“Made in China”: The History of Buddhism in the Middle Kingdom (Part VI)
The Great Wall of China (which contrary to popular myth is not visible from outer space) was built to keep people out. Nowadays it has the opposite effect—attracting tourists to China to come see this Great Wall. Communist China raised up “walls” to keep Christian missionaries out. This also had an opposite effect—underground churches flourished and native missionaries sprung up. Another religion foreign to China, rushing into the spiritual vacuum created by Communism, was Buddhism– which has also experienced a surge in popularity.
Modern Walls and China’s Outward Show of Tolerance
Many of the world’s tallest statues (most of which are Buddhist) are in China—including the world’s tallest at 128 meters tall (of Vairocana Buddha). As huge as these are to us, they are only like specks of dust in God’s sight.
The people of Israel were impressed with the magnificent man-made temple (like those impressed with man-made idols), but Jesus pointed them to Himself instead (Matthew 12:6)—by His outward appearance a mere man, but His body was actually the temple, in which God Himself came to live among men. When people came to meet Jesus they came to the real temple and were praying, because they were speaking with God. Man places importance on outward appearances such as idols and temple buildings. But, God forbids idolatry and sees past the outwards appearances to the hearts of people.
Communist China is competing for the hearts of people, too, and even regulates the choices that can be made with their “Great” Internet Firewall, which censors, monitors, and destroys censorship evading software. Professor Kim Wu of Columbia Law School has said, “The Great Firewall of China is built with American bricks” (Navarro, 130). American companies like Cisco, Skype, Microsoft, and Google have taken the lead in providing China with the tools for making this Great Firewall of China.
The Last Empress of China: Cixi (AD 1835-1908)
Before Communism invaded the land, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) came to an end possibly with the help of the 13th Dalai Lama. Like Empress Wu Zhao (AD 625-706), Dowager Empress Ci Xi, began her life at court as a concubine. In Ci Xi’s case that began at age sixteen, in 1851; in Wu Zhao’s case that was at age thirteen. Also like Wu Zhao, Ci Xi laid claim to being a member of the Buddhist pantheon. Wu Zhao had claimed to be the Maitreya Buddha. Ci Xi on the other hand claimed to be the bodhisattva (savior) Guanyin (Avalokitesvara, ironically the same one that the Dalai Lama claims to be).
“Officially, Ci Xi supported Confucianism, but privately, like many members of the Manchu [Qing] dynasty (1644-1911) before her, she felt herself attracted to the Lamaist [Tibetan] doctrine. She was well-versed in the canonical writings, wrote Buddhist mystery plays herself, and had these performed by her eunuchs. Her apartments were filled with numerous Buddha statues and she was a passionate collector of old Lamaist temple flags. Her favorite sculpture was a jade statue of Guanyin given to her by a great lama. She saw herself as the earthly manifestation of this goddess and sometimes dressed in her robes.” (Trimondi)
German authors Victor and Victoria Trimondi in their book “The Shadow of the Dalai Lama,” have exposed many dark corners in the Dalai Lama’s life and history. They have taken pen names to protect themselves from possible repercussions. The Trimondis have written about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Ci Xi’s death shortly after the visit of the thirteenth Dalai Lama:
“It should be obvious that the sudden deaths of the Emperor and his adoptive mother immediately following one another gave rise to wild rumors and that all manner of speculations about the role and presence of the Dalai Lama were in circulation [the Dalai Lama came to visit at the end of October 1908 and Ci Xi was dead by mid-November 1908]. Naturally, the suspicion that the “god-king” from Tibet had acted magically to get his cosmic rival out of the way was rife among the courtiers, well aware of tantric ideas and practices. On the basis of the still to be described voodoo practices which have been cultivated in the Potala for centuries, such a suspicion is also definitely not to be excluded, but rather is probable. At any rate, as Avalokiteshvara the Hierarch likewise represents the death god Yama. Even the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama sees — as we shall show — with pride a causal connection between a tantric ritual he conducted in 1976 and the death of Mao Zedong. Even if one does not believe in the efficacy of such magical actions, one must concede an amazing synchronicity in these cases.” (Trimondi)
Ci Xi died in 1908, but she had already chosen a two-year old prince to sit on the dragon throne in her place. In 1911 however revolutionaries removed the Manchus from power, thus ending the Qing [Manchu] dynasty.
