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Reviewed by:
  • Recovering Buddhism in Modern China ed. by Jan Kiely and J. Brooks Jessup
  • Ben Van Overmeire
Jan Kiely and J. Brooks Jessup, eds. Recovering Buddhism in Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. 383 pp. $60 (cloth).

Until recently, accounts of Buddhism on the Chinese mainland have tended to focus on textual materials produced before the twentieth century. With some notable exceptions, such as Holmes Welch's monumental but venerable studies,1 the majority of scholars thus seemed to subscribe to the narrative of a secularizing China where religion has no place. This edited volume forms part of a larger trend in appreciating how influential a force Chinese religions have been in the twentieth century and how religion remains influential today. In their introduction, Jan Kiely and J. Brooks Jessup usefully delineate the scholarly interventions of this volume. In seeking to counter the narrative of modern China as a secularizing state, this volume unearths the immense contributions Buddhist individuals and organizations have made to the "modernization" of their country.

Part 1 collects contributions that address Buddhist activity during the Republican era. Its opening article, written by J. Brooks Jessup, looks at the Shanghai-based World [End Page E-26] Buddhist Householder Grove (世界佛教居士林 Shijie Fojiao jushilin), a space that positioned itself as a middle way in between city temples and secular life. In examining the architecture and daily schedule of the association's headquarters, Kiely speculates that what we have here is an "ambivalent modernity." On the one hand, Western influences are welcomed, as seen in the commercial ventures of many members of the association. On the other, these influences are balanced with a close attention to Chinese religious heritage.

Eric J. Hammerstrom takes up Jessup's "ambivalent modernity" and uses it to examine the "science and philosophy of life debates" of the 1920s. Focusing on the voice of the Buddhist layman Lin Zaiping (林宰平 1879–1960), Hammerstrom shows that scholarship has thus far underappreciated the Buddhist contributions to these debates. If these debates tried to delimit what science meant in the field of human knowledge, Buddhists were also invested in that effort. In the process, they not only actively showed that Buddhism was in fact "scientific," but also disentangled "Buddhism" from "religion," the latter being looked upon unfavorably by many revolutionary intellectuals (such as those belonging to the May Fourth movement).

In the next chapter, Gregory Adam Scott examines how these new ideas about Buddhism were spread, focusing on three short-lived Buddhist periodicals published between 1910 and 1920. Scott argues that each of these periodicals represents an archetype of Chinese Buddhist publications, archetypes that can also be distinguished among the multitude of Chinese Buddhist publications of the next decade. The Buddhist Studies Magazine (佛學叢報 Foxue congbao) collected pieces by authors without any shared institutional affiliation, aiming at a broad audience. Buddhist Monthly (佛教月報 Fojiao yuebao), on the other hand, published the views of a particular Buddhist association, the Chinese Buddhist General Association (中華佛教總會 Zhonghua Fojiao zonghui). Finally, Awakening Society Collectanea (覺社叢書 Jueshe congshu) forged a middle path between the two other types, being the journal of a particular organization while still aiming at an audience beyond the members of that society.

In the opening article in part 2, which collects essays about the Second World War and the postwar Communist takeover, Benjamin Brose examines the role of relics of the eminent monk Xuanzang (玄奘 600?–664) in international relations during and after the Second World War. Brose argues that there is a continuity between premodern Buddhist appreciations of the political and religious power of relics and more contemporary discourses on the value of "cultural heritage." The cultural usage of Xuanzang's relics oscillates between treatment as a symbol for Chinese nationalism (Xuanzang as representing the superiority of Chinese Buddhism) and treatment as a symbol for international collaboration (Buddhism as a pan-Asian religion). Most interestingly, Brose demonstrates that these relics were never treated as mere cultural artifacts: at various instances, he shows that those dealing with them are convinced they have numinous powers.

Following Brose, Xue Yu also discusses the relation between Chinese Buddhists and the newly established People's Republic of China (PRC). Nicely dovetailing with the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. E-26-E-28
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-11
Open Access
No
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