Persecution of Buddhism in China

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I. Introduction

For the past decades, many persecutions from various groups of religions are being recorded in the book of history. Coming from different parts of the continents, diverse cultures, traditions, and beliefs are being nurtured. In Chinese Buddhism, persecutions happened from different period in Chinese timeline. Through this, the relationship of Buddhism to other religions is being examined and differentiates by their systems of beliefs. Is there any way to avoid this happenings again or we will just forget the misfortune of the past? Why persecution s happened in human life, is there anything behind of it? Why is it even though many persecutions were happened in Chinese history, Buddhism still flourished and spreading throughout the world? These questions will lead us to a deeper understanding of the present situation of Buddhism in any parts of the sphere.
This paper provides an overview of the history behind the persecutions of four emperors in China during different period of times. It will discuss the effects of persecution in diverse aspects of life especially to monks, nuns, and the people during the reign. Additionally, it will provide further information about the happenings during the persecutions. This paper will only include the information about the persecution of the four emperors: Emperor Tai-Wu, Emperor Wu, Emperor Wu-Zong, and Emperor Shi-Zong in China.

II. Body

The Buddhist persecutions also refer to the “Three Wu and One Tsung”, because three of them took place during the reigns of emperor whose posthumous name contained the word “wu” and the fourth occurred during the reign of an emperor whose posthumous name is Shih-tsung, hence the “One Tsung”.
To begin with, the three Wu, carried out under Emperor Tai-wu of the Northern Wei, Emperor Wu of Northern Chou, and Emperor Wu-Tsung of the Tang Dynasty. The Buddhist community in China is exposed, however, more persecutions and harassments then those represented by “Three Wu and One Tsung” alone. These establish merely the most remarkable persecutions, those carried out with greatest thoroughness and under overall government supervision.




Emperor Tai-Wu (?????) of Northern Wei

The first persecution occurred in the reign of Emperor Tai-Wu of the Northern Wei. Emperor Tai-Wu is the third ruler of dynasty, an passionate supporter of Taoism and not only established an imposing Taoist temple in the capital but went on to order the establishment of government sponsored Taoist temples in the various administrative districts through the country, thus making Taoism the official doctrine of the state. To run the temple he designated persons to exercise the religious duties. As a result, the moves become effective that made the Taoism the official religion during his reign. Upon his term he strictly ordered an edict that all monks under the age of fifty be returned to secular life that made the Buddhism religion to be abolished. At that phase, any person found remorseful of fashioning Buddhist appearance would be put into death together with his or her family. Temples that related to Buddhism is being burned as well as images and scriptures in the areas, more so all Buddhist monks, and nuns regardless of their age, status and gender are being put to death. In this reason, Buddhist monks and nuns are force to back into secular life. They can’t do anything but to follow the rule because if not their lives are the change to their betrayal. The persecution is extremely severe and inhumane and continuous. As the term of Emperor Tai-Wu ended no more Buddhist temple or even a single monk was to be found in the entire terrestrial of Northern Wei. All of these severe activities are the factors why Buddhism at that time is no longer important to the society.


Emperor Wu (????) of Northern Zhou Dynast


The second Buddhist persecution happened during the reign of Emperor Wu. Emperor Wu abolished Taoism and abandoned Buddhism; he made these things because he believed that he is wealthy and powerful Invited Confucian scholars to be his advisers in government and observed Confucian rituals and principles in the ordering of the state. He ordered the monks and nuns to return themselves into civilian life, just to add more military power supply and for the economy. He believed that Confucianism is the most important things to rule the country. He also believed that the temples had become rich and powerful, as well as it will add to the progress of economy and military power inside and outside the country. During his reign Buddhist images are being melted, and scriptures were burned. It is that the bronze recovered by melting down Buddhist images was used to mint new currency, reminding one of how the Japanese government during Pacific War was confiscated bells from Buddhist temples through the country and melted them down to use in production of armaments. Wu also conducted debates in his courts when it comes to the aspect of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. His original intension is to rank the three religions. The persecution is constituted to a sudden and terrible reversal of fortune for the Buddhist religion in China. As a result, the Buddhist persecution came to affect the entire area of Northern China, and for a time all traces of the Buddhist religion disappeared from the region. During his term he assembled scholarly representatives of Buddhist, Taoist religions and the Confucian teachings and set them debating hoping in this way to promote harmony and cooperation among the three groups. But the Buddhist and Taoist had proceeded to attack each other with acrimony, and the disgust inspired in the emperor by such behavior, it would seem, was one of the factors that in time led him to order the abolition of the two religions.


