruction. Such behaviour can be viewed from two quite different perspectives, discussed below: either animal learn everything they do (from “nurture”), or they know what to do instinctively (from “nature”). Neither extreme has proved to be correct.


Until recently the dominant school in behavioural theory has been behaviourism, whose best-known figures are J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner. Strict behaviourists hold that all behaviour, even breathing and the circulation of blood, according to Watson, is learned; they believe that animals are, in effect, born as blank slates upon which chance and experience are to write their messages. Through conditioning, they believe, an animal’s behaviour is formed. Behaviourists recognize two sorts of conditioning: classical and operant.

In the late 19th century the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning while studying digestion. He found that dogs automatically salivate at the sight of food—an unconditioned response to an unconditioned stimulus, to use his terminology. If Pavlov always rang a bell when he offered food, the dogs began slowly to associate this irrelevant (conditioned) stimulus with the food. Eventually, the sound of the bell alone could elicit salivation. Hence, the dogs had learned to associate a certain cue with food. Behaviourists see salivation as a simple reflex behaviour—something like the knee-jerk reflex doctors trigger when they tap a patient’s knee with a hammer.

The other category, operant conditioning, works on the principle of punishment or reward. In operant conditioning a rat, for example, is taught to press a bar for food by first being rewarded for facing the correct end of the cage, next being rewarded only when it stands next to the bar, then only when it touches the bar with its body, and so on, until the behaviour is shaped to suit the task. Behaviourists believe that this sort of trial-and-error learning, combined with the associative learning of Pavlov, can serve to link any number of reflexes and simple responses into complex chains that depend on whatever cues nature provides. To an extreme behaviourist, then, animals must learn all the behavioural patterns that they need to know.


In contrast, ethology—a discipline that developed in Europe—holds that much of what animals know is innate (instinctive). A particular species of digger wasp, for example, finds and captures only honey bees. With no previous experience a female wasp will excavate an elaborate burrow, find a bee, paralyse it with a careful and precise sting to the neck, navigate back to her inconspicuous home, and, when the larder has been stocked with the correct number of bees, lay an egg on one of them and seal the chamber.

The female wasp’s entire behaviour is designed so that she can function in a single specialized way. Ethologists believe that this entire behavioural sequence has been programmed into the wasp by its genes at birth and that, in varying degrees, such patterns of innate guidance may be seen throughout the animal world. Extreme ethnologists have even held that all novel behaviours result from maturation—flying in birds, for example, which requires no learning but is delayed until the chick is strong enough—or imprinting, a kind of automatic memorization discussed below.

The three Nobel Prize-winning founders of ethology—Konrad Lorenz of Austria, Nikolaas Tinbergen of the Netherlands, and Karl von Frisch of Germany—uncovered four basic strategies by which genetic programming helps direct the lives of animals: sign stimuli (frequently called releasers), motor programs, drive, and programmed learning (including imprinting).


Sign stimuli are crude, sketchy cues that enable animals to recognize important objects or individuals when they encounter them for the first time. Baby herring gulls, for example, must know from the outset to whom they should direct their begging calls and pecks in order to be fed. An adult returning to the nest with food holds its bill downwards and swings it back and forth in front of the chicks. The baby gulls peck at the red spot on the tip of the bill, causing the parent to regurgitate a meal. The young chick’s recognition of a parent is based entirely on the sign stimulus of the bill’s vertical line and red spot moving horizontally. A wooden model of the bill works as well as the real parent; a knitting needle with a spot is more effective than either in getting the chicks to respond.

Sign stimuli need not be visual. The begging call that a chick produces is a releaser for its parents’ feeding behaviour. The special scent, or pheromone, emitted by female moths is a sign stimulus that attracts males. Tactile (touch) and even electrical sign stimuli are also known.

The most widespread uses of sign stimuli in the animal world are in communication, hunting, and predator avoidance. The young of most species of snake-hunting birds, for instance, innately recognize and avoid deadly coral snakes; young fowl and ducklings are born able to recognize and flee from the silhouette of hawks. Similar sign stimuli are often used in food gathering. The bee-hunting wasp recognizes honey bees by means of a series of releasers: the odour of the bee attracts the wasp upwind; the sight of any small, dark object guides it to the attack; and, finally, the odour of the object as the wasp prepares to sting determines whether the attack will be completed.

This use of a series of releasers, one after the other, greatly increases the specificity of what are individually crude and schematic cues; it is a strategy frequently employed in communication and is known as display. Most animal species are solitary except when courting and rearing young. To avoid confusion, the signals that identify the sex and species of an animal’s potential mate must be clear and unambiguous (see Courtship below).


A second major discovery by ethologists is that many complex behaviours come pre-packaged as motor programs—self-contained circuits able to direct the coordinated movements of many different muscles to accomplish a task. The courtship dancing of sticklebacks, the stinging action of wasps, and the pecking of gull chicks are all motor programs.

The first motor program analysed in much detail was the egg-rolling response of geese. When a goose sees an egg outside its nest, it stares at the egg, stretches its neck until its bill is just on the other side of the egg, and then gently rolls the egg back into the nest. At first glance this seems a thoughtful and intelligent piece of behaviour, but it is in fact a mechanical motor program; almost any smooth, rounded object (the sign stimulus) will release the response. Furthermore, removal of the egg once the program has begun does not stop the goose from finishing its neck extension and delicately rolling the non-existent object into the nest.

Such a response is one of a special group of motor programs known as fixed-action patterns. Programs of this class are wholly innate, although they are frequently wired so that some of the movements are adjusted automatically to compensate for unpredictable contingencies, such as the roughness and slope of the ground the goose must nudge the egg across. Apparently, the possible complexity of such programs is almost unlimited; birds’ nests and the familiar beautiful webs of orb-weaving spiders are examples.

Another class of motor programs is learned. In the human species walking, swimming, bicycle riding, and shoe tying, for example, begin as laborious efforts requiring full, conscious attention. After a time, however, these activities become so automatic that, like innate motor programs, they can be performed unconsciously and without normal feedback. This need for feedback in only the early stages of learning is widespread. Both songbirds and humans, for example, must hear themselves as they begin to vocalize, but once song or speech is mastered, deafness has little effect. The necessary motor programs have been wired into the system.


The third general principle of ethology is drive. Animals know when to migrate, when (and how) to court one another, when to feed their young, and so on. In most animals these abilities are behavioural units that are switched on or off as appropriate. Geese, for example, will only roll eggs from about a week before egg laying until a week after the young have hatched. At other times eggs have no meaning to them.

The switching on and off of these programs often involves complex inborn releasers and timers. In birds, preparations for spring migration, as well as the development of sexual dimorphisms (separate forms), territorial defence, and courtship behaviour, are all triggered by the lengthening period of daylight. This alters hormone levels in the blood, thereby triggering each of these dramatic but essential changes in behaviour.

In general, however, no good explanation exists for the way in which motivation is continually modulated over short periods in an animal’s life. A cat will stalk small animals or toys even though it is well supplied with food. Deprived of all stimuli, its threshold (the quality of stimulus required to elicit a behaviour) will drop sufficiently so that thoroughly bored cats will stalk, chase, capture, and disembowel entirely imaginary targets. This unaccountable release of what appears to be pent-up motivation is known as vacuum activity—a behaviour that will occur even in the absence of a proper stimulus.

One simple mechanism by which animals alter their levels of responsiveness (and which may ultimately help explain motivation) is known as habituation. Habituation is essentially a central behavioural boredom; repeated presentation of the same stimulus causes the normal response to wane. A chemical present on the tentacles of its arch-enemy, the starfish, triggers a sea slug’s frantic escape behaviour. After several encounters in rapid succession, however, the threshold for the escape response begins to rise and the sea slug refuses to flee the overworked threat. Simple muscle fatigue is not involved, and stimulation of some other form—a flash of light, for instance—instantly restores the normal threshold (a phenomenon known as sensitization). Hence, nervous systems are pre-wired to “learn” to ignore the normal background levels of stimuli and to focus instead on changes from the accustomed level.


The fourth contribution ethology has made to the study of animal behaviour is the concept of programmed learning. Ethologists have shown that many animals are wired to learn particular things in specific ways at preordained times in their lives.

A Imprinting

One famous example of programmed learning is imprinting. The young of certain species—ducks, for example—must be able to follow their parents almost from birth. Each young animal, even if it is pre-programmed to recognize its own species, must quickly learn to distinguish its own particular parents from all other adults. Evolution has accomplished this essential bit of memorization in ducks by wiring ducklings to follow the first moving object they see that produces the species-specific exodus call. The call acts as an acoustic sign stimulus that directs the response of following.

It is the physical act of following, however, that triggers the learning process; chicks passively transported behind a calling parent do not imprint at all. (In fact, presenting obstacles so that a chick has to work harder to follow its parent actually speeds the imprinting process.) As long as the substitute parent makes the right sounds and moves, ducklings can be imprinted on a motley collection of objects, including rubber balls, shoe boxes, and human beings.

This parental-imprinting phase is generally early and brief, often ending 36 hours after birth. Another round of imprinting usually takes place later; it serves to define the species image the animal will use to select an appropriate mate when it matures. Ethologists suspect that genetic programming cannot specify much visual detail; otherwise, selective advantage would probably require chicks to come pre-wired with a mental picture of their own species.

As the world has become increasingly crowded with species, the role of sign stimuli in some animals has shifted from that of identifying each animal’s species uniquely to that of simply directing the learning necessary to distinguish an animal’s own kind from many similar creatures. This strategy works because, at the early age involved, most animals’ ranges of contact are so limited that a mistake in identifying what to imprint on is highly unlikely.

