Zhe Ji, Gareth Fisher, André LalibertéFeb 24, 2021
Buddhism after Mao
Negotiations, Continuities, and Reinventions
University of Hawaii Press 2020
With over 100 million followers, Buddhism in the People's Republic of China now fosters the largest community in the world of individuals who self-identify as Buddhists. Although Buddhism was harshly persecuted during the Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Mao Zedong, Buddhist communities around the country were able to revive their traditions in various ways since the 1980s.
In the post-Mao era, Buddhism in China has been able to become a more visible, social, and cultural phenomenon. The editors of Buddhism after Mao: Negotiations, Continuities, and Reinventions (U Hawaii Press, 2020), Ji Zhe, Gareth Fisher, and André Laliberté observes: "Numerous temples and monasteries have received official permission and even encouragement to rebuild and expand, and the party-state has directly engaged Buddhist groups in activities to promote social welfare, national unity, and the PRC's soft power." Despite Buddhism's current size and influence in the PRC, the editors argue, it has received relatively little scholarly attention. Together with nine other scholars of modern and contemporary Buddhism in China, Buddhism After Mao attempts to fill this gap.
Ji, Fisher, and Laliberté point out that first of all, the rapid growth of Buddhism in the past few decades and its continued survival into the future has depended on the maintenance of a careful balance between varying interests and demands. This balance is achieved through negotiation, continuities, and reinventions, which also categorize the chapters of the book.
On the one hand, Buddhists have been negotiating with the post-Mao authoritarian and atheist state to maintain or expand legal spaces for Buddhist practices. On the other hand, Buddhists have been expected to rebuild or maintain continuities with the past to stay "legitimate" in both the state and society's eyes. However, through these processes of tension and negotiation, the contributors of the volume also observe innovations and inventions in Buddhist communities in contemporary China, which have emerged from both design and necessity on both discursive and practical levels.
Daigengna Duoer is a Ph.D. student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara.