Cambria Press Author Albert Welter – Speech at AAS 2018 Reception

Cambria Press author Professor Albert Welter, Head of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona, gave a speech about his book, The Administration of Buddhism in China: A Study and Translation of Zanning and the Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy (Da Song Seng shilue), at the Cambria Press reception at the AAS 2018 conference in Washington, DC.

Watch Professor Albert Welter’s speech and/or read the transcript below.

Cambria Press Publication Author Albert Welter

Below is a transcript of Professor Albert Welter’s speech:

“I know there are some of you who have worked on projects longer than I have on this one, but I doubt there are many. I started working on the early Song dynasty literati Buddhist Zanning as a post-doctoral project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, back in the late 1980’s, and have continued to work on this project intermittently in the intervening years. Here we are, 30 years on, and finally, thanks to Cambria Press, and aided by another Canada Council grant along the way, my study of Zanning and translation of his Da Song Seng Shilüe (Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy) is finally seeing the light of day.

I tend to get asked two different kinds of questions regarding my work: Americans ask me how I got interested in China, Chinese ask how I got interested in Buddhism. As we all know, religion can be a touchy subject in China, less so these days than before, but still needing some delicacy at times. I recall my first time to China in the early to mid-1980’s being encircled on the Bund in Shanghai by a crowd of a hundred or more curious Chinese, wondering who the laowai was in their recently opened but still mostly forbidden land. When they learned that I had come to study Buddhism, a nervous hush fell over the crowd. My Chinese interlocutor for the group, an “elderly” gentleman (“elderly” being a relative term, as I have come to find 30 years later) quickly asked me a few clarifying questions about the nature of my study and was able to announce to the palpable relief of the crowd that I was “biàn zhèng wéi wù zhǔ yì zhě” (a dialectical materialist). The day was saved.

Sinologists, on the other hand, tend to ask me how I got interested in Zanning. Perhaps they are just as relieved to find that Zanning was not my primary interest but was an outcome of a larger fascination with the origins of Song dynasty Buddhism, the role of Buddhism in the transition from Tang to Song, and how such a thing as a Buddhist literatus, or Buddhist ru or ruseng, came to play such a prominent role. My interest in Zanning generated a number of contradictions that have continued to percolate. For example, on a panel a few years ago tasked with the question, “when did ru become Confucian?” it fell upon me to suggest, thanks to Zanning, that ru did not always become Confucian. On the topic of the association of daoxue with the rise of Song Dynasty Neo-Confucianism, I, thanks to Zanning, get to remind the audience that daoxue was but one part of a larger Songxue movement, and that Songxue included, quite prominently, the study of Buddhism, an interest that prevailed among literati throughout the Song. Buddhists like Zanning were also knowledgeable advocates of Confucian teaching to an extent that Confucians looked to him for advice on their own teachings and practices. Zanning forces us to ask fundamental questions about the nature of Chinese Buddhism, not as a haven for monastic recluses, but as an avenue for engaged scholars to participate in the highest level of debates over pressing matters of cultural significance. Zanning reminds us that Song Dynasty Buddhists were not pushed to the margins of society, even if dynastic historians did a masterful job of erasing their presence. To those of you who find the grammar and vocabulary of Buddhist texts “messy” to the point of incomprehension, Zanning’s Topical Compendium may offer some relief, just as it did when Emperor Taizong commissioned it as a primer on Buddhist history, institutions, and practices, for the newly formed bureaucracy of the Song Dynasty.

Finally, I want to say that I am especially pleased to be able to publish with Cambria. I’m not sure any other press would have taken on a 700-page publication project, roughly half of which is devoted to notes and appendices. And they have done a masterful job with great support and enthusiasm. I want to thank Toni Tan, David Armstrong, and Victor Mair and everyone else who has worked on this. I’m very impressed with the quality of the work, and the speed with which you executed all the minute tasks that go along with publishing. And I’m really happy to have published with a press devoted to the finest works on Sinology. Zanning would be pleased. Thank you.

* * * * *

About the book

The early Song dynasty (960–1278) was a time of immense intellectual fervor, as China rulers, after over a century of internecine warfare, embarked on a new course that promoted wen (literary or cultural arts) over wu (martial prowess). With the new literary based agenda came a discussion of how to constitute Song’s wen agenda, how to define wen values, what kinds of literature should be included and what excluded, and so on. Zanning (919–1001) was the leading Buddhist literatus at the Song court and his Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy represents a major contribution to this debate, the understanding of which would be deficient without it.

The relationship between religion and the state is a topic of major concern in the history of religions. While books, articles, and essays on this topic are common for other regions of the world, especially the West and increasingly for Islamic regions, there are few works discussing the dynamics of religion/state relations in China. Studies are beginning to appear that discuss the dynamics of religion/state relations in modern China, and while many studies of pre-modern Chinese religion touch on this topic, there is no study in English that addresses this topic head on. The relationship between religion and the state in China is a perennial problem that shows no sign of losing its significance in contemporary international affairs, and studies of the history of this relationship with a focus on Buddhism, the most articulate religious force in China during the past couple of millennia, cannot but have a real value to scholars and students.

Zanning’s Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy engages the issue of the Buddhist presence in China directly, arguing for the clear and consistent contributions of Buddhism to Chinese culture and society in an unambiguous way. While ceding claims to independence, Zanning offers that Buddhism is an integral component of China’s culture, not an alien tradition anathema to Chinese values, but an important contributing factor to them. While other works argue in favor of Buddhism in the Chinese context in doctrinal and intellectual terms, only the Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy asserts the necessity of Buddhist institutions and customs as assets in administrative affairs.

The Administration of Buddhism in China: A Study and Translation of Zanning and the Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy is thus a very important book for Asian studies, Buddhist studies, and history collections.

Title: The Administration of Buddhism in China: A Study and Translation of Zanning and the Topical Compendium of the Buddhist Clergy (Da Song Seng shilue)
Author: Albert Welter
Publisher: Cambria Press
ISBN: 9781604979428
722 pp.  |   2018   |   Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage:

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One response to “Cambria Press Author Albert Welter – Speech at AAS 2018 Reception”

  1. […] there were speeches about new books by Shen Jiawei and Mabel Lee, Albert Welter, Jonathan Stalling, Megan M. Ferry, Christopher Rea, Liu Jianmei (and Mabel Lee), and Carolyn T. […]

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