China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Based on the Ba County archive, a significant collection of Qing legal documents, this paper will investigate the ongoing relationship between Buddhist clerics and their family members in nineteenth-century Chongqing (to which Ba County was belonged). Recent work by Shayne Clarke has questioned how or even whether monks severed relations with their natal families when tonsured. Likewise, these archival materials reveal that some local monks, actively or passively, directly or indirectly, maintained continued contact with their kinsmen in the context of daily life. In particular, monks provided financial assistance to former kin, leased monastic land to former family members and acted as go-betweens on behalf of marriageable female relatives. In contributing to his natal family, a monk could tap into at least three types of networks: the internal monastic community, a persistent circle of friends he had made before tonsure, and an amorphous group of temple-goers. Consequently, local monastic communities played a pivotal role in the survival and reproduction of their natal families by enlarging the family network and establishing new local economic and affinal relationships. This process of monastic-familial interaction, in spite of its daily normalcy, inevitably blurred the boundaries between one’s monastic community (the surrogate family) and one’s natal family and engendered profound anxieties about whether monks collaborated with their former families to embezzle temple property. Despite Confucian rhetoric depicting Buddhism as fundamentally anti-familial in nature, as this study will demonstrate, local Buddhist culture in Chongqing functioned as a family-friendly institution.