In modern China, it is reported that there are fewer than 20
million formally converted monks and nuns (more than 100 million asserted Buddhists)
worshipping in various temples,1 with the Shaolin Temple in Henan
province as the most famous. However, the Buddhist monks in temples are not the
most significant dimension of Buddhism in China. If one travels to China, one
encounters the common scene of many Buddhist temples full of ordinary Chinese people,
kneeling at many Buddhist statues, burning incense and asking for blessings,
and praying for their needs. Buddhism is deeply rooted in the Chinese way of
life, which is the most important part of Chinese Buddhism. Apart from these
expressions, there are some unique symbols of Buddhism in China, such as the
most popular Chinese Shaolin Kungfu (a school of martial art integrated with
Zen ideas from the Shaolin Temple); here one will also find amazing Buddhist
art including architecture, paintings, statues, and literature.
#chinaBuddhism was introduced from India and developed in China over about
two thousand years. Buddhism in China has changed and adapted to various
Chinese contexts with their own characteristics. For instance, it has combined
with Chinese cultures and lost its uniqueness, such that many Chinese people
cannot even differentiate it from Taoism and other folk beliefs. Due to the
differences in history, region, language, ethnic culture, etc., Buddhism in
China has developed three main branches: Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism,
and Theravada Buddhism.2
It is worth noting that the Chinese government today calls on the
revival of traditional culture, but Buddhism is also attractive to Chinese
people because it appeals to peace and quiet in the self, society, and the
world; emphasizes personal practice of the Dharma; and pays attention to
charity for the poor and the disadvantaged. These values are very helpful for
nurturing the Chinese mind, and they are in accordance with the Chinese construction
of a harmonious society and a harmonious world.
Ze Jin and Yonghui Qiu, eds., Blue
Book of Religions: Annual Report on China’s Religions (2011) (Beijing: Social Sciences
Academic Press, 2011), 20–21.
http://baike.baidu.com/view/18697.htm (accessed April 6, 2012).
Henghao Liang, PhD is an assistant professor at the Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.