B Characteristics of Programmed Learning

Imprinting, therefore, has four basic qualities that distinguish it from ordinary learning: (1) a specific time, or critical period, exists when the learning must take place; (2) a specific context exists, usually defined by the presence of a sign stimulus; (3) the learning is often constrained in such a way that an animal remembers only a specific cue such as odour and ignores other conspicuous characteristics; and (4) no reward is necessary to ensure that the animal remembers.

These qualities are now becoming evident in many kinds of learning, and the value of such innately directed learning is beginning to be understood: in a world full of stimuli, it enables an animal to know what to learn and what to ignore. As though for the sake of economy, animals need pick up only the least amount of information that will suffice in a situation. For example, ducklings of one species seem able to learn the voices of their parents, whereas those of another recall only what their parents look like. When poisoned, rats remember only the taste and odour of the dangerous food, whereas quail recall only its colour. This phenomenon, known as rapid food-avoidance conditioning, is so strongly wired into many species that a single exposure to a toxic substance is usually sufficient to train an animal for life.

The same sorts of biases are observed in nearly every species. Pigeons, for instance, readily learn to peck when food is the reward, but not to hop on a treadle for a meal; on the other hand, it is virtually impossible to teach a bird to peck to avoid danger, but they learn treadle hopping in dangerous situations easily. Such biases make sense in the context of an animal’s natural history; pigeons, for example, normally obtain food with the beak rather than the feet, and react to danger with their feet (and wings).

Perhaps the example of complex programmed learning understood in most complete detail is song learning in birds. Some species, such as doves, are born wired to produce their species-specific coos, and no amount of exposure to the songs of other species or the absence of their own has any effect. The same is true for the repertoire of 20 or so simple calls that virtually all birds use to communicate messages such as hunger or danger.

The elaborate songs of songbirds, however, are often heavily influenced by learning. A bird reared in isolation, for example, sings a very simple outline of the sort of song that develops naturally in the wild. Yet song learning shows all the characteristics of imprinting. Usually a critical period exists during which the birds learn while they are young. Exactly what is learned—what a songbird chooses to copy from the world of sound around it—is restricted to the songs of its own species. Hence, a white-crowned sparrow, when subjected to a medley of songs of various species, will unerringly pick out its own and commit it to memory. The recognition of the specific song is based on acoustic sign stimuli.

Despite its obvious constraints, song learning permits considerable latitude: any song will do as long as it has a few essential features. Because the memorization is not quite perfect and admits some flexibility, the songs of many birds have developed regional dialects and serve as vehicles for a kind of “cultural” behaviour.

A far more dramatic example of programmed cultural learning in birds is seen in the transmission of knowledge about predators. Most birds are subject to two sorts of danger: they may be attacked directly by birds of prey, or their helpless young may be eaten by nest predators. When they see birds of prey, birds regularly give a specific, whistlelike alarm call that signals the need to hide. A staccato mobbing call, on the other hand, is given for nest predators and serves as a call to arms, inciting all the nesting birds in the vicinity to harass the potential predator and drive it away. Both calls are sign stimuli.

Birds are born knowing little about which species are safe and which are dangerous; they learn this by observing the objects of the calls they hear. So totally automatic is the formation of this list of enemies that caged birds can even be tricked into mobbing milk bottles (and will pass the practice on from generation to generation) if they hear a mobbing call while being shown a bottle. This variation on imprinting appears to be the mechanism by which many mammals (primates included) gain and pass on critical cultural information about both food and danger. The fairly recent realization of the power of programmed learning in animal behaviour has reduced the apparent role that simple copying and trial-and-error learning play in modifying behaviour.


Evolution, working on the four general mechanisms described by ethology, has generated a nearly endless list of behavioural wonders by which animals seem almost perfectly adapted to their world. Prime examples are the honey bee’s systems of navigation, communication, and social organization. Bees rely primarily on the Sun as a reference point for navigation, keeping track of their flight direction with respect to the Sun, and factoring out the effects of the winds that may be blowing them off course. The Sun is a difficult landmark for navigation because of its apparent motion from east to west, but bees are born knowing how to compensate for that. When a cloud obscures the Sun, bees use the patterns of ultraviolet polarized light in the sky to determine the Sun’s location. When an overcast obscures both Sun and sky, bees automatically switch to a third navigational system based on their mental map of the landmarks in their home range.

Study of the honey bee’s navigational system has revealed much about the mechanisms used by higher animals. Homing pigeons, for instance, are now known to use the Sun as their compass; they compensate for its apparent movement, see both ultraviolet and polarized light, and employ a backup compass for cloudy days. The secondary compass for pigeons is magnetic. Pigeons surpass bees in having a map sense as well as a compass as part of their navigational system. A pigeon taken hundreds of kilometres from its loft in total darkness will nevertheless depart almost directly for home when it is released. The nature of this map sense remains one of ethology’s most intriguing mysteries.

Honey bees also exhibit excellent communication abilities. A foraging bee returning from a good source of food will perform a “waggle dance” on the vertical sheets of honeycomb. The dance specifies to other bees the distance and direction of the food. The dance takes the form of a flattened figure 8; during the crucial part of the manoeuvre (the two parts of the figure 8 that cross) the forager vibrates her body. The angle of this part of the run specifies the direction of the food: if this part of the dance points up, the source is in the direction of the Sun, whereas if it is aimed, for example, 70° left of vertical, the food is 70° left of the Sun. The number of waggling motions specifies the distance to the food.

The complexity of this dance language has paved the way for studies of higher animals. Some species are now known to have a variety of signals to smooth the operations of social living. Vervet monkeys, for example, have the usual set of gestures and sounds to express emotional states and social needs, but they also have a four-word predator vocabulary: a specific call alerts the troop to airborne predators, one to four-legged predators such as leopards, another to snakes, and one to other primates. Each type of alarm elicits a different behaviour. Leopard alarms send the vervets into trees and to the top branches, whereas the airborne predator call causes them to drop like stones into the interior of the tree. The calls and general categories they represent seem innate, but the young learn by observation which species of each predator class is dangerous. An infant vervet may deliver an aerial alarm to a vulture, a stork, or even a falling leaf, but eventually comes to ignore everything airborne except the martial eagle.


Animal courtship behaviour precedes and accompanies the sexual act, to which it is directly related. It often involves stereotyped displays, which can be elaborate, prolonged, and spectacular, and includes the exhibition of sign stimuli (releasers), dramatic body colours, plumage, or markings. It may also involve ritualized combat between rival males.

Its primary purpose is to bring both partners to a state of sexual receptiveness simultaneously. This is especially important in aquatic animals whose eggs are fertilized externally and may be dispersed by water currents before sperm can make contact with them. Copulation is often over quickly and an elaborate courtship ensures its success.

A male three-spined stickleback starts his courtship by building a nest inside a territory he defends. When a female approaches he performs a zig-zag dance towards and away from the nest until she turns towards him and raises her head. He then leads her to the nest and waits, head down, beside the entrance. If she enters the nest he nudges her tail. She lays eggs, and leaves by swimming through the nest. He follows, fertilizing the eggs. In this ritual, each response stimulates the next activity and an incorrect response causes the last step to be repeated.

Courtship rituals differ from one species to another and individuals are attracted only by the attentions of members of their own species. This greatly reduces the risk of unproductive hybrid matings, especially between species that look alike. Male Photinus fireflies attract mates by patterns of flashing light, but each species has its own distinct pattern.

Many female animals secrete odours, pheromones, when they are sexually receptive. The female silkworm moth uses her wings to disperse bombykol, a pheromone secreted by abdominal scent glands, which is detectable by males up to 10 km (6.2 mi) away. Female mammals, including the rhesus macaque and other primates, also use pheromones as sexual attractants.

In most species, however, males court females. Females invest much more time and energy in producing eggs and raising young than males invest in producing sperm, and males usually contribute little or nothing to the care of offspring. It is in the interests of females to choose mates that will give their young the best start in life and in the interests of males to mate with as many females as possible. A male, therefore, must persuade females of his suitability; he must court them.

The song with which many male birds proclaim their presence also serves to attract females, but once they arrive the male must impress them, often by displaying extravagant or brightly coloured plumage. The plumage of the mallard drake is brighter in the breeding season, and the peacock impresses the peahen by displaying his huge tail. Males of some species, such as the sage grouse, gather in large numbers at a particular place, called a lek, where they all display while passing females make their choices. In other species, males present gifts to the female, and bowerbirds try to attract females into elaborate display grounds that they have constructed and decorated with brightly coloured objects.

Such extravagant plumage and behaviour evolved (see Evolution) by “runaway” sexual selection as opposed to natural selection. Males adorned with ornamentation that restricted their mobility, or who spent time obtaining gifts or constructing decorated bowers, showed their strength and competence. Females chose the most spectacular, so with each generation the displays became more extreme until they reached limits beyond which the males would be too encumbered to survive. Darwin’s view of male ornamentation was that it appealed, quite arbitrarily, to female “whim”, but other theorists believe that extravagant male ornamentation advertises genuine male qualities to otherwise sceptical females.


Animal social organization, the sum of all the relationships among members of a group of animals all of the same species, varies considerably. It ranges from the cooperation between a male and female during courtship and mating, to the most complex societies, in which only one female at a time produces young, all other females collaborating in the care of offspring and maintenance of the colony. Some animal societies are hierarchical, with dominant and subordinate members; others are loose arrangements of fairly independent family groups.

These relationships have evolved in response to the circumstances under which the species live. Many birds establish a territory during the breeding season. This ensures a supply of food for the young, but by excluding all other individuals the pair must mate only with one another. Because of this most birds are monogamous, even if they are not territorial. Some aquatic species mate for life. Only if one mate dies will an albatross, kittiwake, or swan seek a new partner. Monogamy is much rarer among mammals, although prairie voles mate for life, as do gibbons and some lemurs.

Where the food supply is dispersed, animals tend to be solitary. Bears, most cats, and European hedgehogs live solitary lives, the female accompanied by young which leave as soon as they are capable of living alone. Adult males and females meet only to mate.

