History of Buddhisms in China

Albert Welter

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
History of Buddhisms in China


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.

Article.  8805 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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