The Interrelationships between Buddhism and Politics
Within the Two Costal Nations: Taiwan and China
It is not intuitive to connect the ideas of religion and politics since the former discusses spirituality and the latter is concerned with practical matters of social organization. However, with political support, Buddhism in many areas have flourished and conversely, with the suppression by political powers, Buddhism development does not stand a chance; thus, there is an inevitable connection between Buddhism and politics. This rule applies to China and Taiwan as well. In this dissertation, Buddhism in China and Taiwan in different stages with particular emphasis on its engagement with politics will be discussed. The first stage is during the early era; the second stage is before World War II: mainly the first half of the 20th century; the third stage is during the post-war period.
Buddhism in the early period
In order to fully understand the roots of Buddhism in China one must understand the history of how Buddhism was introduced into Chinese society. Generations of scholar have debated different hypothesis of how Buddhism reached China. Many of them believed that Buddhism was first brought to China from India by missionaries and traders along the Silk Road that connected China with Europe in the late Han Dynasty (Rong 26-27).
It was not until the “The golden age of Buddhism”, Tang Dynasty, Buddhism adopted by the imperial family and became thoroughly sinicized and a permanent part of the Chinese traditional culture (Ebrey 121).During Tang ,Monk Xuanzang journeyed to India and visited over one hundred kingdoms, wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings and translated massive amount of Buddhist texts, have subsequently become important for the study of Buddhism during this period and had significant contribution to the later study of Buddhism in China (Beal 15).
Neo-China Politics China is interested in modernizing itself while at the same time maintaining security' is the only general statement that can be made about China's foreign policy. To achieve these two ends, China is willing to ignore conflicts that do not substantially affect its development or security. Economic organizations are welcomed because they facilitate economic development but ...
By the time Ming Dynasty was found, Buddhism had existed in China for more than fourteen centuries. It was during this time, Buddhism was brought to Taiwan. When the Manchu people defeated the Ming ministry and formed Qing Dynasty, it also took control of Taiwan .In 1683,large numbers of monks came to Taiwan and the monastic Buddhism arrived in the 1800s (DeVido 12).
Before World War II
Chinese and Taiwanese Buddhism were initially similar under the same Chinese culture and tradition which integrate Buddhist elements, it is until the Japanese colonial period, Buddhism development in China and Taiwan started to split.
Japanese colonial ruled in Taiwan from 1895-1945(Miller, and Shao), during this time development of Buddhism can be divided into three main period. The first period characterized by the Japanese authorities‘ tolerance of local beliefs and practices, led to large Buddhism organizations, such as the four largest centers (Lingchuan Chan Temple in Keelung, Lingyun Chan Temple in New Taipei City, Fayun Temple in Miaoli County and Chaofeng Temple in Kaohsiung) transcended their original local basis and expanded their influence.The first period ended when Xilaian vegetarian hall in Tainan was used as a center of anti-Japanese during the Tapani uprising of 1915(“Taiwan today”).
It has awaken the Japanese officials’ vigilance , they soon held an investigation of religious practice in Taiwan and embarked on a systematic attempt to bring followers of vegetarian Buddhism under Japanese control. Thus the second stage begins from the end of World War I to the outbreak of World War II, was characterized by the propagation of Japanese schools of Buddhism and establishment of “branch temples” in Taiwan. The third period coincided with the last decade of colonial rule from 1936 till 1945(“Taiwan today”).
In December of 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China's capital city of Nanking and began to murder 300, 000 out of 600, 000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The six weeks of carnage would become known as the Rape of Nanking and represented the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war. The actual military invasion of ...
After Japan launched its armed invasion of mainland China, in order to avoid Taiwanese sympathy for their besieged fellows, the Japanese promoted a Japanization cultural policy which accelerated Japanese influence over Taiwanese Buddhism and turned the religion into a tool for state control use (Ching 93-95).
Until Japan’s retreat in 1945, Buddhism in Taiwan completely lost its autonomy.
On the other side of the Coast ,frustrated by the Qing court’s resistance to reform and by China’s weakness, young officials, military officers, and students began to advocate the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the creation of a republic, inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-sen,who was the father of the Nationalist Party (or Kuomingtang).
The provisional government of the Republic of China was formed in Nanjing on March 12, 1912 with Sun Yat-sen as President(Heather 287).
