Belt-and-Road Buddhists

Religion-Making and the Rebuilding of Minority Buddhism in the Reform Era

In: Review of Religion and Chinese Society
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  • 1 University of Vermont
  • 2 University of Vermont

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Although religious institutions and communities have grown significantly in China since the early 1980s, the recent past has seen difficult conditions for the practice of religion, with increased surveillance and oppressive acts by the Chinese government. Changes to government policies and priorities make it difficult to generalize about the conditions of religious practice over the course of the Reform period. This paper examines the monastic institutions of the Dai-lue people of Sipsongpannā (Xishuangbanna 西双版纳) in Yunnan province. The Dai-lue are a minority group that practices Theravada Buddhism. Their religious institutions have expanded significantly in the last four decades, but they have done so in the midst of radical change in the economic and governing structures of the region. The paper looks at this development both across the forty years of the Reform era, and in the context of a promotion and international conference sponsored by the sangha of Sipsongpannā. I argue that the changes to the monastic institutions of the Dai-lue need to be seen in light of changes to “religion-making from above,” the policies, rules, and structures that the Chinese state establishes to manage religious communities, as well as “religion-making from below,” the responses of the Dai-lue to these changes.

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