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Buddhism History of Buddhisms in China
by
Albert Welter

Introduction

Buddhism is a major religion in China, and its influence extends beyond China to other regions of East Asia, particularly Korea and Japan, and other areas in Asia and throughout the world affected by the Chinese diaspora. The history of Chinese Buddhism covers roughly two thousand years, from its entrance into China through India and central Asia in the 1st century CE, down to the present. Not only was the advance of Buddhism momentous for China and its East Asian neighbors; it also invites interest from historians of religion and culture. Buddhism in China is one of the few instances in the premodern era in which two advanced, highly literate, and sophisticated cultures encountered each other, resulting in a hybrid mix that transformed both Buddhist teaching and Chinese culture. Buddhism is historically the most successful of the “foreign” religions in China, and its status has long been the subject of debate. Throughout this history, Buddhism has enjoyed eras of growth and prosperity punctuated by periods of persecution, decline, and neglect. In spite of questions regarding Buddhism’s place in China’s cultural identity, the religion has manifested an enduring resilience and has continued to thrive. Fluctuating borders impacting China’s territorial expanse have also affected the ethnic makeup of the Chinese nation and the types of Buddhism practiced in China. This raises the question of what constitutes “Chinese” Buddhism. China’s current borders (for which there is premodern precedent as well) include Tibetan and Mongolian regions, as well as territories occupied by Theravada-practicing ethnic groups in China’s southeast. In this case, an argument could be made that Chinese Buddhism includes representation from each of Buddhism’s major “vehicles” (or yanas): Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantrayana. For the purposes of this review, however, Chinese Buddhism is restricted primarily to its traditional definition as regarding those developments pertaining to Chinese-language sources, practices, and so forth, of Han Chinese ethnicity. Until recently, research into Chinese Buddhism was largely confined to developments leading up to a hypothetical “golden age” in the Tang dynasty (618–906), and this remains the area of greatest research strength. In addition to post-Tang and modern developments, more recent scholarship has expanded into areas beyond doctrine and intellectual history to include popular and folk Buddhist practices as emerging areas of investigation. Because of the temporal expanse and wide range of phenomena that this bibliography on Chinese Buddhism covers, both the scope of topics and numbers of citations have been limited. The vast corpus of secondary literature in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean languages has also been largely omitted. It should also be noted that no attention has been given here to doctrinal schools and developments, which will be covered in a separate bibliographic article on Chinese Buddhist doctrines and practices.

General Overviews

Currently existing overviews of Chinese Buddhism are few in number, restricted in scope, and dated in terms of scholarship. Still, some will suffice in providing a solid, basic orientation to the study of Chinese Buddhism, introducing major themes, figures, and developments. For the general reader, Wright 1959 provides a succinct and accessible overview. Based on a series of lectures delivered at the University of Chicago, Wright presents a captivating introduction to the importance of Buddhism in the Chinese context and its enduring appeal as a subject of study. For those seeking more depth, Ch’en 1964 provides rich and detailed coverage. While Ch’en’s attention to detail is admirable and his work continues to be unsurpassed, it suffers from its schematization of Chinese Buddhism and its lack of attention to later periods. Divided into successive periods of “growth and domestication,” “maturity and acceptance,” and “decline,” it focuses on the development of Buddhism leading up to the Tang period (618–906) as a “golden age,” followed by stagnation and inertia. Works like Gregory and Getz 1999, a series of articles devoted to various aspects of Buddhism in the Song dynasty (960–1279), have successfully challenged the suppositions assumed in Ch’en’s work regarding the alleged “decline” of Buddhism in China, even postulating that if any period deserved the sobriquet of “golden age,” it might be the Song dynasty rather than the Tang, but a general overview of Chinese Buddhism reflecting such perspectives has yet to be written. Other surveys tend to target specific periods prior to the Song, or to focus on particular themes. Zürcher 2007 is a masterful overview of early Buddhism in China from its inception until the 5th century and remains one of the seminal and influential works in the field. The same period is dealt with by Tsukamoto 1985. Contrasting with Zürcher’s model of an Indian Buddhist conquest of China, Ch’en 1973 invokes a model of Chinese assimilation and transformation, using a thematic rather than historical framework. Both models may be appropriate, depending on the period or periods one is dealing with. Gernet 1995 is a masterful account of the social and economic roles that Buddhism forged in China between the 5th and 10th centuries and remains valuable as a counterinterpretation of the impact that Buddhism had in China beyond strictly religious and intellectual areas.

  • Ch’en, Kenneth K. S. Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

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    For decades the standard introduction to Buddhism in China, this work provides a wealth of detail and insights into its historical development. Though dated in some respects, it remains the best single-volume source on the topic.

