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15.12.2019 15:54 Alter: 44 days

Historical Mirror for the Contemporary World

Call for Papers

Theme: Historical Mirror for the Contemporary World
Subtitle: The Sinification of Buddhism through the Perspective of World History and Globalization
Type: International Conference
Institution: Wutai Research Institute for Eastern Buddhist Culture
  Center of Buddhist Studies, University of Hong Kong
  Research Center for Buddhist Texts and Arts, Peking University
  From the Ground Up Project, University of British Columbia
Location: Hong Kong & Mount Wutai (China)
Date: 5.–8.6.2020
Deadline: 1.2.2020

The organizing committee for the international conference on
“Historical Mirror for the Contemporary World: The Sinification of
Buddhism through the Perspective of World History and Globalization”
cordially invites the submission of related papers.

The conference is organized by the Wutai Research Institute for
Eastern Buddhist Culture in Shanxi, China, co-organized by the Center
of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong, Research Center
for Buddhist Texts and Arts (RCBTA) at Peking University, and the
From the Ground Up project based at the University of British
Columbia ( The conference will be held between June
5 and June 8, 2020 in the Center of Buddhist Studies at the
University of Hong Kong (June 5-6, 2020) and the Great Bamboo Grove
Monastery on Mount Wutai (June 7-8, 2020).

From the perspective of the global history, when the teachings of
Buddhism first arrived in the heartland of China around the first
century CE, East Asia had just started what would become an ongoing
exchange with Central and South Asia. Influence from the Han Empire
already had spread to Central Asia, and as a result, at least two
civilizations communicated with one another through various channels
to allow for diverse cultural interactions and fusion. Buddhism, in
this context, was one of among many players to participate in this
rich cultural dynamic.

Buddhism, as a product of a foreign culture from the Chinese
perspective, underwent an extended period of adaption and
intermingling with indigenous cultures before many teachings were
altered by the seventh century, which gave rise to a distinct Chinese
Buddhist tradition that embodied the spirit of a new and vibrant host
culture. Meanwhile, the Chinese Buddhism religion spread across East
and Southeast Asia, generating a novel Chinese Buddhist sphere of
influence with the classical Chinese language as its lingua franca.
Against this backdrop of world history and globalization, the spread
of Buddhism transcends a singular cultural phenomenon in one defined
region, and instead represents a grand religious and cultural
transformation with profound and far-reaching implications.

The Sinification of Buddhism, or more specifically the Chinese
metamorphosis of core Indic cultural elements, transpired within
several domains, including philosophy, religious practice, and the
construction of Buddhist institutions. During the migration from its
homeland in South Asia to China, Buddhism retained many core
doctrines, such as the doctrines of independent origination and of
the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths, and the threefold training in
discipline, concentration and wisdom. But when it comes to the
exegetical traditions that interpreted the many Indian classics, the
process of Sinification is evident. In the early period, Chinese
Buddhists digested Indian concepts by clumsily relating them to
indigenous Chinese terms. Even later on, as Chinese Buddhists
developed sophisticated insights about the nature of reality as
ultimately unconditioned, they could not restrain a powerful urge to
integrate Indian elements into systems of Chinese thought, especially
by infusing Buddhism with Confucian and Daoist teachings.
Furthermore, Buddhist teachers were often learned masters of both
Chinese and foreign traditions of learning and exegesis. These
teachers symbolize cultural fusion at a time when the Buddhist
teachings were understood with uniquely Chinese characteristics. In
addition, for a thousand years after the fall of the Eastern Han
Dynasty (25-220 CE), Chinese Buddhists not only translated and
interpreted texts imported from India, but many also composed
apocrypha and treatises that in turn generated many original
doctrines, institutional codes, and historical narratives. In
contrast to the Tibetan Kangyur and Tengyur that mostly comprise
translated texts, the Chinese Buddhist canons incorporate many texts
written originally in the Chinese language. The formation of the
Chinese Buddhist Canon, therefore, is another key part of the process
of Sinification. 

