A Review of the Buddhist History and Current State of Buddhism in China

By Buddhistdoor International Chow Kooi Su
Buddhistdoor Global | 2013-04-17 |
Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.
Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.
Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.Seated Guanyin (Kuan-yin) Bodhisattva - Walters 2525, from commons.wikimedia.org.
Editor's note: This feature was first published in the now-retired Bodhi Journal, Issue 3, April 2007. 


The efflorescence of Chinese Buddhism reached its summit during the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E). Buddhism was syncretized with Taoism and Confucianism during the Sung dynasty (979-1279 C.E). The syncretism generated the philosophy of Neo-confucianism by which Buddhist transcendental wisdom is established upon the mundane knowledge which stresses inter-personal relationship  and concern for society and government. The central Chinese figures, who expounded  Neo-confucianism, were Chu Hsi (1130-1200C.E) and Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529 C.E). Neo-confucianism  represented the highest level of the efflorescence of the Chinese Philosophy. The emperors of imperialChina, who consulted the Neo-confucian bureaucrats, were rulers of great virtue and governed  their respective kingdoms righteously constructing wellbeing  and prosperity for the populace. The Chinese Cultural revolution (1966-68), Christian evangelization and Islamic resurgence had subsequently diluted and made these three pillars of Chinese philosophy almost dormant for quite some time. Fortunately, the modern Chinese leadership is no longer doctrinaire communist. The resurgence of Chinese Buddhism is akin to perceiving the light at the end of the tunnel.
Traditionally, the Chinese culture emphasizes the importance of good education and training. The Chinese literature, enriched with the Chinese  philosophy and Buddhist wisdom, have helped in the development of Chinese savants or intelligentsia which are valuable human resources. These Chinese savants contribute enormous benefits to China and the world. This is mirrored through the thriving economic success of overseas Chinese hitherto and now the mainland Chinese too experience the boom. The Indian Buddhism has been harmoniously syncretised into Chinese civilization or culture. Buddhism is part and parcel of Chinese culture. The Chinese describe the interrelationship with  the metaphor of water and milk.   
Buddhist Civilization Rekindled
The greatest treasure or asset of  Buddhist philosophy  is education in  wisdom  and the resultant virtue from the product of Buddhist enlightenment . An intuitive apprehension or a discernment of Buddhist philosophy help the Buddhist practitioners  comprehend the abstruse points of Chinese philosophical scriptures or classics of Taoism and Confucianism, such as Tao Te ChingGreat Learning and Doctrine of Mean. Without Buddhist insight or wisdom, the abstruse  esoteric dimension of Chinese philosophy  is beyond the apprehension of the ordinary worldlings except the intelligentsia or the savants.    
The Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwanese Chinese, the Singaporean Chinese, the Koreans and Japanese have capitalized on the Buddhist or Neo-confucian wisdom, which was the ancient Chinese civilization, to raise their standard of living through the construction of economic affluence. The Chinese in mainland China now  realize that it is unwise to discard Chinese ancient civilization or wisdom which have worked out so excellently  outside mainland China. This rekindles the interest in the resurgence of Chinese Buddhism.
Foreign Dharma Exponents
Resurgence of Chinese Buddhism has since rekindled the popularity of Chan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and other sects of Buddhism. The internationally celebrated Taiwanese Chan master, Ven. Sheng Yan has been invited lately to deliver key lectures on  Buddhism in China. The world renowned  Ven. Jin Kong, a great exponent of Pure land Buddhism has also been invited. Great master, Ven Hsing Yun hailing also from Taiwanhave also been invited. It evidences the resurgence of Chinese Buddhism in the midst of Chinese economic reformation and affluence.

The first international Buddhist seminar themed ‘ Buddhism   and World Harmony’ was organized and conducted in 
China for the first time in 2006. The welcoming address in the opening ceremony by a  senior Chinese Religious Affairs official  mirrors that the Chinese authorities are increasingly more  friendly towards the growth of Chinese Buddhism  as they recognize the contribution of Buddhism towards world peace and harmony. In the same year, The World Buddhist Forum (WBF) was also held there.
Resurgence of Buddhism
Wei-zhi (?߷O), a Chinese writer,  has composed a number of  Buddhist texts on Modern Chinese Buddhism. One of the Buddhist texts composed by her is known as ‘The Resurgence of Chinese Buddhism’ (??????Ъ??_??). A glimpse into the text would aid the readers to perceive the current state of  Buddhism in China.
The Resurgence of Chinese Buddhism’ deals with many current issues pertaining to the development of Chinese Buddhism today. Her work touches on diverge Buddhist activities organized and carried out in the mainland China.  Her Buddhist literature  reveals that the members of the  Chinese monastic community or Sangha are currently provided with proper Dhamma education infra-structure together with  other essential facilities and services. The monks and nuns acquire their Buddhist diplomas and degrees throughBuddhistColleges and universities  in mainland China. Proper Buddhist education and training help tremendously in the human resource training of more qualified monks and nuns to manage the temples and monasteries and to propagate the authentic tenet of ??kyamuni Buddha.
Wei Zhi’s work also unveils  the intense struggles among members of the Chinese Buddhist Association (CBA) to win leadership posts  in the CBA. The struggles mirror the concern, enthusiasm and commitment of many monks, nuns and lay Buddhists in strengthening and protecting  the interest of Chinese Buddhism. Even the lay Buddhists aspire to play important roles to help in the Dhamma education . The influence of Communist government on the resurgence of Chinese Buddhism is also elucidated  by Wei Zhi. The transformation of Chinese Buddhism under the influence of Chinese  Communism is also narrated . The history of the development of Chinese Buddhism is also elucidated  with respect to the 30 years of development of Chinese Buddhism prior to the victory of Chinese communism in 1949. Wei Zhi also scrutinizes and analyses the Chinese Buddhism from the western perspective of religious sociology. Comparative studies of religions in relation to Chinese Buddhism are incorporated into her Buddhist literature too. The repairs, reconstruction and expansion of Buddhist temples and monasteries  are also described  .The social welfare activities of the members of Sangha and the relationship between Sangha and politics  are also expounded therein. International social relationships between China and other Buddhists and non-Buddhists  are enunciated and they encompass the following social transactions:

·         Social intercourse with the Japanese Buddhists
·         Social intercourse with the Tibetan Buddhists
·         Social intercourse with the Christians
·         Conversion of Christians into Buddhists
·         Social interactions with overseas Chinese
·         Buddhist schools or sects and their schisms
·         Humanistic Buddhist movement of Tai Xiu
Tai Xiu’s Humanistic Buddhism
The most important Buddhist reform movement which activated the resurgence of Chinese Buddhism in the 20th century C.E in China was the Humanistic Buddhist movement(?H??????) initiated and activated  by  Ven. Tai Xiu (?ӵ??j?v1889-1947). His movement was supported  by the Buddhist community as well as by  the general public. He initiated mental revolution in the proper approach to understanding and implementing Buddhist thought when he expounded humanistic Buddhism. Humanistic Buddhism has exerted great   impact on the current state of Chinese Buddhism as the Chinese authorities are more concerned about the harmonizing and stabilizing function of Buddhism to construct  social harmony and national unity.
Humanistic Buddhism focuses on personal development in the mundane world for the benefit of oneself and others dwelling in the secular society. He founded  Buddhist studies centre and published Buddhist newspapers to propagate humanistic Buddhism. Although he had not fully realized his aspiration of  Buddhist revolution with respect to the establishment of Humanistic Buddhism, his innovative thought and revolution had left a deep imprint  on  the minds of Dharma protectors and supporters of current Chinese Buddhism. Humanistic Buddhism is Mahayana-based or wisdom-based. Wisdom should be developed to regulate one’s life. It should be utilized  to destroy attachment and aversion in the midst of all mundane activities. There is no necessity to escape from secularity or mundane living.  The Humanistic Buddhist  movement of Tai Xiu recommended and advocated Buddhist research, Dhamma investigation,   practice and propagation with emphasis on fulfilling the following humanistic objectives :
·         Personal development of an individual
·         Improvement of individual and social life
·         Success in this world and the hereafter
·         Elevating ethical development
·         Perfection of Human being towards  Buddhahood
·         Harmonious relationship between secular life and Religion
·         Harmonious relationship between Buddhism and the state
·         Improvement of the quality of life in terms of politics, economy, technology, culture and so on
·         Utilizing supramundane  wisdom to improve mundane wisdom
·         Contribution to human civilization with respect to spiritual development, ethical development and preservation of world peace.
Father of Resurrection
Yong Ren Sun, a lay Chinese Buddhist practitioner and worker, is the father of resurrection of Chinese Buddhism. His dharma activities helped in the resurgence of Chinese Buddhism. The activities, promoted by him and his supporters, are enumerated as follows :
·         Carving of the Sutras
·         Publication of  the Sutras
·         Preaching of true Dharma
·         Developing Dharma speakers
·         Research and investigation of Dharma
·         Expounding all the eight Schools of Chinese Buddhism
·         Constructing harmony and unity in society
·         Constructing stability and peace in the world
History has evidenced that the propagation of Dharma requires the enormous supports of the  affluent merchants or businessmen. This is equally applicable today. Currently, China has generated many wealthy millionaires and billionaires from the increasing economic cake of modern China. The thriving Chinese economy enables the wealthy millionaires and billionaires to contribute to the resurrection of Chinese Buddhism. Annually, millions of overseas Chinese, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, have donated generously to the Chinese temples and monasteries when they visit them as some of the important tourist destinations or attractions.
References  and recommended  readings:
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