Social groups based on mating and the rearing of young are often seasonal, members dispersing once the young leave. Other groupings, for protection or hunting, are permanent. In open country, many mammals live in large groups. Herds of antelope, deer, zebras, and horses, and troops of baboons are familiar examples. They benefit from the safety of numbers.

Often, these groups comprise females and their young with one adult male. This is a harem. The male mates with all the adult females and spends much of his time trying to prevent them deserting. Adult males without harems form all-male herds, but individuals constantly try to acquire harems by abducting females. The male of the harem is not necessarily the leader of the group. A herd of horses, for example, is led by the senior female, to whom all others defer. Other groups may have more than one male. A wildebeest herd comprises about 150 females and young and up to three bulls, which patrol outside the herd, keeping it together and guarding it from predators.

Elephants form extended-family herds of females and their young, which often include an old male relative among Asian elephants. Other adult males live outside the herd and male African elephants form their own groups.

Lions are the only cats that live in social groups and collaborate in hunting, a pride consisting of up to 3 males and about 15 females and young. Dogs are much more social. Hunting dogs live in packs of up to 90 individuals. They collaborate in hunting and share food amicably, allowing the young to feed first and disgorging food for latecomers. Wolves mate for life and packs consist of one or more family groups, sometimes with outsiders that have been accepted. A strict social hierarchy is maintained by ritualized postures and gestures.

Species that live in colonies exhibit extreme social relationships and are said to be “eusocial”. They include social insects, such as termites, ants, wasps, and some bees, and one species of mammal, the naked mole rat of eastern Africa. The organization of social insects is based on the roles of certain groups within the colony. There is usually one reproductive female, the queen, who may lay thousands of eggs in her lifetime. Most of the other insects in the colony are involved in the construction, maintenance, and defence of the colony. Certain groups of insects may have specific physical features which relate to their roles. The queen bee is usually much longer and has an enlarged abdomen for egg-laying, the worker bees are equipped with stings to defend the colony and pollen baskets for collecting pollen, while the drones are stingless and do not have pollen baskets as their only role is to mate with the queen before they die. Much of the insect colony behaviour is determined either by instinct or by pheromones released by the queen.

A The Question of Altruism

One fascinating aspect of some animal societies is the selfless way one animal seems to render its services to others. In the beehive, for instance, workers labour unceasingly in the hive for three weeks after they emerge and then forage outside for food until they wear out two or three weeks later. Yet the workers leave no offspring. How could natural selection favour such self-sacrifice? This question presents itself in almost every social species.

The apparent altruism is sometimes actually part of a mutual-aid system in which favours are given because they will almost certainly be repaid. One chimpanzee will groom another, removing parasites from areas the receiver could not reach, because later the roles will be exchanged. Such a system, however, requires that animals be able to recognize one another as individuals, and hence be able to reject those who would accept favours without paying them back.

A second kind of altruism is exemplified by the behaviour of male sage grouse, which congregate into displaying groups—leks. Females come to these assemblies to mate, but only a handful of males in the central spots actually sire the next generation. The dozens of other males advertise their virtues vigorously but succeed only in attracting additional females to the favoured few in the centre. Natural selection has not gone wrong here, however; males move further inward every year, through this celibate and demanding apprenticeship, until they reach the centre of the lek.

The altruism of honey bees has an entirely genetic explanation. Through a quirk of hymenopteran genetics, males have only one set of chromosomes. Animals normally have two sets, passing on only one when they mate; hence, they share half their genes with any offspring and the offspring have half their genes in common with one another. Because male Hymenoptera have a single set of chromosomes, however, all the daughters have those genes in common. Added to the genes they happen to share that came from their mother, the queen, most workers are three-quarters related to one another—more related than they would be to their own offspring. Genes that favour a “selfless” sterility that assists in rearing the next generation of sisters, then, should spread faster in the population than those programming the more conventional every-female-for-herself strategy.

This system, known as kin selection, is widespread. All it requires is that an animal perform services of little cost to itself but of great benefit to relations. Bees are the ultimate example of altruism because of the extra genetic benefit that their system confers, but kin selection works almost as well in a variety of genetically conventional animals. The male lions that cooperate in taking over another male’s pride, for example, are usually brothers, whereas the females in a pride that hunt as a group and share food are a complex collection of sisters, daughters, and aunts.

Even human societies may not be immune to the programming of kin selection. In their study of sociobiology, anthropologists consistently report that simple cultures are organized along lines of kinship. Such observations, combined with the recent discovery that human language learning is in part a kind of imprinting—that consonants are innately recognized sign stimuli, for instance—suggest that human behaviour may be connected more with animal behaviour than was hitherto imagined.

Reviewed By:
Michael Allaby

Credited Image: Yesstyle




Musical or Musical Comedy, theatrical production in which songs and choruses, instrumental accompaniments and interludes, and often dance are integrated into a dramatic plot. The genre developed and was refined in the United States, particularly in the theatres along Broadway in New York, during the first half of the 20th century. The musical has origins in a variety of 19th-century theatrical sources, including the operetta, comic opera, pantomime, the minstrel show, vaudeville, and burlesque.


The American musical actually began in 1796, with The Archers; or, The Mountaineers of Switzerland, composed by Benjamin Carr and with libretto by William Dunlap. The Black Crook, produced in 1866, is generally credited as the first musical; actually, it was an extravaganza, combining melodrama with ballet. In the late 19th century, operettas from Vienna (composed by Johann Strauss, Jr. and Franz Lehár), London (by Sir Arthur Sullivan), and Paris (by Jacques Offenbach) were popular with urban audiences in the eastern United States. At the same time, revues (plotless programmes of individual songs, dances, and comedy sketches) abounded not only in theatres but also in some upper-class saloons, such as the music hall operated in New York by the comedy team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields. The successful shows of another comedy team, Ned Harrigan, and Tony Hart were also revues, but with connecting dialogue and continuing characters. These, in turn, spawned the musical shows of producer-playwright-actor-composer George M. Cohan, the first of which appeared in 1901.

In the years before World War I began in 1914, several young operetta composers emigrated from Europe to the United States. Among them were Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, and Rudolf Friml. Herbert’s Naughty Marietta (1910), Friml’s The Firefly (1912), and Romberg’s Maytime (1917) are representative of the new genre these composers created: American operetta, with simple music and librettos and singable songs that were enduringly popular with the public. The text of a musical (the libretto) has been divided since that time between the “book”, which is the spoken dialogue, and the “lyrics”, which are the words of the songs. These two are often by different authors.


In 1914 the composer Jerome Kern began to produce a series of shows in which all the varied elements of a musical were integrated into a single fabric. Produced in the intimate Princess Theatre, Kern used contemporary settings and events, in contrast to operettas, which usually took place in fantasy lands. In 1927 Kern provided the score for Show Boat, perhaps the first musical to have a high-quality libretto. It was also adapted from a successful novel, a technique that was to proliferate in post-1940 musicals.

Gradually the old musical formula began to change. Instead of complicated but never serious plots, sophisticated lyrics and simplified librettos were introduced; underscoring (music played as background to dialogue or movement) was added; and new American musical elements, such as jazz and blues, were utilized by composers. In addition, singers began to pay more attention to the craft of acting. In 1932, Of Thee I Sing became the first musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama. Its lyricist and composer, the brothers Ira and George Gershwin, had succeeded in intelligently satirizing contemporary political situations.

In the 1920s, satire, ideas, and wit had been the province of the intimate revue. These sophisticated shows were important as testing grounds for the young composers and lyricists who later helped develop the serious musical. One composer-lyricist pair who started in the intimate revues, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, wrote Pal Joey in 1940, a show that had many of the elements of the later musicals, including a book with well-rounded characters. But it was not a success until its 1952 revival. In the meantime, Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II as his new writing partner, had produced Oklahoma! (1943), which had ballets, choreographed by Agnes de Mille, that were an integral part of the plot. The choreographer-director was eventually to become vastly influential on the shape and substance of the American musical. Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, and Michael Bennett are were notable among the skilled choreographers who went on to create important musicals, most notably A Chorus Line (1975) and Dancin’ (1978).


As these and other innovations altered the familiar face of musical theatre, audiences came to expect more variety and complexity in their shows; a host of inventive composers and lyricists obliged. In 1949, Cole Porter, who had written provocative songs with brilliant lyrics for many years, finally wrote a show with an equally fine book: Kiss Me, Kate. Rodgers and Hammerstein followed Oklahoma! with Carousel (1945) and South Pacific (1949). Irving Berlin, who had been writing hit songs since 1911, produced the popular but somewhat old-fashioned Annie Get Your Gun (1946). Frank Loesser provided both words and music for Guys and Dolls (1950), with its raffish Damon Runyon characters. Brigadoon (1947) was the first successful collaboration of the composer Frederick Loewe and book-and-lyric writer Alan Jay Lerner, who were later to contribute My Fair Lady (1956), based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and Camelot (1960).

In the 1950s a number of composers gained prominence. Leonard Bernstein wrote the scores for Candide (1956) and West Side Story (1957). The latter, a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, mostly danced and heavily underscored, was greatly influential. Jule Styne wrote the music for Bells Are Ringing (1956) and Gypsy (1959). In the 1960s and 1970s the composer John Kander and the lyricist Fred Ebb collaborated on Cabaret (1966); composer Sheldon Harnick and lyricist Jerry Bock produced Fiddler on the Roof (1964); and Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy, did the entire scores for a series of musicals, including Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), and Sweeney Todd (1979).

A show that opened on Broadway in 1968 and went on to affect world theatre was Hair. Called a folk-rock musical, it presented a situation rather than a plot, and its lyrics were often unintelligible. But its youthful exuberance, ingenious theatricality and concentration on rock music produced many imitators, notably Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar (both 1971). The score for the latter was the work of the English composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who went on to write the hits Evita (1978), based on the life of the Argentine political figure Eva Perón; Cats (1981), adapted from poems by T. S. Eliot; and Song and Dance (1982). Webber’s adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera opened in London in 1987; the show received wide critical acclaim and achieved great popularity, and was followed by Sunset Boulevard (1994).