Emperor Wu-Zong (???) of Tang Dynasty

The third persecution happened during the term of Emperor Wu-Zong of Tang Dynasty. This persecution is also known as Hui-Ch’ang persecution because the movement took place during the Hui-Ch’ang era. During his reign, the situation was somewhat complicated and the scale of the persecution was far greater than anything from the past persecution. The way of persecution was much more extreme compare to first third persecution; it affected all of China rather than the northern area alone. It means that the great southern centers of Buddhism, which had heretofore escaped harassment, were all affected. The persecutions are merely based on social situations, economic situations, and religious situations. As a mark of his predilection for Taoism, Emperor W-Zong established a Taoist place of worship within the imperial palace, where fasts and other religious observances were carried out. He also ordered that debates be held in the palace between representatives of the Buddhist and Taoist. But since the emperor was already a zealous supporter of Taoist teachings, there was a little likelihood that Buddhists could gain a fair hearing at debates held in the royal presence. The country at that time was faced in a state of resembling wartime. On 842 an edict was issued calling for the discipline of the monks and nuns and decreeing that any monetary wealth or property such as grain stores, fields, or gardens in their possession should be returned to the government officials. The following year, all men who had recently entered the Buddhist priesthood were ordered to be taken into custody, and as a result some three hundred or more newly ordained monks were arrested and sent to Chang-an for punishment. Finally the order went out to melt down all bronze Buddhist images and implements, the metal will be used for new coinage, while iron images were to be made into farm implementation, and gold, silver, or pewter images were to be taken over by the government officials. The suppression of monasteries and persecution of foreign religions was part of a reformation undertaken. The persecution lasted for twenty months -- not long, but long enough to have permanent effects. Buddhism, for all its strength, never completely recovered. For centuries afterwards, it was merely a tolerated religion. The days of its greatest building, sculpture, and painting, and its most vital creative thought, were past.


Emperor Shi-Zong ((???) of Later Zhou Dynasty


The fourth of the major Buddhist persecution, that one of the “One Tsung”, was carried out in 955 by emperor Shi-Zong of the Later Zhou Dynasty. He forbade the private ordination of the monks and nuns, set up limited number of officially recognized ordination platforms, and decreed that person wishing to enter Buddhist clergy must do so under government supervision. In addition, it prohibited the holding of Buddhist services at night and forbade the founding of any new temples. Temples that did not already have official recognition were to be done away with or merged with temples having official recognition. In these persecutions, monks and nuns were killed or made to return to secular life, and Buddhist temples, statues, and sutras destroyed. In addition to the conflict between Taoists and Buddhists, moral decline in the clergy also contributed to the persecutions. In order to implement his ruling policies to be based on Confucianism, he used the excuse that the monks and nuns in Buddhist temples had become a national financial burden, thus giving an imperial edict forbidding people to become a monk or nun on their own. He made some harsh requirements for those who wanted to be a monk or nun and also specified that only those initiated into monkhood or nunhood from the nationally-acknowledged Pravarana (precept platform) were recognized, otherwise it was invalid. Temples or aranya were not allowed to be built; if anyone disobeyed, he would be punished with cruel torture. All the existing temples must be demolished. Figures of Buddha made of bronze, brass or copper held by civilians had to be turned in to the government to be cast into money. If anyone were found secretly keeping any that was worth more than five Jin, he would be executed. According to legend, Emperor Shi Zong hacked the chest of the Bodhisattva figure with an axe to show his intention of destroying Buddhism.
In the sixth year of Xian De, during his journey of northern conquest, all of a sudden Emperor Shi Zong developed a carbuncle abscess in his chest and died from it shortly afterward.


III. Conclusion

We can easily conclude that the reasons for those incidents were nothing but the emperor’s sincerely believing in his own religion without showing any tolerance for other religions (which is the opposite of what Ashoka did), or because, when antagonism arose between the religions, the emperor could not discern and resolve it, or still yet, because the emperor was not able to make full use of Buddhist resources to turn them into proper production for the country. Instead they mistook Buddhists and their temples for a financial burden on the country. Fortunately, Buddhism has eventually been accepted on a universal basis because of “its essence of setting one’s mind at rest,” which has been passed on in Buddhism for thousands of years. In spite of the repeated Anti-Buddhist Persecutions, Buddhism is still standing, towering like a giant in the world’s multicultural civilization and playing a positive role.

Submitted: November 28, 2016

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Submitted: November 28, 2016

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