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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 6.2 (2023): 159–230;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Local Society)

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Monastic and Political Culture in the Late Period of the Northern Dynasties: ‘National’ Monasteries, Political Districts, and Battle Sites

Bin WEI 魏斌
Wuhan University

Translated by Matthew ORSBORN

Abstract: During the medieval period, a system of official temples was established in Chinese history, with the imperial court assigning temple quotas to the various states of the country, most typically the Dayun Temples during the reign of Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 690–705), the Zhongxing 中興 or Longxing 龍興 Temples during the reign of Emperor Zhongzong 中宗, and the Kaiyuan 開元 Temples during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 712–756). This landscape of institutional temples, built upon the dynastic system of local government, served both the functions of a religious institution and a local administrative facility, and became a new cultural phenomenon that profoundly influenced both the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Its origins are often traced back to the Daxingguo Temple 大興國寺 system, which was established in the Daxingguo Monasteries in ‘the forty-five provinces he toured before ascension’ after the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty 隋文帝. However, the institutional and cultural influences of the Eastern Wei (534–550) and Northern Qi (550–577), as well as the Western Wei (535–557) and Northern Zhou (557–581), can be seen in most of the many systemic imperial monastic initiatives of the Sui period, including the Daxingguo Temple. This is precisely the question that this paper seeks to address: how did this monastic landscape, which was a combination of both a religious institution and a local administrative facility, come about? Did it have an earlier political and institutional cultural origin? And what kind of relationship between religion and the state did it embody?

Keywords: official temples (guansi 官寺), national temples (guosi 國寺), Wu Zetian 武則天, Emperor Zhongzong of the Tang 唐中宗, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang 唐玄宗, Emperor Wen of the Sui 隋文帝, Dayun Temple 大雲寺, Zhongxing Temple 中興寺, Longxing Temple 龍興寺, Kaiyuan Temples 開元寺, Daxingguo Temple 大興國寺


About the Author: Bin Wei is Professor of the School of History, Wuhan University. From 1994 to 2004, he studied in the Department of Library and the Department of History of Wuhan University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Ph.D. in History. He studied in the Faculty of Integrated Science, University of Tokushima, Japan, from 2007 to 2009, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard-Yenching Institute from 2015 to 2016. He has also conducted research at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of Peking University, the Centre d’Etudes Interdisciplinaires sur le Bouddhisme at Inalco, France, and the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. His main research interests include the history of the Wei and Jin dynasties and the history of the Middle Ages. He has published a monograph titled ‘Shanzhong’ de Liuchao shi ‘山中’的六朝史 [The History of the Six Dynasties ‘at the Mountains’] (SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2019), and a number of articles.

About the Translator: Matthew Orsborn is a Buddhist studies scholar originally from New Zealand. He was an ordained monastic with the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order from 2000 to 2017, and received his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Hong Kong, graduating in 2012. His dissertation on inverted parallel structures in the Perfection of Wisdom literature was later published as The Structure and Interpretation of Early Prajñāpāramitā: An Analysis via Chiasmic Theory, and he has several other journal articles on chiasmus in Buddhist texts. Working with Pāli, Sanskrit and Chinese literature, Matthew’s other main work is Old School Emptiness: Hermeneutics, Criticism and Tradition in the Narrative of Śūnyatā, which challenges the standard narrative of emptiness in Indian Buddhism. Along with such writings on Indian Buddhist literature and philosophy, Matthew’s experience in contemporary Chinese/Taiwanese Buddhist traditions has inspired him to recently turn his research attention to Chinese Buddhist monastic ordination, education, and the lived experience of monastic life. He has taught Buddhist studies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Australia, Thailand and UK. He is presently teaching at Dharma Drum College.


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.