MFQ Guide

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Guide to the Compilation, Format, and Use of the Mínguó fójiào qíkān wénxiàn jíchéng 民國佛教期刊文獻集成[1]

Erik Hammerstrom



In the autumn of 2006, a team of scholars led by Huáng Xiànián 黃夏年 published the Mínguó fójiào qíkān wénxiàn jíchéng 民國佛教期刊文獻集成, or Complete Collection of Republican-Era[2] Buddhist Periodical Literature (hereafter referred to as the MFQ). The publication of the MFQ was followed a little over a year later by the publication of the Mínguó fójiào qíkān wénxiàn jíchéng bǔbiān 民國佛教期刊文獻集成.補編, or Supplement to the Complete Collection of Republican-Era Buddhist Periodical Literature (MFQB). In total, this collection runs to 295 volumes, including 8 volumes of indices. This massive work represents an enormous step forward in the materials available to scholars of Chinese Buddhism in the early 20th century. This period witnessed some of the greatest and swiftest changes in Chinese Buddhism, and with this collection we now have a resource for studying those changes in greater detail than was possible before. The goal of this essay is to provide a brief introduction to this collection, its history, and its use. It ends with a few words on some of the work based on this collection that we could hope to see in the coming years.

Compilation of the MFQ

Given the size of this collection, it may come as a surprise that work on its compilation did not begin until November of 2005, less than a year before the MFQ was published. According to the account on the publisher’s web site, written by one of the assistant editors, Lǐ Yángquán 李陽泉,[3] the impetus for this project came from a Mr. Sòng 宋 at the Beijing Library Press. He had been impressed by the work of Huáng Xiànián, a Chinese scholar of Buddhist studies who had gathered data on the titles and contents of 160 different Buddhist periodicals from the Republican Period. It was Mr. Sòng’s hope that these periodicals could be collected and made available to the world as a published work. The Press contacted Huáng, who agreed to become the Chief Editor for the project.

The editors’ first step was to search the Chinese National, Shànghǎi 上海, and Běijīng University Libraries, as well as some twenty medium-sized provincial and national libraries. Huáng Xiànián also contributed many periodicals from the collection belonging to him and his father, Huáng Xīnchuān 黃心川, who is also a scholar of Chinese Buddhism. After this first step, the editors began to look into private collections. Because of his contacts in the Buddhist community, Huáng Xiànián was able to gain access to a large number of collections that may have been otherwise off-limits. These included the collections of private individuals, as well as those held in the archives of various temples and monasteries.

The editors’ work was also greatly facilitated by the assistance of Wēng Liánxī 翁連溪 of the Palace Museum. A famous collector, Wēng was able to arrange for the editors of the MFQ to meet with still more private collectors both in Taiwan and the mainland, and to gain access to their collections. Master Hsing-yun 星雲 of Taiwan’s Fóguāng Shān 佛光山 contributed several items from his collection. Periodicals were also borrowed from scholars in Japan.

As the team neared the end of their search, they received word that Xuánzàng 玄奘 University, the Buddhist Academy of China 中國佛學院, and several temples had found in their collections issues of periodicals they had been missing. By the autumn of 2006, less than a year after they had begun their efforts, it was decided to publish what they had accumulated by that point. Huáng and his team sent their work to Mr. Sòng at the Press for publication. Thus far they had gathered complete runs of a number of periodicals, but they had still found no trace of 17 periodicals from Huáng’s original list. For another 29 periodicals they had only been able to find one issue each. Huáng decided that despite these lacunae they would go forward with publication of the MFQ, which officially took place in October. This collection contained issues of an impressive 150 periodicals, but they already had plans to publish a supplement.

Over the next year, the editors continued to collect periodicals, a process that was helped by the publicity their project received after the MFQ was published. By December of 2007, they published the MFQB, which added 83 new periodicals and filled in the gaps of 56 periodicals that appeared in the MFQ. The two collections now hold 233 periodicals, 150 of which are complete runs. The MFQB also added some extra information in the indices, which shall be discussed in further detail below.

It should be noted that there are still a few Buddhist periodicals from the Republican period not contained in either collection, meaning that if they are still extant, then there will be another supplement printed sometime in the future.

The Periodicals in the MFQ and MFQB

The 233 periodicals in this collection were originally printed in different regions by individuals and groups, all of whom had different goals. The format of the periodicals also differs, even between issues of the same periodical. Those interested in studying the geographic distribution of these periodicals should turn to MFQB 84, which includes a breakdown of periodicals by region, along with a bar graph of that same information. These data tells us, for example, that one-quarter of the Buddhist periodicals published during the Republic were printed in Shanghai. If we add the periodicals published in Ānhuī 安徽, Jiāngsū 江蘇 and Zhèjiāng 浙江, we find that close to 45% of the Buddhist periodicals from the Republican Era were published in the Jiāngnán 江南 region. The remaining three-fifths were distributed over a wide area, with heavy concentrations in Guǎngdōng 廣東, Sìchuān 四川, Fújiàn 福建, and Húběi 湖北. Less prosperous regions were not left out, and the collection contains issues of at least one periodical each from the provinces of Gānsù 甘肅, Yúnnán 雲南, Jílín 吉林 and others. Periodicals published outside of the Chinese mainland were also included in the collection, and there are issues of at least one periodical each from Táiwān 台灣, Hong Kong 香港, Macau, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore.

Huáng says that this collection holds periodicals from 1911 to 1949, but I have seen an issue of a periodical in the collection that was published in 1892,[4] and issues of two other periodicals that go all the way to the late 1950’s.[5] The vast majority of periodicals in this collection were, however, published in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Although the number of periodicals published in the first decade of the Republic was small, their number grew gradually over the years, reaching one peak before the War of Resistance began in 1937. A larger number of periodicals shut down entirely during the War, while some others continued publishing despite the difficult times faced by their publishers. Some of these moved their offices to Sìchuān and/or Chóngqìng 重慶. With the end of the War, several periodicals resumed publication, being joined by an ever-increasing number of newly founded periodicals. This made the brief period between the War of Resistance and the Civil War a time of great activity in the world of Buddhist publishing.

Given the numerous domestic and international challenges facing China during the Republic, it should come as little surprise that the majority of periodicals from that period had fairly short lifespans. Looking through a sampling of about one-fifth of the collection, one finds that over 40% of them lasted less than three years. Less than 20%, or one in five, lasted longer than ten years (and my sample includes most of the longest-running periodicals). Admittedly this is not a statistically precise evaluation, but in general it can be said that the vast majority of Buddhist periodicals at this time were only printed for a couple of years.

Although they tended not to last very long, many of the periodicals were fairly bulky publications. Of the periodicals in the sample listed in the [receding paragraph, about half of them averaged between 11 and 60 pages per issue, while another 40% averaged over 60 pages per issue. Shorter periodicals tended to be more rare. There also appeared to be no correspondence between a periodical’s length and the number of years for which it was published. For example, the Hǎicháo yīn 海潮音, arguably the most important Buddhist periodical during the Republic and certainly the longest running, tended to be quite long, averaging well over 60 pages per issue. The equally important and nearly equally long-lived Buddhist newspaper the Fóxué bànyuè kān 佛學半月刊 (Buddhist Bimonthly), which was printed in runs of 10,000 or more, averaged only ten pages per issue.

These periodicals were published by a variety of different groups. Some were run by commercial groups such as Shanghai Buddhist Books 上海佛學書局, which published the Fóxué bànyuè kān, as well as several other periodicals. Many of the numerous regional Buddhist associations that were springing up during the years of the Republic also printed their own periodicals. It seemed that producing a periodical of one’s own was often one of the first undertakings carried out by nascent Buddhist organizations, with the first issue often carrying the bylaws of the organization for which it would serve as the mouthpiece. In addition to the many Buddhist regional organizations that came and went during the first half of the 20th century, there were also a number of Buddhist lay associations (jūshì lín 居士林) that appeared around China, and many of these started their own periodicals. Finally, there were periodicals associated with particular temples or famous monks. It is a well-known fact that the Hǎicháo yīn was always closely associated with Tàixū 太虛, but there were many other periodicals that functioned to spread the teachings of a particular individual or school. An example of this would be the Hóngfǎ shè kān 弘法社刊 (Periodical of the Dharma Propagation Society), which served as a vehicle for the thoughts of Master Dìxián 諦閑 and was published at his temple, Guānzōng sì 觀宗寺 in Níngbō 寧波 from 1928 to 1937.

