Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950.

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Buddhism in early-20th-century China was in a state of rapid transition, as pressures from a climate of political and intellectual revolution helped give rise to new religious ideas, organizations, practices, and texts. Printing had long been an important aspect of Buddhist religiosity but rapidly expanded in the late Qing (1644–1912) and early Republican (1912–1949) periods thanks to two types of publishers: the scriptural press (kejing chu 刻經處), which used xylographic (muban 木版; woodblock) technology, and the commercial or specialist press, which used movable type (qianzi 鉛字 or huozi 活字) and lithography (shiyin 石印 or yingyin 影印). For the most part, scriptural and exegetical texts that had been composed prior to the modern era were printed by the scriptural presses, although there were a few exceptions: most notably the Kalaviṇka Canon (Pinjia da zangjing 頻迦大藏經) published between 1909 and 1913 in Shanghai, which due to its size was printed with movable type. Commercial publishing companies, by contrast, such as Zhonghua Books (Zhonghua shuju 中華書局) and the Commercial Press (Shangwu yinshu guan 商務印書館), as well as specialist publishers of religious works, such as Shanghai Buddhological Press (Shanghai Foxue shuju 上海佛學書局), almost exclusively used modern printing technologies to publish their works. Print culture helped to connect Buddhists across China through an imagined community as expressed in print publications, and the new ways of producing and consuming printed material helped to foster a new focus on scholarship that continues into the 21st century. Publishing became a widespread way of engaging with Buddhism, from the elite publishers and editors to the readers who were able to purchase books at cost or cheaper, with publications being funded by pious donors and the profit from capital investment funds. The presses of the late Qing and early Republican era were very prolific; in the first half of the 20th century, there were more than twenty-two hundred publications related to Buddhism published in Chinese, including more than two hundred periodicals. This massive corpus of published material stands as a reminder of the creative fecundity of this turbulent but transformative period in Chinese Buddhist history.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Buddhism
  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Zen Buddhism


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