The Hall of Deep Willows and Its Master


Wu Yankang 武延康

Translated by Frederick W. Mote


Editor’s Note

The following is an account of the Jinping Buddhist Press, founded in Nanking following the depredations of the Lower Yangtze Valley, and the wholesale destruction of Buddhist monasteries, libraries and practice, during the pseudo-Christian Taiping Rebellion (1851-1865). As the following text notes:

The Jinling Buddhist Press [was] China’s first publisher in modern times to have been created and managed by private individuals for the purpose of engraving printing blocks, printing books from them, distributing those publications, and carrying on research, all in one unified Buddhist publishing institution.

Minor changes have been made to the text in keeping with the style of China Heritage Annual. Chinese characters have been inserted in the text from what was, in the original, a glossary appended to the translation following a list of Yang Renshan’s writings and the notes.

We are grateful to Professor Mote’s widow for her kind permission to reprint this translation.

— Geremie R. BarméEditor, China Heritage Annual

Translator’s Note

This translation article is based directly on an essay with the title ‘The Revered Master Deep Willows and the Hall of Deep Willows’ 深柳大師與深柳堂 written by Wu Yankang of the Jinling Buddhist Press 金陵刻經處. His article was published in The Voice of Dharma 法音 2 (2001). Other passages are drawn from Wu Yankang’s manuscript ‘Yang Renshan and the Jinling Buddhist Press’ 楊仁山與金陵刻經處, also published in translation in the current number of the East Asian Library Journal. The translator has also drawn on other articles by Wu Yankang and other sources, as noted.

The translation of Wu’s essay is in Roman; other portions of this article that are in italics include abbreviated paraphrases of other passages from Wu’s articles or represent additional material provided by the translator.

The translator’s intention, respecting that of the author, is to emphasize the place of Yang Renshan’s Jinling Buddhist Press in the history of book printing and of Buddhist scholarly activities in the late-imperial and early-Republican eras (1911-1949). At the same time, the translator has attempted to supplement the original material in ways to meet the needs of readers who may be less familiar with the Chinese scene.

In the original essay, the subject, Yang Wenhui (Renshan) is usually referred to asRenshan, the Buddhist lay devotee’ 仁山居士 or simply as Lay Devotee 居士 in keeping with Chinese Buddhist usage. In this translation, in most cases he will be called Yang Renshan or Renshan.

A line from a Tang-dynasty poem provided an eminent Buddhist lay devotee with the name for his garden. The name also became one of the literary courtesy names for the man himself. The Tang poet is Liu Shenxu 劉昚虛, who was active during the brilliant Kaiyuan 開元 reign period (713–741 CE). The Buddhist lay devotee is Yang Renshan 楊仁山, who lived from 1837 to 1911.

The idle gate looks out to the mountain road;
Deep in the willows is a hall for studies.


It suggests an ideal of seclusion for serious study, but Yang Renshan, although a serious scholar, was anything but a recluse. He was the founder of the Jinling Buddhist Press in Nanjing, which in 1886 started extensive reprintings of Buddhist writings from newly cut printing blocks. In 1897, the Jinling Buddhist Press moved from earlier locations in Nanjing to a large walled enclosure in Yanling Lane 延齡巷, in the very center of Nanjing, which also included the residence of the prosperous Yang family. (For images of the Jinling Buddhist Press today, see figures 1 and 2.) The name given to the expansive gardens and commodious residences was Deep Willows Hall for Studies 深柳讀書堂. From that, the name Master of Deep Willows 深柳大師 was bestowed on Mr. Yang by his followers as a term of high respect for a revered teacher.

Piye Moongate, Jinling Buddhist Press. Piye is the Chinese transliteration of Vaiśālī, now in Bihar, North India, where Gautama Buddha gave his last sermon and announced his parinirvana. Photograph by William Sima, March 2013.

The Hall of Deep Willows

Commitment to Buddhist Publishing

Lay devotee Yang Renshan’s formal name was Yang Wenhui; Renshan was his courtesy name. He was a native of Shidai 石埭 county in Anhui province, today’s Shitai 石臺 county. He was born in the two-hour period chou [between one and three a.m.] on the sixteenth day of the eleventh lunar month of the seventeenth year of the Daoguang 道光 reign [13 December 1837] at the Yang-family Village 杨家村, some thirty li [about ten miles] southwest of the county seat. The village lay at the foot of the Rangling Hills 穰嶺山. Beginning his schooling at age nine, he proved to be exceptionally intelligent.

Early in 1853 the Taiping rebel forces abandoned Wuchang 武昌 [the capital of Hubei province] to push eastward and broke through the defenses of Anqing 安慶 [the capital of neighboring Anhui province]. In fighting there, the governor of Anhui was killed, and rampaging soldiers left deep scars on the countryside. The entire Yang household, including about ten family members young and old [along with servants and attendants], led by their father [Yang Chizao 楊摛藻, 1800-1863, jinshi 進士 of 1838], known by his courtesy name Master Puan 樸庵先生, were forced to commence what would be ten years of wandering existence. They moved back and forth through Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, frequently encountering adversities. But in all such instances [the young] Yang Renshan’s military foresight was effective, and they evaded disaster. During those years Yang Renshan also took service under the military leaders Zhang Fei (張芾, 1814-1862, jinshi 1835) and Zhou Tianshou (周天受, d.1863).[2] Yang Renshan was noted for his courage in battle. He personally led other officers and soldiers, and on one occasion he attacked rebel agents in bloody combat. Though he was recommended for rewards and advancement, Yang firmly refused to accept.

[In her biographical accounts of her grandfather’s life, Yang Buwei (楊步偉, 1889-1981), the wife of the eminent linguist Zhao Yuanren (趙元任, Yuenren Chao, 1892-1982), has pointed out that Yang Renshan was not drawn to studying for the civil service examinations or joining the bureaucratic elite of his time. He even went so far as to question, in the presence of his father and the great hero of the anti-Taiping military campaigns, Zeng Guofan (曾国藩, 1811-1872), why Chinese should fight to save the alien Manchu dynasty. Zeng Guofan and Yang Chizao were tongnian 同年, that is, they were fellow winners of the jinshi degree in the year 1838 and had become close friends. Concerned that Yang Renshan’s seditious-sounding remarks could bring him to grief, Zeng had the young man transferred to a post in Hangzhou, where the Yang family made their temporary home in the 1850s, to be away from the battle front of that time. Later, Zeng Guofan told his eldest son, Zeng Jize (曾紀澤, 1839-1890), that Yang Renshan was an exceptional man who should be given the opportunity to serve in important capacities even though he was unwilling to enter the civil service. Yang Buwei stresses that her grandfather remained a man of intellectual independence, not only deeply interested in Western science and government, but also one who held revolutionary ideas and who covertly supported the revolutionary movement of Sun Yat-sen (Sun Yixian 孫逸仙, 1866-1925) in the early years of the twentieth century.

[Yang Buwei was twenty-two years old when her famous grandfather died in 1911. She had been very close to him and remembered intimate conversations with him over the years, as well as the experience of residing in the grounds shared with the Jinling Buddhist Press.[3]  ]

After the fighting came to an end [in 1864], Yang Renshan described in a poem the desolate scene at that time, showing that the cruelties of war and the sufferings of ordinary people affected him deeply. At the same time, the seeds of his subsequent studies of Buddhism were planted in his heart. In 1862, when the Taiping Rebellion’s armies gave up their hold on Anhui province, Yang Renshan was twenty-five years old. He led the Yang family back to Anhui, making their residence in Anqing, the provincial capital. There he made his first contacts with Buddhist teachings. A brief biography of Yang Renshan published in 1912 states, ‘Previously an elderly nun of unknown identity gave him a copy of the Diamond Sutra (金剛經; Vajracchedikā), which, on returning home, he opened and read. He felt it difficult to comprehend yet marvelously subtle. He carefully stored it away as something to be valued.[4] Subsequently in a book store in the Anhui provincial capital he bought a copy of Mahayana Treatise on the Awakening of Faith (大乘起信論; Mahāyānaśraddhotpāda śāstra), which he placed on his desk, but he found no time to time to look into it.

In 1864, when Yang Renshan was twenty-seven years old, exhausted from long years of stress, he had the misfortune to contract the plague and was sick for a long time. One biographical account has this record:

After his illness he took up various books but on getting into them found them to be of no interest. Then he read the Awakening of Faith 起信論 and could not put it aside. After reading through it five times, he began to discover its profound import, and from that time he widely sought out other Buddhist writings.[5]

From that time forward, lay devotee Yang Renshan was resolutely set on his course of formal Buddhist studies.

[In her Chinese autobiography (1967), Yang Buwei writes:

[while the family was temporarily residing in Hangzhou in the 1850s, one day while walking about aimlessly, he saw in a peddler’s sidewalk display of used books a copy of the Mahayana Treatise on the Awakening of Faith which he took up and began to read seriously. Later I heard that people had said grandfather had first encountered this book while at Anqing, but I do not believe that.[6]

[More emphatically, in her brief life of her grandfather (1960), she inserts a parenthetical remark: ‘According to one view, he had bought it in a bookstore in Anhui; that is incorrect.’[7] From that experience, she wrote elsewhere, he decided on his own to make the study of Buddhism his life work.[8] She also stressed, ‘Grandfather was not the sort of person who was led by superstitious belief to take up the study of Buddhism.’[9] The English language rendering of the autobiography, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman, ‘put into English by her husband, Yuenren Chao [Zhao Yuanren],’ and published in 1947, departs considerably from the Chinese text as later published in 1967 (preface dated 1966); her two recollections of her grandfather published in Chinese in 1960 and 1963, as well as the full Chinese text of her autobiography, all express her mind more directly than the 1947 English version. Note, for example, that in the English 1947 version this event is described as follows:

Grandfather would wander alone in the streets of Hangchow after office hours. One day he picked up a volume of Śuranga 楞嚴經 [Śūrangama sūtra]. He had always been interested in science, philosophy and religion, and this Buddhist work was such a great find that he kept reading, standing in the old bookshop, quite forgetting where he was.[10]

[Despite such variations in place, and time, and the name of the first Buddhist work to enter his consciousness, as encountered in these and other Chinese sources, all the writings about him show that Yang Renshan was a man of the broadest interests and that he was attracted to Buddhism as one more field of intellectual endeavor, albeit the one that would dominate his life from this time forward.]

In 1866 [following his father’s death in 1863, which made Yang Renshan the head of the family], Lay Devotee with his entire family moved to Nanjing. [Nanjing, since March of 1853 the Taiping Rebellion’s Heavenly Capital, had fallen to the Chinese imperial forces under the command of Zeng Guofan’s younger brother, Zeng Guoquan (1824-1890), on 19 July 1864, leaving a demolished city awaiting the vigorous reconstruction that commenced almost immediately. Yang went there on assignment from Zeng Guofan to supervise large, government building projects.] In that same year, the Lay Devotee’s first publication, Four Sutras of the Pure Land School 淨土四經 was produced there. The appearance of this book marked the establishment of the Jinling Kejingchu, the Nanjing Buddhist Press.[11]

The Jinling Buddhist Press is China’s first publisher in modern times to have been created and managed by private individuals for the purpose of engraving printing blocks, printing books from them, distributing those publications, and carrying on research, all in one unified Buddhist publishing institution. After the Jinling Buddhist Press was established, Buddhist publication activities also were established one after another at Rugao, Changshu, and Yangzhou [all in Jiangsu] and at Hangzhou [in Zhejiang].

In 1878, when Zeng Jize was appointed envoy plenipotentiary to England and France, he invited Yang Renshan to accompany him as counsellor at the new Chinese Legation in London and later in France. The following year, in London, he first made acquaintance with Nanjō Bunryū (南條文雄; 1849-1927), a Japanese scholar in Buddhist Studies (then studying at Oxford University); they became lifelong friends, maintaining thereafter a continuing close relationship. Lay Devotee entrusted Nanjō Bunryū to acquire in Japan and Korea writings by eminent past worthies of Sui and Tang times (sixth to tenth centuries) to send back to China, in all more than three hundred items. Among those were many that had long ceased to exist in China. Yang Renshan selected the most valuable of those to be engraved, printed, and circulated. In that way, he enabled important works of the Consciousness Only [唯識], Three Treatises [三論], Avatamsaka [華嚴, or ‘Garland Sutra’], Pure Land [淨土], and other schools of Buddhist teaching to again become known.

[This aspect of Yang Renshan’s work in promoting Buddhist Studies in confirmed in other sources. Kenneth K.S. Chen’s standard work, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, says of him:

[The] movement toward lay Buddhism was to reach its highest point during the closing years of the Ch’ing [Qing] dynasty, when the leading roles were enacted by such people as Yang Jen-shan [Yang Renshan]. …

[During the T’ai-p’ing Rebellion (1851-1865) Buddhism suffered one of its most crushing blows. The T’ai-p’ing leaders, in their campaign against all idolatrous worship, wrought their greatest damage to the Buddhist sangha by their wholesale destruction of Buddhist images, libraries, and temples in all the areas which they overran. The revival of the religion after that holocaust was engineered mainly through the dedicated leadership and activities of such men as Yang Jen-shan [Yang Renshan]. With the destruction of the sutras the Chinese Buddhists found it difficult to obtain reading materials. To alleviate this shortage, Yang concluded an agreement with the Japanese Buddhist scholar Bunyiu Nanjio [Nanjō Bunryū], who had just returned from Europe, through which he could obtain from the Japanese books to take back to China for publication. He organized the Chin-ling Sutra Publishing Center [i.e. the Jinling Buddhist Press] in Nanking to print and distribute the mass of literature he thus obtained from Japan. All in all, it is estimated that during his lifetime he distributed over a million [copies of] Buddhist tracts, comprising both Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna texts. More than anyone else Yang was responsible for the revival of Buddhist literature through his publication endeavors.[12] ]

On the fourth day of the sixth lunar month of the twenty-third year of the Guangxu reign period [3 July 1897], Lay Devotee Yang with his entire family moved into their newly-built residence in Nanjing’s Yanling Lane 延齡巷. This was the fourth move of the Jinling Buddhist Press.[13] It was at that time that Yang Renshan, in consideration of the need for the Jinling Buddhist Press to have a permanent location in order to assure its future development, had purchased a piece of land of something over six mu  near his home at Huapailou 花牌樓, on which he built his new residence of more than sixty rooms 間.[14] His mother, née Sun, at that time gravely ill, wanted to see the new home for herself, so even before the rooms had been painted, he had her carried half-reclining, half-sitting up in a wicker chair into the new dwellings to look around. The main entrance into this residence faced east onto Yanling Lane. The house number later added to it was Yanling Lane Number 49. Over the main door were five large Chinese characters ‘Jinling Kejingchu’, and on the right side of the entrance were the four characters 池州楊宅, ‘Residence of the Yang family of Chizhou’.[15]

Jinling Buddhist Press, in the hand of Ouyang Jian.

Yang Renshan gave orders that all of the printing blocks that had been engraved through the years, together with the entire printing operation, should be moved into the new place of residence. The front parts of the residences and gardens were given over to the Jinling Buddhist Press, while the rear portion became the residence of the family. Lay Devotee himself resided in a separate one-storey building in the farthest western corner of the residential garden area. In front of it was a pond, and all around it he had willows planted and gave it the name ‘Deep Willows Hall for Studies’ 深柳讀書堂, the name he had taken from the Tang-dynasty poem. This was the place where Lay Devotee made his textual studies of the Buddhist sutras, did his writing, and taught. The Deep Willows Hall was divided into three rooms — to the east was his bedroom, in the middle was his parlor, and to the west was his study. The Jinling Buddhist Press served as the entire foundation for all of Yang Renshan’s Buddhist undertakings, and from the time he moved into this new setting, the engraving and printing of Buddhist texts, as well as the lecturing and teaching activities, entered into an entirely new stage. And thus, all the Buddhist activities carried on during the final fourteen years of his life were to be inseparably linked to this Deep Willows Hall.

In the summer of 1897, Yang Renshan’s mother died at the age of ninety-seven. After the family had emerged from mourning, he gathered his eldest son Yang Zixin, his second son Yang Zichao and his fifth son Yang Fuyan [i.e., all three of his surviving sons] to meet at Deep Willows Hall to tell them about his intention that they should set up separate households, in his desire to donate the entire property at Yanling Lane to the Jinling Buddhist Press to be its permanent place of operations.

