Digitally mediating Tibetan Buddhism for Han Chinese audiences: a study of the missionary milieu of Sinophone Tibetan Buddhism on WeChat.

Project: Research project

Project Details


Since the 1990s, Tibetan Buddhism has made deeper missionary inroads in the Sinophone world than ever before. Not only have Tibetan Buddhist teachers garnered dedicated followings in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, the past two decades have also seen Tibetan Buddhism establish popular roots among mainland China’s urban middle class. As hundreds of thousands have embraced the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a missionary transmission of consequential dimensions has been set in motion.

The present study begins with the observation that transmission always entails transformation as religions adapt to the host ideologies and cultural practices of the places they travel. While scholars might be quick to suggest that Tibetan Buddhism is undergoing a process of ‘sinicisation’ as it adapts to the contemporary mainland Chinese sociocultural matrix, there have been few efforts to understand this process, much less investigate it ethnographically. In tackling this issue, the present study zeroes in on a vibrant but thus far under-researched domain with considerable implications for understanding Tibetan Buddhism’s transformation in mainland China: namely, the mobile media platform WeChat and its Sinophone milieu of ‘public pages’ (intraplatform microblogs) dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism.

Since the onset of the smartphone era, hundreds of grassroots Tibetan Buddhist teachers and Han Chinese followers have embraced the technological and communicative affordances of WeChat to propagate Tibetan Buddhism among Sinophone audiences. In view of the largescale creative labour that has been invested in producing and curating public pages with content that is accessible, relevant and appealing to Chinese audiences – and the popular consumption of this content – the WeChat milieu must be recognised as a crucial site for investigating Tibetan Buddhism’s sinicisation in the contemporary Chinese context.

This project will undertake an in-depth study of the digital mediation of Tibetan Buddhism in the WeChat domain, with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism’s construction as an object of knowledge and religious consumption for Sinophone audiences. Not only will it critically examine the prisms and practices through which Tibetan Buddhism is represented on public pages, it will also ethnographically explore the social processes through which these pages are produced and consumed. The impact of this content among ethnic Tibetans in China and Tibetan Buddhist followers in Hong Kong and Taiwan will also be investigated. The present study expects to significantly enrich understandings of the locally inflected transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the contemporary Sinophone world and the importance of the digital in this process.
Effective start/end date1/10/2030/09/22


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