Post-Modernity, Media Ecology and Contemporary Chinese Humanistic Buddhism: The Case of Beijing's Digitized Longquan Temple

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Dong ZHAO, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China
The integration of religion with new media technology is a natural outcome of post-modernity. With the increasingly manifest role of globalization, Internet and Information technologies in the evolution of Humanistic Buddhism, the era of digitized Buddhism has come. Longquan Abbot Xuecheng’s carefully nurtured “research monks”, “highly qualified intellectual sangha”, and their self-constructed information management system marked by “managing the temple through the Internet and hyper-reality” are a holographic reflection of the proselytization and management of Humanistic Buddhist temples in post-modern China. With empirical methods of virtual ethnography and participant observation, the paper carries out a qualitative study of the management pattern and operational effects of Longquan Temple in the context of digital media, and explores the digitized monastery management and the digitized discourses in preserving the pristine Buddhist tradition amid hyper-reality proselytization, political harmony and the state governing of religions; it expounds critically the ultimate goal of Buddhism as “transforming and guiding the secular world through purification and transcendence” (Xue Cheng 2016) and the proposition that tradition continues in modernity (Tu Weiming 2010). In this sense, “the media is the message” (McLuhan 1964), the classical statement of media ecology, has been proved and reinforced in such post-modernity markers as Longquan’s multi-language website, micro-blogs, cartoons, robot-monks, official we-chat accounts, and particularly in its “skillful (or controversial?) means” of digital monastery management. The paper points out that the digitized management and hyper-reality proselytization contribute to the charismatic leadership of the temple (Abbot Xue Cheng), the cohesive internal management, the public belonging, and the positive community of the monastics, lay practitioners, volunteers, believers, temple management and state governing bodies. Admittedly, it’s still debatable whether this model accords with the “new contemporary mode of Buddhist proselytization, rooted in the Buddha Dharma” (Xue Yu 2009) and meanwhile preserves the essential religiousness of a Buddhist temple.