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  • Ch’en, Kenneth K. S. The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

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    Groundbreaking work emphasizing the “sinification” of Buddhism, emphasizing how Buddhism was assimilated and transformed in the Chinese context.

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  • Gernet, Jacques. Buddhism in Chinese Society: An Economic History from the Fifth to Tenth Centuries. Translated by Franciscus Verellen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

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    English translation of Les aspects économiques du bouddhisme dans la société du Ve au Xe siècle, published in 1956. Unprecedented in scope and influence, Gernet pioneered the use of Dunhuang materials to reveal hitherto-unknown social and economic aspects of Buddhism in China.

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  • Gregory, Peter N., and Daniel A. Getz, eds. Buddhism in the Sung. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999.

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    A groundbreaking volume of studies by various authors exploring the depth and range of Buddhism in the Song (Sung) dynasty. It also successfully challenged the dominant narrative that postulated the Tang dynasty as the apex of Buddhism in China.

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  • Tsukamoto, Zenryu. A History of Early Chinese Buddhism: From Its Introduction to the Death of Hui-Yuan. Translated by Leon Hurvitz. New York: Kodansha America, 1985.

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    Masterful work by a leading Japanese scholar of Chinese Buddhism, focusing on the reception and development of Buddhism in China in its first centuries.

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  • Wright, Arthur F. Buddhism in Chinese History. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959.

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    Succinct and accessible introduction. Provides a quick overview suitable for general readers.

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  • Zürcher, E. The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004156043.i-472Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published more than fifty years ago, this work remains fundamental to the study of early Buddhism in China. Originally published in 1959.

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Anthologies

There are no anthologies devoted specifically to the primary sources of Chinese Buddhism, but general anthologies of Chinese or Buddhist sources include sections on Chinese Buddhism. With the exception of Lopez 1996 and Strong 2007, the anthologies tend to treat Chinese Buddhism as a normative doctrinal system or philosophy and do not engage aspects of Buddhism as a lived system of ritual and practice, of worship and devotion, in which dreams, fantasies, and superstitions are credited as legitimate expressions of Buddhist religiosity. In spite of its merits, Lopez’s anthology eschews any strong narrative structure, leaving the reader with little to navigate through the jumble of interesting sources assembled. Strong’s comprehensive anthology provides translations of texts illustrative of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine as well as descriptive, concrete accounts of Buddhist practices, rituals, experiences, and life situations. The Buddhist sources pertaining to China in de Bary 1972 were excerpted from an earlier (1959) version of de Bary, et al. 2000. de Bary, et al. 2000 is superior to the earlier version of this work in that it augments the focus on Buddhism in China as a doctrinal system by adding new selections to highlight how Buddhism functions as a religious practice. Still, the focus is on Chinese Buddhism in earlier periods, with little indication of its influence beyond the Tang dynasty. As the titles for Chan 1969 and Fung 1973 indicate, the sources included pertain specifically to Chinese Buddhism as philosophical or doctrinal systems, and those interested in this approach will be well served by these volumes. The sources cited in these works are likewise confined to developments through the Tang dynasty, with no inclusion of sources beyond this period.

  • Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.

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    Standard introductory source book for students of Chinese philosophy; includes sections on Chinese Buddhist philosophy through the Tang dynasty.

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  • de Bary, William Theodore, ed. The Buddhist Tradition in India, China and Japan. New York: Random House, 1972.

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    Introduces Buddhist texts in translation, including a section devoted exclusively to China, but limited to materials from the introduction of Buddhism through the Tang period.

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  • de Bary, William Theodore, Irene Bloom, and Joseph Adler, eds. Sources of Chinese Tradition. Vol. 1, From Earliest Times to 1600. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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    Widely used and highly influential text used in Chinese history and culture courses devoted to the premodern period, with sections devoted to various aspects of Chinese Buddhism. Originally published in 1959.

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  • Fung, Yu-lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy. Vol. 2, The Period of Classical Learning. Translated by Derk Bodde. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

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    Reprint of the edition originally printed in 1952 (Vol. 1) and 1953 (Vol. 2), based on the Chinese version published by the Commercial Press, Shanghai, in 1934.

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  • Lopez, Donald S., ed. Religions of China in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

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    Broad survey of Chinese religions emphasizing practice over doctrine, and including a number of entries focused on Buddhism.

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  • Strong, John S., ed. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007.

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    Course reader designed to accompany university courses on Buddhism, including sections on Chinese Buddhism.

