After receiving my PhD from McMaster University in 1997, where I was trained as an historian of religions with a focus on East Asian Buddhism, under the guidance of Professors Koichi Shinohara, Phyllis Granoff and Robert Sharf, I held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Kyoto University, in Japan. In 2001, I joined the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. That year, I was also awarded the Canada Research Chairship (Tier II) in East Asian Buddhism (2001-2011). This year, I was appointed a resident scholar at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS, 2015-16). In addition to my teaching, research, and administrative duties at UBC, I have held research and teaching appointments at leading research institutions including the University of Virginia, University of Tokyo, Stanford University, the University of Hamburg, Leiden University, the University of Ghent, National Humanities Center (USA), Duke University, and most recently, the Max Planck Institute and Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg.

As recipient of research grants and fellowships from different sources including Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program, Killam Foundation, Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai (BDK), Japan Society for the Promotion of Social Sciences (JSPS), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Max Planck Institute, and the Academy of Korean Studies, my publications have developed primarily out of my research emphasising trans-regional narratives in the history and contemporary practice of East Asian Buddhism. Other themes that have sustained my attention include the exploration of Buddhist transmission narratives across Asia, East Asian church-state relationships, Buddhist monasticism, monastic (hagio-)biographical literature, Buddhist sacred sites, relic veneration, technological innovations within the Buddhist tradition, Buddhist translations, and manuscript cultures. I employ a wide variety of primary sources in my research, including, but not limited to, canonical and extra-canonical texts and epigraphy. I have always endeavored to traverse the boundaries between regional and sectarian forms of East Asian religions, and have tried to adopt a pan- East Asian approach to understanding the various Buddhist traditions.

Although much of my work has focused upon China, I have also produced a considerable body of scholarship on Japanese Buddhism. My PhD dissertation, for example, which was subsequently published as Legend and Legitimation (2009), concerns a major Esoteric Buddhist tradition in Japan. Another book, Crossfire: Shingon-Tendai Strife (2010), deals with Japanese Buddhism, primarily by investigating twelfth-century sectarian debates. I have also worked to extend my research to include Korea. My 2007 Philosopher, Practitioner, Politician, for instance, uses sources preserved only in Korea to reconstruct the life of an important Buddhist leader in seventh and eighth century China. I have also annotated and translated into English the complete works of a ninth-century Korean author, Choe Chiwon 崔致遠 (857-10th c.), whose writings highlight a considerable degree of interaction between medieval Korea and China.



  • January 1992-November 1997: McMaster University; Ph.D degree conferred in November 1997 with a dissertation titled “The Formation of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan: A Study of Three Japanese Esoteric Apocrypha” (supervised by K. Shinohara, R. Sharf and P. Granoff) (degree certificate dated Nov. 7, 1997).
  • September 1990-December 1991:  Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; doctoral Student in Dept. Religious Studies, focusing on Chinese Buddhism (supervised by Du Jiwen 杜繼文).
  • September 1987-July 1990: Graduate School of Beijing University; MA degree in July 1990 with a MA thesis on the Development of the concept Sunyatain Indian Buddhism (supervised by Lou Yulie 樓宇烈).
  • September 1983- July 1987: Beijing University, Dept. Philosophy; BA (Religious Studies) in July 1987.



  • July 2001-present: Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia: Assistant Professor (July 2001-June 2006), Associate Professor (July 2006-June 2011), Full Professor (July, 2011-);
  • July 2001- June 2011: Canada Research Chair in East Asian Buddhism;
  • April-June, 2012: Shinnyo-en Visiting Professor, Stanford University
  • May–June, 2008: Foreigner researcher in the Institute of Research for Humanities, Kyoto University;
  • July-August, 2006: Foreigner researcher in the Institute of Research for Humanities, Kyoto University;
  • April–June, October-December, 2005: Foreigner researcher in the Institute of Research for Humanities, Kyoto University;
  • October-November, 2004: Foreigner researcher in the Institute of Research for Humanities, Kyoto University;
  • April 2003-March 2004: Associate Professor, Dept. Indology and Buddhology, University of Tokyo
  • August 2000-June 2001: Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, the University of Virginia;
  • April – July 2000: Sessional Instructor, Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University;
  • November 1997-April 2000: post-doctoral research in the Institute for Research in Humanities at Kyoto University as a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science;
  • December 1994-May 1997: Researcher in Kyoto, Japan; successively affiliated with Hanazono University, Kyoto University, and Italian Institute of East Asian Studies.
  • September 1990-December 1991: Part-time lecturer in Chinese Buddhism at the Chinese Academy of Buddhism in Beijing.



  • April, 2016-March, 2023: Director, SSHRC partnership Grant for the International and Interdisciplinary Studies on East Asian Religions, From the Ground Up (
  • January, 2015— : Brill Book Series on East Asian Religions, co-editor.
  • October, 2014—: Studies in Chinese Religions (published by Routledge, UK), co-editor;
  • January, 2014—: Translation Series of Buddhism and Chinese Religions域外佛教與中國宗教研究 (published by Zhongxi Press, Shanghai, China), co-editor;
  • January, 2011—: Beijing fojiao wenxian jicheng北京佛教文献集成 (Publication Series of Material Related to Beijing Buddhism), editorial board;
  • January, 2010—: Renwen zongjiao yanjiu 人文宗教研究 (Studies on Humanitarian Religions), editorial board;
  • January, 2008—: Tang Studies. Member;
  • August, 2007—: Series in India-China Relations, Anthem Press. Member, Editorial Board;
  • August, 2007— : Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism Series. Member, Editorial Board;
  • January, 2007—: Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Member, Editorial Board;
  • January, 2007—: The Monograph Series in Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Studies. Member, Editorial Board;
  • January, 1996—Dec, 2002: Extra-canonical Buddhist Texts. Member, Editorial Board;
  • June, 2005—: Société Asiatique. Member;
  • July, 2001—: Director, UBC Buddhist Forum.


  1. Sole-authored Books:

1.1. (2016):  Fojiao yu Zhongwai jialiu 佛教與中外交流 (Buddhism and China’s Communication with the world outside China) (in Chinese). Shanghai: Zhongxi shuju 中西書局.

1.2. (2010): Crossfire: Shingon-Tendai Strife as Seen in Two Twelfth-century Polemics, with Special References to Their Background in Tang China. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series no. 25. Tōkyō: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies in Tōkyō. 372 pages.

1.3. (2009): Legend and Legitimation: The Formation of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism in Japan (Mélanges Chinois et Bouddhiques, vol. 30, Brussels: Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises). Louvain: Peeters Press. 424 pages. Reviewed by (1) Paul Swanson, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37.2 (2010): 383-385 (; (2) Shinya Mano, Center for the Study of Japanese Religions (CSJR) Newsletters (SOAS, London University) 20-21 (2010): 28-29 (; (3) James Ford, Monumenta Nipponica Studies in Japanese Culture 66.2 (2011): 338-341.

1.4. (2007): Philosopher, Practitioner, Politician: The Many Lives of Fazang (643-712). Series Sinica Leidensia 75, Leiden: Brill Academic Publisher. 539 pages.  Reviewed by (1) Max Deeg, Journal of Chinese Religions 36 (2008): 134-139; (2) Imre Hamar, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 72 (2009): 408-410.