Given the differences in the motivations and resources of the groups behind these periodicals, it is obvious that they would be very different in form. As a result, there was no standard format for periodicals throughout the Republican Period. Some periodicals contained pictures of people and places, while many did not. Some periodicals carried advertisements, such as Singapore’s Fójiào yǔ fóxué 佛教與佛學 (Buddhism and Buddhist[6]), which routinely carried advertisements for tiger balm and local restaurants. Some periodicals carried articles by a large number of authors, while others (usually the more short-lived ones) held the work of just a few individuals.

There was a great deal of overlap between periodicals, and even between periodicals and published books. It was not uncommon for an article from one periodical, such as the Hǎicháo yīn, to be reprinted without acknowledgment in another periodical. Sometimes there was a lag of several years between first and subsequent printings, but in some cases a single article was carried in three or more periodicals in the same year. Such occurrences are good for the historian because knowing what articles were popular tells us something about what people were thinking about at the time. Such overlap is also useful on a practical level, such as in cases where characters of one version in the MFQ version are too blurry or too small to read.

Not only was there overlap between periodicals, but between periodicals and books as well. It was not uncommon for a monograph to be serialized in a periodical, or for a popular serialized article to be republished later as a monograph. Táng Dàyuán’s 唐大圓 Wéishì de kēxué fāngfǎ 唯識的科學方法 (The Scientific Method of Consciousness-Only) was first published as a monograph in 1925. Táng added a third section to it and in 1929 it appeared in the Hǎicháo yīn in two parts.[7] The following year it was republished, with the additions, as a monograph by the Shanghai Lay Buddhist Association 上海佛教居士林. Such cases were common.

The Structure of the MFQ and MFQB

Because of the speed with which it was compiled, the MFQ, and to a much lesser extent the MFQB, are a little disorganized. This disorganization can take a little getting used to, but once one understands the structure of this collection (which will be treated here as a whole), and the tools it contains, it is fairly easy to find what one is looking for. What follows is a discussion of that structure in narrative form, and there is also a table at the end of this essay, which lists the various parts of the collection, including the contents of the indices.

The MFQ and MFQB are each numbered separately, with the index volumes to each collection coming at the end of the respective series (205 to 209 for the MFQ, and 84 to 86 for the MFQB). The layout of both series is a little unclear in that it is hard to determine what criteria the editors used to put the periodicals into the order that they are in. In the MFQ, after 135 volumes of periodicals, there is a supplement (bǔbiān 補編), which runs from volumes 136 to 146. This section is part of the serial numbering of the MFQ and should not be confused with MFQB. It is a “supplement” in that in contains further issues of many periodicals collected elsewhere in the MFQ, in addition to some periodicals that do not appear earlier in the collection. Volumes 147 through 204 are taken up by the complete run of the Hǎicháo yīn.

Volume 205 of the MFQ begins that series’ indices. It contains a preface by Chief Editor Huáng Xiànián in which he primarily discusses the importance of the Buddhist periodicals for expanding our understanding the modernization of Chinese Buddhism. This is followed by a table of contents, which lists the periodicals in the collection in the order in which they appear. After this there are 50 pages of information on the periodicals themselves. When we are lucky, these notices contain information on the chronology of the periodical, who its editors were, where it was published, and even a little about its tone. The quality of these brief sketches, however, runs from comprehensive in a few cases to nonexistent in other ones. This issue has been addressed for many periodicals in the similar section of the MFQB (MFQB 84) where the availability of a greater number of issues from certain periodicals gave the editors more data to work with. When periodicals covered in MFQ 205 are also covered in MFQB 84, the information in the MFQB surpasses that found in the MFQ. If one is serious about really understanding the nature of a particular periodical one should, of course, simply go to the actual periodicals themselves, as this is where the editors obtained most of their information.

