Buddhism’s arrival to China and its many faces

During the Han Dynasty in the first century B.C., trade with Central Asia introduced Buddhism to China.  Over the centuries, interest in Buddhism grew.  However, due to Confucianism and Taoism, the Chinese adapted Buddhist scripture to fit the Chinese culture creating the Mahayana sect, which spread to Korea and Japan.

Like most major religions, there are subdivisions within Buddhism but most may be classified into three. This is why Southeast Asian Buddhists differ from the Chinese.  The Theravada form of Buddhism is found in Southeast Asia in countries like Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Tibetan Buddhism incorporates other beliefs, and there are four principal schools or types of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of one of the four, the Yellow Hat sect.

Buddhism in China reached its high point during the Tang Dynasty, 618 to 907. However, in 845 AD, the Tang emperor suppressed Buddhism and destroyed thousands of monasteries, temples and shrines.

Soon after Mao and the Communists won China, Buddhism flourished for a time but was repressed during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – ‘76) along with all other religions. Many monasteries and Buddhist texts were destroyed. After Mao, many of the major monasteries were rebuilt under Deng Xiaoping.

Today, Buddhists represent the largest religious group in China between 100 to 200 million. (PEW Forum)


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

10 Responses to Buddhism’s arrival to China and its many faces

  1. Hari Qhuang says:

    I had no idea that there was a Tang Emperor suppressing Buddhism. (I wonder why it happened! You’ve sparked my curiosity)

    I did heard about Tang dynasty being the golden age of Buddhism in China.

    The famous Tri-Pitaka Monk and his Journey to the west was commissioned (or at least somehow supported) by the Tang court, wasn’t it?

    • We Zetain (624-705 AD), was a Tang Dynasty emperor and she was a devout Buddhist.


      More than a century later, the Tang Emperor who suppressed Buddhism was Emperor Wuzong (814-846).

      Click to access emperor_wuzong_suppress_buddhism.pdf

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        Some people would say that Empress Wu Zetian “tainted” Buddhism by disguising her favorite lover as a Buddhist monk.
        Whenever she wanted a “quickie”, she’d visit the temple and “prayed” in a private chamber. 😀

      • Because she was the only female emperor in China’s history, there will always be rumors that she did things that were okay for men to do but not for a woman, but these are rumors and there is no evidence that she had lover. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. Even women can have a healthy libido and find ways around puritinical rules that only apply to women to satisfy those powerful, natural sex drives.

        Instead of focusing on her sex live, which I hope was satisfying and fulfilling, we should look at what she accomplished and during her reign, the Tang Dynasty expanded, many of the dynasties enemies were defeated bringing more peace and tranquility for the working people and the economy was stable.

        I wonder if the puritanical Chinese would rather have had a corrupt and weak man as emperor instead of a woman who may have had a healthy sexual appetite equal to most men. There must be a reason, she ended up an emperor in a world dominated by men. Maybe there was no man as smart and capable as she was and the court ministers saw this and so they allowed her to be an emperor and probably ignored any sexual encounters she had.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        That’s a very modern point of view you have. 😀

        It was a very traditional world where men could have many concubines (or sleep with different women every night) but not the other way around.

        but I do agree with you that many stories about Wu Zetian focused more on her bad sides (and there were no concrete proofs that she did all of those scary things).

      • It would be interesting to know what it was about her that won so many men over to her side so they supported her as an emperor.

        Did the power corrupt her as it does to so many men? Probably. I think for most men or women in power, Lord Acton (1834-1902) was right when he said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which may explain why the United States has had a string of recent Presidents who have gone beyond their Constitutional powers and caused a lot of trouble for America.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        I think it was more like scared and frustrated.
        My Grandmother once told me that people with powers were scared people. The more powerful they were, they more fears they had.

        Chinese Emperors shared one same fear: death.
        Once they sat on the throne, they would try to keep their crowns as long as they could.

        Just like Emperor Qin Shi-huang, Wu Zetian thought that one lifetime was not enough for her. She became very obsessed with the search of immortality.

        Often, she became frustrated because she knew that she would eventually die. As an escape, she indulged herself in many kinds of “pleasure”.

        Other Emperors did it too. Why wouldn’t they enjoy their privileges while they still could? They might did tomorrow, or worse: dethroned and had to see other men wearing their crowns.

      • Makes sense. Why should Wu Zetian be any different than all the male emperors? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I think that applies to both men and women.

        I shudder to think what I would do with such power. Maybe it’s better not to have that kind of power.

  2. Buddhism is the one “ism” to which i have warmed. It is so wonderfully non-judgmental.

Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: