Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement

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Overview

The Venerable Cheng-yen is an unassuming Taiwanese Buddhist nun who leads a worldwide social welfare movement with five million devotees in over thirty countries—with its largest branch in the United States. Tzu-Chi (Compassion Relief) began as a tiny, grassroots women's charitable group; today in Taiwan it runs three state-of-the-art hospitals, a television channel, and a university. Cheng-yen, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is a leader in Buddhist peace activism and has garnered recognition by Business Week as an entrepreneurial star.

Based on extensive fieldwork in Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and the United States, this book explores the transformation of Tzu-Chi. C. Julia Huang offers a vivid ethnography that examines the movement’s organization, its relationship with NGOs and humanitarian organizations, and the nature of its Buddhist transnationalism, which is global in scope and local in practice. Tzu-Chi's identity is intimately tied to its leader, and Huang illuminates Cheng-yen's successful blending of charisma and compassion and the personal relationship between leader and devotee that defines the movement.

This important book sheds new light on religion and cultural identity and contributes to our understanding of the nature of charisma and the role of faith-based organizations.

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Editorial Reviews

American Journal of Sociology

This rich analysis of the Buddhist Tzu Chi movement and its charismatic leader Cheng Yen is fascinating both as a story of Buddhist compassion and as a story of the transformation of practices of doing good.
— Rebecca A. Allahyari

Chun-Fang Yu
Huang traces the development of Tzu Chi from its local Taiwanese origins to its growth as a powerful NGO. She uses the venerable Buddhist "three bodies" terminology in an inspired new way to explain Cheng Yen's relationship to her devotees and makes an important theoretical contribution with her analysis of charismatic leadership in a religious movement. This study is important for our understanding of Taiwanese Buddhism, but will also appeal to scholars in gender studies, sociology, anthropology of religion, and globalization. There is no book like it.
Adam Yuet Chau
This book is the first to examine fully the history, organization and operation, charismatic leadership, and the followers' world of the phenomenally successful global lay Buddhist movement Tzu Chi. Huang provides a detailed ethnography and an astute, sophisticated analysis. Charisma and Compassion will establish Huang as a leading authority on the topic.
American Journal of Sociology - Rebecca A. Allahyari
This rich analysis of the Buddhist Tzu Chi movement and its charismatic leader Cheng Yen is fascinating both as a story of Buddhist compassion and as a story of the transformation of practices of doing good.
American Journal of Sociology
This rich analysis of the Buddhist Tzu Chi movement and its charismatic leader Cheng Yen is fascinating both as a story of Buddhist compassion and as a story of the transformation of practices of doing good.
— Rebecca A. Allahyari
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674031333
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 354
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

C. Julia Huang is Associate Professor of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University.
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Table of Contents

  • Note on Romantization
  • Introduction


  1. From Filial Daughter to Embodied Bodhisattva
  2. Fluid Organization and Shapeless Bureaucracy
  3. Circulation and Transformation
  4. Weeping and Musical Corpreality
  5. Local Personhood
  6. A Genealogy of NGOness
  7. On a Global Stage
  8. Tales from Malacca


  • Conclusion
  • Appendixes
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index

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