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Anti-Buddhist Memorials

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Anti-Buddhist Memorials: Text 3:

Hán Yù’s Memorial Against Buddhism

The Background Situation

In the county of Fèngxiáng 凤翔, to the west of the imperial capital of the Táng dynasty, stood the Gate of Dharma Monastery (Fǎmén Sì, 法门寺). On the grounds of the monastery there was a pagoda, the Pagoda of the True Body (Zhēnshēn Tá 真身塔). According to local tradition, the pagoda contained a knuckle bone of the Shakyamuni Buddha, and this relic protected the dynasty. However local tradition also held that the pagoda could be opened only once in thirty years, but the occasion of its opening brought especially abundant harvests.


AD 819, the fourteenth year of the reign of the Xiànzōng 宪宗 emperor (reign 12a-14) was such a year. And in the first lunar month his majesty ordered a certain officer named Dù Yīngqí 杜英奇 to proceed to a place called Língāo 临皋 to meet the procession from the monastery and accompany the knuckle, with flowers and incense, carrying it through the Guāngshùn Gate 光顺门 leading into the interior of the palace, where it was to rest for three days, after which it would be toured through various monasteries.

It was to be a grand occasion, which caused all people high and low to abandon their ordinary pursuits and prepare themselves, in part through sacrifices, sometimes burning their heads (like priests being ordained) or arms (perhaps commemorating the second Chán patriarch, said to have cut off an arm to show his sincerity).

The Confucian Perspective

A prestigious and elderly officer named Hán Yù 韩愈, known for his strict Confucian views as well as for his elegant and persuasive prose, was so appalled at the attention being paid to this bone, that he offered a memorial to the emperor condemning the practice.

Chinese Source:
The memorial occurs in both Old Books of the Táng Dynasty, 旧唐书, chapter 160; and in the New Books of the Táng Dynasty 新唐书, chapter 176. This text here, in Hán Yù’s much admired style, is taken from the former source.
Translation Source:
de Groot 1901: 54-59.

I have made the same modifications here as in the other two memorials in this section of the web site.

Argument 1: Buddhism Does Not Lengthen Life or Bring Prosperity

1. Crouching down respectfully before Your Majesty, I consider how the chief religion of the western barbarians, that of the Buddhas, began to flow into the Middle Kingdom since the reign of the Later Hàn dynasty (dynasty06d). 伏以佛者夷狄之一法耳、自后汉时始流入中国。

Fúyǐ Fó zhě yídí zhī yī fǎ ěr, zì Hòu Hàn shí shǐ liúrù Zhōngguó.

2. In remotest antiquity it did not exist there, and in those olden times the Yellow Emperor (Huángdì 黄帝) (reign 01a-3) was seated on the throne for a hundred years, and reached the age of one hundred and ten; Shàohào 少昊 (reign 01a-4) then reigned eighty years, and reached the age of one hundred; 上古未尝有也、昔黄帝在位百年、年百一十岁、少昊在位八十年、年百岁、

Shànggǔ wèicháng yǒu yě, xī Huángdì zài wèi bǎi nián, nián bǎi yīshí suì, Shàohào zài wèi bāshí nián, nián bǎi suì,

3. Zhuānxù 颛顼 (reign 01a-5) thereupon occupied the throne for seventy-nine years, and his age became ninety-eight; on which Dìkù 帝喾 (reign 01a-6) wielded the scepter for seventy years and lived for one hundred and five years. 颛顼在位七十九年、年九+八岁、帝喾在位七十年、年百五岁。

Zhuānxū zài wèi qīshí jiǔ nián, nián jiǔ-bā suì, Dìkù zài wèi qīshí nián, nián bǎi wǔ suì.

4. For Emperor Yáo (reign 01a-8) these periods were respectively ninety-eight and one hundred and eighteen; and lastly, Shùn (reign 01a-9) and Yǔ (reign 02a-1) both lived a century. 帝尧在位九+八年、年百一十八岁、帝舜及禹年皆百岁。

Dì Yáo zài wèi jiǔ-bā nián, nián bǎi yīshí bā suì, dì Shùn jí Yǔ nián jiē bǎi suì.