The remainder of MFQ 205, as well as the entirety of MFQ 206, is taken up with a Table of Contents, which gives the title, author, and page number for (nearly) every article contained in the MFQ, listed in the order in which they appear. MFQ 207 and 208 comprise a Title Index, in which one can look up an article by the first character of its title. This is arranged alphabetically by pīnyīn. MFQ 209, the final volume of the series is an Author Index, which is set up in the same way as the title index.

The first 83 volumes of the MFQB contain the periodicals, and just as with the MFQ, it is hard to determine by what criteria the editors organized the collection. MFQB 84, after a preface by Huáng Xiànián, begins that series’ indices. The first section after the preface is a list of periodicals by geographic region, starting with Beijing, running through the regions with the most periodicals, and ending with Japan and Korea (for which there is one periodical each). This is followed by a bar graph giving the number of periodicals for each region. After this comes a very useful union list of all the issues of a given periodical that are held in the MFQ and MFQB, which tells what volume they are in. This is arranged alphabetically by pīnyīn. This section is followed by 75 pages of information on the periodicals themselves. It is arranged in a manner similar to the corresponding section of MFQ 205, but only appears to cover those periodicals with issues in the MFQB. At the end of each entry it says what issues are held in the collection, and whether they are in the MFQ or the MFQB. The remainder of MFQB 84 is taken up with a Table of Contents organized in the same manner as MFQ 205-206. The final two volumes of the MFQB (85 and 86) contain a Title Index and an Author Index, which are also organized alphabetically by pīnyīn, just as in the similar indices for the MFQ.

Using the MFQ and MFQB

Indices: Finding what you need

Together the MFQ and MQB contain nearly 150,000 pages of material.[8] With a collection this size, there should be, and there are, several different ways of looking for information. Unfortunately, given the sloppiness of some aspects of this collection, the scholar should never rely on only one of them unless she gets what she needs on the first try. If one is looking for a particular article or author, the best resource is a search tool developed and maintained by the Digital Archives at Dharma Drum Buddhist College. This is a full digital index for both the MFQ and MFQB, which will include an estimated 20-30% more information than contained in the two indices provided by the collections publishers (see below). This extra information comes from the fact that this index will list many poems and other shorter items, including information on their authors, which were overlooked in the compilation of the previous print and digital indices.

An older digital resource, now surpassed by the Dharma Drum search engine, is a large file of the Title Index for the MFQ is freely available from the publisher’s website. This file is searchable using traditional characters, but it gives only the article’s volume number and starting page in the MFQ. For information on the name, year, and volume and issue numbers of the periodical the article appears in, one must find that MFQ volume and page number in the Table of Contents (MFQ 205 and 206). In addition to facilitating quick searches, the digital version of the Title Index also allows one to find key terms in the titles of various periodicals. The digital index shares one drawback with its print counterpart and that is that not all of the articles that appear in the Table of Contents appear in the Title Index. If one is not sure that a certain article exists and you know the name of the author, one should check the Author Index (MFQ 209). This, however, is also occasionally incomplete.

There is a searchable PDF index for the MFQB as well, available from the publisher. This digital index is much more comprehensive than the one for the MFQ. It includes periodical information, along with title, author, and location in the MFQB, giving both the starting and ending page numbers. This index, which should be searched using simplified characters, also classifies articles by genre.

If none of the digital indices are available at the moment, one can use the print indices for the collection starting with author or title. This is useful even when using the digital versions. For example, it is not easy to know how many articles in the MFQ are attributed to Tàixū by using the digital index, as one’s results would be mixed in with all of the articles with his name in the title. One can, however, scan the pages of the Author Index by sight and figure out that there are something on the order of 1200 items in the MFQ attributed to Tàixū. This makes him the most prolific author in the collection by far. One can also look through these pages to see who else had a similar output. The Shanghai-based Buddhist layman and publisher Fàn Gǔ’nóng 范古農 seems to hold second place, with over 600 items attributed to him.

Thus far we have looked at how to search for a specific article or author, but sometimes one is not looking for a specific article or author, but needs to look through parts or all of the run of a certain periodical. If this is the case, one should begin one’s search in the third section of MFQB 84 where all the periodicals are listed by pīnyīn. This will say which volumes of which series hold that periodical. This is an essential first step as a surprising number of periodicals can be found in three or more locations in the MFQ and MFQB.

Things to Watch Out For

Given the fact that the 209 volumes of the MFQ were put together in under a year, and the 86 volumes of the MFQB in just over a year, the fact that there are problems in the MFQ and MFQB should come as no surprise. Here I will highlight six issues that anyone who uses this collection should be aware of. It is fairly easy to work around some of these issues, while in other cases one may have to buy a ticket to China. One automatically avoids most of these problems if one uses Dharma Drum Buddhist College’s search tool.

The first issue, which is obvious to anyone who has read through more than a few articles in the MFQ, is that of blurry pages. It seems that some of the copying was done in a hurry and as a result an almost appalling number of pages are illegible. Somewhere between 2% and 5% of the MFQ is illegible. The MFQB is much better on this score, and the number of illegible pages is <1%. When one is confronted with a totally illegible page, either due to blurring or because the characters are miniscule, or a combination of both, one can always try to see if the article one needs was reprinted in another periodical (as mentioned above). If this does not help, and the article is important, one can always check to see if there is a library stamp on the cover page of the issue being consulted. Many large and medium-size libraries stamped their periodicals and it is often possible to use these stamps to find out where the original is held.

The second issue is only a problem if one is taking the bibliographical data for one’s articles from the Table of Contents Index and not from the copies of the periodicals themselves. In some cases the periodical title in the Table of Contents is mislabeled. An example of this is the entire run of the Yuányīn yuèkān 圓音月刊 (Comprehensive Voice Buddhist Monthly), [9] which is incorrectly labeled as Juéqún zhōubào 覺群週報 (Chuh Ching Weekly[10]) in MFQ 206. Be sure to double check that the title of the periodical one is looking at is the same as it is listed in the Table of Contents. As with the issue of blurred pages, this problem seems to be more or less absent from the MFQB.

The third issue applies to both the print and digital indices provided by the publishers. When searching for author names, be sure to use different variations, as not all authors were listed in the same way in each periodical. For example, articles by Fàn Gǔ’nóng, whom we encountered above, are listed under his complete name and also simply Gǔ’nóng 古農. As the surnames of many Buddhist authors are often dropped like this in bylines, it is usually easier to simply to omit the surname and search for an author’s given or Buddhist name. In some cases there are also character mistakes, which is especially a problem for the digital index of the MFQ. One example: The final character of the name Yáng Dìtáng 楊棣棠 was sometimes mistaken rendered as cháng 裳.

The fourth issue is that, particularly with the MFQ, not every article is listed in each index. It is likely that most of the gaps are in the Title and Author Indices. I do not know if this is a problem with the MFQB as well, but when using either part of the collection be sure to check multiple indices when possible, and do not rely solely on the digital indices to say when something is not there. Again, the search tool maintained by Dharma Drum Buddhist College does not have this problem.

The fifth issue has already been covered. This is the fact that the periodicals are not always located together. As a result, if one is dealing with a specific periodical, start with the list found in MFQB 84. An example of this is the publications of Shanghai’s Shìjiè fójiào jūshìlín 世界佛教居士林 (World Lay Buddhist Association), which appear in six different places in the MFQ and MFQB. They may have been broken up because not all of the periodicals had the same name, which brings us to the final issue of which those who use the MFQ and MFQB should be aware.

