Thursday, February 15th, 2018 Temple Heritage of a Chinese Migrant Community: Movement, Connectivity, and Identity in the Maritime World

Thursday, February 15, 20182:00PM - 4:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place



This presentation examines the spread of Chinese temples associated with the veneration of Ruan and Liang buddhas from Sihui County in Guangdong Province, China, through Southeast Asia to the Chinatown in Kolkata, India. Ruan Ziyu and Liang Cineng were followers of the sixth Chan patriarch Huineng (638–713) and are believed to have attained enlightenment and become buddhas during the Song dynasty (960-1279). In the thirteenth century temples dedicated to these two Chinese buddhas were established in the Sihui County. With the migration of people from the region in the nineteenth century, the belief in the two buddhas and the temples associated with them spread to present-day Malaysia and India. These Ruan-Liang temples in foreign settings functioned as religious sites as well as community spaces and heritage markers. By tracing the spread (and evolution) of the Ruan-Liang belief and examining the communal function of the temples through the use of photographs, this paper analyzes the relationship between migration and the diffusion of Chinese religious traditions, the role of temples in the preservation of sub-dialect identity, the mixing of Chinese and local ideas and histories, and the intimate maritime connections between China, Southeast Asia, and India in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.


Tansen Sen is Professor of history and the Director of the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai. He received his MA from Peking University and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Asian history and religions and has special scholarly interests in India-China interactions, Indian Ocean connections, and Buddhism. He is the author of Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400 (2003; 2016) and India, China, and the World: A Connected History (2017). He has co-authored (with Victor H. Mair) Traditional China in Asian and World History (2012) and edited Buddhism Across Asia: Networks of Material, Cultural and Intellectual Exchange (2014). He is currently working on a book about Zheng He’s maritime expeditions in the early fifteenth century and co-editing (with Engseng Ho) the Cambridge History of the Indian Ocean, volume 1. He has done extensive research in India, China, Japan, and Singapore with grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Japan Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Singapore). He was the founding head of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Center in Singapore and served on the Governing Board of the Nalanda University.


Tansen Sen
Professor of History and the Director of the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai

Main Sponsor

Centre for South Asian Studies


Dr. David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies

Centre for Southeast Asian Studies

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