Born in India and nourished in Central Asia, Buddhism was officially introduced into China in 67 AD. Throughout the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 --220 AD), although a number of scholarly monks had come to China from India, worked among the Chinese and translated a fairly large number of texts into Chinese, Buddhism had a hard struggle with the indigenous religious systems. Confucianism, with its traditional prestige at the court, looked down upon Buddhism as a barbarian religion. However, as Buddhism was a much richer religion than Confucianism and as it possessed a more profound philosophy than Taoism, it soon attracted the Chinese.
In the next six hundred years up till the beginning of Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD), Buddhism developed quickly. Many emperors often proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion. They promoted Buddhism by building monasteries, translating Buddhist Sutras (scriptures) and constructing grottoes. For instance, during the Northern Wei Dynasty (4th-5th century AD), the ruling class was a great patron of Buddhism. More than 30,000 monasteries were constructed and there were over two million Buddhist disciples. The caving in stone of the world-famous Buddhist carves like those at Yungang Grottoes in Datong, Shanxi; Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Henan; and Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu also began in this period. They were not finished until many centuries later. Today, they are regarded as the three greatest stone-carving treasures in China.
The Sui and Tang period, from the end of the 6th century to the middle of the 9th century AD, was the golden age of Buddhism in China. After a long period of absorption and assimilation, China eventually changed Buddhism, adapting and unifying it with its own cultural system. As a result, eight principal sects came into being. These are the Sanlun (Three Treaties) Sect, the dharma-character (Fa-xiang) Sect, the Tientai Sect, Huayan (the Flowery Splendor) Sect, the Pure Land Sect, the Vinaya Sect, Zen Sect and the Esoteric Sect. They have spread far and wide throughout history to present day.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), Buddhist doctrines became an influential element in the creation of Neo-Confucianism. It may be said that it was during this period that Buddhism was completely integrated into the Chinese culture.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), Tibetan Buddhism spread to all parts of China. At its peak, Tibetan Buddhism claimed about 42,300 Buddhist centres with about 213,000 members of the Buddhist clergy.
Buddhism gradually declined during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 to 1911 AD). After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Buddhism has been tolerated, but during the ten-year Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Buddhism was virtually destroyed.
In 1978, the policy of 'opening to the world' was adopted. Since then China has entered a new period of development. Eventually, the policy of freedom of religious belief was implemented in 1980s. Since then Buddhism has undergone remarkable changes. At present, there are approximately 10,000 Buddhist centres with about 185,000 members of the Buddhist clergy. Nearly 100 million people in China now are Buddhist devotees, while most Chinese, even though they may not call themselves Buddhists, maintain a Buddhist view of life and death.
The Buddhist Association of China, founded in 1953, is the largest
and the most authentic body in charge of Buddhist affairs in China today.
Among 38 Buddhist institutes in the areas inhabited by the Han nationality,
the Buddhist Academy of China , founded in Beijing in 1956, is the only
Buddhist institute for higher Buddhist education for bhikus, while the
Sichuan Buddhist College for Bhikus, established in 1984, is the highest
Buddhist institute of its kind. Both of them are recognized by the government
as university level institutes. Nanjing's Jingling Buddhist Scripture
Engraving Centre is the largest one of seven Buddhist publishing and
circulating centres. The Institute for the Study of Chinese Buddhist
Culture is the most important research institute for Buddhism in China.
The Voice of Dharma (Fa Yin --Dharmaghosa) , and Buddhist Culture are
the largest and most popular Buddhist journals distributed both in China
From 1950 to the present day about thirty extremely important Buddhist
discoveries of sarira deposits have been investigated and published.
Three of them are most important. They are the discoveries of Buddha's
tooth-relic , the Fangshan Stone Scriptures , and the Buddha's Finger-relics
. Those recent new discoveries of priceless holy relics greatly encourage
and inspire millions of Buddhist followers all over China to work hard
on the path to their emancipation-- Nibbana, which was discovered and
taught by the Buddha himself.
All the above mentioned phenomena demonstrate that Buddhism has well
and truly revived in China today. The vital and growing Buddhism has
become a living force in millions of Chinese people's lives.
In this way, for nearly 2,000 years Buddhism has been deeply rooted
in the soil of China. It has exerted different degrees of influence
on all aspects of Chinese culture, such as, Chinese thought, philosophy,
morality, literature, poetry, music, dance, art, sculpture and architecture.
the influence of Buddhism on Chinese life and thought was tremendous.
Buddhism not only absorbed Chinese indigenous elements such as Confucianism
and Taoism, but also greatly promoted and developed Chinese thought
to new heights. For instance, besides certain forms of theistic religious
beliefs, Buddhism introduced into China the doctrine of rebirth, the
idea of causality, and the belief in reward and retribution.
Secondly, Buddhist scriptures have had a strong influence on Chinese
literature. In this area, it is the most pervasive. Buddhism taught
through anecdotes, prompted much popular Chinese fiction. It is also
thought that Buddhist translations introduced 35,000 new words and idioms
into the Chinese language, which included equality and freedom. Buddhist
scriptures certainly influenced Tang poetry. The concept of Prajna (Buddhist
term of wisdom) has left traces in the poetic works of Tao Yuanming
, Wang Wei, Pai Juyi and Su shi ( Su Dongpu). All of them are regarded
as the greatest poets in the history of China. The poems written by
them are classics which still enjoy great popularity today.
Buddhist themes are also frequently adopted in Chinese drama. In the
modern Peking operas, The Heavenly Girl Scattering Flowerand Maudgyayana
Saving His Mother derive from the scriptural tales of Vimalakirti.
Thirdly, Buddhism also brought to the Chinese a deep religious feeling and a profound faith, which inspired the great works of art in China, such as those found in Yun-kang, Hungmen, Tunhuang and other places.
Fourthly, buildings of the monasteries and pagodas occupy an important
place in Chinese architecture. With the introduction of Buddhism, architecture
in pagoda-building and sculpture made rapid development in all parts
of China. For instance, the best preserved amongst China's ancient architecture
are the Buddhist pagodas. The present Longhua Pagoda in Shanghai and
the pagoda in Baoen Monastery in Suzhou were both built during the three
Kingdoms Period in the 3rd century, but destroyed during a war then
rebuilt later. These Buddhist pagodas are still well preserved today.
Fifthly, China's music, astrology, medicine and gymnastics also developed
with the introduction of Buddhism. As early as the 2nd century, for
example, Buddhist Songs were being sung in Chinese. The Tang music borrowed
from Tianzhu Music (present-day India), Kucha Music, Anguo Music and
other musical styles of Buddhist kingdoms in the Western Regions. In
1404, Emperor Chengzhu of the Ming Dynasty selected and edited Songs
of Buddhas, Tathagatas, Bodhisattvas and Saints. It contained more than
400 peices of Buddhist music and songs which were popular from Tang
to Yuan dynasties (618-1368 AD).This songbook has been preserved not
only in China but also in other countries, such as Vietnam and Burma.
Some of them are still in use in certain monasteries, such as the Tianling
Monastery in Changzhou and the Zhihua Monastery in Beijing.
In a word, Buddhism has become an inseparable part of China's culture.
Therefore, we shall have to pay attention to it and respect its value.
We need to make the most use of it to benefit our society at large!