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DANIELA CAMPO, La construction de la sainteté dans la Chine moderne: La vie du maître bouddhiste Xuyun. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2013. 470 pp. €35 (pb). ISBN 978-2-251-90010-0 Among the eminent Buddhist monks of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China, few are as eminent as Xuyun 虛雲 (1840/1864–1959), a Chan master credited with reviving the school’s Guiyang 潙仰, Fayan 法眼, and Yunmen 雲門 branches in the early twentieth century, and whose students and disciples later rose to positions of power, especially following the reforms of the late 1970s. This legacy, as well as his work in monastic restoration and his reputed supernatural powers and great longevity , all contributed to his biography being well known today. Daniela Campo’s critical study of his life, however, thoroughly deconstructs this biography, revealing Xuyun as a figure both embedded in history yet part of mythology, both of which were key components of the traditional figure of the eminent monk (gaoseng 高僧) that continues to exert influence in Chinese Buddhism today. The author presents a convincing argument that Xuyun’s “sainthood,” an image that has been transmitted in Buddhist circles since his death, is a hagiographic construction based on his supposedly twelve-decade-long lifespan and other supernatural elements of his life. Yet Campo also meticulously assembles historically grounded evidence about his life and his influence on Buddhism in modern China. Campo’s thesis is that a balanced appreciation of both aspects, the mythological and historical, is vital not only in forming an accurate picture of Xuyun’s life and legacy, but also in assessing how hagiographic constructions of the lives of eminent monks played a role in the larger processes of revival and reconstruction in modern Chinese Buddhism. The book is made up of two parts. The first, “Building a Myth,” consists of six chapters that examine Xuyun’s early life up to 1929. Chapter 1 contrasts hagiographic depictions of Xuyun with historical documentary materials in order to begin to explore how the quality of Buddhist sainthood emerged in modern China. This chapter establishes the central dialectic of the book as being between hagiography in the tradition of the Biographies of Eminent Monks (Gaoseng zhuan 高僧傳)15 and history as represented in external accounts such as those from missionary observers and others. As part of this critical assessment, in chapter 2 Campo addresses Xuyun’s reported 119-year lifespan, a feat which features prominently in his hagiography, by examining a range of historical evidence including periodical articles and collected writings. Through comparing a number of different accounts, Campo suggests a more realistic date of 1864 for Xuyun’s birth—rather than 1840 as has traditionally been assigned. The theme of distinguishing myth from fact in received narratives continues in chapter 3, in which Campo delves into Xuyun’s life proper by examining accounts relating to his ordination on Gushan 鼓山 in Fuzhou 福州 and his encounter with the ascetic Guyue 古 月 (1843–1919). Chapters 4 through 6 continue this approach, following Xuyun through his early travels, his restoration of temples in the southwest of China, and his assumption of the abbacy of several temples, now incorporating more documentary sources such as contemporary periodical articles and other written accounts as they become available for this later period. Information derived from periodical 15 The Gaoseng zhuan (T. 50.2059), compiled by Huijiao 慧皎 in 519, is the first in an often imitated genre of biographies of Buddhist monks and nuns. 200 REVIEWS sources in particular represents a wealth of new historical material that was not widely available to scholars even a few years ago. The second part of the book, “Entry into History,” covers the period up to Xuyun’s death in 1959, with chapters 7 through 10 following him as he takes up abbacies at temples across eastern and southern China, with the final three chapters narrating his life in the first decade of the People’s Republic. Chapter 7 covers Xuyun’s abbacy at Gushan, where he revised monastic discipline, added new buildings , and reorganized temple finances, prompting a “revolt” on the part of the conservative community. Chapters 8 and 9 follow him to Nanhua Temple 南華寺 and Yunmen Temple 雲門寺 in northern Guangdong 廣東, the restoration of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2050-8999
Print ISSN
0737-769X
Pages
pp. 200-201
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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