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The Chinese Buddhist Canon

Compendia of Chinese Buddhist scriptures are massive in scope and include thousands of texts compiled in scores of volumes (see the widely consulted electronic compendium CBETA: Chinese Buddhist Electronic Tripitaka Collection, in Chinese, as an example). These include both translated works from the Indian Buddhist traditions and commentaries originally written in Chinese, not to mention apocryphal sutras composed in Chinese but purporting to be based on a Sanskrit or other Indic language original, biographical collections of illustrious Chinese Buddhist monks, histories of Buddhism in China, travelogues by Buddhist pilgrims, and so on. Such compendia are typically arranged according to scripture (sutra) title and the name of doctrinal school. The “standard” version used by scholars and students remains the Tokyo version published in the early 20th century, currently available online through the SAT Daizōkyō Text Database. Lancaster 1979a provides a succinct overview of the Buddhist canon. The Bibliography of Translations from the Chinese Buddhist Canon into Western Languages provides an extensive list of works from the Chinese Buddhist canon translated into Western languages and is a useful guide to translation of specific works. In addition, BDK: Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism) is engaged in a project to translate one hundred works from the Chinese Buddhist canon into English. For a list of currently available titles, consult their website. While the descriptive catalogue produced by Lancaster 1979b pertains to the Korean Buddhist canon, the works listed overlap with the Chinese Buddhist canon. Online resources like Mahayana Buddhist Sutras in English provides access to many available English translations of Chinese Buddhist texts, but the standards are not always reliable and they should be used with caution.

Chinese Buddhist Scriptures

The impact of Buddhist scriptures was profoundly felt in China. In many Mahayana scriptures, cosmology and fantasy combined to create images of worlds that stretched the boundaries of human imagination. Communities of the Buddhist faithful developed around devotion to buddhas and bodhisattvas depicted with magical and supernatural powers.

Lotus Sutra

Among the most influential Mahayana sutras in China is the Lotus Sutra, which has been a classic throughout China and the broader East Asian Buddhist world since it was first translated into Chinese in the 3rd century. Among the available English translations of this classic are Watson 1993 and Reeves 2008, which are freer in their renderings, while Kubo and Yuyama 2007 and Hurvitz 2009 are distinguished by their more literal translation. Kim 1990 presents a study and translation of an influential commentary on the Lotus Sutra by an influential early Chinese master, Daosheng (Tao-sheng). Although the study of the Lotus Sutra has yet to receive the attention it deserves in English-language scholarship, the following works point to promising beginnings. Reeves 2003 is a rich collection of thirty essays by leading scholars, grouped according to an introductory section and sections on theological reflection and dialogue; philosophical reflection; Buddhism and society; the Lotus Sutra and Buddhist ethics; and particular issues. Tsukamoto 2007 explores the historical, social, and cultural factors that encouraged religious harmony and fostered establishment of the idea of integration in the Lotus Sutra. Teiser and Stone 2009 presents another group of essays by leading scholars on topics germane to the Lotus Sutra, ranging across expedient devices, gender and hierarchy, self-immolation, Buddhist practice, art, and realizing this world as a buddha-land.

Perfection of Wisdom Group (Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra)

The Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfection of Wisdom literature, had a seismic impact on the development of Buddhism and provided the philosophical foundations of the Mahayana tradition. Conze 1985 provides a full translation of the sutra from the Sanskrit, but it was the more succinct renditions from this body of literature, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, translated as Conze 2001, that had profound and lasting impact on Chinese and East Asian Buddhism. The Price and Wong Mou-lam 1974 translation is based on the Chinese, rather than the Sanskrit text. As an influential text in China, the Heart Sutra was the subject of numerous commentaries, and Kuiji 2001 provides a translation of one of these by a leading figure in medieval Chinese Buddhism. Of modern studies on the Heart Sutra, Nattier 1992 has had the greatest impact, even going so far as to challenge whether the text was originally composed in Sanskrit, suggesting the Heart Sutra was initiated in China as a formulation to encapsulate Perfection of Wisdom teachings for Chinese audiences (for more on this tendency, see the section on Apocrypha). Although drawing primarily from Indian and Tibetan commentaries, Lopez 1988 provides an authoritative reading and interpretation of the Heart Sutra’s contents.

