A Complicated Figure with Complex Relationships: The Monk Huifan and Early Tang Saṃgha-state Interactions

In: The Middle Kingdom and the Dharma Wheel
Author: Jinhua Chen

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Abstract

The ten-year period between 704 and 713 has been widely recognized as a watershed in one of the greatest dynasties of imperial China. This period witnessed the restoration of the Great Tang, ending the reign of the only female ruler in medieval China, and the beginning of Tang solidification under one of the most capable rulers in Chinese history. The import of this period has therefore been hotly debated over the past decades. The roles played by religious figures in this period have, however, remained largely unexplored. This article aims at reconstructing the life of a scarcely documented Central Asian monk, who was active in Tang China towards the end of the seventh century and the beginning of the eighth. It addresses several long-obscured aspects of the sociopolitical and religious reality of the period by integrating the perspectives of a key player within contemporary religious and political institutions. It aims at shedding new light on the Byzantine world of court intrigues, factional strife, political ambition and shady business deals that filled the days of powerful monks, officials, and emperors alike at the dawn of the eighth century.