By the mid-1980s the traditional La Cage aux Folles (1983) by composer Jerry Herman and playwright Harvey Fierstein and the innovative Sunday in the Park with George (1984) by Sondheim, to a book by James Lapine, marked possible new trends. For their dramatization of the life of the French painter Georges Seurat, Sondheim and Lapine shared the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama. In 1986 the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables opened in London to popular acclaim and on Broadway the following year.

Bill Kenwright’s 1988 revival of Blood Brothers by Willy Russell became an enduring success in the West End and on Broadway through the 1990s. Other successful musicals of the decade included Miss Saigon (1991) by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg; The Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993) with music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb of Cabaret fame; Rent (1996) by Jonathan Larson, which in that year collected four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer for drama; and Fosse (1999), a celebration of the work of the legendary choreographer and showman Bob Fosse. There were the stage versions of popular Walt Disney films Beauty and the Beast (1994) by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, who later collaborated with Elton John on the hit The Lion King (1997). Whistle Down the Wind, the classic film about some farm children who find an escaped convict hiding in a barn and believe him to be Jesus Christ, was the basis of a musical of the same name by Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman, which opened in 1998.

At the start of the new century, Lloyd Webber’s next productions were Bombay Dreams (2002), a musical influenced by the Bollywood film genre, and The Woman in White (2004), an adaptation of the Wilkie Collins novel. A US television talk show inspired the Sherman brothers to write Jerry Springer—The Opera (2003), which received several prestigious Best Musical awards after its West End opening (although a performance screened by the BBC in 2005 attracted vociferous protests of blasphemy from some Christian groups). 2005 also saw the premiere of Billy Elliot, an exuberant stage adaptation of the successful 2000 film (both directed by Stephen Daldry), with a score by Elton John.

Credited Images: Yesstyle:


Chinese Cinema


Chinese Cinema, historical development of the cinema in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Although the cosmopolitan port city of Shanghai held projections of films from unidentified Western companies in 1896 and 1897, China’s capital Beijing had to wait until 1902 for its first glimpse of the new medium. There was also a disastrous attempt to screen films for the Empress Dowager Cixi in the Forbidden City in 1904. The earliest known Chinese production was Dingjun Shan (Dingjun Mountain, 1905), a record of the Peking Opera star Tan Xinpei in scenes from the stage opera of the same title, made by staff of the Fengtai photographic store in Beijing. The short comedy Tou Shao Ya (Stealing the Roast Duck), also based on a stage opera scene, was shot in Hong Kong in 1909 by the theatre director and sometime actor Liang Shaobo, with financial backing from the American entrepreneur Benjamin Polaski.

By 1920, Shanghai was established as the centre of Chinese film production, with a modest amount of ancillary activity in Hong Kong. However, the Chinese market for films was surprisingly small (a United States government trade official noted that there were fewer than 100 cinemas in 1922, almost all of them in the treaty ports of the east coast), and the bankruptcy rate among film companies was high. At the time, 80 to 90 per cent of all films screened in China and Hong Kong were American imports. China’s own production in the 1920s divided neatly into two types of film: those derived from Hollywood models (chiefly melodramas, comedies, and romances) and those drawn from sources in Chinese popular culture (chiefly historical and legendary stories from the opera stage, and martial arts fantasies from pulp fiction). Very little Chinese cinema from this period survives today.

Chinese cinema reached remarkable creative heights in the 1930s, partly because the medium began to attract young artists and intellectuals, such as the American-educated writer-director Sun Yu and the Japanese-educated Communist screenwriter Xia Yan, and partly because the growing threat of a Japanese invasion provided the impetus for films to become the voice of patriotic resistance and national identity. Formal innovations, generally derived from experimentation in Hollywood and Soviet silent cinema, meshed with an agenda of Communist-inspired themes, including women’s rights, social inequality, and national defence. Technique, however, lagged behind; silent films and part-sound hybrids remained in production until 1935.

The combination of under-investment, poor distribution, and political censorship by the Kuomintang (KMT) government guaranteed that many production companies were short-lived, but the industry was dominated by two “majors” in the 1930s. One was the MGM-like Star Company (Mingxing, founded in 1922 by pioneer directors Zhang Shichuan and Zheng Zhengqiu); the other was United Photoplay Service (Lianhua, founded in 1930 by Luo Mingyou). Both companies averaged one release per month. United, which had the star Ruan Lingyu (“China’s Garbo”) under contract, made such outstanding films as Wu Yonggang’s Shennü (1934; The Goddess), probably the world’s first non-moralistic film about prostitution, and Sun Yu’s startlingly erotic patriotic thriller Da Lu (1934; The Highway). Star peaked with such sophisticated films as Yuan Muzhi’s Malu Tianshi (1937; Street Angel), a tough-but-romantic vignette of life, love, and social injustice in Shanghai’s “lower depths”.

This golden age in Shanghai cinema was abruptly curtailed when the city fell to the Japanese in 1937. Few directors stayed to work under Japanese supervision; most fled to Hong Kong or inland to Wuhan, using severely limited resources to make agitprop films for the war effort. When production resumed in Shanghai in 1946, much had changed. The approaching civil war between KMT Nationalists and Communists sharpened the political climate, forcing all film-makers to take sides. Some left-wing directors fled to Hong Kong to avoid persecution; they were followed by many right-wing directors after the Communist victory in 1949. Shanghai films of the late 1940s relied more on dialogue and theatrical-style staging than had the pre-war films, but included a number of titles now internationally acknowledged as classics, such as Fei Mu’s searching analysis of post-war depression Xiao Cheng zhi Chun (1948; Spring in a Small Town) and Zheng Junli’s parable of working-class solidarity Wuya yu Maque (1949; Crows and Sparrows).

Joey Wong


The establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 split Chinese cinema into three kinds. In China itself, the Communists set about reinventing cinema as a popular medium for the vast rural hinterlands, which had never seen films before; most films became vehicles for government propaganda, challenging feudal traditions and superstitions, offering ideological education, and publicizing national movements and campaigns. Soon after 1949, foreign film imports were limited to titles from other Communist countries. New state-run film studios were opened in many regions, while distribution and exhibition were expanded to reach the furthest-flung parts of the country. Some 600 films were produced in the years between 1949 and 1966, which marked the start of the hugely disruptive Cultural Revolution and the enforced shutdown of the film industry for six years. Some films from the first 17 years of Communist rule did their best to revive the old Shanghai traditions of entertainment value, style, and sophistication; the best were Xin Juzhang Daolai zhi Qian (1956; Before the New Director Arrives), a Gogol-esque satire by the ex-actor Lü Ban, and Wutai Jiemei (1964; Two Stage Sisters), a sumptuous melodrama about the theatre world by Xie Jin.

The retreat of KMT Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949 laid the foundations for film production on the island. The KMT’s own Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC) was the first (and for many years the biggest) producer, specializing in anti-Communist propaganda films, historical dramas, and middle-class melodramas. The CMPC’s example gradually brought other producers into the field, and a thriving subculture of low-budget features in Taiwan’s own dialect took shape alongside the “prestige” productions in Mandarin Chinese. However, the most prominent directors—Li Hanxiang, King Hu (Hu Jinquan), and Li Xing—were all ex-mainlanders dedicated to upholding pre-Communist cultural traditions.

The most prolific centre for the production of Chinese films after 1949 was Hong Kong, where the many companies producing films in the local Cantonese dialect were joined by as many new companies producing films in Mandarin. Production in Cantonese remained extremely prolific until the advent of broadcast (as distinct from cable) television in 1967: averaging 125 features a year throughout the 1950s, production peaked at over 200 films a year in 1960 and 1961. Mandarin production got off to a hesitant start (6 features in 1946, 15 in 1950), but was up to nearly 80 films a year by 1970. Both film industries had dissident left-wing factions determined to raise difficult social questions, but both were dominated by Hollywood-style entertainment films with a Chinese twist. The single most popular genre was the swordplay/martial arts film, which, in its early 1970s incarnation as the kung fu film, gave Chinese cinema its first palpable international successes and made Bruce Lee the first globally famous Chinese star.


Like their contemporaries in North America and Europe, the major Chinese film companies (Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest in Hong Kong, CMPC in Taiwan) gradually lost touch with the tastes and interests of audiences seduced by the newly available medium of television. By the late 1970s, the industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan were in a slump; at the same time the state-run studios in China were struggling to find a role in the new political and economic climate after Mao’s death. These developments created the conditions for the arrival of successive “new waves”, which transformed Chinese cinema and gradually won it a substantial international audience.

The first “new wave” broke in Hong Kong in 1979, when Ann Hui (Xu Anhua), Tsui Hark (Xu Ke), Yim Ho (Yan Hao), and other young directors—most of them trained in European or American film schools—moved from television into film production, generally working with small, independent production companies and bringing a strong engagement with social realities into their films. Taiwan soon followed suit: the CMPC began producing portmanteau films with episodes by hitherto untried directors such as Edward Yang (Yang Dechang), Hou Xiaoxian, Wang Tong, and Wan Ren. And a ‘new wave’ reached China in 1984, when recent graduates from the Beijing Film Academy began making films with innovative structures and tones, asking questions rather than providing pat political answers. Through such films as Huang Tudi (1984; Yellow Earth, Chen Kaige), Daoma Zei (1986; Horse Thief, Tian Zhuangzhuang), and Hong Gaoliang (1987; Red Sorghum, Zhang Yimou) this group (nicknamed the “Fifth Generation” film-makers by Chinese critics) transformed the image of Chinese cinema at home and abroad.

