This sculpture is the single most published piece in the Chinese collection at the Asian Art Museum and is included in almost every major publication on early Chinese Buddhist sculpture. Its importance lies in the fragmentary inscription on the back of the base, which dates it to 338, making it the earliest known dated buddha image made in China. Stylistically this figure belongs to a group created in China from the appearance of Buddhism to around 450. This style was influenced by Buddhist sculptures of the ancient region of Gandhara (which included parts of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern India). Scholars theorize that the models for such pieces were small sculptures carried along the Silk Road. Most of the surviving Chinese versions are small gilt bronze buddhas.
However small or insignificant the object or its donors, these sculptures came to life and were given meaning by associations with specific people, places, and times. Many of these early Buddhist images are dated and their donors mentioned by name. These objects were donated to accrue merit and good karma. The piece comes from the Later Zhao, a state in northern China ruled by the Jie, a non-Chinese people, from 329 to 350. In addition to practicing Buddhism, Jie rulers bolstered their rule by using the influence of Central Asian Buddhists and their Chinese disciples.