5. In all those days universal peace reigned throughout the world; the people, quiet and contented, enjoyed longevity ; and yet no Buddha had then ever existed in the Central Empire. 此时天下太平、百姓安乐寿考然、而中国未有佛也。

Cǐshí tiānxià tàipíng, bǎixìng ānlè shòukǎo rán, ér Zhōngguó wèi yǒu Fó yě.

6. Later on, Emperor Tāng (reign 03a-1) of the Yīn dynasty also became a hundred years old; his descendant Tàiwù 太戊 (reign 03a-10) occupied the throne for seventy-five years, and Wǔdīng 武丁 (reign 03a-23) for half a century; 其后殷汤亦年百岁、汤孙太戊在位七十五年、武丁在位五十年、

Qíhòu Yīn Tāng yì nián bǎisuì, tāng sūn Tàiwù zài wèi qīshí wǔ nián, Wǔdīng zài wèi wǔshí nián,

7. and although of these sovereigns the historical books do not mention the age, nevertheless, considering the duration of their reigns, none of them can have lived less than a century. 书史不言其寿、推其年数盖亦俱不减百岁。

Shū shǐ bù yán qí shòu, tuī qí nián shù gài yì jù bù jiǎn bǎi suì.

8. Wén of the Zhōu dynasty lived ninety-seven years, Wǔ (reign 04b-1) ninety-three; Mù (reign 04b-5) reigned quite a century. 周文王年九十七岁、武王年九十三岁、穆王在位百年。

Zhōu Wénwáng nián jiǔshí qī suì, Wǔwáng nián jiǔshí sān suì, mù wáng zài wèi

bǎinián. 周文王年九十七歲、武王年九十三歲、穆王在位百年。
9. Neither in their days had Buddhism come to the Central Empire so that these long lives and long reigns were not obtained by the worship of Buddha. 此时佛法亦未至中国非因事佛而致此也.

Cǐshí Fófǎ yì wèi zhì Zhōngguó fēi yīn shì Fó ér zhì cǐ yě.

10. It was under the emperor Míng (reign 06d-2) of the Hàn dynasty that Buddhism appeared here, and Míng reigned not longer than eighteen years. 汉明帝时始有佛法、明帝在位才十八年耳。

Hàn Míng dì shí shǐ yǒu Fófǎ, Míng dì zài wèi cái shíbā nián ěr.

11. Periods of trouble and mortality then closely followed each other, in which succeeding dynastic governments never had a long existence. 其后乱亡相继、运祚不长。

Qíhòu luàn wáng xiāngjì, yùnzuò bù cháng.

12. [In the period called the Northern and Southern Dynasties,] the houses of Sòng (dynasty 10c), Qí (10d), Liáng (10e), Chén (10g), and Wèi (10h), and those which reigned after, served Buddha with increasing zeal; and nevertheless the lives of the emperors and the duration of their reigns shortened. 宋齐梁陈元魏已下事佛渐谨、年代尤促。

Sòng Qí Liáng Chén yuán Wèi yǐ xià shì Fó jiàn jǐn, niándài yóu cù.

13. Only Wu (reign 10e-1) of the Liáng dynasty wielded the scepter for forty-eight years; he gave himself away to Buddha three times in succession; he used no cattle for the sacrifices in the temples of his ancestors [because Buddhism forbids killing living things]; 唯梁武帝右位四十八年、前后三度拾身施佛、宗庙之祭不用牲牢、

Wéi Liáng Wǔ dì yòu wèi sìshí bā nián, qiánhòu sāndù shí shēn shī Fó, zōngmiào zhī jì bùyòng shēng láo,

14. he had only one meal a day of mere vegetables and fruit; and yet he was in the end condemned by Hóujǐng 侯景, in the city of. Tái , to die of starvation, and his dynasty perished soon after. 昼日一食止于菜果、其后竟为侯景所逼饿死台城、国亦寻灭。

Zhòurì yī shí zhǐyú cài guǒ, qíhòu jìng wéi hóu jǐng suǒ bī èsǐ Tái chéng, guó yì xúnmiè.

15. From this we see, that if one seeks happiness by serving Buddha, one obtains misfortune; it also shows that Buddha is not worth believing in. 事佛求福、乃更得祸.由此观之、佛不足信亦可知矣。

Shì Fó qiú fú, nǎi gèng dé huò. Yóucǐ guān zhī, Fó bùzúxìn yì kě zhī yǐ.