1.5. (2002): Monks and Monarchs, Kinship and Kingship: Tanqian in Sui Buddhism and Politics. Kyoto: Italian School of East Asian Studies, 310 pages. Reviewed by [1] John McRae, Journal of Chinese Religions 31 [2003]: 223-6, [2] John Kieschnick, Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies LXVII.1 [2004]: 109-12; [3] James Robson, T’oung Pao XC.3-5 [2004]: 405-12; [4] Linda Penkower, [May 2005]; [5] Huaiyu Chen, Tang Yanjiu 唐研究 X [2005]: 584-8.

1.6. (1999): Making and Remaking History: A Study of Tiantai Sectarian Historiography. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series no. 14, Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies in Tokyo, 202 pages. Reviewed by [1] Timothy H. Barrett, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society XI.3 [2001]: 405-7; [2] Li-ying Kuo, Revue bibliographique de sinologie II.19 (2001): 432-3; [3] Mathias Ober, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung (2001) 96:4-5, 629-32; [4] G. Salat, ACTA ORIENTALIA 56.2-4 [2003]: 468-9; [5] Tansen Sen, T’oung Pao XC.3-5 [2004]: 400-5;


  1. Books Co-edited

2.1 (2016). Yishan er wuding: Duo xueke, kua fangyu, chao wenhua shiye zhong de Wutai Xinyang yanjiu 一山而五顶:多学科、跨方域、超文化视野中的五台信仰研究 [One Mountain of Five Plateaus: Studies of the Wutai cult in Multidisciplinary, Crossborder and Transcultural Approaches]. Eds. Miaojiang 妙江, Chen Jinhua 陳金華 and Kuanguang 寬廣. Hangzhou 杭州: Zhejiang daxue chubanshe 浙江大學出版社, 2016.

2.2. (2014): Shensheng kongjian: Zhonggu zongjiao zhong de kongjian yinsu 神聖空間: 中古宗教中的空間因素 [Sacred Space: The Spatial Elements in Medieval Religions], Fudan Zhonghua wenming yanjiu zhuankan 復旦中華文明研究專刊 (Fudan Monograph Series on the Studies of Chinese Civilization) 1. Co-edited with Yinggang Sun. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe 復旦大學出版社, 2014.

2.3. (2012a): Images, Relics, and Legends: The Formation and Transformation of Buddhist Sacred Sites, Essays in Honor of Professor Koichi Shinohara. Edited with James Benn and James Robson. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2012.

2.4. (2012b): Fojiao shenhua yanjiu: Wenben, tuxiang, chuanshuo, yu lishi 佛教神話研究: 文本、圖像、傳說與歷史 [Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History]. Eds. With Bangwei Wang 王邦維 and Ming Chen 陳明. Shanghai: Zhongxi shuju 中西書局, 2012.

2.5. (2007a): Buddhism and Peace: With a Focus on the Issues of Violence, Wars and Self-sacrifice. Co-edited with James Benn. Hua-lien (Taiwan): Tzu-chi University Press, 2007 (208 pages).

2.6. (2007b): Development and Practice of Humanitarian Buddhism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Co-edited with Mu-chu Hsu and Lori Meeks. Hua-lien (Taiwan): Tzu-chi University Press, 2007 (310 pages).


  1. Book Chapters

3.1 (2016a): Chen, Jinhua. “A Complicated Figure with Complex Relationships: The Monk Huifan and Early Tang Saṃgha-state Interactions.”  In Thomas Jülch (ed.), pp. 140-221, The Middle Kingdom and the Dharma Wheel: Aspects of the Relationship between the Buddhist Saṃgha and the State in Chinese History (Leiden: Brill, 2016)

3.2 (2016b): “Jiazu niudai yu Tangdai nüni: Liangge anli de yanjiu” 家族紐帶與唐代女尼: 兩個案例的研究 [Familial Bonds and Tang dynasty Buddhist nuns: Two Case Studies] . In JIA Jinhua賈晉華 and XUE Yu學 愚(eds.), pp. 215-244,  Ronghe zhi ji: Fojiao yu Zhongguo chuantong 融合之跡:佛教與中國傳統 [Traces of Merges: Buddhism and Chinese Traditions] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe 上海人民出版社, 2016 (Chinese version of 4.1.20. [2002d]).

3.3 (2016c): “Shensheng dili xue: Wutaishan yanjiu de xin shiye yu xin silu duanxiang” “神聖地理學”: 五臺山研究的新視野與新思路斷想 [Sacred Geography: Some Thoughts on the New Perspectives and New Ideas for the Studies of the Wutai Cult]. In Eds. Miaojiang 妙江, Chen Jinhua 陳金華 and Kuanguang 寬廣, pp. 4-29. Yishan er wuding: Duo xueke, kua fangyu, chao wenhua shiye zhong de Wutai Xinyang yanjiu 一山而五顶:多学科、跨方域、超文化视野中的五台信仰研究 [One Mountain of Five Plateaus: Studies of the Wutai cult in Multidisciplinary, Crossborder and Transcultural Approaches; Hangzhou 杭州: Zhejiang daxue chubanshe 浙江大學出版社, 2016].

3.4. (2015): “He chanshi kao” 和禪師考 (An Investigation of the Life of Meditation Master He), in Foguang daxue fojiao yanjiu zhongxin 佛光大學佛教研究中心 (ed.), pp. 331-373, Hanchuan Fojiao yanjiu de guoqu yu weilai 漢傳佛教研究的過去現與未來 [The Studies of the Chinese Tradition of Buddhism: Past and Present]. Yilan: Foguang chubanshe 佛光出版社, 2015.

3.5 (2014a): “Meditation Tradition in Fifth Century Northern China: With a Focus on a Forgotten ‘Kashmiri’ Meditation Tradition Brought to China by Buddhabhadra (359-429).” In Buddhism across Asia: Networks of Material, Intellectual, and Cultural Exchange (ed. Tansen Sen. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014), 111-139.

3.6 (2014b): “Shenhua, jibing, zhuanshi guannian, yu Fojiao shengji: Xinchang Mile dafo kao” 神話、疾病、轉世觀念、與佛教聖蹟: 新昌彌勒大佛考 (Miracle Stories, Illnesses, Notions of Reincarnation, and Buddhist Sacred Sites: An Investigation of the Origins of the Great Statue of the Maitreya Buddha in Xinchang). In Jinhua Chen and Yinggang Sun co-edited, pp. 299-332. Shensheng kongjian: Zhonggu zongjiao zhong de kongjian yinsu 神聖空間:中古宗教中的空間因素 [Sacred Space: The Spatial Elements in Medieval Religions], Fudan Zhonghua wenming yanjiu zhuankan 復旦中華文明研究集刊 (Fudan Monograph Series on the Studies of Chinese Civilization) 1. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 2014.

3.7. (2012a). “Jiang Zhiqi and the Miaoshan Legend: A Case Study of the Roles Played by Laymen in Constructing Buddhist Sacred Sites in Medieval China.” In Images, Relics, and Legends: The Formation and Transformation of Buddhist Sacred Sites, Essays in Honor of Professor Koichi Shinohara (eds. James Benn, Jinhua Chen and James Robson; Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2012), pp. 195-212.

3.8. (2012b): “Fact and Fiction: The Creation of the ‘Third Chan Patriarch’ and His Legends.” Eds. Bangwei Wang 王邦維, Jinhua Chen 陳金華, and Ming Chen 陳明,  Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History (佛教神話研究: 文本、圖像、傳說與歷史) (Shanghai: Zhongxi shuju 中西書局, 2012), pp. 249-299.

3.9. (2011a): “Esoteric Buddhism and Monastic Institution.” In Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia (ed. Charles Orzech. Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 286-293.