Vimalakîrti Sūtra, Huayan Sūtra, Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and Pure Land Sutras

A number of Mahayana scriptures other than the Lotus Sutra and Perfection of Wisdom texts proved influential in the Chinese context. As various sutras were translated into Chinese, they assumed important positions in their new setting. A scripture that captured the imaginations of Chinese Buddhists was one in which the main protagonist, the layman Vimalakîrti, demonstrates his superior understanding of incomparable bodhisattva wisdom. This is a work with unparalleled appeal to Chinese lay gentry classes; Watson 2000 and McRae 2005 both provide authoritative translations of the contents of this scripture into English. The Huayan, or Flower Garland Sutra (Avataṃsaka Sūtra), like many Mahayana sutras, is a composite text drawn from a number of independent scriptures from diverse provenance. Among the distinguishing aspects of the Huayan Sūtra are chapters devoted to ten stages of bodhisattva practice, often designated as a separate text, the Ten Stages Sutra (Shidi jing, Daśabhūmika Sūtra), and the final chapter, the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, which follows the fifty-two-stage pilgrimage of Sudhana in his quest for supreme wisdom and its application. In addition, the Huayan Sūtra is well-known for revealing, through its cosmic vision, the interdependency of all phenomena. Cleary 1993 provides the only complete translation of this work, which served as the basis for one of Chinese Buddhism’s most philosophically oriented schools, the Huayan school. Another Mahayana scripture that proved influential was the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, which draws upon concepts from Yogācāra and tathāgata-garbha thought regarding the nature of consciousness, especially the primacy of the storehouse consciousness (Ālayavijñāna). As the alleged teaching transmitted by Bodhidharma, it is regarded as an important text in the Chan school and it is on this pretext that the author of Suzuki 2010 initially embarked on his translation. However, as a text it is firmly rooted in Mahayana thought, as Suzuki 1999 makes clear. Sutton 1990 provides a guide to its ontological and epistemological foundations in Yogācāra thought. Another group of scriptures that profoundly affected the development of Chinese and East Asian Buddhism are three texts collectively known as the Pure Land Sutras: the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, and the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra. These scriptures promise rebirth in the Western Pure Land (Sukhāvatī) for anyone professing faith in or performing good works and devoting their faith to the Buddha Amitābha. Along with the Lotus Sutra, the Pure Land Sutras sanctioned Mahayana faith based in religious devotion as a primary means of winning salvation, in contrast to the more intellectual, philosophical, and doctrinal approaches common to many other sutras. Inagaki 2003 contains the accepted translations of these three Pure Land Sutras; Ford, et al. 2006 includes a collection of essays by well-known scholars on the history of Pure Land and important aspects pertaining to its development.

Apocrypha

Some of the most important scriptures to the Chinese Buddhist tradition purport to be translations but were actually composed in China (in the Chinese language). As a general rule, apocryphal Chinese Buddhist scriptures allowed writers to interpret and adapt Buddhism to a Chinese context in order to address indigenous concerns in a more direct and appealing manner. Buswell 1990 is a collection of essays by leading scholars that remains the essential guide to this important category of writings. Regarding individual scriptures that have been particularly influential, there is the Awakening of Faith, available in the translation by Hakeda 2005, whose doctrine of two aspects of one mind had tremendous impact on philosophical and doctrinal developments in Chinese Buddhist schools. The authenticity of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra as a translation from Sanskrit has long been questioned, and many scholars today continue in the belief that it represents an apocryphal text. It is noted for advocating samadhi power and the importance of moral precepts as a foundation for Buddhist practice. Lammote 1998 remains the classic translation and study of this work, but see also McRae 1998 and Luk 2001. Because of the lack of a Sanskrit original, the Sutra of Benevolent Kings is also believed to be an apocryphal composition originating in China. In addition to providing a translation, Orzech 1998 emphasizes the use of the scripture for the exercise of political and military power, the temporal aims for which Buddhism has not often been noted but is increasingly recognized. Buswell 1989 is a translation and study of an important work in the Chinese Chan tradition. Though purporting to be written in Sanskrit, it has long been considered a Chinese composition, but Buswell carries this even further, arguing that it was originally composed by a Korean Chan devotee.

Sui and Tang Dynasties’ Buddhism

The development of Buddhism in China reached its first major culmination in the Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties. By this point, Buddhism in China had existed for several hundred years, the major Buddhist scriptures had been translated into the Chinese language, and major Indian Mahayana schools had been transmitted and transplanted to Chinese soil. As Wright 1957 points out, rulers of the Sui dynasty, who reunited China after centuries of division, shrewdly used Buddhism as an ideological basis for their rule. The interplay between monks and monarchs, and notions of kinship and kingship are explored more deeply in the Sui context by Chen 2002. The fact that Buddhism maintained an important presence in Chinese society even prior to the Sui dynasty is provided in Yang 1984, Wang’s translation of a major document of Chinese history and literature, which describes the situation of Buddhist monasteries in China’s capital, Loyang, in the earlier part of the 6th century. For a previous generation of scholars, the Tang dynasty (618–907) represented the undisputed flowering of Chinese Buddhism and its “golden age.” Although this characterization is now disputed, none will deny the important role that Buddhism played in the Tang or the important role the Tang played in the development of Chinese Buddhism. The major schools, practices, and movements that came to define Chinese Buddhism are virtually all rooted in the Tang. Because of this reputation and importance, the Tang period has been a major era of scholarly focus until recently. This section is able to focus only on highlights of scholarship on this period. For an overview, Weinstein 1987 provides an accurate and detailed account of Buddhism in the Tang, focusing on political and institutional aspects based on Chinese dynastic histories and Buddhist records, with special emphasis on the vicissitudes in the relationship between the central government and the Buddhist establishment. An earlier influential work, Weinstein 1973, provides a focused account of the role imperial patronage played in the development of Tang Buddhism’s major doctrinal schools. Forte 1976 offers a very specific investigation of the use of Buddhism for the uses of political propaganda and ideology under the reign of Empress Wu. Forte 1988 investigates how notions of Buddhist utopia influenced Empress Wu’s (r. 690–705) construction of imperial symbols of power, while Paul 1980 provides a more general analysis of the ways that the controversial figure of Empress Wu, China’s only official female ruler, has been interpreted in China. Gregory 1991 contextualizes Tang Buddhism in terms of a sinification model, with a focus on the important Tang Buddhist figure Zongmi (Tsung-mi).

