Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies


James A. Benn


Shayne Clarke



Committee Member

Shayne Clarke


This paper examines the economic aspects of Buddhist monasteries in Chinese history in chronological order. The focus is on the problems related to land and taxes, which were crucial factors for the economic situation of monasteries and sensitive issues in the governing of every dynasty.

By looking into the interaction among Buddhist monasteries, state/local government, great families and elites regarding land estates and tax policies in different time periods, the study reveals that despite the lasting criticisms that Buddhist monasteries were harmful to the economic wellbeing of society and effected the revenue of the state, monasteries in fact actively engaged in economic activities, and could be utilized by the state as a tool to centralize wealth from society, contributing to the state economy in its own way.

The role of Buddhist monasteries was largely decided by their subject position in front of the state. The study shows that the prosperity of monastic economy was of different levels under the different social and political environment in each dynasty, but even in its most prosperous time, the scale of monasteries could be easily reduced by the state and their resources could be appropriated by government when it was considered necessary. Besides, the study also depicts the process of Buddhist monasteries gradually becoming taxed by the state, showing the general tendency that the Buddhist monastic economy was in the process of becoming more incorporated into or controlled by the state across time.

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