International research workshop and fieldwork “Chinese Religious Spaces in Thailand”, May 24–June 2, 2023

Within the framework of 2023 FROGBEAR Phase 2 Cluster Activities, the leaders of Cluster 3.4 Typologies of Text-Image Relations organized International Research Workshop and Fieldwork “Chinese Religious Spaces in Thailand”.

Dates: May 24–June 2, 2023.

Cluster leaders: Christoph Anderl, in collaboration with Marcus Bingenheimer, Oliver Streiter, Tzu-Lung Melody Chiu, and Ngar-sze Lau.

Site(s): Chinese temples in Bangkok, Thailand.

Language(s): English; knowledge of Chinese is desirable; language support for Thai will be provided.


Chinese temples in Thailand (and many other locations in South and Southeast Asia) give witness to the complex history of the spread of Chinese Buddhism, and the co-existence of various forms of Buddhism in that area. In the context of Thailand – although characterized by a dominance of Theravada Buddhism – there is a large number of Chinese temples especially in the Bangkok area, most of them clustering in and around Chinatown. Despite their Chinese heritage, many agents associated with the temples (monastics and laypeople) have fully integrated in Thai society and do not speak Chinese anymore (this seems to be a feature quite different from Chinese religious institutions in other countries where even after several generations the Chinese linguistic heritage is preserved). The temples still play a significant role for the religious and cultural life, as well as the identity, of communities with Chinese ancestors. Naturally, most of the temples cluster in and around Chinatown of Bangkok. This contemporary function of these religious institutions will be one focus of the fieldtrip, and we aim to document as many temples as possible with photographic (including 3D survey images) and video materials.

In addition, we will focus on a specific aspect of material culture extant in many of these temples, concretely, inscriptional / epigraphic materials. Chinese immigration to Southeastern locations started several hundred years ago, and the earliest inscriptions date back to the 17th century. In our work, we will focus on inscriptions predating the 19th century. Here, we build on the monumental work of Wolfgang Franke who in 1998 published a survey of epigraphic materials in Thailand. In our fieldwork, we aim to both trace Franke’s documented materials in the contemporary temples, document them with high-resolution images, in addition to complementing the records of Franke.

This will also enable us to gain an impression of the current condition of these materials, and their significance for religious practices and for the heritage / touristic activities of the individual temples. We will not only document materials in Chinese but also in Thai (or other languages such as Pali).

Participants and collaborators 

The field trip is organized by Christoph Anderl (Ghent University), in collaboration with Marcus Bingenheimer, Oliver Streiter, Yoann Goudin, Elsa Ngar-sze Lau, and Chiu (Melody) Tzu-Lung. Without the immense preparatory work of and their vast experience in documenting Chinese temples in Taiwan and South and Southeast Asia of Bingenheimer, Streiter and Goudin, this fieldwork would not be possible. In addition to these specialists, we will be accompanied by ca. fifteen graduate students and PhD researchers from various universities, working in five groups. Each group will also include one local translator.

We are also in the fortunate situation to be supported by the Bangkok based Thammasat University who will help with the logistics and provide expertise for the training sessions and the fieldwork. Thammasat representatives will also accompany some of the fieldwork groups. We are especially indebted to Thomas Bruce, Paul McBain, John Johnston, and Ornthicha Duangratana for their support.


May 23
Arrival of the participants

May 24 (Thammasat)
10:00-10:20 Christoph Anderl: “Welcome and brief introduction” / Welcome by Thammasat representative
10:20-10:50 Marcus Bingenheimer: “Chinese temples Bangkok – a survey” (lecture)
10:50-11:30 Paul Mcbain: “Introduction to reality scan, reality capture, 360 cameras, matterport” (training)
14:00-14:40 Oliver Streiter: “Following the Traces of Wolfgang Franke in Thailand: Impressions, insights and questions from out fieldwork in 2019 and 2023” (lecture)
14:40-15:20 Elsa Ngar-sze Lau: “Doing ethnographic research at religious site: observation and interview” (lecture)
15:40-17:00 Marcus Bingenheimer / Oliver Streiter: “Introduction to temple documentation, data collection, data input” (training / discussions)

May 25
09:00-12:30 FIELD WORK 1 in five groups
14:30 Gathering at Thammasat
14:30-15:20 John Johnston: “Contemporary Developments in Thai Buddhist Material Culture.” (lecture)
15:20-16:00 Melody Tzu-Lung Chiu: “Fieldwork practices and experiences in transnational Buddhist temples: Taiwan, Mailand China, Myanmar and Thailand.” (lecture)
16:00-16:40 Oliver Streiter: “How to identify objects (e.g., deities and symbols) in Chinese temples?” (training)
16:40-ca.18:00 Questions and discussion: Our experiences during the first fieldwork day

May 26 / 27 / 28 / 30 / 31 / June 1

09:00-17:00 FIELD WORK in five groups / work on fieldwork data

June 01 18:30-20:00 Lectures at Siam Society Bangkok

 June 02
10:00-11:00 Paul Mcbain: “From a Buddhist utopia to a secular paradise: tracing changing ideals of the city of Bangkok from 1800-the present.” (lecture)
11:00-16:00 Final gathering and group reports / discussion of fieldwork data / Q&A / socializing)

June 03
Departure of the participants