Sinhalese Derived Buddhism in Southwest China

Hema Goonatilake


Sinhalese Theravada culture is strong in Southeast Asia – Myanmar, Thailand,Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam. Sinhalese Theravada culture is little known inthe Mahayana dominated China. The paper examines the strong presence of Theravadain Southwest China among non-Han nationalities such as Dai, Blang, De'ang and WaAchang.

The illustrated paper which traces the growth and present state of Sinhaladerived culture, is based on participant observation, texts and a case study of theXishuangbanna region.Theravada culture pervades many aspects of daily life in Southwest China,especially the Xishuangbanna region. Theravada developed in Yunnan during 7th -12thcentury, initially from Myanmar where Sinhalese Buddhism spread widely from the 11thcentury. The second wave came from Chiangmai, Thailand where again the Sinhalainfluence began in 13th century. Although the Cultural Revolution of the 1960‟sdestroyed this tradition, the local population could rapidly revive it as TheravadaBuddhism had infiltrated many aspects of their daily life. The final phase came directfrom Sri Lanka in the 1960‟s when Dai monks came to Sri Lanka to study. Many of theold temples with their Tipitaka libraries still remain, and some of the palm leafmanuscripts have been translated by the Chinese government. Enthusiasm has furtherincreased after the recently opened large Buddhist Centre in Jinghong, the capital ofXishuangbanna with a Kelaniya University trained Dai monk in charge.

There is a strong imprint of Sinhalese derived Theravada culture in SouthwestChina. It is suggested that Sri Lanka could tap her potential as a dominant player in theuse of Buddhism as soft power to foster close relations for the benefit of both SouthwestChina and Sri Lanka.

Key words: Southwest china, Sinhalese derived Theravada, Buddhism as soft power

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