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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.1 (2021): 397–403;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Worldmaking Programs & Tiantai/Chontae/Tendai Buddhism)

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Bryson, Megan. Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 246 pages.

Jeffrey KOTYK
University of British Columbia

Megan Bryson in Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China explains and examines the various myths and roles of a goddess named Baijie. This is an original study on an overlooked figure from an understudied region of Asia. Such an undertaking is welcome, since it adds new knowledge and encourages further consideration of a region that is generally underappreciated in modern scholarship. Bryson’s study contributes to a larger concern in scholarship regarding gender, particularly in connection to Religious Studies. The topic of this book is unique and presents a number of challenges, primarily with regard to the acquisition and analysis of primary sources. Additionally, fieldwork was carried out that allowed for a discussion of Baijie in present times. Some of the theoretical considerations of this monograph, however, require further consideration in my opinion, as I will discuss below.

The focus of Bryson’s study is on the evolving identities of Baijie in southwest China, starting in history from the kingdom of Dali (937–1253). There, this goddess was originally the consort of Mahākāla, but this role was by no means static. Baijie came to refer to the mother of Duan Siping, who founded the kingdom of Dali. Yet Baijie could also refer to a widow martyr of the eighth century. The detailed descriptions of the elements that comprised these different forms and their evolution over the course of one-thousand years are well executed and clear. There are additional explanations and theories concerning how Baijie was connected to socio-political power at different points in history.


About the Author: Jeffrey Kotyk (Ph.D., Leiden University, 2017) is presently the Sheng Yen Education Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. His diverse publications cover a variety of topics, including transcultural Buddhist history, the history of astronomy in China, material culture in medieval East Asia, and Sino-Japanese Buddhist relations. He has publications in journals such as T’oung PaoAsia Major and Studies in Chinese Religions.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.