In the course of that perhaps surprising announcement to his sons, Yang Renshan reminded them that from the time he had first encountered the Buddhist teachings at age twenty-seven, it had been his strong desire to become a monk. Now his mother has died at an advanced age, and he himself was declining in physical strength, well past the time when he could assume the duties and discipline of monkhood. He said that the entire residential section as well as the buildings housing the Buddhist Press would become ‘the common property of the boundless Buddhist realm’ 十方公產 and that worldly concerns would no longer burden him. Four years later, in the spring of 1901, he convened a second meeting with the sons to have them all affix their signatures to a written record of the division of the household. Because the Buddhist Press had never operated on a for-profit basis, it had acquired debts totalling 3,810 silver taels, Yang Renshan told his three sons to divide that sum among themselves and repay it to the press out of their incomes.[16]

Inside the moon gate entrance to the Jinling Buddhist Press. Photograph by William Sima, March 2013.

The Deep Willows Hall was not only the place where the Lay Devotee carried on his studies and his other work, it was also the place where he normally received friends and old acquaintances, as well as his students and followers. Most of those were Buddhist scholars, but there also was no lack of persons associated with the modernization movement [of Kang Youwei 康有為, 1858-1927] and members of the Revolutionary Party [of Sun Yat-sen]. Noted personages in China’s modern history such as Tan Sitong [T’an Ssu-t’ung 譚嗣同, 1865-1898], Ouyang Jian [歐陽漸, 1871-1943, courtesy name Jingwu 竟無], and Su Xuanying [蘇玄瑛, 1884-1919, courtesy name Manshu 曼殊] among others, each developed a relationship with the Hall of Deep Willows.

[The further discussion of Yang Renshan’s relationship with Tan Sitong can be briefly summarized here. It should be noted that Tan Sitong became a close associate of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873–1929) during the ‘Hundred- Days Reforms’ of 1898. When that attempt to transform China into a modern constitutional monarchy collapsed, Tan was captured by the vengeful empress dowager and, with five other prominent associates, was beheaded. They became known as the Six Martyrs of 1898 戊戌六君子, that is, martyrs of Kang Youwei’s brief Hundred-Days’ Reform.[17] Tan could have fled, but stayed on to be arrested, explaining that revolutions can be successful only when some are willing to sacrifice their blood and that he was eager to contribute his blood to that great cause. Long before he became associated with the reformers, he had already established a reputation as an unconventional scion of a highly-placed official family — he was a skilled swordsman and military strategist and had traveled widely throughout China seeking new knowledge. It may well be that Tan Sitong was drawn to Yang Renshan not only to learn something about Buddhist doctrine, but also because he knew that Yang had spent a total of six years in two terms as counselor to the Chinese Legation in London, during which time Yang had traveled throughout Europe buying scientific equipment, such as maps, globes, cameras, surveying equipment, telescopes, and astronomical observation instruments, and that he had unconventional views on women’s education, the new fields of learning, and the like. Tan spent a year and a half in Nanjing, from the summer of 1896 to early in 1898, much of it in the company of Yang Renshan and notables assembled at Yang’s Deep Willows Hall for Study.[18] On departing Nanjing early in 1898, Tan presented a valuable set of red-sandalwood furniture from his Nanjing residence to Yang for use in his Deep Willows Hall, as token of his respect; it remained there for many years. After Tan’s execution, the imperial government followed up on the activities of Tan and other revolutionaries, and the Yang residence at 49 Yanling Lane was thoroughly searched. Despite this, the Yang’s had many close contacts within the official establishment in Nanjing, and being forewarned, the police searches of the Yang residence turned up no evidence against them.

[Tan Sitong’s studies with Yang Renshan informed him about Buddhist concepts in ways that influenced his major philosophical work, the posthumously published A Study of Benevolence 仁學. That work was written largely in 1896 and published in 1897 during the time that Tan spent in Nanjing, as Yang’s student.[19] Tan was a radical thinker whose fundamental commitment was to set people free from all kinds of bonds and restrictions, leading him to formulate a series of seven steps by which the ‘nets’ that bound the Chinese people should be broken. He enumerated those in the following way:

First we must burst through the net of profit and emolument; then to burst through the net of [China’s] vulgar learning such as evidential scholarship and literary forms; next to burst through the net of all the world’s factional schools of learning; next to burst through the net of imperial rule; next to burst through the net of [Confucian] three bonds and five norms [of social relationships]; next to burst through the net of Heaven; and finally to burst through the net of Buddhadharma [the laws and practices of Buddhist doctrine].[20]

[Tan Sitong was perhaps the most original and clear-minded individual involved in the reform movement of 1898. It is interesting to speculate that he may have been drawn to Yang Renshan because they shared views that Tan subsequently expressed in his seven steps for gaining human freedoms. Yang clearly agreed with several of the points listed, possibly even the last one. The tone of iconoclasm conveyed by the expressed need to break through the net of Buddhist pieties and formalities had been a feature of radical Chan-Buddhist thought in earlier centuries; as such, it may have expressed both Yang’s and Tan’s intuitive awareness, as men of high philosophical attainment, that the formalities of Buddhist practice can be transcended, making them irrelevant. If so, this broadens our understanding of Yang Renshan’s intellectual commitment and may explain other aspects of his unconventional and modern-oriented outlook.

[The circle of visitors to Deep Willows Hall shows that Yang’s followers included many who were important in the revival of Buddhism at that time. ]

Gui Nianzu (桂念祖, 1869-1916; alternate formal name Yi 亦, courtesy name Bohua 伯華) was a native of present-day Jiujiang 九江 in Jiangxi 江西 province. In his youth, together with Xia Jingguan (夏靜觀, 1875-1953) of Xinjian 新建 in Jiangxi, he became a student of Pi Xirui 皮錫瑞 [1850-1908, a classical scholar who favored modernizing trends advocating changes in education along Western lines].[21] Gui thus acquired a firm foundation in classical and literary studies. After attaining the juren degree in the provincial examinations of 1897, Gui joined the 1898 political reform movement of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao… . When the reform movement collapsed, Gui had to hide out at his Jiangxi home, his life in great danger. Subsequently, while recovering from a long and debilitating illness, he came across a copy of the Diamond Sutra. Studying it obsessively, he is said to have experienced enlightenment.

Recovering from his illness, Gui Nianzu went to the Buddhist Press in Nanjing to meet Lay Devotee Yang, asking to become his student in Buddhism. Yang engaged Gui Nianzu in conversation and determined that he possessed talent for learning. Shortly thereafter, Gui returned to his home in Jiangxi but continued to correspond with Yang Renshan about issues in Buddhist learning. Subsequently, through Gui Nianzu’s introduction, Li Duanfu (黎端甫, dates unknown), Ouyang Jian, and Mei Guangxi (梅光曦, 1879-1947) all became Yang Renshan’s students and followers.

Concerned about Gui Nianzu’s economic circumstances and knowing him to be serious in his studies, Yang Renshan wrote to him offering assistance and inviting him to come to Nanjing.

I have a friend who is willing to offer you support in the amount of six silver taels per month on condition that in addition to your continuing studies of texts of the Yinming 因明 [the Hetuvidyā School of Buddhist logic which the Chinese monk-pilgrim Xuanzang (玄奘, ca. 596–ca. 664) had brought from India to China in the seventh century CE] and Weishi [the Vijñapti or Consciousness Only School of Buddhist metaphysics, also introduced into China by Xuanzang], you will spend three hours a day collating texts [for publication]. If this seems suitable, you may come to Nanjing and make your regular residence in my humble home.[22]

The ‘friend’ referred to was no doubt Yang Renshan himself. After receiving this letter, Gui Nianzu [and his wife] arrived in Nanjing early in the second month of 1902, also bringing his mother, younger sister, and younger brother’s wife, in all a family of five who moved into the Buddhist Press premises.[23] …After two years, Gui and a younger brother went on to Japan to seek further studies in Buddhist texts and were subsequently joined by other family members.

