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Building the Buddhist RevivalReconstructing Monasteries in Modern China$

Gregory Adam Scott

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190930721

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190930721.001.0001

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Cultural Relics

Cultural Relics

(p.175) 4 Cultural Relics
Building the Buddhist Revival

Gregory Adam Scott

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This final chapter looks at the first seventeen years of the People’s Republic of China, during which time over a hundred Buddhist sites were repaired or rebuilt. These sites were put to use as showcases for Buddhist culture in New China and as stages for cultural diplomacy with other Asian countries that shared a Buddhist past. Two sites examined in some detail are Guangji Monastery and Yonghe Temple, both in the new capital of Beijing. A key question is how Buddhist monasteries fit into the new bureaucracy; as the cases of these two monasteries demonstrate, the reconstructions were intended to create static monuments to cultural heritage, not living religious communities.

Keywords:   Guangji Monastery, Yonghe Temple, Beijing, Buddhist Association of China, Zhao Puchu

The Chinese Buddhists are fully aware of the responsibility which time has bestowed upon us. We are willing to follow the footsteps of our ancestors and strive together with our Buddhist brethren of different countries in an intimate cooperation in the task of studying and spreading the Dharma and of serving mankind with friendship and peace.

The Friendship of Buddhism, January 22, 19571

It was historical restoration, an invitation to see it as it was, and to leave it, then, in the past tense.

Joseph R. Levenson, “The Communist Attitude toward Religion,” 19652

During the first seventeen years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between 1949 and 1966, approximately one hundred Buddhist sites in New China were repaired or reconstructed, with most of these reconstructions taking place during the period between 1951 and 1958. These sites ranged from individual stupas to large sprawling monasteries, and while this is not a large number compared to the total number of Buddhist monasteries extant in China before 1949, it is significant considering the attitude toward religion taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), now in control of mainland China.3 Much of this careful preservation work was, unfortunately, lost during the reckless and violent anti-religious destruction of the Cultural Revolution, during which only a handful of historic sites were fortunate (p.176) enough to receive protection. Yet during this early period of the PRC, a time in which so much of Chinese society was being reshaped to fit the new ideological standards of the new era, the state invested substantial resources into rebuilding Buddhist monasteries that had suffered as a result of neglect or damage during the war. Why did the Communist party-state devote so much of its scarce labor and materials into preserving religious institutions? How do these reconstructions differ from those of the earlier modern era? Finally, how has Buddhism in China been itself transformed as a result of this new wave of reconstructions?

In the wake of the religious revival that swept through the PRC after restrictions on religious activities were lifted as part of the Reform and Opening Up (gaige kaifang 改革開放‎) campaign starting in the late 1970s, it is tempting to view the entire early period of the PRC between the revolution of 1949 and the death of Mao in 1976 as one of religious suppression and silence. Yet the first seventeen years of the new era was quite an active one for Chinese religions, who were encouraged to lend their support to nation-building within China and cultural exchanges with other nations, all under the watchful eye of the party-state.

During this era, the forces that shaped the fate of Buddhist monasteries in China mainly came from three groups: the domestic bureaucracy of the CCP party-state, lay and monastic Chinese Buddhist leaders, and state actors involved in the PRC’s international relations.4 Each of these groups had a different set of concerns that drove their involvement. The CCP was concerned with the management and regulation of Buddhism within the PRC, ensuring that Buddhist religious communities could not challenge the power of the party or its ability to enact revolutionary change. Buddhist leaders were concerned with ensuring the survival of their communities, the reconstruction of their monasteries, and the revival of Buddhism after the disruptions of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. They had to navigate a new political environment, but they had already had considerable successes in working under the Nationalist party-state. State actors saw the potential of a shared Asian Buddhist history in supporting diplomatic goals and cultivating ties with other Asian countries in the context of the Cold War, and the potential in preserving historic Chinese Buddhist monasteries to these ends. Each of these groups had conflicting aims and designs on Chinese Buddhist (p.177) monasteries, and none had absolute autonomy in terms of what they were able to do, at least not until the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, monasteries were caught between competing local, national, and international power structures that were rapidly remapping the social and cultural landscape of China.

In many respects the experiences of Chinese Buddhist monasteries in the period from 1949 to 1966 were radically different from those that had preceded it. First, while the Imperial state and Republican-era states had bestowed patronage upon some religious institutions while attacking and sometimes destroying others, the extent of CCP intervention into religious institutions was unprecedented. The status of Buddhist monasteries in the early PRC was especially precarious; after decades of war, usable structures were in short supply and many monastery buildings were immediately repurposed for other uses. Furthermore, the ideology of revolution and progress inherent in Chinese socialism initially placed little value in historical structures. The focus of the new state was on modernization and development, not preservation. Religious property was redistributed, monastics were encouraged or coerced into joining the labor force, and patriotic religious associations were formed under party supervision. Religious groups that did not easily fit into one of the five official recognized religions were suppressed and scattered.5 Second, the economic, social, and political circumstances of mainland China also underwent revolutionary change: with the land reforms of the early 1950s, large monasteries could no longer rely upon rental income or wealthy lay donors for support; the rituals and ceremonies that had tied them to local society were derided as superstitious and feudal; and elite officials in new China, organized around the ideals of an atheist socialism, were seldom sympathetic to religious causes. Third, the international political situation in which the PRC found itself was vastly different from that of the early twentieth century. Tensions that began to emerge immediately after the end of World War II had coalesced into the Cold War by 1950, with the PRC initially allied to the USSR and the communist states of Eastern Europe. Newly independent states in South and Southeast Asia, however, many of whom had achieved independence under an anti-imperialist banner but who were also wary of Communism, did not immediately ally themselves with either the USSR or the United States. These states did, however, share with China a Buddhist history among other cultural ties.

(p.178) There were also important continuities for Chinese Buddhist monasteries in the early Cold War era. As previous chapters have argued, since at least the post-Taiping era monastery leaders sought where possible to cultivate good relations with powerful officials in order to gain support for their reconstruction campaigns. Many large Buddhist monasteries could not have been rebuilt after such a disastrous period without this elite support. Officials in the PRC state may have been allied to new ideologies but, as we shall see later in this chapter, they were still in a position to offer support and funding to monasteries under the right conditions and for the right purposes. In terms of their scale or the challenge they represented to large religious institutions, the socio-economic changes of the early PRC were not totally unprecedented. The radical upheavals in the early Ming had presented Buddhist monasteries with similar exigent problems of survival, to which many responded by changing their strategies: seeking out wealthy patrons and establishing investments in land and rental income to ensure their long-term prosperity.6 With the land reforms and new bureaucratic system of the early 1950s these longstanding economic ties were no longer viable, but new opportunities were about to present themselves.

Finally, Buddhist monasteries had historically served as nexus points for international cultural and intellectual exchange. Buddhists had long traveled across East Asia and the rest of Asia, serving as a conduit for ideas and practices that had a historical impact far beyond the religious sphere.7 In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the Cold War–era Asian states that had not yet firmly aligned themselves with either bloc happened to share strong historic Buddhist ties with China, and many of them, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Nepal, continued to identify as Buddhist cultures and nation-states. Perhaps Buddhism’s historic role could be revived as a strategic tool in the international relations of the Asian Cold War. At first glance Buddhism would not appear to have anything to contribute to such a Great Game; Cold War communist states proclaimed the freedom to believe, and to not believe, in religion but in practice strongly advocated scientistic-atheist education and restricted the influence of religious institutions. Capitalist states maintained freedom of religion, but the great powers of Europe and North America had no particular connection to Buddhism. Yet the Cold War was at its strategic (p.179) level a war of ideas, and Buddhism remained a powerful idea, one with a strong historical connection to Asia and to a key ideological battleground of the era: peace.8

In this chapter I examine Buddhist monastery reconstructions in the People’s Republic of China between 1949 and 1966, how the discourse surrounding their reconstruction and use developed, and how these reconstructed sites were put to new uses in the context of the Cold War. The different motivations behind these reconstructions, and the fact that the CCP party-state was behind all of them, necessitates a different approach than that in the previous chapters. Rather than examining a few focus sites in detail, I will instead proceed chronologically through the period, discussing a number of reconstructions that took place across China. My argument here is that the reconstructed monasteries of the early PRC were not intended to serve as the homes of living religious communities, the “frames for religious life” identified by Prip-Møller in the 1930s; instead, these sites were to be museums of a religious past and venues for international cultural events.9 To reiterate the formulation from the start of this book, they were to be sites with no monastic community that resembled those of past generations—monasteries with bones and stones, but no Buddhist monks.

Drawing the Bow: The Chinese Communist Party and Religious Institutions

The Chinese Communist Party (Zhongguo gongchandang 中國共產黨‎), founded in the French concession zone of Shanghai in 1921, developed what would become its official approach to religion over the span of several decades. In doing so it combined elements from the work of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895); strategies undertaken by the USSR as it took over the administration of what had been a religiously and ethnically diverse empire; early Republican-era Chinese discourses regarding science and superstition; the experiences of the Chinese soviet bases in rural China; and finally the guiding ideologies of Mao Zedong as he rose to become the preeminent leader of the party during the period of (p.180) the Yan’an Soviet. When, in October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the party began to reshape the nation along the social and political models that they had developed during their time as hunted enemies of the Nationalist state and as guerrilla fighters in the anti-Japanese conflict. As with nearly all aspects of society in New China, the boundaries of the religious sphere were determined by communist political ideology and revolutionary values. While freedom of belief in, and freedom to not believe in, religion were officially protected, religious practices, texts, institutions, and sites were subject to strict controls and supervision by the party-state from almost the very beginning of the PRC. The CCP did not seek to do away with religion altogether, even if their guiding Marxist–Leninist–Maoist ideology saw it as a false belief belonging to an earlier age of human civilization. Instead it would be harnessed to the engine of the party-state and would help to advance the cause of the revolution until such time as the people’s revolutionary consciousness (geming yishi 革命意識‎) was raised to a level where religious belief withered away on its own.

The early CCP, founded with direct assistance from Soviet advisors, was heir to an intellectual tradition stretching back to Marx that was both strongly atheist and anti-religious, viewing religion as a false belief and popular delusion that formed part of the controlling apparatus used to oppress the masses. Many founding figures were also part of what became known as the New Culture Movement (xin wenhua yundong 新文化運動‎), the wave of modernist, anti-imperialist, and anti-traditional thought that emerged in the wake of the Republican Revolution and the Great War, which was broadcast across China through periodicals such as journals and newspapers.10 Most reformers associated with this movement had a very negative view of religion, viewing it as contrary to the scientific-materialist worldview that characterized modern nations. As mentioned in chapter 2, in the first issue of Xin Qingnian 新青年‎ (La Jeunesse) in 1915, editor Chen Duxiu proclaimed that China ought to be “Free, not enslaved; progressive, not conservative; improving, not regressive; global, not isolated; practical, not formalistic; and scientific, not fanciful.”11 For Chen and others, religious belief fell firmly into the final category of “fanciful” (xiangxiang de 想像的‎) beliefs. Among this vanguard of Chinese thinkers in the early Republic, religion was commonly derided as superstitious, regressive, and anti-scientific. The fact that (p.181) Protestant and Catholic mission organizations had used their connections to imperial powers to gain access to China only worsened the view of religion among Chinese anti-imperialists. For many early Republican Chinese intellectuals, Christianity provided the exemplar of what a religion was, and thus for them it was forever tainted by its association with imperialist aggression against China and other countries elsewhere in the world. The leaders of the CCP during its first few years of existence had little respect for religious belief or for religious culture, whether it be indigenous Chinese religions or those religions recently brought into China by foreign missionaries.

