Founded in 2011, Longquan Comic and Animation Group shoots its Buddhist-themed, stop-motion animation shorts in a mountain cave in Beijing’s Fenghuangling Nature Park.
Longquan Monastery‘s abbot, Venerated Master Xueching, who is also Vice Chairman and Secretary-General of the Buddhist Association of China, first started using social media several years prior. Now, with a crew composed solely of monks and volunteers, the 1,500-year-old monastery produces enormously popular short films to make Buddhist precepts and teachings understandable and relevant to daily life, which it shares on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.
Some of the group’s most popular shorts—each a standalone parable—comprise a series featuring the monk Xian’er, a callow novice under the tutelage of a learned master (trailer below).
Longquan is one of several institutions exploring new channels to convey Buddhist teachings to a contemporary Chinese audience that has demonstrated a resurgent interest in Buddhism. Although monasticism remains in general decline in much of Asia (a theme explored in the animation above), in recent years increasing numbers of Chinese have taken temporary ordination, Nanfang Daily reported in 2012.
Pejoratively dubbed “chicken soup for the soul,” pithy and often spurious inspirational aphorisms have become commonplace on Chinese Buddhist social media, according to China’s Global Times. But Longquan’s films and the seriousness of its engagement with its online followers present a more substantive “new media” Buddhism.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to the Internet, and we are trying to use it for good,” Xueching told Global Times.
“Promoting Buddhism is not limited in forms,” Liu Fen, one of the creators of Longquan’s new viral ad to recruit new media staff, told Want China Times. “We need to use the language and approach that [young people] can accept, otherwise we will lose them.”
Consulting the abbot of Longquan, which in the past would require a pilgrimage to the temple, is now often done over Weibo, where Xueching happily fields questions from followers every morning.
Alex Caring-Lobel is Tricycle‘s associate editor.
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