Mei Guangxi, courtesy name Xieyun 擷芸, was a native of Nanchang 南昌, Jiangxi province. In 1897, he passed the provincial examinations to become a juren. In 1901, on the introduction of Gui Nianzu, he went to Deep Willows Hall to meet Yang Renshan, attended Yang’s lectures on the The Awakening of Faith, and became a convert to Buddhism. In 1909, Mei completed his Elementary Commentaries on the Heart Sutra 心經淺釋 and asked Yang to critique it. Yang’s evaluation, ‘Introductory Remarks on Elementary Commentary on the Heart Classic’ 心經淺釋題詞, was placed at the front of the book.[24] Lay Devotee Yang believed the Heart Sutra 心經 to be succinct in language yet profound in import and knew that those who recited it were many. However, while commentaries on the sutra were numerous, it remained a work of ancient subtlety difficult to comprehend, and for that reason Mei Guangxi’s Elementary Commentaries on the Heart Sutra provided beginning learners with a bridge of access into it.

Gao Hengsong (高恒松, 1872-1962), courtesy name Henian 鶴年, courtesy name Yinchen 隱塵 was a member of a family originally from Guichi 貴池 in Anhui, later generations of which moved first to Xinghua 興化 [in northern Jiangsu province] and still later to [nearby] Liuzhuang 劉莊, which became their fixed residence. Among Buddhist lay devotees [associated with Yang Renshan], he is the one and only one who traveled on foot as a pilgrim to seek out all the famous Buddhist sites. Late in 1902, Gao Hengsong took up residence at the Jinling Buddhist Press and studied Buddhism with Yang Renshan. When early the following year he called on Yang Renshan at Deep Willows Hall to ask leave in order to resume his wandering pilgrim way of life, his teacher gave him advice that included this admonition:

When you go about to visit places, you must keep your eyes open. One’s learning must penetrate in order for one to gain enlightenment; one’s access must be by way of knowledge to avoid going astray… . To understand this is not so hard; to practice it is most difficult.[25]

Ouyang Jian, courtesy name Jingwu, was a native of Yihuang 宜黃 in Jiangxi province. In 1890, he passed the examinations for xiucai 秀才 status [the lowest level in the civil service examinations] and then entered the Jingxun Academy 經訓書院 to further his studies. There he was a fellow student of Gui Nianzu. Through Gui’s introduction, he became a student of Buddhism under Yang Renshan. In 1904, when Ouyang Jian was thirty-four years old, he went to Peking where, on the basis of his having been awarded senior licentiate status, he could sit for the examinations to become a tribute student 貢生. En route back to Jiangxi, he passed through Nanjing, where he called on Yang Renshan at the Deep Willows Hall, and after being enlightened through conversation with him, Ouyang Jian returned to his home to take charge of Zhengzhi xuetang 正志學堂, an academy in that place.

Su Xuanying, whose formal name originally was Yuanying 元瑛 and who was most commonly known by his courtesy name Manshu, was a native of Xiangshan 香山 (today’s Zhongshan 中山) in Guangdong province. In 1907, while in Japan, he received from Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀, 1879–1939) a copy of a work in English, which he used as his base-text for completing a work in Chinese translation which he called Foundations of Sanskrit 梵文典 in eight juan 卷. Early in 1908 he joined his name with that of Zhang Binglin (章炳麟, 1868-1936, literary cognomen Taiyan 太炎) in issuing two documents ‘An Open Letter of Warning to Disciples of Buddha throughout the World’ 敬告十方佛弟子啓 and ‘An Open Letter to Office Holders and Common People’ 告宰官白衣啓’.[26] Within Buddhist circles these aroused considerable influence. In the same year, Yang Renshan opened, on the premises of the Jinling Buddhist Press, a school which he called the Jetavana Hermitage 祇洹精舍 [where Buddhist monks and laymen studied together not only Buddhist writings but also the English and Sanskrit languages and Chinese and English literature]. Yang wrote urgently to Su Xuanying inviting him to take on the teaching responsibilities for English and Sanskrit. The school prepared to open its first classes in October, and Su arrived at the Jinling Buddhist Press on the evening of 13 September. In idle hours after his arrival, he regularly went to the Hall of Deep Willows to audit Yang Renshan’s lectures on various Buddhist sutras. He held Yang in the highest regard. In a letter to a friend, Liu Tianmei 劉天梅, he wrote:

While at this place, I frequently can attend the venerable Renshan’s lectures on sutra texts and find boundless pleasure in that. The venerable Renshan is more than eighty years old (actually seventy-two years of age), his body is strong, and his voice is clear and resonant. In embodying the lingering glow of our Lord Buddha, resplendent as the sun setting beyond the Yanzi Mountains 崦嵫, the venerable Renshan today stands alone.[27]

Su Xuanying’s health was not good, and teaching proved to be excessively exhausting, bringing on spates of coughing up blood. He was able to teach at the Jetavana Hermitage for only a month or so, and at the beginning of December he departed.

[Su Xuanying has been called a ‘Sino-Japanese genius’. He was born in Japan to Chinese parents and returned there to study early in the twentieth century when many Chinese began to go abroad to Japan to study, in many cases, to avoid the controls of the imperial government. Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary party, the Tongmenghui 同盟會, was formally organized in Tokyo in 1905. Zhang Binglin, known as the ‘democratic classicist’, resided in Japan from 1906 until after the success of the revolution in 1911 and in Tokyo edited Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary party newspaper, the Minbao 民報, printed in Chinese for distribution among the thousands of Chinese students then in Japan, as well as for other overseas Chinese communities in Asia. Zhang was pre-eminent as a classical scholar and critic of the new trends in political thought. He wielded strong influence over younger Chinese students such as Su Xuanying, as well as Tan Sitong (discussed above), Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and Chen Duxiu. Along with many of the radical-minded intellectuals of that era, including all the persons named above, Zhang Binglin took a deep interest in Buddhism as a field of learning important for the understanding of alternatives to Confucian state orthodoxy and as a source of popular belief and ethical concepts.[28] ]

In addition [to Su Xuanying], there were other members of the Tongmenghui, such as Yu Tongbo (dates unknown) and Sun Yuyun (孫毓荺; 1872-1924), who regularly came to the Deep Willows Hall to meet with Yang Renshan to increase their understanding of Buddhism.[29] Yu Tongbo 余同伯 had resided at the Jinling Buddhist Press for a long time, studying Buddhism with Yang Renshan. When Sun Yuyun returned to Nanjing from Japan in 1906 to agitate within the imperial New Army [which the revolutionaries had been able in some small measure to infiltrate], in response to the abortive revolutionary uprising at Pingxiang 萍鄉 [in western Jiangxi] and at Liling 醴陵 [in the adjacent region of eastern Hunan or at nearby Liuyang 瀏陽], those activities became known to the authorities, and Sun Yuyun was arrested. After his arrest, his family members took refuge by hiding in the Jinling Buddhist Press, where Yang Renshan took care of them.

Jinling Buddhist Press and Yang Renshan’s Legacy

In the sixth month of 1911, Nanjing was flooded [when the Yangtze River rose following heavy rains]. Yang Renshan led all his household members out to view the flooding. The day was unusually hot, and he suffered heat stroke. His condition worsened day-by-day. At that time, his students Ouyang Jian, Mei Guangxi, Kuai Shoushu (蒯壽樞; courtesy name Ruomu 若木, d.1945), and others were in Nanjing.[30] They sought out the best physicians of their day, in Nanjing and Shanghai, practitioners of both Western and Chinese medicine, to come to treat his illness, but his condition failed to improve.[31] One day, he said to Kuai Shoushu who waited in respectful attendance on him:

Among the generation of my grandchildren there are several to whom you must, within the limits of your abilities, give special care and attention. The first is my third granddaughter (note: this refers to Yang Buwei), for though she is a female, her will to succeed in fact surpasses that of a man. She hopes to go abroad to study medicine in order to benefit her age. The second is my fifth grandson, whom I hope will study Sanskrit in order in the future to do research on Buddhist sutras.[32]

On hearing those words, Kuai Shoushu promised that he certainly would take care of that.[33]

Lay Devotee, realizing that he had contracted a serious illness from which he probably would not recover, one day called Chen Yi (陳義; d.1952) into his presence and said to him:

My illness, I fear, will not be overcome, and I therefore must entrust the Buddhist Press to others. It is my wish that Chen [Jingqing] 陳鏡清 Xi’an 樨庵, Ouyang [Jian] Jingwu, and you, the three of you jointly bear that responsibility. You must write to Chen Xi’an (at that time residing in Shanghai), and you also must consult with Ouyang [Jian] Jingwu (at that time staying at the Buddhist Press) to gain their agreement.[34]

