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Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth Century Monk Hardcover – December 10, 2010
"Jay Carter's new book follows the life of one man as a way of opening a window into the lived history of twentieth-century China. Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth-Century Monk is less a traditional biography than a life of an emergent modern nation as told through the experiences of a single individual whose relationships embodied the history of that nation in flesh, bones, and blood... Carter's own travels took him from the Bronx (to meet with a Dharma heir disciple of the monk) through more than a dozen Chinese cities, taking Tanxu's own memoir and itinerary as guidebook and route-map. The resulting book is a beautifully written, historiographically self-reflexive, and humane account of the lived history of modern China." --New Books in East Asian Studies
"Heart of Buddha, Heart of China enriches our understanding of Chinese nationalism and brings the great events and issues of the day into immediate focus through the lens of an individual life. . . . teachers who may be considering offering a course on modern Chinese religion, or specifically Buddhism, will find Heart of Buddha, Heart of China a useful book with which to set the stage, as the thorough contextualization provides an accessible introduction both to the particularities of Chinese religious culture and to the challenges it faced in the twentieth century." --H-Net Reviews
"Heart of Buddha, Heart of China is a gracefully written and deeply humane book, which weaves together the life story of a protean individual and the tale of a nation undergoing profound transformations. This is one of those rare books that I'll look forward to assigning to students and will also encourage friends about to travel to China to read--especially if their itinerary takes them through one or more of the various cities in which Tanxu lived and worked." --Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
"James Carter's imaginative new book is a journey within a journey: the monk Tanxu's, to find a place for Buddhism in the war-torn chaos of modern China; and the author's, to find the echoes of the past in China's present. Carter's candid and evocative treatment of Tanxu's life reveals as much about the passions that drive the historian's research as it does about religion in modern China." --Stephen R. Platt, Associate Professor of History, The University of Massachusetts at Amherst
"In this ingeniously structured book, James Carter uses the Buddhist monk Tanxu (1875-1963) as a guide to China's travails across one of the most turbulent periods in its history. Carter shows us how Tanxu's personal quests for enlightenment intersected with his knowledge of life amongst foreigners, his experiences in five separate wars, and his vision that the construction of temples offered China an opportunity for spiritual and national regeneration." --Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
"[C]learly well researched . . . this book is written in language that is approachable, flows well, and remains focused on the life of Tanxu without deviating or becoming distracted by focusing on any sub-topic in any great detail." --Journal of Buddhist Ethics
"What makes the book a great read is the fact that Tanxu lived through some of the most dramatic and chaotic events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century...." --Buddhadharma:The Practitioner's Quarterly
"This book is well informed and although its with a broad range of issues, it does so in a balanced manner." --Erik Hammerstrom, Journal of Buddhist Ethics
"Heart of Buddha, Heart of China is the first full-length study of Tanxu in English, but it is also more than that. The book is an engaging and detailed description of the political, cultural, and social milieu in which Tanxu lived...Carter is a wonderful storyteller...a welcomed addition to scholarship on modern Buddhism, Chinese Republican-era historiography, and Chinese religions."--Journal of Religion
"The book serves as an interesting introduction to twentieth-century China and select cities through the peregrinations of a unique lecturing, temple-building monk."-- Journal Review of Religion and Chinese Society
About the Author
James Carter is Professor of History at Saint Joseph's University, in Philadelphia. He has lived and traveled widely in China, is the author of several books and articles on modern China, and is the editor of the journal Twentieth-Century China. He is also past president of the Historical Society for Twentieth-Century China.
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The author places Tanxu's life in the context of rising modern nationalism amidst foreign aggression and war during the early twentieth century. The eminent monk's efforts to revive his religion for a modern age become intertwined with his patriotic mission to save the Chinese nation by reinvigorating its cultural and spiritual foundations. As Tanxu travels from city to city, delivering lectures and building temples, the reader encounters a rich tapestry of people, places, and political contexts.
My students particularly took interest in the author's reflections on his own efforts to gain access to Tanxu's life and legacy through his living disciples. As he built relationships with and accepted aid from these contemporary followers of Tanxu, the author encountered certain challenges to maintaining scholarly objectivity. The book therefore also brings to the fore issues of central concern to the historian's craft itself.
Overall, this book is an enjoyable and rewarding read both for the student of Chinese history and for the general reader.