Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Technologies of Salvation: (Re)locating Chinese Buddhism in the Digital Age

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Technologies of Salvation: (Re)locating Chinese Buddhism in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Iam a product of this age. I would not have come into being if not for these times. In truth, the Internet has made me who I am.1

- Daoxin, posted on his Weibo blogroll on 7 September, 2011.

Soon, a video depicting a master monk consecrating a mobile phone went viral, and Buddhagrams began to conquer Weibo and WeChat.

- Chen Qiufan (a.k.a. Stanley Chan)

Chinese Buddhism has come a long way since Deng Xiaoping (...) introduced radical economic policy changes in 1978 (Goossaert and Palmer, 2011; Ashiwa and Wank, 2009). While the growth of Protestant churches represents one of the most dramatic developments of China's religious held, the expansion of Buddhism is no less remarkable and deserving of attention (Ashiwa and Wank, 2005; Fisher, 2014; Tarocco, 2015). The lives of clerics have considerably improved amidst sustained efforts to rebuild and expand nunneries, monasteries and other Buddhist institutions (Bianchi, 2001; Borchert, 2010, Ashiwa, 2000). Commenting on the Chinese state's creation of bureaucratic organizations for the management of religion, Yoshiko Ashiwa and David Wank note that, since the 1990s, the relationship between Buddhism and the "state apparatus has its points of conflict but it is also mutually constitutive" (2006: 356). When he was President of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003, Jiang Zemin (.. .) made frequent public appearances in the company of Buddhist clerics.2 The family of China's current leader, Xi Jinping (...), enjoys close ties to Buddhism. During his tenure as party secretary of Zhejiang province, Xi facilitated the ambitiously named "World Buddhist Forum" (shijie fojiao luntan ... that took place in Hangzhou in 2006. A 2012 Reuters report describes Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan (...), as a "Buddhist" practitioner (ji, 2012).3

Scholars have studied the recent Buddhist revival from a variety of perspectives, including the moral dimensions of lay Buddhist practice (Fisher, 2008, 2014), the spread of Tibetan Buddhism among Chinese Buddhists (Yü, 2012), the relationship between Buddhism and the market economy (Yang and Wei, 2005; Yü, 2012) and the role of nuns in the making of modern Chinese Buddhism (Bianchi, 2001; Huang, 2009). This article takes a different approach. In looking at digital Buddhist communities in the Chinesespeaking world, I join Peter van der Veer in his call for "more poetic accounts" of urban life in Asia and the "practical, everyday urban aspirations to "self-cultivation" and "selfpresentation" (van der Veer, 2015: 3). The phrase "technologies of salvation" is advanced as a potential cornerstone for contemporary urban Buddhist life. Following John Lardas Modern's conception of "the ever-evolving habitus of techno-modernity" (2013: 184), this article argues that urbanites who live in post-socialist China and Sinophone Asia's city-regions-Beijing, the Shanghai-Suzhou-Hangzhou-Ningbo corridor, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei-use technology and Buddhist digital religious goods for soteriological purposes. In my understanding, technology has historically played an important role in shaping Buddhist cultural and social lives. Thus, I view the object of the present enquiry, namely WeChat and contemporary Buddhist technoculture, in the context of the history of other non-human actants, including artifacts, hermeneutics textual forms, infrastructures, and so on, that have extended human capacities (Carneiro 2015: 53). Technology-notes Francis Lim-"is also techne, in the Heideggerian sense-an application of knowledge that connects us inter-subjectively and with the material world [...]" (2009: 2). The study of the communicative fabric of the social media life of Buddhist monks and nuns, I argue, sheds light on the role that digital technology plays in the processes of re-articulation of their relationship with other practitioners. By examining the spheres of pious selfmaking and social imaginary that are opened up by Buddhist technoculture, this article suggests that deep-rooted attitudes towards the circulation of knowledge and charisma inform the current recuperation of monastic ideals and the production of digital "dharma treasures" (fabao . …

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