  • Chen, Jinhua. Monks and Monarchs, Kinship and Kingship: Tanqian in Sui Buddhism and Politics. Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale, 2002.

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    Detailed investigation into the role played by an influential monk in the intersection of the Buddhist religion and politics during the Sui.

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  • Forte, Antonino. Political Propaganda and Ideology in China at the End of the Seventh Century: Inquiry into the Nature, Authors and Function of the Tunhuang Document S.6502 Followed by an Annotated Translation. Naples, Italy: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1976.

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    A specific investigation of the use of Buddhism for the uses of political propaganda and ideology under the reign of Empress Wu.

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  • Forte, Antonino. Mingtang and Buddhist Utopias in the History of the Astronomical Clock: The Tower, Statue and Armillary Sphere Constructed by Empress Wu. Rome: Istituto Italiana per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1988.

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    An in-depth study of the political machinations associated with construction projects sponsored by the pro-Buddhist monarch Empress Wu.

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  • Gregory, Peter N. Tsung-Mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    An assessment of the life and work of a leading Tang Buddhist literatus, against the background of developments in Chinese Buddhism and imminent changes that it is facing.

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  • Paul, Diana. “Empress Wu and the Historians: A Tyrant and Saint of Classical China.” In Unspoken Worlds: Women’s Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures. Edited by Nancy Falk and Rita Gross, 191–206. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

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    A study emphasizing Empress Wu’s dual identity in Confucian and Buddhist terms: usurping tyrant versus pious and generous religious patron.

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  • Weinstein, Stanley. “Imperial Patronage in the Formation of T’ang Buddhism.” In Perspectives on the Tang. Edited by Arthur F. Wright and Denis Twitchett, 265–306. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973.

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    An important study linking the development of important Buddhist doctrinal schools to the imperial support on which they were based.

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  • Weinstein, Stanley. Buddhism under the T’ang. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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    A detailed sketch of the history of Buddhism during one of its most illustrious periods, with a focus on political and institutional aspects.

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  • Wright, Arthur F. “The Formation of Sui Ideology.” In Chinese Thought & Institutions. Edited by John K. Fairbank, 71–104. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

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    Seminal study by a leading sinologist that explores the political uses of Buddhism by Sui dynasty monarchs.

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  • Yang, Hsuan-chih. A Record of Buddhist Monasteries in Lo-Yang. Translated by Yi-t’ung Wang. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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    Though written prior to the Sui dynasty, this work is a translation of a major source describing Buddhist institutions in the Chinese capital.

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Five Dynasties and Song Dynasty Buddhism

Until recently, Buddhism after the Tang dynasty was often thought to be marginal to the important developments that preceded it. Regarded as a period of “decline” or “stagnation,” Buddhism during the Song dynasty (960–1278) was little discussed until recently. Studies of Song dynasty Buddhism have focused particularly on the effect that patronage patterns have had and connections between Buddhism and literati culture. The best single-volume introduction to Song Buddhism is Gregory and Getz 1999, which includes a broad array of focused studies by leading scholars. Gimello 1992 was among the first Western works of scholarship to note the ways in which literati Buddhism impacted broader notions of Chinese culture in the Northern Song. Grant 1994 also investigates the importance of Buddhism in one of the Song’s leading literati figures, Su Shi (Su Shih). Yu 1989 discusses the process and procedures involved in Chan Buddhist education in the Song dynasty. While the Five Dynasties (907–960) is an important period in the lauded Tang-Song transition, the role of Buddhism has received little attention, except for Welter 2006, which charts how Chan Buddhism flourished under the patronage of several rulers of independent and quasi-independent southern kingdoms in the 10th century, and how patronage patterns influenced imperial support for Chan Buddhism in the early Song dynasty. Huang 1994 also pays special attention to the role played by Buddhism in the policies of early Song emperors. Welter 1999 discusses how a leading Buddhist at the early Song court responded to the rising tide of Confucian and anti-Buddhist sentiment. Halperin 2006 challenges notions of Confucian antipathy toward Buddhism during the Song by exposing the importance of Buddhism in literati writings during the period.