Pure Land Popularity
“Of the four million or so lay devotees of Buddhism in China during the 1930’s, it is estimated that sixty to seventy per cent considered themselves to be followers of the Pure Land School” (Ch’en, 460). Pure Land Buddhism is a form of Buddhism which recites the name of Amittabha Buddha (A-mi-t’o; Amida) devotionally. The Amittabha Buddha is an invention of text writers who were not interested in real history. The Panchen Lama claims to be an emanation of Amittabha Buddha as well. While this Buddha is hugely popular in China, Tibet, and Japan, it is just an invented legend. The same can be said of Avalokitesvara (Kannon; Kuan-yin); which the Dalai Lama (and Empress Ci Xi claimed) claims to embody.
Struggle for Power and a Soul Redeemed
In the years that followed the break-up of the Qing dynasty, a struggle ensued with many competing groups vying for power. Writing from a mid-twentieth century perspective Gordon Kerr summarizes: “China had been at war with itself for almost half a century, engaged in a titanic struggle that, after the First and Second World Wars, was the third biggest conflict in history” (136).
Lit-Sen Chang, who played a supporting role in the attempt to create the Republic of China (anti-communist) finally realized that politics can only go so far—and after that the problems in the human heart must be dealt with. However, his goal was to revive Asian religions and destroy Christianity: “I was intoxicated with Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism as were many other Chinese scholars, and became the founding President of Kiang Nan University. The Yung De-sheng family donated five thousand acres of land, beside the most beautiful lake T’ai Hu. This was to be the center of a resurgence movement of Asian religions and destroy Christianity. I was forty-five years old” (290). After a providential trip to Java and meeting Christians there, he became a Christian instead and then a defender and promoter of the Christian faith.
After Lit-Sen Chang’s 180 degree turn, here are some excerpts of his on the topic of Buddhism: “Regarding the birth, childhood, and youth of Buddha, the accounts are so full of discrepancies and enormous exaggerations that none of them can be safely regarded as historical…. Not until the first century A.D had the religion of Buddhism reached as far eastward as China…. [the Buddha’s] law has no lawgiver…. according to his doctrine of the ten fetters, the desire to live on earth and the desire to live in heaven are considered to be sins…. The results of following Buddhism to its logical conclusion would be unrestrained atheism, moral nihilism, and tragic pessimism. Chaos and darkness would be the consequences…. Their supreme aim is for deliverance from suffering, not for holiness and righteousness…. They even teach, ‘Let no man love anything’….Thus, for one’s own happiness, one should not love others. This is sheer selfishness…. While Jesus Christ promises eternal life, Buddha holds forth, as the summum bonum, eternal extinction of individual conscious life…. Then, this is the way of destruction, not of salvation!…. We are told that a saved Buddhist is a man who not only ceases to hate, but also ceases to love; not only ceases to desire evil, but also ceases to desire good…. The secret to salvation is the detachment from all things…. Buddhist eschatology is nothing more than speculation or vain deceit because there is no historical fact
or sign to prove it. But Christianity is historical reality” (123-137).
70 Years of Communism
October 2019 marked the 70 year anniversary of communist control of China. Mao Zedong, the first chairman of communist China wrote, “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another” (Kerr, 136). That’s something that Americans should keep in mind, as the upcoming presidential election has put on offer two candidates so far who are openly socialistic (socialism is a stepping stone to fully entrenched communism). “…Mao had said in 1948 that he envisaged 50 million would ‘have to be destroyed’ to make the reform happen” (Kerr, 137).
From 1958 to 1962 Mao instituted “The Great Leap Forward,” in which production and modernization was to be escalated. That program resulted in the death of tens of millions. “It has been reported that while people were dying of hunger, there were 22 million tons of grain being held in public granaries. Mao refused to open the doors, claiming that the peasants were hiding grain. Furthermore, he was using grain to pay back some of China’s 1.973 billion yen debt to the USSR… between 20 and 40 million people died of starvation” (Kerr, 141). After that, the Cultural Revolution, also initiated by Mao, claimed another one to two million lives. A turning point came in 1978, two years after Mao Zedong’s death, when Deng Xiaoping worked towards “reform and opening-up.” “Trying to bridge the divide pre- and post- 1978, between Maoist radical ideology and the embracing of Chinese style capitalism afterwards, has taken immense thought and ingenuity” (Brown, 29-30)
In 2018 Chinese President Xi Jinping legislated new laws which severely restrict religious groups in China. These are now being implemented, including prison sentences for those not complying: “The new rules also say ‘religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party,’ as well as requiring ‘religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ Despite the crackdown, experts estimate by 2030 that the Christian population, at 100 million — compared to 90 million members of CCP — is set to grow to 250 million” (https://fxn.ws/2ZXrHhH).
