Tibetan Buddhism and Han Chinese: superscribing new meaning on the Tibetan tradition in modern greater China

Joshua Esler

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] This thesis seeks to explore the manner in which Han practitioners are receiving and practicing Tibetan Buddhism in Greater China – specifically in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It seeks to answer the fundamental question of how Tibetan Buddhism is becoming relevant to contemporary Chinese society, and how it is being superscribed with meaning by different actors to achieve this relevance. My analysis is based on ethnographic research carried out in Beijing, Yunnan Province, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Tibetan Buddhism has become increasingly popular in Greater China among middle-class Han Chinese, particularly over the past decade or so. As its popularity increases, it has inevitably had to adapt to the cultural contexts of Greater China. Lay Han practitioners and the Tibetan religious elite are adapting Tibetan Buddhism by hybridising it with both Chinese traditions and ‘rational’ discourses of modernity, the latter of which have been shaped by the respective socio-cultural and political circumstances of the three main locations investigated in this thesis.
This thesis specifically examines the way in which both lay Han practitioners and the Tibetan religious elite have incorporated into the Tibetan tradition in Greater China a Chinese god, Confucian values and ideas, pragmatic attitudes toward religion, and Chinese ghost beliefs. It also examines how traditional Tibetan beliefs and ideas in certain instances are being incorporated into discourses of modernity. Both cases of hybridisation, however, it is argued, are ultimately influenced by modernising processes. This thesis is particularly concerned with three main ‘rational’ discourses of modernity which informants appropriated in their adaptation of Tibetan Buddhism – Chinese Marxism on the mainland, the Christian education system in Hong Kong, and Humanistic Buddhism (renjian fojiao) in Taiwan. Yet, even as informants appropriated such discourses, they also used the ‘rationalism’ of these discourses to undermine them.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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