Guest Lecture: Frontier, Ethnicity and Religion: the Azhali Buddhist Tradition of the Bai People in South-Western China

Speaker: Huayan Wang (Inalco, Paris, France)

When: 7:30 pm–9 pm, Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Venue: Ghent University, Library Lab Magnel, Arts and Philosophy Faculty Library, Rozier 44

This lecture is part of the “Permanent Training in Buddhist Studies (PTBS)” Lecture Series of the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies.

A video of her presentation is available online.


This paper focuses on a local Buddhist tradition, the Azhali Buddhism of the Bai people, a minority ethnic population in northwest Yunnan (PRC) who belong to the Tibeto-Burmese group. Azhali means “preceptor or instructor in religious matters” and is the transcription of Sanskrit “Acarya”. They were supported by several successive regimes in this region since the 7th century. Azhali Buddhism became the dominant religion, although some other religious traditions co-existed there as well. According to historical records, ritual manuscripts, and fieldwork observations, I will discuss (1) the origin, evolution, and characteristics of the Azhali Buddhist tradition; (2) the relationship between this tradition and the construction of the Bai’s ethnic identity; and (3) its present practice, particularly its transmission and adaptation strategies in response to new situations, such as the government’s religious politics aiming to control religions within a secular society.

About the Speaker:
Huayan (Cécile) WANG 王華艷 is Postdoctoral research fellow in history of Buddhism at the Centre d’Etudes Interdisciplinaires sur le Bouddhisme (CEIB) of the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris. She got her Ph.D. in history from the École des hautes études en sciences socials (Paris) in 2015. Her main study area is history and anthropology of Chinese religions, especially their social and political role in local societies. Her recent publications include “To know how to predict, to translate, and to write: the division of religious work in the rebulding of a temple in Changzhi (Shanxi) today” (with Guillaume Dutournier, Routledge, London, 2019, forthcoming); “The Revival of the Cult of Cui Fujun in Shanxi and Hebei”, in Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore, 195 (2017.3): 79–140; “Cui Fujun : un protecteur des empereurs du Xème au XIIème siècle ?”. Études chinoises, Vol. XXXI-1 (2012), p. 49–65.