The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

The Place of Socially Engaged Buddhism in China: Emerging Religious Identity in the Local Community of Urban Shanghai

Weishan Huang
Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article aims to analyze a realization of socially engaged Buddhism outside of Buddhist monasteries in China by using the case studies of Tzu Chi Foundation. Since the 2000s, state-led religious charities have been gradually implemented among Han Buddhist monasteries in China. With a renewal of the religious idea of “Humanistic Buddhism,” temples have set up guideline to conduct their charitable work. At the same time, Buddhist communities have become more diversified due to the international immigration of Buddhist groups. While social service is the central focus of Tzu Chi Foundation worldwide, I raise the question of how a global movement of moral reform and social service can help us re-think the normative account of “public engagement” in a highly regulated and censored society such as China. Based on the ethnographic work, I argue the successful structural adaption of the Tzu Chi movement corresponding with, first, the promotion of socially engaged Buddhism, which aligns with state policy and interests. Secondly, the timely change of organizational missions corresponding with the shift in social identity of urban residents from “Work Units” to “Communities” in urban Shanghai.
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