But the early creative momentum of these “new waves” proved impossible to sustain. As the interest of domestic audiences waned once again in the 1990s, many of the leading directors were forced into commercial or political compromises. Thanks to investment from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, those in China initially weathered the storm better than their contemporaries. Films such as Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou (1990) and Dahong Denglong Gaogao Gua (1991; Raise the Red Lantern), Tian Zhuangzhuang’s Lan Fengzheng (1993; The Blue Kite), and Chen Kaige’s Bawang Bieji (1993; Farewell, My Concubine) won festival prizes, Academy Award (Oscar) nominations, and widespread distribution. However, the Chinese government’s attempts to reform the film industry by privatizing the studios and tightening the rules around censorship and foreign investment halted most of such production in its tracks. Meanwhile audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan were en masse transferring their allegiance from local films to imports from Hollywood and elsewhere. The economic depression of the late 1990s and early 2000s intensified the problems.

All three Chinese film industries are currently shadows of their former selves. Production levels have fallen sharply, and mainstream Chinese films no longer dominate the distribution circuits of East Asia. Paradoxically, though, commercial decline has spurred creativity. Individual film-makers in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (many working through their own independent companies) continue to produce outstanding work and win both festival prizes and foreign sales. In Hong Kong, this field is led by Wong Kar-Wai (Wang Jiawei), whose Hua Yang Nian Hua (2000; In the Mood for Love) is one of the most profitable Chinese films ever released in Western Europe. In Taiwan, the most high-profile exports have been Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000; A One and a Two…) and Hou Xiaoxian’s Hai Shang Hua (1998; Flowers of Shanghai); younger directors such as Tsai Mingliang have also made their mark, and the Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee gave Chinese cinema its first multiple-Oscar winner with Wo Hu Zang Long (2000; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

There has also been a surge of low-budget “non-professional” film-making throughout the region, most visibly in China, where young directors unable to find support in what remains of the film industry have taken matters into their hands by making independent films outside the law. In the 1990s, Wang Xiaoshuai, He Jianjun, Zhang Yuan, and other “indie” film-makers effectively displaced their peers in the industry as upholders of artistic excellence and the spirit of innovation in Chinese cinema. Thanks to the example of Jia Zhangke, director of Xiao Wu (1997), Zhantai (2000; Platform), and Ren Xiao Yao (2002; Unknown Pleasures), more of these “outlaw” film-makers are appearing in China every year. The irony of their success abroad is that their films cannot legally be distributed in China itself. See also New Wave.

Reviewed By:
Tony Rayns

Th images of Joey Wong:




Genocide, crime in international law that, according to the 1948 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, is defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.

The enshrinement of genocide in international law does not, however, mean that the definition of the crime is agreed upon among scholars or politicians. Accordingly, while there are only a few historical instances which it is unanimously agreed constitute genocide, including the Nazi “final solution of the Jewish question” (see Holocaust) and the 1994 Rwandan killing of up to 1 million Tutsis by a Hutu-dominated regime (see Rwandan Genocide), many more cases arguably qualify in the eyes of various important authorities. Nor, as a rule, has the implicit determination of the UN to prevent and punish genocide resulted either in deterring the perpetration of the crime or in concrete steps to intervene. Punishment has, however, occurred in a few instances of genocide as a result of the creation of ad hoc international criminal tribunals in the 1990s, while the advent of the International Criminal Court in 2002 signals the potential to bring more perpetrators to justice.


The term “genocide”, combining the Greek genos (“race” or “tribe”) with the Latin cide (“to kill”), was coined by the Polish-Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin during World War II. Though the immediate context was the Nazi occupation of Europe, and, as part of that, the “final solution”, Lemkin was not solely concerned with the murder of 6 million Jews, at least 200,000 Roma (Gypsies), and many millions of civilians of the Slavic countries. He viewed the crime of genocide as being as old as recorded history, and wrote extensively on cases of group destruction from classical antiquity, through the Middle Ages and early modern periods, and in Europe’s colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Australasia.

Lemkin’s interest in the subject was undoubtedly shaped by the experience of ethnic minorities in the increasingly intolerant political atmosphere of central and eastern Europe in the early 20th century, but it was also stimulated by the mass deportation and murder of at least 1 million of the Armenian Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. (While successive Turkish governments deny that the actions of their predecessor Ottoman regime constitute genocide, most independent scholars, Lemkin included, regard them as such.)

The UN definition that Lemkin was so important in establishing is the only legal definition in existence. Nevertheless, the definition is open to wide interpretation and contains the seeds of a number of controversies. First, owing to the convention´s stipulation about proving not only that widespread killing among a group has taken place, but also that the killing was committed with accompanying intent to destroy the group “as such” and “in whole or in part”, gaining convictions for genocide as such is not always straightforward, even when there is sufficient evidence to convict for the perpetration of any given act of mass murder. Following on from this, the second point of controversy in the UN definition is the difficulty of determining how big in absolute or proportional terms the part of the group that the perpetrator intends or intended to destroy needs to be in order for the action to qualify as genocidal.

A third point of controversy involves the five acts enumerated as ways of perpetrating genocide. Only one of these involves outright, direct murder, so is it, therefore, possible to have a crime of genocide that does not involve direct murder at all (or involves only a relatively low level of direct murder), as with, for instance, the forced removal of Australian Aboriginal children from their parents and their placement in white families (see Aborigines); or the undermining of the cultural foundations of a group’s existence by measures such as the removal of the people from their ancestral lands, bans on minority languages, or the destruction of libraries and other cultural centres?

A fourth point of controversy involves the types of groups described as potential victims of genocide. Political groups, for example, are absent from the list of national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups, and yet political groups, often very broadly defined, have been targeted across modern history in episodes that many historians would consider tantamount to genocide. Examples of this phenomenon include the Stalinist attack on the kulak (rich peasant) population of the USSR from 1929, or the assault by the Khmer Rouge on the urban and bourgeois populations of Cambodia in 1975-1978 (the main element of a programme of mass murder that accounted for approximately 1.7 million people, or approximately 20 percent of the country’s population).

One of the reasons for the absence of political groups from the convention’s list is the fact that some of the signatory states were concerned about their own records of and a potential for crushing political opposition being brought under scrutiny. This illustrates that the UN definition was itself the product of political compromise, which in turn helps explain why many scholars are not satisfied with it. More generally, because of the many controversies over the definition, it is impossible to provide a satisfactory list of historical cases of genocide. At the same time, it would be possible to make a strong case for the presence of genocide in so many instances that detailing each of those would take prohibitively long.

The Cambodian Genocide


Every genocide has its own blend of motivations, deriving from the particular history and circumstances of the society in which it occurs. Racism or religious hatred may be common motivations, yet the existence of prejudices alone is an insufficient explanation since many divided societies never descend into genocide.

Situations of social crisis may often precipitate genocide. Revolution is such a prime context, as state and social structures are reshaped according to some radical agenda, and groups deemed to be impeding the revolution are removed. War is another prime context, as military conflict enhances feelings of group solidarity but also of xenophobia and paranoia, and as the embrace of violent means in the military sphere extends itself to violent means in the social and political sphere. The sense of a state or society being under threat of its own existence may also be used to justify radical attacks on groups perceived to be threatening that existence. At the same time, the successful acquisition and consolidation of new territory by military or other means have also traditionally provided an important context for genocide, as, for instance, indigenous populations such as the Native American peoples were dispossessed and killed, or had their conditions of life destroyed, by white European settlers.

The example of the white settlers, many of whom were British subjects or American citizens, shows that it is not just totalitarian states that perpetrate genocide. The largest-scale deliberate mass murder in modern history has been conducted by Nazi Germany, the USSR under Joseph Stalin, and Maoist China, but few cultures or political systems have shown themselves immune to the destruction of other groups within or beyond their own policy. Nor state infrastructures themselves the only possible agents of genocide, as is evidenced by the instance of mass inter-group destruction in societies without recognizable state forms. In many instances in the European colonies too, it was the frontier societies of the colonialists, albeit acting with the tacit consent of their own governments, that perpetrated mass murder on their own initiative, and with their own, more local organization. Finally, as in instances of the forced displacement and killing of indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforests by developers, corporations have also been complicit in the mass destruction of both life and culture.

Cambodian Meo Soknen, 13, stands inside a small shrine full of human bones and skulls, all victims of the Khmer Rouge, near her home Tuesday, March 31, 2009, in the Kandal Steung district of Kandal province, Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, also know as “Duch”, the commander of the infamous Toul Sleng prison, accepted responsibility Tuesday during the second day of a UN-backed tribual for torturing and executing thousands of inmates at Toul Sleng. The small shrine, located 27 kilometers, (17 miles) south of Phnom Penh is one of many out of the way and forgotten monuments to the “Killing Fields.” (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)


The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen an increasing international concern with genocide alongside a broader interest in human rights. The Holocaust, in particular, has become central to the memorial cultures of many Western countries. Yet despite this awareness, and despite the UN’s genocide convention, the UN has not generally proven effective at intervening to prevent genocides in progress.

Action to intervene militarily in genocide under a UN mandate requires the consent of each of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Given the political divisions that have often existed between individual members, particularly, but not only, during the Cold War, gaining the unanimous agreement of the Security Council has proven difficult. At times, indeed, each of the five permanent member states has enjoyed good, protective relations with regimes suspected of perpetrating genocide, including, for instance: China and Russia with Sudan during the attacks in the early 21st century on various ethnic groups in Darfur, primarily the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa peoples, by armed militias supported by the Islamist Khartoum government; the United States with Indonesia during the state’s attack on Indonesian leftists in the 1960s and 1970s and during the occupation of East Timor (now Timor-Leste) in the 1970s and 1980s; and Britain with Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime´s assault on the Kurds and other groups during the 1980s. Further, the evidence points to a distinct lack of will for forceful intervention by the most powerful UN member states under any circumstances. This is in large part due to the reluctance of member states to risk their own soldiers in matters not considered to be of direct national interest.

