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Gettysburg College

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


This ethnographic field project focused upon the relationship between the urban Jinghong and surrounding rural Dai population of lay people, as well as a few individuals from other ethnic groups, and Theravada Buddhism. Specifically, I observed how Buddhism manifests itself in daily urban life, the relationship between Theravada monastics in city and rural temples and common people in daily life, as well as important events wherelay people and monastics interacted with one another. This research was intended to fulfill a need to observe how Theravada Buddhism influences Dai lives on the mundane level.This involved a several week study period in Jinghong and its surrounding rural areas, wherein I engaged in participant observation and interviews. Specifically, I interviewed (semi-structured and structured) 17 individuals throughout the study period, whose pseudonyms and positions are listed in the Methods section of this paper.

The ultimate findings resulting from this study period were that Theravada Buddhism plays a pivotal role in the daily lives of Dai people in both urban and rural settings and is a key component of Dai ethnic identity. The assertion of Dai Buddhist identity through traditional tattooing, in particular, is very widespread in the urban setting of Jinghong and its surrounding communities. The relationship between lay people and monks is also of great importance, as monks have influence over every stage of a Dai individual’s life and youth education. Finally, I discovered special events and festivals are occasions where Dai people celebrate their identity as Theravada Buddhists and the union between Buddhism and other aspects of their culture.

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Arts and Humanities | Chinese Studies | Community-Based Research | East Asian Languages and Societies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Sociology of Culture


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