Buddhists and Southern Chinese Literati in the Mongol Era

In: Modern Chinese Religion I (2 vols.)


The Mongol period witnessed a remarkable growth in state patronage of the Buddhist church, and this essay examines how prominent scholar-officials from south China represented these policies and the sangha’s presence in Chinese society. The misdeeds of a few infamous clergy and the scathing assessments of later literati notwithstanding, educated men during the Yuan viewed the church in largely positive terms. Stupa inscriptions for eminent clergy characterize them as vital actors in the mission to bring order and civility to a newly-unified empire, wracked by decades of violence. In commemorative works for temples, Buddhists, and their lay supporters win praise for their asceticism, discipline, personal loyalty, and generosity. Such exempla, writers often suggest, deserve emulation from the rest of society. Despite the spread of neo-Confucian orthodoxy, Yuan men broke company with the anti-Buddhism of Zhu Xi and other Song masters and often saw Buddhists as forces for good.