Chen Yi and Ouyang Jian, after talking it over, accepted Yang Renshan’s proposals and went together to meet with him. Yang Renshan was greatly comforted and offered some thoughtful admonitions. Then he added: ‘My concerns all disappear, having reverted to you three who will assume their management. I can now concentrate on the Buddha with all my heart, undisturbed by extraneous affairs.’[35]

On 2 October 1911, Yang Renshan instructed that the Buddhist Research Society should be called into emergency meeting, to be held in Nanjing on the eighth and ninth. The meeting would discuss the means to maintain and protect the Jinling Buddhist Press; receive the message that the affairs of the press had been entrusted to three persons and follow up on that with further discussion in order to show that the society approved; and also [to learn] that Yang Renshan had resigned as director of the society and therefore to nominate and select a new director.[36] At that time the society’s principal members lived at various places from Nanjing to Shanghai, and in the urgency of the moment it was difficult to get them all together. Chen Yi suggested postponing the meeting, but Yang Renshan countered that the date must not be postponed. In consequence, urgent letters and telephone calls went out asking that all gather at the appointed time, and by the evening of 7 October all those in Nanjing and Shanghai had assembled. They agreed to meet on the following day at two in the afternoon at Kuai Shoushu’s residence in Beitingxiang 碑亭巷 (Beiting Lane). At close to noon on that day, Yang Renshan, with Chen Yi at his side to transcribe the message, gave his oral instructions about the agenda to be delivered to the meeting place. Just before leaving for the meeting place, Chen Yi went again to Yang’s room to ask for further instructions. Yang said suggested that Chen get the meeting room set up somewhat early. At that time, Yang’s manner and appearance were completely natural, without the least alteration. None would have guessed that at a little after three o’clock, before the meeting had ended, a person from his residence would rush to the meeting place to announce that the Lay Devotee has already gone West [i.e., to the Buddhist paradise].[37]  The society members at the meeting room, on hearing those words, moaned in grief as they rushed back to his place… .

Early spring airing of quilts in the garden, Jinling Buddhist Press. Photograph by William Sima, March 2013.

On the evening of Yang Renshan’s death, the Buddhist Research Society members continued their meeting at the Kuai residence, to discuss the organization of the Jinling Buddhist Press board of directors, nominating…eleven persons to serve on the board. Following that, they conferred on the establishment of the board and drafted the regulations for the management of the press. In accord with the wish of Lay Devotee Yang, they stipulated the responsibilities of the three directors: Chen Jingqing would be responsible printing and circulation, Ouyang Jian would be responsible for collation of sutra texts, and Chen Yi would be in charge of relations with outside parties; when a matter involved the entire operation, the three would jointly make management decisions. At the same time, they made arrangements for adding Yu Tongbo to be in charge of social-intercourse arrangements. On 10 October, when the revolution broke out at Wuhan, Yu Tongbo went to Shanghai that same night to attend to events unfolding there, and [his planned appointment] was abandoned.

[Two further items of pertinent information come from Yang Buwei and her family. The first relates to the circumstances of the Jinling Buddhist Press and Yang-family residence in Nanjing in 1936. Yang Buwei and her husband Zhao Yuanren, moved with the re-located Academia Sinica to Nanjing in 1934, expecting it would be their permanent home thereafter. By 1936 people there were gravely concerned that the menace of Japanese invasion and war would interfere with all of China’s plans for the future, and in 1937 that happened. With great difficulty the Zhao family evacuated Nanjing in the fall of 1937 and did not see it again until thirty-five years later. Prior to that, in the mid-1930s, Yang Buwei was dismayed that, despite the agreement reached between Yang Renshan and his three sons in 1901, discussed by Wu Yankang above, members of her generation of the Yang family were still occupying large portions of the property bequeathed to the Jinling Buddhist Press. In her brief Chinese account of her grandfather’s life published in 1964, Yang Buwei wrote:

One day in 1936, having returned to live in Nanjing with my husband Zhao Yuanren [of the Division of Linguistics in the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, in Nanjing], I was discussing family matters with my various older and younger brothers and cousins [survivors among Yang Renshan’s twenty-two grandchildren]. The men of our father’s generation were all dead, so some of us of our generation would have to bring to fruition the wish Grandfather had in the past expressed. For although we did not have the means to continue the engraving of printing blocks, the real property should be handed over [to the press] in the hope that it might encourage others among the population who might make vows to have sutra printing-blocks made [as an act of Buddhist good works]. For if [the turnover] were delayed until the next generation, there would be no persons remaining who with their own ears had heard Grandfather’s final instructions. All the assembled brothers, sisters, and cousins agreed with my proposal, but they insisted that I solemnly declare that while the [costs of making the] printing blocks had come from donations made by believers throughout the world of Buddhism, the land and buildings had been donated as Grandfather’s private property. This real property, which thus had not been passed on to his heirs, in no circumstances could be considered anyone’s personal property and must, therefore, belong to the Jinling Buddhist Press in perpetuity.

In consequence, on 29 June 1936 in our home at 24 Lanjiazhuang the property deed was brought out, and Ouyang [Jian] Jingwu, Kuai Shoushu, Mei Guangxi and Li Zhenggang 李證剛  [Yizhuo 翊灼] all were invited to be present. [All were longstanding directors or staff members of the Jinling Buddhist Press, identified above in Wu Yankang’s essay.] Everything was managed and declared, in complete accord with Grandfather’s testamentary instructions and intentions. Moreover, to serve as legal evidence, my nephew Yang Shifeng 楊時逢 [Y.R. Chao’s student and colleague at the Academia Sinica in linguistic field work] recorded each person’s statements on a specially prepared phonograph recording. That recording probably still exists in the archives of the Academia Sinica, but I would not know whether it still is playable. The deed documents were registered at the offices of the municipal government. In 1946, after the return of government offices following the victory in the war, Chen Yi carried out a re-registration of the documents at the municipal government. In consequence, the Jinling Buddhist Press became public property in perpetuity by my action in acknowledging a miniscule portion of the obligation I owed to Grandfather’s long-cherished wishes.[38]

[Whether that action greatly benefited the Jinling Buddhist Press during the ensuing destructive years of the War of Japanese Resistance Against Japan is difficult to judge.]

Carved printing block.

By the end of 1946, the Board of Trustees selected originally in 1911 had more or less ceased to exist; the only members remaining Chen Yi, Mei Guangxi, Li Yizhuo and Pu Boxin 溥伯欣. At that time the financial difficulties of the Jinling Buddhist Press moved steadily toward disaster, most of the residences and rooms had been rented out, and staff of the workmen and employees had been disbanded. In a few cases workmen who had been dismissed but had not yet left the premises went out every day to peddle bamboo baskets to keep themselves in food and came back in the evening to sleep. By 1948, there were more than thirty households living in the large courtyards of the Buddhist Press. Trees had fallen and walls had collapsed; refuse was scattered everywhere. Even the iron bars on the windows of the vast storage room where the printing blocks of the sutras were kept had been sold off by some persons. The partition walls within those rooms had been taken away, and thick layers of dust had accumulated. The more than forty thousand printing blocks were scattered in disorder, and some of the blocks that had been attacked by boring insects had been taken away for use as firewood. At the very end, there was only Chen Yi alone, living in a one small room and guarding the printing blocks. His economic circumstances were so bad that it was even very difficult for him to meet his expenses for food and daily living needs, yet he still could not forget the final deathbed charge put to him by the venerable Yang Renshan. He remained all alone trying desperately to hold things together until poverty and illness combined to bring about his death on the night of 15 March 1952. In a letter sent to him in December 1948, Yang Renshan’s granddaughter, Yang Buwei, wrote:

You, sir, now at this advanced age, remaining faithful to my late grandfather’s personal charge to you, still try to make the best of the desperate situation. Truly, not only should the children and grandchildren of the Yang family be immeasurably grateful to you, people everywhere who value the Buddhist Press also should be extemely grateful.[39]

In the final evaluation, it must be counted that Chen Yi labored for more than forty years, during which he made vast contributions to protecting and maintaining the Jinling Buddhist Press.

