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Charisma and Compassion

Charisma and Compassion

Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement

C. Julia Huang

ISBN 9780674031333

Publication date: 01/31/2009

The Venerable Cheng-yen is an unassuming Taiwanese Buddhist nun who leads a worldwide social welfare movement with five million devotees in over thirty countries—with its largest branch in the United States. Tzu-Chi (Compassion Relief) began as a tiny, grassroots women's charitable group; today in Taiwan it runs three state-of-the-art hospitals, a television channel, and a university. Cheng-yen, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is a leader in Buddhist peace activism and has garnered recognition by Business Week as an entrepreneurial star.

Based on extensive fieldwork in Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and the United States, this book explores the transformation of Tzu-Chi. C. Julia Huang offers a vivid ethnography that examines the movement’s organization, its relationship with NGOs and humanitarian organizations, and the nature of its Buddhist transnationalism, which is global in scope and local in practice. Tzu-Chi's identity is intimately tied to its leader, and Huang illuminates Cheng-yen's successful blending of charisma and compassion and the personal relationship between leader and devotee that defines the movement.

This important book sheds new light on religion and cultural identity and contributes to our understanding of the nature of charisma and the role of faith-based organizations.


  • Huang traces the development of Tzu Chi from its local Taiwanese origins to its growth as a powerful NGO. She uses the venerable Buddhist "three bodies" terminology in an inspired new way to explain Cheng Yen's relationship to her devotees and makes an important theoretical contribution with her analysis of charismatic leadership in a religious movement. This study is important for our understanding of Taiwanese Buddhism, but will also appeal to scholars in gender studies, sociology, anthropology of religion, and globalization. There is no book like it.

    —Chun-fang Yu, Columbia University


  • C. Julia Huang is Associate Professor of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University.

Book Details

  • 354 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press