Narrating Miracles, Salvation, and Community: The Worlds of Proselytizing Storytellers in Premodern China
2: The Proselytizing Storyteller and His Social Networks in Tang Buddhist Miracle Tales
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 315
Indiana University, United States
Medieval Chinese Buddhist miracle tales have been studied for insights into the development of Chinese Buddhism in particular and religious culture in general. They have received relatively little attention from literary scholars, who tend to judge them as artistically crude and formulaic. This paper tries to bridge the disciplinary divide by attempting a new, paratextual reading of Tang Buddhist miracle tales, that is, a close analysis of epilogues to individual stories rather than the stories proper. I will use the Record of Miraculous Recompense (Mingbao ji 冥報記) compiled by the early Tang scholar-official and Buddhist layman Tang Lin 唐臨 (ca. 602–ca. 661) as a case study. I will dissect the epilogues included by him to show how he positioned himself as a proselytizing storyteller and represented his social networks. I will further situate the social networks in Tang Lin’s collection within the larger context of his social world, drawing from official histories and other relevant sources such as newly excavated tomb epitaphs. The composition of Tang Lin’s social networks within his collection and their connections to the broader social world illustrate the complex dynamics and hybrid nature of what I call the medieval “culture of informal storytelling” as a literary and social phenomenon. The analysis will also enable us to better understand how this culture of informal storytelling intersected with religious culture of the time.