[Yet, the consequences of Yang Buwei’s ensuring that Yang Renshan’s wishes with respect to ownership of the Jinling Buddhist Press were fulfilled were of significance thereafter and undoubtedly contributed to the recognition of its special status after the Communist government came to power in 1950. An event bearing on that issue is briefly recorded in Chronological Biography of Zhao Yuanren 趙元任年譜, compiled by his second daughter Zhao Xinna 趙新那 and her husband, Huang Peiyun 黃培雲, both professors in China since the late 1940s. The following notes appear there under the year 1973. ‘Between 16 April and 28 May, Zhao Yuanren and his wife returned to China to reunite with family members and make visits to academic institutions.’ One of the events recorded there took place on 13 May, when the Zhaos, two of their daughters and their husbands, and a few other family members and friends were invited by premier Zhou Enlai  周恩來 to a social meeting. Zhou’s guests included Guo Moruo 郭沫若, head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Zhou Peiyuan 周培源, president of Peking University; Zhao Puchu 趙樸初, president of the official Chinese Buddhist Association 中國佛教協會; and a number of linguists and other old scholar friends, as well as Dr. and Mrs. Zhao and their party.

Street view of the Jinling Buddhist Press in modern Nanjing. Photograph by William Sima, March, 2013.

[The meeting was held in a room in the Great Hall of the People. It began a little after nine o’clock in the evening… . It also included a lavish midnight supper… . During the meeting the conversation turned to many subjects… . Premier Zhou was profoundly aware that paramount in Mrs. Zhao’s mind on this return visit to China was her concern over the recent conditions of the Jinling Buddhist Press which had been founded by her grandfather, the lay devotee Yang Renshan. He therefore asked the president of the Chinese Buddhist Press, lay devotee Zhao Puchu, to discuss its recent circumstances. [Zhao Puchu’s response was simply], ‘The Jinling Buddhist Press has come under the supervision of the Chinese Buddhist Association.’[40] 

[Whether Mrs. Zhao had asked urgently about the matter thereby leading to the official response offered by Zhao Puchu or whether Zhao’s reply also included a factual review of matters concerning the Jinling Buddhist Press is not recorded. Zhao’s single sentence, as quoted, says nothing that was not commonly known by all present. But its import under those circumstances and moreover that Premier Zhou Enlai obviously had anticipated the question and thus had Zhao Puchu present, added to the significance. These facts indicated that the government had adopted a favorable attitude toward the honored Nanjing institution, perhaps regarding it as one of the ‘old culture’s’ monuments requiring special protection during the destructive years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). However that may be, the conditions at the Jinling Buddhist Press in the years following 1973 appear to have improved.[41]]

Lay devotee Yang Renshan devoted forty-five years of his life to propagating Buddhism, editing and engraving more than twenty thousand printing blocks, printing and circulating more than a million chapters of Buddhist sutras and classical writings, engraving the blocks for 211 sutras in 1155 chapters 卷, and for engraving the blocks for printing twenty-four images of Buddha and bodhisattvas, and printing and circulating more than one hundred thousand imprints of those image blocks… . Yang Renshan’s own writings number eleven titles, and his compilations include ten large works. (For a list of these titles, see the Appendix below.)

Yang Renshan exerted a huge influence on recent and contemporary China’s revival of Buddhism. The eminent monk Taixu [太虛; 1889-1947, who had been one of Yang Renshan’s pupils] wrote in his Chinese Buddhism 中國佛學 that Yang was: ‘the one figure of the greatest significance in the revival of Chinese Buddhist studies.’[42] The Taiwan scholar of Buddhism Lan Jifu 藍吉富 has written: ‘Viewed from the century-long development of Buddhism, Yang Renshan is the pivotal figure in bringing about Buddhism’s revival from near death to renewed life.’[43] Zhao Puchu [1907-2000] wrote:

For the clarification of Buddhist teachings and stimulus to the study of principles, Lay Devotee’s contributions rank first… . Yang Renshan’s writings opened up an era in the character of Buddhism’s existence, allowing the source on which he drew in his writings to make the largest possible contribution to the development of Buddhism in our country in recent times.[44]

Yang Renshan, in addition to his engraving of printing blocks and reprinting and circulating Buddhist texts, also trained and fostered Buddhist learning in a very large number of talented persons. Because the impact of his disciples, who exerted large influence in Buddhist circles during the Republican era, was so great, the American scholar Holmes Welch has praised Yang Renshan as the father of Buddhism in modern China. One can thus perceive the significance of his place in history.

[Although no phrase with exactly the meaning cited above has been located in the authoritative writings of the late Holmes Welch, his book The Buddhist Revival in China (1968) indeed opens with an account of Yang Wenhui (Yang Renshan) and the various aspects of his deep impact on the character of Buddhism in modern China. Welch fully acknowledges the scope and the weight of Yang’s achievements. This point is reinforced by many references to Yang in other writings on Chinese Buddhism. In addition to the opinion of Kenneth K.S. Ch’en, Buddhism in China (1964), quoted above, one also could cite Wingtsit Chan, Religious Trends in Modern China (1953) and many others.[45] 

[To quote from the English version of Yang Buwei’s autobiography:

[Yang Renshan] made Yenling Hsiang [Yanling Lane] a meeting ground of scholars. Many even came with their families to stay at Yenling Hsiang, with its endless courtyards. There were classical scholars…, students of Buddhism…, revolutionaries…, and many more who came for shorter visits. Among foreigners who frequented Yanling Hsiang were…Timothy Richard [1845-1919], Gilbert Reid [1857-1927] and John C. Ferguson [1866-1945].[46] …With Richard, [Yang Renshan] was co-translator of Asvaghosa’s The Awakening of Faith, Shanghai, 1907.[47]

[While any discussion of Yang could turn on that range of his contacts among Chinese and foreign personages in China, or on doctrinal issues, on Buddhist education, on his role as teacher and author, or on his affinity for the revolutionary movement in late-imperial China, our interest here must focus on his large achievements in publishing Buddhist texts. In that work, his scholarly capacities are made evident in the care with which he located and evaluated rare works deserving of reprinting, the meticulous collation and critical editing of the works he published, the excellent design and format of his publications of which the East Asian Library at Princeton holds hundreds of volumes, and the manner in which he shared in and contributed to the scholarly spheres of activity in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century China. He truly must be credited with having created a large chapter in the recent history of the traditional Chinese book.]

Buddhist texts of the kind produced by the Jinling Buddhist Press.

Appendix: Yang Wenhui (Renshan)’s Writings

Monographs and Annotated Texts

  • 禪教編 (一卷)
  • 大宗地玄文本輪略 (四卷)
  • 等不等觀雜錄 (八卷)
  • 佛教初學課本 (一卷)
  • 觀無量壽佛經略論 (一卷)
  • 論孟發隱 (二卷)
  • 十宗略說 (一卷)
  • 壇經略釋 (一卷)


[1] Liu Shengxu (723 jinshi), ‘Queti’ (Without Title), in Yu Chaogang, comp., Quan Tang shi guangxuan xinzhu jiping (A Broad Selection from the Complete Tang Poems with New Annotations and Collected Commentaries), Shenyang: Liaoning Renmin Chubanshe, 1996, vol.5, pp.217-218.
[2] Zhang Fei was a native of Shaanxi. He was appointed governor of Jiangxi in 1842 and subsequently placed in command of defenses against the Taiping rebels at various locations in Anhui. Zhou Tianshou, from Sichuan, held a sequence of military posts responsible for defenses against the Taiping rebels. After many successes, while serving on Zhang Fei’s staff, he eventually lost his life in the unsuccessful defense of Ningguo in southern Anhui. See Zhao Erxun (1844–1927), et al., comp., Qingshi gao (Draft History of the Qing), 536 juan, Beijing: Qingshiguan, 1928, juan 405, p.4a and juan 408, p.4a.
[3] See Yang Buwei, Yige nüren de zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography), Zhuanji wenxue congkan 7, Taibei: Zhuanji wenxue chubanshe, 1967, esp. chapter 16, ‘Zufu’ (Grandfather). This Chinese text was the basis of Buwei Yang Chao, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman, New York: The John Day Company, 1947, the text having been ‘put into English by her husband Yuenren Chao’. See also, Zhao Yang Buwei, ‘Xianzu Renshan gong zhi shengping’ (The Life of My Late Grandfather Renshan), a brief article that appeared in a special issue of the Buddhist journal Putishu (Bodhedrum) 59 (November 1960): 6-9, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Yang Renshan. Although published seven years earlier than Chinese version of Yang Buwei’s autobiography, based on internal evidence, this 1960 article appears to have been written after the Chinese text of the autobiography. For an expanded version by Yang Buwei of that brief fiftieth-anniversary biographical account, see Zhao Yang Buwei, ‘Wo de zufu’ (My Grandfather), Zhuanji wenxue (Biographical Literature) 3.1 (1963): 17-21. This last article appears to be the latest of Yang Buwei’s various writings on this subject and is most useful.
[4] See ‘Yang Renshan jushi shilüe’ (A Brief Biography of Lay Devotee Yang Renshan), Foxue congbao (Collected Publications on Buddhist Studies) 1.1 (1 October 1912): 1-5. No author’s name is given there, but it is said that the writer was Pu Boxin, a member of the Foxue yanjiuhui (Association for the Study of Buddhism) and the first director of the Jinling Buddhist Press [following its formal establishment in 1911, at the time of Yang Renshan’s death].
[5] See [Pu Boxin], ‘Yang Renshan jushi shilüe’ (A Brief Biography of Lay Devotee Yang Renshan), p.84.
[6] Yang Buwei, Yige nüren de zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), p.84.
[7] Zhao Yang Buwei, ‘Xianzu Renshan gong zhi shengping’ (The Life of My Late Grandfather Renshan) (1960), p.7.
[8] Yang Buwei, Yige nüren de zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), p.84.
[9] Ibid., p.83.
[10] Chao, Buwei Yang, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman (1947), p.85.
[11] The Jinling kejingchu changcheng (Regulations Governing the Jinling Buddhist Press) were formulated in 1868 in open consultations by the organizers Yang Renshan, Yang Xihua, and others — in all sixteen noted lay devotees — and were put into final form by Yang Renshan. However, to state that the Jinling Buddhist Press came into being in 1866 is based on the fact that in that year Yang Renshan had blocks engraved from which he had his first Buddhist sutra, the Jingtu sijing (Four Sutras of the Pure Land School), printed. This Buddhist sutra collection therefore is counted the ancestral publication of the Jinling Buddhist Press, and thus the year 1866 can be taken as the initial founding date of the press. This view was proposed by the first post-Liberation director of the Jinling Buddhist Press, the lay devotee Xu Pingxuan, and has been so used since that time.
[12] See Kenneth K.S. Ch’en, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964, pp.448-449.
[13] In 1866, after Yang Renshan with his entire family moved to Nanjing, they first rented for a number of years the house of Zhou Fu, courtesy name Yushan, a native of Jiande in Anhui, who had previously served as governor of Shandong province and as governor general of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. That was at present-day 45-47 Changfujie (Changfu Street). In 1868, a printing-block storehouse for the Jinling Buddhist Press was set up at Beijige on Jimingshan (Jiming Hill) in Nanjing. Later, in 1874, because at that location the place for the storage of the printing blocks was coveted by others, Yang Renshan had all of the printing blocks moved into his residence at Changfu Street for storage. Later on, when Yang Renshan and his entire household moved to Huapailou, the entire collection of stored printing blocks was moved with them. Thus, following the establishment of the Jinling Buddhist Press in 1866, the places at which it had been set up were: Yang Renshan’s residence at Changfu Street, at Beijige on Jiming Hill, his residence at Huapailou, and the new residence built in 1897 in Yanling Lane.
[14] The actual measurement of the land surface is 6.265 mu, approximately one English acre. [This statement differs from Yang Buwei’s in her Yige nürende zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), p.89, where she states that the property measured seventeen and one-half mu, and that the buildings comprised 132 rooms (jian). This statement does not appear in the English version of her autobiography. The differences remain to be clarified.]
[15] Chizhou was the prefecture in Anhui province to which their native county Shidai was subordinate.
[16] [Pu Boxin], ‘Yang Renshan jushi shilüe’ (A Brief Biography of Lay Devotee Yang Renshan), p.4.
[17] The other five were Lin Xu, Yang Rui, Liu Guangdi, Yang Shenxiu and Kang Guangren.
[18] See Teng Ssu-yü’s biography of Tan Sitong in Arthur W. Hummel, Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period, Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943, pp.702-705.
[19] See Liang Qichao, Tan Sitong zhuan (Biography of Tan Sitong), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1981, p.557; and Wang Kejun, Tan Sitong (1897), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1963, p.26. Tan Sitong’s essay was written in direct response to a request from Liang Qichao relayed by Wu Yanzhou in mid-1896 that Tan submit an essay on Buddhism for publication in the Hong Kong newspaper Minbao. Tan finally completed his ‘Renxue’ essay at the end of 1897.
[20] [Translator’s note:] The term used here is ‘qunxue’, which I translate loosely as ‘factional schools of learning’ in the sense in which it appears in the Songshu, the dynastic history of the brief Song dynasty (420-479 CE). See, Shen Yue, Songshu, 100 juan, Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1974, juan 17, (‘Treatise on the Rites’, part four), p.470. I take this to be the locus classicus for this term, where it is used to refer to partisans of various schools of thought who disagreed over matters of ritual regulations. About the time when Tan Sitong was writing his Renxue, during the period 1896-1897, Yan Fu (1853-1921) was beginning to work on his translation of Herbert Spencer’s (1820-1903) Study of Sociology (1873), and although Yan Fu’s translation when published in 1903 used the term ‘qunxue’ to translate Spencer’s title, leading to its serving for a time as the standard translation of ‘sociology’, I do not think that Tan Sitong could have had that in mind when he used the term here. See Yan Fu, trans., Qunxue yiyan (Study of Sociology), by Herbert Spencer, Shanghai: Wenming shuju, 1903. Tan’s Ren xue is translated here from the quotation of it in Xiao Gongquan (Hsiao Kung-ch’üan), Zhongguo zhengzhi sixiang shi (History of Chinese Political Thought), 2 vols, (Taipei: Lianjing Chuban Shiyegongsi, 1982, vol.1, pp.759-765, esp. p.760.
[21] See Pi Xirui’s biography in Hummel, Eminent Chinese of the Qing Period, p.625.
[22] Yang Wenhui [Renshan], ‘Yu Gui Bohua Nianzu shu er’ (To Gui Bohua Nianzu, Second Letter), in Zhou Jizhi, ed.m Yang Renshan quanji (Complete Collected Writings of Yang Renshan), Hefei: Huangshan Shushe, 2000, p.452.
[23] The buildings in the Jingling Buddhist Press were large enough and numerous enough to allow Yang Renshan to invite his friends and students to stay there while they pursued their study of Buddhism.
[24] Mei Guangxi, Xinjing qianshi (Elementary Commentaries on the Heart Sutra), Nanjing: Jinling Kejingchu, 1909. Alternate title of this work is Bore boluomiduo xinjing qianyi (Elementary Commentaries on the Prajña Pāramitā Heart Sutra). For Yang Renshan’s essay, see ibid., pp.1a-b. Yang Renshan’s essay may also be found in Yang Renshan quanji (Complete Collected Writings of Yang Renshan), p.372.
[25] See Gao Hengsong, ‘Jinling Jingkou zhushan youfang lüeji’ (Brief Account of Travels to Various Mountains in Jinling and Jingkou), in Xu Zhijing, ed., Mingshan youfang ji (Record of Travels to Noted Mountains), Shanghai: Foxue Shuju, [1935], juan 2, p.3.
