The translation of a large body of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and the inclusion of these translations together with Taoist and Confucian works composed in China into a printed canon had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout the East Asian cultural sphere, including Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Chinese Buddhism is also marked by the interaction between Indian and Chinese folk religion.
Various legends tell of the presence of Buddhism in Chinese soil in very ancient times. While the scholarly consensus is that Buddhism first came to China in the first century CE during the Han dynasty, through missionaries from India, it is not known precisely when Buddhism entered China.
Generations of scholars have debated whether Buddhist missionaries first reached Han China via the maritime or overland routes of the Silk Road. The maritime route hypothesis, favored by Liang Qichao and Paul Pelliot, proposed that Buddhism was originally practiced in southern China, the Yangtze River and Huai River region. On the other hand, it must have entered from the northwest via the Gansu corridor to the Yellow River basin and the North China Plain in the course of the first century CE. The scene becomes clearer from the middle of the second century onward, when the first known missionaries started their translation activities in the capital, Luoyang. The Book of the Later Han records that in 65 CE, prince Liu Ying of Chu (present day Jiangsu) "delighted in the practices of Huang-Lao Daoism" and had both Buddhist monks and laypeople at his court who presided over Buddhist ceremonies. The overland route hypothesis, favored by Tang Yongtong, proposed that Buddhism disseminated through Central Asia - in particular, the Kushan Empire, which was often known in ancient Chinese sources as Da Yuezhi ("Great Yuezhi"), after the founding tribe. According to this hypothesis, Buddhism was first practiced in China in the Western Regions and the Han capital Luoyang (present day Henan), where Emperor Ming of Han established the White Horse Temple in 68 CE.
In 2004, Rong Xinjiang, a history professor at Peking University, reexamined the overland and maritime hypotheses through a multi-disciplinary review of recent discoveries and research, including the Gandh?ran Buddhist Texts, and concluded:
The view that Buddhism was transmitted to China by the sea route comparatively lacks convincing and supporting materials, and some arguments are not sufficiently rigorous. Based on the existing historical texts and the archaeological iconographic materials discovered since the 1980s, particularly the first-century Buddhist manuscripts recently found in Afghanistan, the commentator believes that the most plausible theory is that Buddhism reached China from the Greater Yuezhi of northwest India and took the land route to reach Han China. After entering into China, Buddhism blended with early Daoism and Chinese traditional esoteric arts and its iconography received blind worship.
The French sinologist Henri Maspero says it is a "very curious fact" that, throughout the entire Han dynasty, Daoism and Buddhism were "constantly confused and appeared as single religion". A century after prince Liu Ying's court supported both Daoists and Buddhists, in 166 Emperor Huan of Han made offerings to the Buddha and sacrifices to the Huang-Lao gods Yellow Emperor and Laozi. The first Chinese apologist for Buddhism, a late 2nd-century layman named Mouzi, said it was through Daoism that he was led to Buddhism--which he calls dàdào (, the "Great Dao").
I too, when I had not yet understood the Great Way (Buddhism), had studied Taoist practises. Hundreds and thousands of recipes are there for longevity through abstention from cereals. I practised them, but without success; I saw them put to use, but without result. That is why I abandoned them.
Early Chinese Buddhism was conflated and mixed with Daoism, and it was within Daoist circles that it found its first adepts. Traces are evident in Han period Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures, which hardly differentiated between Buddhist nirvana and Daoist immortality. Wuwei, the Daoist concept of non-interference, was the normal term for translating Sanskrit nirvana, which is transcribed as nièpán () in modern Chinese usage.
A number of popular accounts in historical Chinese literature have led to the popularity of certain legends regarding the introduction of Buddhism into China. According to the most popular one, Emperor Ming of Han (28-75 CE) precipitated the introduction of Buddhist teachings into China. The (early 3rd to early 5th century) Mouzi Lihuolun first records this legend:
In olden days Emperor Ming saw in a dream a god whose body had the brilliance of the sun and who flew before his palace; and he rejoiced exceedingly at this. The next day he asked his officials: "What god is this?" the scholar Fu Yi said: "Your subject has heard it said that in India there is somebody who has attained the Dao and who is called Buddha; he flies in the air, his body had the brilliance of the sun; this must be that god."
The emperor then sent an envoy to Tianzhu (Southern India) to inquire about the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhist scriptures were said to have been returned to China on the backs of white horses, after which White Horse Temple was named. Two Indian monks also returned with them, named Dharmaratna and Ka?yapa M?ta?ga.
An 8th-century Chinese fresco at Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu portrays Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BCE) worshiping statues of a golden man; "golden men brought in 121 BCE by a great Han general in his campaigns against the nomads". However, neither the Shiji nor Book of Han histories of Emperor Wu mentions a golden Buddhist statue (compare Emperor Ming).
The first documented translation of Buddhist scriptures from various Indian languages into Chinese occurs in 148 CE with the arrival of the Parthian prince-turned-monk An Shigao (Ch. ). He worked to establish Buddhist temples in Luoyang and organized the translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese, testifying to the beginning of a wave of Central Asian Buddhist proselytism that was to last several centuries. An Shigao translated Buddhist texts on basic doctrines, meditation, and abhidharma. An Xuan (Ch. ), a Parthian layman who worked alongside An Shigao, also translated an early Mah?y?na Buddhist text on the bodhisattva path.
