Matthew King: Book talk: Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire.


Monday, April 5, 2021, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Book talk with Matthew King (UC Riverside)

Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood. A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing Empire

Columbia University Press 2019.

After the fall of the Qing empire, amid nationalist and socialist upheaval, Buddhist monks in the Mongolian frontiers of the Soviet Union and Republican China faced a chaotic and increasingly uncertain world. In this book, Matthew W. King tells the story of one Mongolian monk’s efforts to defend Buddhist monasticism in revolutionary times, revealing an unexplored landscape of countermodern Buddhisms beyond old imperial formations and the newly invented national subject.

Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood takes up the perspective of the polymath Zava Damdin (1867–1937): a historian, mystic, logician, and pilgrim whose life and works straddled the Qing and its socialist aftermath, between the monastery and the party scientific academy. Drawing on contacts with figures as diverse as the Dalai Lama, mystic monks in China, European scholars inventing the field of Buddhist studies, and a member of the Bakhtin Circle, Zava Damdin labored for thirty years to protect Buddhist tradition against what he called the “bloody tides” of science, social mobility, and socialist party antagonism. Through a rich reading of his works, King reveals that modernity in Asia was not always shaped by epochal contact with Europe and that new models of Buddhist life, neither imperial nor national, unfolded in the post-Qing ruins. The first book to explore countermodern Buddhist monastic thought and practice along the Inner Asian frontiers during these tumultuous years, Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood illuminates previously unknown religious and intellectual legacies of the Qing and offers an unparalleled view of Buddhist life in the revolutionary period.

Matthew King is Associate Professor of Transnational Buddhism and Director of the Asian Studies program at the University of California, Riverside. His recently published work appears in journals such as JAAR, History & Anthropology, Religions, and The Journal of Religion and Violence and in numerous collected volumes, including Sources of Mongolian Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2020). His book Ocean of Milk, Ocean of Blood: A Mongolian Monk in the Ruins of the Qing (Columbia University Press, 2019) was recently awarded the American Academy of Religion's 2020 Excellence in the Study of Religion: Textual Studies book award and the Central Eurasian Studies Society's 2020 Best Book in History and Humanities.

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