From India to China
A Buddhist artist carved this wooden Buddha in Western China, on the Silk Road, before Buddhism really reached central China. At this time China was broken up into a lot of smaller kingdoms, so there wasn’t anybody really trying to stop the new religion.
Buddhist monasteries in China
Soon there were a lot more people following Buddhism in China than in India. In China, even more than in India, most Buddhist people continued to lead more or less ordinary lives, but some Buddhist men and women left their jobs and their families in order to live in Buddhist monasteries as monks or nuns.
Zen comes from the Sanskrit (Indian) word dhyana, which means “meditation,” but the Chinese philosophy of Taoism might also be an influence on Zen. Zen philosophy emphasizes meditation and experience instead of words and explanations: learning by doing.
Buddhism reaches Korea
T’ang Dynasty Buddhism
Many of the powerful women at the T’ang court supported the Buddhist monasteries and helped them get tax exemptions and gave the monasteries money and land. The poet Bai Juyi was a Buddhist in a powerful position at the T’ang court. Buddhist ideas changed the traditional Chinese Qingming festival so that it became more about visiting your ancestors’ graves.
Persecution of Buddhists
But around the end of the T’ang Dynasty, in 845 AD, the Chinese emperor Wuzong turned against Buddhism. He started out persecuting Uighur refugees, who were Manichaeans, but soon the persecution spread to include other foreign religions – Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Buddhism (but not Islam).
Emperor Wuzong wanted all Chinese people to be Taoists. Buddhism was an especially good target because the Buddhist monasteries and temples were so rich, and when Emperor Wuzong destroyed them he got to keep their money. Emperor Wuzong’s troops killed many Buddhist monks and nuns, and destroyed many Buddhist monasteries and temples, artwork and books.
Song Dynasty Buddhism
Buddhism and the Mongols
In the 1200s AD Kublai Khan forced China to be part of the Mongol Empire. Kublai Khan favored Islam and traditional Chinese gods over Buddhism. But when the Mongol Empire collapsed, in the 1300s, the Ming Dynasty emperors were Buddhists again, and Buddhism was again very strong in China.