- Buddhism after Mao: Negotiations, Continuities, and Reinventions ed. by Ji Zhe, Gareth Fisher, and André Laliberté
A monograph with the title Buddhism after Mao can easily and should (in the sense of the editors’ “homage”) explicitly remind the reader of the works by Holmes Welch about Buddhism in China during the first half of the twentieth century and his subsequent book Buddhism under Mao, published in 1972. In fact, it appears to be the first comprehensive monograph in English about the development of contemporary Buddhism since the death of Mao Zedong (1893–1976), and it is far more than a collection of single case studies, as it covers almost forty years. However, its approach differs in many ways from Welch’s, especially because it is not based on the research of only a single scholar who was forced to collect all his data outside of the People’s Republic of China.
Stemming from a conference held in Paris in 2014, this book has brought together twelve excellent scholars from all over the world who have specialized in different aspects of Buddhism in contemporary China, are well-versed in Chinese and well connected with Buddhists in China. Most of these relatively young authors’ personal experience and observation of Buddhism in China goes back to the 1990s. Their publications since the beginning of the twenty-first century have become well known and represent the first generation of systematic case studies about Buddhism after Mao. By interweaving all [End Page 293] their expertise through the many cross-references within one monograph, they offer more than just a collection of separate articles. In fact, this exciting book of multidisciplinary perspectives is worth reading as a whole, although each article could also stand alone.
As an entrance into the work, the editors’ introduction provides a concise overview of the current state of (mainly English-language) research and expresses regret that “in spite of its size and influence, Buddhism (particularly Han Buddhism) has received little scholarly attention. This volume aims to remedy this gap” (p. 1). Due to the limits of existing research and the need to make this task manageable, it focuses “mainly on the evolution of Buddhist institutions such as temples and monasteries, as places of worship and learning, as tourist sites, and as providers of philanthropy from the beginnings of Buddhist revival in the early 1980s through the middle 2010s” (pp. 3–4). Inspired by different theoretical frameworks, the authors have decided to “look at the multiple ways in which both the state and the market, both the religious and the nonreligious, and both collective and individual actors interact in the (re)production of Buddhism” (p. 8).
The general division of the book into three parts, as outlined in the subtitle “Negotiations, Continuities, and Reinventions,” is an innovative way of coping with the diversity and dynamics of Buddhist developments over recent decades. This approach creates the necessary space to explore heterogeneous discursive processes full of tensions and ambiguities.
In Part I, titled “Negotiating Legitimacy: Making Buddhism with the State,” André Laliberté starts with “Buddhism under Jiang, Hu, and Xi: The Politics of Incorporation.” Although this chapter’s title surprisingly excludes the Post-Mao reign of Deng Xiaoping, Laliberté’s overview is comprehensive and extremely helpful for understanding the interdependency between state and Buddhism in a broader context, with a focus on the Communist Party’s acceptance of the (growing) role of Buddhism in the fields of diplomacy, patriotism, and a possible unification with Taiwan. Claire Vidal presents a fieldwork-based analysis of a more local relationship in “Administering Bodhisattva Guanyin’s Island: The Monasteries, Political Entities, and Power Holders of Putuoshan.” While Vidal appears to have completely overlooked the impressive fieldwork of Un In Cora Wong,1 her study convincingly demonstrates how Putuoshan 普陀山 has been developing over the decades into a “laboratory” in which—in spite of an ongoing mutual dependency—the promotion of a “Buddhism of Putuoshan” is, to a certain degree...