  • Gimello, Robert. “Mârga and Culture: Learning, Letters, and Liberation in Northern Sung Ch’an.” In Paths to Liberation: The Mârga and Its Transformations in Buddhist Thought. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Robert M. Gimello, 371–437. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1992.

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    Pioneering effort exploring the effects of literati Buddhism on Chinese literati culture.

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  • Grant, Beata. Mount Lu Revisited: Buddhism in the Life and Writings of Su Shih. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1994.

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    An investigation of one of the Song dynasty’s leading literati Buddhist figures.

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  • Gregory, Peter N., and Daniel A. Getz, eds. Buddhism in the Sung. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999.

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    A groundbreaking volume of studies by various authors exploring the depth and range of Buddhism in the Song (Sung) dynasty. It also successfully challenged the dominant narrative that postulated the Tang dynasty as the apex of Buddhism in China.

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  • Halperin, Mark. Out of the Cloister: Literati Perspectives on Buddhism in Sung China, 960–1279. Harvard East Asian Monographs 272. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006.

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    An important study that challenges notions of literati antipathy toward Buddhism by showing a wide-ranging appreciation of Buddhism throughout literati writings.

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  • Huang, Chi-chiang. “Imperial Rulership and Buddhism in the Early Northern Sung.” In Imperial Rulership and Cultural Change in Traditional China. Edited by Frederick P. Brandauer and Chun-chieh Huang, 144–187. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.

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    A study of the importance of Buddhism in the policies of early Song dynasty emperors.

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  • Welter, Albert. “A Buddhist Response to the Confucian Revival: Tsan-ning and the Debate over Wen in the Early Sung.” In Buddhism in the Sung. Edited by Peter N. Gregaory and Daniel A. Getz, 21–61. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999.

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    A study of the contribution of a leading literati Buddhist to debates over the role of Buddhism in Chinese society and culture during the early Song dynasty.

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  • Welter, Albert. Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Investigates the nexus between Buddhist monks, secular rulers, and prominent literati in the promotion of Chan Buddhism among various southern regions during the Five Dynasties period, and in the early Song dynasty.

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  • Yu, Chun-fang. “Ch’an Education in the Sung: Ideals and Procedures.” In Neo-Confucian Education: The Formative Stage. Edited by William Theodore de Bary and Jonathon W. Chaffee. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

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    A study of the process and procedures involved in Chan Buddhist education in the Song dynasty.

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Yuan and Ming Dynasties’ Buddhism

Buddhism in the Yuan and Ming dynasties represents a study in contrasts. The Yuan dynasty brought a non-Han group to the Chinese throne, as the Mongols made China a cornerstone of its vast Asiatic empire. During the Yuan dynasty, Mongol emperors made Esoteric Buddhism an official religion of China, and the prevailing, established Han form of Chan Buddhism struggled to compete with Tibetan lamas at court for patronage. Jan 1982 describes how Chan forged relations with Confucians and other schools of Buddhism in an attempt to maintain its status, while internally focusing on monastic discipline and compilations that augmented its literary heritage. Yü 1982, however, focuses on an individual Chan monk during the Yuan who eschewed all political appointments and honors, remaining steadfast to the silent espousal of Buddhist truth cherished in the Chan tradition. Liu and Berling 1982, an exploration of three-teachings syncretism during the Yuan, includes a discussion of Buddhist proponents. When the Yuan dynasty was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established, Tibetan lamas were banished from the Ming court and Chan was reestablished as the preeminent form of Buddhism. Unfortunately, there is no overview of Ming Buddhism yet available in English. Brook 1994 signaled a novel approach, using temple gazetteers to examine the patterns and social consequences of patronage; exploring the relation of Buddhism to Ming Neo-Confucianism; and looking at the popularity of tours to Buddhist sites and the mechanisms and motives for charitable donations in three widely separated and economically dissimilar counties. Wu 2008 is a comprehensive study of the revival of Chan Buddhism in the late Ming, focusing on a series of controversies about Chan enlightenment through which Chan reemerged as the most prominent Buddhist establishment of the time. Hsu 1979, Berling 1980, and Yü 1981 are all highly focused studies that contextualize the life and thought of important Ming Buddhist figures.

