Xue Yu’s new book Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese Monks in the Struggle against Japanese Aggressions, 1931-19451 is the first major work I have found on a very interesting topic. Religion and nationalism have always had a tendency to conflict. Nationalists like to claim that they are tying people together in a trans-local identity for the first time, but of course many religions have done that long before nationalists turned up, and this has often led to conflict between the two, as well as recycling of a lot of religious imagery by nationalists.
The Nationalist period in China was not good for Buddhists. They were portrayed as an example of the feudal backwardness that held China back. Given how well this fit with earlier Confucian critiques of Buddhists as parasites and Western missionaries’ dismissal of the religion as primitive hokum there was not much room for Buddhism in many nationalist’s visions of a new China. Buddhism vanished even more completely from Chinese history, and from reading most histories of 20th century China you would get no idea that there were still lots of lay Buddhists, clergy, temples, and an active Buddhist press. Like most of the rest of the Chinese press the Buddhist journals spent a lot of time talking about the threat of Japan.
- Routledge, 2005 [↩]