Communism’s Modern-Day Puppet: President Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping became president of modern China in 2013. His task has been to continue bolstering the economic growth of the nation while maintaining loyalty to Marxist principles. One factor in this economic growth is the rapid movement towards cities. “Up to as recently as the 1990s, more than 80 per cent of the population lived in the countryside…. In the years since 1978, China has probably built more cities more quickly than any other country that has ever existed. More than 260 cities have populations of over a million…. By the end of 2030, perhaps long before, 70 per cent of China’s people will live in cities. The social and political ramifications of this are immense” (Brown, 160-161). Kerry Brown’s conclusion concerning general secretary and president Xi Jinping is this: “The truly powerful as history proves time and time again, locate their power far away from themselves. And for Xi Jinping that is in the ideals, beliefs and passions of the world’s final Communist party, holding a monopoly of power over a colossal country” (231).
It is ironic that in modern times China is becoming more and more open to capitalistic ventures (to keep the GDP soaring), but at the same time it has become more restrictive towards religions or any possible voice of dissent, because this kind of freedom of thought is something that could undermine the very foundations of the Communist Party. “Under Xi Jinping, the government has tightened its control over Internet discussions, announcing in mid 2013 that anyone who posted defamatory comments viewed by 5,000 other users or reposted more than 500 times could be jailed for up to three years” (Tse, 160). “Xi’s administration has also clamped down on all sources of dissent, including paying much closer attention to many NGOs, especially those pushing for legal reforms” (Tse, 167). “As Xi’s program makes clear, the Communist Party will retain its role as the leading force running China. Whatever the degree of economic liberalization, it will not surrender its ultimate control over the country’s macroeconomic levers” (Tse, 223). As was seen in the previous section, the Communist Party’s abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama shows their fear of any religious group which has the potential to create unrest.
In spite of taking over the country of Tibet and persecuting the Tibetan Buddhists, the Chinese Communists didn’t want to look bad in the eyes of their other Buddhist neighbors such as Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam—perhaps wanting to win them over to the communist way, or at least wanting to have political power or economic advantages in relationship to these countries. “One of the most powerful weapons used by the Chinese Buddhist Association to gain the good will of the Buddhist countries is a tooth of the Buddha, which the Communists claim was unearthed in China. This tooth was loaned to the Burmese government for display in Rangoon in 1955, and in 1961 it was exhibited in Ceylon [Sri Lanka]…. The display of the tooth in Ceylon also counteracted some of the unfavorable criticism aroused by the Communist invasion of Tibet” (Ch’en, 468). For those wanting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, they may have been disappointed to only get the whole tooth “of the Buddha,” found in China of all places.
Persecution of Mongolian Buddhism
In Mongolia, Tibetan Buddhism was still practiced. Jamtsarano’s, Buddhist renewal movement, “…failed to convince the new communist-led government of the People’s Republic of Mongolia, however, and, in 1937, following the precedent set by Joseph Stalin’s repression of the Russian Orthodox Church, Buddhism was banned. The Mongolian government executed thousands of lamas, burned monasteries to the ground, and destroyed religious books and images. Beginning with the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, to which the People’s Republic of Mongolia was tied as an unofficial satellite, Buddhism began to resurface in both Outer Mongolian and in Russian Buriatia…. By contrast, in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, Buddhism has been submitted to the same Chinese state control as exists in Tibet.” (Berger, 564-565).
Lack of Moral Footing in Marxism
“The ethical basis of the [Communist] Party, because of its proclivity for violence right up to recent years, is problematic…. Marxism, in the end did not gift any system, whether in the former USSR or anywhere else, with a particularly coherent body of ethical thinking” (Brown, 42). The Party is more focused on good financial reports with GDP growth. A country’s laws reflect what it deems to be moral or immoral. “The legal system under Mao was a bad fiction, with courts largely run as arms of the Party, their judges former military officers and their justice summary and brutal. In 1979, a concerted effort was made to build up a set of laws…. Since then, China has been on a legal roller coaster, passing hundreds of laws” (Brown, 167). “China was once accused of executing thousands each year, but the country’s figures have fallen dramatically. Even so, in 2013 it was still executing more people than the rest of the world combined” (Brown, 170).
