Buddhism was first brought to China somewhere around 500 AD. It came from India and then spanned through Central Asia along the Silk Road — an ancient network of trade and culture routes in Asia that connected the West and the East and sold many things like herbs and spices. Below are some interesting facts and information about how Buddhism in China began and grew.
- China was broken up in many smaller kingdoms in ancient times, which means that was no organized opposition to this new religion.
- Buddhism continued to grow in China while in India, more and more people were turning to Hinduism instead.
- Not long after this, most Buddhists were in China and not in India where it began.
- Most Chinese Buddhists continued to live their lives normally, but some men and women who were more dedicated to the practice of Buddhism left their families and their jobs to become monks or nuns — choosing to live in Buddhist monasteries.
- After Buddhism came to China it began to evolve into another practice — Zen Buddhism. Zen comes from the Indian word dhyana which means meditation. This practice was to emphasize meditation and experiences instead of using words or explanations.
- Many Zen monks and nuns would meditate in silence, often taking week, month, or even year long vows of silence.
- In the 600’s AD Zen Buddhism became the primary form of Buddhist practice under the T’ang Dynasty. Huge monasteries were built in China to house many monks and nuns.
- The monasteries received tax exemptions and money or land from the powerful people in the T’ang court. Bai Juyi, a famous poet, was a Buddhist who held a high position in the courts and was able to support the movement.
- In 845 AD the T’ang Dynasty was at its end and the emperor of China, Wuzong turned against Buddhism. He wanted all Chinese people to be Taoists and began to persecute those of all religions, including Manichaeism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Buddhism.
- Emperor Wuzong was able to take the money and riches of the Buddhist monasteries and temples he destroyed and his armies killed many monks and nuns, along with destroying the temples, artworks and books.
- The persecution stopped with the emperor died and Buddhism began to increase in popularity once again.
- In the 1100’s under the Sung Dynasty, the majority of people were Buddhists and Zen Buddhism was also very popular.