This paper explores the relationship between the development of national identity in overseas Chinese communities and the establishment and institutionalization of Chinese monastic Buddhism in Malaya during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this paper, I argue that movement of people, goods, ideas, practices, and symbols during Chinese monastic Buddhist overseas expansion created a need for those involved to cope with phenomena of transgression and localization and, as a result, involved them inextricably in formation and framing of narratives, logics, symbols and identities of Chineseness in overseas communities. This perspective foregrounds local, lived religious experience and its stake in the struggle for a Chinese national identity, thus challenging the conventional perception of overseas nationalism as a secular, China-driven, state-elite sponsored intellectual movement. Analysis of temple stele and gazetteers, local newspapers, and colonial government documents reveals that Chinese Buddhist monastics and their benefactors were central and influential participants in the restructuring and re-conceptualization of Chinese identity as it related to colonial, imperial, and republican polities. Discussion of the rise of Chinese nationalism in Southeast Asia has tended to focus on the courtship of overseas Chinese communities by the Qing State, constitutional monarchists and reformers, and republican revolutionaries. I argue that fundraising, patronage, and temple building activities, as well as shifting overseas Chinese religiosity, should be added to the discussion.