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A General Outline of Buddhism


Buddhism after the Founding of the Republic of China

■  岳興華     文     By Yue Xinhua






From last issue: Buddhism during the Two Song Dynasties.

The Qing government had been decadent for a long time. Since Emperor Xuantong was young and the Prince-Regent was incompetent, the political reform initiated by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao had failed, and Empress Dowager Cixi’s dictatorship had become harsher, the people were ripe for revolution. Dr. Sun Zhongshan led a revolution that overthrew the Qing government. However, as the new President, Yuan Shikai reverted back to monarchic rule. Dr. Sun thereupon initiated a second revolution, but it did not succeed. In the resulting chaos, the warlords divided up China and each occupied a territory. There were battlefields everywhere, and people were constantly fleeing from danger, losing their homes. There was no peace and security in their lives. Under the circumstances, we can imagine the situation of Buddhist groups. Many superstitious cults sprang up all over the country. They specialized in cheating people out of their money. For example, there was the Yi Guan Dao sect, which signed people up to buy blessings, wealth, and divine positions, making people spend money in the hope of securing peace and safety. The whole society was in turmoil, and there was no government maintaining order. The Japanese empire had long since harbored ambitions and made plans to invade China. They plotted the Mukden incident (September 18, 1921) and used it as an excuse to send troops to occupy and control the four provinces of Re, Feng, Ji, and Jiang. They set up the puppet Manchuria Empire in the name of Emperor Xuantong. Though they did not oppress Buddhism, how could the religion of a subjugated nation have any independent power? One day, the executive office of the Changchun city government summoned all the religious and other civilian groups for a meeting chaired by the director. He said, “You should all apply for permission before conducting any activity. Groups whose names include the words ‘world’ or ‘international,’ such as the World Red Cross Society and International Moral Society, should change those words to ‘Manchuria Empire.’ Most importantly, they must sever the relationship with the rest of China. Needless to say, the mobilization of employees and all mail correspondence are prohibited. All of your groups are engaged in social work, which can be divided into two categories:
1. Educational work: This includes lecturing on the Sutras, speaking the Dharma, discussing virtue, and other means of exhorting people to become good.
2. Relief work: This includes providing food, supplies, clothing, medicines, and so on.

From now on when you hold any meeting, you should begin the meeting by talking about the imperial instructions to the populace, the friendly relations between Japan and Manchuria, and so on. If you have any need for advertisements, just go to each group and let them do the promotion.” After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Japanese recklessly drove their invasion deep into the interior of China. Buddhists of course could not stand at the sidelines and watch in apathy. They organized themselves to sew garments and make shoes for soldiers, transport supplies, provide food, shelter, and protective escorts for refugees, and so forth. In 1945, when Japan surrendered unconditionally, Chinese Buddhism had already suffered enough of their oppression. During the ten years of war, most of the monasteries had been destroyed. Some were burned after monks and nuns were kicked out; others were confiscated and turned into government property. Not only had religious policies been trampled upon, the people had been completely stripped of their freedom of belief, and this seriously injured the religious devotion of worshippers. Since 1982, in order to set clear policies for religion, the national government and all levels of government in the country have reinstituted the freedom of belief of the people, rebuilt destroyed temples, and returned confiscated temples and property.

→To be continued


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