Eminent NunsWomen Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China

Eminent NunsWomen Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China

Beata Grant

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824832025

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract

The seventeenth century is generally acknowledged as one of the most politically tumultuous but culturally creative periods of late imperial Chinese history. Only recently beginning to be explored are such seventeenth-century religious phenomena as “the reinvention” of Chan Buddhism—a concerted effort to revive what were believed to be the traditional teachings, texts, and practices of “classical” Chan. And, until now, the role played by women in these religious developments has hardly been noted at all. This book brings together several of these important seventeenth-century trends. Although Buddhist nuns have been a continuous presence in Chinese culture since early medieval times and the subject of numerous scholarly studies, this book is one of the first to provide a detailed view of their activities, and to be based largely on the writings and self-representations of Buddhist nuns themselves. This perspective is made possible by the preservation of collections of “discourse records” (yulu) of seven officially designated female Chan masters in a seventeenth-century printing of the Chinese Buddhist Canon rarely used in English-language scholarship. The book is able to place the seven women, all of whom were active in Jiangnan, in their historical, religious, and cultural contexts, while allowing them, through her skillful translations, to speak in their own voices. Together these women offer an important, but until now virtually unexplored, perspective on seventeenth-century China, the history of female monasticism in China, and the contribution of Buddhist nuns to the history of Chinese women’s writing.