Jinhua Chen


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

A biographical study on Bukong (aka. Amoghavajra, 705-774): networks, institutions, and identities (2018)

This dissertation addresses the historical practices of the Buddhist monk Bukong, who is well known by his Sanskrit name Amoghavajra and recognized as the most important promoter of the Esoteric tradition of Vajroṣṇīṣa Yoga in medieval China. Bukong was of mixed descent, half Indian and half Sogdian, and he traveled widely throughout Asia. Spending most of his lifetime in Tang China, as a Buddhist missionary and court official, he devoted his life to combining a soteriological agenda with monastic service to the state. In this regard, his commitment was so pivotal to the Esoteric school that it gave the latter an institutional expression that distinguished it from other Buddhist traditions in China. The school thrived as vital part of the official institutions of the state and thus constituted a new mode of imperial Buddhism. Bukong’s biographical accounts became the primary context for the historical narratives and documentation of almost all events and issues related to Esoteric Buddhism at the time. Employing a wide variety of historical materials, this study presents a comprehensive biography of Bukong that has been long overdue in academia. The exploration that follows focuses on his political rise and the institutionalization of his Esoteric School in its heyday, revealing the posts held by monks as the religious functionary and official institutes provided for his yogin disciples. The success of Bukong and his school owed significantly to the political and military turbulence caused by the An Lushan rebellion. He contributed to the usurpation of Emperor Suzong and was rewarded with the imperial authorization of his Esoteric tradition and the initial institutionalization of the Esoteric practices. During the next reign, a victory over a foreign invasion widely convinced his contemporaries of the “miraculous” might of the Vajroṣṇīṣa Yoga and facilitated Emperor Daizong’s conversion into a royal yogin. The emperor’s devotion and secret association with Bukong became a powerful factor for the latter to weave an eclectic network that assembled various resources to support Buddhist institutions and projects. Bukong’s diverse achievements and social associations, however, led to the diversified perception of him in historical writings.

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Stupas in medieval China: symbols of Buddha, sacred buildings or tombs? (2012)

By studying textual material from a new prospective, this dissertation aims at uncovering how Chinese Buddhists understood Buddhist stūpas and whether they worshipped them. Though stūpas are not Buddhist inventions, they frequently appear in Buddhist scriptures, depicted as important Buddhist objects of worship symbolizing the Buddha after his nirvāṇa (or other Buddhist holy people) and representing his presence. Since stūpa worship is said to be of great importance to Buddhists’ cultivation, Buddhist vinaya literature contains a number of precepts regulating devotional acts performed for these objects that are intended to distinguish them from those of non-Buddhist cults and to limit worship to only those set up for the Buddha and other Buddhist holy people. These teachings concerning the connotations of stūpas and the importance of worship of them, however, did not prevail in Chinese Buddhist society. Then, how did Chinese Buddhists perceive and treat stūpas? This is what this dissertation focuses on. With the investigation scope limited to the Six Dynasties, it first provides a glimpse into the form of stūpa worship presented in Buddhist scriptures, and then discusses the ways in which Chinese people understood stūpas in capital cities and whether their belief in Buddhist relics and Aśokan legends evoked their worship. Finally, it examines whether funerary stūpas for the Buddhist order and laymen in China were set up according to the Buddhist scriptural tradition of stūpas. This dissertation shows that the ways in which Chinese people in the Six Dynasties understood stūpas were markedly different from those presented in Buddhist scriptures. They generally did not view them as the Buddha or other Buddhist holy figures, but as sacred buildings and even tombs. Instead of the Buddhist scriptural tradition of stūpas, their understanding of stūpas was more noticeably influenced by their own immortality belief, funerary customs, and ancestral worship. Stūpas established in the Six Dynasties were detached from their original symbolic meanings valued by Buddhist scriptural compilers, and were therefore of little significance in representing the Buddha. In terms of their symbolic meanings, they could hardly qualify as Buddhist stūpas defined in Buddhist scriptures.

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From entertainment to enlightenment: a study on a cross-cultural religious board game with emphasis on the Table of Buddha Selection designed by Ouyi Zhixu of the late Ming Dynasty (2011)

