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  • Guoying Stacy Zhang

Buddhism in Contemporary China Through a Photographer’s Eye

According to the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center, 18.2 per cent of China’s population—that is 224 million people—are Buddhists, accounting for about half of the world’s total Buddhist population.* But what do these figures mean? They reveal little about what Buddhism is like in China today. Photographer and filmmaker Yang Liquan is one of the few people who can shed some light on this question. For the past 40 years, from Lhasa to Beijing, Yang has been producing photographic catalogues and documentary films of Buddhist communities and heritage sites all over China.

Between May 2013 and May 2016, Yang served as artistic director on the documentary project Fojiao shengdi xing (佛教聖地行; Pilgrimages to Buddhist Sacred Sites), initiated by Religions in China magazine, the State Administration of Religious Affairs, and the Chinese Buddhist Association. Of the 33,000 Buddhist monasteries in China, the production team of 15 members visited 270 major sites and interviewed 145 eminent monks. “On average, we selected 5–10 monasteries in each province. In Shanxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, where Buddhism is flourishing most strongly nowadays, around 20 monasteries were documented in each province,” Yang told me.

Pilgrimage, Putuo Monastery, Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, 2015. Photo by Yang Liquan

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