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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 79–201;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

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Dunhuang Non-governmental Organisations Specialising in Undertaking Buddhist Activities and Their Relationship with Buddhism

HAO Chunwen 郝春文
The Capital Normal University

Abstract: Since the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266–420), monasteries and monastics had started to propagate the Buddhist way of thinking and behaving to the people in the villages and towns in the vicinity of the monasteries. People susceptible to the Buddhist teaching were assembled to form the so-called yiyi 邑義, the Buddhist association dedicated to organizing Buddhist activities. Through the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589), Buddhist association had achieved enormous success with its mission. Spreading across North and South China, it was the main form of association for Buddhist followers and served as the most important social basis for monasteries.

During the Tang (618–907) and Five Dynasties (907–960), as the process of Buddhist Sinicization came to its completion, Buddhist monasteries and monastics started to change their attitude and strategy vis-à-vis the traditional private association known as sheyi 社邑. They increasingly favored the strategy that treats the traditional Chinese culture as an equal and seeks to establish common grounds all the while preserving differences. Within the private association, this change led to a gradual fusion between Buddhist and Chinese tradition, in both thoughts and activities. As a result, a private association, while maintaining its traditional activities such as the worship of the God of Earth (she ) and the God of Grains (ji ), and the service of financial assistance, had also started to undertake Buddhist activities. Because of its more refined organizational structure and longer history, private association revealed to play a far more important role than Buddhist association in spreading Buddhism in the society. In this context, then, the Tang and Five Dynasties saw an increasingly diminishing status and role that Buddhist associations played in organizing Buddhist activities. We also have much less documentations on Buddhist associations in this period than the Northern and Southern Dynasties.

Like Buddhist association, private association undertakes Buddhist activities under the influence of Buddhist monasteries—they are both the external organizations that monasteries relied on in the society. They represented the main associations of Buddhist followers and the fundamental social basis for Buddhist monasteries during the Tang and Five Dynasties. Almost all the monasteries held a relation, in one way or another, with a private or Buddhist association. Some monasteries even maintained close relations with multiple associations. During the Tang and Five Dynasties, organizing or influencing different kinds of associations had become the main avenue by which monasteries and monastics spread Buddhism in the society.

Keywords: yiyi 邑義, fayi 法義, yihui 邑會, yihui 義會, Dunhuang, manuscript, Jinshi cuibian 金石萃編, Baqiong shi jinshi buzheng 八瓊室金石補正


About the Author: Hao Chunwen 郝春文 is a Yanshan 燕山 Distinguished Professor of the School of History at Capital Normal University, also serving as the head of the university’s Institute of Historical Studies. His main areas of research are Dunhuang documents, Buddhism in China, and Chinese history, especially from the third to thirteenth century. In the past few decades, he has published several monographs on various related topics, which include Zhonggu shiqi sheyi yanjiu 中古時期社邑研究 [The Study of Confraternities in Medieval China], Tang houqi Wudai Song chu Dunhuang sengni de shehui shenghuo 唐後期五代宋初敦煌僧尼的社會生活 [The Social Life of Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Dunhuang during the Late Tang, Five Dynasties, and the Early Song], Shishi xiejing: Dunhuang yishu 石室寫經——敦煌遺書 [Scriptural Manuscripts in Stone Chambers: Dunhuang Documents], Dunhuang de lishi he wenhua 敦煌的歷史和文化 [The History and Culture of Dunhuang] (co-author), and Dunhuang sheyi wenshu jijiao 敦煌社邑文書輯校 [A Critical Collection of Documents concerning Confraternities from Dunhuang] (co-author). In addition, he was the chief editor of Vol. 12–14 in a multi-volume collection of Dunhuang manuscripts which are preserved in the United Kingdom and have published a host of articles. His current primary work-in-progress is an investigation of Dunhuang documents kept in the U.K., with the goal of collecting and studying the data related to social history. This is one of the major research projects sponsored by the National Social Science Fund of China. The outcome of this project will be a 30-volume series Ying cang Dunhuang shehui lishi wenxian shilu 英藏敦煌社會歷史文獻釋錄 [Annotated Transcription of the Dunhuang Literature concerning Social History Preserved in the U. K.], of which 15 volumes have already been published. He has served in a wide range of institutions. These posts include President of the Institute of Dunhuang and Turfan Studies of China, Chief Editor of Dunhuang xue guoji lianluo weiyuanhui tongxun 敦煌學國際聯絡委員會通訊 [Newsletter of International Liaison Committee for Dunhuang Studies], chief editor of Dunhuang Tulufan yanjiu 敦煌吐鲁番研究 [Studies on Dunhuang and Turfan], and editorial member of Zhongguo shi yanjiu 中國史研究 [Journal of Chinese Historical Studies].


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