During the this time , the bulk of the population continued to feel free to call on Buddhist clergy at critical junctures in their lives, as they had done from time immemorial; and Buddhists quickly grew among Chinese generally to form associations and parties. During the first two tumultuous decades of the ROC numerous short-lived Buddhist associations were established under the Nationalists Party. They reflected a variety of political and religious attitudes, as well as rivalries between the leaders of various groups of monks and between monks and influential lay leaders. At this time, Chinese Buddhists clearly responded to the forces which had begun to transform Chinese society. Whether every new attitude, action of individual Buddhists furthered the interests of Buddhism is doubtful; but the Buddhists’ positive attempts to meet the challenge of the modern world suggest that, despite its many weaknesses, Chinese Buddhism continued to harbor strength of faith and a sense of mission (Lancashire 221).
Post World War II
Buddhism under the KMT in Taiwan
With Japan’s defeat in World War II, Taiwan fell under the control of the Chiang Kai shek’s government. Chiang was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which established by his predecessor Sun Yet-sen (Zarrow 230-231).
Historical China represents a cultural, and, most of the time as well, a political unity. But the country was not completely ignorant of or entirely untouched by outside influences. There had always been contact with Central Asia and India, the center of another great civilization at the time. And this happened especially through the spread of the Buddhist religion. India, in contrast to China, ...
After Sun’s death, Chiang was not able to maintain good relations with the Communists. Major fallout between the Communists and Nationalists occurred in 1927. Under Chiang’s leadership, the Nationalists fought a hugecivil war against the Communist Party of China (CPC).
It was only after Japan invaded China in 1937, Chiang agreed to a temporary truce with the CPC. Despite some military successes against Japan as a result of the truce in the beginning, by the time that the Japanese surrendered in 1945 neither the CPC nor the KMT were actively cooperating as they do not trust each other. American attempted to negotiate a coalition government but failed in 1946, thus the Chinese Civil War resumed. The CPC defeated the Nationalists in 1949, forcing Chiang’s government to retreat to Taiwan (Fenby 205).
In the same year, the KMT government started the martial law in Taiwan and it lasted 38 years until 1987(Mulvenon 172).Monastic exiles from the civil war in mainland China monopolized the right to transmit Buddhist teachings under the support of KMT. They also took a cardinal role in determining the direction of the religion’s postwar development in Taiwan. This led to the accelerated destruction of any Buddhism with traces of Japanese culture, as well as the reconstruction of many beautiful Japanese-style temples. Subtly, it introduced the idea that monastic Buddhism was the trend to follow instead of at-home practices(“Taiwan today”).
This was somewhat overshadowed, however, by the emergence of a media-savvy, touristic, showman style of disseminating Buddhism.The most classic example was Dharma Master Hsing Yun and his FoGuang Shan, or Buddha Light Mountain, Monastery. Similarly, the giant concrete statue erected at Mt. Bagua in Changhua County, in imitation of the large bronze Buddha at Kamakura in Japan, was an early harbinger of Taiwan’s “touristic Buddhism.’’
Buddhism under the Culture Revolution in China
Unlike the supportive attitude from the government toward Buddhism in Taiwan, the Chinese government launched a Cultural Revolution from 1966 till 1976,which led to the downfall of Chinese Buddhism(Tang 172).
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During the culture revolution, Buddhism was at times severely restricted and brought under state-control and it were actively persecuted and sent for re-education. Previously the official line had been that religion would disappear on its own once socialism took over and removed its purposes. However, In October 1965, with an article in New Construction, a new thesis was enunciated :”religion….will not disappear of its own accord …[it] will rely on the forces of custom to prolong its feeble existence and even plot to make a comeback. When a dying cobra bites a man , it can still would or kill him . Therefore no matter how religions like Buddhism seemed to be weakening, it is necessary to carry on a rigorous struggle against it on full alert and to pull up and destroy its entire poisonous root.” This suggested a fundamental policy towards religion during the Chinese culture revolution: absolute denial (Holmes 127-136).
In 1966, a campaign against the “Four Olds”, which were old customs,old culture , old habits and old ideas , spread through Peking and many other cities ,most sources agree that by the end of September every Buddhist monastery, temple or church in China’s metropolitan areas had closed .The Red Guards would bind the images with ropes, put them up on a platform and people were encouraged to curse them and vent their anger. At the same time , many tragedy events were happening to Buddhists , such as Buddhist monks were being forced by Red Guards to parade through the streets wearing the dress of Christian ministers (and vice versa), there was , of course, reports of many harsher treatment were implemented on Buddhists(Holmes 127-136) .