Up to the time of writing, the armed intervention in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s (tellingly by US-led NATO forces rather than the UN-mandated force technically required under international law) looks more like the exception than the rule in the limited response of the international community to genocide. Many commentators have observed that the lacklustre international response to the genocide in Sudan, as to the earlier Rwandan genocide (occurring at approximately the same time as the Yugoslavian crisis), and to the massive inter-group destruction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (see Post-Independence African Wars), suggests that the most powerful states in the UN, and the West more generally, are less concerned with the mass murder of Africans than they are of Europeans in closer cultural and physical proximity to themselves.

More progress has been made on the matter of punishment for genocide in the legal sphere than in the matter of intervention or prevention of genocide in the political-military sphere. The formation of ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (at The Hague, in the Netherlands) and for Rwanda (at Arusha, in Tanzania), and elsewhere, and the institution of an International Criminal Court sitting permanently at The Hague, mark significant advances both in bringing perpetrators to justice and in the jurisprudence of international law. The trial at The Hague of the erstwhile president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Miloševic, from 2002-2006 was, for instance, the first trial for genocide (alongside other charges) of a former head of state. The first successful conviction before an international court for the crime of genocide came in 1998 when Jean-Paul Akayesu was found guilty for actions committed while he was mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.

The successes and the very existence of the international courts illustrate the contemporary awareness of the significance of genocide and a determination, in principle, to punish the authors and agents of the crime. However, the question of who is brought to trial still frequently depends on the international political constellation. It is also, clearly, easier for states to lend moral and financial support to a legal venture than to lend military support for forces of intervention and occupation. Accordingly, the trial of some perpetrators of genocide may be not so much a compliment to armed intervention as a substitute for it. Whether or not this is so, the ongoing instances of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other, related crimes in today’s world suggest that the genocide convention and the international legal infrastructure have done little to deter would-be perpetrators. See also International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Contributed By:
Donald Bloxham


Austro-Asiatic Languages

Austro-Asiatic Languages, important language family with two subfamilies: Munda, 21 languages spoken by several million people in India; and Mon-Khmer, divided into 8 branches (with many further subdivisions), 168 languages spoken by some 35 to 45 million people in South East Asia. Few of the languages have a written history. Among Mon-Khmer languages are Khmer, the national language of Cambodia; Mon, a related language spoken in parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand; the six Nicobarese languages spoken by several thousands on the Nicobar Islands; and Vietnamese.

The Munda languages are polysyllabic and differ from other Austro-Asiatic languages in their word formation and sentence structure (see Indian Languages). In the Mon-Khmer subfamily, Khmer and Mon have borrowed many words from the Indian languages Sanskrit and Pali. In the Viet-Muong branch of Mon-Khmer, Vietnamese was heavily influenced by Chinese; it is monosyllabic and has a complex tone system, as do other Viet-Muong languages. A few other Mon-Khmer languages have simple tone systems; much more common, however, are differentiations of vowel quality—breathy, creaky, or normal. The sound systems of Austro-Asiatic languages are unusual in that they contain a large number of vowel sounds, often up to 35. Suffixes are not found in Mon-Khmer languages, but prefixes and infixes are common. In sentences, final particles may indicate the speaker’s attitude, and special modifiers called expressives convey images of colours, noises, and feelings. Some languages lack voiced stops such as g, d, and b. Words may end with palatized consonants such as ñ. Other distinctive sounds include imploded d and b, produced by suction of breath.

Mon and Khmer are written with Indic-derived alphabets which have been modified to suit their more complex phonology. Vietnamese was written for centuries with modified Chinese characters. In 1910, however, a system was adopted that uses the Roman alphabet with additional signs; invented in 1650, it was the earliest writing system to notate tones, for which it uses accent marks. Most other Austro-Asiatic languages have been written for less than a century, and, generally, literacy rates remain quite low.

Selected statistical data from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International.

More beautiful images of Cambodian stars:





Buddhism, a major world religion, founded in north-eastern India and based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One.

Originating as a monastic movement within the dominant Brahman tradition of the day, Buddhism quickly developed in a distinctive direction. The Buddha not only rejected significant aspects of Brahmanic philosophy, but also challenged the authority of the priesthood, denied the validity of the Vedic scriptures, and rejected the sacrificial cult based on them. Moreover, he opened his movement to members of all castes, denying that a person’s spiritual worth is a matter of birth.

Buddhism today is divided into two major branches known to their respective followers as Theravada, the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. Followers of Mahayana refer to Theravada using the derogatory term Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle.

Buddhism has been significant not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Laos, where Theravada has been dominant; Mahayana has had its greatest impact in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in India. The number of Buddhists worldwide has been estimated at between 150 and 300 million. The reasons for such a range are twofold: throughout much of Asia religious affiliation has tended to be non-exclusive, and Buddhism has been able to adapt itself to many different local religious and cultural traditions. It is especially difficult to estimate the continuing influence of Buddhism in Communist countries such as China.


Buddhism began with the teachings of the historical Buddha and was propagated through the community of disciples he established, the sangha.

A Buddha’s Life

No complete biography of the Buddha was compiled until centuries after his death; only fragmentary accounts of his life are found in the earliest sources. Western scholars, however, generally agree on 563 bc as the year of his birth.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Kapilavastu near the present Indian-Nepal border, the son of the ruler of a petty kingdom. According to legend, at his birth sages recognized in him the marks of a great man with the potential to become either a sage or the ruler of an empire. The young prince was raised in sheltered luxury until at the age of 29 he realized how empty his life up to this point had been. Renouncing earthly attachments, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment, seeking release from the cycle of rebirths. For the next few years, he practised Yoga and adopted a life of radical asceticism.

Eventually, he gave up this approach as fruitless and instead adopted a middle path between the life of indulgence and that of self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree, he meditated, rising through a series of higher states of consciousness until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching. Once he had known this ultimate religious truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggle. He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way, he spent the rest of his life.

B Buddha’s Teachings

The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His teachings were transmitted as an oral tradition for several centuries and were subsequently systematized and interpreted by various individuals and schools within India and elsewhere.

C The Four Noble Truths

At the core of the Buddha’s enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths. (1) Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, by its very nature, existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the prevailing Indian idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. (2) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that arise from such ignorance. (3) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. (4) The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, meditation, and wisdom.

D Anatman

Buddhism analyses human existence as made up of five aggregates or “bundles” (skandhas): the material body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or karmic tendencies, and consciousness. A person is only a temporary composition of these aggregates, which are subject to continual change. No one remains the same for any two consecutive moments. Buddhists deny that the aggregates individually or in combination may be considered a permanent, independently existing self or soul (atman). Indeed, they regard it as a mistake to conceive of any lasting unity behind the aggregates that constitute an individual. The Buddha held that belief in such a self-results in egoism, craving, and hence in suffering. Thus he taught the doctrine of anatman or the denial of a permanent soul. To the Buddha, all existence was characterized by “the three universal truths”: impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukkha), and non-substantiality or no-soul (anatman). The doctrine of anatman made it necessary for the Buddha to reinterpret the Indian idea of repeated rebirth in the cycle of phenomenal existence known as samsara. To this end, he taught the doctrine of pratityasamutpada or dependent origination. This 12-linked chain of causation shows how ignorance in a previous life creates the tendency for a combination of aggregates to develop. These, in turn, cause the mind and senses to operate. Sensations result, which leads to craving and a clinging to existence. This condition triggers the process of becoming once again, producing a renewed cycle of birth, old age, and death. Through this causal chain, a connection is made between one life and the next. What is posted is a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from life to life—in effect a belief in rebirth without transmigration.

E Karma

Closely related to this belief is the doctrine of karma. The Sanskrit term karma literally means “action”, and as a technical term, it refers to a person’s intentional acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice. The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One’s karma determines such matters as one’s species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. According to the Buddha, the karma of varying types can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even among the various categories of gods.

Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special status or role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same predicament as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. Of the possible modes of rebirth, human existence is preferable, because the deities are so engrossed in their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation. Enlightenment is possible only for humans.

F Nirvana

The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After attaining nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana (parinirvana) is attained at the moment of death.

In theory, the goal of nirvana is attainable by anyone, although in early Buddhism it is a realistic goal only for members of the monastic community. In Theravada Buddhism, an individual who has achieved enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path is known as an arhat, or worthy one, a type of solitary saint.

For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. In Theravada Buddhism, this lesser goal is generally pursued by lay Buddhists in the hope that it will eventually lead to a life in which they are capable of pursuing final enlightenment as members of the sangha.

The ethic that leads to nirvana is detached and inner-oriented. It involves cultivating four virtuous attitudes, known as the Abodes of Brahma: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centred on fulfilling one’s moral duties as a member of a family or society. It involves acts of charity, especially support of the sangha, as well as observance of the five precepts that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The precepts prohibit killing, stealing, telling lies, sexual misbehaviour, and the use of intoxicants. By observing these precepts, the three roots of evil—lust, hatred, and delusion—may be overcome.

G Early Development

Shortly before his death, the Buddha refused his disciples’ request to appoint a successor, telling them to work out their own salvation with diligence. At that time Buddhist teachings existed only in oral traditions, and it soon became apparent that a new basis for maintaining the community’s unity and purity was needed. Thus, the monastic order met periodically to reach agreement on matters of doctrine and practice. Four such meetings have been focused on in the traditions as major councils.

H Major Councils

The first council was held at Rajagrha (present-day Rajgir) immediately after the Buddha’s death. Presided over by a monk named Mahakasyapa, its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha’s actual teachings and on proper monastic discipline.

