The road to redemption: Killing snakes in medieval chinese buddhism

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In the medieval Chinese context, snakes and tigers were viewed as two dominant, threatening animals in swamps and mountains. The animal-human confrontation increased with the expansion of human communities to the wilderness. Medieval Chinese Buddhists developed new discourses, strategies, rituals, and narratives to handle the snake issue that threatened both Buddhist and local communities. These new discourses, strategies, rituals, and narratives were shaped by four conflicts between humans and animals, between canonical rules and local justifications, between male monks and feminized snakes, and between organized religions and local cultic practice. Although early Buddhist monastic doctrines and disciplines prevented Buddhists from killing snakes, medieval Chinese Buddhists developed narratives and rituals for killing snakes for responding to the challenges from the discourses of feminizing and demonizing snakes as well as the competition from Daoism. In medieval China, both Buddhism and Daoism mobilized snakes as their weapons to protect their monastic property against the invasion from each other. This study aims to shed new light on the religious and socio-cultural implications of the evolving attitudes toward snakes and the methods of handling snakes in medieval Chinese Buddhism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number247
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019



  • Buddhist violence
  • Buddhist women
  • Local community
  • Religious competition
  • Snakes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies

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