This paper’s topic is religion (primarily Buddhism and Confucianism) in China and its influence on the Chinese people. The articles and books chosen for this paper will refer to 20th and 21st century China. The topic was selected because the impact of religion in China is, in many ways, unique and cannot be compared to other countries.
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In the article “Concepts and Institutions for a New Buddhist Education: Reforming the Saṃgha between and within State Agencies,” Stefania Travagnin discusses the opposition between Buddhist education and Western education in China the beginning of the 20th century. The importance of Chinese tradition in education was supported by many, which eventually resulted in demand for drastic education changes during the Republican era1 When secular education was implemented in 1928, the monks Taixu and Jichen firmly supported it. 2 The significant changes in Buddhist education began in the 20th century when Christianity and Japanese institutions influenced education.3
Buddhist education eventually adopted the approaches used in secular schools (the monks called it “school format”), but only in the 1920s Buddhist seminaries allowed monks to study such subjects as astrology and biology. Psychology and biology were officially added to the curricula in 1923, and the monk Taixu stated that there were similarities between Western psychology and Chinese Zen.4 Additional programs were created for student-monks; these programs reflected the multilevel education at secular schools. Eventually, Buddhist education reformers agreed that secular knowledge was to be considered when clerical education was transformed. This learning material points out the influence of secular education on Buddhist education and the reformations that happened in clerical schools in the 20th century, which is essential for understanding the transformation of Buddhism.
The next article discusses the influence of Buddhism on China-Singapore relations in 1982-1990.5 The author argues that the Venerable Hong Choon’s respectful approach to Buddhism and the followers of the religion helped improve China-Singapore relations and positively influenced the communication between the two states. The first two visits allowed the Venerable Hong Choon to establish good relationships with the religious officials in China; in 1982 and 1983, the Venerable met political and religious leaders Zhao Puchu and the Panchen Lama.6 It is also possible that Venerable’s role in promoting Chinese Buddhism at the global level was significant.7 It was exciting for me to find out that his visits eventually led to establishing official diplomatic ties between China and Singapore in 1990.
During the next visits, the Venerable met China’s highest officials, including Ulanfu (乌兰夫), China’s vice-chairman8 Later, the Venerable took part in discussions of political questions. Eventually, he invited the inter-faith organization IRO (Singapore) to China; the organization met with high-ranking politicians, although it was their first visit. The Chinese government organized the next visits, and religion was used to foster ties with the religious leaders from Singapore. Although the aims of the Chinese government were evident to Singapore, further invitations were supported by the government of Singapore and the Buddhist communities of both countries.
The next paper examines the gender differences in China and how these differences were reflected in technology and religion. The author points out that the concept of embroidery, seen as a “female” activity today, was influenced by Confucianism and Buddhism, where the strict differences between males and females (“men plow; women weave”) remain partially unchanged even today. However, the author also points out that pictorial textiles were seen as a form of painting and highly praised during the late Ming. The author points out that this was an attempt to colonize the female market of art and craftsmanship.
Even though religious views heavily influenced the perception of embroidery, there was a period in history when the predominantly “female” art was evaluated with male scholar’s criteria and even seen as “male” sometimes (when it was commercially profitable).9 This article is highly relevant because it does not only show how technologies and art can be influenced by religion, but it also displays how the differences in “male” and “female” activities are created. That is why scholars need to be attentive to the periods and eras during which a paper or a document was written10. It is possible to assume that historical documents are influenced by subjective opinions, which, in turn, are influenced by religion or religious movements.
The following article investigates the influence of Buddhism on Chinese society and how this religion works as a social force.11 The post-Mao revival of Buddhism is large, although statistical information about the possible percentage of Buddhist followers is scarce. Nevertheless, the author provides several hypotheses, and one of them discusses the possibility of Buddhism becoming a reference for political protest. However, unlike other religious movements, Chinese Buddhism does not have a charismatic leader because China’s political environment does not allow it.12 Although Buddhist leaders can invest their capital into religious facilities and monuments, they do not have the power to organize any social protest because it is dangerous.
