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Fujii Sōsen: A Buddhist “China-Hand” and the Two Nationalisms of Sino-Japanese Buddhist Relations

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

This paper takes up the activities of Fujii Sōsen (1896-1971), a priest of the Shinshū Ōtani sect. Fujii was exceptional among Japanese Buddhists for having formed close friendships with leading Chinese Buddhists. Fujii was not nationalistic himself and condemned Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria, but he was also averse to the growing nationalist sentiment in China. As a result, in the 1930s he increasingly found himself hemmed in between Japanese imperial nationalism and Chinese anti-imperial nationalism. Despite becoming a central pivot for Sino-Japanese Buddhist contacts, he was regarded as a maverick by his own sect and did not receive its backing. Ironically, once the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the Japanese military and Ōtani sect tapped Fujii for duty in the occupied territories of China. However, his relationship to empire remained strained, eventually leading to detention by the Special Higher Police (tokkō keisatsu). Fujii shows the potential that existed for forming transnational bonds among East Asian Buddhists on an individual level while also indicating the structural limitations for such contacts set by empire.

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