Mah?y?na Buddhism was first widely propagated in China by the Kushan monk Lokak?ema (Ch. ?, active c. 164-186 CE), who came from the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandh?ra. Lokak?ema translated important Mah?y?na s?tras such as the Aas?hasrik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra, as well as rare, early Mah?y?na s?tras on topics such as sam?dhi, and meditation on the buddha Ak?obhya. These translations from Lokak?ema continue to give insight into the early period of Mah?y?na Buddhism. This corpus of texts often includes emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative concentration:
Paul Harrison has worked on some of the texts that are arguably the earliest versions we have of the Mah?y?na s?tras, those translated into Chinese in the last half of the second century CE by the Indo-Scythian translator Lokak?ema. Harrison points to the enthusiasm in the Lokak?ema s?tra corpus for the extra ascetic practices, for dwelling in the forest, and above all for states of meditative absorption (sam?dhi). Meditation and meditative states seem to have occupied a central place in early Mah?y?na, certainly because of their spiritual efficacy but also because they may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration.
During the early period of Chinese Buddhism, the Indian early Buddhist schools recognized as important, and whose texts were studied, were the Dharmaguptakas, Mahsakas, Kyap?yas, Sarv?stiv?dins, and the Mah?sghikas.
The Dharmaguptakas made more efforts than any other sect to spread Buddhism outside India, to areas such as Afghanistan, Central Asia, and China, and they had great success in doing so. Therefore, most countries which adopted Buddhism from China, also adopted the Dharmaguptaka vinaya and ordination lineage for bhik?us and bhik?us. According to A.K. Warder, in some ways in those East Asian countries, the Dharmaguptaka sect can be considered to have survived to the present. Warder further writes that the Dharmaguptakas can be credited with effectively establishing Chinese Buddhism during the early period:
It was the Dharmaguptakas who were the first Buddhists to establish themselves in Central Asia. They appear to have carried out a vast circling movement along the trade routes from Apar?nta north-west into Iran and at the same time into Oiy?na (the Suvastu valley, north of Gandh?ra, which became one of their main centres). After establishing themselves as far west as Parthia they followed the "silk route", the east-west axis of Asia, eastwards across Central Asia and on into China, where they effectively established Buddhism in the second and third centuries A.D. The Mahsakas and Kyap?yas appear to have followed them across Asia into China. [...] For the earlier period of Chinese Buddhism it was the Dharmaguptakas who constituted the main and most influential school, and even later their Vinaya remained the basis of the discipline there.
Initially, Buddhism in China faced a number of difficulties in becoming established. The concept of monasticism and the aversion to social affairs seemed to contradict the long-established norms and standards established in Chinese society. Some even declared that Buddhism was harmful to the authority of the state, that Buddhist monasteries contributed nothing to the economic prosperity of China, that Buddhism was barbaric and undeserving of Chinese cultural traditions. However, Buddhism was often associated with Taoism in its ascetic meditative tradition, and for this reason a concept-matching system was used by some early Indian translators, to adapt native Buddhist ideas onto Daoist ideas and terminology.
Buddhism appealed to Chinese intellectuals and elites and the development of gentry Buddhism was sought as an alternative to Confucianism and Daoism, since Buddhism's emphasis on morality and ritual appealed to Confucianists and the desire to cultivate inner wisdom appealed to Daoists. Gentry Buddhism was a medium of introduction for the beginning of Buddhism in China, it gained imperial and courtly support. By the early 5th century Buddhism was established in south China. During this time, Indian monks continued to travel along the Silk Road to teach Buddhism, and translation work was primarily done by foreign monks rather than Chinese.
When the famous monk Kum?raj?va was captured during the Chinese conquest of the Buddhist kingdom of Kucha, he was imprisoned for many years. When he was released in AD 401, he immediately took a high place in Chinese Buddhism and was appraised as a great master from the West. He was especially valued by Emperor Yao Xing of the state of Later Qin, who gave him an honorific title and treated him like a god. Kum?raj?va revolutionized Chinese Buddhism with his high quality translations (from AD 402-413), which are still praised for their flowing smoothness, clarity of meaning, subtlety, and literary skill. Due to the efforts of Kum?raj?va, Buddhism in China became not only recognized for its practice methods, but also as high philosophy and religion. The arrival of Kum?raj?va also set a standard for Chinese translations of Buddhist texts, effectively doing away with previous concept-matching systems.
The translations of Kum?raj?va have often remained more popular than those of other translators. Among the most well-known are his translations of the Diamond Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalak?rti Nirde?a S?tra, the M?lamadhyamakak?rik?, and the Aas?hasrik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra.
Around the time of Kum?raj?va, the four major Sanskrit ?gamas were also translated into Chinese. Each of the ?gamas was translated independently by a different Indian monk. These ?gamas comprise the only other complete surviving S?tra Pi?aka, which is generally comparable to the Pali Sutta Pitaka of Theravada Buddhism. The teachings of the S?tra Pi?aka are usually considered to be one of the earliest teachings on Buddhism and a core text of the Early Buddhist Schools in China. It is noteworthy that before the modern period, these ?gama were seldom if ever used by Buddhist communities, due to their H?nay?na attribution, as Chinese Buddhism was already avowedly Mah?y?na in persuasion.
