Beata Grant

​Professor Emerita of Chinese and Religious Studies
PhD, Stanford University
research interests:
  • Buddhism
  • Chinese religion and literature
  • Pre-modern Chinese women's literature and culture
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1111
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Grant's research and teaching interests include Chinese women's writing of the premodern period, and the history of Chinese Buddhist nuns from the late imperial and early republican periods.

    Selected Publications

    Zen Echos

    Zen Echos

    Zen Echoes is a collection of classic koans from Zen’s Chinese history that were first collected and commented on by Miaozong, a twelfth-century nun so adept that her teacher, the legendary Dahui Zonggao, used to tell other students that perhaps if they practiced hard enough, they might be as realized as her.

    Nearly five hundred years later, the seventeenth-century nuns Baochi and Zukui added their own commentaries to the collection. The three voices—distinct yet harmonious—remind us that enlightenment is at once universal and individual.

    In her introduction to this shimmering translation, Professor Grant tells us that the verses composed by these women provide evidence that “in a religious milieu made up overwhelmingly of men, there were women who were just as dedicated to Chan practice, just as advanced in their spiritual realization, and just as gifted at using language to convey that which is beyond language.

    Escape from Blood Pond Hell: The Tales of Mulian and Woman Huang

    Escape from Blood Pond Hell: The Tales of Mulian and Woman Huang

    These translations of The Precious Scroll of the Three Lives of Mulian and Woman Huang Recites the Diamond Sutra are late-nineteenth-century examples of baojuan (literally, "precious scrolls"), a Chinese folk genre featuring alternating verse and prose that was used by monks to illustrate religious precepts for lay listeners. They represent only two of numerous versions, composed in a variety of genres, of these legends, which were once popular all over China. While the seeds of the Mulian legend, in which a man rescues his mother from hell, can be found in Indian Buddhist texts, the story of Woman Huang, who seeks her own salvation, appears to be indigenous to China.

    With their graphic portrayals of the underworld; dramatization of Buddhist beliefs about death, salvation, and rebirth; and frank discussion of women's responsibility for sin, these texts provide detailed and powerful descriptions of popular religious beliefs and practices in late imperial China, especially as they relate to women.

    Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China

    Eminent Nuns: Women Chan Masters of Seventeenth-Century China

    Eminent Nuns is an innovative interdisciplinary work that brings together several of these important seventeenth-century trends. Although Buddhist nuns have been a continuous presence in Chinese culture since early medieval times and the subject of numerous scholarly studies, this book is one of the first not only to provide a detailed view of their activities at one particular moment in time, but also to be based largely on the writings and self-representations of Buddhist nuns themselves. This perspective is made possible by the preservation of collections of “discourse records” (yulu) of seven officially designated female Chan masters in a seventeenth-century printing of the Chinese Buddhist Canon rarely used in English-language scholarship. The collections contain records of religious sermons and exchanges, letters, prose pieces, and poems, as well as biographical and autobiographical accounts of various kinds. Supplemental sources by Chan monks and male literati from the same region and period make a detailed re-creation of the lives of these eminent nuns possible.

    Beata Grant brings to her study background in Chinese literature, Chinese Buddhism, and Chinese women’s studies. She is able to place the seven women, all of whom were active in Jiangnan, in their historical, religious, and cultural contexts, while allowing them, through her skillful translations, to speak in their own voices. Together these women offer an important, but until now virtually unexplored, perspective on seventeenth-century China, the history of female monasticism in China, and the contributionof Buddhist nuns to the history of Chinese women’s writing.

    The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China

    The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China

    One of the most exciting recent developments in the study of Chinese literature has been the rediscovery of an extremely rich and diverse tradition of women’s writing of the imperial period (221 B.C.E.–1911 C.E.). Many of these writings are of considerable literary quality. Others provide us with moving insights into the lives and feelings of a surprisingly diverse group of women living in Confucian China, a society that perhaps more than any other is known for its patriarchal tradition.

    Because of the burgeoning interest in the study of both premodern and modern women in China, several scholarly books, articles, and even anthologies of women’s poetry have been published in the last two decades. This anthology differs from previous works by offering a glimpse of women’s writings not only in poetry but in other genres as well, including essays and letters, drama, religious writing, and narrative fiction.

    The authors have presented the selections within their respective biographical and historical contexts. This comprehensive approach helps to clarify traditional Chinese ideas on the nature and function of literature as well as on the role of the woman writer.

    Daughters of Emptiness Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns

    Daughters of Emptiness Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns

    Women played major roles in the history of Buddhist China, but given the paucity of the remaining records, their voices have all but faded. In Daughters of Emptiness, Beata Grant renders a great service by recovering and translating the enchanting verse—by turns assertive, observant, devout—of forty-eight nuns from sixteen centuries of imperial China. This selection of poems, along with the brief biographical accounts that accompany them, affords readers a glimpse into the extraordinary diversity and sometimes startling richness of these women’s lives.