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Argument 2: Your Ancestors Wanted You to Abolish Buddhism

16. When the High Ancestor of this dynasty had just received the throne from the house of Suí (dynasty 11), he took into consideration the abolition of Buddhism. 高祖始受隋禅则议除之。

Gāozǔ shǐ shòu Suí Chán zé yì chú zhī.

17. But in those days the sphere of knowledge and insight of the official world was not wide; so they lacked the power of studying profoundly the things necessary for all times ancient and modern, that are laid down in the doctrines of the Sovereigns of antiquity; nor were they able to bring to the foreground the wisdom of the Sages, and thereby to remedy the evil in question. 当时羣臣识见不远、不能深究先王之道古今之宜、推阐圣明、以救斯弊。

Dāngshí qún chén shíjiàn bùyuǎn, bù néng shēnjiū xiānWáng zhī dào gǔjīn zhī yí, tuīchǎn shèngmíng, yǐ jiù sī bì.

18. So the matter came to a standstill, to your servant's great regret. 其事遂止、臣尝恨焉。

Qí shì suì zhǐ, chén cháng hèn yān.

19. Crouching at Your Majesty's feet, he recollects how You, Imperial Lord, whose preternatural wisdom and brilliant military qualities have been unequalled for several thousands and hundreds of years, on Your accession immediately forbade the consecration of persons to be Buddhist monks or nuns and to be Daoist monks, as also forbade that any more monasteries should be built. 伏惟皇帝陛下神圣英武数千百年以来朱有伦比、即位之初即不许度人为僧尼道士、又不许刖立寺观。

Fúwéi huángdì bìxià shénshèng yīngwǔ shùqiān bǎinián yǐlái zhū yǒu lúnbǐ, jíwèi zhī chū jí bùxǔ dù rénwéi sēngní dàoshi, yòu bù xǔ yuè lì sìguàn.

20. Your servant at that time concluded from this, that the will of Your High Ancestor was going to be executed at Your Majesty's hand; and to this moment I will admit immediately it has not yet been found possible to do so. 臣当时以为高祖之志必行于陛下之手、今纵未能即行。

Chén dāngshí yǐwéi Gāozǔ zhī zhì bì xíng yú bìxià zhī shǒu, jīn zòng wèi néng jíxíng.

21. But can it possibly be approved of, that, to this religion so much liberty is granted that the result is just the contrary; that is to say, that it is made to flourish and to prosper? 岂可恣之转令盛也。

Qǐkě zì zhī zhuǎn lìng shèng yě.


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Argument 3: Honoring Buddhism Misleads the Masses

22. I hear that Your Majesty has ordered the clergy to fetch the bone of Buddha from Fèngxiáng 凤翔; that You have resorted to a storied building to see the procession; that the bone has been carried into the interior of the palace, and that the convents have been commanded by You, in turn to receive it and present sacrifices to it. 今闻陛下令羣僧迎佛骨于凤翔、御楼以观、舁入大内、令诸寺递迎供养。

Jīn wén bìxià ling qún sēng yíng Fó gǔ yú Fèngxiáng, yù lóu yǐ guān, yú rù dànèi, lìng zhū sì dì yíng gòngyǎng.

23. Now your servant is extremely ignorant; nevertheless he knows for sure and certain, that this religious worship to pray for felicity is not performed by Your Majesty because of your having been led astray by Buddhism, and that it is not for this reason that, for the sake of an abundant harvest, to promote the happiness of mankind, and to meet the wishes of the people, You have set going this strange spectacle, this merry-making, for the official world in the imperial capital; 臣虽至愚、必知陛下不惑于佛作此祟奉以祈福祥也、直以年丰人乐徇人之心为京都士庶设诡异之观戏玩之具耳、

Chén suī zhì yú, bì zhī bìxià bùhuò yú Fó zuò cǐ suì fèng yǐ qífú xiáng yě, zhí yǐ nián fēng rén lè xùn rén zhī xīn wéi jīngdū shì shù shè guǐyì zhī guānxì wán zhī jù ěr,

24. for You who possess so much wisdom and intelligence, would You believe in such things? 安有圣明若此而肯信此等事哉。

Ān yǒu shèngmíng ruò cǐ ér kěn xìn cǐděng shì zāi.

