Sichuan Religions Online Lecture Series

The Sichuan Religions Online Lecture Series presents some of the findings from the multi-year research project ‘Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan’, which is directed by Stefania Travagnin and Elena Valussi and funded by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange.

This project involves 13 core researchers, exploring different religious traditions in Sichuan, and it aims at revealing Sichuan’s religious diversity through the analysis of communities and networks, with a specific interest in intra- and inter- religious interactions.

In this online lecture series, members of the core research team as well as other scholars who are actively working on different aspects of religion in Sichuan share and discuss their exciting research findings.

The first part of this lecture series consists of 9 monthly talks, from October 2021 to June 2022, generally (but not always) held on the third Saturday of the month, on Zoom. Talks are scheduled at 2pm UK time; the lecture will last 50 minutes, it will be preceded by a few minutes of introduction and followed by a half hour open Q&A.

Following is the entire schedule. Please note that you need to register for the lectures using the listed registration links; each lecture has a separate registration and Zoom link. Please sign up for all the ones you are interested in. We will maintain a list of the emails of registered participants, in order to alert you of future lectures and recordings of past ones.

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Date16 OCTOBER 2021. 2:00 PM London Time
TitleFrom the Center to the Periphery: Buddhist Discourses in Modern Neijiang 內江
Speaker(s)Stefania Travagnin (SOAS, University of London)
AbstractStudies on modern history of Sichuan Buddhism have been limited mostly to a few protagonists and sites. However, an in-depth research on the history of Buddhism in Sichuan, from the Qing up to the mid twentieth century, reveals a richer picture, involving several rural and urban centers, overlapping monastic and lay networks, and a wide range of activities. This presentation will contribute to the current scholarship on the modern history of Sichuan Buddhism with the study of the Buddhist communities in the micro-area of Neijiang 內江, in central Sichuan. My research will show that ‘Neijiang Buddhism’ mirrors key features of Han Buddhism in modern Sichuan, elements of a unique local history and culture, but also shares significant patterns with the overall Chinese Buddhism during the first half of the twentieth-century. The paper will explore three main elements: the historical development of Shengshui Monastery 聖水寺; the impact of the lay intellectual Wang Enyang 王恩洋 (1897-1964), especially the Institute for the Study of Eastern Culture and Education東方文教研究院; the modern history of ‘invisible’ yet relevant female communities, like the Xilin Nunnery 西林寺 and the nun Yuanhui 圓慧 (1902-1984). This study will then bring the ‘periphery’ to the ‘center’, and reassess the concept of eminence and (in)visibility. 

Date13 NOVEMBER 2021, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleA Preliminary Study on the “Dipper Altar Dedicated to Wenchang”: Confucian Altars in Late Qing North Guizhou and its Sichuan Origin
Speaker(s)Hu Jiechen 胡劼辰 (Yuelu Academy, Hunan University)
AbstractDipper Altar attributed to Wenchang (Wenchang Doutan 文昌斗壇) was a community active in Guizhou area in Late Qing. The members produced several full-fledged collections of liturgical texts, namely Full Collection of Rituals in the Dipper Altar Attributed to Wenchang (Wenchang Doutan Quanke 文昌斗壇全科), “Ritual Systematisation of Wenchang (Wenchang Yizhi 文昌儀製), and Mysterious Documentation of Wenchang (Wenchang Midian 文昌秘典). The collections included varieties of rituals, especially Retreats for the deceased and Offerings for the deities, which were usually performed by Taoist ritual masters. They were nevertheless categorised as “Confucian” rituals by the editors. By comparing them with earlier texts, I will argue that these liturgical texts produced in late Qing Guzhou had several origins from early-mid Qing Sichuan, including: 1) Jin Bencun’s 金本存 Wenchang spirit-writing altars in Yongzheng and Qianlong reign; 2) the collection of Ritual Systematisation of Master Guangcheng (Guangcheng Yizhi 廣成儀製) in Qianlong reign; 3) the soteriological movements initiated by Longnü Temple 龍女寺 in Daoguang reign. And it was the Wenchang spirit-writing cult directed by Confucian literati that attempted to expand the boundary of “Confucian teaching” and absorb the ritual elements from Taoism and other traditions.

