Constructing the Chan Tradition: The Two-Way Transmission Between Jingshan temple and Kench?-ji temple

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How and why is a tradition constructed and reconstructed in different times and spaces? This thesis is an art-historical and anthropological study of comparing the establishment of Southern Song Chan tradition in Kamakura during the 13th century and the re-establishment of Southern Song Chan tradition in contemporary China, by analysing the case study of Kenchō-ji temple in Kamakura, Japan and Jingshan temple in Hangzhou, China. Through field research in China and Japan, interviews and investigation of documents, visual materials, and archives, I illustrate how was the Southern Song Chan tradition constructed in Kenchō-ji temple’s landscape and after almost 800 years, is being reconstructed in Jingshan temple’s landscape. This comparison leads to two main arguments. First, by comparing the landscapes of Kenchō-ji temple and Jingshan temple during the 13th century, I argue that the emphases and modifications of Southern Song Chan monastic elements in Kenchō-ji temple’s layout show multiple incentives of the Shogunal government to introduce this foreign tradition. The construction of monasteries in Southern Song Chan monastic styles also served as an important basis for forming the samurai spirituality during the Kamakura period. Second, though the reconstructed Jingshan temple claims itself to be the restoration of the authentic Southern Song Chan monastic tradition, it is essentially a pastiche of Song, Ming, and Qing Chan monastic styles. Instead of being reconstructed as a religious pilgrimage centre, the historical and cultural aspects of Jingshan are much appreciated and Jingshan temple is reconstructed more as a Chan-themed recreational museum park. Adopting the reconstruction method of “structural amnesia”, the revival of Jingshan temple is exploited as a development resource to meet the needs of Chinese modern audience. To conclude, both temples modified, manipulated, and emphasized on different aspects of the Southern Song Chan tradition in their landscapes with heterogeneity of incentives and propagandas. Either establishing a new “tradition” or restoring an old “tradition” is by no means a peaceful return to the past, but an urgent progression to meet the needs of the present and the future. This thesis contributes to the emerging field of the revitalization of Buddhism in contemporary China through providing newer insights from both art-historical and anthropological perspectives. Furthermore, this thesis also provides insights into how cultures and traditions are transmitted and re-transmitted across national boundaries before and after the concept of “nation” is developed and national identity is formed.

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Asian studies; Tradition; Religious history; Chinese Buddhist Revitalisation; Chinese Chan Buddhism; Cultural Amnesia; Japanese Zen Buddhism; architecture; Art history


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Union Local


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Committee Chair

Law, Jane Marie

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Pan, An-Yi

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Asian Studies

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M.A., Asian Studies

Degree Level

Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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