Shadows of Karma: Buddhism, Literature, and the Modern Chinese Revolution
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CitationYing, Lei. 2018. Shadows of Karma: Buddhism, Literature, and the Modern Chinese Revolution. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the Buddhist contribution to an overlapping series of revolutions in late nineteenth-century to mid-twentieth-century China, through the lens of literature and thought. Whereas the received narrative of China’s nation building remains a secular story in which few religious figures or undertakings have a part, I argue otherwise. Bridging entrenched disciplinary boundaries, my study probes into the nexus of literature, politics, and religion to bring to light a revolution of the mind that dwells at the core of the Chinese quest for modernity. It attempts a paradigmatic rethinking of “revolution” and “enlightenment,” the two intertwining themes of modern China, by unpacking the variegated hues—secular as well as Buddhist—in the profoundly compelling goal of “enlightenment” to a wide spectrum of Chinese intellectuals.
This study illuminates a shared horizon of meaning between Buddhism-inspired progressive intellectuals (such as Liang Qichao and Lu Xun) and reform-minded Buddhists (such as Taixu and Ouyang Jingwu), at a juncture of radical epistemic openness in the midst of escalating momentum for change. The religious concerns of the former, who were not formally affiliated with any religious institution, have so far been overlooked in the study of modern Chinese literary and intellectual history; whereas the latter tend to be positioned in a distinctive heritage running parallel to, but nonetheless separate from, mainstream Chinese culture. This study seeks to dispel the secularist myopia in the existing paradigm that prevents us from seeing the manifold interactions and affinities between the two groups, as they joined hands and sought a cure for what Lu Xun, the iconic writer of modern China, diagnosed as China’s “spiritual disease.” In delineating the Buddhist face of modern Chinese literature, my work unveils at the same time a different, and revolutionary, face of modern Chinese Buddhism. The dual discovery pays homage to an existential courage this generation of seekers and seers have embodied, as they braved their karma and groped for light in a dark and tumultuous world through literary experimentation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41129214
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