Eminent Nuns

Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China

Beata Grant
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Eminent Nuns
    Book Description:

    The seventeenth century is generally acknowledged as one of the most politically tumultuous but culturally creative periods of late imperial Chinese history. Scholars have noted the profound effect on, and literary responses to, the fall of the Ming on the male literati elite. Also of great interest is the remarkable emergence beginning in the late Ming of educated women as readers and, more importantly, writers. Only recently beginning to be explored, however, are such seventeenth-century religious phenomena as "the reinvention" of Chan Buddhism—a concerted effort to revive what were believed to be the traditional teachings, texts, and practices of "classical" Chan. And, until now, the role played by women in these religious developments has hardly been noted at all. Eminent Nuns is an innovative interdisciplinary work that brings together several of these important seventeenth-century trends. Although Buddhist nuns have been a continuous presence in Chinese culture since early medieval times and the subject of numerous scholarly studies, this book is one of the first not only to provide a detailed view of their activities at one particular moment in time, but also to be based largely on the writings and self-representations of Buddhist nuns themselves. This perspective is made possible by the preservation of collections of "discourse records" (yulu) of seven officially designated female Chan masters in a seventeenth-century printing of the Chinese Buddhist Canon rarely used in English-language scholarship. The collections contain records of religious sermons and exchanges, letters, prose pieces, and poems, as well as biographical and autobiographical accounts of various kinds. Supplemental sources by Chan monks and male literati from the same region and period make a detailed re-creation of the lives of these eminent nuns possible. Beata Grant brings to her study background in Chinese literature, Chinese Buddhism, and Chinese women’s studies. She is able to place the seven women, all of whom were active in Jiangnan, in their historical, religious, and cultural contexts, while allowing them, through her skillful translations, to speak in their own voices. Together these women offer an important, but until now virtually unexplored, perspective on seventeenth-century China, the history of female monasticism in China, and the contributionof Buddhist nuns to the history of Chinese women’s writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6235-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Brief Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Setting the Stage: Seventeenth-Century Texts and Contexts
    (pp. 1-16)

    Every reader of premodern Chinese fiction, and indeed of medieval and early modern Western fiction as well, is probably familiar with the image of nuns (usually depicted as being both young and beautiful) who, left unsupervised by male kin behind surprisingly permeable convent walls, become either hapless sexual prey or seductive vampires.¹ Nonfictional sources, such as legal cases and miscellaneous records of various kinds, also tended to focus on the slanderous, the sensational, or the simply curious. In fact, for all their cultural and theological differences, this is the one thing that Buddhist nuns shared with their Catholic counterparts in...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Images of Nuns in the Writings of Seventeenth-Century Monks
    (pp. 17-36)

    This study is primarily concerned with the perspectives and representations of religious women as articulated by religious women themselves—since it is precisely these that have been so conspicuously lacking from previous studies of Chinese nuns. However, a brief look at the descriptions and images of nuns found in the writings of seventeenth-century male monastics and Buddhist laymen—as opposed to writers of fiction—will help illuminate the variety of male views of women religious.

    Even a cursory perusal of the discourse records of the seventeenth-century male Chan masters included in the Jiaxing canon reveals the significant presence of women...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Making of a Woman Chan Master: Qiyuan Xinggang
    (pp. 37-57)

    Qiyuan Xinggang (1597–1654) can be considered the grande dame or, perhaps more appropriately, the matriarch of seventeenth-century women Chan masters, not only because she was the one of the first to set foot on the stage in that century but also because she left seven women Dharma successors, one of whom wrote a relatively detailed biographical account(xingzhuang)of her teacher’s life.¹ Much like European vitae of the saints, that account was written not primarily as self-revelation but rather as a record of character and deeds that might serve as a model for later generations. This is true, in...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Qiyuan Xinggang as Abbess, Dharma Teacher, and Religious Exemplar
    (pp. 58-76)

    The composite description of Qiyuan Xinggang provided by Yikui Chao chen’s vita and Wu Zhu’s stupa inscription give some indication of her energy and determination, qualities that are conveyed as well by the woodcut portrait of Qiyuan Xinggang that is reprinted along with heryuluin the Jiaxing canon.¹ In this portrait, Qiyuan Xinggang is depicted as a solid woman with strong features. Her head is covered with a short fringe of hair, rather than completely shaved, which may indicate that she had only recently emerged from her period of solitary retreat. One of her hands is hidden beneath her...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Passing on the Lamp: The Dharma Successors of Qiyuan Xinggang
    (pp. 77-106)

