Children in Medieval Chinese Buddhism: Discourses on Ethics and Practice


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies




This dissertation examines representations of children in medieval Chinese Buddhist sources from the fourth to tenth centuries CE. It reevaluates a range of sources featuring children—including legal codes, ritual literature, Daoist sources, and miraculous tales, in addition to Buddhist hagiographies, monastic codes, healing and funerary liturgies, apotropaic literature, and donor portraits—with an attention to age as an analytical category. It assesses perceptions of children’s moral standing, as well as considers depictions, prescriptions, and ideals of their religious practice. This study demonstrates that notions of age-dependent karmic culpability, religiosity, and vulnerability emerged in the medieval period as Chinese Buddhists reconciled Buddhist ethical principles with medieval Chinese sociocultural concepts of childhood and moral development. The dissertation further illustrates how the category of childhood and a consideration of children can enrich the study of Buddhism.