Of all the world’s major religions, Chinese Buddhism has probably experienced the most traumatic modernization. The establishment of a communist state quickly emerged from the self-contained Manchu Empire. The consequences are described in this book. Holmes Welch offers the first detailed account of the careers of recent Buddhist leaders and of the diverse organization they started. Eighteen Chinese Buddhist associations are identified as the author traces the struggle for national leadership. The role of T’ai-hsü, the leader best known to Western readers but not, it is shown, among Buddhists, is given a controversial reassessment.
After examining the main features of the revival, Welch puts them into a larger political framework. In the process, he offers copious evidence that our picture of Chinese Buddhism has been distorted. What has been termed a “revival” was actually a secular reorientation. The author’s conclusion is that this secularization, vigorous as it was, in reality foreshadowed the decline of Chinese Buddhism as a living religion.