Award Information

Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religious Studies
Trading Buddhas: Circulating Marble Buddhist Images Across the Sino-Burmese Border

My dissertation project investigates the encounters between Burmese and Chinese Buddhists through the transnational trade of marble Buddha images across the Sino-Burmese border since the late 1980s. It delineates the network that facilitates the production and circulation of marble Buddhist icons across the border and reveals how state policies in Myanmar and China have conditioned and influenced this trade. Particularly, it highlights the complicated nature of this trade as an economy of both natural resources and religious artifacts and underlines its vulnerability to state regulations in China due to its association with religion. My research also examines the role of the cultural assumptions about "Burmese jade" and the emerging imagination about Burmese Buddhism, which considers it as a newly-discovered instance of "pure" Buddhism, in motivating the Chinese desire for marble Buddhist images from Myanmar. Most importantly, my project explores the collaborative efforts and ethnic tensions between Burmese and Chinese participants, including marble quarry and workshop owners and artisans from Myanmar and workshop owners, monastics, and patrons of images from China, within this trade. It unveils their ongoing group making and unmaking and the re-articulations of their respective identities in activities that cross geographic and conceptual boundaries between Myanmar and China, Burmese and Chinese, and Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. While contributing to studies on contemporary Buddhist material culture and transnational Buddhism, my project argues that the transnational flows of religious material objects and cultural imaginaries are an indispensable part of borderscapes, which harbor not only economic and political significance but also cultural, ethnic, and religious agency.