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Between Idealism and Geopolitics: Yoshii Hōjun and the Sino-Japanese Society for the Study of Esoteric Buddhism in 1930s North China


Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

This paper features the activities of Yoshii Hōjun (1896-1985), a priest in the Shingon sect. Motivated by dreams of doing missionary work, Yoshii moved to Beijing in 1926, where he made the acquaintance of Chinese political figures and key members of the Japanese community. This resulted in the founding of the Sino-Japanese Society for the Study of Esoteric Buddhism (ChūNichi Mikkyō Kenkyūkai) in 1931, whose center of activity was located in Tianjin. The paper will detail the Society’s different constituencies to show how the Society functioned as an important site for networking among Chinese and Japanese in North China, becoming increasingly drawn into the expanding networks of the Japanese empire and its would-be collaborators in the process. Like Fujii Sōsen, Yoshii’s case further showcases the tensions between the aspirations of individual Japanese Buddhists and the sectarian organizations, culminating in Yoshii eventually being sidelined by his sect after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Yoshii and his society thus straddle the murky line between religious idealism and real-world politics.