Converting Buddhists for Socialism: Buddhism on Mt. Jiuhua in the Mao Era (1949–1976)
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316C
Ghent University, United States
Abstract: The “socialist reform” (shehuizhuyi gaizao) of Chinese Buddhism started with mass reeducation programs that aimed to indoctrinate and convert monastics into citizens for the new regime. This study focuses on one example of the process that happened to the Buddhist community on Mt. Jiuhua, a time-honored Buddhists center recognized as the abode of Dizang Bodhisattva since late imperial China. It investigates how the forced conversion was carried out and the ensuing devastation. To “reeducate” Buddhists, local cadres put monastics into study groups, which centered around government policies and current events. In the process, Buddhists were repeatedly asked to reveal their own personal history and latest thinking in written words, based on which they were evaluated and lined up politically. Cadres paid special attention to Buddhist leaders like Yifang (1912–1959), a famous monastic with a considerable following. As a left-leaning Buddhist, Yifang was later recruited into the newly founded Chinese Buddhist Association in Beijing as well as the national Buddhist diplomatic delegations in the 1950s. By utilizing archival materials revolving around Yifang, news about his diplomatic activities and leadership roles, and first-hand interviews with his families and monastic peers, the study demonstrates how Yifang was converted to a supporter of the socialist regime, the constant struggle he experienced, and the authority’s ambivalent attitudes towards Buddhism. It also sheds new light on the variant expressions of “religiosity,” including communist fever as a state-sponsored ideology and the complicated state-religion relationship in the Mao Era.