[POSTPONED] International Conference on the Shentong Monastery & East Asian Buddhism

[POSTPONED] International Conference on the Shentong Monastery & East Asian Buddhism

The Tower Crouching in the Dragon-Tiger Stance and the Monastery Beaming with Spiritual Powers (shentong):

International Conference on the Shentong Monastery 神通寺 and East Asian Buddhism

(Ji’nan, Shandong; POSTPONED, details TBA)


We cordially invite scholars from all fields to submit their paper proposals related to the conference topic. This conference is hosted by the Shentong Monastery 神通寺in Ji’nan 濟南, Shandong Province and co-hosted by Harvard FAS CAMLab (Chinese Art Media Lab) (https://camlab.fas.harvard.edu) and by the From the Ground Up project (www.frogbear.org) at the University of British Columbia. The conference will take place in the Shentong Monastery in Ji’nan, Shandong Province.

The Shentong Monastery is located in Licheng 歷城 District in the city of Ji’nan. Originally known as Langgong Monastery 朗公寺, it is one of the earliest monasteries in the Shandong area and dates back to the Sixteen Kingdoms period (304-439). At the time when the Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei 北魏太武帝 (424-452) suppressed Buddhism, the Shandong region was under the rule of the Liu Song Dynasty, thereby skirting the tragic fate of the persecution. It prospered, forming a rapport with the Southern Dynasty, Western Regions and the Korean Peninsula. Locally, Langgong Monastery stood as the beacon for the development of Buddhism in and around Ji’nan and Mount Tai 泰山 where a great number of monasteries were built. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), Buddhism in Shandong experienced an unprecedented flourishment. In the third year of Kaihuang Reign (583) of the Sui, Emperor Wen renamed the Langgong Monastery as “Shentong Monastery” 神通寺 and conferred on it a Buddha’s relic, for which a stūpa was constructed. Yang Guang 楊廣 (569-618), the Emperor Yang of Sui 隋煬帝 (r. 604-618) and his heir Yang Zhao 楊昭 (584-606), the Crown Prince Yuande 元德 both donated generously to the monastery. During the High Tang period, the Li Family of the Tang continued its close ties with the monastery. Emperor Taizong’s son Prince Zhao 趙王 (i.e., Li Fu 李福 [634-670]), his daughter Princess Nanping 南平 (d. 650) and his son-in-law Liu Xuanyi 劉玄意/懿 (d. after 643; the Magistrate of Qi District) all sponsored the construction of shrines in the Shentong Monastery. The famous Buddhist master Yijing 義淨 (635-713) who travelled to India by ocean, had also once been a disciple in the Shentong Monastery, studying after Master Shanyu 善遇 (d.u.) and Master Huixi 慧習 (d.u.).

When Empress Wu 武后 (624-705) started to exert her supreme power from 655, Buddhism experienced a rapid transformation and became the ideology guiding the management of state affairs and the building of an international trade network. But as soon as Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 712-756) reclaimed the throne, he reshaped the policies, launched military campaigns against foreign kingdoms and restored a civilization that heavily relied on agriculture. Buddhism and its globalist outlook only experienced its brief efflorescence during Empress Wu’s reign before its dismantlement by Emperor Xuanzong – a fate that is materially visible in the Dragon Tiger Tower in the Shentong Monastery. The lower strata of the tower are delicately carved whereas its upper sections were apparently finished in a haste, which bespeaks the shift at the time from a broad-hearted regime to a narrow-minded one. By this time, the sun of the Tang-Zhou Empire had passed its mid-day zenith. This stūpa is the living record of a thousand years’ history that saw the ambitions ascribed to Buddhism fading to a wistful regret. Likewise, the city of Luoyang, as the political centre of the Wuzhou Empire, also bears traces that reflect the trajectory of Buddhism in the Shandong area. These material records and the history behind them should warrant our further attention.

The Shentong Monastery houses abundant treasures of historic relics, including the Four-Doors Stūpa 四門塔 from the Sui Dynasty, the Thousand-Buddhas Cliff 千佛崖 from the early Tang, also a stūpa sculpted with figures on its four walls from the High Tang period (commonly known as “Great Dragon-Tiger Stūpa” 大龍虎塔), a stūpa carved by Master Fulin 福林 in 1098, and the Stūpa Forest 塔林 where the monks during the Yuan and Ming Dynasty were buried, as well as the base of architecture that dates back to the Tang and the Song. The monastery is also home to a stūpa that was built in 717 and transferred from its original site in the Huanggu Nunnery 皇姑庵 in the Tuquan 突泉 Village of Licheng District (commonly known as “Small Dragon-Tiger Stūpa” 小龍虎塔). It is the earliest of its kind in Shandong.