Based on textual sources and folk art works, this dissertation is an interdisciplinary investigation of three primary subject matters: the Chinese Buddhist device called the Xuanfo tu 選佛圖 (Table of Buddha Selection), its designer, Ouyi Zhixu 蕅益智旭 (1599-1655), who was a prominent patriarch of the Pure Land School, and a variety of similar religious devices found outside China. Since a religious device of this nature is rarely mentioned in any literature of Chinese Buddhism, one chapter is devoted to reconstructing the history of this device, including those embedded with terms of Buddhism as well as of other Chinese religions. For the same reason of lack of academic study, a historical survey of the game’s secular prototypes, the Shengguan tu 陞官圖 (Table of Bureaucratic Promotion), is also included. These surveys also contain cultural and political conditions under which this gambling-oriented prototype and its religious counterparts were created. Against these backgrounds, Xuanfo tu’s game board and its manual, the Xuanfo pu 選佛譜 (Manual of Buddha Selection), are analyzed contextually to help comprehend their contents and Zhixu’s intentions in creation and preaching. The later chapters continue to trace the cultural journey of the device to other Asian countries — Korea and Japan to the east of China and Tibet, Nepal, India, and Bhutan to the west. Similar religious devices are found to have been circulating in these areas for centuries. A comparative study of them yields fascinating insights that enrich our knowledge of the content and audiences of these games, how the game’s layouts help propagandize religious beliefs, and how these teachings relate to the religious practice of the times. This dissertation 1) demonstrates the roles of the device in spreading Zhixu’s teachings and reputation and generalizing Pure Land teachings during the Ming-Qing dynasties as an example of the Buddhist idea of upāya or expedient means, and 2) attempts to redraw attention to its basic function as a didactical tool and rediscover the otherwise unknown cross-border cultural phenomenon about the adoption of the game that have long been neglected by historians.

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A fragile revival: Chinese Buddhism under the political shadow, 1522-1620 (2010)

I aim to reveal in this dissertation the dynamics behind the evolution of the late Ming Buddhist revival as well as some of its general characteristics, mainly from the political perspective. This significant religious revival has proved to be intimately tied to politics. Studying these interactions reveals a remarkable and complicated process. I examine how the revival took place and was processed at different social levels in different regions over the one hundred years of the Jiajing-Wanli period (1522-1620). The more theoretic portion of this project seeks to understand how, why, and to what extent this revival was a reaction and adjustment to the contemporary political environment by referring to the relevant social, economic, religious, cultural, and regional backgrounds. In addition to close reading of textual and epigraphical materials, I consistently employ quantitative analysis, regional approach and cases studies in the mould of the French Annals School. My argument is that, profoundly influenced by a weak Buddhist institution and a structural weakness in the Ming government, the evolution of the late Ming Buddhist revival was not so much driven by the inner dynamics of Buddhism as by drastic changes in the overall lay society, among which the inner and outer court politics, although not always the decisive factor, always remained a catalyst for other factors. This revival fostered a stronger commitment to Buddhism in society and produced some charismatic Buddhist masters who were tremendously influential, but it remained fragile because its development was basically under the control of its patrons rather than the samgha itself. I suggest that we reconfigure our understanding of the Ming Buddhist revival. Specifically, I point out that a long-distance shift of the national Buddhist centre took place from Beijing to the Jiangnan region around the 1600s, and that it was propelled both by drastic changes in national politics and by distinct traits of local Buddhism. I explain how this revival could happen after Jiajing‘s discrimination against Buddhism, and why it would conclude later when the socioeconomic environment mostly remained unchanged. Key words include Buddhist revival, court politics, the mid- and late Ming, Beijing, and Jiangnan.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Following Faxian to Kasyapa's gate: relocating India in the 1692 Jizu shanzhi (2022)

This project examines the stories surrounding the association between Jizushan, a mountain in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, and one of Śākyamuni Buddha’s earliest disciples, Mahākāśyapa. Using hagiographies and pilgrimage record excerpts from a seventeenth-century Qing-commissioned gazetteer, the 1692 Jizu shanzhi, this project examines the strategies through which this text argues for Jizushan’s significance not only as a Chinese pilgrimage site, but also how it directly associates the Chinese mountain with early Indian Buddhism. Drawing from existing scholarly work on the formation and maintenance of sacred Buddhist sites and landscapes throughout Chinese history, this project identifies the overlapping strategies present in these gazetteer excerpts: using records of Faxian (337–422), an early Buddhist pilgrim from China to India, to suggest Jizushan has a lengthy Buddhist history, arguing based on these records that Jizushan is actually the same site identified in Indian scriptures, and as a result, making a claim that Jizushan is the site of Mahākāśyapa’s body. This constructed argument for the mountain’s importance to seventeenth century Chinese Buddhists succeeds because of the continual mythic importance of Indian Buddhism to the creation of new sacred sites In China and for the legitimacy offered by ongoing relic traditions.

