Stefania Travagnin

Fieldwork Notes 2015-2016

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.

Fieldwork Photos 2015-2016

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Fieldwork Notes 2nd year [March 2019]

‘Han Buddhism intra-religious networks in Chengdu/Sichuan’ 

As for the sub-project ‘Han Buddhism intra-religious network in Chengdu/Sichuan’, I made some adjustment to my initial proposal, which wanted to focus only on urban Chengdu. I decided to look at the entire Sichuan, focusing then also on rural areas. Moreover, I selected two specific perspectives, Buddhist education and female communities, for the analysis of the modern history of Sichuan Han Buddhism. Therefore, this sub-project will unpack ‘Buddhist education networks’ (佛教教育网络) and ‘female Buddhist networks’ (女性佛教网络) that developed in modern Sichuan. Buddhist education has been further divided into ‘social education’ (社会教育), ‘Sangha education’ (僧教育) and ‘military education’ (军民教育).

In this trip, major attention has been devoted to ‘Sangha education’ and ‘military education’. I visited several temples and, thanks to my contacts in the Sichuan branch of the Buddhist Association of China and the Sichuan University, I could arrange for interviews with leading monks and nuns. I also worked in provincial libraries, temples and city archives.

I have unpacked important ‘Sangha education networks’ centred on the figures of leading monks like Shengqin 圣钦 (1869-1964), 遍能 (1906-1997), 昌圆 (1879-1943), and the lay intellectual Wang Enyang 王恩洋 (1897-1964). As for the latter, I have also researched an important Sichuan-Nanjing cross-province network centred on him and his lecturing career. As for the ‘military education’, the Baoguang monastery 宝光寺 served as key case study.

Several articles are being drafted and will be submitted shortly.

‘Religious Diversity/Inter-Religious Networks in Qingyang District’

I visited all the sacred sites in Qingyang 青羊 district that were important in the late Qing-Republican period, and are still present (some even active) today: the two mosques 皇城清真寺 and 鼓楼清真寺, the Protestant church 上翔街礼拜堂, the Catholic church 平安桥天主堂, the Daoist temples 二仙庵 and 娘娘廟, and the Buddhist temples 文殊院, 爱道堂, and 金沙庵. I took photos of those sites, interviewed their devotees and religious personnel, and also collected data the sites themselves, the Sichuan Provincial Library, city archives, and the library of the Sichuan University.

This was just a preliminary survey, in preparation of a later trip (to be done in the end of 2019 or sometime in 2020) that will be devoted to unpack dynamics of the inter-religious networks in the district. I will look at the situation in the Republican period but also at the status quo today.

Fieldwork Photos – ‘Han Buddhism intra-religious networks in Chengdu/Sichuan’ 

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Fieldwork Photos – ‘Religious Diversity/Inter-Religious Networks in Qingyang District’

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Fieldwork Notes 2nd year [August 2019]

During this summer trip to China I focused on the sub-project ‘Han Buddhism intra-religious networks in Chengdu/Sichuan’. I decided to postpone interviews and archive work on the sub-project ‘religious diversity/inter-religious networks in Qingyang district’ to the first half of 2020.

Like I did in March 2019, I visited several temples and, thanks to my contacts in the Sichuan branch of the Buddhist Association of China and the Sichuan University, I could arrange for interviews with leading monks and nuns. I visited and researched the following sites, also interviewing resident monastics and screening their libraries. I also collected data from the Sichuan Provincial Library, city archives, the library of the Sichuan University, and the library at the Konglin Buddhist seminary and the Sichuan Mt. Emei Buddhist Institute.

Following the adjustments to my initial proposal and the first findings from the visit in March 2019, I continued addressing the following six main subjects.

The monk Changyuan 昌圆 (1879-1945), his role in developing Buddhist education for nuns in Chengdu, and his overall position in Republican Sichuan Buddhism. With the help of nuns from Aidao Hall 爱道堂, I conducted visits and interviews to temples in Pidou 郫都区 district (which was called Pi county 郫县 in the Republican period), like Pingle temple 平乐寺, Zhongxing nunnery 中兴寺, Huguo temple 护国寺, Zhuyin nunnery 竹隐寺, and Sakyamuni bridge 释迦乔, and Wenjiang district; Changyuan was native of Pi county, and active especially in Pi and Wenjiang counties. I have also interviewed elderlies from the area who met Changyuan when they were little, and a writer of the gazetters of Pi county.

The theme of ‘military education’ (junmin jiaoyu 军民教育) and the role of Sichuan monks in the second Sino-Japanese war (1931/1937-1945) as soldiers (defined as 僧兵 and 军僧). Archives presented the most important material on the topic; however I could find interesting photos in the Jianchuan museum 建川博物馆 (Dayi 大邑), and Baoguang monastery 宝光寺, which indeed hosted the militaries from the late 1930s.

The monk Bianneng 遍能 (1906-1997), who is a key case study for my research, as he was born in the end of the Qing dynasty and lived through the first Republican period, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Cultural Revolution, and the beginning of the new opening to religion afterwards. Bianneng is the leading figure of a ‘diachronic network’ but also crossed several other Buddhist networks during his career. Active in several Buddhist areas like Mt. Emei, Leshan, Chengdu, and Chongqing, he is considered the most important figure in Sichuan for the development of Sangha education. I visited his Wuyou temple 乌尤寺 in Leshan, interviewed his living disciples at Wuyou temple and Sichuan Mt. Emei Buddhist Institute.

I did some in-depth research on Buddhism in Suining 遂宁, visiting Guangde monastery 广德寺, Qingfu nunnery清福寺, Jingye Chan Female Institute 敬业禅院. Suining is well-known for a wide-spread devotion to Guanyin 观音信仰, and the development of practices from ‘folk Buddhism’ (民间佛教). Besides collecting material on nuns from the late Qing and Republican time, I also gathered unpublished sources of key monks in the Republican period like Qingfu 清福 and Changnian 长念.

I visited a very important nunnery, since the Republican period, in Neijiang 内江, the Xinlin nunnery 西林寺. I also interviewed residents of the male Shengshui temple 圣水寺, thanks to the help of the abbot Zhihai 智海. Shengshui temple was also venue of the Dongfang Cultural and Religious Institute 东方文教研究院, opened and run by the lay Wang Enyang 王恩洋.

The ‘Sichuan-Nanjing inter-provincial network’, centred on the figure of Wang Enyang, was explored also via a three-day visit to Nanjing, and especially interviews to the Jiangsu Buddhist Association and Jinling Scriptural Press.

Fieldwork Photos 2nd year [August 2019]

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