China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper aims to respond to the question in what sense a historical architecture can be studied as a carrier of history. And it specifically aims to unpack the question, in the case of Huiju Monastery of Mount Baohua in Jiangsu province, how its monastic architecture may have functioned as a nonhuman agent that persistently enforced and negotiated a regulated communal life in the 17th-20th centuries. This question was initiated by a Danish missionary-architect Johannes Prip-Møller (1889-1943), in a monograph titled Chinese Buddhist Monasteries and published in 1937. In sharp contrast to the then-mainstream mode of studying the modular timber construction system, Prip-Møller examines the cases of Chinese Buddhist monasteries as a living culture, whose forces affect the built environment. Yet I propose to see historical architecture neither as material remains of building technologies nor as frames of traditional life, but as spatial settings that are shaped by and shape humans. Therefore, I argue for an actual, constant and multi-directional interaction between architectural space and human occupants, who were, in the case of Huiju Monastery, a multi-strata society united by the Buddhist Law and monastic regulations. I will first discuss two principles as to how the monastic architecture sustained the religious entity, which I summarize as a main-Buddha-based orientation system and a concentric-ring-shaped spatial hierarchy. Then I will discuss two anecdotes about building construction in which the monastery resisted the unlawful addition and in return the human victims defended themselves by negotiating with the principles.