3.10. (2011b): “Buddhabhadra’s (359-429) Collaboration with Huiyuan (334-416) in Transplanting the Nagarahāra Image-cave to China: A Reexamination.”  Ed. Funayama Toru 船山徹, pp. 177-191. Chūgoku Indo shūkyōshi, tokuni Bukkyō shi ni okeru shomotsu no ryūtsū denpa to jinbutsu idō no chiiki tokusei 中国印度宗教史とくに仏教史における書物の流通伝播と人物移動の地域特性 [Regional Characteristics of Text Dissemination and Relocation of People in the History of Chinese and Indian Religions, with Special Reference to Buddhism] (Kyoto: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University), 177-191.

3.11. (2010): “Buddhism under the Northern Qi.” In Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples at Xiangtangshan (Ed. Katherine Tsiang. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), pp. 93-104.

3.12. (2009): “Fotuobatuo gong Huiyuan gou foyingtai shi zaikao” 佛陀跋陀共慧遠構佛影臺事再考 [A Reexamination on the Role Buddhabhadra played in collaborating with Huiyuan in Constructing the Buddha-image Cave in Mount Lu]. (in Chinese). In  Guoxue yu foxue: Lou Yulie jiaoshou qizhi jinwu songshou wenji 國學與佛學樓宇烈教授七秩晉五頌壽文集.  Ed. Li Silong 李四龍 (Beijing: Jiuzhou chubanshe 九州出版社, 2009), pp. 55-64 (Chinese version of 3.10 [2011b]).

3.13. (2007a): “Buddhist Establishments within Liang Wudi’s (r. 502-549) Imperial Park.” In Development and Practice of Humanitarian Buddhism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (edited by Mu-chu Hsu, Jinhua Chen and Lori Meeks, Hua-lien: Tzu-chi University Press, 2007), pp. 13-29.

3.14. (2007b): “Fazang (643-712) as a Peace-maker and Trouble-shooter.” In Buddhism and Peace: With a Focus on the Issues of Violence, Wars and Self-sacrifice (edited by Jinhua Chen and James Benn, Hua-lien: Tzu-chi University Press, 2007), pp. 131-205.

3.15. (2007c): “A Korean Biography of a Sogdian Monk in China, with a Japanese Commentary,” in Korean Buddhism in East Asian Perspectives (comp. Geumgang Center for Buddhist Studies, Geumgang University, Korean Studies Series no. 35, Seoul: Jimoondang, 2007), pp. 159-190.

3.15. (2004): “Shengshansi kaolun” 聖善寺考論 [An Investigation on the Provenance of the Shengshan Monastery] (in Chinese), for Zhexue, Zongjiao yu renwen 哲學,宗教與人文 [Studies in Chinese Philosophy, Religions and Culture: Essays Collected on the Occasion of Celebrating Profess Lou Yulie’s Seventieth Birthday] (edited by Li Silong 李四龍, et al, Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2004), pp. 471-510 (40 pages) (a slightly modified Chinese version of 4.1.11. [2006]d).


4            Journal Articles

4.1. Peer-reviewed

4.1.1 (2016a). Chen, Jinhua. “Wuxing guannian zai Dongya fojiao yiwei jing zhong de1 yingyong” 五行觀念在東亞佛教疑偽經中的應用 [The application of the Wuxing-related Ideas in the Buddhist Apocrypha in East Asia]. Fojiao wenxian yanjiu 佛教文獻研究 [Study on Buddhist Texts] 1 (2016): 111-165.

4.1.2 (2016b). Jinhua Chen. “Tiantai Sanlun laingzong lunzhen ji: Yi Jizang yu ZHiyi, Guanding guanxi wei zhongxin” 天台、三論兩宗論諍記——以吉藏與智顗、灌頂關系為中心 [The debates between Tiantai and Sanlun: With a focus on Jizang’s relationship with Zhiyi and Guanding]. Fojiao wenhua yanjiu 佛教文化研究 [Study on Buddhist Culture] 1 (2015): 34-77 (Chinese version of 4.1.29 [1998b]).

4.1.3 (2016c). “Manuscripts, Printed Canons, and Extra-canonical Sources: A Case Study Based on a Biography from the Xu Gaoseng zhuan (Further Biographies of Eminent Monks) by Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667).”  Studies of Chinese Religions 2.2 (2016): 1-20.

4.1.4 (2016d). “Dongya zongjiao duo meizhi ziliao yu kuoxueke yanjiu chuyi”  東亞宗教多媒質資料與跨學科研究芻議 [Preliminary Remarks on the Multi-media and Interdisciplinary Studies on East Asian Religions]. Shandong shehui kexue 山東社會科學 252.8 (2016): 62-67.

4.1.5 (2015a). “The Multiple Roles of the Twin Chanding Monasteries in Sui-Tang Chang’an,” Studies of Chinese Religions 1.4: 344-356.

4.1.6 (2015b). “What is in a Name?: The Possibility of Identifying the  Monk Damo as the Mentor of the First Known Self-Claimed Reincarnation of Maitreya in Medieval China,” Studies in Chinese Religions 1.1: 3-19.

4.1.7 (2014). “From Central Asia to Southern China: The Formation of Identity and Network in the Meditative Traditions of the Fifth–Sixth Century Southern China (420–589).” Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2 (2014): 1-32.

4.1.8. (2013): “A Chinese Monk under a ‘Barbarian’ Mask?: Zhihuilun 智慧輪 (?-876) and Late Tang Esoteric Buddhism.” T’oung-p’ao: Revue internationale de sinology 99.1-3 (2013): 88-139.

4.1.9 (2012): “Yixing 一行 (673-727) and Jiugong 九宮 (‘Nine-Palace’): One Case of Chinese Redefinition of Indian Ideas.” China Report: A Journal of East Asian Studies 48.1-2 (2012) (a special issue in memory of Ji Xianlin 季羨林 [1911-2009]): 115-124.

4.1.10. (2007): “A Korean Biography of a Sogdian Monk in China, with a Japanese Commentary: Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn’s Biography of Fazang, Its Values and Limitations.” Journal of Asian History 41.2 (2007): 156-188.

4.1.11. (2006a):  “The Statues and Monks of Shengshan Monastery: Money and Maitreyan Buddhism in Tang China.” Asia Major 19.1-2 (a Special Issue in Honor of Victor Mair): 111-160.

4.1.12. (2006b): “Pañcavārṣika Assemblies in Liang Wudi’s Buddhist Palace Chapel.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 66.1 (2006): 43-103.

4.1.13. (2006c): “A Daoist Princess and a Buddhist Temple: A New Theory on the Causes of the Canon-delivering Mission Originally Proposed by Princess Jinxian (689-732) in 730.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 69.2: 267-292.

4.1.14. (2006d): “Fazang and Wuzhen si: With a Special Reference to Fazang’s Daoist Ties.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 16.2: 179-197.

4.1.15. (2005a): “Images, Legends, Politics and the Origin of the Great Xiangguo Monastery in Kaifeng: A Case-study of the formation and Transformation of Buddhist Sacred Sites in Medieval China.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.3 (2005): 353-378.

4.1.16. (2005b): “Fazang the Holy Man.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 28.2 (2005): 11-84.

4.1.17. (2005c): “Some Aspects of the Buddhist Translation Procedure in Early Medieval China: With Special References to a Longstanding Misreading of a Keyword in the Earliest Extant Buddhist Catalogue in East Asia.” Journal Asiatique 293.2 (2005): 603-662.

