Exploring contemporary Han Chinese monastic religiosities in mainland China’s Sino-Tibetan Buddhist landscape

Project: Research project

Project Details


The past three decades have seen Han Chinese involvement in Tibetan Buddhism increase dramatically across greater China, including on the Chinese mainland. Now more accessible than ever before, the Tibetan Buddhist world – and its charismatic teachers, institutions, and teachings – have attracted ethnic Chinese audiences in the millions.

The present study begins from the observation that while scholarly research on Tibetan Buddhism’s spread among the Han Chinese is steadily growing, a focus on lay religiosity has predominated to date. There have been few efforts to understand, much less ethnographically investigate, the experience of monastic practitioners who comprise a dynamic minority cohort within Tibetan Buddhism’s broader Han Chinese constituency. In tackling this important but under-researched topic, the present study zeroes in on mainland China, where prominent communities of Han Chinese monks and nuns have existed at leading Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions from the 1990s to recent times.

Owing, in large part, to these Tibetan Buddhist institutional contexts that have pedagogically accommodated Sinophone Buddhists in their midst, the extent of contemporary Han Chinese monastic participation in Tibetan Buddhism in mainland China has been significantly higher than in other global contexts where Tibetan Buddhism has taken root among non-Tibetan audiences. In view of the prominence of Han Chinese monks and nuns in the Sinophone Tibetan Buddhist landscape and the active role they have played in mediating Tibetan Buddhism for their co-ethnic lay counterparts, an investigation of Han Chinese monastic practitioners must be recognised as crucial for achieving a fuller understanding of Tibetan Buddhism’s contemporary transmission in Han Chinese society.

This project will undertake an in-depth ethnographic study, supplemented by textual research, of Han Chinese monastics in the contemporary Tibetan Buddhist world inside the PRC. Not only will it survey the institutional landscape of Han Chinese monastic involvement in Tibetan Buddhism, with a focus on the key centres of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, it will explore the role of Han Chinese monastic practitioners in the spread of Tibetan Buddhism through their teaching and institution-building activities. The mobility of Han Chinese monastic practitioners in the Sino-Tibetan Buddhist landscape will also be analysed, as will the ways in which they negotiate their religious identities and pursue different goals, ideals and agendas through their involvement in Tibetan Buddhism. The present study expects to significantly enrich understandings of the assimilation of Tibetan Buddhism in contemporary Han China and the importance of Han Chinese monastic practitioners in this process.
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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