Due to the wide proliferation of Buddhist texts available in Chinese and the large number of foreign monks who came to teach Buddhism in China, much like new branches growing from a main tree trunk, various specific focus traditions emerged. Among the most influential of these was the practice of Pure Land Buddhism established by Hui Yuan, which focused on Amit?bha Buddha and his western pure land of Sukh?vat?. Other early traditions were the Tiantai, Huayan and the Vinaya school. Such schools were based upon the primacy of the Lotus S?tra, the Avata?saka S?tra, and the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, respectively, along with supplementary s?tras and commentaries. The Tiantai founder Zhiyi wrote several works that became important and widely read meditation manuals in China such as the "Concise samatha-vipasyana", and the "Great samatha-vipasyana."
An important aspect of a nun was the practice of a vegetarian as it was heavily emphasized in the Buddhist religion to not harm any living creature for the purpose of them to consume. There were also some nuns who did not eat regularly, as an attempt of fasting. Another dietary practice of nuns was their practice of consuming fragrant oil or incense as a "preparation for self- immolation by fire."
Some daily activities of nuns include the reading, memorizing, and reciting of Buddhist scriptures and religious text. Another was meditation as it is seen as the "heart of Buddhist monastic life." There are biographers explaining when nuns meditate they enter a state where their body of becomes hard, rigid, and stone-like where they are often mistaken as lifeless.
In the 5th century, the Chán (Zen) teachings began in China, traditionally attributed to the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, a legendary figure.[note 1] The school heavily utilized the principles found in the La?k?vat?ra S?tra, a s?tra utilizing the teachings of Yog?c?ra and those of Tath?gatagarbha, and which teaches the One Vehicle (Skt. Ekay?na) to buddhahood. In the early years, the teachings of Chán were therefore referred to as the "One Vehicle School." The earliest masters of the Chán school were called "La?k?vat?ra Masters", for their mastery of practice according to the principles of the La?k?vat?ra S?tra.
The principal teachings of Chán were later often known for the use of so-called encounter stories and koans, and the teaching methods used in them. Nan Huai-Chin identifies the La?k?vat?ra S?tra and the Diamond S?tra (Vajracchedik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra) as the principle texts of the Chán school, and summarizes the principles succinctly:
The Zen teaching was a separate transmission outside the scriptural teachings that did not posit any written texts as sacred. Zen pointed directly to the human mind to enable people to see their real nature and become buddhas.
During the early Tang dynasty, between 629 and 645, the monk Xuanzang journeyed to India and visited over one hundred kingdoms, and wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings, which have subsequently become important for the study of India during this period. During his travels he visited holy sites, learned the lore of his faith, and studied with many famous Buddhist masters, especially at the famous center of Buddhist learning at N?landa University. When he returned, he brought with him some 657 Sanskrit texts. Xuanzang also returned with relics, statues, and Buddhist paraphernalia loaded onto twenty-two horses. With the emperor's support, he set up a large translation bureau in Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), drawing students and collaborators from all over East Asia. He is credited with the translation of some 1,330 fascicles of scriptures into Chinese. His strongest personal interest in Buddhism was in the field of Yog?c?ra, or "Consciousness-only".
The force of his own study, translation and commentary of the texts of these traditions initiated the development of the Faxiang school in East Asia. Although the school itself did not thrive for a long time, its theories regarding perception, consciousness, karma, rebirth, etc. found their way into the doctrines of other more successful schools. Xuanzang's closest and most eminent student was Kuiji who became recognized as the first patriarch of the Faxiang school. Xuanzang's logic, as described by Kuiji, was often misunderstood by scholars of Chinese Buddhism because they lack the necessary background in Indian logic. Another important disciple was the Korean monk Woncheuk.
Xuanzang's translations were especially important for the transmission of Indian texts related to the Yog?c?ra school. He translated central Yog?c?ra texts such as the Sa?dhinirmocana S?tra and the Yog?c?rabh?mi stra, as well as important texts such as the Mah?prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra and the Bhai?ajyaguruvaid?ryaprabhar?ja S?tra (Medicine Buddha S?tra). He is credited with writing or compiling the Cheng Weishi Lun (Vijñaptim?trat?siddhi stra) as composed from multiple commentaries on Vasubandhu's Triik?-vijñaptim?trat?. His translation of the Heart S?tra became and remains the standard in all East Asian Buddhist sects. The proliferation of these texts expanded the Chinese Buddhist canon significantly with high quality translations of some of the most important Indian Buddhist texts.
The popularization of Buddhism in this period is evident in the many scripture-filled caves and structures surviving from this period. The Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu province, the Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang in Henan and the Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi are the most renowned examples from the Northern Wei, Sui and Tang Dynasties. The Leshan Giant Buddha, carved out of a hillside in the 8th century during the Tang dynasty and looking down on the confluence of three rivers, is still the largest stone Buddha statue in the world.
At the Longmen cave complex, Wu Zetian (r. 690-705) -- a notable proponent of Buddhism during the Tang dynasty (reigned as Zhou)-- directed mammoth stone sculptures of Vairc?cana Buddha with Bodhisattvas. As the first self-seated woman emperor, these sculptures served multiple purposes, including the projection of Buddhist ideas that would validate her mandate of power.