First-hand experience with rural Chinese society, however, initially in the soviet zones in eastern China and later along the route of the Long March and in the communist bases in north-western China, gradually prompted CCP leaders to adopt a more practical, tactical approach to religion. The orthodox communist approach had been to seek support for revolution from the urban proletariat, the alienated and exploited factory workers who had the most to gain from seizing the means of production. Yet in the 1920s and 1930s China had only just begun to industrialize, and its proletarian population was exceptionally small compared to its tens of millions of rural farmers. Mao was one of the first CCP members to break with party leadership and advocate looking to the “peasants” (nongmin 農民‎) for support, seeing in them the Chinese version of the oppressed masses. Their deeply rooted religious beliefs, however, posed a strong obstacle to raising their revolutionary consciousness and mobilizing them to resist the Nationalist state and local landlords. In 1927 Mao wrote that although most peasants remain superstitious, they will eventually pull down their idols (pusa 菩薩‎, literally “bodhisattvas”) themselves. In the meantime, he advised the party using a quote from The Mencius: “Draw [the bow] but don’t fire, and be ready to spring.”12 Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, the CCP relied on rural Chinese to support them in their struggle to survive Nationalist attacks and in their later guerrilla warfare against the invading Japanese military. They had to tolerate popular religious beliefs for the time being, as attacking them directly would risk alienating their main source of support in their struggle. During this same period, the communist leadership of the USSR, (p.182) which continued to exert a strong influence on the thinking of the CCP, was beginning to discover that while simply destroying religious institutions in the Soviet republics was often difficult, co-opting them to help support state policies was much more effective. Especially in those areas of the USSR where ethnicity and religion were closely linked, religious institutions were powerful tools to help integrate the locale into the larger communist society.13 Mao’s strategy, and that of the CCP more generally up to 1949, was thus to tolerate religion while making plans for its future toppling by the peasants under the leadership of the party. The CCP also had to tolerate its political enemies during the period of the war: the brief periods of strategic alliance with the Nationalists against the Japanese, and later cooperation with “imperialist” Americans in the larger context of World War II, were justified ideologically as a temporary expedient means, necessitated by the conditions of the war.14

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, the CCP was able to translate their revolutionary ideology into national policy and transform their experience administering local revolutionary areas into programs for the entire nation. There was now a new state approach to religion and to religious property, differing from that of the Republic or the wartime states: in theory, the freedom of religious belief among the people was to be protected, but this freedom would only be granted to progressive elements of society and could be withdrawn if religious activities were determined to be counter-revolutionary. The CCP approach to religion had evolved a great deal in the decades leading up to 1949. In most respects, however, it was not all that different from approaches taken by the Nationalists and other state powers during the previous, fractious Republican Era: regulate, control, and direct religion toward nationalist ends, while suppressing anything identified as “superstition” and any religious group that proved intractable.15 Most of these state powers, including the CCP, recognized that superstition and undesirable religion could not simply be swept away; it was too deeply embedded in local culture and society, and it would require time for people to be educated to the point where they left such beliefs and practices behind. Yet as explored in the previous chapter, state actors also wanted to lay claim (p.183) to and assert authority over elements of Chinese history and culture, many of which were religious in nature, including folk customs (minsu 民俗‎), historic sites, art, poetry, and literature. Communist and CCP ideology was strongly anti-religious, but for the time being at least, they still had to tolerate the deeply ingrained religious beliefs among the masses, especially in the strategically important borderlands of China.

Freedom of religious belief did not exempt religious professionals and institutions from being integrated into the new centrally directed party-led political system and command economy of the new communist state. In the February 11, 1950, edition of The China Weekly Review, Alfred Kiang reported on the changes that were then already occurring in Chinese Buddhist monasteries.16 Kiang’s portrayal of Buddhist monks having been subject to “feudalistic backward influences,” monasteries becoming corrupted as businesses for collecting donations and fees for services, and religion in general having enjoyed a parasitic existence in Chinese society, is right in line with the emerging approach to religion in the PRC. He reports on two early moves in Shanghai to organize monasteries into materially productive and politically aligned units: first in July 1949, immediately following the liberation of Shanghai by the communist People’s Liberation Army, when the Shanghai Buddhist Association set up a Committee for Production and Austerity (生產節制委員會‎?) and opened mess halls at temples in the city to provide meals to soldiers, workers, and others; and second on January 20, 1950, when the Shanghai League of Democratic Youth (上海民主青年同盟‎) set up an Association of Shanghai Buddhist Youths (perhaps 上海佛教青年同盟‎?).17 Kiang also cites numerous examples of Shanghai monasteries establishing farms, workshops, and factories to produce material goods. Although a new national Chinese Buddhist association was not established until several years later, already in Shanghai in 1950 we see numerous examples of Buddhist monasteries being shaped by new political and ideological realities.

(p.184) It is important to note, however, that depending on the zeal of local cadres and specific directives from the center, the impact of new regulations, imperatives, and pressures on the ground varied greatly by place and time. Some Buddhist institutions continued to have a nominally independent existence and were able to remain in operation for many years in much the same way as they had before liberation. The Three Times Study Society (Sanshi xuehui 三時學會‎), a lay association and publisher founded in Beijing in 1921, was still active as late as 1962; the Jinling Scriptural Press in Nanjing, founded in the 1860s, remained operational up to 1966 and served as a storehouse for printing blocks consolidated from other Buddhist scriptural presses across China; Shanghai Buddhist Books, founded in 1929 and one of the most prolific new-style Buddhist publishers of the Republican era, continued to print and sell Buddhist books until as late as 1956.18 During this early phase of the PRC, the continued influence of the USSR as a model for regulating and shaping religion cannot be overlooked. The Soviet Union was then also pursuing a gradual approach of shaping religious institutions without destroying them, establishing local religious organizations under party direction and aligning religious institutions to serve party goals.19

As outlined in previous chapters, Buddhist monasteries were religious as well as material spaces with a wealth of historical and cultural meaning, and while in the first few years of the PRC the CCP began by applying a relatively light touch when it came to religion, the party faced a much more pressing crisis when it came to material buildings. Decades of war had left many usable structures in China’s cities damaged or destroyed, and as the CCP worked to build New China in the early 1950s, there was an immense amount of pressure to fully exploit any surviving buildings, including monastic buildings, and put them to productive use. Even newly built structures were being designed for utility and productivity rather than beauty, as the fledgling PRC economy had to make do with very few resources.20 There were instances when religious structures were targeted and destroyed in the first few years of the People’s Republic, but much of this was the work of “over-enthusiastic” (p.185) local cadres rather than a result of targeted destruction from the center. Much of the early damage to Buddhist religious structures occurred from repurposing rather than destruction. The temporary occupation of monasteries or their permanent conversion for production-oriented uses was widespread from the early 1950s.21 Yet even when cadres decided to mount an attack against local religious institutions, there was always the possibility that local people would defend their religious institutions from destruction.22 There was also a very limited awareness in the early PRC of the value of historic sites, including religious sites such as Buddhist monasteries, and of the need to preserve them from destruction. Liang Sicheng, who had done so much work in the Republic to survey and research historic Chinese Buddhist structures, pleaded for the protection of China’s architectural traditions and heritage, but for the first several decades of the PRC any such moves were rather limited.23 Early laws regarding cultural heritage (wenwu 文物‎) were initially focused on preventing their removal from China, a legacy of the long history of foreign looting of Chinese artifacts. On May 24, 1950, the PRC produced guidance on “Interim Methods for Surveying and Excavating Ancient Cultural Ruins and Ancient Tombs” (Gu wenhua yizhi ji gu muzang zhi diaocha fajue zanxing banfa 古文化遺址及古墓葬之調查發掘暫行辦法‎), but there were no formal regulations regarding the protection of cultural heritage until 1961. Thus throughout the early 1950s many Chinese historic sites were torn down to make way for development. Nearly all of Beijing’s city walls were demolished, and the historic area south of the Forbidden City was flattened to create Tian’anmen Square.24 There were thus a number of reasons in the early PRC why Buddhist monasteries might be forever converted or simply destroyed in the name of progress, development, and material production.

There were several state and party organs developed during the first few years of the PRC that had authority over matters relating to religion and cultural and material heritage, and these overlapping jurisdictions meant that it was often unclear which branch of the PRC state had the final authority over (p.186) Buddhist monasteries. In 1949 the new central government of the PRC had been set up with a cultural bureau (wenhua bu 文化部‎), and the following year departments were established with purview over the arts, scientific education, cultural artifacts, film, theater, and cultural foreign relations. After a brief reorganization in 1951, in 1954 the wenhua bu became the National Cultural Bureau, part of the newly established State Council (guowu yuan 國務院‎), and it was in this incarnation that it would become involved in historic Buddhist sites. In the same year the Religious Affairs Bureau (zongjiao shiwu bu 宗教事務部‎) was established, also as part of the State Council, and it too would have authority over religious institutions in China. It would also, from the start, be involved in hosting foreign guests, especially when religion was important.25 To these were added the national Chinese Buddhist Association (Zhongguo Fojiao xiehui 中國佛教協會‎; CBA) established in 1953; a Tibetan branch of the CBA in October 1956; and provincial CBAs in 1957, the latter a product of the short-lived Hundred Flowers period.26 The aims, strategies, goals, and approaches of all of these organs could and did come into conflict with each other: for example, preserving a particular religious site as a historic cultural artifact might make sense to the National Cultural Bureau, but the Religious Affairs Bureau might see the resident religious group as “superstitious” and thus not deserving of protection.27

In the past, Buddhist monasteries had functioned as discrete economic and social bodies, with their own networks of support and patronage in the local area and among national elites. In the PRC, however, this independence no longer fit into the notions of a nationalized planned economy and a classless society. Monasteries were also highly decentralized in terms of bureaucratic governance, relying upon networks of Dharma lineage and doctrinal affiliation, and had long lacked any kind of centralized regional or national organization. Now all Buddhist religious professionals were de jure members of the CBA, but de facto power was held by an elite group, mostly based in the capital Beijing. Imperial and Republican China had had legal frameworks for the governance and regulation of religion, but in practice religious institutions tended to operate based on cultural norms and historical precedent, only rarely appealing to the state for legal protection or aid. Now (p.187) there was a new state intent on thoroughly transforming China, but the question of how exactly Buddhist monasteries should fit into the new bureaucracy remained unsettled, and in many ways continues to be so at present: to what extent should monasteries be treated as cultural artifacts, as religious institutions, or as historical relics?28 Buddhist monasteries faced an uncertain future in this new and rapidly changing environment.

