Presentation “Reinventing the Buddhist Tradition: Vegetarianism and Cultural Identity in Republican China” by Matthias Schumann
News from Aug 25, 2021
During the Republican period (1912-1949), Buddhist vegetarian practices took on new meanings as they were integrated into a spreading global movement of vegetarianism and animal protection. Chinese Buddhists adopted international models to establish new institutions that were dedicated to vegetarianism and animal protection, most importantly the China Society for the Protection of Animals (Zhongguo baohu dongwu hui 中國保護動物會) that was founded in 1934. Yet, at the same time, they also criticized foreigners for many of whom vegetarianism retained a streak of the radical and the unorthodox. In this context, vegetarianism could be presented as both inherent to Chinese religious traditions and radically progressive within a global animal protection movement. It thereby served to bolster a sense of Chinese cultural identity and to subvert the unequal power relations in a semi-colonial context. This paper will explore this dynamic by looking at the interactions and debates between Chinese and foreign activists in an increasingly internationalized context. During the Republican period, Chinese Buddhist activists travelled to international congresses in Europe to propagate their views, while foreign residents set up societies for animal protection in Shanghai and other cities. These interactions provided an opportunity for Chinese activists to renegotiate Chinese identity in light of a reinvented tradition of vegetarianism and kindness to animals.
This talk has been part of a panel on “Between Religious Self-Cultivation and Environmentalism: The Changing Meaning of Vegetarianism in Modern China” organized by Matthias Schumann and Nikolas Broy (Leipzig University) for the 23rd Biennial Conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS).