In the Chaozhou City Gazetteer of Buddhism & Chaozhou Kaiyuan Monastery Gazetteer published in 1992, the then Abbot of the Kaiyuan Monastery, Shi Huiyuan 释慧原 heavily condemned the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) monk Shi Kesheng 释可声 (date unknown) for "starting the sins among laities in the Chaozhou region who dared transgressing (the Buddhist doctrines) and became chant leaders in a flaming mouth ceremony.” Why was the Abbot so upset with a fellow monk back in history? What did Kesheng do, and what were the implications of him starting this "transgression"? This article investigates the history of the international traffic of Buddhist music, and uncovers the roles of lay Buddhists in preserving Buddhist music in times of national chaos. It also reveals the intra-religious conflicts in sonic space, showing how Buddhist music has become a site of contestation between lay Buddhists, monastics and musical professionals. This article explores three questions related to Teochew Buddhist music practiced in Singapore: How was Teochew Buddhist music transmitted between China and Singapore? How did the music, chanting and ritual propagate and evolve locally in Singapore? What are the broader implications of this cross-border transmission of Buddhist music? During the Cultural Revolution, religious and cultural practices all over China had faced some form of destruction. Teochew Buddhist music from China was able to remain intact, because Singapore served as one of its cultural sanctuaries during this period of destruction and chaos. Lay Buddhists played a major role in preserving and propagating the religious music and Buddhist cultural practices.

Author Biography

Jie Zhang is a student in the Design, Environment and the Arts (History, Theory, and Criticism) (PhD) program at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University. She holds an MA degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia, and a B. Soc. Sci degree in Geography from the National University of Singapore. She specializes in Art History and Buddhist Studies of the late imperial period in China. She was a full-time teaching assistant for Asian Studies at the College of Humanities and Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

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