Yet as noted at the start of this chapter, about one hundred Buddhist sites were reconstructed during the early PRC. Far from being attacked or neglected as symbols of feudal society and China’s pre-revolutionary past, these sites were, at least up until the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, treasured as examples of traditional arts, architecture, and culture. Data on some of these reconstructions is collected in table 4.1.

Table 4.1. Buddhist Reconstructions in China, 1949–1966*a



Sites Reconstructed




Anqing 安慶‎

Yingjiang Monastery 迎江寺‎, Zhenfeng Stupa 振風塔‎


MFQB 72:19

Fuyang 阜陽‎

Zifu Monastery 資福禪寺‎

Hefei 合肥‎

Mingjiao Monastery 明教寺‎, Guangji Monastery 廣濟寺‎

Langya shan 琅琊山‎

Kaihua Monastery 開化寺‎


Hangzhou 杭州‎

Lingyin Monastery 靈隱寺‎


500,000 RMB

Putuo shan 普陀山‎

Ji’an Monastery, Foding Monastery, Hou Monastery, Ziju Monastery


Xiamen 廈門‎

Nan putuo Monastery 南普陀寺‎


1,000 RMB

Ri guangyan Monastery 日光岩寺‎

Quanzhou 泉州‎

Kaiyuan Monastery 開元寺‎


30,000 RMB

Fuzhou 福州‎

Yongquan Monastery 涌泉寺‎


Harbin 哈爾濱‎

Dizang an 地藏庵‎


Luoyang 洛陽‎

Baima Monastery 白馬寺‎

1952, 1954, 1957

Songshan 嵩山‎

Shaolin Monastery 少林寺‎

Dengfeng 登封‎

Huishan Monastery 會善寺‎


Zhengding 真定‎

Longxing Monastery 隆興寺‎

Included in 1961 list of important cultural properties

Tianjinb 天津‎

Dabei Monastery 大悲院‎


Changsha 長沙‎

Kaifu Monastery 開福寺‎


13,000 RMB


  • Wuhan

  • 武漢‎

Guiyuan Monastery 歸元寺‎, Baotong Monastery 寶通寺‎


Lu shan 廬山‎

Dalin Monastery 大林寺‎


Nanjing 南京‎

Qixia Monastery 棲霞寺‎


8,000 RMB

Pilu Monastery 毘盧寺‎

Wuxi 無錫‎

Huishan Monastery 惠山寺‎


Guangzhou 廣州‎

Guangxiao Monastery 光孝寺‎

Included in 1961 list of important cultural properties

Liurong Monastery 六榕寺‎


An shan 鞍山‎

Longquan Monastery 龍泉寺‎, Xiangyan Monastery 香岩寺‎, Zuyue Monastery 祖越寺‎, Zhonghui Monastery 中會寺‎, Da’an Monastery 大安寺‎


Jiaocheng 交城‎

Xuanzhong Monastery 玄中寺‎


155,000 RMB

Wutai shan 五台山‎

Foguang Monastery 佛光寺‎, Xiantong Monastery 顯通寺‎, Luohan Monastery 羅漢寺‎, Pusa ding 菩薩頂‎, Shifang Hall 十方堂‎

c. 1952–1959

All Wutai shan monasteries through 1952: 163,000 RMB; through 1958: 477,740 RMB; in 1959: 100,000 RMB; for restoration of Foguang Monastery and its beamless hall: 400–500,000 RMB


Xi’an 西安‎

Da ci’en si 大慈恩寺‎ and its Dayan Stupa 大雁塔‎

50,000 RMB

Guangren si 廣仁寺‎

Da Xingshan Monastery 大興善寺‎



Chengdu 成都‎

Zhaojue Monastery 昭覺寺‎, Baoguang Monastery 寶光寺‎, Daci Monastery 大慈寺‎, Wenshu Monastery 文殊院‎

Chongqing 重慶‎

Huayan Monastery 華嚴寺‎, Luohan Monastery 羅漢寺‎

Emei shan 峨嵋山‎

Qingyin Hall 清音閣‎, Fuhu Monastery 伏虎寺‎, Baoguo Monastery 報國寺‎, Wannian Monastery 萬年寺‎


Kunming 昆明‎

Huating Monastery 華亭寺‎


Beijing 北京‎

Guangji Monastery 廣濟寺‎

1,550,000 RMB

Fayuan Monastery 法源寺‎

Wofo Monastery 臥佛寺‎


Yonghe Temple 雍和宫‎

Included on 1961 list; 840,000 RMB


Shanghai 上海‎

Yufo Monastery 玉佛寺‎

(a) Data based on the list in Welch, Buddhism under Mao, appendix D, pp. 423–424; the 1960 edition of Zhao, Buddhism in China; and Chinese Buddhist periodical sources as noted.

(b) From 1949 Tianjin was a separate municipality under the control of the central government, but between 1958 and 1966 it was again part of Hebei province.

This list of reconstructions is very likely incomplete and does not include smaller sites that may have been repaired locally during this period. It reflects, rather, those reconstructions that were led by the central state authorities and that were publicized during this period in Buddhist and secular publications. Note that the reconstructions took place across China, from the northeast to the southwest, and include sites in major cities as well as in mountainous rural areas.

Why should the CCP, during a period of economic hardship as they worked to rebuild China after decades of war, devote resources to repairing, rebuilding, and reconstructing what were, from a strictly socialist point of view, monuments to superstition and the oppression of the masses? I would argue that these reconstructions were directly linked to the larger geopolitical context of the Cold War, and that we cannot understand the Buddhist monastery reconstructions of this period except within that context. While these campaigns shared some aspects and goals with wartime reconstructions, the scope and direction of religious reconstructions changed drastically during this period, shaped by the emergent needs of a rising world power.

The Dawn of the Cold War, 1949–1953

The earliest state-led reconstructions of Buddhist monasteries in the newly established People’s Republic of China were undertaken during a time of revolutionary social change, when the foundations of the new communist (p.188) state were being laid through land reform and violent purges of those determined to be enemies of the revolution. Even though it had achieved a decisive victory on the mainland, a future resumption of the conflict with the Republic of China seemed likely, and internationally the PRC initially was not diplomatically recognized by much of the world. Thus, while social reconstruction along communist lines proceeded within the PRC, the new nation-state had to work to “reconstruct” its diplomatic ties with neighbors in the region, neighbors whose opinions of the growing post-war communist movement ranged from supportive to hostile. Buddhist monasteries in China were subject to a number of pressures and threats in the early PRC, but they also held the unique value of being concrete symbols of historic cultural heritage, something that the Nationalists had tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to leverage during the war. Now as the alliances and battle-lines of the nascent Cold War began to form, these sites would again prove valuable to a Chinese state seeking to establish its authenticity in the world and friendship with strategic partners.

Even before the official founding of the PRC on October 1, 1949, the successes of the People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War had already begun to shape the future of the Cold War in Asia and had placed China firmly within the communist bloc. The prospect of further communist states in the region, on the other hand, prompted the United States to build up Japan as a bastion of democracy, to pledge to protect the Republic of China on Taiwan, and later to intervene militarily in Korea and Vietnam. The PRC contributed to many of the “hot” conflicts between Cold War powers in the region, first pressuring the Republic of China on the Dachen islands 大陳島‎ and Jinmen 金門‎, then rescuing the nearly defeated Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and helping to force a stalemate on the Korean peninsula. For its first decade of existence the PRC was a strong ally of the USSR, and even after their diplomatic break in 1959 it continued to support communist causes worldwide. This close alliance with the rest of the communist bloc was not, however, sufficient to establish the PRC on the world stage as the legitimate Chinese state. The map of Asia was quickly being redrawn as the disruptions of the war created opportunities for former imperial possessions to demand their independence, and most of these new states were not immediately drawn into either Cold War bloc.29 For the PRC, gaining recognition from and establishing relations with these Asian nations (p.189) (p.190) (p.191) (p.192) (p.193) in the region was essential: it would increase global pressure on the United Nations to recognize the PRC as the lawful government of China, gain further legitimacy for their new state, help stabilize their borderlands through negotiating agreements on borders, and establish economic links for the circulation of raw materials and industrial technology.30

While the PRC supported communist groups and movements overseas, their central goal in regional international relations was not to immediately create outright communist states but rather to show these non-aligned nations that communist states could be cultural and economic partners in spite of not being politically aligned with them. Those in the CCP seeking to do so were, however, faced with a difficult problem: how to engage in diplomacy in the absence of formal diplomatic relations? State-to-state discourse was not possible, so instead this work was undertaken through non-state, cultural diplomacy, drawing upon elements of history and culture to build up a platform for future concrete state-level diplomatic work. One historical cultural element shared by most Asian nations was Buddhism. Religious culture, including Buddhist culture, had been a crucial historical link between China and other countries in Asia for most of the Common Era, and this link was seized upon by the PRC in its international relations efforts of the 1950s and 1960s. To describe these efforts I will use the term “Buddhist diplomacy”: a term that has recently gained currency, which refers to the use of Buddhist-themed cultural exchanges in the pursuit of larger international relations goals.31

Nearly every nation in East, Southeast, and South Asia had Buddhism as part of its history, and several were actively constituting themselves post-independence as explicitly Buddhist states. Each was both a potential strategic ally for the PRC but also a potential adversary if it became too closely allied to the Western bloc or if it sought to pursue its own way. Next door in East Asia was Japan, which from 1952 was again free to conduct its own foreign relations. Although it remained closely allied to the United States, it was clear to Japanese leaders that the PRC’s vast natural resources and potential as a consumer market made it a natural trading partner for a developing economy, and thus tentative moves toward establishing trade links began (p.194) soon after the end of the Allied occupation.32 In South Asia, three states share a rugged border with Tibet and Xinjiang, and a fourth, Sri Lanka, is further afield but still strategically significant. Most important of these potential allies was India, not only one of the most populous states in the world but also the birthplace of Buddhism and the historical location of so much Buddhist history. While in modern India Buddhists are a minority group and do not figure strongly in national identity, maintaining religious freedom and diversity was a key plank of Indian governments. Nepal and Bhutan were both kingdoms organized around Buddhism, and both have close historical ties to Tibet. Ceylon (Sri Lanka since 1972) occupies an important position in the region, and its embrace of Buddhism in the modern period shared many features with developments in Chinese Buddhism of the same period.33 Perhaps most importantly, no South Asian state was immediately drawn into the Western bloc of the Cold War, and states such as India began to emerge as early leaders of the non-aligned movement, so gaining their recognition of the PRC and establishing diplomatic connections was much more of a possibility.

