Discourse Analysis of Chinese Buddhism

New Dimensions and Directions
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room 4

  • Organised and chaired by Wu Amiao
  • Wu Amiao, “A Study of Chinese Chan (Zen) Discourse from the Perspective of Postclassical Narratology”
  • Ke Xu, “Heterogeneous Isomorphism: Re-Interpretation of Xu Dishan’s Fate-Sharing Bird and The Web-Mending Toiling Spider
  • Xueting Wang, “Chinese Buddhism and Images of Tang Poetry”

In a massive body of scholarly study of religious discourse, Chinese Buddhism in particular, has been embellished with a broad and comprehensive investigation from various modern perspectives, spanning a historical survey to a cognitive analysis. However, specific research work needs to be done to address recurring research questions in terms of new perspectives and directions. This panel aims to present detailed research projects of Chinese Buddhist discourse from different lenses. We may hopefully direct our attention to areas that have been neglected and to spark more resourceful approaches to religious discourse. The first presenter Wu Amiao Wu will approach a widespread contention about Chinese Chan (Zen) discourse for its “special transmission”—no dependence on the written words, pointing directly to the mind. She believes that theories from post-classical narratology will help address the question “how to speak the unspeakable” for Chan discourse. Ke Xu will reinterpret two stories written by an esteemed Chinese writer Xu Dishan and make a comparative analysis of his works in terms of their different religious representations, in order to find out a common thread running through his works. Xueting Wang will focus on how Buddhist discourse connects and influence the poetry of the Tang Dynasty of China, and provide concrete case studies concerning the influence of monasteries on Tang literature.

Wu Amiao Wu, “A Study of Chinese Chan (Zen) Discourse from the Perspective of Postclassical Narratology”

Through the lens of postclassical narratology, the study will present an exploratory study of how Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism stands on non-dualistic enlightenment by transcending words and pointing directly to the mind. The objectives of this study are 1) to explore how Chan masters go beyond conventional linguistic framework by employing Kōan system as a means to achieve their religious goal; 2) to try out if a postclassical narratological approach complements the interpretive study of Chan discourse. The study posits that the semantic significances of the dialogic exchanges in Chan do not reside in the isolated elements such as masters’ shouting, hitting, body language, and enigmatic language, but in the way, these strange acts and articulation are combined to defy the basic parameters of conventional narrative. Hence their unusual teaching could be well expounded and explored by postclassical narratology which is much directed toward an investigation of improbable and antiemetic discourse like Chan Kōans that violate standard narrative form and produce logically impossible and defamiliarising scenes or events. By taking a close look at unnatural elements in classic texts of Chan Buddhism Blue Cliff Record, we seek to find the rationale for Chan masters’ preoccupation with unnatural narrative strategies. Hence the study may reveal the role of postclassical narratology in analysing Chan discourse and demonstrate another way of probing and understanding the wisdom of Chinese Chan Buddhism.

Ke Xu, “Heterogeneous Isomorphism: Re-Interpretation of Xu Dishan’s Fate-Sharing Bird and The Web-Mending Toiling Spider

Xu Dishan was born in a family with a strong atmosphere of Buddhism but converted to Christianity in his youth. This special background enabled him to use different religious recourses to compose his early writings. Fate-sharing Bird, Xu Dishan’s first short story, was published by Novel Monthly in 1921, which borrows Buddhist allusions to tell a love story of a pair of young lovers. One year later, The Web-mending Toiling Spider, another short story written by Xu Dishan was also published by Novel Monthly, which tells about the love entanglements between a female Christian Shangjie and her husband Zhangsun Kewang. Normally speaking, Fate-sharing Bird is regarded as a Buddhism novel. At the same time, The Web-mending Toiling Spider is usually considered as Christian fiction. However, the similarities between these two fictions have never been discussed before. In terms of character portrayal, the dilemma of love is a common trouble faced by heroes. They both need to face impervious heroines who filled with a religious spirit. In terms of the structure of fictions, the exterior frameworks and the internal sensibility of both fictions are polyphonic. Specifically, the relationship between human nature and religion is the topic Xu Dishan focuses on, and the conflict and fusion between human nature and religion constitute the mainline structure of the two fictions.

Xueting Wang, “Chinese Buddhism and Images of Tang Poetry”

As a peak time for Chinese Buddhism and the golden age of literature, the Tang Dynasty of ancient China has been the object of much scholarly research. This research focuses on how Buddhism, especially its religious doctrine, has influenced Tang Dynasty poems. To be specific, since when and in what forms, this religion affects Tang poetry. Little has been explored on another important aspect of Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty, that is, the monasteries and religious life in its literature. By paying attention to the “High Tang”(Sheng Tang) period, the paper attempts to analyse these phenomena and discuss how they influenced the poets and the poetry of the Tang Dynasty. After the Tang Dynasty, Buddhist culture and poetry showed a new fusion in image expression. Most of the poems involve Zen language and Zen scriptures. The excavation of images concerned with temples and monks in the poems have enriched the expression of Tang poetry, such as “Vatican,” “Clock,” “To pass on the light of Buddha,” “Curly curtain,” and “Green Lotus.” Words with strong temple culture frequently appeared, and eventually became a specific image. This project will further investigate specific works to capture representative images, explain their meaning and significance, discuss the formation of Tang Zen poetic interest, and analyses its influence on the construction of artistic conception in Tang poetry.

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Room 4
New Dimensions and Directions