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Video available! "Buddhism and Chinese Rural Religion"

Photo of Meir Shahar at his talk


To what extent did Buddhism influence the worldview of the traditional Chinese peasant? Did Buddhist soteriology inform the religious practice of Chinese villagers? In this lecture, I address this question by a survey of gods and rituals that, prevalent in late-imperial rural China, are traceable to medieval Buddhist antecedents. The focus is upon two prominent members of the rural pantheon, the Horse King (divine protector of horses, donkeys and mules) and the Ox King (tutelary deity of oxen and buffaloes). The former is a descendent of a Tantric Buddhist deity, the Horse-Headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, whereas the latter inherited his very name from the Buddha Śākyamuni, whose Sanskrit title narārṣabha (“Bull of a Man”) was rendered into Chinese as Niuwang (Ox King). The lecture draws upon ritual manuscripts and household icons that were collected in Southern-Chinese villages.

Meir Shahar Bio

Meir Shahar is the Shoul N. Eisenberg Chair for East Asian Affairs at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of Crazy Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature (1998); Oedipal God: The Chinese Nezha and his Indian Origins (2015); and The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts (2008), which has been translated into numerous languages. Meir Shahar’s co-edited volumes include: Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China (1996); India in the Chinese Imagination (2014); Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism (2017); and Animals and Human Society in Asia: Historical, Cultural and Ethical Perspectives (2019).