In Southeast Asia several states gained their independence from France and the United Kingdom in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Cambodia, Laos, and Burma all began as independent kingdoms or republics with strong Buddhist identities and would remain so for the first few decades of their independent existence. Although each would later experience socialist upheavals, these Buddhist identities would persevere. Establishing good communication with Burma was especially important for the PRC, as the two countries share a long border that snakes through difficult terrain, and as late as 1960 Nationalist troops continued to harass the PRC from within Burmese territory. Vietnam gained recognition of its independence in 1954 but remained a divided country in a state of civil war, with the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north being supported by the USSR. The Republic of Vietnam in the south promised freedom of religion, but in practice the largely Catholic elite put a great deal of pressure (p.195) on Vietnamese Buddhists, viewing them as likely communist sympathizers. With the exception of the two Vietnamese states, in the early Cold War these Southeast Asian states were also not strongly aligned with either bloc and thus presented the PRC with additional potential for fostering support of their claim as the single legitimate Chinese government, as well as potential trade and strategic alliances.

Several important nations in these regions had historical connections to Buddhism but did not present good opportunities for Buddhist diplomacy. Mongolia had been part of the Qing empire but gained its independence with help from the USSR and remained a Soviet client state. The USSR did promote Mongolian Buddhist institutions, but such connections were not, to my knowledge, pursued by the PRC.34 From the start of the Chinese involvement in the Korean war, the Democratic Republic of Korea was already firmly allied with the PRC, and the Republic of Korea was unlikely to respond positively to any overtures while there remained a virulently anti-communist government in power and the threat of continuation of the war. Malaysia (and from 1965 independent Singapore) and Indonesia have their own Buddhist communities, but the historical connections to China were not as clear as they were in other cases, although individual Buddhist monastics did maintain links between branch temples in these areas, their largely Chinese-heritage communities, and their ancestral Buddhist communities back in China.35 Meanwhile, regions within the PRC with their own cultural, linguistic, and ethnic identities were strongly identified with Buddhism and presented an opportunity for engaging in a form of domestic cultural diplomacy to integrate these peoples into the new nation. Tibet had been largely autonomous during World War II and PRC control over this vast territory was still tenuous, while Inner Mongolia, a collection of provinces during the period of the Republic of China, shared its cultural history with the neighboring Mongolian People’s Republic but now found itself within the borders of the PRC.36

(p.196) The PRC engaged in Buddhist diplomacy with Asian nations in part as a way of encouraging communist revolutions in those states, but even short of this direct intervention in the political systems of other countries, Buddhist diplomacy presented a means of engaging in international relations when Cold War alliances made direct contact either impossible or strategically problematic.37 Western intelligence agencies tasked with gathering data on CCP activities were also very interested in the status of Buddhism in the new communist Chinese state, and they were especially concerned whether Buddhists might be supportive of the new regime, in spite of communism’s institutional hostility toward religious belief. That Buddhism was being deployed by the CCP for cultural diplomacy purposes was known to Western intelligence organizations quite early on; a British Foreign Office report of January 20, 1953, noted as such:

It is evident that a strenuous effort to extend Communist influence into South and South-East Asia through the medium of Buddhism is now on the programme. The report herewith of the formation of a Chinese Buddhist Association, with the purpose of uniting Buddhists in the “peace” movement, is the more interesting in that the initiators are described as “of Tibetan, Mongolian, Han and Miao nationality and come from Tibet, Inner Mongolia, the north-west, south-west, and other parts of China.” The prominent part assigned to the south-west frontier minorities in this movement seems designed to prove to their kinsmen beyond the border that Buddhists can and should support the Communist cause. The emphasis laid by Narawila Dhammaratana on the common origin of Mahayana and Theravana [sic] Buddhism is also obviously intended to the same end. The appeal to the pacifist tendencies of Buddhist thought is, of course, also obvious and may very likely be effective.38

The role of Buddhism as a cultural link binding the border regions of the PRC to those of neighboring Asian countries was a vital consideration in how the PRC managed and deployed Buddhism from the early 1950s onward. It had the benefit of engaging with local minority cultures in border regions such as Tibet and Inner Mongolia, areas that had been effectively (p.197) outside of Chinese control for decades, while leveraging this culture in relations with neighboring nations. In spite of its being a religious tradition in an atheist state, and ostensibly a core part of the feudal society that the CCP sought to overthrow, Buddhism clearly ended up playing an important role in the early Cold War strategy of the PRC, although the full story of this role has yet to be explored.39

The CCP thus had very good reasons to restore and protect historic Buddhist sites in China: they were concrete symbols of the Buddhist past that formed the basis for Buddhist diplomacy, and they could serve as stages for diplomatic theater. But the approach was instrumental. Buddhism was valuable as a tool for influencing Buddhists at home and abroad, but in the end it was a religion and as such could not become part of the core ideology of the communist party or state. The Buddhist monasteries that were reconstructed in the PRC in the 1950s and early 1960s were financed with state funds and were rebuilt for state purposes. One CCP figure who was central to these reconstructions was Zhou Enlai 周恩來‎ (1898–1976), who, in his capacity as premier and foreign minister, was the PRC official most directly involved in the PRC’s foreign relations. Although his personal or strategic connection to Buddhism remains unclear, Zhou is also credited with preserving Buddhist historic sites beyond their use in cultural diplomacy, both in the 1950s and later during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. It appears to have been largely under his direction that the first Buddhist sites were restored at the start of the 1950s, in preparation to showcase China’s historic links to Buddhism for foreign visitors and the political theater of cultural exchanges and diplomacy. It was thus perhaps appropriate that two of the earliest Buddhist reconstructions of the PRC era were situated in the new national capital of Beijing.

Guangji Monastery

Located in the western part of the old walled city of Beijing, Guangji Monastery 廣濟寺‎ was first built in the Jin 金‎ dynasty (1115–1234 CE) but only came to prominence after the Ming court relocated the capital to Beijing in the early fifteenth century. The monastery had been substantially reconstructed in the 1920s under its abbot Xianming 現明‎, but during a planned forty-nine day ritual of prayers for the nation undertaken in late (p.198) 1931, either incense or a sparking electrical cord caused a fire to break out that ended up destroying many of the main structures, causing an estimated two million yuan of damage.40 The main hall was reconstructed by 1934, and the monastery continued to be active into the 1940s, during which time a specialist Huayan practice hall (Huayan daochang 華嚴道場‎) was established.41 In August 1949, as the CCP began to transform the new capital, the civil affairs bureau and its sanitation department initially earmarked Guangji Monastery and a number of other Buddhist sites in Beijing for use as cremation facilities as part of new regulations to regulate the handling of the dead. At this time, apart from mosques and Tibetan temples, which were not subject to the same set of regulations, there were 654 religious institutions in the capital but only 1,239 religious professionals. Even before the official proclamation of the PRC in October of that year, there was pressure on these religious sites to be productive and on religious professionals to receive education in new productive occupations.42

In 1952, however, Guangji Monastery suddenly rose to a new position of importance, not only within the capital but also for Buddhism throughout China and around the world. As a strategic move against American involvement in the Korean War, which had ground to a stalemate around the 38th parallel, the PRC hosted the Asia and Pacific Rim Peace Conference (Yazhou ji taipingyang quyu heping hui 亞洲及太平洋區域和平會‎) in 1952. The planning meeting for the conference took place in Beijing in June, and the conference proper held in October attracted some 278 delegates from 37 countries, many from labor organizations or communist political parties.43 After the planning meeting of the peace conference but before its official opening, Guangji Monastery was reconstructed between August 5 and September 25, 1952, under the auspices of the Beijing City People’s Government Construction Bureau (Beijing shi renmin zhengfu (p.199) jianshe ju 北京市人民政府建設局‎).44 Several attendees of the peace conference visited the newly reconstructed monastery during October of that year. Among them was the leader of the Ceylonese delegation, one Narawila Dhammaratana, who visited Guangji and presented Chinese Buddhists with a copy of a palm-leaf scripture and a sapling from the Bodhi tree. In return, Xuyun, then a respected elder monk of Chinese Buddhism, gave him a model stupa encased in glass containing a bone relic from Xuanzang, the Chinese monk who had visited India in the seventh century.45 The intended symbolism here is clear: Ceylon provides China with examples of the recorded teachings of the Buddha and a link to the site of his awakening, while China responds with a physical piece of the pilgrim who visited the South Asian homeland of Buddhism over a millennium ago.

After the conclusion of the peace conference, in November of that same year preparations began to establish a Buddhist Association of China (Zhongguo Fojiao xiehui 中國佛敎協會‎, BAC) as an officially sanctioned body to represent all of China’s Buddhists.46 Although all five of the PRC’s officially recognized religions would eventually have their own national associations, only two were founded prior to the Anti-Rightist Campaigns that began in 1957. The other, the Islamic Association of China (中國伊斯蘭教協會‎), was first proposed in July 1952 and founded in 1953 with its headquarters in Beijing. The organization for a national Buddhist association began almost immediately following the peace conference, and the international significance of its formation is signified in part by the fact that official notices of its formation were sent by the PRC government to India, Pakistan, and Ceylon.47 The national religious associations that would later be organized from 1957 onward would be much more strongly oriented toward the management and supervision of their religious adherents within China. These earlier ones, the BAC and the Islamic Association of China, in contrast, appear to have been most strongly directed toward relations with co-religionists outside of China. When the BAC was officially established in May 1953, Guangji Monastery was (p.200) selected as its headquarters, and as such the monastery would come to serve as a major showcase of Chinese Buddhism for foreign Buddhist visitors to the capital. A photograph of Guangji Monastery taken in or before 1957 depicts a series of large halls in excellent repair, and a photograph taken within the Great Hall shows that it contains an altar, hanging lamps, and hanging scrolls with calligraphy.48 From 1956 the monastery would also house the Chinese College of Buddhism (Zhongguo Foxue yuan 中國佛學院‎), the official PRC version of the pre-liberation Buddhist Seminaries established by Taixu and others.49

Guangji Monastery had already been an important Buddhist site in Beijing since the Ming dynasty, but it was propelled to a new level of prominence as a result of the events of 1952. Selected to showcase China’s Buddhist history for visiting Buddhist delegates to the peace conference, it was soon selected as the headquarters for a new official national religious association, and although it claimed to represent all Buddhists in China, most of its publicized activities through the 1950s would involve cultural exchanges and relations with foreign Buddhists and Buddhist minority groups within the PRC. From 1953 until the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, Buddhism in China would assume a new role in the PRC’s international relations strategy, and in many cases Guangji Monastery would be the central stage where this role would be played out.