About a century later, a second great council is said to have met at Vaisali. Its purpose was to deal with ten questionable monastic practices—the use of money, the drinking of palm wine, and other irregularities—of monks from the Vajjian Confederacy; the council declared these practices unlawful. Some scholars trace the origins of the first major split in Buddhism to this event, holding that the accounts of the council refer to the schism between the Mahasanghikas, or Great Assembly, and the stricter Sthaviras, or Elders. More likely, however, the split between these two groups became formalized later as a result of the continued growth of tensions within the sangha over disciplinary issues, the role of the laity, and the nature of the arhat.

In time, further subdivisions within these groups resulted in 18 schools that differed on philosophical matters, religious questions, and points of discipline. Of these 18 traditional sects, only Theravada survives.

The third council at Pataliputra (present-day Patna) was called by King Ashoka in the 3rd-century bc. Convened by the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to purify the sangha of a large number of false monks and heretics who had apparently joined the order because of its royal patronage. This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them. In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy (Abhidharma) to the doctrine (dharma) and monastic discipline (Vinaya) that had been recited at the first council. Another result of the third council was the dispatch of missionaries to various countries.

A fourth council, under the patronage of King Kanishka, was held about ad 100 at Jalandhar or in Kashmir. Both branches of Buddhism may have participated in this council, which aimed at creating peace among the various sects, but Theravada Buddhists refuse to recognize its authenticity. The council at Pataliputra is recorded only in Theravada sources. and the council of Kashmir is described only in some Indian sources and subsequent Chinese and Tibetan accounts. These appear therefore to be gatherings representing local traditions rather than the Buddhist sangha as a whole.

I Formation of Buddhist Literature

For several centuries after the death of the Buddha, the scriptural traditions recited at the councils were transmitted orally. These were finally committed to writing about the 1st-century bc. Some early schools used Sanskrit for their scriptural language. Although individual texts are extant, no complete canon has survived in Sanskrit. In contrast, the full canon of the Theravadins survives in Pali, which was apparently a popular dialect during the Buddha’s life.

The Buddhist canon is known as the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets, because it consists of three collections of writings: the Sutra Pitaka, a collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal systemizations and classifications.

The Sutra Pitaka is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Medium-Length Discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Grouped Discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses on Numbered Topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya (Collection of Miscellaneous Texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (Religious Sentences), a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.

The Vinaya Pitaka consists of more than 225 rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rules are arranged according to the seriousness of the offence resulting from their violation.

The Abhidharma Pitaka consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary. Although technically authoritative, the texts in this collection have little influence on the lay Buddhist. The complete canon, much expanded, also exists in Tibetan and Chinese versions.

Two non-canonical texts that have great authority within Theravada Buddhism are the Milindapanha (Questions of King Milinda) and the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification). The Milindapanha dates from about the 2nd-century ad. It is in the form of a dialogue dealing with a series of fundamental problems in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga is the masterpiece of the most famous of Buddhist commentators, Buddhaghosa (FL. early 5th-century ad). It is a large compendium summarizing Buddhist thought and meditative practice.

Theravada Buddhists have traditionally considered the Tripitaka to be the recorded words of Siddhartha Gautama. Mahayana Buddhists have not limited their scriptures to the teachings of this historical figure, however, nor has Mahayana ever bound itself to a closed canon of sacred writings. Various scriptures retrospectively attributed to the Buddha have thus been authoritative for different branches of Mahayana at various periods of history. Among the more important Mahayana scriptures are the following: the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (Lotus of the Good Law Sutra, popularly known as the Lotus Sutra), the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra (Garland Sutra), and the Lankavatara Sutra (The Buddha’s Descent to Sri Lanka Sutra), as well as a group of writings known as the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom).


As Buddhism developed in its early years, conflicting interpretations of the master’s teachings appeared, resulting in the traditional 18 schools of Buddhist thought. As a group, these schools eventually came to be considered too conservative and literal-minded in their attachment to the master’s message. Among them, Theravada was charged with being too individualistic and insufficiently concerned with the needs of the laity. Such dissatisfaction led a liberal wing of the sangha to begin to break away from the rest of the monks.

While the more conservative monks continued to honour the Buddha as a perfectly enlightened human teacher, the liberal Mahasanghikas developed a new concept. They considered the Buddha an eternal, omnipresent, transcendental being. They speculated that the human Buddha was but an apparition of the transcendental Buddha that was created for the benefit of humankind. In this understanding of the Buddha nature, Mahasanghika thought is something of a prototype of Mahayana.

The origins and development of the 18 early schools are highly complex and problematic: the number 18 is itself somewhat symbolic, and the names of the schools are not the same in all sources. The two major branches into which the sangha divided were the Mahasanghikas and the Sthaviras (Sthavirada in Sanskrit, Thera or Theravada in Pali). Both of these became further subdivided into separate schools; the Sthavira having some ten schools while the Mahasanghika had eight. The Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka and South East Asia definitely belongs to the Sthavira/Thera branch, but it is impossible to determine the tradition’s place within that branch. After the spread of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, the Sthavira schools continued in India and later in China for many centuries. One of these schools, known as the Sarvastivada, produced its own Abhidharma works, which provided a systematic interpretation of early Buddhist doctrines. This Abhidharma became the main target of later Mahayana criticism of the early schools; Mahayana as a whole does not see its origins in any of the early schools.

A Mahayana

The origins of Mahayana are particularly obscure. Even the names of its founders are unknown, and scholars disagree about whether it originated in southern or in north-western India. Its formative years were between the 2nd-century bc and the 1st-century ad.

Speculation about the eternal Buddha continued well after the beginning of the Christian era and culminated in the Mahayana doctrine of his threefold nature, or triple “body” (trikaya). These aspects are the body of the essence, the body of communal bliss, and the body of transformation. The body of essence represents the ultimate nature of the Buddha. Beyond form, it is the unchanging absolute and is variously spoken of as pure consciousness or the absolute voidness, the essential nature of all things, and so on. This essential Buddha nature manifests itself, taking on heavenly form as the body of communal bliss. In this form the Buddha sits in godlike splendour, preaching in the heavens. Lastly, the Buddha nature appears on Earth in human form to convert humankind. Such an appearance is known as a body of transformation. The Buddha has taken on such an appearance countless times. Mahayana considers the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, only one example of the body of transformation.

The new Mahayana concept of the Buddha made possible such concepts as Buddha’s interventions in the world and ongoing revelation that are lacking in Theravada. Belief in the Buddha’s heavenly manifestations led to the development of a significant devotional strand in Mahayana. Some scholars have therefore described the early development of Mahayana in terms of the “Hinduization” of Buddhism.

Another important new concept in Mahayana is that of the bodhisattva or enlightenment being, as the ideal toward which the good Buddhist should aspire. A bodhisattva is an individual who has set out to achieve perfect enlightenment but delays entry into final nirvana in order to make possible the salvation of all other sentient beings. The bodhisattva transfers merit built up over many lifetimes to less fortunate creatures. The key attributes of this social saint are compassion and loving-kindness. For this reason, Mahayana considers the bodhisattva superior to the arhats who represent the ideal of Theravada. Certain bodhisattvas, such as Maitreya, who represents the Buddha’s loving-kindness, and Avalokitesvara or Kuan-yin, who represents his compassion, have become the focus of popular devotional worship in Mahayana.

B Tantrism

By the 7th century ad, a new form of Buddhism known as Tantrism had developed through the blend of Mahayana with popular folk belief and magic in northern India. Similar to Hindu Tantrism, which arose about the same time, Buddhist Tantrism differs from Mahayana in its strong emphasis on ritual, magic, and particular types of meditation. Also known as Vajrayana, the Diamond Vehicle, Tantrism is an esoteric tradition. Its initiation ceremonies involve entry into a mandala, a mystic circle or symbolic map of the spiritual universe. Also important in Tantrism is the use of mudras, or ritual gestures, and mantras, or sacred syllables, which are repeatedly chanted and used as a focus for meditation. Vajrayana became the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet and was also transmitted through China to Japan, where it continues to be practised by the Shingon sect.


Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the land of its birth. Missionaries dispatched by King Ashoka introduced the religion to southern India and to the northwest part of the subcontinent. According to inscriptions from the Ashokan period, missionaries were sent to countries along the Mediterranean, although without success.

A Asian Expansion

King Ashoka’s son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta are credited with the conversion of Sri Lanka. From the beginning of its history there, Theravada was the state religion of Sri Lanka.

According to tradition, one Buddhist mission reached Burma during the reign of Ashoka, but no firm evidence of its presence there appears until much later. The indigenous inhabitants of the area of present-day Burma and Thailand, the Mons, professed Theravada Buddhism. The earliest states of the Burmese, the Pyu in central Burma and the state of Arakan, date from the 3rd-century ad; under Indian influence, they followed Hindu cults, and Mahayana and Tantric forms of Buddhism. The true Burmese, related to the Pyu, established their capital Pagan in 849. They also followed Tantric Buddhism. The supremacy of Theravada Buddhism, which eventually superseded other forms in Burma, began with the reign of the Burmese king Anuruddha in the 11th century. Buddhism was adopted by the Thai people when they finally entered the region from south-western China from the 12th century. From the 13th century, the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai made Theravada Buddhism the official religion of the country.Theravada was adopted by the royal house in Laos during the 14th century.

Both Mahayana and Hinduism had begun to influence Cambodia by the end of the 2nd-century ad, and both flourished there for several centuries. Extensive archaeological remains at the ancient city of Angkor attest to an impressive religious culture created by the Khmer kings under the influence of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. After the 14th century, however, under Thai influence, Theravada gradually replaced the older establishment as the primary religion in Cambodia.

