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What Was The Huichang Persecution Of Buddhism?
The Huichang Persecution of Buddhism was a period of intense anti-Buddhist government repression lasting from 841 to 845 in Chine. It was a part of a larger campaign initiated by then Emperor Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty to rid China of non-Confucian traditions, specifically those of Taoism and Buddhism. This campaign was known as the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution or the Great Tang Suppression of Buddhism. This targeted religious suppression occurred intermittently throughout Chinese history as the ruling dynasty attempted to impel the religious beliefs of their people toward a single state-sanctioned ideology.
The Huichang Persecution of Buddhism in particular began in 841 with the issuance of an imperial edict that called for all Buddhist monasteries, stupas, images, and scriptures to be collected and destroyed. This resulted in up to 4,600 monasteries, 40,000 shrines, and the destruction of some 4-6 million Buddhist images throughout the length of the persecution. Monastic land holdings were also confiscated and converted into government land. In addition, Buddhist monks were ordered to return to lay life or be arrested, and Buddhist sacred texts and printing blocks were to be burned.
Monks and nuns who remained in their monasteries were subjected to violence and abuse. Some were defrocked and forced to marry. Those who refused were beaten and arrested. Monks who continued their religious activities were also persecuted by the government and subject to torture, flogging, and other forms of physical violence.
In 843, Emperor Wuzong went even further by ordering the closure of all foreign-controlled Buddhist monasteries which included those belonging to Indian, Chinese, Khotanese, and Persian Buddhist orders. He also confiscated funds and property from these monasteries and those belonging to Chinese monks and nuns.
The final action taken by Emperor Wuzong was the expulsion of all foreign monks and nuns from China. This occurred in 845 and marked the end of the Huichang Persecution of Buddhism. As a result of this targeted persecution, many Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and not rebuilt, leaving a permanent scar on the Buddhist tradition in China.
In spite of the government’s efforts to suppress Buddhism and Taoism in China, these religions continued to exist and thrive. To this day, Buddhism and Taoism remain prominent in Chinese society and culture, a reminder of their long and important history in the country. The legacy of the Huichang Persecution of Buddhism serves as a reminder of the power that government can wield over religious and spiritual traditions and the importance of preserving religious freedom for all people.