4.1.18. (2004a): “Tang Buddhist Palace Chapels.” Journal of Chinese Religions 32 (2004): 101-173.

4.1.19. (2004b): “The Indian Buddhist Missionary Dharmakṣema (385-433): A New Dating of His Arrival in Guzang and of His Translations.” T’oung-p’ao: Revue internationale de sinologie 90.4-5 (2004): 215-263.

4.1.20. (2004c): “The Location and Chief Members of Siksananda’s (652-710) Avatamsaka Translation Office: Some Remarks on a Chinese Collection of Stories and Legends Related to the Avatamsaka Sutra.” Journal of Asian History 38.2 (2004): 121-140.

4.1.21. (2003): “More Than a Philosopher: Fazang (643-712) as a Politician and Miracle-worker.” History of Religions 42.4 (May 2003): 320-358.

4.1.22. (2002a): “Family Ties and Buddhist Nuns in Tang China: Two Studies.” Asia Major 15.2 (2002): 51-85.

4.1.23. (2002b): “An Alternative View of the Meditation Tradition in China: Meditation in the Life and Works of Daoxuan (596-667).” T’oung-p’ao: Revue internationale de sinologie 88.4-5 (2002): 332-395.

4.1.24. (2002c): “Pusaseng (Bodhisattva-monks): A Peculiar Monastic Institution at the Turn of the Northern Zhou (557-581) and Sui Dynasties (581-618).” Journal of Chinese Religions 30 (2002): 1-22.

4.1.25. (2002d): “Sarira and Scepter: Empress Wu’s Political Use of Buddhist Relics.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 25.1-2 (2002): 33-150.

4.1.26. (2001): “Holy Alliance: The Court-Appointed ‘Monks of Great Virtue’ and Their Religious and Political Role under the Sui Dynasty (581-617).” Tang Yanjiu (Journal of Tang Studies) 7 (2001): 19-38.

4.1.27. (2000-2001): “The Birth of a Polymath: The Genealogical Background of the Tang Monk-Scientist Yixing (673-727).” Tang Studies 18-19 (2000-2001): 1-39.

4.1.28. (1999): “One Name, Three Monks: Two Northern Chan Masters Emerge from the Shadow of Their Contemporary, the Tiantai Patriarch Zhanran (711-782).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 22.1 (1999): 1-91.

4.1.29. (1998a): “The Stories from the Life of Chi-tsang (549-623) and Their Use in T’ien-t’ai Sectarian Historiography.” Asia Major (3rd Series) 11/1 (1998): 53-98.

4.1.30 (1998b): “The Construction of Early Tendai Esoteric Buddhism: The Japanese Provenance of Saicho’s Transmission Documents and Three Esoteric Buddhist Apocrypha Attributed to Subhakarasimha.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 21.1 (1998): 21-76.


4.2. Non-Peer-reviewed (Invited Contributions)

4.2.1. (2012): “Dongya fojiao zhong de ‘Biandi qingjie’: Lun shengdi ji zupu de jiangou” 東亞佛教中的‘邊地情結’:論聖地及祖譜的建構 [Borderland Complex in East Asian Buddhism: Sacred Sites and the Constriction of Religious Lineages]. Foxue yanjiu 佛学研究 21 (2012): 21-41.

4.2.2 (2009): “Fazang xin huaxiang” 法藏新畫像 [A New Portrait of Fazang] (in Chinese). Hanyu foxue pinglun 漢語佛學評論 [Review on Chinese Buddhist Tradition] 1 (2009): 173-194.

4.2.3 (2004): “Another Look at Tang Zhongzong’s (r. 684, r. 705-710) Preface to Yijing’s (635-713) Translations: With a Special Reference to Its Date,” Indo Tetsugaku bukkyogaku kenkyu 印度哲學佛教學研究 [Studies in Indian Philosophy and Buddhism, Tokyo University] 11 (2004): 3-27.

4.2.4 (1998): “Chuan Shanwuwei suoyi sanbu mijiao yigui chuchu ji niandai kao” 傳善無畏所譯三部密教儀軌出處及年代考 [An Investigation of the Provenance and Dates of the Three Esoteric Texts Attributed to Subhakarasimha] (in Chinese). Zangwai fojiao wenxian 藏外佛教文獻 [Extra-canonical Buddhist Texts] 4 (1998): 231-266.


  1. Book Reviews

5.1 (2013): Review of: How Ajātaśatru was Reformed: The Domestication of “Ajase” and Stories in Buddhist History (by Michael Radich. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series, vol. 27. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2011. iii, 202 pages, ISBN 978-4-906267-65-1). History of Chinese Religions 41/2 (2013): 173-180.

5.2. (2009): Review of: The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China (by Zhiru Ng. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2007. 305 pages). The Journal of Asian Studies 68 (2009): 951 – 952.

5.3. (2006): “Borders Remapped and Transcended: Reexamining Korea’s Position in Medieval East Asian Buddhism.” Review of: Currents and Countercurrents: Korean Influences on the Buddhist Traditions of East Asia (ed. by Robert Buswell. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2005. 294 pages) H-net Buddhism. 31 (2006).

5.4. (2003): Review of: Dharma Bell and Dhāraṇī Pillar: Li Po’s Buddhist Inscriptions (by Paul Kroll. Kyoto: School of East Asian Studies, 2001. 95 pages). Journal of Chinese Religions 31 (2003): 268-269.


  1. Forthcoming

6.1. In Press. “Borderland Complex and the Construction of Sacred Sites and Lineages in East Asian Buddhism.” In Buddhist Transformations and Interactions: Essays in Honor of Antonino Forte, Amherst, New York: Cambria Press Inc. (forthcoming in 2016).

6.2. In Press. “Zibo Zhenke (1543-1603) and the Yunju Temple.” In Mingdai fojiao yu Beijing (Ming Dynasty Buddhism and Beijing), edited by Yixue. Beijing: Jincheng chubanshe, forthcoming in 2016.

6.3. In Press. “Faya (?-629), a “Villain-monk” Brought down by a Villain-general: A Glimpse into the History of Sui-Tang Monastic Warfare and State-samgha Relations.” N. Harry Rothschild and Leslie V. Wallace (eds.), Behaving Badly in Early and Medieval China, forthcoming from University of Hawai’i Press (expected 2016).

6.4. In Press. “A Rediscovered Page in the Sui-Tang Vinaya History: The Vinaya Tradition at the Twin Chanding Monasteries.” In Rules of Engagement: Medieval Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Regulations. Co-edited by Susan Andrews, Jinhua Chen, and Cuilan Liu; Hamburg: University of Hamburg Press; publication scheduled for 2016.

6.5. In Press. Rules of Engagement: Medieval Traditions of Buddhist Monastic Regulations. Co-edited with Susan Andrews and Cuilan Liu. Hamburg: University of Hamburg Press, publication scheduled for 2016.

6.6. under review. “Obscuring and Recovering: The Reconstructing of the Life of an Early Chan Meditation Master.” In Mario Poceski (ed.), Communities of Memory: Reimagining and Reinventing the Past in East Asian Buddhism.

6.7. To be Reviewed. Mountain of Five Plateaus: Studies of the Wutai cult in multidisciplinary and Transborder/Cultural Approaches. Co-edited by Jinhua Chen, Susan Andrews and Guang KUAN. Leiden: Brill, publication scheduled for 2018.

6.8. To be Reviewed. An Annotated English Translation of Ch’ǒe Ch’iwon’s Complete Work, with an Introduction.

Grants Received

  1. 2016 (a). Max Planck Institute. To Prognosticate the Uncertain: Ruixiang-related Ideas and Practices in Medieval China. $38,000.
  2. 2016 (b). Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Partnership Grant (Formal Application). From the ground up: East Asian religions through multiple media and interdisciplinary perspectives. $2,496,476;
  3. 2015 (a): MITACS. The Restricted Publicity: Esoteric Buddhist Texts and Imperial Control in Medieval China. $15,000;
  4. 2015 (b): MITACS. The Symbiosis between State and Church in Text and Practice of Esoteric Buddhism in 8th Century China; $5,000;
  5. 2015 (c): MITACS. Bitan in China and Japan: their preservation, compilation and publication; $5,000;
  6. 2015 (d): UBC Hampton Research Endowment Fund. UBC match fund for my SSHRC partnership project (LoI), From the ground up: East Asian religions through multiple media and interdisciplinary perspectives. $5,000;
  7. 2015 (e): Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Partnership Grant (Letter of Intent). From the ground up: East Asian religions through multiple media and interdisciplinary perspectives. $19,860;
  8. 2015 (f): UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Resident Scholar; Merits of the Matter: Technological Innovation, Media Transfers, Book Market, and Religion in East Asia; $25,000;
  9. 2015 (g): UBC Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, International Roundtable Program. East Asian Manuscript and Print as Harbingers of the Digital Future; $43,860;
  10. 2015 (h): Max Planck Institute, research grant: Accounting for Uncertainty: Prediction and Planning in Asia’s History. $37,000.
  11. 2013: National Humanities Center Research Fellowship. Sacred Bone: Relic Veneration in Medieval East Asia. $39,000;
  12. 2012-2015: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Sacred Geography: Buddhist Sacred Sites Buddhism in Medieval China. $129,000;
  13. 2011-2014: Humboldt Research Fellowship for Senior Scholars. Relic-veneration in Medieval Asia. $120,000;
  14. 2009-11: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Buddhism and Daoism’s Politico-economic Roles in the Tang Restoration (704-713). $77,000;
  15. 2008-10: Tzu-chi Foundation, Grant for UBC-Renda joint summer program in Buddhist Studies. US$180,000;
  16. 2008-10: Academy of Korean Studies Translation Grant. English translation of the Collection of Choe Chiwon’s works. US$36,000;
  17. 2007: UBC Killam Faculty Research Fellowship. Images, Relics and Legends: Formation and Transformation of a Buddhist Sacred Site in East Asia. $18,000;
  18. 2006-2011: UBC Buddhist Forum. $150,000;
  19. 2006-2009: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Relic Veneration in Medieval China: Sui and Tang. $86,113;
  20. 2006-2011: Canada Research Chairs Program. Palace Chapels in Medieval China. $500,000;
  21. 2004: Museum of World Religions. $20,000;
  22. 2003-2006: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. A Biographical and Hagiographical Study of the Avatamsaka Master Fazang. $84,603;
  23. 2001-2006: Canada Research Chairs Program. State-church Relation in 5-9th Century China. $500,000;
  24. 2001-2006: UBC Buddhist Forum ($150,000);
  25. 1997-1999: Japan Society for the Promotion of Social Sciences. ‎¥13,200,000;
  26. 1995: Numata Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai Ph. D Dissertation Fellowship. ‎¥4,000,000.

Main Projects

  1. Canada Research Chair Project

State-church relationship in 6-10th century China (2001-05)

  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2003-06)

A Study of the Biographies and Hagiographies of the Avataṃsaka Master Fazang (643-712)

  1. Canada Research Chair Project (2006-11)

Chinese Buddhist Palace Chapels from the Fourth to Thirteenth Century: Historical, Sociopolitical, and Religious Aspects

  1. SSHRC Project (2006-09)

Relic Veneration in Medieval China

  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2009-12)

The Politico-economic Roles of Buddhism and Daoism in the Tang restoration (704-713)

  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2012-15)

“Sacred Geography”: New Perspectives on East Asian Buddhist Sacred Sites

  1. PWIAS International Roundtable Program (2016):

East Asian Manuscript and Print as Harbingers of the Digital Future

  1. Max Planck Institute Project (2016-17)

To Prognosticate the Uncertain: Ruixiang-related Ideas and Practices in Medieval China

  1. SSHRC Partnership Grant (2016-23)

From the Ground Up: East Asian Religions through Multi-media Sources and Interdisciplinary Perspectives


  1. Canada Research Chair Project

state-church relationship in 6-10th century China (2001-05)

All organized religions, despite any claims they may make to be other-worldly, remain entangled to a greater or lesser extent in secular concerns. This entanglement is nowhere more obvious than it is in the relationship between church and state. The most formative period of East Asian Buddhism, particularly in China, occurred during the three hundred years of the 5th to 7th centuries. To date, conventional studies tend to focus on the evolution of doctrines and the development of Buddhist schools rather than on the relationship between the monastic institution and the state. But the importance of political influences on Buddhism cannot be underestimated. Political intervention, either as generous patronage or ruthless suppression, decisively affected the fate of Chinese Buddhism.

Jacques Gernet, a famous historian, laid out the foundation for all studies of Chinese Buddhism and its social context in a classic study recently translated into English. But its scope is limited and leaves many important issues and sources unexplored. In addition, its emphasis is on the economic foundation of Buddhist monasteries. This project focuses on broadening the scope of this classic study. It closely examines the relationship between Buddhist monasteries and the state in early medieval China (and Japan) and grounding his analysis on a new and more sharply focused reading of specific sources, such as biographies of monks. It studies recent, influential scholarly discussions of two key schools of East Asian Buddhism, Chan (called “Zen” in Japan) and Esoteric Buddhism, to explore whether, and to what extent, he can reconstruct these Buddhist traditions.


  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2003-06)

A Study of the Biographies and Hagiographies of the Avataṃsaka Master Fazang (643-712)

This project consists in a biographical (and hagiographical) study of the remarkable Chinese-Sogdian Buddhist monk Fazang (643-712), one of the greatest metaphysicians in Asia and the de facto founder of the Chinese Huayan school. This school of thought was based on an Indian text, the Avataṃsaka sūtra. It is known primarily for the sophisticated and often difficult philosophical system that it developed through a series of commentaries on this text, itself an obscure and voluminous work. Fazang is thus regarded today primarily as a scholastic monk who composed a variety of technical, commentarial and systematic works.

This project seeks to explore other contributions of Fazang and in so doing to correct some major mis-presentations and/or misinterpretations of modern scholarship. I intend to highlight and uncover some aspects of Fazang’s exceptionally complicated intellectual and religious life which have been neglected or ignored so far. My findings through this project will reveal Fazang as a religious figure of enormous intellectual complexity, a man who was almost everything – a philosopher, a translator, a mystic, a miracle-worker, a shaman, an engineer who played a crucial role in inventing and/or spreading the woodblock printing technology in East Asia, a dilettante of Taoist art of life cultivation, a power-broker who skillfully fostered and manipulated relationships with the most influential of his time.

Fazang also served as an influential court priest for an unusually long period of over half a century (ca. 660-712). In studying the important roles that Fazang played as both a religious and secular leader, I hope to throw some light on significant historical events of this period. There is no question that these years were of major importance to the Tang dynasty (618-907) and for the subsequent development of Imperial China.

This study will highlight the necessity of paying particular attention to what happened to Chinese Buddhism over the relatively brief period of the later half of the seventh century. In many ways this period brings into sharp focus the ideological concerns of both the Tang and Great Zhou (690-705) rulers and the major Buddhist figures of those dynasties. This project will also uncover some long hidden facts which are of interest to those working on socio-political history of medieval East Asia.


  1. Canada Research Chair Project (2006-11)

Chinese Buddhist Palace Chapels from the Fourth to Thirteenth Century: Historical, Sociopolitical, and Religious Aspects

In medieval China, the Buddhist community (samgha) interacted with the state in remarkably intense and complex ways. Although there are many productive ways to explore the relationship between samgha and state, this project , which emerge from two of my published  monograph-length studies, will focus on the unique religious and political institution known as neidaochang 內道場 (“Buddhist palace chapel”). Buddhist palace chapels played multiple roles. They could be separate buildings used as actual temples, or simply parts of the imperial palace reserved for some religious purposes. The term referred to both a palace chapel for male priests and for their female counterparts (i.e. a palace convent). As for function, it could act as a translation office; a locale for state-sponsored observances, and the place where bodhisattva-precepts were administered to emperors and their quasi families. It might act as the central office of the highest level of national monastic leadership, or as a shrine for the Buddha’s relics brought there for veneration; and most unexpectedly, it was occasionally turned into a theatre for some performances which, although religious in theme, were primarily performed in order to entertain emperors, their entourage and court-officials.

This project has six components:

  1. From the Fourth to the Thirteenth Century: A Historical Survey
  2. Political and Diplomatic roles
  3. Relic-veneration (1): Egalitarianism and Carnival
  4. Relic-veneration (2): Self-immolation, Donation and the Buddhist Financial and Charitable System
  5. Art and Architecture, Religion and Sciences
  6. Two Religions under One Roof: Buddho-Taoist Interaction Viewed through the neidaochang Institution

Buddhist palace chapels constituted a unique and complex institution that provided a means of direct access to the centre and were arenas in which Buddhist monks could interact with not only different levels of secular authority, but also other religious forces. Studying the development of this significant aspect of the monastic institution will yield valuable new insights into state-samgha relations, Buddhist arts, Chinese architecture, literature and theatre art, the relationships between Buddhist rituals and traditional state-ceremonies, and the different patterns of cooperation and competition between major religious traditions, primarily Buddhism and Taoism.


  1. SSHRC Project (2006-09)

Relic Veneration in Medieval China

Buddhism is the only other world religion comparable to Christianity in the emphasis given to relics and their veneration. Relics played similarly crucial roles within Buddhism as they did within Christianity. Like Christianity, it was largely thanks to the translation of relics that Buddhism was disseminated, first within the Indian sub-continent and then to other parts of Asia. Performing a similar role as Christian relics did for the religion’s devotees, Buddha relics conveyed the Buddha——not merely his teaching, but nothing less than his physical presence——to every corner of Asia and helped Buddhism to become domiciled in different locations and widely divergent cultures. Finally, what some scholars have claimed for Christian relics in terms of their economic and financial roles——that is, that they served to establish an intricate network of “patronage, alliance, and gift giving” ——also applies to Buddhist relics. The importance of relic veneration was not, however, limited to Buddhism itself. It was a phenomenon of rich and far-reaching political, social, economic, and cultural significance throughout Asia.

In recent years, relic veneration in medieval China has begun to receive sustained and widespread scholarly attention. Some significant works have illuminated different aspects of relic veneration in different periods. However, no one has so far attempted a systematic, monograph-length study on relic veneration in medieval China. This proposed project takes up this long-overdue task. It will be conducted as both a historical survey and thematic study. The historical survey will cover the development of relic veneration from the introduction of Buddhism into China at the very beginning of the common era to the end of pre-modern China at the beginning of the twentieth century. This survey will examine the formation and transformation of different types of relic veneration, the patterns by which relic veneration was spread to different regions and its infiltration into different levels of secular society and into various traditions of Chinese Buddhism. The thematic part will examine the political, diplomatic, economical, and commercial roles that relic veneration played in medieval China in particular. It will also relate relic veneration to other Buddhist practices, particularly self-immolation and pilgrimage, and relate it to its ritual, social, doctrinal and artistic contexts.

The project aims at revealing some general characteristics implied in relic veneration in medieval China that should prove useful to scholars who are interested in relic veneration in or outside medieval East Asia, particularly Christianity.


  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2009-12)

The Politico-economic Roles of Buddhism and Daoism in the Tang restoration (704-713)

The ten-year period from 704 to 713 has been widely recognized as a watershed in one of the greatest dynasties in imperial China, witnessing as it did the restoration of this dynasty from the hands of the only female ruler in medieval China and the beginning of the dynasty’s solidification under one of the most capable rulers in China. This period has, as such, been hotly debated over the past century. It has attracted much scholarly attention also in part because it was one of the bloodiest, most volatile and eventful periods in China, during which no less than five court coups were staged. The roles played by religious figures in this period have, however, remained largely unexplored. This project addresses several long-obscured aspects of the sociopolitical and religious reality of the period by integrating the perspectives of key players within contemporary Buddhist and Daoist institutions. It will shed new light on the Byzantine world of court intrigues, factional strife, political ambition and shady business deals at the dawn of the eighth century.

The image, ambition and legacy of an obscure Central Asian monk constitute the focus of this project. Besides the limited information in Buddhist sources, secular sources unanimously condemn him as a greedy and lustful “evil monk.” Rather than focusing on some more or less personal elements, this project suggests that a more convincing explanation could—and should—be found in the broader context of the contemporary political, economic and religious dynamism. The financial purposes of the series of apparent religious enterprises under this monk’s supervision will be addressed; so will be their specific symbolisms, primarily a unique form of Buddhist messianism (Maitreyanism) and the proto-feminist sentiments that were so forcefully conveyed by the part and parcel of this series of project.

The ambition of this extraordinary Buddhist cleric will be correlated with the endeavors of other contemporary religious figures on the one hand and with the major religious policies installed by the successive rulers in this period on the other. Taking into account some of the major intellectual and religious factors, primarily proto-feminism, Buddhist messianism, material religion, and multiculturalism, this study aims at depicting a more nuanced, well-rounded, vibrant picture of the religious and political institutions of Tang China, which cannot be so neatly divided according to the standard religious studies dichotomy of sacred and profane. It will demonstrate the unique ways in which these clerics shaped the sociopolitical landscape in the remaining part of the Great Tang, and its position throughout East Asia in terms of its rapidly shifting interactions with competing international powers.

By uncovering a wide array of political and economic machinations behind a series of apparently religious enterprises, this project will also provide a new interpretation of this critical turning point of a major dynasty in medieval East Asia, since it also provided fundamental cultural and social models for Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.


  1. SSHRC Insight Grant (2012-15)

“Sacred Geography”: New Perspectives on East Asian Buddhist Sacred Sites

Sacred space is an essential component of any religious tradition. It is especially significant for a trans-cultural religion such as Buddhism. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of Buddhist sacred sites in the history of Buddhism. The far-reaching and widespread significance of Buddhist sacred sites has attracted the attention of scholars from various disciplines, yet there are still other interpretative strategies to consider and to apply to the study of sacred sites in medieval China.

