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A fragile revival : Chinese Buddhism under the political shadow, 1522-1620 Zhang, Dewei

Abstract

I aim to reveal in this dissertation the dynamics behind the evolution of the late Ming Buddhist revival as well as some of its general characteristics, mainly from the political perspective. This significant religious revival has proved to be intimately tied to politics. Studying these interactions reveals a remarkable and complicated process. I examine how the revival took place and was processed at different social levels in different regions over the one hundred years of the Jiajing-Wanli period (1522-1620). The more theoretic portion of this project seeks to understand how, why, and to what extent this revival was a reaction and adjustment to the contemporary political environment by referring to the relevant social, economic, religious, cultural, and regional backgrounds. In addition to close reading of textual and epigraphical materials, I consistently employ quantitative analysis, regional approach and cases studies in the mould of the French Annals School. My argument is that, profoundly influenced by a weak Buddhist institution and a structural weakness in the Ming government, the evolution of the late Ming Buddhist revival was not so much driven by the inner dynamics of Buddhism as by drastic changes in the overall lay society, among which the inner and outer court politics, although not always the decisive factor, always remained a catalyst for other factors. This revival fostered a stronger commitment to Buddhism in society and produced some charismatic Buddhist masters who were tremendously influential, but it remained fragile because its development was basically under the control of its patrons rather than the samgha itself. I suggest that we reconfigure our understanding of the Ming Buddhist revival. Specifically, I point out that a long-distance shift of the national Buddhist centre took place from Beijing to the Jiangnan region around the 1600s, and that it was propelled both by drastic changes in national politics and by distinct traits of local Buddhism. I explain how this revival could happen after Jiajing‘s discrimination against Buddhism, and why it would conclude later when the socioeconomic environment mostly remained unchanged. Key words include Buddhist revival, court politics, the mid- and late Ming, Beijing, and Jiangnan.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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