  • Berling, Judith A. The Syncretic Religion of Lin Chao-en. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

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    A pioneering work that considers Buddhism in the context of “three teachings” (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) syncretism in the Chinese cultural context.

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  • Brook, Timothy. Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

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    Case studies of how Buddhism functioned in Chinese society, based on an examination of temple gazetteers showing patterns of patronage, relations to Neo-Confucianism, Buddhist tourism, and motive for charitable donations.

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  • Hsu, Sung-Peng. A Buddhist Leader in Ming China: The Life and Thought of Han-shan Te-ch’ing, 1546–1623. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979.

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    An exploration of the life and thought of an important Ming dynasty Buddhist figure.

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  • Jan, Yün-hua. “Chinese Buddhism in Ta-tu: The New Situation and the New Problems.” In Yuan Thought: Chinese Thought and Religion under the Mongols. Edited by Hok-lam Chan and William Theodore de Bary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

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    Discusses how Chan forged relations with Confucians and other schools of Buddhism in an attempt to maintain its status, while internally focusing on monastic discipline and compilations that augmented its literary heritage.

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  • Liu, Ts’un-yan, and Judith Berling. “The ‘Three Teachings’ in the Mongol-Yüan Period.” In Yuan Thought: Chinese Thought and Religion under the Mongols. Edited by Hok-lam Chan and William Theodore de Bary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

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    Investigates “three-teaching” ideology in the Yuan period, including a discussion of the Buddhist role.

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  • Wu, Jiang. Enlightenment in Dispute: The Reinvention of Chan Buddhism in Seventeenth-Century China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Investigates the revival of Chan Buddhism in the late Ming dynasty, through a series of controversies over the nature of enlightenment.

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  • Yü, Chun-Fang. The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-Hung and the Late Ming Synthesis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

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    An exploration of the life and thought of an important Buddhist figure, whose syncretic ideas influenced the revival of Buddhism in the late Ming dynasty.

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  • Yü, Chung-Fang. “Zhongfeng Mingben and Chan Buddhism in the Yuan.” In Yuan Thought: Chinese Thought and Religion under the Mongols. Edited by Hok-lam Chan and William Theodore de Bary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

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    Focuses on the activity of a Chan monk who eschewed honor and political associations to remain true to his Buddhist calling.

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Qing Dynasty Buddhism

Scholarship on Buddhism in the Qing Dyansty is largely undeveloped. There are no overviews of Buddhism during this period, and the studies that we do have tend to be piecemeal. Although imperial Manchu patronage of Buddhism in the Qing is often dismissed as nothing more than politically motivated necessity, Berger 2003 suggests that the large volume of Buddhist painting, sculpture, and decorative arts produced by court artists for distribution throughout the empire during this period is connected to Buddhist presumptions of the Qing view of rulership. In doing so, Berger demonstrates the importance these images had in the carefully thought-out rhetoric the court directed toward Buddhist allies in inner Asia. Wang 2000 (based on the author’s 1995 dissertation) investigates the connection between Tibetan Buddhism and China’s imperial rule during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736–1795). Chan 1985 is a study of the political and cultural implications of Buddhism during the crucial intellectual transition period of the late Qing, with a particular emphasis on the influential figure Tan Sitong (b. 1865–d. 1898). Goossaert 2006 shows how later antisuperstition campaigns affecting Buddhism echo proposals and policies put forward in the final years of the Qing.

Chinese Buddhism in the Modern Era

The end of the Qing dynasty marked a major transformation in Chinese culture and society, and this transformation had an equally significant impact on Chinese Buddhism. Buffeted between the modernizing impulses of science and Westernization, on the one hand, and campaigns to rid China of superstition and clericalism, on the other, Buddhism struggled to find a footing in the new milieu. This has become one of the most interesting and active areas of scholarship on Chinese Buddhism in recent years. Though dated by recent developments that could not have been anticipated, all subsequent studies are indebted to the pioneering works by Welch 1967, outlining significant trends in the practice of Chinese Buddhism in the first half of the 20th century, and Welch 1972, describing the challenges facing Buddhism under the strictures of Mao’s antireligious policies. Pittman 2001 focuses on Master Taixu (b. 1890–d. 1947), the most important and controversial Chinese Buddhist reformer of the 20th century, who, in spite of being harshly criticized by conservative Buddhists and discounted by secular humanists, forged a modern socially engaged form of Buddhism that proved to be highly influential. Aviv 2008 explores the rise of Buddhist scholasticism in a study of the outspoken lay leader and critic of the East Asian Buddhist tradition Ouyang Jingwu (b. 1871–d. 1943), whose critical approach to Buddhist sources caused conflict even with progressive Buddhists like Taixu. Tarocco 2008 connects Buddhism of the Republican period with the late Qing, arguing that rather than declining, Buddhism remained a powerful cultural and religious force. Tarocco’s innovative approach draws on historical and archival sources, including photographs and musical scores, scarcely taken into account. Clower 2010 explores the interesting case of Mou Zongsan (b. 1909–d. 1995), a seminal figure in modern Chinese philosophical, religious, and intellectual history, who proclaimed that the key concepts of his New Confucianism were drawn from Tiantai Buddhist philosophy. Clower investigates Mou’s writings on Buddhism in the context of his larger body of work, suggesting how and why he incorporated Buddhist ideas into his system of thought. Tuttle 2007 is another innovative study that challenges the way conflicts between the modern Chinese state and Tibet have been characterized, showing the important role that Buddhism and Buddhist leaders played in the development of the modern Chinese state, fostering relations between Tibet and China from the Republican period to the early years of Communist rule. Recently, a Database of Modern Chinese Buddhism, hosted by Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taiwan, which provides comprehensive access to the major figures, publications, institutions, and so forth, of modern Chinese Buddhism has been created, focusing on the period 1850–1950. Although not fully developed at this writing, this database promises to be a major resource for interested students for years to come.