    Qiyuan Xinggang had seven officially designated Dharma heirs, although many more disciples either lived at the Lion-Subduing Chan Cloister or spent time with her on retreat. Of these seven, we know the most about Yikui Chaochen (1625–1679), who was the author of the biography of Qiyuan Xinggang that was quoted extensively in the previous chapter, and who also left an extantyulucollection of her own. There is also an extantyulufor Yigong Chaoke (1615–1661), one of the two nuns charged with the leadership of the Lion-Subduing Chan Cloister after Qiyuan Xinggang’s death. Unfortunately, there are no...

  11. CHAPTER SIX From Hengzhou to Hangzhou: Jizong Xingche
    (pp. 107-129)

    Qiyuan Xinggang and her seven Dharma successors were all born and raised in the Zhejiang-Jiangsu area, the heartland of seventeenth-century Buddhist and literary culture. Two of the women Chan masters whoseyuluare preserved in the Jiaxing canon, however, were originally from outside of this area, although both ended up traveling to the southeast and spending a significant time there as abbesses of various nunneries. One of these women was Chan master Jizong Xingche (b. 1606), who was from Hengzhou, in present-day Hunan Province, the other—whom we will meet in Chapter Seven—was the late-seventeenth-century Chan master Ziyong Chengru,...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN From Wise Mother to Chan Master: Baochi Jizong
    (pp. 130-145)

    Baochi Jizong and Zukui Jifu (whom we will meet in Chapter Eight) were both Dharma heirs of Jiqi Hongchu (1605–1672)—the same Jiqi Hongchu who, when Yigong Chaoke visited him at his monastery on Mount Lingyan in Suzhou, declared her to be a true “Dharma vessel.” Jiqi Hongchu was a Jiangsu native who received Dharma transmission from Miyun Yuanwu’s Dharma heir Hanyue Fazang (1573–1635), and after serving as the abbot of more than ten large monasteries in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Hunan, he settled down on Mount Lingyan in 1645. Jiqi Hongchu’s great popularity among the Jiangnan literati was...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Reviving the Worlds of Literary Chan: Zukui Jifu
    (pp. 146-164)

    Of all of the woman Chan masters discussed in this study, Zukui Jifu would seem to show the most profound, original, and certainly wide-ranging engagement with the classical Chan textual tradition. This perception is no doubt due, at least in part, to our having considerably more of her Dharma talks and writings than we have of any of the others. Aside from the collection ofsongguthat she wrote together with Baochi Jizong, Zukui Jifu’s extant collections include a discourse records collection in five fascicles, and a second five-fascicle collection of writings, composed primarily of poems.

    Chan Master Zukui [Ji]fu...

  14. CHAPTER NINE From Beijing to Jiangnan: Ziyong Chengru
    (pp. 165-184)

    By the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the social and political transition was pretty much over, and the Manchu dynasty was firmly established. As we have seen, even Baochi Jizong’s son Xu Jiayan had, perhaps reluctantly, traveled to Beijing in 1679 to take up an important office in the Qing court. Linji Chan monks in Miyun Yuanwu’s lineage had made the journey even earlier. Muchen Daomin, Miyun Yuanwu’s staunch defender and erstwhile ghostwriter, was invited to the capital in 1659 and soon became the favorite of the first Qing emperor (Shunzhi, r. 1644–1661), who bestowed on him the...

  15. A Brief Epilogue
    (pp. 185-190)

    By the early eighteenth century, the Manchu Qing dynasty was firmly in place, and many of the cultural and social boundaries and borders that had been loosened or blurred by the traumatic contingencies of the transition began to snap back into place. Starting as early as the famous special examination of 1679, literati men began to be lured back into government service, and energies that had once been poured into patronage of Buddhist monasteries began to be rechanneled into the more traditional pursuits of the Confucian literati. It also meant a restoration of Confucian orthodoxy and learning, which, unlike the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 191-224)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 225-236)
  18. Index
    (pp. 237-241)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)