How Buddhism Changed China by Jason Mei
Updated: Apr 20
About the Author
My name is Jason, a thirteen year old from SF. I am currently in 7th grade. My hobbies are playing volleyball, running, and drawing.
Buddhism's Effect on China
by Jason Mei
China’s art was influenced by Buddhism in many ways, especially when statues began appearing in the 1st century AD because “it brought the idea of statue to Chinese art” (WideWalls, par. 13). Chinese culture adopted statues at large. The earliest example of this occurred in the 5th century AD when Buddhist monks brought "more than 170 objects,” including a variety of Buddhist statues to China (China Museum). Due to many statues depicting the Buddha, the Chinese were reminded of the importance of Buddhism.. Therefore Buddhism not only introduced new forms of creativity to China but also ways of living to China.
Likewise, Buddhism influenced Neo-Confucian thinkers to theorize about reality, especially in the “11th–early 20th century.” For example, Confucianism borrowed Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology (i.e., ideas of human sense perception and the theories of knowledge) (Britannica, par. 7). “[During] 310 c.e.,” Serindian monks began to exchange “Buddhist practices—especially teachings about dhyĀna (trance state) and ŚŪnyatĀ (emptiness).” These “exchanges between Confuciantrained [sic] aristocrats, and Buddhist monks [was] known as ‘dark learning’ (xuanxue),” which developed their relationship (Encyclopedia). Similarly, when Buddhist poetry was introduced to Confucian-trained lords, it was translated for them to have a better understanding of it. Through these translations, Buddhism impacted Chinese philosophy.
On the other hand, Buddhism’s influence has been exaggerated. In fact, Neo-Confucianism was mainly built on its earlier iterations: “While there is a genuine element of truth [that Buddhism stimulated] the origins of Neo-Confucianism,” the main purpose of Neo-Confucianism was to revive Confucianism (IEP). For instance, Neo-Confucians argued “they were reviving ‘this culture of [theirs’] as the true Dao of the sage kings” (IEP). Furthermore, when Buddhist ideas were introduced into Confucianism, followers created a subgroup of Confucianism to reclaim the culture.
Nevertheless, Buddhism’s impact on Confucian thinking was significant, as was its impact on Chinese language, especially “after the Eastern Han Dynasty” (Oxford Academic). For instance, the translation of Buddhist scriptures resulted in many “loanwords derived from Sanskrit being borrowed into the Chinese language.” When Buddhist concepts were introduced into China, new words were created such as “rulai Ⱁ∕ (Tathāgata, thus come one), guiyi 䤗∬ (śaraa, to take refuge in)” (Hub HKU). Furthermore, Buddhism altered the Chinese language not only for religious reasons, but also for common speech. For example, “translators of Buddhist scriptures had to invent words in order to express highly abstract ideas,” and these new words and concepts “gradually integrated into the Chinese language” and even into daily conversation. While some have simplified Buddhism’s historic impact to purely its religious influence, the truth is, it has affected the whole of China, such as its language, art, and theories of reality.
Berthrong, John H. “Neo-Confucian Philosophy”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,https://iep.utm.edu/neo-confucian-philosophy/. Accessed 11 March 2023.
Britannica. "Chinese philosophy". Encyclopedia Britannica, 11 Dec. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chinese-philosophy. Accessed 11 March 2023.
Encyclopedia.com. "Confucianism and Buddhism ." Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 20 Mar. 2023,https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/confucianism-and-buddhism. Accessed 11 March 2023.
National Museum of China. “Ancient Chinese Buddhist Sculpture”. National Museum of China. https://en.chnmuseum.cn/exhibition/exhibition_series/special_exhibitions/201911/t20191120_171609.html#:~:text=The%20earliest%20specimens%20date%20back,the%20National%20Museum%20of%20China. Accessed 11 March 2023.
Moriarty, Ana. “The History of Buddhist Art”. Wide Walls. 5 June. 2016, https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/history-of-buddhist-art. Accessed 11 March 2023
Shi, Xiangdong. “The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Linguistics.” The Influence of Buddhist Sanskrit on Chinese, 05 May 2015, https://academic.oup.com/edited-volume/38607/chapter-abstract/334720186?redirectedFrom=fulltext. Accessed 11 March 2023.