Date7 JANUARY 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleThe Twin-Monasteries: a Case Study of Urban Sacred Space in Sichuan
Speaker(s)Volker Olles (Sichuan University)
AbstractThe Longmen 龙门 (Dragon Gate) branch of Quanzhen Daoism spread rapidly across the area of Sichuan during the Kangxi reign (1662–1722) of the Qing dynasty, and the majority of Daoist temples in this region came under the management of Longmen masters. Two Quanzhen monasteries remain the most important Daoist sanctuaries in today’s Chengdu City. The first of these, the Qingyang gong 青羊宫, has a long history, it was and remains the major center of Quanzhen Daoism in Chengdu. Situated in close proximity to the Qingyang gong and regarded as the latter’s branch monastery, the Erxian an 二仙庵 was then turned into a public (shifang 十方) monastery, where large-scale ordinations were held, and was the location of a publishing and printing house for Daoist scriptures. Both Daoist monasteries maintained close contacts with the Liumen tradition in late Qing and Republican times. Based on the teachings of the Confucian scholar Liu Yuan 劉沅 (1768–1856), Liumen developed into a quasi-religious movement that constituted an important part of Sichuan’s civil society. The present splendor of the Qingyang gong is mainly based on extensive renovations that were funded by the Liumen community during the Qing dynasty. Furthermore, it appears that the Liu family and Liumen adherents sponsored liturgical festivals of the Qingyang gong and were involved in the publishing work of the Erxian an. Analyzing relevant epigraphical sources, this paper outlines the interaction between Liumen and the “twin-monasteries.”

Date19 FEBRUARY 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleElite Religiosity, Salvationist Tradition, and Social Networks of Wartime Chengdu Local Charities, 1937-1945
Speaker(s)Yan Yiqiao 延易橋 (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)
AbstractMuch of what has been written in English and Chinese about redemptive societies in Republic China shares the interpretation that these civic groups decreased in social importance during the Second Sino-Japanese War, gradually ceding their authority to the state. This document-based study of redemptive societies in wartime Chengdu questions this current understanding of the field by looking at crisis relief activities that flourished in the city during the 1940s. Rather than simply being locally organised and endorsed by local elites, like Wang Di, Stapleton and others conclude, these societies were led by the elites who were closely associated with government relief action at provincial and municipal levels. The social networks and activities of these social elites and their religious affiliations are therefore a crucial dimension to consider when examining the role of redemptive societies during the wartime. This study turns the focus to an analysis of the deeply rooted Daoist-influenced spiritual writing tradition that shaped the trajectory of the development of local charities. The archival files, social survey and other locally documented sources examined in this paper offer an opportunity to both deepen our understanding of Sichuan redemptive societies in the war years and to reflect on the broader historical development of modern Sichuan religion.

Date26 FEBRUARY 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleLay Daoism on Emeishan in the Nineteenth Century: the Case of Li Xiyue 李西月
Speaker(s)Elena Valussi (Loyola University Chicago)

This talk is part of a larger on project Sichuan Daoism in the late imperial period; it attempts to uncover a part of the history of Daoism that has not been fully analyzed, both in terms of the geographical area, and in terms of the time-period addressed. It discusses Li Xiyue 李西月(1806-1856) (Li Pingquan 李平權; Li Hanxu 李涵虛) an influential teacher, scholar and practitioner of Daoism, who was also the leader of a lay Daoist community, the Western school (Xipai 西派),located on Leshan 樂山, Sichuan. Li was devoted to Zhang Sanfeng 張三豐 and Lü Dongbin 呂東賓, two very popular gods he claims to have encountered nearby on an Emei 峨眉peak very close to Leshan, called Suishan 綏山. In his lifetime, Li Xiyue received and/or collected, several scriptures attributed to Zhang and Lü, on a variety of topics: Daoist inner alchemy, healing, Buddhism. Li likely also had these scriptures printed in the area and disseminated widely.