The author also assumes that Buddhism can become a civil religion in Taiwan, where nongovernmental religious organizations contribute to the development of society and invest in it.13 Religious actors in China cannot establish movements that contradict the state’s politics, although they do have the opportunity to make citizens more compassionate and caring.
The author concludes that the government also uses Buddhism as soft power, which can be used in foreign affairs to improve and establish diplomatic ties. As it seems, Christianity and Confucianism gain more attention and power compared to Buddhism, which can eventually adversely influence Buddhism’s spread.14 I assumed that Buddhism had more power over social and governmental movements, and the information about its relatively weak positions was new to me.
The last source investigates the influence of Buddhism on the perception of tourists by Buddhist monks and nuns.15 The authors point out that monks and nuns see tourists both from a mundane and religious perspective. From the mundane point of view, tourists can be separated into three groups (Shinshis, Xiankes, and Jushis), while from the Buddhist point of view, they are equal. However, only the third group is perceived as “real Buddhists” because they want to learn Buddhism.16 Talking from the Buddhist perspective, most monks and nuns agree that the visitors are the same, and all carry a Buddhist seed (a good virtue)17.
Therefore, the author points out, these monks and nuns have a dual perspective on tourism to sacred places, and this view includes both a secular and a religious connotation. Although some of the interviewed participants agreed that tourists could evoke annoyance, others emphasized the importance of staying calm and not letting the disturbances reach one’s mind18. Furthermore, most interviewees agreed that tourism allows them to get people more acquainted with Buddhism and teach them about the religion if they ask for it. It was exciting for me to find out that monks and nuns prefer seeing leisure tourists as “future Buddhists”, while pilgrims are seen as Buddhism practitioners or devotees.
Chia, Jack Meng Tat. “Buddhism in Singapore–China Relations: Venerable Hong Choon and His Visits, 1982–1990.” The China Quarterly 196, no. 1 (2008): 864-883.
Co, Dorothy. “Epilogue: Textiles, Technology, and Gender in China.” EASTM 36, no. 1 (2012): 167-176.
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Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Keown, Damien. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2013.
Li, Zhe. “Chinese Buddhism as a Social Force.” Chinese Sociological Review 2, no. 2 (2012): 10.
Travagnin, Stefania. “Concepts and Institutions for a New Buddhist Education: Reforming the Saṃgha between and within State Agencies.” East Asian History 39, no. 1 (2014): 89-102.
Wong, Cora Un In, Alison McIntosh, and Chris Ryan. “Buddhism and Tourism Perceptions of the Monastic Community at Pu-tuo-shan, China.” Annals of Tourism Research 40, no. 2 (2012): 213-234.
- Stefania Travagnin, “Concepts and Institutions for a New Buddhist Education: Reforming the Saṃgha between and within State Agencies,” East Asian History 39, no. 1 (2014): 94.
- Ibid., 95.
- Ibid., 96.
- Jack Meng Tat Chia, “Buddhism in Singapore–China Relations: Venerable Hong Choon and His Visits, 1982–1990,” The China Quarterly 196, no. 1 (2008): 864.
- Ibid., 872.
- Ibid., 873.
- Ibid., 847.
- Dorothy Co, “Epilogue: Textiles, Technology, and Gender in China,” EASTM 36, no. 1 (2012): 174.
- Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2013), 55.
- Zhe Li, “Chinese Buddhism as a Social Force,” Chinese Sociological Review 2, no. 2 (2012): 10.
- Ibid., 19.
- Ibid., 20.
- Ibid., 23.
- Cora Un In Wong, Alison McIntosh, and Chris Ryan, “Buddhism and Tourism Perceptions of the Monastic Community at Pu-tuo-shan, China,” Annals of Tourism Research 40, no. 2 (2012): 214.
- Ibid., 224.
- Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 144.
- Ibid., 230.