Chinese Buddhists were also deeply affected by indigenous popular
religious beliefs. Many secular followers were understandably more
concerned with worshipping deities than with obscure doctrinal
formulations. On this non-elite level, we find intriguing connections
between Indian Buddhist and indigenous Chinese practices such as
those techniques preached in the Huang-Lao school, and particularly
the goal of spiritual immortality and the worship of ghosts and gods.
Meanwhile, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and especially the Buddhas
of the Three Ages and the four Bodhisattvas, emerged as central
objects of worship in Buddhist rituals. After the Tang Dynasty,
Bodhisattva cults acquired its their own theoretical and
institutional bases, and even absorbed the practices of mountain
worship to produce a uniquely Chinese sacred geography that attracted
not only Chinese pilgrims, but also pilgrims from across East and
Southeast Asia and as far as the cradle of Buddhism itself in India.
Within the context of this transformation, it seems that the
axis-mundi of Buddhism gradually shifted from India to China.

The process of Sinification can be equally applied to the study of
Buddhist institutions. Indigenous Chinese religions did not conceive
of any system of monastics, which only came into being during the Liu
Song Dynasty (420-479) when Vinaya texts were translated and, with
them, the Indian Buddhist institutional rules and regulations were
transplanted to Chinese soil. But this relocated system experienced
countless problems, of varying severity, within a new cultural
milieu, especially when we consider conflicts with the dominant
Chinese state. For instance, should monks dine while crouching or
should they sit down? Should monastics eat with their hands or with
chopsticks? Should they kneel before the ruler? Even trivial habits,
such as washing one’s hands, brushing one’s teeth, and relieving
oneself generated considerable debates. These examples attest to the
drastic differences between the Indic and Chinese cultural
environments. But Chinese Buddhists eventually dictated their own
terms for monastic life. In Chan Buddhism, for instance,
agrarian-influences upon Buddhism can be seen in teachings such as
“one day without labouring, one day without eating”, which is at odds
with Indian monastic codes that explicitly preclude any agricultural
work. Though not without controversies and occasional reversals of
fortune, the Sinification of Buddhism proved to be inexorable over

The reason that Buddhism was able to establish such deep roots in
China and later, when China was the source for the teachings of the
religion after the seventh century in neighbouring kingdoms, has to
do with a mutual attraction that bound the teachings of Indian
Buddhism and Chinese culture together. The latter shaped the former
in accordance with its own philosophy, culture, and institutions,
creating a form of Buddhism instilled with myriad Chinese features. 

With this conference we are not only inclined to address our
contemporary inquisitiveness by returning to the well-trodden path
concerning the topic of the Sinification of Buddhism; we will address
the process of Sinification against the backdrop of global history.
We will also, therefore, reassess the potential uses of this
term — Sinification — to serve as an historical precedent that may be
able to teach us new lessons relevant to our own time. Today, we are
witnessing the trend of globalization being forestalled. Given this
challenge, can we draw any contemporary implications from this
crucial event in the earlier history of globalization, the
Sinification of Buddhism? For these reasons, we propose, though not
exclusively, the following themes for discussion:

- Sinification of Buddhism and Chinese Buddhist Philosophy
- Sinification of Buddhism and Cults of Sacred Mountains
- Sinification of Buddhism and Bodhisattva Cults
- Sinification of Buddhism and (the history of) Buddhist Institutions
- Sinification of Buddhism and the Formation of Chinese Buddhist
- Sinification of Buddhism under the Perspective of World History and
- Sinification of Buddhism and Important Buddhist Figures
- Sinification of Buddhism and Neighboring Countries/Regions

The organizing committee welcomes all paper proposals related to the
Sinification of Buddhism through the Perspective of World History and
Globalization. All conference-related costs, including local
transportation, meals and accommodation during the conference period,
will be covered by the conference organizers, who — depending on
availability of funding — may also provide a travel subsidy to
selected panelists who are in need of funding. Please email proposals
and CVs, by February 1, 2020, to:

A conference volume will collect all the papers in English, plus
English translations of several papers written in languages other
than English; a volume in Chinese, to be published in Taiwan or
mainland China, will include Chinese versions for all papers not
written in Chinese in addition to those papers contributed by our
colleagues based in China. Only scholars who are confident in
finishing their draft papers by May 10 and publishable papers by the
end of 2020 are encouraged to apply.

Conference website: