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Religious Freed Om Durin Tang Dynasty

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Did Han Yu’s memorial on the Bone of Buddha contributed to religious intolerance and persecution of Buddhism in the late Tang dynasty?

Chinese Buddhism reached its highest point of popularity and influence during Han Yu’s lifetime, and this matter as a Confucian greatly concerned him.
Han Yu was afraid and disappointed that the traditional Chinese value system as family ancestors worship will be lost if Buddhism’s influences will continue to thrive and gain more influence on every level in society.
He did not agree that Confucian values were excluded from Buddhist and Daoist values and to see bringing” a finger “of Buddha, (who was a foreigner to China), was blasphemy and insulting to Confucian values and traditional Chinese culture. The need for suppression of Buddhism in Han Yu’s Memorial on the Bone of Buddha was social, traditional and economical. In regards of social aspects, Prebish states that: “Confucianism promoted social stability, order, strong families, and practical living, and Chinese officials questioned how a monk's monasticism and personal attainment of nirvana benefited the empire” (1975, p.192). Han Yu railed against Buddhism for undermining the social structure of China.
For Han Yu Buddhists' withdrawal from society was necessary, since the Chinese believed that their people should be involved with family life.
Han Yu explains that “He understood neither the duties that bind sovereign and subject nor the affections of father and son” ( Bary, p. 584 ). He furthers this idea : “It eroded the loyalty of son to father, and subject to ruler”, ( Bary, p.584) by encouraging people to leave their families and to become monks and nuns. Another factor is the foreign affairs which led to the opposition of Buddhism and everything foreign. Han Yu claimed that : “Now Buddha was a man of the barbarians who did not speak the language of China and wore clothes of a different fashion. His saying did not concern the ways of our ancient kings, nor did his manner of dress conform to their laws”. (Barry, 1999, p. 584). Clearly Han Yu is talking about the Chinese tradition by mentioning the Ancient Kings and respecting them. Also Han Yu, felt that bringing Buddha’s finger as a relic into the king’s palace was a foreign influence just like Yuan Chens’ claimed in his” Iranian whirling Girls” penetrating the top level of Chinese society: the king’s palace. Yuan Chen shows the seduction which was foreign when he wrote, “At the sound of the string and drums, she raises her arms, like swirling snow flakes tossed about, she turns her twirling dance. When the tune is over, she bows twice in gratitude to the Son of Heaven, and the Son of Heaven smiles a bit of a toothsome smile for her. Iranian Whirling girl, you came from Sogdiana” (Mair, p.278, 2000).Han Yu could not predict that Iranian girls will be dancing in the emperor’s palace but in his document he feared that the foreigners will take over Chinese traditions if the Buddha’s relic is worshipped. The fear of foreign influence clearly shows when he claims:” Then will our old ways will be corrupted, our customs violated, and the tale will spread to make us mockery of the world. This is no trifling matter”. (Barry, 1999, p.584), Buddhism had flourished into a major religious force in China during the Tang period, and its monasteries enjoyed tax-exempt status. As soon as these monasteries were recognized “ they stopped engaging in useful economic activity such as agriculture and weaving, and became a burden that had to be supported by the work of others. The persecution sought to return monks and nuns to the ranks of tax-paying commoners engaged in useful economic activity”. ( Maspero , 1981, p.46). While society thrived economically and culturally, the emperor Wuzong needed finances to protect Chinese borders. Wealth, tax-exemption status and power of the Buddhist temples and monasteries also annoyed many critics. The emperor Wuzong believed Buddhism to pose a drain on the state's economy as he considered Buddhist monks and nuns to be unproductive members of society who were not contributing to the tax base. Emperor Wuzong hated the sight of Buddhist monks, since he thought were tax-evaders. In 845, he ordered the destruction of 4,600 Buddhist monasteries and 40,000 temples. About 250,000 Buddhist monks and nuns had to give up their monastery lives. Wuzong cited that Buddhism was an alien religion, which is the reason he also persecuted the Christians and Zoroastrians which he regarded as heretical forms of Buddhism. It is obvious that the emperor Wuzong persecuted any religion that did not comply with Chinese society.
In edict concerning the two religions the emperor said: “ As for the Tai-Ch’in (Syrian) and Muh-hu (Zoroastrian) forms of worship, since Buddhism has already been cast out, these heresies alone must not be allowed to survive. People belonging to these also are to be compelled to return to the world, belong again to their own districts, and become tax payers. As for foreigners, let them be returned to their own countries, there to suffer restraint” (Philip,1998, p.33).
In regards to the last sentence it is clear that emperor Wuzong only wanted tax payers which would create income for a government. He wanted all foreigners to leave which would therefore prevent changes in the traditional Chinese society.
In conclusion, foreign influences caused problems in the Tang China. Economically they drained commerce because Buddhist monks and nuns did neither work nor pay taxes. Socially, families were changing from the traditional units that cared for the elderly into individuals leaving their families stranded. As for tradition Buddhist influence raised fear due to loss of custom.
Due to these three issues Chinese Buddhism never fully recovered from the Ancient persecution and suppression helped to revive Confucian values to Neo-Confucianism which would make Han Yu pleased.

Prebish, Charles. Buddhism: A Modern Perspective. Penn State Press,1975.
Philip, Thomas. V. East of the Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia. Ocean Press, 1998. Maspero, Henri. John.Taoism and China. University of Massachusetts,1981.
Mair ,Victor.The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, New York: Columbia University Press,2000.
De Bary,WT.Sources of Chinese Tradition,vol1.New York:Columbia University Press,1999.…...

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