Date19 MARCH 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleCatholic Smalltown Life in Late-Qing Sichuan
Speaker(s)Lars Peter Laamann (SOAS, University of London)
AbstractThe Western missionaries who entered Qing China following the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858, concluded with resigned determination that China was a land of heathens, whose Christian beginnings had been extinguished after the Yongzheng edict of 1724. However, nothing could be farther removed from the truth. As the present paper will show, the communities founded by missionary congregations between 1600 and the 1720s continued to thrive, albeit by adapting to the changing political conditions. For Sichuan, the most important incision were not the missionary prohibition policies of the Yongzheng era, but the destruction wrought by the Three Feudatories warfare marking the middle of the Kangxi reign. In the subsequent economic reconstruction boom, millions of migrants arrived from other provinces, including many Christians. These Christian migrants either contributed to the existing Christian activity in the market towns and cities which they visited or even gained new converts, to their very own brand of Christianity. Importantly, most churches were not visible from the outside, being accommodated by wealthy Christian families in their homes. This paper cites evidence from the Baxian and Nanbu archives in historical Sichuan, combined with evidence from The Number One Historical Archives in Beijing and also some Western accounts.

Date16 APRIL 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleOrigin and Spread of the Chuanzhu 川主 Worship
Speaker(s)Zhang Chongfu 張崇富 (Sichuan University)
AbstractThe Chuanzhu 川主 worship is a cross-regional and cross-border cultural phenomenon, which is centred on the culture of water management. It is an important folk belief in China; yet, it still lacks a comprehensive and in-depth research. Historically, the Chuanzhu worship originated in Sichuan; it became soon extremely popular in southwestern provinces, in the Tibetan and Qiang regions, eventually spread throughout the whole country, and has even reached other areas in Southeast Asia, so to turn into a transnational phenomenon. This paper, which is based on historical documents and fieldwork research, discusses four main aspects of this religious and cultural reality: the paper will start with a discussion on toponymy of the Chuanzhu worship; the second part will provide an answer to the question “Who is Chuanzhu,” hence will shed light on the ambiguities around this deity; the third part of the presentation will explore the historical development and geographical spread of this belief; the final part of this study will explain texts and rituals associated to the worship of Chuanzhu.

Date21 MAY 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleTreasures that Transcend Space and Time: Causes and Connections in the Migration of the Lineage of Dorje Dechen Lingpa in Sichuan and Beyond
Speaker(s)Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (Occidental College)
AbstractTreasures (Tibetan: gter ma) are teachings hidden in the Tibetan landscape for revelation at appropriate moments in history. For Treasures to be revealed, there must be auspicious connections (Tibetan: rten ’brel) present, which include the appropriate revealer and location. Historically, many Treasure lineages came from parts of Kham that are now in Sichuan Province. However, these lineages have transcended their region of revelation, as teachers in Treasure lineages have become globally known. What happens when place of revelation is detangled from lineage? This paper will explore this question by studying the lineage of Dorje Dechen Lingpa (1857-1928). Dorje Dechen Lingpa’s principal seat was Domang Monastery in Kham, but he traveled throughout the Himalayas, and two of his reincarnations were born in Sikkim. One of them, Yangthang Rinpoche (1929-2016) spent his life between Sikkim, Sichuan, and Taiwan, where he had many Han Chinese students. This paper will examine how auspicious connections on local and transnational levels – including historical circumstances, sacred landscapes, and shared religious histories – contributed to the migration of this lineage beyond Sichuan. 

Date18 JUNE 2022, 2:00 PM London Time
TitleLocal Matters: A Socio-economic History of Monastic Reconstruction in Nineteenth-Century Sichuan
Speaker(s)Gilbert Chen 陳哲 (Towson University)
AbstractDuring the Qing, Chongqing (Sichuan in general) witnessed mass immigration, which fundamentally shaped many aspects of local life. I will rely on local archives to investigate the impact of migration on the local development of Buddhism. First, Buddhist monks migrated to Chongqing to rebuild deteriorated temples in the mid Qing. Here I’ll emphasize the previously unappreciated role of monks’ lay family members in facilitating this process. Monks often followed the footstep of their lay kinsmen who migrated to the same place. They often provided accommodations and financial support to their clerical relatives and facilitated the rebuilding process. Moreover, by the late Qing, Chongqing had become a migrant society in which lineage organizations were weak and the presence of the gentry class was minuscule. The porous social hierarchy in turn helped clerics establish themselves as a dominant presence in the rural society. One major source of clerical power was their control of sizable landholdings, a valuable type of asset in a mountainous and overpopulated society like nineteenth-century Chongqing. In sum, migration significantly shaped the formation of Buddhism in Qing Chongqing.