Fieldwork Notes 1st year: 2017-2018

My first year of research for the Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan project was very fruitful and inspiring. In May and June, I traveled from Chengdu to Kangding and then onto Dege, the home of the major Tibetan language woodblock printing house, the Derge Parkhang (Ch: Dege Fojingyuan).

Derge Printing House
Derge Printing House (Dege Fojingyuan), Derge (Ch. Dege), June 2018

On my way back, I stopped in Luhuo, Ganzi and Tagong on the way to Kangding in order to see what was happening in these areas and collect materials.

Muya Golden Pagoda, Lhagang (Ch. Tagong), June 2018
Muya Golden Pagoda, Lhagang (Ch. Tagong), June 2018

What immediately struck me in both urban and rural settings was just how much activity is taking place. Along with the huge scale infrastructure projects underway in this part of China that facilitates easy transport, there are major construction projects underway for renovating old monasteries and building new monastic schools.

Many temples and monasteries are attracting huge tour buses filled with potential new sponsors and, as a result, are in the process of building accommodation, shopping and dining facilities to cope with increased interest.

Additionally, enormous public monuments illustrating Buddhism’s continuing influence in these areas are very visible. Mantras created from white stones and tents made from prayer flags are scattered throughout the countryside and surrounded by yaks and dzo; enormous new statues of Guru Rinpoche are found even on high treacherous mountain passes; and, despite regulations around monasticism, monastics are everywhere.

Prayer flags near Domang Gompa, June 2018
Prayer flags near Domang Gompa, June 2018

In Chengdu and Kangding, shops and restaurants are promoting Tibetan chic to attract customers in both glaringly capitalistic and culturally subversive ways. However, these are not all new developments, but are manifestations of deeper histories that I have written about in previous work and am excited to continue with for this project.

There is therefore a lot to write about, and I have a number of ideas I want to follow up on this year. Many of these extend beyond my original plans for the project, but I hope will enrich the representation of Tibetan Buddhism in the Sichuanese religious landscape.