This lack of moral footing in Marxism is also shared by Buddhism. The conclusions which Buddhist
ethics reach are not always so innocent. For an interesting example of some unethical things espoused by Tibetan Buddhism, here are eight poignant questions to the Dalai Lama: www.trimondi.de/EN/deba03.html
Tibetan and Zen Amorality
Any system which disregards God, must ultimately rest its morality on human opinion alone. This is the predicament of Buddhism. Many teachers may espouse lofty and humanitarian ideals, but these are only opinions with no authority to back them up. Other teachers, because of this lack of authority don’t bother to emphasize morality, at least not an absolute one: “Although he stressed the necessity of the formalities of Zen practice, [Shunryu] Suzuki-roshi declined to establish an ethical code for his students, on the rationale that ethics were relative to culture. Such a code, he said, would have to be developed gradually over time through trial and error…his general ethical relativism had an obvious appeal to the generation that had pushed through the revolution in American sexual mores.” (Robinson and Johnson, 304)
Just as this teacher of Zen Buddhism (Zen originated in China under the name Ch’an) did, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher also downplayed the importance of morality:
“Trungpa viewed ethical norms as part of the ‘bureaucracy of the ego’ that meditation was intended to overthrow….Trungpa’s writings…were quite popular, and his frank rejection of ethical norms notorious.” (Robinson and Johnson, 304- 5)
In both of the above cases, the results were predictable: “Suzuki-roshi died in 1971, and Chogyam Trungpa in 1987. Both had appointed American Dharma heirs shortly after their deaths; both of their heirs quickly became involved in sex scandals and were eventually removed from their appointed organizations. Soon similar scandals in other Zen, Son, and Tibetan centers, involving Asian as well as American teachers, brought home that these were not isolated instances but part of a general pattern…” (Robinson and Johnson, 306)
Chinese Political Amorality Around the World
“…everyone from China’s business leaders right up to its president and premier openly boasts to dictators and rogue states alike that China will never condition its oil and other natural resource deals on any moral principle or human rights issues that challenge the sovereignty of its trading partners. China’s President Hu Jintao has succinctly summarized China’s amoral doctrine: ‘Just business, no political conditions’ (Navarro, 47).
China’s power in the UN to veto has resulted in untold human suffering. China has used this power to veto to stop sanctions on countries killing and persecuting its citizens. China has done this because it wants oil or other resources from those countries and thus protects them even if they are terrorists or are committing genocide or have deplorable human rights situations. China has given its protection to Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), Iran, and Angola in the midst of screams of injustice. Peter Navarro puts it this way, “One common reprehensible thread in this whole sordid story is China’s crass commercial use of its U.N. veto to quite literally trade blood and bukes for oil” (57).
“…China now has a significant presence in all 54 African nations” (Navarro, 65). China has often built roads, ports and other helpful infrastructure in nations building partnerships with China. But, this has perhaps sarcastically, but also accurately been called “extraction infrastructure.” “Its [China’s] strategic goal was nothing less than gaining full economic control of the metals, minerals, raw materials, and agricultural riches of a continent that is as wealthy in these resources as it is lacking in political and social structures to defend itself from the imperialistic Chinese assault” (Navarro, 65). In its quest to keep its economy surging forward, “China’s amoral foreign policies are helping to prop up dictators and rogue regimes around the world” (Navarro, 70).
Gordon Kerr writes, “…bear in mind the prescient words of Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world’” (13). It looks like it’s too late for that.
Links to Iran and Russia
China gets oil from Iran and is thus somewhat of an ally to Iran. Writing in 2008, Navarro said, “…the danger of China coming to the defense of Iran will clearly grow as China’s military continues its modernization and buildup and as China’s thirst for oil grows” (158). Historically, as discussed in the previously, Persia (Iran) may also have had early influence on (Chinese) Mahayana Buddhism.
“Economically, China has become one of Russia’s most important energy consumers. Militarily, Russia has become one of China’s most important suppliers of sophisticated technologies and weaponry. Strategically, Russia and China now regularly conduct joint military operations” (Navarro, 159).
In 1999, Falun Gong (which is a mixture of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, and Hindu Yoga) peacefully challenged the authority of the state. As a result, “Tens of thousand of Falun Gong practitioners were put into prisons, reeducation through labor (RTL) camps, or psychiatric hospitals. In addition employers were ordered to fire any Falun Gong who refused to renounce his or her beliefs, and school were used to indoctrinate children against the Falun Gong movement” (Navarro, 141). Falun Gong had about 70 million followers in 1999, which is when about 10,000 of their members staged their protest. That kind of dissent scared the communist government too much to just ignore this movement.
China’s Future in Prophecy
That brings us up to the present in China’s history with Buddhism. What does China’s future hold? Is China named in any biblical prophecies? Some would suggest China is in Isaiah 49:12 under the name Sinim (a name possibly derived from the first unified dynasty of China—the Qin) or in Revelation 16:12 as part of the “kings of the east.” This may be. Certainly China has significant links to both Russia and Iran. Because of its connection with various Turkic people in its history, perhaps China will even play a role in the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecies.
Throughout its history China has been influenced and molded by various Turkic rulers. The Northern Wei dynasty (386-534) was ruled by the Toba Turks. Of the founders of the famous Tang dynasty, Jonathan Clements writes, “…the imperial family had a lot of Turkish blood in it—with Taizong himself having a Tartar grandmother and Empress Wende having connections to Central Asia…” (27). There were, and are, a variety of Turkic groups. Some of them were at war with China at various times along its borders and other Turkic groups mixed in among the Han Chinese and even ruled from the “dragon throne.” The Jin dynasty (1115–1234) was ruled by the Turkic Jurchen people who also conquered and ruled the Northern Song dynasty from 1127 until 1234.
A large percentage of the Mongolian armies were Turkic. The Mongols ruled China for almost 100 years (The Yuan dynasty from 1271-1368). The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) was ruled by the Manchurians who descended from the Turkic Jurchen people. Even today the Manchus and the Uyghurs, both descending from Turkic groups, make up 1.5% of the Chinese population. This is not counting what percent the Han Chinese themselves have Turkic blood, because of the hundreds of years of rule by Turkic groups.
Moreover, the country of Turkey was not even inhabited by Turks until the 11th century AD! The Turks originated in western Mongolia, became soldiers for the Mongolian dynasties, and some later became Muslims—both nomadic and city dwelling. Akhilesh Pillalamarri has this to say about the how the Turks
migrated to the country now known as Turkey: “…Asia Minor–modern Turkey–was formerly inhabited by a variety of non-Turkic peoples…. Hittites, Phrygians, and Luwians…. In 1037, the Seljuk Empire, a Turkic state, was founded northeast of Iran in Central Asia and quickly overran much of Persia, Iraq, and the Levant…. It should be noted that the Turks were a minority, ruling a Persian, Arab, and Kurdish majority [by 1081 the area that is modern-day Turkey was taken over from the previous Byzantine rulers—it would be another 200 years or so before the Ottoman Empire would begin]…. The Turkification of Asia Minor is evident in the fact that genetically, the majority of today’s Turks are most closely related to Greeks and Armenians rather than Central Asian Turkic peoples…. some 9 to 15 percent of the Turkish genetic mixture derives from Central Asia” (https://thediplomat.com/ 2016/06/the-epic-story-of-how-the-turks-migrated-from-central-asia-to-turkey/)
To summarize, Turkey is not very Turkish, but China has had a long history with the Turks and Turkic rulers, going back to the 4th century at least. Could they be one of the nations referred to in the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecies or at least play a supporting role?
In modern China any form of intellectual dissent is now forbidden. The Bamboo Curtain is now being fortified. China is no longer a “paper dragon.” In 2018 China banned the sale of online Bibles, and the Communist Party is planning to make its own “politically correct” translation of the Bible. Buddhism as a religion offers no more than its atheistic counterpart, Communism. Communism has created a religious vacuum in China, which leaves the human heart searching. Buddhism tries to fill the void, but throughout China’s history Buddhism has been tried and found wanting. Christianity is now prospering in China, but is under severe limits and persecution.
This is God’s Word for China: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).
Aspects of Tibetan Buddhism have already been covered in looking at the Chinese history of Buddhism, but because of its popularity and relationship to China, one more summary look is warranted.
(stay tuned for part VII in this series on Chinese Buddhism)
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