Thriving in Crisis: Buddhism and Political Disruption in China, 1522–1620 (The Sheng Yen in Chinese Buddhist Studies)

October 30, 2020
Thriving in Crisis: Buddhism and Political Disruption in China, 1522–1620 (The Sheng Yen in Chinese Buddhist Studies)

Late imperial Chinese Buddhism was long dismissed as havingdeclined from the glories of Buddhism during the Sui and Tangdynasties (589–907). In recent scholarship, a more nuanced pictureof late Ming-era Buddhist renewal has emerged. Yet this alternateconception of the history of Buddhism in China has tended to focuseither on doctrinal contributions of individual masters or theroles of local elites in Jiangnan, leaving unsolved broaderquestions regarding the dynamics and mechanism behind the evolutionof Buddhism into the renewal.Thriving in Crisis is a systematic study of the lateMing Buddhist renewal with a focus on the religious and politicalfactors that enabled it to happen. Dewei Zhang explores the historyof the boom in enthusiasm for Buddhism in the Jiajing-Wanli era(1522–1620), tracing a pattern of advances and retrenchment atdifferent social levels in varied regions. He reveals that theBuddhist renewal was a dynamic movement that engaged a wide swathof elites, from emperors and empress dowagers to eunuchs andscholar-officials. Drawing on a range of evidence and approaches,Zhang contends that the late Ming renewal was a politically drivenexception to a longer-term current of disfavor toward Buddhism andthat it failed to establish Buddhism on a foundation solid enoughfor its future development. A groundbreaking interdisciplinarystudy, Thriving in Crisis provides a new theoreticalframework for understanding the patterns of Buddhist history inChina.