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Three Táng Dynasty Memorials
Against Buddhism

From the time of the first entry of Buddhism into China it has had critics, often very passionate ones. Both the flowering of Buddhism and the explosion of anti-Buddhist sentiment came to a head in the Táng dynasty (period 12, 618-907) and finally resulted in widespread suppression of Buddhism during the reign of the Emperor Wǔzōng 武宗 (reign 12a-18, AD 840-846). (Click here for a summary of the political events associated with the suppression of Buddhism in the Táng.)

Internet Picture

By far the most famous anti-Buddhist tirade in Chinese history is that penned by the distinguished scholar HÁN Yù 韩愈 (768-824), who in 819 drafted an unsuccessful memorial to the throne in hopes of preventing the emperor from accepting a visit in state by a relic of the Buddha. He had predecessors, however.

Presented here, in English and Chinese, are texts summarizing the anti-Buddhist sentiments of three different influential courtiers of the Táng period, about a century apart from each other. As far as can be known, only the first of these men significantly influenced policy in a way that restricted Buddhism, and then only briefly. But all three reflect Confucian misgivings about Buddhism and each would have stopped it in its tracks if he could have done so. And all three, being remembered through subsequent ages for their hostility to the faith, probably had at least a small influence upon Wǔzōng's actions in the IXth century and upon his later apologists.

  1. First Text: Fù Yì's Memorial
    In 624, FÙ Yì 傅奕 (555-639), who had been a courtier during the Suí dynasty (period 11) and had accepted service as the historiographer to the first emperor of the succeeding Táng dynasty, memorialized the new emperor, Gāozǔ 高祖 (reign 12a-1) in opposition to Buddhism. We know of his efforts from his biography, quoted here. (In recent decades he has been celebrated by the Communist government as an "ancient scientist and atheist.")
  2. Second Text: Yáo Chóng's Memorial & Will
    In 714, nearly a century later, YÁO Chóng 姚崇 (650-721) also drafted a memorial to the emperor condemning Buddhism, a memorial that apparently resulted in the relaicizing of some thousands of monks and nuns. In addition, he left instructions to his children to the effect that they should avoid Buddhist death rites for him. But he also provided alternative instructions in case they could't stand following his preference. Once again, we know of these efforts from his official biography.
  3. Third Text: Hán Yù's Memorial
    In 819 HÁN Yù's 韩愈 memorial was submitted, nearly a century after Yáo Chóng's death and nearly two centuries after Fù Yì had submitted his text. Hán Yù's was very much in the same tradition as the earlier texts, although we do not know whether Hán Yù knew of either or both of the memorials of his two predecessors. Hán Yù's memorial has added urgency in having been provoked by the imminent visit of the Buddha's knuckle, which he was determined to stop if he could.

Sources

All three of the texts presented here are modified from the translation and discussion in:

de Groot, J.J. M.
1903 Sectarian & Religious Persecution in China: A Page in the History of Religions. Volume 1. Leiden: E.J. Brill. Pp.36-59.

Among the Chinese sources on which de Groot relies, the most important are Old Books of the Táng Dynasty 旧唐书 and New Books of the Táng Dynasty 新唐书.

For occasional historical notes I have largely relied on:

DILLON, Michael (ed.)
1998 China: a cultural and historical dictionary. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon)
EITEL, Ernest J.
1904 Hand-book of Chinese Buddhism.Second edition. Tokyo: Sanshusha.
GILES, Herbert A.
1898 A Chinese biogrqphical dictionary.
WINTLE, Justin
2002 A Rough Guide history of China. London: Rough Guides.

Because of the differing needs to be met here, I have freely modified de Groot's formatting, his spellings, and occasionally his prose. I have added subtitles and have imposed and numbered sentence units to facilitate class discussion or reference. I have also added dynasty and reign numbers, which correspond to those used throughout this web site. (Link) They rarely really matter to a modern audience, but the citation of ancient examples and antique precedents was a characteristic feature of Chinese persuasive rhetoric.

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The modern picture of Fù Yì is from the Hudong web encyclopedia (Link)


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