Yan Yiqiao received his B.A. in History from Ohio University and M.A. and M.Phil. in Chinese Studies from the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is currently finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. His research interests include the history of modern China, modern Chinese religion, the history of World War II in Asia, and the social history of modern Chinese Buddhism.
His dissertation, titled, “Charity, Ritual, and Spiritual Work in Wartime Chengdu and Chongqing, 1938-1946,” will examine critical interactions between religious groups (Buddhist, Daoist-influenced redemptive societies, and Christian) and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist state in response to wartime crisis conditions in Chengdu and Chongqing from 1938 to 1946. The Republican period in China is usually considered as a moment of rapid secularization and conflictual separation between the state and the various religious traditions. The Sino-Japanese war, followed by the Civil War however, along with massive loss of life and social disruption, created new parameters for relations between the state and religions, with more intense cooperation and entirely new modes of accommodation, the consequences of which lasted long after the end of the war. By examining the three levels of significant developments that arose from this wartime moment, his study questions current understandings of both the state and these religious groups by proposing an alternative to the overly simplistic and distorting zero-sum game, state-society contest for power framework.
Previously he has worked on the case study of a Sichuan-based lay Buddhist devotee Yuan Huanxian袁焕仙and the origin of Chan Buddhist lay 居士禪activism in 1940s Sichuan. His M.Phil. thesis explores the civic influence of Buddhist monks and lay Buddhist local elites in Chengdu and Chongqing and their efforts in managing the wartime crisis in the two cities during the Second Sino-Japanese War. His interview with Franciscus Verellen on Daoism and Daoist studies appeared in the Journal of Taoist Studies道教學刊（vol.5, 2020).
Fieldwork Notes 2017-2019
My previous research project was to study the influence of a Sichuan-based lay Buddhist Master, Yuan Huanxian袁煥仙, and to examine the origin of Chan Buddhist lay activism 居士禪in 1940s Sichuan. Before I was off to Yanting county鹽亭縣 from Chengdu to conduct my fieldwork in June 2017, I had gone through some of the official publications, including Yanting wenshiziliao鹽亭文史資料, Yanting gazetteers鹽亭縣志, the writings of Yuan Huanxian袁煥仙著述全集, memoirs, and other locally sourced documents, to be well prepared for the trip. Soon after I had reached the Longgujin Village龍顧井where Yuan Huanxian was born, I discovered that this place was also home to another renowned Sichuan revolutionist, Yuan Shirao袁詩蕘, who is of great importance not only to the understanding of the locality and its local history but also to the early development of Communism in Republican Sichuan.
I had the opportunity to talk to Yuan Huanxian’s nephew, who showed me around their old house, giving me a detailed account of fascinating family stories as well as their connections with Yuan’s disciple, Nan Huaijin. Aside from collecting local documents and conducting oral interviews at fieldwork site, one thing that struck me the most was the massive scale of infrastructure projects that had been taking place in the Longgu village. Wandering around the village, one cannot help but notice the huge concrete pillars that had been put up in the place for the construction of a high-speed railway road. This, of course, inevitably lead to the disproportionate destruction of old houses and temples in the village.
During the month of my stay in Chengdu in 2017, I was well occupied. I was first met by Dr. Wu Hua, and we walked around the city and visited many temples. I threw myself upon Dr’ Wu’s hospitality, and with his help, I had the opportunity to form new friendships and to collect Buddhist materials that I was unable to find and see before. One of the places that we went to was the library inside Wenshu Monastery. It was indeed very interesting to see various kinds of books and reading materials that they have collected for monks as well as for the public who might have a genuine interest in reading them at a Buddhist temple. The meeting with monk X at a teahouse next to Wenshu monastery was also very inspiring (and the tea was great)! Besides what I had seen in the public Buddhist library, I was also told by the senior monk X that other writing documents, including temple records, legal documents, temple property land contracts of both the Qing period and early republican era, were well preserved at its Zangjingge 藏經閣. Although Wenshu Monastery had no intention to publicize them at the moment, I heard that they in fact, were planning to sort out all the writing documents in a systematic order and considering opening some of its collections to scholars.
I came back to Chengdu the next year. This time I had devoted most of my time reading documents in local archives (the Chengdu Municipal Archives, the Sichuan Provincial Archives, as well as the Jinniu District Archives 金牛區檔案館) and collecting materials at the two libraries (the Sichuan Provincial Library and Chengdu municipal library)
At the Sichuan Provincial Library, I spent one productive week at its Reading Room for Preserved Books 保存本閱覽室, which is located on the third floor of the library. With the help of the book, 四川省各圖書館館藏中文舊期刊聯合目錄（published in 1959）, I was able to quickly locate all the materials that I wanted to read in advance, and then indulged myself in reading through locally sourced republican journals and newspapers.