The Consequences after the Culture Revolution and the Martial Law
After the culture revolution, Buddhism in Chinese had slowly recovered from its downfall during the Culture revolution. In recent years China, Buddhism has been enjoying a revival but most Buddhist institutions are within the confines of the state. It was after the “opening up” of the 1980s, more religious freedoms were granted, and traditional beliefs like Taoism and Buddhism were supported as an integral part of the Chinese culture. However, the freedom of religion in China is still a major topic of concern for the international community. Human Rights Watch has issued several reports accusing the Chinese government of violating the rights of its citizens to the free association and exercise of religion.
Daniel L. Overmyer " religions of China; the World as a Living System Long Grove, Illinois Waveland Press, Inc. Copyright 1986125 Page Count Daniel Overmyer's, Religions of China, discusses the historical developments of the different religions of China. It also addresses the impact religion has on the daily life of the Chinese in the past and present. Overmyer introduces the Chinese living system ...
It has noted, “in the kind of intrusive control the Chinese government exercises over religious activities, it violates the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression as well as freedom of religion”. Examples of what Human Rights Watch is referring to large amount of international newspapers, from issues regarding the practice of Falungong, and the persecution of unregistered Protestant groups etc.
At the same time, Buddhism in China could not seem to compete with the vividly Buddhism activities in Taiwan. It was mainly due to the communism nature, that religion was never an essential element of the society, the majority should be free not to believe(Harris 18).The father of the Chinese Communism Mao Zedong was heavily influenced by Marxist-leninism, he challenged religion and the necessity of its existence within a modern socialist society (Gunn 5).
After Mao’s death , the Chinese government changed its form to the “Socialism Market Economy “ under Deng Xiaoping ‘s platform of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and Reform and Opening,however , the continuing problematic issue regarding Human Right was still blocking the mass participating in Religious activities .
Compare to the democratic political environment in Taiwan which encouraged the flourish of Buddhism, Buddhism in China could not compete with the speed of development in Taiwan. By time of 1980, where religion practice was still recovering from the Culture Revolution , Taiwan Buddhism organizations within Taiwan were already taking action attempt to shape Taiwanese politics.
The relative importance of Buddhism in Taiwan among other religions and the favourable political conditions that currently prevail in the ROC after a long period of democratization provide Taiwanese Buddhist organizations the change for direct or indirect involvement in politics. Taiwanese Buddhist organizations claiming to present the same religious tradition of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism , influenced by the same Confucian culture ,faced by the same political environment in Taiwan , had adopted different behaviours .Organizations such as the Buddha Light Mountain monastic order (or Foguangshan), the Buddhist Compassion relief Tzu Chi Association (or Ciji) and the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (BAROC), had different strategies toward politics.
Buddhist Fundamentalism Although religions differ greatly in the beliefs and practices they endorse, many universal themes can be found when comparing the underlying reasons that people practice religion. Freud believed that people practice religion as a form of displacement so that they could be at ease with themselves while not coming to terms with the actuality of their convictions. Someone who ...
Unlike Presbyterian Church and other civic organizations that pressured the government for political and social reform, Taiwanese Buddhist organizations are less assertive even when their corporate interests are challenged by state actions(“Taiwan today”).
It was not until the 1990s, organizations such as Foguangshan and individuals such as Hsingyun who have started to take advantage of political liberalization to mobilize Buddhists Foguangshan has resorted a strategy of remonstrance to advance its religious ideals between 1995 and 1997 : its founder Hsingyun supported the bid of his lay disciple Chen Luan for the presidency of the Republic of China(ROC) and launched large public demonstrations critical of the government that followed that election. During the same period of time, Ciji has steered away from the controversies over the law on religion and conspicuously avoided supporting Chen, while continuing to grow to become the largest organization of its kind in Taiwan. The BAROC has adopted a strategy of lobbing in an attempt to remedy the steady decline of its statues throughout the 1990s: it has tried to sway the government to adopt a new law that would restore the authority over Buddhists the association held before 1989(“Taiwan today”).
A majority among Taiwanese Buddhist organizations adheres to the strand of humanistic Buddhism (or renjianfojiao) identified with Taixu and his spiritual successor Yinshun. The organizations agreed about the importance of giving lay people more responsibilities for the promotion of Buddhism (Laliberet 309-311).
