"From early on in the history of Buddhism in China, elite Buddhist monks and laymen have demonstrated a profound concern with Buddhism's past. However, while careful attention has been paid to the facts revealed by studying these historians, surprisingly little research has been done on the historiography of their works. And while there is a wealth of scholarship on other forms of historical writing in China, this scholarship has given almost no attention to Buddhist writings. To what extent did Buddhist historians differ from court historians? Did Buddhist doctrines and beliefs inform the understanding of the past for Buddhist writers? Did Buddhist historiography have any influence on non-Buddhist historical writings in China? What, in short, is the place of Buddhism in the Chinese historiographical tradition? In Buddhist Historiography of China, John Kieschnick examines a series of themes in mainstream Buddhist historiographical works from the fifth century to the twentieth, looking not so much for what these works reveal about the people and events they describe as for what they tell us about the understanding of history by those who compiled them, with a particular focus on moments in which the historians attempt to explicitly explain their material"--
Since the early days of Buddhism in China, monastics and laity alike have expressed a profound concern with the past. In voluminous historical works, they attempted to determine as precisely as possible the dates of events in the Buddha's life, seeking to iron out discrepancies in varying accounts and pinpoint when he delivered which sermons. Buddhist writers chronicled the history of the Dharma in China as well, compiling biographies of eminent monks and nuns and detailing the rise and decline in the religion's fortunes under various rulers. They searched for evidence of karma in the historical record and drew on prophecy to explain the past.
John Kieschnick provides an innovative, expansive account of how Chinese Buddhists have sought to understand their history through a Buddhist lens. Exploring a series of themes in mainstream Buddhist historiographical works from the fifth to the twentieth century, he looks not so much for what they reveal about the people and events they describe as for what they tell us about their compilers' understanding of history. Kieschnick examines how Buddhist doctrines influenced the search for the underlying principles driving history, the significance of genealogy in Buddhist writing, and the transformation of Buddhist historiography in the twentieth century. This book casts new light on the intellectual history of Chinese Buddhism and on Buddhists' understanding of the past.
Buddhist Historiography in China, John Kieschnick, Columbia University Press, Paperback, 288 pages, $35.00
John Kieschnick is The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Professor of Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. He is the author of The Eminent Monk: Buddhist Ideals in Medieval Chinese Hagiography (1997) and The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture (2003), and coeditor of India in the Chinese Imagination (2014).