Yonghe Temple

For all its newly constructed importance as the seat of the BAC, Guangji Monastery was quite clearly associated with “Han” Buddhist traditions, and thus a different venue was needed for events involving Buddhist leaders from Tibet and visitors from countries with historical ties to Tibet. Another site in Beijing, Yonghe Temple 雍和宮‎, had a direct link to Tibetan-tradition Buddhism dating back to the beginning of the Yongzheng era (1722–1735) of the Qing dynasty.50 Originally an imperial residence, the site was gradually (p.201) converted into a home for Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist monks. The Manchu rulers of the Qing kept close ties with Buddhist leaders from both regions, and the temple was used as a monastic administrative center. Yonghe Temple lost this role after the fall of the Qing in 1911, since there was no longer an imperial administration in Beijing, but it continued to be an active center for Tibetan Buddhism and was restored in the 1920s near the end of the period of the Beiyang Government (Beiyang zhengfu 北洋政府‎).51 A series of photographs taken prior to 1941 show the structures and religious images to be in very good condition, with only a very small amount of broken plaster as evidence of decay.52

After Beijing again became the national capital in 1949, Yonghe Temple, which had been damaged and left to become overgrown during the civil war, was repaired under the auspices of the new state. In the early 1950s the CCP was actively working to extend its authority over Tibet, and Yonghe Temple, with its historic role as administrative center for imperial rule and Tibetan Buddhism, was a strongly symbolic site that could productively be used again in a similar role. In May 1952 Zhou Enlai visited to inspect the site along with Tenzin Gyatso, the tenth Demo Rinpoche (1901–1973, Demu Qidemu huo Fo 德木奇德木活佛‎).53 After seeing the halls, historic inscriptions, and images, Zhou is said to have remarked that considering the fine halls and beautiful images, the Tibetan lamas must certainly protect the site, and he mentioned that the state had recently been considering allocating funds for repair works on the temple. Four months later in September 1952 those funds were forthcoming, and reconstruction was completed in 1954, at an estimated cost of 840,000 RMB.54 The reconstructed site was briefly opened (p.202) to the public for three days in February 1954.55 Comparing later photographs of the site to those from the 1920s and 1930s, it appears to have been rebuilt along much the same lines; although some fine details are missing from ornamental features, all of the major buildings of the central site were preserved.

The reconstruction of Yonghe Temple took place a little later than that of Guangji Monastery, but both were undertaken precisely during the period that the BAC was being established and the CCP was working to build showcase venues for its continued protection and support of Chinese and Tibetan-tradition Buddhism. The importance of Tibetan Buddhism in the PRC’s Buddhist strategy is underlined by the fact that after Yuanying 圓瑛‎ (1878–1953; A003587), the first head of the BAC, died in September 1953, his appointed successor was Sherab Gyatso (1884–1968, Xiruo Jiacuo 喜饒嘉措‎), a Tibetan Buddhist monk who had formerly been a Nationalist party member, who would hold the position until 1966.56 On September 18 and 19, 1954, the 14th Dalai Lama (1935–) and the 10th Panchen Lama (1938–1989), both of whom were in Beijing to participate as delegates to the first National People’s Congress, led two days of Dharma teaching at Yonghe Temple. A report in the Buddhist periodical Juexun 覺訊‎ describes how the two Tibetan Buddhist leaders preached to an assembled group of over two thousand nuns, monks, laywomen, and laymen from all corners of Beijing. They are said to have stressed the importance of Buddhist followers “fervently loving the motherland” (re’ai zuguo 熱愛祖國‎). Over one hundred Buddhists from Inner Mongolia, upon hearing that the two lamas had come to the capital, came especially to hear them teach. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas also paid a visit to Guangji Monastery to meet with heads of the BAC, including the newly appointed president of the association, Sherab Gyatso; Vice-President Nenghai 能海‎ (1886–1967); and Zhao Puchu 趙樸初‎ (1907–2000), a Buddhist layman who had co-founded the BAC and who would soon rise to become the most prominent Buddhist layman in the PRC.57

(p.203) Both Guangji Monastery and Yonghe Temple are historic Buddhist sites located near the heart of the new capital, neither of which had had a strong monastic resident community at the beginning of the PRC, but both of which presented the CCP with an element of strategic utility. Both sites were rebuilt to serve as showcases for Buddhism’s continued vitality in New China; Guangji as the seat of the national Buddhist association, and Yonghe as the home for Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist traditions. Each benefited from its historical authenticity, having been established sites for centuries, but they were also newly reinvented in the socialist age in ways that drew upon their past but were oriented toward the international strategic context of the Cold War. Buddhist delegates to Beijing were brought to these sites, and to others that would soon also be reconstructed under the direction of the state, to be shown how tolerant the new nation was toward religious freedoms and how respectful it was of the Buddhist cultural heritage that it shared with other Asian nations. As the Korean War cooled down and the superpowers of the Cold War moved into a new phase under the leadership of Eisenhower and Khrushchev, the PRC would expand this strategy of repairing and reconstructing Buddhist sites to cover much of the nation and would increasingly engage in a Great Game of cultural diplomacy with its Asian neighbors.

Rebuilding Discourses of Peace, 1953–1959

Of the hundreds of Chinese Buddhist periodicals that appeared in print in the early twentieth century, only a handful survived the Second Sino-Japanese War, and only about three titles continued publishing after 1950.58 One of these was Juexun yuekan 覺訊月刊‎ (Awakening news monthly), founded in 1947 by the Shanghai Buddhist Youth Association (Shanghai Fojiao qingnian hui 上海佛教青年會‎), which would remain in print until 1958. Its April 10, 1954, issue includes a special full-page photographic section titled “Asian Buddhists Are Striving to Implement Peaceful Democracy.”59 A block of text on the page reports on efforts by Japanese Buddhists to repatriate the remains of Chinese forced laborers who had died in Japan during the war; Ceylonese Buddhist delegates to the peace conference promoting cooperation and (p.204) trade between Chinese and their country; Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian Buddhists’ enthusiastic participation in their own national liberation movements; and Burmese Buddhists holding events in their country promoting world peace. The accompanying photographs depict Buddhists from these neighboring Asian nations visiting China and participating in Buddhist and peace-themed public events. This theme of Asian Buddhists from different nations cooperating in the name of peace, set against the background of a deepening Cold War, was very much at the forefront of Chinese Buddhist print discourse in the PRC during the period between 1954 and 1959. The Juexun spread reported on a few early examples of what would become a series of cultural delegations, exchanges, and public Buddhist events, intended to create ties between the PRC and other nations who shared a Buddhist cultural heritage. Between 1952 and 1966 at least thirty-six foreign Buddhist delegations visited China, and Chinese Buddhists also went abroad to visit other Asian nations with a Buddhist cultural heritage.60 This phase of Buddhist diplomacy was only curtailed at the end of the 1950s by the economic pressures brought on by the Great Leap Forward movement, the political and social pressures of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, and the breakdown in relations brought upon by a series of military clashes.

This was also the most active period for Buddhist monastery reconstructions in the PRC, when a great number of historic Buddhist sites were repaired or reconstructed under the auspices of the PRC state. Additionally, there were state funds allocated and donated for the repair of Buddhist sites in other countries as well.61 Monasteries and other historic Buddhist monuments in the PRC were part of a range of sites, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, to which visiting foreign delegates would be brought. Yet rather than seeking to rebuild the human religious communities that are the living heart of monasteries, the reconstructions of the 1950s sought to produce material-only spaces, more museum than monastery. In the middle of this period during the short-lived Hundred Flowers campaign, one lay member of the CBA is reported to have said that the repair and reconstruction of Buddhist sites was only intended to further suppress their institutional independence, removing the remaining autonomy from the on-site community.62 The reconstructed sites were meant to be places where foreign visitors could be shown the concrete support and protection that the (p.205) PRC was giving to Buddhist history, in hopes of laying a groundwork of trust for official diplomatic relations to follow. Rather than a Buddhist-led cross-fertilization of ideas across borders, with monasteries acting as nexus points of intercultural exchange as they had done for centuries, the Buddhism on display here was carefully orchestrated and controlled, and while the strategic benefits were to be enjoyed in the near future, as Joseph Levenson notes in the epigraph to this chapter, Buddhism itself was meant to be left in the past.63

A number of Asian nations participated in events held at reconstructed Chinese Buddhist monasteries during this period, none of which were led by communist parties at the time but each of which had the potential of becoming a valued ally to the PRC in the Cold War. In the remainder of this section I will examine three of these, noting the reconstructed Buddhist sites that provided the venue for Buddhist diplomacy in each case.


India was granted autonomy as a dominion of the British crown in 1947 and from 1950 achieved full independence as a secular republic. It shared with the PRC a strong anti-imperialist element in its founding ideology and was not strongly allied to either Cold War superpower. Yet the borderlands between the new states, the region of the Himalayan mountain range, had been contested territory up to and during World War II, and in the early 1950s the border between India and the PRC was disputed. Both nations had strong motivations to assert sovereignty over this strategically important area, including the region and people of Tibet. While Tibet had been part of the Qing Empire, after its fall and throughout the Republican Era it had enjoyed de facto autonomy, and India had offered its support for continued Tibetan autonomy in the early years of its independence.64 The PRC on the other hand acted quickly to secure control over Tibet, and as already described, recruited the Dalai and Panchen Lamas into the People’s Congress. India recognized the PRC in April 1950, the first non-communist state to do so, and although each new state was seeking in its own way to throw off the legacy (p.206) of Western imperialist domination and help establish a strong Asia led by Asians, cooperation in working toward this goal was complicated by overlapping claims over the strategically important Himalayan region.

Alongside the official Sino-Indian diplomatic negotiations that took place in the 1950s, there were a number of Indian cultural delegations that visited the PRC, most of which were not specifically of a Buddhist nature, but they normally included visits to a number of Buddhist sites in the PRC. One of the earliest of these took place from April to June 1952, just a few months prior to the Asia and Pacific Rim Peace Conference in Beijing. One participant, the Indian editor and author Frank Moraes, recorded his impressions of the experience in a book, Report on Mao’s China, published in 1953.65 During the journey they were taken to visit two Buddhist sites: the cave-temples near Datong and Yonghe Temple in Beijing. He came away from the experience, however, with a dim view of religious freedom in the PRC:

It had the atmosphere of a museum rather than a temple. No monks chanted their hymns, though later at a shrine in Peking I saw an old monk intoning his prayers. Not a wisp of incense coiled in the air. We saw no worshippers. . . . There is certainly as much “freedom” of religion in China as there is “freedom” of culture. But both are hedged by one paramount limitation. Such freedom can operate only within the bounds prescribed by the Communist party and along the lines laid down by the government.66

Elsewhere Moraes’s account is full of praise for how the PRC authorities were then placing a high value on the protection of historical monuments, viewing them as examples of the hard work and artisanship of China’s people in former times. Yet if the Buddhist stops on this itinerary were intended to impress the Indian visitors with New China’s respect for Buddhist culture, they seem to have had the opposite effect, underlining how constrained and limited religious life was under the new regime.

