- Lives of the Nuns: Biographies of Chinese Buddhist Nuns from the Fourth to Sixth Centuries: A Translation of the Pi-ch'iu-ni chuan (review)
- China Review International
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 1, Number 2, Fall 1994
- pp. 273-275
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews 273 stantial improvement in the field now widelyknown as Neo-Confucianism? Apart from conceptual issues, a definite weakness in fhe study is that the balance between pre- and post-Chu Hsi developments is struck in favor of the former. The first three parts of the book cover thirteenth-century Southern Sung intellectual history from 1127 to 1202, consuming two hundred pages. The fourth part covers fourteenth-century Southern Sung history from 1202 to 1279, spanning approximately the same number of years and including many more well-documented thinkers. Yet it is allotted only thirty pages of print. Tillman's aim is to correct an excessive focus on Chu Hsi in recent scholarship on Sung intellectual history, but tiiat aim was probably not best served by giving short shrift to Chu's disciples. Nevertheless, scholars of Sung history and of Neo-Confucianism will find this provocative, well-documented monograph well worth reading. John Allen Tucker University of North Florida F F F Kathryn Ann Tsai. Lives ofthe Nuns: Biographies ofChinese BuddhistNuns from the Fourth to Sixth Centuries: A Translation ofthe Pi-ch'iu-ni chuan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1994. ix, 180 pp. Hardcover $28. Founded in fhe fourth century, the Chinese Buddhist order of nuns quickly expanded , so that by Aie Tang there were some thirty-six large convents in Chang'an alone. ' Holmes Welch estimated the number of Chinese nuns in the late 1940s at more than two hundred twenty-five thousand,2 and the order continues to Aourish today in Taiwan as well as on the Mainland. Yet the indexes of fhe standard Western surveys of Chinese Buddhism—Kenneth Chen's Buddhism in China and Arthur Wright's Buddhism in Chinese History—contain no references to nuns at all. This strange absence is largely the result of a methodological choice: until recently , nuns did not make a significant contribution to the history of canonical Buddhist thought or the formation of Buddhist sects—the overriding concerns of a generation ofWestern scholars of Chinese Buddhism. But the reluctance to discuss the history of nuns in surveys of Chinese Buddhism stems also from the dearth of historical evidence on nuns. Not only are the dynastic histories silent on© 1994 by University me subject, but even the Buddhist canon has little to say about nuns. While stuofHawai ? Press¿e?1:5 Qf^£ hjstory 0fmonks can, ifthey choose, spend their careers working solely on material conveniently collected in the canon, the study of Chinese 274 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994 nuns—even for later periods—can follow only on the difficult work ofassembling evidence from diverse sources. Li Yuzhen, for instance, was able to write her book on nuns in the Tang dynasty only after carefully culling scattered references to nuns from noncanonical material like poetry and epigraphy.3 Fortunately, fhe prospects for studying the history ofnuns in the Six Dynasties period are not so daunting, largely because ofthe existence ofa remarkable sixth-century collection ofsixty-five biographies ofnuns from the fourth to sixth centuries known as the Lives ofNuns (Biqiuni zhuan J:tfi/bÄ). Scholars ofBuddhism have long recognized fhe value ofthis text for the study of Chinese monasticism.4 Social historians have also mined the Lives for information on the role ofwomen during the Six Dynasties.5 Individual biographies from the collection were translated into English already in the early fifties, but the first complete published translation, by Li Junghsi , appeared in 1981.6 Li's translation is generally reliable, but the English is often awkward, few notes are provided (Li occasionally translates variant readings, but does not cite their source), and the romanization of Chinese place names and personal names is eccentric (Li uses Wade-Giles, but omits apostrophes).7 Tsai's new translation, a revision ofher dissertation, easily supersedes tiiat of Li. The translation is preceded by a briefintroduction, sketching out the religious and social context ofthe biographies. Tsai describes the founding ofthe order of nuns in the fourth century, and highlights the dominant themes ofthe biographies : vegetarianism, the chanting ofscriptures, meditation, and so on. The attention given to the maintenance ofthe monastic regulations in these biographies is ofparticular interest. As Tsai...