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BSEAH Speaker Series: What is South China Sea Buddhism?

April 17, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Chinese Buddhists have never remained stationary. They have always been on the move. Why did Buddhist monks migrate from China to Southeast Asia? How did they participate in transregional Buddhist networks across the South China Sea? In this talk, I will tell the story of “South China Sea Buddhism,” referring to a Buddhism that emerged from a swirl of correspondence networks, forced exiles, voluntary visits, evangelizing missions, institution-building campaigns, and organizational efforts of countless Chinese and Chinese diasporic Buddhist monks. Drawing on multilingual research conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, I challenge the conventional categories of “Chinese Buddhism” and “Southeast Asian Buddhism” by focusing on the lesser-known—yet no less significant—Chinese Buddhist communities of maritime Southeast Asia. By crossing the artificial spatial frontier between China and Southeast Asia, this talk brings Southeast Asia into the study of Chinese Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism into the study of Southeast Asian Buddhism.
Jack Meng-Tat Chia is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is a historian of religion whose research focuses on Buddhism and Chinese popular religion. He specializes in Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia and has broader research interests in migration, diasporas, transnationalism, pilgrimage, and religious diplomacy. He is the author of Monks in Motion: Buddhism and Modernity Across the South China Sea (Oxford, 2020), which was awarded the 2021 EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize and shortlisted for the 2023 Friedrich Weller Prize. This book was recently translated into Indonesian under the title Kiprah Para Mahabiksu: Agama Buddha dan Modernitas di Asia Tenggara Maritim (Karaniya, 2022), and a Chinese translation is underway. Chia is currently working on two book projects: Sisters in Dharma: A Buddhist Feminist in Postcolonial Indonesia, and Diplomatic Dharma: Buddhist Diplomacy in Modern Asia, which is supported by the 2020 Social Science and Humanities Research Fellowship awarded by the Social Science Research Council Singapore. In 2022 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

For more information on his research, visit
This event is being held in person and online. Please REGISTER HERE for online access.

This event is the second installment of the Bringing Southeast Asia Home Speaker Series, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, which brings together scholars of Southeast Asia from the National University of Singapore and the US Southeast. The first speaker in the series was Dr. Risa Toha, whose talk was titled, “Rioting for representation: Local ethnic mobilization in democratizing countries.” To learn more about the Bringing Southeast Asia Home initiative, please visit


April 17, 2023
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Carolina Asia Center
View Organizer Website

The Carolina Asia Center supports diverse Asia-related events. However, CAC co-sponsorship of any talk, seminar, documentary screening, film screening, performance or celebration does not constitute endorsement of or agreement with the views presented therein. As an academic institution, we value diverse perspectives that promote dialogue and understanding.

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