Monks and pious laymen spread Buddhist concepts through story-telling and preaching from sutra texts. These oral presentations were written down as bianwen (transformation stories) which influenced the writing of fiction by their new ways of telling stories combining prose and poetry. Popular legends in this style included Mulian Rescues His Mother, in which a monk descends into hell in a show of filial piety.
Making duplications of Buddhist texts was considered to bring meritorious karma. Printing from individually carved wooden blocks and from clay or metal movable type proved much more efficient than hand copying and eventually eclipsed it. The Diamond S?tra (Vajracchedik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra) of 868 CE, a Buddhist scripture discovered in 1907 inside the Mogao Caves, is the first dated example of block printing.
The Kaiyuan's Three Great Enlightened Masters, ?ubhakarasi?ha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra, established Esoteric Buddhism in China from AD 716 to 720 during the reign of emperor Xuanzong. They came to Daxing Shansi (?, Great Propagating Goodness Temple), which was the predecessor of Temple of the Great Enlightener Mahavairocana. Daxing Shansi was established in the ancient capital Chang'an, today's Xi'an, and became one of the four great centers of scripture translation supported by the imperial court. They had translated many Buddhist scriptures, sutra and tantra, from Sanskrit to Chinese. They had also assimilated the prevailing teachings of China: Taoism and Confucianism, with Buddhism, and had further evolved the practice of the Chinese Esoteric Buddhist tradition.
They brought to the Chinese a mysterious, dynamic, and magical teaching, which included mantra formula and detailed rituals to protect a person or an empire, to affect a person's fate after death, and, particularly popular, to bring rain in times of drought. It is not surprising, then, that all three masters were well received by the emperor Tang Xuanzong, and their teachings were quickly taken up at the Tang court and among the elite. Mantrayana altars were installed in temples in the capital, and by the time of emperor Tang Daizong (r. 762-779) its influence among the upper classes outstripped that of Daoism. However, relations between Amoghavajra and Daizong were especially good. In life the emperor favored Amoghavajra with titles and gifts, and when the master died in 774, he honored his memory with a stupa, or funeral monument. Master Huiguo, a disciple of Amoghavajra, imparted some esoteric Buddhist teachings to K?kai, one of the many Japanese monks who came to Tang China to study Buddhism, including the Mandala of the Two Realms, the Womb Realm and the Diamond Realm. Master Kukai went back to Japan to establish the Japanese Esoteric school of Buddhism, later known as Shingon Buddhism. The Esoteric Buddhist lineages transmitted to Japan under the auspices of the monks K?kai and Saicho, later formulated the teachings transmitted to them to create the Shingon sect and the Tendai sect.
Unlike in Japan, Esoteric Buddhism in China was not seen as a separate and distinct "school" of Buddhism but rather understood as a set of associated practices and teachings that could be integrated together with the other Chinese Buddhist traditions such as Chan.
There were several components that led to opposition of Buddhism. One factor is the foreign origins of Buddhism, unlike Taoism and Confucianism. Han Yu wrote, "Buddha was a man of the barbarians who did not speak the language of China and wore clothes of a different fashion. His sayings did not concern the ways of our ancient kings, nor did his manner of dress conform to their laws. He understood neither the duties that bind sovereign and subject, nor the affections of father and son."
Other components included the Buddhists' withdrawal from society, since the Chinese believed that Chinese people should be involved with family life. Wealth, tax-exemption status and power of the Buddhist temples and monasteries also annoyed many critics.
As mentioned earlier, persecution came during the reign of Emperor Wuzong in the Tang dynasty. Wuzong was said to hate the sight of Buddhist monks, who he thought were tax-evaders. In 845, he ordered the destruction of 4,600 Buddhist monasteries and 40,000 temples. More than 400,000 Buddhist monks and nuns then became peasants liable to the Two Taxes (grain and cloth). Wuzong cited that Buddhism was an alien religion, which is the reason he also persecuted the Christians in China. David Graeber argues that Buddhist institutions had accumulated so much precious metals which the government needed to secure the money supply.
The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (?; ?; ) was an era of political upheaval in China, between the fall of the Tang dynasty and the founding of the Song dynasty. During this period, five dynasties quickly succeeded one another in the north, and more than 12 independent states were established, mainly in the south. However, only ten are traditionally listed, hence the era's name, "Ten Kingdoms". Some historians, such as Bo Yang, count eleven, including Yan and Qi, but not Northern Han, viewing it as simply a continuation of Later Han. This era also led to the founding of the Liao dynasty.
After the fall of the Tang dynasty, China was without effective central control during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. China was divided into several autonomous regions. Support for Buddhism was limited to a few areas. The Hua-yen and T'ien-t'ai schools suffered from the changing circumstances, since they had depended on imperial support. The collapse of T'ang society also deprived the aristocratic classes of wealth and influence, which meant a further drawback for Buddhism. Shenxiu's Northern Chán School and Henshui's Southern Chán School didn't survive the changing circumstances. Nevertheless, Chán emerged as the dominant stream within Chinese Buddhism, but with various schools developing various emphasises in their teachings, due to the regional orientation of the period. The Fayan school, named after Fa-yen Wen-i (885-958) became the dominant school in the southern kingdoms of Nan-T'ang (Jiangxi, Chiang-hsi) and Wuyue (Che-chiang).
