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Resisting marriage and renouncing womanhood

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The traditional Chinese perception of Buddhist monastics is that they choose to renounce the world out of desperation-after failing in the world such that their only options are suicide or the monastery. That this perception of the monastic life persists in Taiwan today is evident in monastics' own descriptions of their families' responses to their choice as well as in several recent scandals related to monastic life. Despite the widespread negative perception of monastics, increasing numbers of women are choosing this life. Drawing on extensive fieldwork with relatively new monastics, the author explores the choice Buddhist nuns make to renounce the world they know (and the possibility of leading lives like their mothers, sisters, and friends) and instead embrace the monastic life despite its negative image. The author argues that the nuns' choice is but a contemporary manifestation of a long-standing tradition of marriage resistance in Chinese culture, and explains that in the process of rejecting their lives as wives and mothers Taiwanese Buddhist nuns reject their identities as women altogether.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2004-06-01

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