National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China
The “Penitence of Merciful Ullambana” and the Mulian Story in the Buddhist Ritual Context of Late Imperial China
Abstract. The rare woodblock edition of the “Penitence at the Ritual Place of Merciful [U]llambana of Mulian”, printed at the Ming imperial court in 1614 and preserved in the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies of St. Petersburg State University (originally collected by Academician V. P. Vasiliev) has not been analyzed so far by any scholar. The present article discusses special features of its contents and situates it in the tradition of vernacular literature devoted to the story of Mulian rescuing his mother. It demonstrates how this narrative subject, used in vernacular prosimetric literature since the 8th—10th centuries, was adapted and included in the ritual text, compiled by the Buddhist monks around the middle of the 14th century and reprinted in the 15th—17th centuries. The “Penitence of Merciful Ullambana” is regarded as a point of interaction between Buddhist preaching, vernacular narratives, and ritual in late imperial China.
Keywords: Chinese Buddhism, Mulian story, Ullambana festival, popular ritual, penitence texts, woodblock printing, vernacular narrative, V. P. Vasiliev
Acknowledgements. This research was assisted by the grant of Chinese government on research in social studies: “Survey and Research on Chinese Precious Scrolls Preserved Abroad” (海外藏中国宝卷整理与研究, 17ZDA266). The author also expresses his gratitude for Drs. Dmitrii Maiatskii, Martin Heijdra, and the staff of the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies of St. Petersburg State University for assistance with materials.
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Received by the Editorial Board: 07.09.2018