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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 6.2 (2023): 111–158;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Local Society)

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Religion as a Binding Force in Urban Society: The 1313–1314 Restoration of the Travelling Palace of the Eastern Marchmount in Changxing Prefecture (Zhejiang)

Barend J. TER HAAR
University of Hamburg

Abstract: Since Tim Brook’s Praying for Power (1993) we have come to appreciate the ongoing power of Buddhist religious tradition on all social levels, with the late Ming revival of a remarkably strong link between socio-educational elites and Lower Yangzi region Buddhist monasteries as one particularly clear example. Nonetheless, there are also differences or what we might call roads not taken. While elites connected to local monasteries in more ways than one, by the 1600s these monasteries did not organise society in the same way as local temple networks did. We might not expect this in the first place, but epigraphical evidence and colophons to Buddhist sūtras, for instance, demonstrate that in various places in Song-Jin-Yuan China Buddhist traditions were an important social force that far transcended doctrinal boundaries. In this contribution I analyse an inscription from the year 1314 as an example of the role of some Buddhist monasteries in structuring local society, from local officials and local militia to local guilds and traders. Apparently, something did get lost between the late Yuan and late Ming periods, even if the power of Buddhist ritual and devotional practices certainly continued to exert a strong appeal, whether connected to monasteries or new religious groups or otherwise.

Keywords: inscriptions, Dongyue 東嶽, White Cloud Tradition (Baiyun zong 白雲宗), guilds, Buddhism, Daoism, Changxing 長興


About the Author: Barend ter Haar teaches Chinese studies at the University of Hamburg, with a strong focus on cultural and religious history. Although first of all a social and cultural historian, the religious dimension is so central to Chinese traditional life that much of his research up to now has dealt with religious phenomena. In addition, he has worked extensively on issues of ethnic identity, violence and fear, and social organisation. An important concern of his is to demonstrate that traditional culture and cultural patterns are still relevant today, as becomes visible for instance in the case of the Falun Gong or the ongoing role of exorcist violence in political contexts throughout the twentieth century. Amongst other things, he published a book on a lay Buddhist group called the Non-Action Teachings (late sixteenth century to the present), which came out in 2014 with Hawai‘i University Press as Practicing Scripture: A Lay Buddhist Movement in Late Imperial China. More recently he published Guan Yu: The Religious Afterlife of a Failed Hero in 2017 with Oxford University Press, and Religious Culture and Violence in Traditional China in 2019 with Cambridge University Press. He has just finished a monograph on Chinese fears and accusations of witches and witchcraft.


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