In the spring of 1953, around the time that final preparations for the formation of the BAC were taking place, Zhou Enlai made a state visit to India, primarily to gain support there for an Asian peace bloc to counter American influence in the First Indochina War (1946–1954). He also planned to invite the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), to visit China (p.207) around the time of the national day on October 1, but in the event this visit would only take place the following year.67 After Zhou returned to China he anticipated bringing Nehru to visit Xingjiao Monastery near Xi’an, and so he initiated a series of renovations and repairs there. A primary school that had been recently built was moved off the property, and the state allocated funds for repainting some of the buildings and constructing a guest hall below the scriptural library.68 The intended symbolism of bringing the state delegation to Xingjiao is clear: as the resting place of Xuanzang’s remains, it signifies the long historical relationship between China and India. The history associated with this particular Buddhist site made it uniquely suitable for strategic signification in international relations.69 Yet it’s important to note that while Nehru supported freedom of religious belief and the constitution of India as a multi-religious society, personally he had a quite negative view of religion. His impression was that it tended to be used for “exploitation and the preservation of vested interests,” a view that likely reflects his socialist and Marxist roots.70

In April 1954 Zhou attended the Geneva Conference, where a group of nations including the United States and USSR sought to resolve issues stemming from the Korean War and to stabilize French Indo-China, two conflicts that the PRC viewed as being within its sphere of influence and interest. It resulted in the separation of French Indo-China into the new nations of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, with the latter temporarily partitioned into communist and capitalist states, to be reunified in a few years after planned elections. China had helped to prevent the creation of a unified South-East Asian state under the tutelage of France, and the new nations that had emerged in the region presented new foreign relations opportunities. Later that year Nehru made the long-planned state visit to the PRC, the first non-communist leader to do so.71 Part of the visit was taken up with top-level discussions between Nehru and Mao in Beijing, which touched upon future cooperation between the two nations to counter the growing influence of the United States, the growing autonomy of Nepal, and the issue of (p.208) the Himalayan borderlands between the two nations.72 Nehru then visited a number of Chinese cities: Guangdong, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hankou 漢口‎, Shenyang 瀋陽‎ (Mukden), Anshan 鞍山‎, and Dalian 大連‎. Although in his recorded notes he does not mention any Chinese Buddhist sites, he was in fact brought to see several. He visited Yonghe Temple in Beijing on October 21, accompanied by Zhao Puchu and other Chinese Buddhists, where he saw a group of lamas reciting sutras and met with the Dalai and Panchen Lamas.73 As already described, Yonghe Temple had recently been reconstructed by the PRC state and was being used for events relating to Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. As Tibet continued to be a point of contention between India and China, this meeting with the two Tibetan lamas was likely intended to help build a consensus for future relations between the region and India. In Beijing, Nehru also saw reproductions of Dunhuang cave paintings and copies of Buddhist figures in the Palace Museum.74 On or around October 29, 1954, Nehru and his delegation visited Linggu Monastery in Nanjing, which, as described previously, has a Buddhist heritage but from the 1930s has instead been devoted to the memory of martyrs of the revolution.75 Finally, on December 26 at the farewell dinner in Beijing for Nehru before his return to India, he was photographed shaking hands with Sherab Gyatso, the president of the BAC.76

Although, based on his notes of this visit, these Buddhist activities do not appear to have made a very deep impression on Nehru, the PRC continued to use Buddhist sites and institutions as a venue for Sino-Indian cultural exchange until the end of the 1950s. For example, another Indian cultural delegation to China in July 1955, led by Anil Kumar Chanda (1906–?), then Deputy Minister of External Affairs, visited Xingjiao Monastery near Xi’an and the Large Wild Goose Pagoda in the city. Later in 1956, Changzhou (p.209) Tianning Monastery sent 387 fascicles of scriptures and 4,043 printing blocks to India as a gift.77 Modern India was constituted as a multi-religious republic, but the deep historical roots of Buddhism there were a key cultural foundation for PRC efforts to try and establish friendly relations and a positive cooperation moving into the 1950s. Such efforts eventually bore fruit during a brief period of strategic cooperation in the middle of the decade but were in the end not sufficient to prevent a larger breakdown of relations as a result of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959 and the subsequent military clashes along the border.78

Burma and Cambodia

Created from the former British colonial state in 1948, Burma (now Myanmar) presented the PRC with another neighboring potential ally that shared with it a common Buddhist cultural heritage. One major strategic concern in Sino-Burmese relations from the 1950s into the 1960s was the continued presence of Chinese Nationalist forces operating independently in the Burmese borderlands. These forces had been cut off from the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan and engaged in repeated, small-scale armed invasions of Chinese territory. The PRC also wanted to cultivate allies in its strategy of countering American influence in southeast Asia, particularly in light of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) that would be signed in September 1954, designed and led by the United States.79 Burma was a majority-Buddhist nation, and its Buddhist religious culture had recently been transformed by a series of lay-led educational and structural reforms during the colonial era, producing an engaged and media-rich Buddhism that was very much in line with the mainstream of Chinese Buddhism that had emerged from the Republican Era.80 Buddhism was thus a natural cultural field in which the CCP could work toward establishing shared goals and shared values with Burma and court it as a bulwark against the American-led southeast Asian bloc that was in the process of forming.

(p.210) Zhou Enlai had visited Burma briefly from June 30 to July 1 after his attendance at the Geneva Conference of 1954, and Burmese Prime Minister U Nu (1907–1995) made a state visit to the PRC in December 1954, traveling through Vietnam and arriving in Guangzhou. On December 2 he was photographed shaking hands with Sherab Gyatso, the president of the BAC, twenty-four days before Nehru would be similarly photographed.81 In a speech delivered on December 3, 1954, and published in the national newspaper Renmin ribao 人民日報‎ (People’s daily), U Nu mentions Buddhism as part of Burma’s history but does not include China as sharing in this historic culture. On December 14 U Nu and his delegation visited Lingyin Monastery in Hangzhou, which was then in the midst of a 500,000 RMB reconstruction.82 Nu later embarked on a tour of China that closely resembled that of Nehru. Later in September 1955, a Burmese cultural delegation led by Ne Win (1910/1911–2002) was brought to visit Guangji Monastery and Yonghe Temple in Beijing. U Nu would visit China again in October 1956 when he was temporarily out of office, a visit during which he saw the Chinese Buddhist Academy that had been established at Guangji Monastery the previous month.83 A few months later the head of state of Cambodia would also make a state visit to the PRC, and his itinerary of Buddhist sites would again follow the pattern established for Nehru and U Nu. On February 14, 1956, Prime Minister (formerly King) Sihanouk (1922–2012) arrived at Beijing airport, where he was greeted by an assembled group of Chinese Buddhist monks. Two days later the delegation visited Guangji Monastery in Beijing, where Zhao Puchu presented him with a set of scriptures translated by two Cambodian Buddhist monks who had lived in China some fourteen centuries previously.84

In both the cases of Burma and Cambodia, these newly independent nations had Buddhist majority populations and a national identity that was closely linked to Buddhism. They also leaned toward socialist ideologies but had not yet been fully pulled into the communist Cold War bloc. Courting (p.211) them in this way, the PRC hoped to ensure their cooperation in fulfilling strategic goals in the southeast and to ensure that they did not fall into the sphere of influence of the United States and its bloc.85

Throughout this era the PRC made use of reconstructed Chinese Buddhist monasteries as venues for strengthening top-level diplomatic ties and for laying the groundwork for future international relations through cultural exchanges. This background of Buddhist cultural diplomacy cannot be ignored when considering the concrete international relations successes of the PRC during this era: India under Nehru withdrew all its remaining presence from Tibet in 1954, including civil infrastructure and military advisers, effectively accepting Chinese sovereignty over the region; and in April 1955 at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, Zhou, Nehru, and U Nu met together and helped establish the foundations of the global Non-Aligned Movement. This strategy of Buddhist diplomacy continued with other Asian countries as well. For example, delegates from Nepal were invited to the PRC in 1957 and shown many of the same sites that Nehru, U Nu, and Sihanouk had seen.86 The experiences of these delegations left an impression on their participants, but they also furnished excellent promotional material for a global readership. At the time of their publication they were intended as part of a publicity campaign to portray the PRC as both tolerant of Buddhism and religion within its own borders and as a cooperative neighbor to other Asian nations with a Buddhist history. The two main English-language translations authored by Zhao Puchu, The Friendship of Buddhism (1957) and Buddhism in China (1957 and 1960), were certainly intended for this purpose. On the stage of reconstructed Chinese Buddhist monasteries, the PRC was proclaiming to visitors and readers that it was a protector of Buddhism within China and a promoter of Buddhist values worldwide.

Cultural Ruins, 1959–1966

Despite Buddhist diplomacy achieving some successes in the 1950s, creating at least the appearance of the PRC as a tolerant, multi-religious nation that was keen to maintain the historic cultural links between it and its Asian (p.212) neighbors, the broader scope of Chinese international relations encountered several setbacks at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Although U Nu had assured his people that the PRC had promised not to interfere in Burmese internal affairs, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops briefly crossed the border in mid-1956.87 Tibetans rose up against PRC rule in 1959, and the Dalai Lama, who had until then worked at the highest levels of Buddhist diplomacy on behalf of the CCP, fled to political asylum in India. Unable to agree on a mutually satisfactory border through the Himalayas, and in the wake of India granting asylum to the Dalai Lama, India and China went to war for just over a month in 1962. The Indian and Tibetan elements to China’s Buddhist diplomacy were suddenly much more difficult, if not impossible, to deploy in practice. Notably, comparing the 1957 and 1960 editions of Zhao Puchu’s Buddhism in China, in the later edition mentions of Tibetan leaders and most of Tibetan Buddhism have disappeared completely. India was now a rival, and Tibet a restive and potentially rebellious region. At this same time millions of Chinese citizens were starving as a result of natural disasters and the collectivization and misguided development of the Great Leap Forward campaign. Thus the labor, funds, and materials required for reconstructing and repairing Chinese Buddhist monasteries were in short supply.

Chinese Buddhists had welcomed a number of delegations from Asian countries that shared a Buddhist history, but their participation in transnational Buddhist movements was stymied by strategic and political conflicts. The CBA had sent delegations to the annual meetings of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) from 1956, but when Zhao Puchu tried to have the Republic of China expelled from the fellowship in 1961 relations soured, and the CBA did not attend the next meeting in India in 1964.88 Unable to gain control over the WFB, the CCP established its own venue, the Buddhist Conference of Eleven Asian Countries and Regions, held October 17–19, 1963, in Beijing.89 The theme of the conference was anti-imperialism, with a special emphasis on American interference in Vietnam. Outbound Buddhist delegations from the PRC ceased in 1965, and the last incoming delegation was one from Japan in 1966.90 The use of Buddhist diplomacy succeeded for a time on a cultural level and may have even influenced high-level diplomatic (p.213) events, but the exigencies of geopolitics of the early 1960s, in which Cold War antagonisms were only deepening, limited how far Buddhism could take the PRC on the world stage.