The Song dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and Southern Song. During the Northern Song (, 960-1127), the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Southern Song (, 1127-1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of northern China to the Jin dynasty. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze River and established their capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the Song Dynasty had lost control of the traditional birthplace of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River, the Song economy was not in ruins, as the Southern Song Empire contained 60 percent of China's population and a majority of the most productive agricultural land.
During the Song dynasty, Chán (?) was used by the government to strengthen its control over the country, and Chán grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism. An ideal picture of the Chán of the Tang period was produced, which served the legacy of this newly acquired status.
In the early Song dynasty "Chán-Pure Land syncretism became a dominant movement." Buddhist ideology began to merge with Confucianism and Daoism, due in part to the use of existing Chinese philosophical terms in the translation of Buddhist scriptures. Various Confucian scholars of the Song dynasty, including Zhu Xi (wg: Chu Hsi), sought to redefine Confucianism as Neo-Confucianism.
During the Song dynasty, in 1021 CE, it is recorded that there were 458,855 Buddhist monks and nuns actively living in monasteries. The total number of monks was 397,615, while the total number of nuns was recorded as 61,240.
During the Mongol Yuan domination, the Mongol emperors made Esoteric Buddhism an official religion of their empire which China was a part of, and Tibetan lamas were given patronage at the court. A common perception was that this patronage of lamas caused corrupt forms of tantra to become widespread. When the Mongol Yuan dynasty was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established, the Tibetan lamas were expelled from the court, and this form of Buddhism was denounced as not being an orthodox path.
During the Ming dynasty, the various Chinese Buddhist traditions, such as Chan, Tiantai, Pure Land and Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, became fused together to a larger extent than before. According to Weinstein, by the Ming dynasty, the Chan school was so firmly established that all monks were affiliated with either the Linji school or the Caodong school.
During the Ming dynasty, Hanshan Deqing was one of the great reformers of Chinese Buddhism. Like many of his contemporaries, he advocated the dual practice of the Chán and Pure Land methods, and advocated the use of the nianfo ("Mindfulness of the Buddha") technique to purify the mind for the attainment of self-realization. He also directed practitioners in the use of mantras as well as scripture reading. He was also renowned as a lecturer and commentator and admired for his strict adherence to the precepts.
According to Jiang Wu, for Chan masters in this period such as Hanshan Deqing, training through self-cultivation was encouraged, and clichéd or formulaic instructions were despised. Eminent monks who practiced meditation and asceticism without proper Dharma transmission were acclaimed for having acquiring "wisdom without a teacher."
During the Ming Dynasty, women of different ages were able to enter the monastic life from as young as five or six years old to seventy years old. There were various reasons why a Ming woman entered the religious life of becoming a nun. Some women had fallen ill and believed by entering the religious life they were able to relieve their sufferings. There were other women, who had become widowed due to the death of her husband or betrothed so out of choice chose to join a convent. Many women who were left widowed were affected financially as they often had to support their in-laws, and parents, therefore, joining a convent was not a bad option. By devoting themselves to religion, they received less social criticism from society because during the Ming time women were expected to remain faithful to their husband. An example of this is Xia Shuji. Xia's husband Hou Xun, (1591-1645), had led a resistance in Jiading which arrested the Qing troops who later on beheaded him. Xia Shuji who secluded herself from the outside life to devote herself to religion and took on the religious name of Shengyin.
During the time of late Ming, a period of social upheaval, the monastery or convent provided shelter for these women who no longer had protection from a male in their family: husband, son or father due to death, financial constraint and other situations. However, in most circumstances, a woman who wanted to join a nunnery was because they wanted to escape a marriage or they felt isolated as her husband has died- she also had to overcome many difficulties that arose socially from this decision. For most of these women, a convent was seen as a haven to escape their family or an unwanted marriage. Such difficulties were due to the social expectation of the women as it was considered unfilial to leave their duty as a wife, daughter, mother or daughter in law. There were also some cases where some individuals were sold by their family to earn money in a convent by reciting sutras, and performing Buddhist services because they weren't able to financially support them. Jixing entered into a religious life as a young girl due to the fact that her family had no money to raise her.
Lastly, there were some who became part of the Buddhist convent because of a spiritual calling where they found comfort to the religious life, an example would be Zhang Ruyu. Zhang took the religious name, Miaohui, and just before she entered the religious life she wrote the poem below:
Drinking at Rain and Flowers Terrace, I Compose a Description the Falling Leaves For viewing the vista, a 1000-chi terrace. For discussing the mind, a goblet of wine. A pure frost laces the tips of the trees, Bronze leaves flirt with the river village. Following the wave, I float with the oars; Glory and decay, why sigh over them? This day, I've happily returned to the source.
Through her poetry, Miaohui (Zhang Ruyu) she conveys the emotions of fully understanding and concluding the difference in the life outside without devotion to religion and the life in a monastery, known as the Buddhist terms between "form and emptiness." Women like Miaohui, Zhang, had found happiness and fulfillment in the convent that they could not seek in the outside world. Despite the many reasons for entering the religious life, most women had to obtain permission from a male in their life (father, husband, or son). Most of the nuns who have entered the religious life seclude themselves from the outside life away from their family and relatives.
