This essay argues that the distinctive literary voice of Yuanwu Keqin in Biyanlu is generally overlooked or blurred with the source materials. It seeks to understand Yuanwu’s view of Chan rhetoric seen in relation to Xuedou’s original verse comments. In one of Yuanwu’s prose remarks, he stakes out his view of the role of language in gongan discourse by valorizing the verse comments of Xuedou. But other passages stress that there is a difference between verse and prose commentary, or view both styles as positive. By engaging the views of other recent scholars, this essay demonstrates that it is crucial to see that from the start of his collection Yuanwu emphasizes the innate limitations of discourse, while at the same time shows how an appropriate use of rhetoric can be useful and necessary as a heuristic tool to guide disciples.
Song-dynasty Chan depended for its place in society and its financial resources on lay patrons. Educated gentleman-officials (shidafu) were the wealthiest and most powerful of men. From the time of Dahui Zonggao in the Southern Song, Linji teachers shifted from elaborate comments on gongan in periodic sermons to a new method of gongan inspection termed “critical phrase” (kan huatou). Scholars have argued that Dahui’s invention of huatou practice was primarily related to internal Chan rivalries for elite patrons. I argue that Dahui’s motive was also connected to a rivalry with Pure Land Buddhism over the making of appeals to lay followers among scholar-officials. Dahui was aware and tried to communicate the usefulness of huatou in addressing the elite laity’s doubts about birth and death, and in particular their anxieties about facing the decisive moment of death. Therefore, he developed a gongan discourse that is related to anticipation of dying by harnessing the power of doubt to create an experience of spiritual awakening.
Chan Buddhism’s ambivalent relationship with language and literature is perhaps most starkly seen in its practice of gongan meditation. This practice was first instituted by the famous Linji master Dahui and involves an intense meditational focus on the “punch line” (huatou) of what is typically a story about an ancient Chan master or an enigmatic question like “why did [the legendary founder of Chan] Bodhidharma come from the West?” In the Ming dynasty, a new gongan became widely used in Chan meditation: the phrase “who is reciting the name of the Buddha?” This was a reference to the widespread practice of chanting homage to the Buddha Amitābha in hope of getting reborn into his paradise. In using this new gongan, Chan seemingly embraced oral practice in an unprecedented move and appeared to combine the other-power of Amitābha worship with the self-power of Chan meditation. Scholars have struggled to understand this development, and several have dismissed it as an example of the degeneration of Chan and its later pandering to lay people. I argue that the development of this gongan can best be seen as an attempt to reframe the practice of Buddha-recitation in a Chan meditative framework; and further explore the rationale for the practice as given by the influential Buddhist thinker Yunqi Zhuhong, who was a staunch advocate of Buddha-recitation.
This essay examines the late Ming-dynasty Chan master Yunqi Zhuhong’s commentary on the Brahma Net Sutra (Fanwangjing), which it takes up in order to explore his discourse concerning both Chan realism and his ensuing rejection of mainstream Chan gongan rhetoric. The Brahma Net Sutra contains a list of major and minor precepts governing proper morality for monastic and lay Buddhists. Zhuhong’s interpretation of the Twenty-First Minor Precept, which prohibits revenge, offers insight into his sense of political realism regarding the relationship between gradual teachings, provisional truths, and ultimate truth. His interpretation of the Tenth Minor Precept, which prohibits storing weapons, demonstrates his moral realism in contrast to Chan’s traditional use of pedagogical violence. Zhuhong’s realist discourse, influenced by the teachings of the Buddhist Vinaya as well as by engagement with Confucian ethics, presents an overlooked counter-narrative shift that contrasts with the emphasis on sudden enlightenment and antinomianism in Chan gongan discourse typical of the Tang and Song dynasties.
This paper modifies the historical assessment of the 1906 Qing Bankruptcy Code by proposing a new approach to the history of commercial dispute resolution. It argues that the Qing bankruptcy reform cannot be understood by evaluating only published sources, and that a thorough understanding of dispute mediation techniques must serve as a foundation for assessing the historical importance of the law. It offers a description of Qing insolvency dispute practices by providing an analysis of cases from the Ba county archives. The results of that analysis suggest that, although the Qing Bankruptcy Code was repealed soon after its introduction, the reform ambitions behind the new legislation were realized through the implementation of another New Policy reform, which allowed chambers of commerce to resolve bankruptcy disputes differently. This conclusion suggests that the basic vision of the Qing economic reforms of the New Policy movement had more of a lasting impact than has been assumed to date.
This article analyzes Nanxun, a lower Yangzi delta town known for its silk products, as a case study of China’s development and underdevelopment. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a booming silk trade linked Nanxun to the global market and made it an extraordinarily wealthy town, yet little was achieved in terms of urban development. Scholars have attributed the underdevelopment of Nanxun to economic factors, and perceived it as entirely undesirable. This article argues that a largely overlooked cause of Nanxun’s underdevelopment was the conformist culture of Nanxun’s ruling elite. The merchants who created the wealth of the town by their very natures preferred to create a safe and secluded zone in which the familiarity of their living environment could be preserved and the comfort of a traditional lifestyle assured. The underdevelopment of Nanxun turned out, however, not to be completely negative. The town did not sustain its status as a trading center, nor develop into a major city, but its arrested development preserved much of its original layout and, moreover, its culture. From a cultural and environmental point of view, Nanxun’s underdevelopment may have proved to be more valuable than if the town had become an indistinguishable industrial site.