Beyond the agreement of humanistic Buddhists on the importance of the laity for the future of their religion, differences exist among them due to the views of their leaders on the proper duties of lay Buddhists. The leader of CIji, believed that lay Buddhists should avoid political participation. This apolitical attitude may appear as conservative, it supports existing institutions by not challenging them, and there is also some truth to the argument that organizations such as Ciji are authoritarian because of their structure, based entirely on the charismatic leadership of than individual. It is differ from the BAROC, which the importance of their laity makes them ready for political action should their leaders ever make that choice (Laliberet 309-311).
Organizations such as Foguangshango further than Ciji, in stressing the importance of lay people for the future of humanistic Buddhism. They believe that the Sangha has a duty to act indirectly as counsellor to the government , and that lay Buddhists have a duty to act directly and becoming involved in politics. It is important to stress here that the more assertive political behaviour of these organization should not be construed as necessarily opposed to the government. This is demonstrated by the strategy adopted by Hsingyun. Hsingyun believes that lay Buddhists must become involved politically and that political participation is a legitimate activity for devout Buddhists (Laliberet 309-311).
With the participations of the Buddhism organizations and government‘s support, an explosion occurred during the 1990s . In the 1990s, prominent members of the Sangha (the ecclesiastical community within Taiwan Buddhism) are media icons who are not any inferior to pop stars. Bookstores sold a plethora of Buddhist teachings while an entire TV channel was devoted to Buddhism learning. In 1992, statistics issued by the Interior Ministry showed that almost 50% of the population who believed in a religion claimed themselves to be Buddhists. In 1995, the ROC government noted that about 4000 Buddhist temples had been registered. In the domain of education, social services and health care, Buddhists administered numerous universities, kindergartens, orphanages, hospitals, etc (“Taiwan today”).
In the book “Political change in China comparisons with Taiwan,” according to Gilley and Diamond, although the Communist leaders today are wrestling with the same kind of challenge that the KMT leadership faced two decades ago, differences between the countries are vast (Gilley and Diamond 309).
For instance, in terms of “intellectual pluralism,” the KMT “did not claim a monopoly over ‘truth’” the way the CCP has; even under authoritarian rule “civil society organizations, such as the pro-Taiwan independence Presbyterian Church, were allowed to survive, and private businesses had considerable autonomy and enjoyed legal protection.” Conversely, China lacks “long-standing social and political organizations independent of the state, with the potential to serve as rallying points for political opposition and shelters for independent thought.” This makes the development of a constructively-engaged, politically-oriented civil society more of a challenge. The political nature between the Taiwan and China led to a different approach to the freedom of religion; the constitution of the People’s Republic of China states “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religion(Harris 18).
No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens because they do, or do not believe in religion.” This protection is extended only to what is called “normal religious activity,” generally understood sarcastically to refer to religions that are under state control via the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The Constitution further forbids the use of religion to “engage in activities that disrupt social order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious organizations and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign dominance
Unlike the situation in Taiwan , where organizations have different principle and behave differently in political activities , the Chinese Buddhism organization such as the Buddhist Association of China (BCA) acting mainly to obtain the principle and policy of the Chinese government (Harris 18).
The BCA shares authority over Buddhists in China with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which regulates all recognized religions. Specifically, the BCA is responsible to serve as a connection linking Buddhists to the Chinese government by communicating government regulations to the Buddhists and mobilizing them to comply with national laws.
In a nutshell, the state policies in Taiwan can determine the political behaviour of Buddhist organizations but little restrictions were imposed on them. However in China, state policy limits the political participation of Buddhist organizations. The only ‘legal’ Buddhist organizations in China have to follow set regulations. Also, the Cultural Revolution in China was not supportive of Buddhism and not only did it cease Buddhism’s development but destroyed many of its monuments. This dissertation continued to discuss the factors that led to the proliferation of Buddhism in Taiwan. Jiang’s open mindednesses to Buddhism during Martial law in Taiwan, subsequent democracy and authentic freedom of religion have resulted in the Buddhism boom. Not only politics in Taiwan shaped Buddhism but vice versa was also prominent; for example, Buddhist like Hsingyun Dharma gained the motivation to be involved in political elections. The important idea attempted to be conveyed in this dissertation is that based on case studies of Buddhism in Taiwan and comparing it to China, the degree of democracy in the country has a direct effect on the fate of local Buddhism. It is implied that for China to have truly free religion, a democratic government must exist.
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