Report on “On Chinese Philosophy and Memory: A Project Examining Chan Buddhism Recollection, Ritual, and Narrative”

Report on “On Chinese Philosophy and Memory: A Project Examining Chan Buddhism Recollection, Ritual, and Narrative”

Image yy Zhangzhugang – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


by Vivian Li, UBC

As a first-generation Chinese-Canadian immigrant, and a graduating MFA candidate at the UBC School of Creative Writing, the themes in my writing include liminal identity and intergenerational connections. As such, after learning about alternative narrative threads to the three-act structure in my classes, I immediately wanted to investigate how themes and forms in Chinese literature might also provide further insights. In this project, I wished to explore how my findings could change the momentum of my thesis novel. I also examined memory and its relationship to Chan Buddhism, as well as how these elements coincide in literature. I enjoyed visiting the various museums, libraries, universities, and temples in China to supplement my research—including the Sun Yat-sen University library, Dafo Temple, Guangzhou Museum of Art, and Guangxiao Temple, among others.

My objectives were specific, and included the overarching desires to explore relic and temple reconstruction plot points for my novel, as well as to investigate relationships between Chan Buddhism and memory, and its connections to karma. The time I spent at the host institution was very beneficial to my research for my novel as well as for my future studies. I anticipate I’ll be able to write more stories incorporating Chinese Philosophical concepts, explore more nuanced relationships between Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Literature, as well as further develop non-linear narrative techniques in my writing. These effects are already clear from the structure, momentum, and rhythm of my novel. My findings have opened up possibility for further research in relationships between the Chinese literary and Philosophical world, including intersections/ similarities to Western literature and Philosophy. I was also able to attend the conference panels organized by Glorisun Global Network for Buddhist Studies in partnership with FROGBEAR in Hong Kong and exchanged contacts with scholars and writers in related fields. In general, I have become more invested in East Asian Studies research, as well, my novel has benefited from the time spent studying philosophical principles in relationship to memory and literature. I hope to ultimately publish my thesis novel depicting fluid, narrative structures that will help explore liminal identity as well as highlight the Chinese-Canadian diaspora experience.

Lastly, I’m still finishing my research paper but will be submitting my findings to conferences. As well, some of my research and/or drawn images of architecture will help frame the context of my experimentations in the preface of my thesis novel. Overall, my findings were plentiful—I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to research and generate scholarly work abroad.