This project proposes to study a marchmount of exceptional importance for East Asian Buddhism. It is Mount Wutai (Lit. Mountain of Five Terraces), located in a central China and widely venerated by Buddhist believers from all over East Asia. This project will not treat sacred space as a dead and immobile entity; nor will it isolate it from sacred time or religious, intellectual and socio-political backgrounds. But rather, it will treat Mount Wutai as a sacred site in specific historical and intellectual contexts. It will be carried out around three foci: (1) the ways legends and local histories represent the perceived sacrality of this sacred site, and the role that (2) relics and (3) images (including paintings, statues, and maps) played in creating, recreating and sustaining this mountain’s status as a key Buddhist sacred site. Buddhist sacred sites presents fascinating possibilities to integrate the study of images, relics and their veneration with that of the writing and rewriting of religious legends, to the benefit of scholars interested in these different disciplines. This project will recast the situation as a dynamic combination of religious images and legends, envisaged here as an important expression of sacred space and sacred time respectively, on the ground of Buddhist sacred sites, a sacred entity that was held as both being sanctified by and identified with the Buddhist relics.

Also taken into consideration are some non-religious roles deriving from Wutai’s status as one of the most passionately venerated Buddhist sacred sites in East Asia (or even in the whole of Asia). They include its economical and commercial functions, its legitimating force that appealed to a number of competitors for supreme power throughout the age, and eventually the prominence that it came to gain in the international arena when China’s hegemony in Asia started to be severely challenged by emerging powers in Northeastern and Central Asia. Through examining the various roles Wutai played beyond the religious sphere, which have so far remained largely under- or unexplored, this project aims at throwing light on the intermingled fibers woven into the texture of the Wutai-related ideology.


  1. PWIAS International Roundtable Program (2016):

East Asian Manuscript and Print as Harbingers of the Digital Future

This roundtable program examines ways in which the transition from manuscript to print and the development of a range of technologies and reading techniques in premodern Asia may inform our understanding of the current global transition from print to digital media. We will focus on transformations in the culture of writing and reading in East Asia as a “distant mirror” (in the words of the European medievalist Barbara Tuchman) to reflect on current developments in the digital humanities and our changing relationships to texts.

The roundtable is proposed at a time when digital media is transforming our daily lives while also shifting the terrain of East Asia Studies. Today, as education moves toward online platforms and newspapers are replaced by blogs, we are experiencing a change not entirely unlike the one faced by our counterparts in medieval East Asia when print took hold amid a strong and enduring culture of manuscripts. Lacking a central authority, today we produce, edit, and distribute online texts that in their fluidity recall the hand-copied productions of our predecessors. At the same time, the printed book, particularly printed codex, presaged some fundamental revolutions brought about by the internet-based “hypermedia”: an expandable network of sharing and distributing information stored in and transmitted through a specific medium.


  1. Max Planck Institute Project (2016-17)

To Prognosticate the Uncertain: Ruixiang-related Ideas and Practices in Medieval China

Today we often take for granted that uncertainty is the only certainty human beings can count on. Different religions provide contrasting advice and varied methods to cope with both profound uncertainty and unpredictability close at hand. At first glance, the central Buddhist doctrines of dharma (law) and karma (destiny) appear to be exceptional. However, it turns out that the world conceived by Buddhists is by no means less capricious or complicated. Buddhists in China, in particular, developed complex systems for prognostication.  This project aims to study one key aspect of Buddhist-inspired East Asian religious discourse concerning prognostication: ideas and practices related to ruixiang. It focuses on two issues: How do people legitimize the process of divination and acquisition of factual data? And what role does the visual play both as an explanatory tool and for the validity of the practice?

Ruixiang 瑞相, literally “propitious signs,” refers to the miraculous and auspicious signs that result from efforts—usually ritual—supplicants perform. Ruixiang can also presage or signify felicitous events. Since ruixiang is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit pūrva-nimitta (an omen), it cannot be considered exclusively Chinese. Ruixiang in Chinese Buddhist texts indicates the outstanding physical forms attributed to buddhas, bodhisattvas, or deities; and, by extension, any miraculous signs that appear as signs of the Buddha’s favor. With the introduction of Buddhism to China, the Indian or Central Asian-inspired ruixiang theory changed to take into account important, related indigenous Chinese ideas including the notion of cosmological sympathetic responses (ganying 感應) as well as concepts outlined in early “omen weft-books” (chenwei 讖緯), among others. This multifaceted recasting process provides an excellent case study to assess the validity of studying Chinese Buddhism in terms of two distinct approaches called the Sinification of Buddhism or the “Buddhification” of China and Chinese culture.

The term ruixiang is conspicuous in dreams, texts, revelations, art and literary forms. Ruixiang could be religious, secular, and political. But ruixiang almost always confirm or verify a wide array of stimuli ranging from authentication of one’s deep understanding through careful concentration on or attention to an elusive passage, precepts or appointments administered to a practitioner, the efficacy of a pilgrim’s journey, legitimation in political rituals like crowning a prince, and even the establishment of a dynasty or the destruction of an established royal lineage by a “usurper.” Ruixiang may also be viewed as a unique and robust source for the creation of a particular genre of literature and a new art form. The “propitious signs” recounted in a seventh-century travelogue of a pilgrimage bound for the northern Chinese Buddhist marchmount Wutai 五臺 led to, for example, the creation of a famous painting (the so-called “Wutai shantu” 五臺山圖) which, in turn, informed the construction of religious structures and reshaping of the natural landscape both of the Wutai range and reduplications at sacred sites within East Asia and beyond.

According to Chinese ruixiang ideas, human beings were not always passive recipients of propitious signs. They could also become agents in collaboration with the Buddha to produce these signs, typically through religious passion and piety. This basic supposition inspired a number of practices and correlating ideas related to ruixiang. This project proposes to investigate how one particular type of ruixiang, in conjunction with relic veneration, self-mortification, and fundraising efforts, was incorporated into a unique religious and political institution with origins in India, a kind of open-to-all dharma gathering or assembly, known in Chinese as wuzhe fahui 無遮法會 and in Sanskrit as pañca-vārṣika. In an effort to systematically study how ruixiang was inextricably connected with these elements, especially self-mortification, this project will focus on the idea of ganying and how it influenced actors’ interpretations of potential consequences of their religious and political activities.

This project is, by necessity, an interdisciplinary one and will incorporate methodological approaches from the fields of Religious Studies, Political Studies, Sociology, and Art History. At a time when natural disasters and man-made calamities make headlines almost on a daily basis, the results of an in-depth study of how uncertainties and disasters were perceived and seen to have been prevented by Chinese Buddhists will surely provide an interesting alternative perspective for scholars, policy makers and the public who are increasingly facing calamities and disasters of unprecedented scale and force.


  1. SSHRC Partnership Grant (2016-23)

From the Ground Up: East Asian Religions through Multi-media Sources and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

It is vital that we advance our understanding of the religions and cultures of East Asia as the economic and political importance of this region surges. As vehicles carrying multiple layers of meaning, apotropaic devices, and objects of devotion in their own right, texts have played a critical role in the interconnected religious, economic, artistic, and scientific life of East Asia. Thanks to discoveries of texts and artifacts and to increased opportunities for ethnographic observation, scholarship over the past decade has enriched our understanding of both historical and contemporary religious phenomena and life in East Asia. Despite these advances, most research in this field still remains divided by boundaries that separate communities and practices by national borders, academic disciplines, and sectarian lines. As a result, new evidence is unearthed but not shared or disseminated widely. Historical connections between seemingly disparate times and places remain obscure. This project of research seeks to break through these barriers by bringing together scholars and sources that are rarely in productive dialogue or discourse. Creating a global network of institutions and scholars will allow us to access, record, and interpret material in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

Our team will collect textual and related evidence and make it available to the public via an open access digital database and museum housed at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The collection will act as the basis for scholarly symposia, conferences, and a rotating exhibition, all of which will establish UBC as a leading centre for the study of East Asian religions and cultures.

