chapter  2
18 Pages

Pilgrimage in China


Abstract nouns such as ‘religion’ or ‘philosophy’ assume categories that are not easily mapped onto non-European cultures. The same is true when asking for ‘pilgrimage/pèlerinage/Pilgerfahrt’ in China. The closest equivalents in literary Chinese are chaoshan 朝山, literally ‘to have an audience with a mountain’1 and jinxiang 進香 ‘to offer incense.’2 Jinxiang is also used for pilgrimage processions, in which an effigy of a deity is carried back and forth between temples.3 In modern Mandarin, chaosheng 朝聖 ‘to have an audience with the sacred,’ is frequently used where one would write ‘pilgrimage’ in English, and especially when writing about pilgrimage outside China. Another term, chaojin 朝覲 is reserved for the hajj, the most significant pilgrimage for the more than 20 million Chinese Muslims. For the travels of Chinese monks to India the texts mostly speak of qiufa 求法, ‘searching for the Dharma’. Still another word that can be translated as ‘pilgrimage’ is canxue 參學 ‘to visit and study (with a master),’ which has been used for monks travelling to different monasteries in search of instruction.