The Buddha did not want people to worship his image and so early representations of him were symbolic like his feet or a tree. But then as his teachings became Buddhism and spread out of India, many forms of art started appearing in various styles.
China’s attraction to the outside world went beyond art. I have shown in several studies that Buddhism spread over much of eastern Iran, as demonstrated by archaeology, place names and the imprint it left on Persian literature – idealized beauty was celebrated by the poets of early Islamic Iran, using explicitly Buddhist images and references to Buddhist shrines.
If the evidence of sculpture is anything to go by, it took three centuries for Buddhism to establish itself. The earliest dated Buddha image cast in bronze, now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is dated 338 A.D. Bronzes of the fourth century are scarce. Comparative abundance in the fifth century suggests a change in pace. Extraordinary bronzes were being cast by the end of the century, particularly in the northeastern provinces of Shaanxi and Hebei, at the heart of the territory long controlled by the Xianbei, Leidy remarks.
It may one day be possible to plot the route followed by Buddhist iconography first defined in present-day Afghanistan through Tajikistan into Chinese Turkistan up to Dunhuang, the Buddhist cave complex that retains to this day its Sogdian name “Throang(a),” adapted to Chinese pronunciation. This resulted in the first truly great works of Chinese Buddhist sculpture. A standing gilt bronze of the Buddha Shakyamuni from Mancheng in Hebei, dated 475, and a seated Buddha from Togeton, Hohhot, cq by Souren in Inner Mongolia, have smiles of radiant certainty, each with a nuance — laughing tolerance in one, soothing conviction that all is illusion in the other. [China’s ‘Golden Age,’ over five crucial centuries]
Some extraordinary Chinese Buddhist statues were created during the time of the Qi dynasties which were in the same style as the Guptas.