The phenomena this program investigates, including examples that show how technological advances in media shape religion and vice versa, as well as orthodoxy, canonicity and canon formation have significant parallels in religious traditions and cultures throughout the world. Patterns of interaction between different media of religious writing and between texts and artifacts are extensive. By addressing these topics through an innovative methodological framework, our researchers will arrive at conclusions that will stimulate scholars working both inside and outside the field of East Asian religions to approach their own research in novel ways.

Underlying the project is an ambitious model for research and training adapted to technological and operational prospects that did not exist even in recent years. Our project aims to create an institutional collaboration that melds fieldwork with textual scholarship and integrates original research with archive creation. Among the projected outcomes is the example it will provide for future scholarly endeavors, particularly those involving cooperation among a diverse set of academics at institutions and within diverse fields from around the world. As we work through the challenges this process will inevitably entail, this innovative approach will lead by example and make it easier for other groups to undertake similarly complex programs. Our project will also promote Canada to the forefront of scholarly exchange and research, and encourage cultural ties that promote fruitful collaboration in other arenas.

Beyond multiple benefits to academic research, the project will prove vital for educators, policy makers, and business interests who promote deeper and more sustained economic and cultural ties to East Asia within an increasingly Pacific-orientated Canada. Cutting edge, 21st century Asian studies research enhances the reputation Canada has already begun to establish as the premier North American gateway to Asia, not only for Canadians but also for international students from across the globe.

For more details on this multi-year, international and interdisciplinary project, see

Winter 2017

ASIA511B Readings in Chinese Religious Texts - CHIN RELG TEXTS Sections

Selected readings from primary texts in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, and popular religion.


Mentoring Philosophy

The approach to mentorship of students I have found to be productive is never to view them as passive research assistants, but instead much more like colleagues who I collaborate with to broaden our intellectual horizons. Students have benefitted as much from the close, careful study of research materials in my seminars as they have from the rigorous methodological training I have diligently thrust upon them.  My graduate students have come from diverse backgrounds, both intellectual and geographical, and have enriched my own learning as much as I believe I have provided them with the tools required to compete for and obtain academic positions with distinction. The model of my teaching and training philosophy is based on my basic understanding that students cannot be considered acquiescent assistants on the sidelines who merely help researchers; but instead that they are equal participants who can and must be called upon to contribute throughout the learning process. Furthermore, unless students are expected to pay as much attention to methodological issues and questions as they are to on-site materials or primary sources (the principal theme in the seminars I teach), they could run the serious risk of ultimately producing work unintelligible to anyone other than an acute insider.


Courses Offered

Asian Studies 372

Development of Chinese Thought

This course discusses the formation, development, influence and nature of some basic philosophical (including ethical) traditions in medieval China from the second to the sixteenth century. It is designed not only as a historical survey that traces the fundamental intellectual and socio-political factors that contributed to the rise and transformation of these philosophical traditions, but also as a thematic investigation of some central and recurrent issues which were deeply embedded in medieval Chinese philosophy and which had determined its directions of development. These issues include those regarding the origin and structure of the universe, human nature and the ultimate concern, the inter-relationship between microcosm and macrocosm as revealed in the interactions between humans and cosmos, and the possibility and necessity of establishing a harmonious human society on the basis of a dynamic understanding of both universal principles and human nature, and so on.


Asia 382

Buddhism in China

This course surveys the formation, development and influence of Buddhism in medieval China. The course is in two parts. The first part traces the long and complex process in which Buddhism began as a foreign religion with little appeal to the Chinese nationals, gradually became Sinified, and eventually formed one of the most important systems of philosophical and religious thought in China. Particular attention is given to the (1) formation of the major Buddhist schools in the Sui-Tang dynasties (roughly from the sixth to tenth century CE), (2) the dynamic and productive interaction between these Buddhist schools and (3) the immense impact of Buddhism as a whole on the transformation of indigenous Chinese traditions. The second part examines Buddhism’s multiple roles in medieval Chinese society against a broader socio-political context, with a focus on monastic economy and its influence on the greater economic and social life of the medieval Chinese people.


Asia 385

Chan/Zen Buddhism: Doctrine and Practice

This course surveys the formation of some main traditions of Chan Buddhism, which, though originated in medieval China, has been carried on in the rest of East Asia, where it is known as Son (Korea), Zen (Japan), and Thiền (Vietnam). While the main body of the whole course evolves through a historical line of inquiry, it has two focuses, on Chan doctrines and practices respectively. It will first review and evaluate some of the most fundamental teachings that Chan Buddhism as a unique Chinese Buddhist tradition has advocated over its long history. As another focus, it will discuss some characteristic features of Chan practices. Particular attention is directed to some profound influences Chan Buddhism wrought on various aspects of Chinese (and East Asian) culture.


Asia 511B

Readings in Chinese Religious Texts – CHIN RELG TEXTS

Topics of this course will be flexible, adjusting to the interest and background of the students. Selections for readings can be from any important Chinese Buddhist and Taoist texts belonging to any major Buddhist and Taoist traditions of any period. Focus is given to the doctrinal issues implied in a specific genre of Buddhist and Taoist texts. Methodological issues of interpreting Chinese Buddhist and Taoist texts are also to be discussed.

In addition to intensive reading of the original texts, students are to be trained in some basic methods indispensable for the research of Sinology in general and Buddhism and Taoism in particular. Students will be required to demonstrate at least basic competence in all the following areas:

  • Dictionaries (general and specialized);
  • Bibliographies and bibliographic databases in European and East Asian languages;
  • Historical Geography of China, Central Asia and India;
  • Use of maps, atlases and dictionaries;
  • Biography (religious and secular);
  • Official and religious titles;
  • Dates and chronologies;
  • Books and authors;
  • Structure and content of the Buddhist (and Taoist) canons;
  • Extra-canonical works and collectanea;
  • Indices and concordances (including electronic resources such as the Academia Sinica website);
  • Dunhuang materials;
  • Epigraphy;
  • Gazeteers (secular and monastic);
  • Dynastic histories;
  • Biji, anecdotal sources and unofficial histories;
  • Poetry;
  • Art historical sources.

By the end of this course students are expected to punctuate original Chinese Buddhist and Taoist texts correctly, translate them appropriately and interpret them both faithfully and creatively.



Monastic Biography & Hagiography in East Asian Buddhism – MON BIO&HAG BUDH

As a general introduction to medieval East Asian (mainly Chinese and Japanese) monastic bio/hagiographical literature, this seminar (for graduate students and advanced under-graduates) will begin with a general discussion of its nature, structure and basic features, which is supplemented by a comparison of East Asian monastic biographies with Chinese secular (official) biographies on the one hand and Western (mainly Christian) biographies on the other. After a brief survey of biographies of nuns, a peculiar portion of East Asian monastic biographical literature, we will investigate the functions monastic biographies played in medieval East Asian Buddhism, focusing on the following aspects: (1) the writing of monastic biographies and the formation of sectarian consciousness; (2) monastic biography as a vehicle of sectarian ideologies; (3) monastic biography as a polemical instrument. In the course of this investigation, we will touch on the historical and textual values of monastic biographical literature, especially its significance for deciphering sectarian agenda. Some general methods of interpreting monastic biography will also be introduced (in particular, we will stress the necessity and effectiveness of reading monastic biographies in close comparison with their corresponding autobiographies and epitaphs).