During my first trip to Chengdu I did research on a small nunnery, the Jinsha Nunnery (Jinsha’an 金沙庵), via archival research and interviews to the resident nuns.
Jinsha Nunnery is located in Qingyang district, which is a very important area for the religious landscape in Chengdu as it hosts sacred sites and religious communities belonging to all the five official religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestant Christianity); this is also the district of the famous Manjusri Monastery (Wenshu yuan 文殊院) and Aidao Hall (Aidao tang 爱道堂). The nunnery is built on a tiny and busy commercial alley, with the main gate quite hidden by surrounding shops.
Jinsha is a small community of twenty nuns, but it is also a temple from the Qing dynasty, and whose history includes the succession of thirteen generations of nuns, which is a rare and remarkable achievement in the female history of Buddhism. The photos of the abbesses representative of those thirteen generations are all enshrined together in a pagoda; this ‘pagoda’ is not merely a memorial of the succession of 13 abbesses, it is a the collective memory of what I call ‘Jinsha community’. Moreover, those portraits reconstruct the history of a community that goes beyond the borders of Jinsha, and it shows how temples and networks intersect and develop in a micro-area.
After research in the city and provincial archives, and in the archives of the Sichuan office of the Buddhist Association of China I found that Jinsha Nunnery has contributed tremendously to a few religious networks: the larger Buddhist network in the city of Chengdu and surrounding areas, and the inter-religious network of the Qingyang district and of Chengdu and suburbs.
An article on the Jinsha community will be published shortly.