The Changing Meaning of Vegetarianism in Modern China
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
- Organised by Nikolas Broy and Matthias Schumann
- Chaired by Vincent Goossaert
- Matthias Schumann, “Reinventing the Buddhist Tradition: Vegetarianism and Cultural Identity in Republican China”
- Nikolas Broy, “Care of the Self or Pursuit of a Better World? Vegetarianism, Environmentalism, and Global Concerns in Contemporary Yiguandao Discourses and Practices”
- Shuk-wah Poon, “Vegetarianism and ‘Protecting Life’: The Buddhist Magazine Husheng bao in 1930s China”
This panel explores the evolution of religiously motivated vegetarianism in Chinese societies during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Vegetarianism as the deliberate abstention from consuming meat and related food products was introduced to China in tandem with Mahayana Buddhism and took hold as a defining marker of Buddhist identity already in the fifth and sixth centuries. As a particular powerful form of moral self-cultivation, it also became widespread in many other religious contexts, including Daoism, popular religion, and popular sects. In addition, it was related to temporary practices of meat-abstention, such as fasting in imperial and Confucian ritual. Hence, vegetarianism in imperial China can be considered a religiously induced practice related to notions of morality, self-cultivation, karma and retribution, and ritual purity. Since the early twentieth century, this tradition was subtly transformed through the impact of an increasing internationalization, new ideas and changing food practices—from an engagement with a global animal protection movement in the wake of WWI to contemporary attempts to integrate concerns about global warming, food safety and environmentalism into the discourse. By looking at Buddhist activists in Republican China and the religious movement Yiguandao in contemporary Taiwan and among overseas Chinese, the panel traces the transformation of traditional vegetarian beliefs and practices in modern society. The panel thereby aims to contribute to the growing literature on food practices in modern China in general, but also shed light on the transformation of an important traditional religious practice.
Matthias Schumann, “Reinventing the Buddhist Tradition: Vegetarianism and Cultural Identity in Republican China”
During the Republican period (1912–1949), Buddhist vegetarian practices took on new meanings as they were integrated into a spreading global movement of vegetarianism and animal protection. Chinese Buddhists adopted international models to establish new institutions that were dedicated to vegetarianism and animal protection, most importantly the China Society for the Protection of Animals (Zhongguo baohu dongwu hui 中國保護動物會) that was founded in 1934. Yet, at the same time, they also criticized foreigners for many of whom vegetarianism retained a streak of the radical and the unorthodox. In this context, vegetarianism could be presented as both inherent to Chinese religious traditions and radically progressive within a global animal protection movement. It thereby served to bolster a sense of Chinese cultural identity and to subvert the unequal power relations in a semi-colonial context. This paper will explore this dynamic by looking at the interactions and debates between Chinese and foreign activists in an increasingly internationalized context. During the Republican period, Chinese Buddhist activists travelled to international congresses in Europe to propagate their views, while foreign residents set up societies for animal protection in Shanghai and other cities. These interactions provided an opportunity for Chinese activists to renegotiate Chinese identity in light of a reinvented tradition of vegetarianism and kindness to animals.
Nikolas Broy, “Care of the Self or Pursuit of a Better World? Vegetarianism, Environmentalism, and Global Concerns in Contemporary Yiguandao Discourses and Practices”
This paper seeks to explore how practitioners of the Taiwanese religious movement Yiguandao 一貫道 (“Way of Pervading Unity,” emic transcription is “I-Kuan Tao”) aim to merge traditional vegetarian beliefs and practices with contemporary concerns about global warming, environmental protection, and the care for living beings. While religiously motivated vegetarianism in late imperial China focused very much on the idea of abstaining from killing living beings and consuming their meat as a means to purify the self and to attain salvation through individual moral cultivation, there is also a growing trend among contemporary practitioners to integrate novel discourses about global warming, environmental protection, and the care for animals into their everyday practices. Drawing on published Yiguandao materials, online resources, and intensive fieldwork among Yiguandao congregations in Taiwan, Austria, South Africa, the United States, and Japan conducted from 2016 to 2018, this paper investigates how these modern ideas and concepts are being integrated, reworked, or even dismissed. It thereby looks at the meaning of vegetarian practices in practitioners’ social and religious lives.
Shuk-wah Poon, “Vegetarianism and ‘Protecting Life’: The Buddhist Magazine Husheng bao in 1930s China”
Founded in Shanghai by lay Buddhist Han Shizi 寒世子 in 1932, the Buddhist magazine Husheng bao 護生報 proclaimed itself as the first magazine in East Asia that was specifically devoted to advocating the ideas of animal protection and vegetarianism. While messages of kindness to animals and abstinence from meat were by no means new in Chinese Buddhist teachings, Husheng bao distinguished itself from traditional Buddhist beliefs and practices relating to animals in the following ways: First, the magazine explained the evils of meat-consumption not only by linking consuming meat to the accumulation of bad karma but also by giving detailed illustrations of the sufferings inflicted on animals during the process of slaughtering. Second, references were occasionally made to the animal protection movement in the Western world, thus adding a sense of internationalism to the otherwise outdated Buddhist religion. Third, the use of modern printing technology and the publication of contributions from the Chinese Buddhists in and outside of China helped foster an imagined global community of animal-loving Buddhists. This paper will examine the role of Husheng bao in the creation and dissemination of the new sensibility towards animals in Republican China.
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The Changing Meaning of Vegetarianism in Modern China