25. But the people are so ignorant, so easily misled, so difficult to enlighten. 然百姓愚冥易惑难晓。

Rán bǎixìng yú míng yì huò nán xiǎo.

26. If therefore they see Your Majesty act thus, they will assert that You sincerely believe in Buddha, and they will say: If even the Son of Heaven, the Wise of the Wise, with his whole heart worships him, believes in him, it would ill suit us, people so insignificant and mean, to set any value on our bodies or our lives where the Buddha is concerned. 苟见陛下如此将谓真心信佛、皆云、天子大圣犹一心敬信、百姓微贱、于佛岂合惜身命。

Gǒu jiàn bìxià rúcǐ jiāng wèi zhēnxīn xìn Fó, jiē yún, tiānzǐ dà shèng yóu yīxīn jìngxìn, bǎixìng wēijiàn, yú Fó qǐ hé xīshēn mìng.

27. They will then scorch the crown of their head and burn the tips of their fingers; hundreds and dozens will flock together to undress and throw away their money from the morning until the evening, following each other's example, and only making themselves anxious about the risk of coming too late. 所以灼项蟠指、百十为羣解衣散钱自朝至暮、转和仿效唯恐后时。

Suǒyǐ zhuó xiàng pán zhǐ, bǎi-shí wéi qún jiěyī sǎnqián zì cháo zhì mù, zhuǎn hé fǎngxiào wéikǒng hòu shí.

28. Old and young people are now running about like a surging crowd, regardless of their trades and business; if You do not forthwith put a stop to this, and the travelling from one monastery to another recommences, then for certain shall we see them cut off their arms and slash their bodies by way of sacrifice. 老幼奔彼弃其生业、若不即加禁遏、更历诸寺、必有断臂脔身以为供养者。

Lǎoyòu bēn bǐ qì qí shēngyè, ruò bù jí jiā jìn'è, gèng lì zhū sì, bì yǒu duàn bì luán shēn yǐwéi gòngyǎng zhě.

29. What is now being done injures the correct habits and destroys the good customs; it raises laughter on all sides; and this is no matter of small moment. 伤风取俗、传笑四方、非细事也·

Shāngfēng qǔ sú, chuán xiào sìfāng, fēi xìshì yě·


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Argument 4: The Buddha Was a Crude Barbarian, Unworthy of Honor

30. Buddha was a western barbarian. He did not understand the language of our Central Empire, and wore clothes of different cut and make. 佛本夷狄之人。与中国言语不通、衣服殊制。

Fó běn yídí zhī rén. Yǔ Zhōngguó yányǔ bùtōng, yīfu shū zhì.

31. His tongue therefore did not speak the doctrines of the ancient Sovereigns; his body was not decked with the clothes they prescribed. 口不道先王之法言、身不服先王之法服。

Kǒu bùdào xiānwáng zhī fǎ yán, shēn bùfú xiānwáng zhī fǎfú.

32. The duties of the minister towards his sovereign, the sentiments of the child towards its parents, all these things were unknown to him. 不知君臣之义父子之情。

Bùzhī jūnchén zhī yìfù zi zhī qíng.

33. Suppose he were still living, and came to the Metropolis as bearer of instructions from his royal house, to ask for an audience, and suppose it pleased Your Majesty to lodge and receive him, 假如其身尚在、奉其国命来朝京师、陛下容而接之、

Jiǎrú qí shēn shàng zài, fèng qí guó mìng láizhāo jīngshī, bìxià róng ér jiē zhī,

34. in that case Your Majesty would surely not grant him more than one interview in the hall where you issue Your measures of government; once only You would regale him in the hall where guests are ceremoniously received; only one suit of clothes You would give him. 不过宜政一见、礼宾一设、赐衣一袭。

Bùguò yí zhèng yījiàn, lǐ bīn yī shè, cì yī yīxí.

35. Then you would have him escorted across the frontier, but you would prevent him from leading the people into error. 卫而出之数境、不令惑于众也。

Wèi ér chū zhī shù jìng, bù lìng huò yú zhòng yě.

