Organized Panel Session
Large scale Chinese emigration began in the mid-nineteenth century and lasted through the 1930s. The arrival and settlement of Chinese migrants contributed to the spread of Chinese religious beliefs and practices into Southeast Asia. Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia during modern times has little or nothing to do with the early Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms. The form of Buddhism that is most prominent in the region is Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism which had its roots in China. Unknown to many perhaps, a significant feature in the Chinese immigration to maritime Southeast Asia was the spread and development of Buddhism in the diaspora. In recent years, scholars of Buddhism and Asian Studies have begun to examine the connected history of Buddhist communities in China and Southeast Asia, using Buddhist records, epigraphic sources, as well as oral history interviews. In this paper, I explore the South China Sea Buddhist networks connecting Southeast China and the Chinese diaspora from the nineteenth century to 1949. I argue that new patterns of Buddhist mobility contributed to the circulation of people, ideas, and resources across the South China Sea. This paper suggests that, on the one hand, Buddhist monks and religious knowledge moved along these networks from China to Southeast Asia, while money from wealthy overseas Chinese was channeled along the networks for temple building in China; on the other hand, Buddhist monks relied on the networks to support China’s war effort and facilitate relocation to Southeast Asia during the Sino-Japanese War.