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Chinese History - Sixteen Barbarian States Religions

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In a time of worldy turbulence and instability, people quite naturally resorted to religion to release them from their daily sufferings. The advent of Buddhism in China during the 1st century CE had prepared a fertile soil for the "dark age" in China. Buddhist monks were also supported by the rulers of the various "barbarian" states. Shi Le and Shi Hu of the Later Zhao invited the monk Fotu Cheng 佛圖澄 and founded more than 800 monasteries. Fotu Cheng can be called rather a magician than a Buddhist monk, but he deeply contributed to the popularity of Buddhism. A lot of commoners used the institutions of the monasteries to escape taxation because monks were not tax-liable. Accordingly, the monastic communities easily swelled. Shi Hu supported this tendendy with his statement that he, as a "barbarian", should follow the "barbarian" religion of Buddhism. He also abolished a former regulation that Chinese were not allowed to enter a monastery. In religious respect, Chinese and Non-Chinese were treated equally. One of Fotu Cheng's most important disciples was the Chinese Dao'an 道安 who traveled through northern China to preach the teachings of Buddhism. He was likewise venerated by the court of the "barbarian" Former Qin and the Chinese of the Eastern Jin empire in the southeast. Dao'an was one of the first monks to screen the available Buddhist writings, to translate some of them from Sanskrit into Chinese, and to compile a catalogue. He also tried to fix the monastic rules and to write down the orally transmitted vinayas of which at that time no original texts were available. Dao'an therefore suggested to emperor Fu Jian to invite the famous translator Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什 from the state of Qiuci 龜茲 to come to Chang'an. In 382 general Lü Guang 呂光 (the eventual founder of the Later Liang) was sent out to the west to conquer Qiuci, but he failed, and when he returned, Fu Jian's empire had already disintegrated. It was only in 401 that Yao Xing of the Later Qin was so happy to welcome Kumārajīva in Chang'an, a city that became the centre of Buddhism in northern China at that time. Somewhat later, Juqu Mengxun 沮渠蒙遜 (r. 400-432) of the Northern Liang supported the Indian translator Tanwuchan 曇無懺, and the region of Gaochang 高昌 on the northern route of the Silk Road became a centre of Buddhism, together with the city of Yutian 于闐 on the southern route. The critical view towards the different transmissions of Buddhist writings, as well as the missing of a lot of rules for the monastic communities led to the need for the search for original Buddhist writings. A lot of Chinese monks began undertaking the long journey to India in the search for the writings (qiu jing 求經). The most famous of these monks was Faxian 法顯 who left Chang'an in 399 and returned after long and adventurous years by sea in 412. He had compiled the book Foguoji 佛國記 "the Buddhist lands", a detailed description of the countries he crossed on his way to northern India and back. The region of the ancient Silk Road was controlled by the states of Liang. Former Liang transformed the region of Gaochang into a commandery (jun 郡) and made it the westernmost commandery of whole China. Lü Guang of the Later Liang appointed his son Lü Fu 呂復 Grand protector of the Western Territories (xiyu da duhu 西域大都護). Li Gao 李暠 (r. 400-416) of the Western Liang appointed his son "Commander over the Western Barbarians" (xiyi xiaowei 西夷校尉). The rulers of the Northern Liang themselves were appointed regional governors (mu 牧) of the province of Liangzhou 涼州 by both the Northern Wei and the Liu-Song empires. The "barbarian states" thus took care for the open trade along the Silk Road and contributed to the cultural exchange between China and the countries in Central, Western and Southern Asia. In times of unrest, another trade route to the west was opened, crossing the land of the Tuyuhun 吐谷渾 (Tanguts) in the Tsaidam Basin. This was way also easier to reach from Sichuan and from the Yangtze region. While Chinese merchandise traveled westwards, Buddhism and Hellenistic art reached China from the west along the Silk Road. The arts flourished in the Buddhist cave monasteries that were built up in the western regions, most famous being the grottoes at Dunhuang 敦煌.

Source: Tang Changru 唐長儒 (1992), "Shiliuguo 十六國", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 922-928.

October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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