Most nuns participated in religious practices with devotions to many different bodhisattva and Buddha. Some examples of bodhisattvas are Guanyin, Amitabha Buddha, Maitreya, and Pindola. One of the most prominent bodhisattvas in Chinese Buddhism is Guanyin, known as Goddess of Compassion, Mercy and Love is also a protector and savior for those who worship and needs Guanyin's aid.
The Qing court endorsed the Gelukpa School of Tibetan Buddhism. Early in the Taiping rebellion, the Taiping rebels targeted Buddhism. In the Battle of Nanjing (1853), the Taiping army butchered thousands of monks in Nanjing. But from the middle of the Taiping rebellion, Taiping leaders took a more moderate approach, demanding that monks should have licences.
Around 1900, Buddhists from other Asian countries showed a growing interest in Chinese Buddhism. Anagarika Dharmapala visited Shanghai in 1893, intending "to make a tour of China, to arouse the Chinese Buddhists to send missionaries to India to restore Buddhism there, and then to start a propaganda throughout the whole world", but eventually limiting his stay to Shanghai. Japanese Buddhist missionaries were active in China in the beginning of the 20th century.
The modernisation of China led to the end of the Chinese Empire, and the installation of the Republic of China, which lasted on the mainland until the Communist Revolution and the installation of the People's Republic of China in 1949 which also led to the ROC government's exodus to Taiwan.
Under influence of the western culture, attempts were being made to revitalize Chinese Buddhism. Most notable were the Humanistic Buddhism of Taixu and Yin Shun, and the revival of Chinese Chán by Hsu Yun. Hsu Yun is generally regarded as one of the most influential Buddhist teachers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Other Buddhist traditions were similarly revitalized as well. In 1914, Huayan University, the first modern Buddhist monastic school, was founded in Shanghai to further systemize Huayan teachings to monastics and helped to expand the Huayan tradition. The university managed to foster a network of educated monks who focused on Huayan Buddhism during the 20th century. Through this network, the lineage of the Huayan tradition was transmitted to many monks, which helped to preserve the lineage down to the modern day via new Huayan-centred organizations that these monks would later found. For Tiantai Buddhism, the tradition's lineage (specifically the Lingfeng lineage) was carried from the late Qing into the 20th century by the monk Dixian. His student, the monk Tanxu (1875 - 1963), is known for having rebuilt various temples during the Republican era (such as Zhanshan temple in Qingdao) and for preserving the Tiantai lineage into the PRC era. Other influential teachers in the early 20th century included Pure land Buddhist master Yin Guang () and Vinaya master Hong Yi. Upasaka Zhao Puchu had worked very hard on the revival.
Until 1949, monasteries were built in the Southeast Asian countries, for example by monks of Guanghua Monastery, to spread Chinese Buddhism. Presently, Guanghua Monastery has seven branch monasteries in the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia. Several Chinese Buddhist teachers left mainland China during the Communist Revolution, and settled in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
After the communist takeover of Mainland China, many monastics followed the ROC's exodus to Taiwan. In the latter half of the 20th century, many new Buddhist temples and organizations were set up by these monastics, which would later come to become influential back in Mainland China after the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Master Hsing Yun (1927-present) is the founder of Fo Guang Shan monastic order and the Buddha's Light International Association lay organization. Born in Jiangsu Province in mainland China, he entered the Sangha at the age of 12, and came to Taiwan in 1949. He founded Fo Guang Shan monastery in 1967, and the Buddha's Light International Association in 1992. These are among the largest monastic and lay Buddhist organizations in Taiwan from the late 20th to early 21st centuries. He advocates Humanistic Buddhism, which the broad modern Chinese Buddhist progressive attitude towards the religion.
Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) was the founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain, a Buddhist organization based in Taiwan which mainly advocates for Chan and Pure Land Buddhism. During his time in Taiwan, Sheng Yen was well known as one of the progressive Buddhist teachers who sought to teach Buddhism in a modern and Western-influenced world.
Master Cheng Yen (born 14 May 1937) is a Taiwanese Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni), teacher, and philanthropist. She was a direct student of Master Ying Shun, a major figure in the early development of Humanistic Buddhism in Taiwan. She founded the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, ordinarily referred to as Tzu Chi in 1966. The organization later became one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, and the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan.
Master Wei Chueh was born in 1928 in Sichuan, mainland China, and ordained in Taiwan. In 1982, he founded Lin Quan Temple in Taipei County and became known for his teaching on Chan practices by conducting many lectures and seven-day Chan meditation retreats, and eventually founded the Chung Tai Shan Buddhist order. The order has established more than 90 meditation centers and branches in Taiwan and abroad, including branches in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, and Thailand.