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Exegesis-philosophy interplay: introduction to Fazang's (643-712) commentary on the Huayan jing (60 juans) [Skt. Avatamsaka Sutra; Flower garland sutra]-the Huayan jing tanxuan ji [record of investigating the mystery of the Huayan jing] (2021)

Huayan Buddhism represents a pinnacle of Chinese Buddhist metaphysics, and it owed its metaphysical outlook to the Huayan jing [Skt. Avataṃsaka sūtra; Flower Garland Sūtra]. In fact, for the most of its history, Huayan Buddhism remained only a loose constellation of Huayan commentators without the self-consciousness as an independent sect. A watershed moment came when Fazang (643-712), the third Huayan patriarch, systematized the Huayan exegesis into a full-fledged metaphysical system, which scholars came to call the “Huayan philosophy”. This theoretical feat sent Huayan Buddhism to the cusp of emerging as an independent tradition. It could thus be said that the formation of Huayan sect and Huayan philosophy had its root in exegesis. However, scholars tend to study Huayan Buddhism without heeding its organic process of emergence; and analyze Huayan philosophy without referencing the exegesis. The result is the incongruous situation in which an exegetical tradition is being ignored of exegesis; and Huayan Buddhism is being studied without the Huayan jing. This thesis represents my effort to return our attention back to exegesis, and to use exegesis as the context to study the formation of Huayan Buddhism and Huayan philosophy. For this purpose, no work is more relevant than Fazang’s magnum opus: the Huayan jing tanxuan ji [Record of Investigating the Mystery of the Huayan jing]. I will systematically introduce this notoriously long and obscure work, laying out a rudimentary roadmap for navigating the text, in addition to extracting Fazang’s interpretations on several key issues. I also wish to demonstrate how Fazang created the “Huayan philosophy” through exegesis. In this process, we will observe not only the coherence, but also the divergence, between the Huayan philosophy and the Huayan jing; and come to see that it is through a creative, dynamic exegesis that the textual elements of the Huayan jing are extracted and integrated into the Huayan worldview. By investigating this dynamic process, we could appreciate Fazang’s philosophy in a fresh light; and detect the connections between the philosophy and the text that has given rise to it.

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The Feminist Buddha: Buddhist nuns in contemporary Chengdu and their nuanced approach to progress, agency, and leadership (2020)

This thesis explores the relationship between gender and Buddhism as it applies to conceptions of feminist progress, agency and leadership in contemporary Chengdu. These ideas are investigated using analysis of ethnographic field research conducted at three Chengdu nunneries, Aidaotang 愛道堂, Tiexiangsi 鐵像寺, and Jinsha’an 金沙庵, from May to August 2019. During these months, surveys were distributed inquiring into various aspects of the female religious experience. By combining survey data with the broader context of religion in Chengdu, this research reflects on the experiences of women in a Buddhist monastic institution and the lasting impact of “charismatic” female leadership by the nun, Longlian 隆蓮 (1909–2006).Furthermore, this thesis aims to bring attention to the lesser heard voices of ordinary Buddhist nuns. Through analysis of the views expressed in regard to the eight gurudhammas, education, and ordination procedures, this thesis demonstrates how these contemporary Chinese Buddhist women perceive of their relationship to Buddhism through a simultaneous combination of feminist notions and adherence to strict monastic discipline. By utilizing the lesser heard voices of these Buddhist nuns, this thesis highlights variations in the religious experiences of Buddhist women and presents a nuanced approach to feminist values in a monastic environment along the lines of progress, agency, and leadership.

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Zhu Shunshui (1600-1682) - the influence of, on and via him during his lifetime (2017)

Of the many Chinese who sought refuge in Japan during the middle of the seventeenth century, Zhu Shunshui 朱舜水 (1600-1682) is perhaps one of the most talked about. He fled China in 1645. In 1659, giving up all hopes on the restoration of the fallen Ming dynasty 明朝 (1368-1644) after fifteen-year’s unfruitful efforts, Shunshui decided to sojourn in Japan and sworn not to return until the Manchu 滿族 regime is driven out of China. During his stay in Japan, the prominent Mito 水戶domain lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni 徳川光圀 (1628-1701) hired him as his teacher. Mitsukuni is the founding father of the Mitogaku 水戸学, one of the most important schools of thought in Edo period (1603-1867). This school aimed to reconstruct the historiography of Japan by Chinese Neo-Confucianism principles so as to promulgate indigenous Shinto beliefs and absolute loyalty to the emperor. The close relationship between Shunshui and Mitsukuni, and the involvement of Shunshui’s students in projects initiated by Mitsukuni, including the compilation of the Dai Nihon Shi 大日本史 (The History of the Great Japan, 1906), make some scholars believe that Shunshui has dominant influence on Japan’s Neo-Confucian thoughts, if not all Edo thoughts, as well as far-fetching inspiration on Meiji Ishin 明治維新 (the Meiji Restoration, 1868). But the flow of information among brains and its effect on recipient is too dynamic to be measured. Cultural influence over time is even more difficult to trace. By investigating Shunshui’s relationship with different people and his involvement in various events in Japan during his life time, this paper aims to clarify whether the general beliefs on his influence are plausible. In case when the findings are negative, the paper will look into the causes and suggest where Shunshui’s should be.

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