Comparison of the rise of Buddhism in China and Japan

Comparison of the rise of Buddhism in China and Japan

Buddhism was first recorded around 600 BCE.[1] This article will compare the rise of Buddhism in two very different countries, and two very different times. During the first century CE Buddhism found its way into China, and around the 5th century Buddhism found its way into Japan. When Japan was only just learning what Buddhism was China had been exposed to the religion for nearly 500 years and China was quickly approaching a mass persecution of Buddhism in the country. The rise to power and large amount of treasure accumulated by Chinese Buddhists was incredible. The rise to wealth and power of Japanese Buddhists was equally incredible. When it came time for Emperors of these countries to make decisions regarding Buddhism they couldn't have differed more. In China Buddhism was persecuted and nearly eradicated from the country forever; however in Japan, Buddhism grew to become the countries religion, and continued to grow with the country developing two of today's main schools of Buddhist thought.

First Appearances

Moton and chufarlen traveled to China to trade from Central Asia and they established The White Horse Temple in 68 CE. From 220-589 CE Buddhism in China flourished this was during the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618-907 CE. In the beginning the Tang Dynasty was characterized by being very open to foreign influence and eventually restarted trade routes with India due to the Chinese Buddhist monks. The Tang capitol Chang'an even became an important center for thought in the Buddhist community. Buddhism was eventually able to spread from there to Korea and Japan. Later on in the Tang Dynasty in 845 CE Emperor Wuzong initiated the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution. There were social, economic, and religious reasons for this persecution.
I found three separate dates for when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. My first source claims that Buddhism was introduced in the 467 CE by 5 monks. Those monks brought Buddhist doctrines and religious symbols. The monks not only spread the idea of Buddhism but also the idea of Buddhism helping Japan acquire riches of its own.[2]
The official introduction of Buddhism to Japan was in 552 CE when Seong of Baekje sent a mission to Nara. They brought monks, nuns, an image of Buddha, and several sutras to introduce Buddhism.[3]
According to another account though Buddhism arrived in Japan in the year 538 CE by Prince Shotoku. Because of the small amount of historic documents related to this topic it is difficult to verify when the true first encounter with Buddhism in Japan occurred. For the sake of this article I will use 467 CE as the introduction of Buddhism to Japan.

Societal Reception

When Buddhism was introduced to China, Confucianism had already been an active religion for hundreds of years. Members of Confucianism believed that Buddhism would undermine the social structure of China as a whole. They believed that Buddhism would destroy the loyalty between father and son, and encourage people to leave their families and become monks.[4] Against the wishes of members of Confucianism, Buddhism ended up becoming a major religious force through the Tang dynasty and was able to receive a tax exempt status.
When Buddhism was introduced to Japan the state religion was Shinto, and although the state as a whole was relatively young, and rather quick to adapt new practices Buddhism did not gain much hold early on. When Empress Suiko openly encouraged the Japanese people to accept Buddhism it started to spread quickly though. in 607 CE to obtain a sutra an imperial envoy was sent to Sui Dynasty in China. By 627 CE there were 46 Buddhist Temples and 1385 Buddhist monks and nuns in Japan.[5]


In the year 840 CE Wuzong became emperor. Wuzong had seen Buddhism grow as a foreign religion, and as a danger to his society. On the other hand Wuzong saw Taoism as native to China, and Wuzong became an enthusiastic follower. Wuzong believed that the Buddhist monks and nuns were unproductive members of his society, and because Buddhist temples were enjoying a tax exempt status they were not contributing to the tax-base. Wuzong also preferred Taoism because Buddhism preached the attainment of Nirvana, which was equated to death; however, Taoism promised immortality to its followers.[4]
While Emperor Wuzong preferred Taoism to Buddhism still others preferred Confucianism to Buddhism. Confucianism is characterized by building a strong connection between son, father, and then the Emperor. While Buddhism promoted leaving families and living in a temple.
In the year 645 CE Emperor Kotoku replaced the state religion of Shinto with Buddhism. From there Japan continued to grow with Buddhism and monasteries became centers of power, even establishing armies of warrior-monks during the Heian Period. During the Kamakura period Buddhism essentially was split into two main schools that still persist today. Those schools were Zen, and the Pure Land. The zen schools were picked up by the Upper classes very rapidly. While the pure lands schools were also picked up very quickly and remain today as the largest Buddhist Sect in Japan.

Economics of Buddhism

The Emperor's army had won a battle in the year 843, but the win left China nearly bankrupt. Wuzong knew that the Buddhist temples were tax exempt and full of treasures that could bring his country out of debt.
In the year 467 CE Buddhism was introduced to Japan by 5 monks, and these monks brought Buddhist documents and drawings with them to show to the Japanese people.
Fusang is located to the east of China, 20,000 li (1,500 kilometers) east of the state of Da Han [Korea] (itself east of the state of Wa in modern Kansai region, Japan). (...) In former times, the people of Fusang knew nothing of the Buddhist religion, but in the second year of Da Ming of the Song Dynasty (467), five monks from Kipin [Kabul region of Gandhara] travelled by ship to Fusang. They propagated Buddhist doctrine, circulated scriptures and drawings, and advised the people to relinquish worldly attachments. As a result the customs of Fusang changed.
—Monk Hui Shen (慧深) in the book Liang Shu, 7th century


In China Buddhism had a very slow start, slowly setting in over the course of hundreds of years, while Japan was presented with a fully formed religion, and this religion had money associated to it already. China also already had a successful mixture of Confucianism and Taoism within Chinese society, while Japan was lacking in any form of united government and religion. Finally China was bankrupt by a severely important battle, which left China in search of money. Japan had a fairly young government when offerings were first made, and Buddhism seemed an attractive option to help grow a budding country. This led to China ultimately persecuting, exiling, and stealing from Buddhist monks. The effects lasted for centuries, Buddhism was not entirely wiped out, but it was only ever a tolerated religion during the fallout. Many of the teachings were able to be restored later, but the persecution left whole schools of Buddhism completely forgotten about. In contrast Buddhism found rapid growth in Japan and ultimately that initial growth and promise of led to Buddhism becoming a hugely important and powerful religion in Japan.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Monk Hui Shen (慧深) in the book Liang Shu, 7th century
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Reischauer, Edwin O. Ennin's Travels in Tang China. New York: Ronald Press, 1955.
  5. ^ Bowring, Richard John (2005). The religious traditions of Japan, 500-1600. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-521-85119-X.