Buddhism in China Throughout The Centuries

When one thinks of Buddhism, India and Thailand usually come to mind. However, did you know that buddhism is the one of the main religions in China? As we realise that it is not common knowledge that Buddhism is rampant in China, we have decided to focus on buddhism in china, how it came about and the common practices, so as to shed light on how far buddhism has reached China.

Historians came to a conclusion that in the Qin dynasty,  Buddhism was meant to be eradicated in a bid by the then reigning emperor. Different parts of China after the fall of the Han Empire had some form of interaction with Buddhism. This led to the greater form of influence that later spread to other parts of Asia. Buddhism was a main religion by itself, but there were different interpretations of how Buddhism should be practiced. The teachings of Buddhism also changed along with the translation to the Chinese language, henceforth making it pretty tricky should one wish to trace Buddhism back to its roots. The religion itself was a controversial topic as some rulers were either for or against the practices that came along with the religion. Any practices and holy shrines that were dedicated to Buddhism were destroyed to make people lose their faith and belief in the religion.


However, practices in China developed over time as the Chinese believed in the phenomena(s) they witnessed to be attributed to religion. For example, in the Shang Dynasty, the people believed greatly in using Divination was a way of defining their lives, even the Shang Emperor himself believed in the use of using Divination as a guide for ruling his nation. Fast forward to 1233, Genghis Khan allowed Taoist leader Ch’ang Ch’un exemption from any form of taxes. Imperial orders outweighed Taoist texts, and this resulted in Buddhism branching out as a form of Taoism practice.


The foundational belief in Buddhism states that materialism is a sin, and only with the complete eradication of greed for materialistic things in life, then can we truly attain enlightenment and happiness. Reincarnation is also seen as a strong belief in this religion, where life after death is seen as possible, and judgement comes from the way you behave in your current life. As quoted by the Scripture of Filiality (453- 221 BCE), judgement factors were how you took care of your health and the treatment that you gave others. “Do unto others how you would wish others would do unto you.” Sounds familiar? That’s how the word, “Karma” came about. But that’s a story for another day.

The scripture believes that the actions of our current life is important as it determines how we glorify our ancestors, and that life is much more than the family bloodline we see in our current lives.

Evidence dating back to the Shang period (c.1500-1050 BCE) points in the direction of Chinese being highly respectful of their ancestors, and that this respect was so great that it bordered on fear. Historians derived this to be the main reason being behind the belief that humans had many souls. This line of thought further expanded in the the Zhou Dynasty (1050-256 BCE), where the yin-yang theory first came about. This belief was such that our existence was based on a spectrum between passive and active forces in the environment. Philosophers further understood this theory of Yin and Yang both being souls, with Yin being more superficial and Yang being celestial. In simpler terms, Yin(po), was seen as our physical self, which ended at the grave, and Yang(hun), was seen more of where our souls ended up after death.


A particular source, “Records of Rituals” also known as Liji, was categorised under one of Confucianism’s “Five Scriptures” during the Han Era (206 BCE-220CE), and this later became one of the most influential books in history. The standardisation of funeral rites was dated back to this book, and according to James Watson, the rites were a distinctive Chinese trait and practice in how they marked their territories in the past.

So, we can see from the entire chronology, even though practices may have changed over time, the beliefs from the past have changed little or close to no changes at all. Although buddhism in china has played a dominant role in its culture, it is still a major belief in guiding people's lives and history.