Guest Lecture: The Chinese Buddhist Canon Constructed in the Ming Dynasty

Guest Lecture: The Chinese Buddhist Canon Constructed in the Ming Dynasty

A lecture report by Maggie Mitchell can be found here.

We look forward to welcoming Dr. Darui Long (University of the West) to UBC  to present his lecture on The Chinese Buddhist Canon Constructed in the Ming Dynasty.

When: 4pm-5:30pm, March 8, 2018

Where: Room 604, Asian Centre (1871 West Mall)


The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) witnessed the construction of four editions of the Chinese Buddhist canon.  Three of them were under the patronage of the imperial court and the one was sponsored by Buddhist monks and lay people in the seventh to eighteenth centuries.

The lecture introduces briefly the development of Chinese Buddhist canon.  The Hongwu Southern Canon was the first edition constructed at the decree of Emperor Hongwu.  It was not accomplished until 1399.  The woodblocks, however, were destroyed in a fire in 1408.  Then Emperor Yongle decided to engrave another set of Buddhist canon in Nanjing, which was accomplished in 1420.  This was the Yongle Southern Canon. The woodblocks of this edition were kept in Nanjing.  Monks and common people could make a request for the canon and paid the cost.

In 1416, Emperor Yongle decided to move the capital from south to Beijing in the north.  He ordered that a new edition of the Buddhist canon be engraved. This has been called the Yongle Northern Canon.  The engraving was not finished until 1440.

There are probably 25 sets of the Yongle Northern Canon extant in the world.  I started my examination of the Yongle Northern Canon at Princeton University East Asian Library in 2009 and then in Chongqing, Shaanxi, Beijing and many other places, including Canada and Poland.   He realized that the contents of these sets are identical, yet they differ in many aspect, such as, colophons, quality of paper, silk covers, records of temples that received it, the seal stamps, etc.

It was widely believed that as the Yongle Northern Canon was a court edition. The royal family monopolized the merit-making when they donated money to engrave and print it. Colophons show that this is not the complete story: eunuchs, court maids, concubines of the royal family, and even ordinary people donated money for printing.

The Yongle Northern Canon exerted great influence on the Jiaxing Thread-Bound Canon and the Qing Dragon Edition.  Besides, its quality in collation and printing is one of the best.

When the Qing Dragon Edition was completed in 1738, two ministers made a memorial to Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1795) to the effect that as the woodblocks of the Yongle Northern Canon became useless, they could be used as charcoal for making tiles of the imperial palace.  Thus, more than 70,000 woodblocks were destroyed.


Dr. Long Darui is a professor of Chinese religions, Department of Religious Studies, University of the West, Rosemead, California, USA.  He earned his Ph.D. at the Graduate School, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China, 1996.  Upon graduation, he obtained “The Senior Fellowship” from the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University, and “Harvard-Yenching Institute” in 1996 – 1997. He continued his research in Chinese Buddhism with the support of University of California, Berkeley in the following years.  He taught Eastern religions and Chinese religions at the University of Calgary, Canada from 2000 – 2002. He returned to University of the West in 2002 and has taught Chinese Buddhism, Chinese philosophy, Chinese religions, Chinese history and Dunhuang studies since then.

Dr. Long’s research interest focuses on Chinese Buddhist canon.  As early as 1994, he began his investigation into the Hongwu Edition of the Chinese Buddhist Canon kept at Sichuan Provincial Library, Chengdu.  His paper on The Hongwu Edition was published by the East Asian Library Journal, Princeton University, 2000.   In 2009, he obtained a scholarship from Princeton University and spent one month doing research on the rare editions of Chinese Buddhist canon. He also spent three weeks at the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago, examining its collection of the Northern Yongle Edition of the Chinese Buddhist Canon. He has traveled widely in China, the US, and Poland, checking the rare books in Buddhist literature preserved in libraries, museums, and temples. Currently, he is working on a concordant catalogue of Yongle Northern Canon with other editions of Chinese Buddhist canon.