The ritual of “releasing life” (fangsheng 放生), a form of Buddhist cultivation, has been widely practiced by Chinese Buddhists for at least fifteen centuries. This ritual is currently enjoying immense popularity among devotees in mainland China and within Chinese societies around the world. Yet the ubiquity of fangsheng in China has elicited sharp criticism from various societal sectors, including the government, the media, Buddhist institutions, animal advocates, and environmentalists. After outlining the main historical milestones of the practice, this article examines two lay Buddhist groups that are part of a larger fangsheng network and regularly engage in releasing life in contemporary Xiamen 廈門, Fujian 福建 province. It then describes the national Buddhist leadership’s condemnation of “indiscriminate” fangsheng rituals as well as attempts to regulate on the part of the state, which have culminated in an orchestrated campaign for “Rational Releasing of Life.” In addition, focusing on fangsheng on a local level, the article explores the steps taken by Buddhist establishment actors in Xiamen to promote this new, rational concept alongside lay groups’ apologetics in light of the growing criticism of the practice.




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pp. 109-143
Launched on MUSE
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