36. How then is it to be defended that now, since he has long been dead, his rotten bone, his evil-causing, dirty relic is brought within the palace? 况其身死巳久、枯朽之骨凶秽之余岂宜以入宫禁。

Kuàng qí shēn sǐ sì jiǔ, kūxiǔ zhī gǔ xiōng huì zhī yú qǐ yí yǐ rù gōngjìn.


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Argument 5: Failing to Keep Spirits at a Distance is Unconfucian

37. Confucius taught that the spirits should be worshipped, and thus kept at a distance; and in olden times, when a feudal prince had to pay a visit of condolence within his dominions, he considered it a matter of importance to have first destroyed by an exorcist, with peach-wood and reeds, all evil influences; and not until this had been done he entered, to offer his condolences. 孔子曰、敬鬼神而远之、古之诸侯行吊于国、尚令巫祝先以桃茢袚除不祥、然后进吊。

Kǒngzǐ yuē, jìng guǐshén ér yuǎn zhī, gǔ zhī zhūhóu xíng diào yú guó, shàng lìng wū zhù xiān yǐ táo liè bō chú bùxiáng, ránhòu jìn diào.

38. But here, where no death has taken place, they bring a rotten, dirty thing, and Your Majesty deigns to go and see it in your own person, without being preceded by an exorcist, without the use of peach-wood and reeds, 今无故取朽秽之物、亲临观之、巫祝不先、桃茢不用、

Jīn wúgù qǔ xiǔ huì zhī wù, qīnlín guān zhī, wū zhù bù xiān, táo liè bùyòng,

39. and none of the ministers tell Your Majesty how wrong it is to do so; no censor puts forward the evil of it.
Truly, I am ashamed of this.

Qún chén bù yán qí fēi, Yùshǐ bù jǔ qí shī.
Chén shí chǐ zhī.


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Argument 6: Destroying Buddhism Will Bring Glory to Your Majesty

40. I humbly beseech Your Majesty to consign that bone to water and fire , in order that its influence may for ever be rooted out; in order that a stop may be put to the uncertainty in which the whole world feels itself; in order that the deception of posterity may be rendered impossible; 乞以此骨付之水火、永绝根本、断天下之疑、绝后代之惑、

Qǐ yǐcǐ gǔ fù zhī shuǐhuǒ, yǒngjué gēnběn, duàn tiānxià zhī yí, juéhòu dài zhī huò, .

41. let thus every one throughout the world become fully aware, that the measures of You, the Wise of the Wise, are a hundred million times above those of ordinary individuals. How palmy and glorious, how exhilarating this will be! 使天下之人知大圣人之所作为出于寻常万万也。岂不盛哉、岂不快哉.

Shǐ tiānxià zhī rén zhī dà shèngrén zhī suǒ zuòwéi chūyú xúncháng wànwàn yě. qǐbù shèng zāi, qǐbù kuài zāi..

42. If Buddha does possess spiritual power and can bring misfortune and evil upon any one, may he then send all the disasters he has in store, upon my body, and the heavens above will not see me murmur at it. 佛如有灵能作祸祟、凡有殃咎宜加臣身、上天鉴临臣不怨悔.

Fó rú yǒulíng néng zuòhuò suì, fán yǒu yāngjiù yí jiā chén shēn, shàngtiān jiàn lín chén bùyuàn huǐ.



In response, Emperor Xiànzōng took no action except to reassign Hán Yù to the “hardship” post of magistrate over Cháozhōu 潮州 in Guǎngdōng 广东 province in the far south and far from the imperial court. There he died in despair in 824, a despair considered puzzling by the proud natives of that town today.

Although Hán Yù was a towering figure in the development of Chinese written style, this memorial has been his principal claim to a place in Chinese history. The memorial of Hán Yù is still treasured by Confucian writers as the Táng dynasty’s most important condemnation of Buddhism, and the intellectual foundation for the dynasty’s devastating attacks on Buddhist institutions under Xiànzōng’s successors. (It is assigned in American college classes for much the same reason.)

Hán Yù himself is worshipped as a minor god patronizing students on the one hand, and the Hakka people associated with Guǎngdōng on the other.

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The Portrait of Hán Yù by an unknown artist is reprinted from
业露华 2005 佛教小百科历史. 郑州: 大象出版社. p. 158.

This page has received since 130817.