Several new Huayan-centred Buddhist organizations have been established since the latter half of the 20th century. In contemporary times, the largest and oldest of the Huayan-centered organizations in Taiwan is the Huayan Lotus Society (Huayan Lianshe ?), which was founded in 1952 by the monk Zhiguang and his disciple Nanting, who were both part of the network fostered by the Huayan University. Since its founding, the Huayan Lotus Society has been centered on the study and practice of the Huayan Sutra. It hosts a full recitation of the sutra twice each year, during the third and tenth months of the lunar calendar. Each year during the eleventh lunar month, the society also hosts a seven-day Huayan Buddha retreat (Huayan foqi ?), during which participants chant the names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the text. The society emphasizes the study of the Huayan Sutra by hosting regular lectures on it. In recent decades, these lectures have occurred on a weekly basis. Like other Taiwanese Buddhist organization's, the Society has also diversified its propagation and educational activities over the years. It produces its own periodical and runs its own press. It also now runs a variety of educational programs, including a kindergarten, a vocational college, and short-term courses in Buddhism for college and primary-school students, and offers scholarships. One example is their founding of the Huayan Buddhist College (Huayan Zhuanzong Xueyuan ) in 1975. They have also established branch temples overseas, most notably in California's San Francisco Bay Area. In 1989, they expanded their outreach to the United States of America by formally establishing the Huayan Lotus Society of the United States (Meiguo Huayan Lianshe ). Like the parent organization in Taiwan, this branch holds weekly lectures on the Huayan Sutra and several annual Huayan Dharma Assemblies where it is chanted. It also holds monthly memorial services for the society's spiritual forebears.
Another Huayan-focused organization is the Huayan Studies Association (Huayan Xuehui ?) which was founded in Taipei in 1996 by the monk Jimeng (), also known as Haiyun (). This was followed in 1999 by the founding of the larger Caotangshan Great Huayan Temple (Caotangshan Da Huayansi ?). This temple hosts many Huayan-related activities, including a weekly Huayan Assembly. Since 2000, the association has grown internationally, with branches in Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Chinese Esoteric Buddhism is also subject to a revitalization in Taiwan, largely through connections and support from Kong?bu-ji, the head temple of the K?yasan Shingon-sh? (the school of Shingon Buddhism of Mount K?ya) and its affiliate temples.
The revival is mainly propagated by Chinese Buddhist monks who travel to Mount K?ya to be initiated and receive dharma transmission as acharyas in the Shingon tradition and who bring the esoteric teachings and practices back to Taiwan after their training has ended. While some of these Chinese acharyas have chosen to officially remain under the oversight of K?yasan Shingon-sh? and minister as Chinese branches of Japanese Shingon, many other acharyas have chosen to distinguish themselves from Shingon by establishing their own Chinese lineages after their return from Japan. Members from the latter group, while deriving their orthodoxy and legitimacy from Shingon, view themselves as re-establishing a distinctly Chinese tradition of Esoteric Buddhism rather than merely acting as emissaries of Japanese Shingon, in the same way that K?kai started his own Japanese sect of Esoteric Buddhism after learning it from Chinese teachers.  One pertinent example is Master Wuguang (?), who was initiated as a Shingon acharya in Japan in 1971. He established the Mantra School Bright Lineage the following year in Taiwan, which recognizes itself as a resurrection of the Chinese Esoteric Buddhist transmission rather than a branch of Shingon. Some Tangmi organizations in Taiwan that have resulted from the revival are:
Unlike Catholicism and other branches of Christianity, there was no organization in China that embraced all monastics in China, nor even all monastics within the same sect. Traditionally each monastery was autonomous, with authority resting on each respective abbot. In 1953, the Chinese Buddhist Association was established at a meeting with 121 delegates in Beijing. The meeting also elected a chairman, 4 honorary chairmen, 7 vice-chairmen, a secretary general, 3 deputy secretaries-general, 18 members of a standing committee, and 93 directors. The 4 elected honorary chairmen were the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, the Grand Lama of Inner Mongolia, and Venerable Master Hsu Yun.
Since the implementation of Boluan Fanzheng by Deng Xiaoping, a new revival of Chinese Buddhism began to take place in 1982. Some of the ancient Buddhist temples that were damaged during the Cultural Revolution were allowed to be restored, mainly with the monetary support from oversea Chinese Buddhist groups. Monastic ordination were finally approved but with certain requirements from the government and new Buddhist temples are being built. Monastics who had been imprisoned or driven underground during the revolution were freed and allowed to return to their temples to propagate Buddhist teachings. For example, the monks Zhenchan () and Mengcan (), who were trained in the Chan and Huayan traditions, travelled widely throughout China as well as other countries such as the United States and lectured on both Chan and Huayan teachings. Haiyun, the monk who founded the Huayan Studies Association in Taiwan, was a tonsured disciple of Mengcan. Monks who had fled the mainland to Taiwan, Hong Kong or other overseas Chinese communities after the establishment of the People's Republic of China also began to be welcome back onto the mainland. Buddhist organizations who had been founded by these monks thus began to gain influence, revitalizing the various Buddhist traditions on the mainland. Recently, some Buddhist temples, administrated by local governments, became commercialized by sales of tickets, incense, or other religious items; soliciting donations. In response, the State Administration for Religious Affairs announced a crackdown on religious profiteering in October 2012. Many sites have done enough repairs and have already cancelled ticket fares and are receiving voluntary donation instead. In April 2006 China organized the World Buddhist Forum, an event now held every two years, and in March 2007 the government banned mining on Buddhist sacred mountains. In May of the same year, in Changzhou, the world's tallest pagoda was built and opened. Currently, there are about 1.3 billion Chinese living in the People's Republic. Surveys have found that around 18.2% to 20% of this population adheres to Buddhism. Furthermore, PEW found that another 21% of the Chinese population followed Chinese folk religions that incorporated elements of Buddhism.