Buddhism in Taiwan

Buddhism has existed in Taiwan since the Ming dynasty, but it is only in the modern period, especially after the relocation of Nationalists to the island from 1949, that it has become a major center of Chinese Buddhism. During the 1980s, Buddhist leaders successfully petitioned the government to relax prohibitions against Buddhist institutions of higher learning. This led to the development of a number of prominent Buddhist universities, and Taiwan is now regarded as an important center for Chinese Buddhist studies. The authors of Jones 1999 and Laliberté 2004 offer complementary historical works. Jones looks at the institutional and political history of Chinese Buddhism in Taiwan from the Qing dynasty through the late 1980s, shedding light on how changing social circumstances impacted Buddhist thought and practice and addressing changes that have accompanied modernization: the decline in clerical ordinations, the increasing prominence of nuns within the monastic order, the enhanced role of the laity, alterations in the content of lay precepts, the abandonment of funerals as a major source of income, the monastic order’s loss of special recognition from the government, and the founding of large, international organizations. Laliberté explores the influence of religion on politics in Taiwan from the late 1980s to 2003, examining how major Buddhist organizations responded to recent political events. Other works investigate specific Taiwanese Buddhist organizations. Chandler 2004 examines the internal dynamics of the Foguangshan (Buddha Light) organization, which has translated its political and business connections into a major international Buddhist network based on Humanistic Buddhism. Huang 2009 likewise provides an examination of Ciji (Tzu Chi) movement and its foundation devoted to compassionate relief efforts, which are the trademark of this group and its founder, the charismatic nun Zhengyan. DeVido 2010 provides a broader description of how Taiwanese Buddhism shapes and is shaped by women. Sheng Yen 2008 is a spiritual autobiography of the late founder of the Dharma Drum Buddhist organization, another of Taiwan’s leading Buddhist groups. Madsen 2007 connects these organizations collectively to Taiwan’s transition to democracy and the burgeoning needs of its new middle classes.

New Approaches

A few noteworthy studies have opened new avenues for the study of Chinese Buddhism. Rather than idiosyncrasies, these works are likely harbingers of future directions in scholarship. Sen 2003, an examination of relations between China and India, includes Buddhist-dominated themes, before turning attention to commerce-centered exchanges. Kieschnick 2003 extends our knowledge of the influence of Chinese Buddhism even further beyond the normal range of religious and intellectual concerns with his overview of its impact on Chinese material culture. Though not an overview of Chinese Buddhism, strictly speaking, Sharf 2002 challenges the “sinification” model that dominates the study of Chinese Buddhism, providing a penetrating and trenchant critique of common approaches to the discipline, with suggestions on how Chinese Buddhist studies might be reoriented.

  • Kieschnick, John. The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

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    Kieschnick’s work offers a refreshing departure by emphasizing the profound effect Buddhism had on the material world of the Chinese, arguing that the use of mundane objects not normally associated with Buddhism—bridges, tea, the chair—were shaped by Buddhist practices and ideas.

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  • Sen, Tansen. Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003.

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    Examines relations between China and India through the shift from Buddhist-dominated concerns in the Tang dynasty to commerce-centered exchanges in the Song and Ming dynasties.

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  • Sharf, Robert H. Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise. Studies in East Asian Buddhism 14. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002.

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    In spite of its narrow subject matter, this work challenges many of the leading assumptions in the study of Chinese Buddhism and stands out for the methodological proposals it puts forth for the field as a whole.

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LAST MODIFIED: 03/19/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0143

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