Finally, at the start of this last era of the present study, historic Buddhist sites in China were for the first time in the PRC era subject to a nation-wide set of regulations regarding historic cultural artifacts, the “Wenwu baohu guanli zanxing tiaoli” 文物保護管理暫行條例‎ (Interim regulations on the protection and management of cultural artifacts), passed by the state council in November 1960 and promulgated on March 4, 1961.91 Earlier regulations had focused on preventing the removal of artifacts from China or had only applied to specific sites, but now all such sites in China that were deemed to have historic or cultural value would receive legal protection. The main regulation that would potentially have an impact on Buddhist monasteries and their reconstruction stated that if a memorial or historical building was to be put to a new use, then permission of the local authority had to first be granted, unless the plan was for it to be turned into a museum or a tourism site. Selection of protected sites and enforcement of these regulations was to be left to officials in the relevant level of the government, either provincial, autonomous regional, or the city cultural bureau. Everyday matters of protection and management, however, were to be the responsibility of the local authority. An initial list of 180 protected sites, organized into six categories, was published along with these regulations. About thirty-four Buddhist sites including stupas and monasteries appear in the list under the category of “Ancient Buildings and Structures Relating to Historical Events,” a number that is certainly drastically fewer than the total number of historically significant Buddhist sites in China. In contrast, thirty-three locations are listed in the category of “Historical Sites Relating to the Revolution and Buildings Relating to Revolutionary History.”

Article 11 of the regulations stipulates the permitted scope of repairs or reconstruction that are to be allowed at such sites:

For all memorial structures, ancient structures, cave temples, carvings, sculptures, and so on, including articles within such buildings, that have been approved as such by a Cultural Protection unit: when repairs or conservation work are being undertaken, they must strictly comply with the principle of restoring [the artifact] to its original state or preserving its (p.214) current state, and no other building work may be carried out within the protected area.92

The inclusion of the site’s “original state” (yuanzhuang 原狀‎) in this article of the regulations might appear to be supportive of preservation work, but it opens the door to the possibility of the site being damaged or destroyed as part of restoring it to an earlier state; those structures that had been repaired or newly added as part of a recent reconstruction could be swept aside, leaving only the most ancient elements deemed to be part of its original state. As explored in the previous chapters, Buddhist monasteries are highly layered locations, with structures and features that have been added and modified in different eras. What its original state might have been like is usually a matter of conjecture and extrapolation. Additionally, these regulations make no mention of the human religious community to be found living in religious sites. The focus is solely on the material elements.


Despite the mainline Marxist view of religion as backward, superstitious, and a means of class domination, the CCP’s experiences during its early years prompted it to proceed cautiously in dealing with it. From the beginning of the PRC it attacked the economic structures that had helped maintain large religious communities, such as landholdings and rent collection, and shut down religious groups that appeared to be intractable, such as Yiguandao 一貫道‎.93 The new communist regime did not smash religious images and bulldoze religious institutions; rather, religious sites such as Buddhist monasteries were recognized as part of China’s cultural history, and these artifacts were reimagined as symbols of the creativity and productivity of the Chinese masses in times past. Widespread and indiscriminate destruction of religious images and structures would not occur until the ideological civil war that took place later during the Cultural Revolution. A substantial number of Buddhist sites were repaired and rebuilt, mostly between 1953 (p.215) and 1959, and eventually received legal protection under the regulations put into place in 1961. Buddhists from other Asian nations were invited to visit these reconstructed sites, and the CBA led a program of Buddhist diplomacy that drew upon the historic shared Buddhist culture of Asia and promised that Asian Buddhists would work for peace during this new era of the Cold War. The realities of Cold War alliances, border disputes, and the geopolitical impulses of the CCP in securing influence over their neighbors to counter that of the United States and its bloc, however, upended the promise of Buddhist international cooperation.

What was the impact of this on the Buddhist monasteries and the handful of monastics that were still able to live a religious life in the early PRC up to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution? In the larger Buddhist monasteries that had long been known for their high quality of monastic practice and training, monastics were still practicing and being trained, and apart from having their landholdings redistributed as part of the 1950 land reforms, they were largely left alone up to 1966 and were neither destroyed nor rebuilt.94 Yet they had lost the means by which they had financed repairs and reconstructions in the past, as they could no longer rely on donations, and had no autonomy on making changes to what was now recognized legally as a protected historical site. There were during this period only a handful of exceptions to this trend, one example being Yunju Monastery 雲居寺‎ in Jiangxi province, which was rebuilt along traditional lines under Xuyun’s leadership and with funds from Buddhists abroad.95 As the PRC took a harder line against southeast Asian nations in the 1960s, however, and remained on the other side of the “bamboo curtain” from much of the world until the early 1970s, such foreign contacts became more and more difficult to maintain.

For those Buddhist monasteries that were rebuilt using state funds, as described in this chapter, only one aspect of these multifaceted institutions was being reconstructed: their historical buildings. These reconstructions were not intended to recreate the whole monastic community as it had existed prior to a period of destruction. Instead they produced “hollowed-out” sites, with little or no active monastic community on site.96 In some cases, sites were turned into static museums and no longer even pretended to host religious activities; the goal was to preserve them as artifacts, ready to (p.216) be used for cultural or political purposes.97 These were sites to be displayed, not sites to provide a frame for religious life. Buddhist history—filtered, ossified, categorized, and reimagined as part of a nationalist, Marxist historical narrative—found a role in the PRC’s international relations. Historical Buddhist connections, symbolized through sacred sites, continue to be an important element in international relations, and issues continue to persist over control of property and who has the power to decide on destruction and reconstruction. To be certain, Buddhist monastics have carved out a place for themselves in contemporary China, but they remain only one of several forces competing over the fate of Buddhist monasteries in the country, with many sites long since emptied of religious life and relegated to being static artifacts of the past. This situation continues in the present day, with historic Buddhist monasteries continuing to be used for diplomatic purposes and monastic communities threatened by plans for historical preservation that jettison the people in favor of bricks and stones.


(1) The Buddhist Association of China, The Friendship of Buddhism (Beijing: The Nationality Publishing House, 1957), 6.

(2) Cited in Richard Clarence Bush Jr., Religion in Communist China (Nashville, NY: Abingdon Press, 1970), 328.

(4) By “state actors” I mean those with a defined role to play in the state, such as diplomats, government officials, or high-ranking Party members, who participate in international relations.

(5) Goossaert and Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China, 148–161.

(7) Kieschnick, Impact of Buddhism; Dorothy C. Wong, Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645–770 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2018).

(8) On the power of ideas and religion’s role in the Cold War, see Andrew Preston, “Introduction: The Religious Cold War,” in Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective, ed. Philip E. Muehlenbeck (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012), xi–xxii.

(9) See chapter 1.

(10) Goossaert and Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China, 140–143.

(11) 「自由的而非奴隸的‎·進步的而非保守的‎·進取的而非退隱的‎·世界的而非鎖國的‎·實利的而非虛文的‎·科學的而非想像的‎」

(12) Yin er bufa, yueru ye. 「引而不發‎,跃如也‎。」 Mao Zedong, Hunan nongmin yundong kaocha baogao 湖南農民運動考察報告‎, digital edition, <https://web.archive.org/web/20190329012425/https://www.marxists.org/chinese/maozedong/marxist.org-chinese-mao-192703.htm>.  The Foreign Languages Press translation is also quoted in Bush, Religion in Communist China, 30.

(13) For example, see Eren Murat Tasar, “Soviet Policies toward Islam: Domestic and International Considerations,” in Religion and the Cold War: A Global Perspective, ed. Philip E. Muehlenbeck (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012), 158–181.

(14) Goossaert and Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China, 143–146.

(16) Alfred Kiang, “A New Life Begins in the Temples,” China Weekly Review, February 11, 1950, 173–174.

(17) Kiang, “A New Life Begins in the Temples,” 173. The League of Democratic Youth was an arm of the CCP initially founded in southwest China following the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War. In 1950 the formal name of the national organization was the League of New Democratic Youth, but the Shanghai branch may have maintained the earlier formulation as reported by Kiang here. In 1957 it changed its name to the Communist Youth League of China. See Victor C. Funnell, “The Chinese Communist Youth Movement, 1949–1966,” The China Quarterly 42 (April–June 1970): 105–130; Bush, Religion in Communist China, 299 also mentions the establishment of early local party-guided Buddhist associations.

(18) Bush, Religion in Communist China, 324; Zhao Puchu, Buddhism in China (Beijing: Chinese Buddhist Association, 1957); Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 543n61.

(19) Odd Arne Westad, “Struggles for Modernity: The Golden Years of the Sino-Soviet Alliance,” in The Cold War in East Asia, 1945–1991, ed. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2011), 35–62; Ilya V. Gaiduk, “The Second Front of the Soviet Cold War: Asia in the System of Moscow’s Foreign Policy Priorities, 1945–1956,” in The Cold War in East Asia, 1945–1991, ed. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2011), 63–80.

(20) Wilma Fairbank, Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 169–172.

(21) Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 50–51; Katz, “Superstition,” 668–670. One example of conversion is Chongxiao Monastery in the Xuanwu district of Beijing being converted into a primary school. Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 73–80. See also the list of converted Buddhist sites on 500n113.

(22) “Tantao nongcun zhong de renmin neibu maodun” 探讨农村中的人民内部矛盾‎, Renmin ribao 人民日報‎, May 8, 1957, 4.

(23) See, for example, Liang Sicheng 梁思成‎, “Woguo weida de jianzhu chuantong yu yichan” 我國偉大的建築傳統與遺產‎, Renmin ribao 人民日報‎, February 19, 1951.

(24) Barbara T. Hoffman, Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy, and Practice (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 499.

(27) For a discussion of related issues in pre-war and wartime USSR, see Catriona Kelly, “Religion and Nauka: Churches as Architectural Heritage in Soviet Leningrad,” in Science, Religion and Communism in Cold War Europe, ed. Paul Betts and Stephen A. Smith, St Antony’s Series (London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2016), 227–251.

(28) Later on these roles would be joined by that of a sight-seeing and tourism destination, with serious implications for the economy, and autonomy, of religious sites.

(29) Although the roots of the organized Non-Aligned Movement were established in the mid-1950s, it was not formalized until 1961, with the term not used officially until the 1970s.

(30) See the “China at the United Nations” digital collection, Wilson Center, <https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/collection/178/china-at-the-united-nations>.

(31) See, for example, the title of a talk by Anne Blackburn given at UC Santa Barbara in 2011: “Buddhist Diplomacy in Colonial Southern Asia,” <http://www.ihc.ucsb.edu/buddhist-diplomacy-in-colonial-southern-asia/>.

