Women and Nuns in Chinese Buddhism

Level - Target audience

PhD students with a background in Chinese studies and/or in Chinese religions or in religion and gender studies. A good knowledge of pre-modern and modern Chinese language is expected for the students attending the classes requiring a sinological background (**). However, 20 hours are taught without the sinological background being needed. Students without this background are exempt of attending the other 5 hours. These sinological hours are concentrated mainly on Wednesday. Two film screenings with comment (each time 1 hour) will be scheduled (one on Monday, and one on Thursday).

Organising Committee

  • Contact person: Prof. Ann HeirmanFaculty: Arts and Philosophy; Department: Languages and Cultures. E-mail: Ann.Heirman@UGent.be
  • prof. Christoph Anderl (Languages and Cultures – East Asia);
  • prof. Chia Longman (Languages and Cultures – Gender and Diversity)


The course will analyse the world of Buddhist women, particularly nuns, in the history of Chinese Buddhism. Students will first be introduced to the roles and status women traditionally assumed in Buddhism, with a focus on those aspects particularly germane for China. The introductory lessons will include a talk on the foundation and early history of the nuns’ order in China. Exemplary models of Buddhist nuns and women throughout the history of Chinese Buddhism will then be presented through the reading of a selection of primary sources. As for modern times, topics to be addressed include the nuns’ ordination issue, the education and learning of Buddhist nuns and women during Republican China, and the daily life, religious activities and social engagement of contemporary Chinese and Taiwanese Buddhist women.

Objectives and learning outcomes

The course is to provide intensive training for doctoral students with a background in Chinese studies and/or in Chinese religions, or in religious-philosophical and gender studies. Half of the course is dedicated to lectures, and the other half to interaction with students, including a presentation of their dissertation projects, text readings, discussions, and the screening of documentary films. The course is meant to provide students with an insight into the status of Chinese Buddhist nuns and women. More in detail, the course aims:
1) to enhance students’ understanding of traditional Chinese ideas of womanhood, seen through the perspective of Buddhist notions and ideals;
2) to provide a new perspective on women’s changing roles in modern China, by connecting Buddhist modernism with the movement of women empowerment, the emergence of nationalism and ideas of modernization;
3) to provide students with a knowledge of the state of religion in contemporary Mainland China and Taiwan, seen through the lens of gender;
4) (for the sinological group) to improve students’ skills in classical Chinese through the reading of examples of Chinese Buddhist literature.

Dates and Program

The five-day course will have 5 contact hours a day (25 contact hours all together) that include lectures, text readings, presentations by the participants, discussions, and documentary film screenings.

  • Monday, June 3rd : Buddhist Nuns and Women Between India and China

9:30: Welcome Greetings
10:00-12:00: Women in Buddhism: A General Introduction (Ester Bianchi) *
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: The Foundation and Early History of the Nuns’ Order in China (Ann Heirman)*
15:30-16:30: Screening of the Documentary Film The Buddhist Nuns on Emei Mountain (in English) (Ester Bianchi) *

  • Tuesday, June 4th : Chinese Buddhist Nuns and Women Throughout the Ages

10:00-12:00: Exemplary Buddhist Nuns and Women: Readings from the Chinese Buddhist Canon (Ester Bianchi) **
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: Buddhist Nuns and Women in Tang China, with Text Reading (Li Yu-chen) **
15:30-16:30: Methodological Discussion with Students, Moderated by Ester Bianchi and Chia Longman*

  • Wednesday, June 5th : The Nuns’ Ordination in China and Beyond

10:00-12:00: Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination in Twentieth Century China: Rules, Criteria, Narratives (Ester Bianchi)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-14:30: Nuns’ Ordination: The Taiwanese Case  (Li Yu-chen)*
14:30-16:30: Interactive presentation of Students’ PhD Projects*

  • Thursday, June 6th : Education and Erudition of Nuns in Modern Times

10:00-12:00: Meeting with Modernity: Buddhist Women During Republican China (Ester Bianchi)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-14:30: Screening of the Documentary Film on Longlian 《當代第一比丘尼隆蓮法師》(in Chinese) (Ester Bianchi) **
14:30-16:30: Interactive Presentation of Students’ PhD Projects*

  • Friday, June 7th : Nowadays Nuns and Women in Chinese Buddhism

10:00-12:00: Nuns and Women in the PRC (Ester Bianchi)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: Taiwanese Nuns in the Contemporary Era (Li Yu-chen)*
15:30-16:30: Final Discussion with Students, Moderated by Ester Bianchi and Chia Longman*

* Lectures also suitable for a general audience (no Sinological background needed) (20 hours)
** Sinological background needed (5 hours)


Ghent University, Het Pand, Onderbergen 1, Gent


  1. Main Lecturer: Prof. Ester Bianchi; Affiliation: University of Perugia (Italy)
  2. Lecturer: Yu-chen Li (李玉珍); National Cheng Chi University (Taiwan)

Registration fee

Free of charge for PhD students of Ghent University


Please follow this link: https://webappsx.ugent.be/eventManager/events/nunsbuddhism

Number of participants

Maximum 15

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

100% attendance and participation to all sessions for which no sinological background is required.