Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 4.2 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 552–557;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

Download full text PDF


Yü, Chün-fang. Chinese Buddhism: A Thematic History. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2020. E-book US $10, paperback US $28, hardcover US $74.

Elizabeth MORRISON
Middlebury College

This book is a parting gift to teachers and students of Chinese Buddhism from the eminent scholar Chün-fang Yü, now Sheng Yen Professor Emerita of Chinese Buddhism at Columbia University, after four decades of teaching. As she explains in the preface, she set out to write the book she needed and did not have.

Such a book, she explains, should be accessible to undergraduates. It should offer a more extensive treatment of Chinese Buddhism—defined as the Buddhist tradition of the Han people, not the Buddhist traditions of Tibet or ethnic minorities in China—than is found in surveys of the Buddhist tradition or of Chinese religion. It should neither be limited to philosophical and doctrinal questions, nor overly focused on the Chan (Zen) tradition famous in the West and widely studied by academics. It should take up the long, complex interaction of Buddhist ideas and practices with the rich religious culture already established in China as well as the interaction of the Chinese state with Buddhist people and institutions. It should reflect the scholarly work refuting the idea of post-Tang decline in Chinese Buddhism and demonstrate the vitality of Chinese Buddhist intellectual and institutional life in the Song dynasty and after. It should also describe modern Chinese Buddhism, including dramatic persecution and post-Mao revival in the People’s Republic of China and remarkable flourishing and innovation in Taiwan.

This book is, in other words, an extremely ambitious attempt to present a comprehensive and up-to-date description of Chinese Buddhism for undergraduates, and Yü succeeds in much, if not all, of what she sets out to do.


About the Author: Elizabeth Morrison is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Middlebury College, Vermont. Her research focuses on Chan history and Buddhist-Confucian relations in pre-modern China.


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.