(32) Amy King, China-Japan Relations after World War II: Empire, Industry and War, 1949–1971 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Lauren Richardson and Gregory Adam Scott, “Diplomatic Salvation: Buddhist Exchanges and Sino-Japanese Rapprochement,” in In Empire’s Wake: The Violent Legacies of Japan’s Imperial Expansion and the Reconstruction of Postwar East Asia, ed. Barak Kushner and Andrew Levidis (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, forthcoming 2019).

(33) See Anne Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

(34) Even prior to the start of the Cold War, the USSR had leveraged Buddhism to help it govern the Mongolian client state. Ernst Benz, Buddhism or Communism: Which Holds the Future of Asia? (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965), 155. This strategy continued into the Cold War; see, for example, Bhikkhu Amritananda, Buddhist Activities in Socialist Countries (Peking: New World Press, 1961), 57–69.

(35) This is the subject of a forthcoming book by Jack Meng-tat Chia.

(36) On Tibet see Gray Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

(38) Dhammaratana was a leftist Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who had studied in India. FO 371/99369, “Buddhism in China: Founding of a Chinese Buddhist Association (1952),” 3. Also see David C. Yu, “Buddhism in Communist China: Demise or Co-Existence?,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 39:1 (March 1971): 57.

(39) I hope to contribute to addressing this in the future through a project on Buddhism in the Chinese Cold War.

(40) “Beiping Guangji si bei fen” 北平廣濟寺被焚‎, Weiyin 威音‎ 37, January 15, 1932, in MFQ 36:230–232.

(41) “Jiaxu chongjian hongci Guangji si daxiong dian quanjing” 甲戌重建弘慈廣濟寺大雄殿全景‎, Beiping Fojiao hui yuekan 北平佛教會月刊‎ 1.3 (January 1935), in MFQ 72:454; “Guangji si qijian Huayan daochang” 廣濟寺啟建華嚴道場‎, Tongyuan yuekan 同願月刊‎ 3.3–4, April 25, 1942, in MFQ 91:71.

(42) “Jing chuangshe binyi guan huozang chang” 京創設殯儀館火葬場‎, Renmin Ribao 人民日報‎, October 5, 1949, 4.

(43) Mayumi Itoh, Pioneers of Sino-Japanese Relations: Liao and Takasaki (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 79; “Peace Conference of the Asian and Pacific Regions in Peiping in October 1952,” CIA file, General CIA Records, electronic collection, CIA-RDP83-00423R000200270001-9.

(44) Beijing shi shizheng gongcheng gongsi zhi bianzuan weiyuanhui 北京市市政工程‎ 总公司志编纂委员会‎, ed., Beijing shi shizheng gongcheng zong gongsi zhi 北京市市政工程总公司志‎ (Beijing: Zhongguo shichang chubanshe, 2005), 10. Welch estimates that between 1952 and 1960, 1,550,000 RMB was spent on reconstructing Guangji Monastery. Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 426.

(45) American Consulate General (Hong Kong), Survey of China Mainland Press 444–482 (1952): 8, 12, 15; Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 8, 9. Other delegates are also pictured visiting Guangji Monastery, but I have not been able to confirm their identities.

(46) Zhao, Buddhism in China (1957 ed.), 39–40.

(47) FO 371/99369, 18–19.

(48) Zhao, Friendship of Buddhism, photograph facing p. 16, third photograph after p. 16.

(49) Guangji Monastery would later be repaired again in 1972. A photograph published in 1981 shows the buildings to be in good repair. The Buddhist Association of China, The Guang-Ji Monastery (Beijing: [s. n.], 1981).

(50) Indexed as PL58474 in the Place Authority Database. I break with my convention of using “monastery” for Buddhist sacred sites with a resident monastic population here, since the gong 宮‎ in the original name is quite unlike that used in other place names. For a discussion of the layout and iconography of the site, see Kevin R. E. Greenwood, “Yonghegong: Imperial Universalism and the Art and Architecture of Beijing’s ‘Lama Temple’” (PhD diss., University of Kansas, 2013).

(51) See the series of photographs and articles in Tianjin jinguangming fahui tekan 天津金光明法會特刊‎ (n. d.), in MFQB 15:295–315; “Chongxiu Yonghe gong choubei chu kai chengli dahui” 重修雍和宮籌備處開成立大會‎, Haichao yin 海潮音‎ 7.12, January 23, 1927, in MFQ 166:504–505.

(52) Tokiwa and Sekino, Shina bunka shiseki, 12:11–18.

(53) On Tenzin Gyatso, see André Alexander, The Temples of Lhasa: Tibetan Buddhist Architecture from the 7th to the 21st Centuries (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2005), 216.

(54) 「雍和宫建筑相当规格‎,布局完整‎,气魄很大‎,佛像造形也很美观‎,喇嘛们一定要特别保护好雍和宫‎。最近国家也考虑要拨款重修雍和宫‎。」 “Zhongyang renmin zhengfu ji dang he guojiao lingdao ren zhongshi Yonghe gong” 中央人民政府及党和国家领导人重视雍和宫‎, https://web.archive.org/web/20120701184408/http://www.yonghegong.cn/2008-09/04/content_16389424.htm. One article reports that funds had been earlier allocated in 1950 as well, but I have found no confirmation of this from other sources: Liu Ying 劉穎‎, “Yonghegong ‘sanjue’ ” 雍和宮‎“三絕‎,” Renmin ribao haiwai ban 人民日報海外版‎, April 29, 2002, 8, <https://web.archive.org/web/20190409085255/http://www.people.com.cn/BIG5/paper39/6090/606444.html>; Zhao, Buddhism in China (1957 ed.), 36; Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 426.

(56) Zhao, Buddhism in China (1957 ed.), 40; Xirao Nima 喜饶尼玛‎, “Xirao Jiacuo” 喜饶嘉措‎, Xizang lishi wenhua cidian 西藏历史文化辞典‎, <https://web.archive.org/web/20070627091909/http://www.tibetology.ac.cn/experts/showArticle.asp?ArticleID=470>.

(57) “Dalai he Banchan zai Beijing Yonghe gong kaishi” 達賴和班禪在北京雍和宮開示‎, Juexun 覺訊‎ 8:10, October 1, 1954, in MFQ 103:443. Later in October 1956, a Tibetan branch of the BAC would be established in Lhasa. On Nenghai, see Ester Bianchi, “Sino-Tibetan Buddhism: Continuities and Discontinuities; The Case of Nenghai 能海‎’s Legacy in the Contemporary Era,” in Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism, ed. Yael Bentor and Meir Shahar (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017), 300–318.

(58) Lianlong jushi 莲龙居士‎, Zhongguo Fojiao bainian huigu 中国佛教百年回顾‎ (s. l.: Trafford Publishing, 2013), 192.

(59) “Yazhou Fojiao tu zai wei zhengqu heping minzhu er fendou” 亞洲佛教徒在為爭取和平民主‎, Juexun 覺訊‎ 8:4, April 10, 1954, in MFQ 103:306.

(64) Bérénice Guyot-Réchard, Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910–1962 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 55–162.

(65) Frank Moraes, Report on Mao’s China (New York: MacMillan, 1953).

(67) “Cable from Zhou Enlai, ‘Premier’s Intentions and Plans to Visit India,’ ” June 22, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, PRC FMA 203-00005-01, 3–4, trans. Jeffrey Wang, <http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/11243>.

(68) Chen, Da Ci’en si zhi, 65–66.

(69) Although Nehru did not end up visiting Xi’an or Xingjiao Monastery during his state visit, a cultural delegation from India did visit the Large Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an in September 1954, a site also associated with Xuanzang. Zhao, Friendship of Buddhism, 16.

(70) Quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Transworld, 2009), 68.

(71) Nehru had previously visited China in late 1939 and had met Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing.

(72) Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, vol. 2 (London: Johnathan Cape, 1979), figs. 23 and 24; “Nehru and Mao Hold Crucial Peiping Talk,” The New York Times, October 20, 1954, 1; “Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘Note on Visit to China and Indo-China,’ ” November 14, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, National Archives Department of Myanmar, Ascension Number 203, Series 12/3; “Letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to U Nu, Relating to Note on Visit to China and Indo-China (16.11.54),” obtained by You Chenxue, <http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121651>.

(73) Until recently, photographs of this visit and other photographs were available via the Photo Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India, but they have since been removed. I base my claims here on local copies of these images now in the author’s collection.

(74) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 14.

(75) Photographs show Nehru and his entourage in front of the memorial stupa and descending the stone steps in front of the memorial hall. Author’s collection.

(76) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 13.

(77) “Yindu wenhua daibiaotuan zai Xi’an canguan Xingjiao si da’yan ta” 印度文化代表团‎ 在西安参观兴教寺大雁塔‎, Renmin ribao 人民日报‎, July 5, 1955, 1; He, “Minguo shiqi Changzhou Tianning si yanjiu,” 67.

(78) Guyot-Réchard, Shadow States, part 2, 93–162.

(79) See John K. Franklin, “The Hollow Pact: Pacific Security and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization” (PhD diss., Texas Christian University, 2007).

(81) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 17.

(82) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 18–19; Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 423–424.

(83) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 22–23, 43.

(84) Buddhist Association of China, Friendship of Buddhism, 28–29, 30; “Xihanuke shouxiang canguan xuexiao, gongchang he simiao” 西哈努克首相参观学校‎、工厂和寺院‎, Renmin ribao 人民日报‎, February 17, 1956, 1; Zhai Qiang, “Zhou Enlai and the Establishment of Cooperative Relations between China and Cambodia, 1954–1965” 周恩来与中柬合作关系的建立‎ (1954 - 1965 年‎), Nankai Xuebao: Zhexue Shehui Kezue Ban/Nankai Journal: Philosophy, Literature and Social Science Edition 1 (2014): 24–32.

(85) On the development of political relations between the PRC and Burma and Cambodia, see FO 371/110225, “Political Relations between CPG and Burma (1954)”; and FO 371/120903, “Political Relations between China and Cambodia (1956).”

(87) Richard Butwell, U Nu of Burma (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1963), 178–179.

(91) “Wenwu baohu guanli zanxing tiaoli.”

(92) 「一切核定為文物保護單位的紀念建築物‎、古建築‎、石窟寺‎、石刻‎、雕塑等‎(包括建築的附屬物‎),在進行修繕‎、保養的時候‎,必須嚴格遵守恢復原狀或者保存現狀的原則‎,在保護範圍內不得進行其他的建築工程‎。」 “Wenwu baohu guanli zanxing tiaoli,” 78. Note that the original text uses a transitional simplified character set, so for clarity all characters are reproduced in their traditional format.

(93) Goossaert and Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China, 107–108.

(96) See, for example, the description by Moraes previously cited.

(97) Welch, Buddhism under Mao, 537–538n24.