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Zhang, Dewei, Thriving in Crisis: Buddhism and Political Disruption in China, 1522–1620
OUYANG Nan 歐陽楠
Center for Buddhist Studies, Ghent University
Dewei Zhang’s monograph is a timely contribution to the relatively overlooked field of Buddhism in late imperial China. The book focuses on the development of Chinese Buddhism from 1522 to 1620, a time period spanning nearly one hundred years under three Ming emperors (Jiajing 嘉靖 [r. 1522–1566], Longqing 隆慶 [r. 1567–1572], and Wanli 萬曆 [r. 1573–1620]). The study mainly deals with two core regions: North China (Beijing in particular) and the Jiangnan region, while providing qualitative analysis of other regions. The study raises two interrelated questions for students of Chinese Buddhism: How to evaluate the impact of politics on the development of Chinese Buddhism, and how to situate Ming-Qing Buddhism in the history of Chinese Buddhism. In answering these questions, the author chooses five groups of historical agents, including emperors, high-ranking court women, eunuchs, scholar-officials, and eminent monks (characterized as ‘elite’ by the author) and demonstrates the dynamics of the elite network that determined the ebb and flow of Ming Buddhism.
This book has eight chapters, in addition to the introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, the author claims that he attempts to challenge two pre-existing paradigms that have persisted in the study of Chinese Buddhism: Sui-Tang centrism and Protestant presuppositions. He argues for the significance of a book looking beyond Sui-Tang Buddhism and the necessity to evaluate Ming-Qing Buddhism not merely on doctrinal grounds. The author continues to define the term ‘renewal’ as ‘a strong, phenomenal, and large-scale resurgence of enthusiasm with monastic Buddhism that involves all walks of society and that projects itself, to varying degrees, in the spiritual, intellectual, and material forms within the saṃgha and beyond’ (5). The definition is employed to include political and social dimensions, and the author promises to adopt an approach that resembles the Annales School by foregrounding longue durée changes.
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