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Buddhism and the State in Chinese Religious Reform-Era Revival ––a Case Study of Shenzhen Hongfa Temple

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Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Kuo, Shou-Jen
Lancaster, Lewis
Shakya, Miroj


This dissertation is centered on the relationship between Chinese Buddhism and the state and evaluates the case of Shenzhen Hongfa Temple’s fast growth in the context of religious revival in reform-era China. Shenzhen, a close neighbor of Hong Kong, has undergone stunning growth from a small fishing town to the fourth-biggest city and “China’s smartest city” in forty years with a majority population of migrants. Hongfa Temple, the first, biggest, and most influential temple in Shenzhen, built domestic and transnational networks, promoted mega-events, philanthropic missions, and transnational exchanges. As a result, Shenzhen Buddhism surged distinctly from barely any Buddhist temples after the Cultural Revolution to a pivot of South China Buddhism.

Based on Ashiwa’s theory of religious space-making, I will reveal the reasons for the success of Shenzhen Hongfa Temple under the leadership of two charismatic abbots with highly developed mental abilities and examine how the religious space of Buddhism was explored by them. I will display how the first legendary abbot, Master Benhuan, who died at age 106, made broad affinities with millions of followers and constructed magnificent temples; how his successor, Venerable Yinshun, was trained uniquely and was chosen unexpectedly; and how this disciple strived to forge a clean sacred image for the temple, avoiding the common drawbacks of Chinese Buddhism such as heavy commercialization, and was able to position Hongfa Temple in suitable developing and globalizing mode; how they actively demonstrated their conformity with the state and gained much support from it, and thus were able to expand religious space. This study will use a qualitative approach and site observation, together with content analysis of temple materials and government documents.

Though there is some non-Chinese research on the revival of Buddhism in Post-Mao China, none has been conducted to show the successful Buddhist institutional expansion and globalization in metropolitan Shenzhen. This dissertation fills the gap. It provides insight into Chinese Buddhism’s strategy for adapting to modernity and socialism, to not only survive but also expand, while still retaining its sacredness. This dissertation may lay some foundation for further study of Chinese Buddhist modernization or Chinese Buddhist globalization.

Degree Granter

University of the West



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