Yunyao Zhai 


2023-24 Graduate Student Associate; Ph.D. Candidate in South Asian Studies at Harvard University


Yunyao Zhai is a Ph.D. candidate in the South Asian Studies Department at Harvard University. Her research seeks to understand the important role that Tibetan Buddhism played and the cultural communication between the various Asian regions and cultures. Zhai’s dissertation project, “Protected: A Study in the Mahākāla Traditions in Asia,” will study one of the most important esoteric Buddhist protective deities in South, Inner, and East Asian history: Mahākāla. She will use the Buddhist protective deity as a carrier to examine the role of Tibetan esoteric Buddhism in the political and cultural life of China from the 13th to the early 17th century. In addition, her work will survey how an Indian ideology was adopted and indigenized by the Tibetan ecclesiastical and elite circles. 

Research Interests: Tibetan Buddhism in Yuan, Ming and early Qing China; History of cultural interaction in Asia