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Spreading Buddhism across the Seas: Zhuandao in Singapore

Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: 4th Floor, Forest Hill


During the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, Chinese migrants from Southeast China introduced Chinese Buddhism to the maritime states of Southeast Asia. In 1913, Venerable Zhuandao (轉道, 1872-1943) went to Singapore for the first time to raise funds for a Buddhist College in Xiamen’s Nanputuo Monastery. Later, he decided to reside and teach in Southeast Asia, where he earned a reputation as the “originator of Chinese Buddhism in Singapore.” During his missionary years in Singapore, Zhuandao founded two prominent Buddhist monasteries, namely, Singapore Phor Toh See Monastery and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, and established three lay Buddhist associations, namely, the Chinese Buddhist Association, the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, and the Buddhist Union. These Buddhist organizations became important centers for the promotion of Buddhist teachings to the overseas Chinese community and remain influential in present-day Singapore. This essay uses the case of Zhuandao to explore the intertwining processes of migration and religious mobility. It makes a case for the need to consider the Buddhist temple networks and brotherhood ties between Fujian and Southeast Asia that contributed to the reform of Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century. Drawing on a wide range of documents and interviews, this paper will demonstrate the circulation of human resources, money, and religious knowledge between migrant monks in Singapore and their ancestral temples in China. It also seeks to offer some insights into the transnational religious connections between China and maritime Southeast Asia.


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