Monks, Migrants, and Militants: The Religious Origins of Ethnic Insurgency Revisited in China
How does religion affect conflict? Challenging the conventional belief about the incendiary effect of Islam, I argue that Buddhism can be more likely to induce conflict when it promotes the religious institution of mass monasticism. In the context of peripheral regions, monasticism on a massive scale can create a strong monastic elite that controls key economic resources, which will complicate the reach of political power for the central state. By contrast, the rejection of monasticism and the practice of collective land ownership in Islam prevents the rise of a powerful land-owning elite. An implication of the theory is that in otherwise similar border regions, the area that practices mass Buddhist monasticism will be more prone to violent resistance against the central state. I test this implication by comparing the cases of two peripheral provinces of China -- Xinjiang and Tibet -- in the 1950s. I show that the presence of monastic elite in Tibet prevented the Chinese central regime from establishing permanent security forces in the region, which contributed to the outbreak of regionwide rebellion in 1958. By contrast, the relative ease to extend political control in the largely Muslim region of Xinjiang allowed Beijing to pacify a nascient Muslim insurgency quickly without resurgent violence until the end of the Mao period.