About the beginning of the Christian era, Buddhism was carried to Central Asia. From there it entered China along the trade routes by the early 1st-century ad. This first period of Chinese Buddhism, lasting until about the 6th century, is generally seen as formative, as Buddhist doctrines and culture were imported and adapted. At first, the religion penetrated and took root in China’s intellectual and cultural elite, and to a lesser extent amongst the populace. The Chinese-speaking foreigners who first propagated Buddhism were gradually supplanted by native converts. Kumarajiva, who arrived at the capital Ch’ang-an in 401, introduced the Madhyamika school and supervised the state-sponsored translation of Buddist texts into Chinese. Such endeavours rendered large numbers of Hinayana, Mahayana and esoteric Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Both Hinayana and Mahayana became established on Chinese soil, and the monastic ordinations transmitted through the Hinayana Dharmaguptaka school became the prevailing tradition in China and Korea up to the present day. However, Mahayana Buddhism eventually became the predominant doctrine. Effectively patronized by the non-Chinese dynasties who ruled the north prior to the reunification of China under the Sui dynasty (589-618), Buddhism reached its zenith under the Sui and the Tang (618-906). The many large, wealthy and sometimes worldly monasteries were sometimes the objects of persecution, often motivated by hostile Confucian and Taoist circles, but such persecutions focused on monastic institutions rather than lay believers. Although persecuted, Buddhism was never prohibited in China.

Several of the Buddhist schools that flourished in China from the 6th to the 9th centuries were direct or indirect importations of Indian schools. Four other major schools which arose in this period were basically Chinese creations, though making certain claims of Indian origin. Three were based on specific scriptures. The T’ien-t’ai school produced a fivefold gradation of Buddhist teachings, placing the doctrines of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (or Lotus Sutra) at the apex. The Huayan school accepted the Avatamsaka Sutra (Garland Sutra) as its scriptural authority. The third school, the Pure Land school of belief, based itself on three texts related to the Buddha Amitabha, developing a devotional form of Buddhism which stressed faith and belief in him. The most original and Chinese in character was the radical Ch’an school (Zen in Japanese), which eschewed scripture and doctrine in favour of spontaneous insight, the instantaneous realization of one’s own Buddha-nature. After the great persecution of 845 Buddhism declined in China, albeit enjoying a brief revival during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1276-1368). It never conquered the country, but made a substantial contribution to China’s culture and religious thought, and became a permanent feature of the Chinese way of life.

At the time of the introduction of Buddhism, Korea consisted of three states: Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Koguryo received waves of Buddhist influence from northern and southern China and proclaimed Buddhism its state religion in ad 392. Paekche embraced Buddhism in 384 and Silla in 528, following official missions dispatched from the Chinese court. Korean Buddhism experienced its greatest flourishing in the unified state of the Koryo Period (918-1392). Under the Yi dynasty (1392-1910), it became subordinate to the Confucianism which became the official ideology of the Korean state and ruling classes.

Vietnam, long ruled by China, followed mainly Chinese Buddhism, whilst the south of the country was more influenced by India. Buddhism remained well established after Vietnam broke free of China in the 10th century, and after a decline in the 15th century experienced a revival in the 18th century which induced the rise of indigenous Vietnamese sects of Buddhism.

Buddhism was carried into Japan from Korea. It was known to the Japanese earlier, but the official date for its introduction is given as either ad 538 or 552, depending on the source. It was proclaimed the state religion of Japan in 593 by Prince Shotoku, who is seen as the father of Japanese Buddhism, both in terms of his activities and his moral legacy. Several schools of Buddhism were introduced during the Nara (710-784) and Heian (794-1185) periods. The monk Saicho is credited with the foundation of the Tendai school, an importation of Chinese T’ien-t’ai doctrine which also served as a channel for the introduction of Pure Land, Zen, and Tantric beliefs. Kukai also brought from China the variety of esoteric Buddhism which became the Shingon cult. Although Buddhism gained ground among ordinary people during the Nara and Heian periods, it existed primarily as a state-sponsored religion. The three schools which grew to prominence during the Kamakura period (1185-1333)—Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren Buddhism—succeeded in spreading Buddhism across the whole spectrum of Japanese society. Though none of these were doctrinally innovative, all assumed a distinctly Japanese character. Interestingly, the tradition of monastic ordination introduced into Japan was gradually eliminated, so that in general the clergy of all Japanese Buddhist schools are permitted to marry.

Tibet was converted to Buddhism through two consecutive propagations. In the first, Buddhism was formally recognized as a state religion in the 7th-century ad. Temples and monasteries were built, Tibetans were ordained as monks and a fair number of Buddhist texts were translated into Tibetan. Two Indian masters are particularly venerated for their impact on the spread of Buddhism in Tibet: Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava. While Shantarakshita introduced Mahayana Buddhism and ordination rites, Padmasambhava, a gifted Tantric master, appropriated local deities to serve as protectors of the new creed. This propagation ended in persecution by followers of indigenous Tibetan beliefs. The second propagation, which began in the 10th century, permanently implanted Buddhism in Tibet. Extensive traffic between India and Tibet introduced various traditions, which eventually consolidated into four major religious orders: Sakyapa, Kagyupa, Nyingmapa, and Gelugpa. Tibetan Buddhism as a whole is a complex but coherent body of Mahayana doctrines and esoteric practices. Though many lamas and masters are married, the overwhelming majority of religious are ordained monks. The tradition of reincarnated lamas is a unique feature of Tibetan Buddhism. Such people are believed to be reincarnations of famous masters or manifestations of certain Buddhas or boddhisattvas.


Differences occur in the religious obligations and observances both within and between the sangha and the laity.

A Monastic Life

From the first, the most devoted followers of the Buddha were organized into the monastic sangha. Its members were identified by their shaved heads and robes made of unsewn orange cloth. The early Buddhist monks, or bhikkhus, wandered from place to place, settling down in communities only during the rainy season when travel was difficult. Each of the settled communities that developed later was independent and democratically organized. Monastic life was governed by the rules of the Vinaya, one of the three canonical collections of scripture. Fortnightly, a formal assembly of monks, the uposatha, was held in each community. Central to this observance was the formal recitation of the Vinaya rules and the public confession of all violations. The sangha included an order for nuns as well as for monks, a unique feature among Indian monastic orders. Theravada monks and nuns were celibate and obtained their food in the form of alms on a daily round of the homes of lay devotees. The Zen school came to disregard the rule that members of the sangha should live on alms. Part of the discipline of this sect required its members to work in the fields to earn their own food. In Japan the popular Shin school, a branch of Pure Land, allows its priests to marry and raise families. Among the traditional functions of the Buddhist monks is the performance of funerals and memorial services in honour of the dead. Major elements of such services include the chanting of scripture and transfer of merit for the benefit of the deceased.

B Lay Worship

Lay worship in Buddhism is primarily individual rather than congregational. Since earliest times a common expression of faith for laity and members of the sangha alike has been taking the Three Refuges, that is, reciting the formula “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha”. Although technically the Buddha is not worshipped in Theravada, veneration is shown through the stupa cult. A stupa is a dome-like sacred structure containing a relic. Devotees walk around the dome in a clockwise direction, carrying flowers and incense as a sign of reverence. The relic of the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is the focus of an especially popular festival on the Buddha’s birthday. The Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in every Buddhist country. In Theravada, this celebration is known as Vesakha, after the month in which the Buddha was born. Popular in Theravada lands is a ceremony known as spirit, or protection, in which readings from a collection of protective sutras from the Pali canon are conducted to exorcise evil spirits, cure illness, bless new buildings, and achieve other benefits.

In Mahayana countries, ritual is more important than in Theravada. Images of the buddhas and bodhisattvas on temple altars and in the homes of devotees serve as a focus for worship. Prayer and chanting are common acts of devotion, as are offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense. One of the most popular festivals in China and Japan is the Ullambana Festival, in which offerings are made to the spirits of the dead and to hungry ghosts. It is held that during this celebration the gates to the other world are open so that departed spirits can return to Earth for a brief time.

C Buddhism Today

One of the lasting strengths of Buddhism has been its ability to adapt to changing conditions and to a variety of cultures. It is philosophically opposed to materialism, especially of the Marxist-Communist variety. Buddhism does not recognize a conflict between itself and modern science. On the contrary, it holds that the Buddha applied the experimental approach to questions of ultimate truth.

In Thailand and Burma, Buddhism remains strong. Reacting to charges of being socially unconcerned, its monks have become involved in various social welfare projects. Although Buddhism in India largely died out after the 12th century, resurgence on a small scale was sparked by the conversion of 3.5 million former members of the untouchable caste, under the leadership of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, beginning in 1956. A similar renewal of Buddhism in Sri Lanka dates from the 19th century.

Under the Communist republics in Asia, Buddhism has faced a more difficult time. In China, for example, it continues to exist, although under strict government regulation and supervision. Many monasteries and temples have been converted to schools, dispensaries, and other public use. Monks and nuns have been required to undertake employment in addition to their religious functions. Falun Gong, a mystical sect associated with Buddhism, gained a large following within China and worldwide during the 1990s. The sect was banned by the Chinese government in 1999, and a number of followers have been imprisoned. In Tibet, the Chinese, after their takeover and the escape of the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist officials into India in 1959, attempted to undercut Buddhist influence.

Only in Japan since World War II have truly new Buddhist movements arisen. Notable among these is Soka Gakkai, the Value Creation Society, a lay movement associated with Nichiren Buddhism. It is noted for its effective organization, aggressive conversion techniques, and use of mass media, as well as for its nationalism. It promises material benefit and worldly happiness to its believers. Since 1956 it has been involved in Japanese politics, running candidates for office under the banner of its Komeito, or a Clean Government party.

Growing interest in Asian culture and spiritual values in the West has led to the development of a number of societies devoted to the study and practice of Buddhism. Zen has grown in the West to encompass meditation centres and a number of actual monasteries. Interest in Vajrayana has also increased.

As its influence in the West slowly grows, Buddhism is once again beginning to undergo a process of acculturation to its new environment. Although its influence in the West is still small, it seems that new, distinctively Western forms of Buddhism may eventually develop.

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