One example of the revitalization of Buddhist traditions on the Mainland is the expansion of Tiantai Buddhism. The monk Dixian was a lineage holder in Tiantai Buddhism during the early 20th century. During the Chinese Civil War, various dharma heirs of Dixian moved to Hong Kong, including Tanxu and Baojing. They helped establish the Tiantai tradition in Hong Kong, where it remains a strong living tradition today, being preserved by their dharma heirs. After the reforms in Mainland China, Baojing's dharma heir, Jueguang, helped to transmit the lineage back to Mainland China, as well as other countries including Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan. The monk Yixing (), a dharma heir of Dixian who was the forty-seventh generation lineage holder of Tiantai Buddhism, was appointed as the acting abbot of Guoqing Temple and helped to restore Guanzong Temple, both of which remain major centres of Tiantai Buddhsim in China.
Chinese Esoteric Buddhism was also revived on the mainland, similar to the situation in Taiwan. Organizations and temples propagating this tradition in China include Daxingshan Temple in Xi'an, Qinglong Temple in Xi'an, Yuanrong Buddhist Academy () in Hong Kong as well as Xiu Ming Society (), which is located primarily in Hong Kong, but also has branches in Mainland China and Taiwan.
Over the years, more and more Buddhist organizations have been approved to operate in the mainland. One example is the Taiwan-based organizations Tzu Chi Foundation and Fo Guang Shan, which were approved to open a branch in mainland China in March 2008.
The first Chinese master to teach Westerners in North America was Hsuan Hua, who taught Chán and other traditions of Chinese Buddhism in San Francisco during the early 1960s. He went on to found the City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a monastery and retreat center located on a 237-acre (959,000 m2) property near Ukiah, California. Chuang Yen Monastery and Hsi Lai Temple are also large centers.
Sheng Yen also founded dharma centers in the USA.
With the rapid increase of immigrants from mainland China to Western countries in the 1980s, the landscape of the Chinese Buddhism in local societies has also changed over time. Based on fieldwork research conducted in France, some scholars categorize three patterns in the collective Buddhism practice among Chinese Buddhists in France: An ethnolinguistic immigrant group, a transnational organizational system, and information technology. These distinctions are made according to the linkages of globalization.
In the first pattern, religious globalization is a product of immigrants' transplantation of local cultural traditions. For example, people of similar immigration experiences establish a Buddha hall () within the framework of their associations for collective religious activities.
In the third pattern, religious globalization features the use of information technology such as websites, blogs, Emails and social media to ensure direct interaction between members in different places and between members and their leader. The Buddhist organization led by Jun Hong Lu is a typical example of this kind of group.
There are many sects and organisations proclaiming a Buddhist identity and pursuit (fo or fu: "awakening", "enlightenment") that are not recognised as legitimate Buddhism by the Chinese Buddhist Association and the government of the People's Republic of China. This group includes:
Common practices include
Common beliefs include
Burning incense, translated to "shaoxiang" in Chinese, is a traditional and ubiquitous religious practice for almost all prayers, and other forms of worship. During the Zhou dynasty, Chinese believed that smoke resulting from burning of sandalwood would act as a bridge between the human world and the spirits.
The philosophy behind incense burning is to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others, the true spirit of Buddhism. The specific knowledge of incense as a healing tool was assimilated into the religious practices of the time from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In Chinese Buddhism, lay Buddhist practitioners have traditionally played an important role, and lay practice of Buddhism has had similar tendencies to those of monastic Buddhism in China. Many historical biographies of lay Buddhists are available, which give a clear picture of their practices and role in Chinese Buddhism. In addition to these numerous biographies, there are accounts from Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci which provide extensive and revealing accounts to the degree Buddhism penetrated elite and popular culture in China.
Traditional practices such as meditation, mantra recitation, mindfulness of Amit?bha Buddha, asceticism, and vegetarianism were all integrated into the belief systems of ordinary people. It is known from accounts in the Ming Dynasty that lay practitioners often engaged in practices from both the Pure Land and Chán traditions, as well as the study of the Buddhist s?tras. The Heart S?tra and the Diamond S?tra were the most popular, followed by the Lotus S?tra and the Avata?saka S?tra.
Laypeople are also commonly devoted to the practice of mantras, and mantras such as the Mah? Karu Dh?ra and the Cund? Dh?ra are very popular. Robert Gimello has also observed that in Chinese Buddhist communities, the esoteric practices of Cund? enjoyed popularity among both the populace and the elite.
Mah?y?na figures such as Avalokite?vara Bodhisattva, K?itigarbha Bodhisattva, Amit?bha Buddha, and the Medicine Buddha, are all widely known and revered. Beliefs in karma and rebirth are held at all levels of Chinese society, and pilgrimages to well-known monasteries and the four holy mountains of China are undertaken by monastics and lay practitioners alike.
These are the holy days that Chinese Buddhists celebrate by visiting temples to make offerings of prayers, incense, fruits, flowers and donations. On such days they observe the moral precepts very strictly as well as a full day's vegetarian diet, a practice originally from China.