In addition to being located in different volumes of the MFQ and MFQB, periodicals may also be listed under different names. In several cases periodicals changed their names, and the list in MFQB 84 does not always make it clear when one periodical is simply an extension of a prior periodical. For example, at the end of 1934, Fójiào zázhì 佛教雜志 (Buddhism Magazine) changed its name to the Shānxī fójiào zázhì 山西佛教雜志 (Shanxi Buddhism Magazine). Each magazine appears in two locations in the MFQ, and there is no indication in the union list in MFQB 84 that they were connected. This fact is not explained in the periodical information section of MFQ 205 either, and as no new issues of this periodical were found for the MFQB, there is no updated entry there for this magazine. Although MFQB 84 does not identify when the same magazine went by multiple names, it does differentiate between magazines with the same name published in different areas, as in the case of the Fójiào zázhì from Shanxi and the one from Shanghai. This is a very helpful feature when dealing with one of the dozen periodicals that shared their name with that of at least one other periodical.

Table of the Structure of the MFQ and MFQB


Volume(s) Contents
136-146Supplemental 補編 Periodicals
147-204Hǎicháo yīn 海潮音
205 * Preface by Huáng Xiànián (2006.10)
  • Information on the periodicals that appear in the MFQ, in the order in which they appear. (58 pages) Not all periodicals have entries
  • Table of Contents (vols. 1-91)
206Table of Contents, continued (vols. 92-204)
207-208Title Index. Organized by the first character of article title, arranged by pīnyīn
209Author Index. Organized by the first character of author name, arranged by pīnyīn


Volume(s) Contents
84 * Preface by Huáng Xiànián (2007.12.12)
  • List of periodicals by geographic region, unclear organizational criteria
  • Bar graph of number of periodicals per region
  • List of issues held and their locations in the MFQ and MFQB arranged by pīnyīn
  • Supplemental information on the periodicals that appear in the MFQB, in the order in which they appear. (75 pages) [11]
  • Table of Contents
85Title Index. Organized by the first character of article title, arranged by pīnyīn
86Author Index. Organized by the first character of author name, arranged by pīnyīn


  1. The majority of this entry was taken from an essay by Erik Hammerstrom with the author’s permission. That essay is available in full here. Portions of that essay were used in the Dharma Drum Buddhist College page on this collection.
  2. “Republican Era” refers to the period 1912 to 1949. This entry follows the standard historical practice of mainland Chinese scholars, including the editors of the MFQ and MFQB. In Taiwan, they continue to use the Republican Era in their dating system, making 2007 the 96 year of Republic (Mínguó 民國 96), for example.
  3. The information given here on the history of the compilation of the MFQ was taken from this account. This link is now, however, broken. (Last access 2008.3.27) Here I summarize the most salient points. The account contains further information that may be useful to the scholar, such as partial lists of which periodicals came from where. Information on the publishing of the MFQB was taken from the preface to that collection written by Huang Xianian on December 12, 2007, which appears at the beginning of MFQB 84.
  4. Fǎlún túshū zhuànjìbù tèkān 法輪圖書傳記部特刊 (Special Edition of the Collected Tales Section from the Books of the Dharma Wheel), MFQB 83.
  5. These are the Shanghai-based Juéxùn yuèkān 覺訊月刊 (Awakening News Monthly), which ran from 1947 to 1955 (MFQ 103; MFQB 78-79), and Hónghuà yuèkān 弘化月刊 (Propagation Monthly), which ran from 1941 to 1958 (MFQ 98, 136-137; MFQB 68-73).
  6. This is the title of the periodical as it appears in English on its cover.
  7. Part 1, Hǎicháo yīn, vol. 10, no. 5 (1929), MFQ 172.493-517; Part 2, Hǎicháo yīn, vol. 10, no. 6 (1929), MFQ 173.29-57.
  8. This is an estimation: There are 288 volumes of periodicals in the combined series, and each volume contains about 520 pages of material, which yields roughly 150,000 pages.
  9. Vols. 1-10 (1947), MFQ 103.169-542.
  10. This is the title of the periodical as it appears in English on its cover.
  11. When periodicals covered in volume 205 of the MFQ are also covered here, the information here surpasses that found in the MFQ
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