These stūpas possess not only religious but also secular significance. By observing them, we could potentially reconstruct the political, economic, social, cultural and even diplomatic panorama of its time. For instance, Master Senglang 僧朗 (d.u.), the founder of the Shentong Monastery who lived in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) was the disciple of the foreign monk Master Fotucheng 佛圖澄 (232-348) and also studied with his own disciples Dao’an 道安 (312-385) and Zhu Fahe 竺法和(d.u.). The monastery was also the beneficiary of five political rulers, including Fu Jian 苻堅(338-385; of Former Qin 前秦 [r. 357-385]), the Emperor Xiaowu of Jin 晉武帝 (362-396), the Emperor Wucheng 武成 of Latter Yan 後燕 (r. 384-396), the Emperor Daowu 道武 of Northern Wei (r. 386-409) and the Emperor Xianwu 獻武 of Southern Yan 南燕 (r. 398-405), the last of whom even granted the tax of two counties to the monastery, contributing greatly to the development of Buddhism around Mount Tai. As these examples attest, since the very beginning of the monastery’s inception, its connection with politics already ran deep and wide.

Shandong is adjacent to the East China Sea and since antiquity, has been an important point of passage for the seafarers. As early as Master Senglang, himself of foreign origin, founded the monastery, it had already been visited by monks from the Western Regions and the Korean Peninsula. During the Eastern Jin (317-420), the monastery received numerous prominent monks from India who travelled to Shandong by sea. Among them, Buddhabhadra landed in China by way of Donglai 東萊 in Qingzhou 青州 while Faxian 法顯 (337-422) also returned to China by disembarking in Changguang 長廣 in Qingzhou.

By investigating the Shentong Monastery and its architectures and sculptures, we could piece together a vision of the 1600 years of history regarding how Buddhist arts evolved, how East Asian politics transformed, and how various areas – the coastal, the inland, East Asia and South Asia – interacted with each other in complex religious, commercial and social dynamics. For these reasons, we propose, though not exclusively, the following themes for discussion:

  • Buddhism in the Shentong Monastery and the History of Buddhism 神通寺佛教與佛教史研究;
  • Buddhist Arts in the Shentong Monastery 神通寺佛教藝術研究;
  • Cultural and Sociological Studies Related to the Shentong Monastery 神通寺相關之文化、社會學研究;
  • From the Shentong Monastery to the Studies of Buddhism in Mount Tai and Shandong 以神通寺為核心之泰山或山東佛教文化研究;
  • From the Shentong Monastery to the Studies of Politics-Religions Relationship in the Imperial China 以神通寺為中心之古代政教關係研究;
  • The Shentong Monastery and the Transoceanic Exchange of Buddhist Culture 神通寺與中國古代海上佛教文化交流研究;
  • The Shentong Monastery and the East Asian Societies (e.g. the Korean Peninsula; Japanese Islands) 神通寺與東亞社會(朝鮮半島、日本列島)研究.

The conference consists two components: Academic Forum and Academic Fieldtrip. In the Academic Forum, participants will share the latest research and methodologies related to the conference theme through presentations, commentaries, discussions and other activities. During the Academic Fieldtrip, participants will visit the Shentong Monastery and the surrounding sites, including the Shiku Monastery 石窟寺 and the museum.

The organizing committee welcomes all papers that study the Shentong Monastery from a global perspective in relation to the East and South Asia. All conference-related costs, including local transportation, meals and accommodation during the conference period, will be covered by the conference organizers, who—depending on availability of funding—may also provide a travel subsidy to selected panelists who are in need of funding. Please email proposals and CVs to frogbear.project@ubc.ca by January 30, 2020.

A conference volume will collect all the papers in English, plus English translations of several papers written in languages other than English: a volume in Chinese, to be published in Taiwan or mainland China, will include Chinese versions for all papers not written in Chinese in addition to those papers contributed by our colleagues based in China. Only scholars who are confident in finishing their draft papers by May 25, 2020 and publishable papers by December 31, 2020 are encouraged to apply.