Starting from when Buddhism first spread in China during the first century B.C.E. to the restoration of the imperial structure in 570 C.E., people’s opinions and attitudes toward Buddhism changed depending on the political circumstances of the time. During the Han Dynasty and period of disunification, the ideas of Buddhism spread rapidly across China because people needed comfort and justification for why their lives were terrible due to the chaos and turmoil of the times. In contrast, during the Tang Dynasty and time of relative stability, people experienced an improvement in the quality of their lives, so Buddhism did not serve the same purposes of comfort and justification as it did previously. In addition, the Tang Imperial Court sought to eradicate Buddhism because they viewed it as a school of thought that could undermine their authority, due to the extent of influence it had on the citizenry. Buddhism was first founded in India and later spread to China by means of trade and culture. Practitioners of Buddhism also spread their faith along the Silk Road. Despite China’s many changes in attitude towards Buddhism, including its attempted eradication during the Tang Dynasty, it remains one of the major religions practiced around the world today.
Documents 1, 2, and 3 describe some principles and characteristics of Buddhism, have explanations of why Buddhism was appealing, and paint Buddhism in a positive light. Document 1, titled The Four Noble Truths and written by Buddha in the fifth century B.C.E., describes what sorrow is and the doctrine people need to follow in order to reach Nirvana. This was important to many people during the Han Dynasty because The Four Noble Truths explained why they were suffering as a result of ongoing chaos and turmoil. Document 2 is an excerpt from Zhi Dun in 350 C.E. that states whoever follows Buddha and his teachings will find themselves enlightened. This was attractive to people of the Han Dynasty who wanted release from their current lives to the afterlife because it had something greater to offer. Document 3 is titled The Disposition of Error and it was written by an anonymous Chinese scholar in 500 C.E. It teaches property, wealth, and children are not the only things that will make a person happy; following the Way of Buddhism will lead to eternal peace. People during this time lived in a period of war and unrest, and with very little, but they found comfort knowing that because of this, later they would find happiness in the afterlife, as referenced in Document 3. Another document that would help here would be a map and key of how quickly Buddhism spread during the Han Dynasty. The principles of Buddhism helped people of the Han Dynasty and period of disunification through their lives by providing answers to their suffering due to war and turmoil, which explains the rapid spread of Buddhism during this time period.
Documents 4 and 6 list reasons why the governing elite believed Buddhism should not be practiced, contain arguments on why Buddhism influenced the people of China in a negative way, and allude to how Buddhism would destroy the unity of the nation from the perspective of the governing elite. Document 4, titled Memorial on Buddhism was written by Han Yu in 819 C.E., states that Buddhism “was just a cult of the barbarian peoples spread to China.” (Doc 4 L 1 and 2) and Han Yu’s opinion on Buddhism reflected a change in China’s attitude toward Buddhism. Buddhism was now painted as cultish and barbaric. Document 6, titled Edict on Buddhism and was written by Tang Emperor Wu in 845 C.E. portrays Emperor Wu’s attitude toward Buddhism as critical, stating, “Buddhism wears out the people’s strength, pilfers their wealth, causes people to abandon their lords and parent for the company of teachers, and severs man and wife with its monastic decrees.” (Doc 6 L 5, 6, and 7) Considering China was, during that time, in a state of relative peace and