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TitleVenerable Master
Wang Futing (王福庭)

(1875-07-03)July 3, 1875
DiedAugust 11, 1963(1963-08-11) (aged 88)
ChildrenWang Weiji (王维纪)[1]
LineageTiantai school
(44th generation)
Notable work(s)Recollections of Shadows and Dust
Dharma namesLong Xian (隆衔)
OccupationBuddhist Monk
Senior posting
TeacherDixian (谛闲)
PostFirst President of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association

Tanxu (simplified Chinese: 倓虚; traditional Chinese: 倓虛; pinyin: Tánxū; July 3, 1875 – August 11, 1963) was a Chinese Buddhist monk and a 44th generation lineage holder of the Tiantai school, taught by Master Dixian. Tanxu is known as one of the most influential monks to have had lived during the late Qing and Republican periods of Chinese history, spreading and invigorating the practice of Buddhism throughout the region.[2] He was also famous for constructing several Buddhist temples and institutes in Northern China in the early 20th century. He also achieved renown through his buildings, due to his integration of European industrial construction techniques and traditional Chinese methods.[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Tanxu was born as Wang Futing on July 3, 1875, in Ninghe County, Hebei province, approximately thirty miles north of Tianjin.[4] Out of his eight siblings, Wang was the only child to live to adulthood, and as his father was often away on business, his mother, Née Zhang, took care of the four generations of family members that lived in Wang's home during his childhood.

In 1885, at the age of 10, Wang began attending school. He wished to receive a Confucian education; however, after four years, he decided to drop out of his schooling. Wang began to apprentice in a local store owned by his paternal uncle, where he learned basic accounting skills. He left the apprenticeship after a duration of six months.

In the summer of 1891, when he was seventeen, Wang's mother arranged a marriage for him.[4] Several days after the wedding ceremony, Wang became extremely sick, took to his bed and became unconscious for several days. It was during this state of unconsciousness that Wang had hallucinations about visiting the Underworld.

In 1893, Wang was unhappy living in Beitang with his new wife, and so, leaving his spouse behind, moved to Fengtian to join his cousins' business of transporting tobacco. However, as Wang remained in Beitang through the fall of 1894, he witnessed the beginning of the First Sino-Japanese War. When Japan crossed the Yalu River in China, on October 25, 1894, part of the invading army marched in the direction of Fengtian. Though the troops did not reach the city, the news caused panic in the city, and Wang fled the region. After walking with a group of refugees to Shanhaiguan, he took a train back to Beitang.[5]

Wang returned to Beitang, a few weeks before the Chinese New Year in 1894, to the news that his father had died. After the passing of his mother in 1898, Wang, leading a few fellow villagers, headed to Dalian to earn a living.[6] His pharmacy flourished there, so much so that he could afford to return home to visit his wife and children. By 1908, he had moved his family to Yingkou, and it was during this period that Wang began to investigate Buddhist scriptures, especially the Śūraṅgama Sūtra.[4]

Monastic life[edit]

By the summer of 1914, Wang Futing had studied the Śūraṅgama Sūtra intensely for eight years, and he felt that there was little more he could learn without leading a monastic life. He left home and visited a temple in Beijing, where he spent a week attending lectures by Master Baoyi. During this time, he was befriended by Master Qingchi. In 1917, at the age of 43, Wang was introduced by Master Qingchi to Master Yinchun. That year he was tonsured nominally in the Gaoming temple, under late Master Yinku, and he was also ordained as a monk under Master Dixian in the Guanzong Temple in Ningbo. From then on, Wang Futing was known as Master Tanxu. He enrolled at the Guanzong Temple seminary, which had been founded to train a new generation of monks.

Buddhism propagation in the North[edit]

In 1920, Tanxu left Guangzong Temple to travel northward, and his career founding temples and schools, as well as lecturing, began. By 1948, he had constructed and restored more than ten temples using trenchers to rapidly dig the foundation. Among these newly built temples were Surangama Temple (楞严寺) in Yingkou; Ultimate Bliss Temple in Harbin; Prajna Temple (般若寺) in Changchun; Tranquil Mountain Temple in Qingdao; Amitabha Temple (弥陀寺) in Jiling; Great Compassion Temple in Tianjin; and Prajna Temple (般若寺) and Eternal Peace Temple (永安寺) in Shenyang.

Tanxu had a particular part spreading Buddhism to Harbin. The city, which is currently part of China, was a place of contention throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, being under Russian, Japanese, and Chinese control for periods during that time. However, as Chinese control of the city grew in the 1920s, Tanxu visited the region. Upon learning that there were Christian churches in the city, but no Buddhist temples, he remarked, "there was absolutely no Chinese Buddhism... For Harbin, as a Chinese place, not to have a single proper Chinese temple... it was simply too depressing to bear!"[7]

Life in Hong Kong and death[edit]

In 1949, with assistance from Ye Gongchuo, Tanxu moved to Hong Kong. During his time there, he first presided over the South China Buddhist Institute (華南佛學院), and then, in 1958, initiated the building of a Buddhist library in the city. James Carter, Professor of History at St. Joseph's University,[8] writes the following about Tanxu's lectures in Hong Kong:[9]

Each Sunday, Tanxu lectured at the library, attracting large crowds to the small room on Boundary Street. His lectures focused on the sutras that had been most important to his own life and career, beginning with the Surangama Sutra—the first text he had studied in Yingkou, some fifty years before—and then the Lotus Sutra, the central text of Tiantai.

In the spring of 1963, Tanxu finished lecturing on the Śūraṅgama Sūtra and began the Diamond Sūtra. In the fifth lunar month of that year, he began to feel fatigued and was unable to continue lecturing or directing any further temple construction. On the 22nd day of the sixth lunar month, on August 11, 1963, three weeks after his 88th birthday, Tanxu died in the full lotus posture surrounded by his disciples reciting Amitabha's name.

Recollections of Shadows and Dust[edit]

In May 1948, in response to the earnest request of his disciples, Tanxu started to lecture on his autobiography. These lectures lasted for over one month and were recorded by his disciple, Master Daguang, in shorthand scripts. That writing was ultimately compiled in the book, Yingchen Huiyilu (《影塵回憶錄》), literally meaning "Recollections of Shadows and Dust".

The book's title was taken from the Śūraṅgama Sūtra: "Even if you extinguish all perception and discernment, this is still a reflection of discrimination of conceptual objects." (縱滅一切見聞覺知,猶爲法塵分別影事。)

The book has been epitomized and rendered into English by James Carter in Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth-Century Monk, published in 2011.


  1. ^ “失散孙女”带倓虚法师舍利回塘沽. CNTV (in Chinese). 2010-12-20.
  2. ^ Carter, James (2002). Creating a Chinese Harbin: Nationalism in an International City, 1916-1932. New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 133–4. ISBN 9780801439667.
  3. ^ Carter, James (2002). Creating a Chinese Harbin: Nationalism in an International City, 1916-1932. New York: Cornell University Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780801439667.
  4. ^ a b c Carter, James (2002). Creating a Chinese Harbin: Nationalism in an International City, 1916-1932. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 134. ISBN 0801439663.
  5. ^ Carter, James (2010). Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth Century Monk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 30–3. ISBN 9780199779970.
  6. ^ Carter, James (2010). Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth Century Monk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780199779970.
  7. ^ Carter, James (2004). Walkowitz, Daniel (ed.). Memory and the Impact of Political Transformation in Public Space. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. p. 154. ISBN 0822386348.
  8. ^ "H-Net People". www.h-net.org. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  9. ^ Carter, James (2011). Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth-Century Monk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 187.

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