[26] For these two essays, see Su Xuanying, Su Manshu shi wen ji (A Collection of the Verse and Prose of Su [Xuanying] Manshu), Shanghai: Zhongyang Shudian, 1948, pp.105-112 and pp.113-117, respectively.
[27] Su Xuanying, Su Manshu shuxin ji (Collected Letters of Su [Xuanying] Manshu), Shanghai: Zhongyang shudian, 1938, p.20.
[28] See Holmes Welch, The Buddhist Revival in China, Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1968, pp.18-19.
[29] The details of Yu Tongbo’s life are not known for certain. It is known only that he was a member of the Tongmenghui who had studied Buddhism under Yang Renshan, that he also was a member of the Buddhist Research Society (Foxue yanjiu hui), and that he died before 1914. Sun Yuyun, courtesy name Shaohou, was a native on Shouxian, Anhui. He at one time lived at the Jinling Buddhist Press and, while there, studied Buddhism with Yang Renshan. In Japan in 1906, he joined the Tongmenghui and in that year returned to Nanjing where he was arrested and sentenced to exile for five years. He was released after the Revolution of 1911 broke out. In mid-October of 1911, the overall supervision of Anqing was turned over to him. In March of 1912 [when Yuan Shikai succeeded Sun Yat-sen as president of the new republic], Sun Yuyun was named Anhui provincial military commissioner. In July, Sun Yuyun went to Beiping [today’s Beijing] where he was appointed a member of the Provisional Political Conference and in November was appointed senior consultant to the Office of the President. [It is clear that Sun Yuyun, regarded as a longstanding supporter of Sun Yat-sen, had in fact defected to the camp of Yuan Shikai, who would soon make known his intention to repudiate the revolution and attempt to become the new emperor of China.] In 1915, Sun Yuyun joined Yang Du (ca. 1874-1932) in promoting the Chouanhui (Peace Planning Society). In July of 1916 [following Yuan Shikai’s death in June], Sun Yuyun was arrested; in March of 1918, he was granted amnesty; and in 1924 he died of an illness.
[30] Kuai Shoushu, was a nephew of Kuai Liqing. He was one of Yang Renshan’s student followers in Buddhism, a member of the Buddhist Research Society, and one of the first board members of the Buddhist Press. In 1926, when Mei Guangxi resigned his position as head of the press’s circulation department, that post was then held by Kuai Shoushu until his death in the winter of 1945. He was fervently loyal to the work of the press as established by Yang Renshan, fully devoting his heart and his strength to it. Ouyang Jian praised him as ‘my dearly beloved, admired, and respected old friend.’ See ‘Yu Kuai Ruomu’ (To Kuai [Shoushu] Ruomu) in Jingwu xiaopin ([Ouyang Jian] Jingwu’s Informal Essays) in Jingwu neiwaixue, 31 vols., Jiangjin, Sichuan: Zhina Neixueyuan, 1941, p.10b.
[31] Yang Buwei has written that what caused Yang Renshan’s death probably was intestinal cancer, in view of his frequent attacks of intestinal upsets. See Yang Buwei, Yige nürende zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), p. 94.
[32] Ibid., p. 94.
[33] Yang Buwei has written: ‘As for my going abroad to study, [Kuai Shoushu] did not respond in time to be of any help, but later on when I (opened) my hospital, he came forth with some money. As for fifth younger brother, he also gave some money to help him go to Japan, but fifth younger brother himself did not go. All in all, Kuai [Shoushu] Ruomu must be considered to have failed to live up to his responsibilities.’ See Yang Buwei, ibid., p. 94.
[34] See Chen Yi, ‘Jinling kejingchu zhi guoqu yu jianglai’ (The Past and the Future of the Buddhist Press), Jinling Kejingchu lishi ziliao dianzhai, Nanjing: Jinling Kejingchu, 1946, p.104. Chen Yi, courtesy name Yifu, was a native of Zhenjiang in Jiangsu. He was a disciple of Yang Renshan. From the year 1911, after Yang Renshan’s demise, at the press he held the post of director of the social relations department, and beginning in the winter of 1947 he also concurrently served as director of the circulation department. Chen Jingqing, courtesy name Xi’an, a native of Shidai county in Anhui, was a disciple of Yang Renshan. Yang wrote to a friend in Japan, ‘Chen Jingqing…is a colleague here at my humble place in the editing of sutras.’ See Yang Renshan, ‘Yu Riben Dingtian shu’ (Letter to Machida in Japan), Yang Renshan quanji (Complete Collected Writings of Yang Renshan), p.512. Yang Buwei wrote that Chen Jingqing had at one time served as Yang Renshan’s family tutor for his grandchildren. In 1911, when Yang Renshan died, he left a will stipulating that Chen Jingqing, together with Ouyang Jian and Chen Yi should be responsible for the affairs of the Jinling Buddhist Press and that Chen Jingqing should serve as the director of circulation. See Yang Buwei, Yige nürende zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), pp.27, 94. In fact, the work of the Jinling Buddhist Press was under Chen Jingqing’s general charge all the way until 1919 when in July of that year he died.
[35] Chen Yi, ‘Jinling kejingchu zhi guoqu yu jianglai’ (The Past and the Future of the Buddhist Press), p.104.
[36] After Yang Renshan’s death the Buddhist Research Society failed to elect a new director, and in the absence of this structure the society simply fell apart.
[37] Lay devotee Yang Renshan died on the seventeenth day of the eighth month of the third year of the Xuantong reign (8 October 1911 by the Western calendar), and two days later (10 October) the Chinese revolution of 1911 broke out. Before his death, Yang Renshan already knew that the nation was about to descend into great disorder and therefore left word to his family that his funeral must be conducted in the simplest and quickest manner with none of the usual ritual mourning practices. Moreover, he wanted all his family to depart Nanjing in the shortest possible time, while he himself wished to remain near the sutra workrooms and the printing-block storage rooms. He stipulated that wherever the printing blocks were, so should his grave be located. See Yang Buwei, Yige nürende zizhuan (One Woman’s Autobiography) (1967), pp.94–97.
[38] See Zhao Yang Buwei, ‘Wode zufu’ (My Grandfather), Zhuanji wenxue (Biographical Literature) 3.1 (1963): 21.
[39] See Jinling kejingchu lishi ziliao diandi (Droplets of Reference Materials on the History of the Jinling Buddhist Press), Nanjing: Jinling Kejingchu, 1965, vol.3, p.30.
[40] Zhao Xinna and Huang Peiyun, comp., Zhao Yuanren nianpu, Chronological Biography of Zhao Yuanren) (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1998, pp.482-483. The official Buddhist organization established early in the 1950s was called Zhongguo Fojiao xiehui, literally ‘Chinese Buddhist Cooperative Association’ but usually is translated ‘Chinese Buddhist Association’. Somewhat confusing is the fact that the name of one major Buddhist association during the Republican era, the Zhongguo Fojiao hui, also is usually translated ‘Chinese Buddhist Association’.
[41] That is borne out by this journal’s editor, who has visited the premises on four occasions in recent years, when she was warmly welcomed by Wu Yankang, met with other staff members, and walked through the grounds taking photographs that show how the Yang-family estate looks today. In short, the Jinling Buddhist Press clearly has been granted a reprieve, and its prospects look bright.
[42] Taixu, Zhongguo Fuoxue (Chinese Buddhism), in Taixu dashi quanshu (Complete Works of Great Master Taixu), third printing, vol.3, Taibei: Taixu dashi quanshu yingyin weihuanhui, 1980, p.745.
[43] Lan Jifu, ‘Yang Renshan yu xiandai Zhongguo Fojiao’ (Yang Renshan and Contemporary Chinese Buddhism), Huagang foxue xuebao (Huagang Buddhist Journal) 3 (August 1972): 112.
[44] Zhao Puchu, ‘Jinling Kejingchu chongyin jingshu tuxiang lüeji’ (A Brief Account of the Jinling Buddhist Press’s Reprinting of Sutras and Images) (1981), p.1b. This essay was printed as an introductory explanation at the beginning of all works published by the Jinling Buddhist Press in 1981 to mark the second revival of the press’s operations. Zhao Puchu was for many years the president of the official Chinese Buddhist Association which in 1981 founded the journal Fayin (The Voice of Dharma). The article by Wu Yankang used as the basis for the present translation appeared in Fayin, 2 (2001): 29–34.
[45] For Welch, see note 28 above. For Kenneth K.S. Ch’en, see note 12 above. For Wing-tsit Chan, see Religious Trends in Modern China, New York: Columbia University Press, 1953.
[46] Timothy Richard was a British missionary, and Gilbert Reid was an American missionary and newspaper correspondent. John C. Ferguson was an American missionary who founded important institutions of higher learning, including Nanjing University, Jiaotong University in Shanghai, and Yanjing University in Beijing. He frequently spent long visits in Nanjing in the last decades of the Qing dynasty. For this collaborative translation, see Aśvaghoşa, The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana Doctrine, the New Buddhism, trans. by Timothy Richard in 1894, Shanghai: Christian Literature Society, 1907.
[47] Chao, Buwei Yang, Autobiography of a Chinese Woman (1947), p.88.