Religion and Society in Tang and Song Dynasties, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Religion in China has always played a vital role in the revival and further survival of their people.  It helped prosper and preserve their culture and in many ways was the cause of their wit and philosophically sharp mind. For roughly six centuries China under two very important dynasties, Tang and Song  Dynasties,  the populace overall has had a diverse religion which helped their economy, culture, arts, and many other  crucial factors that helped their nation stay strong. In addition, Chinese literature also improved in many ways because of the religions.  In Tong Dynasty, for instance, Daoism and Buddhism were accepted as the main religions of the Dynasty and it was widely accepted in society. Furthermore, it did not bother the society to have dual religions but instead established a structure of harmony. The successor of Tang Dynasty which was Song Dynasty, was also tolerant to religions including Christianity, Islam, Daoism, Confucianism,  and Buddhism.  In this essay I shall examine and further analyze the importance of religions, in particular Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, and their influence on public society and on governmental levels during the Tang Dynasty and the  Song Dynasty.

The people of China were introduced to Buddhism long before Tang and Song Dynasties were established.  It was established in Nepal and was introduced to Chinese during the Han Dynasty by Indian missionaries and quickly absorbed in China as a dominant religion  (1). Buddhism continued to thrive in China but the main concepts and beliefs were ultimately assimilated when Daoism commenced to borrow some its ideas and assimilate it into its own religion. In addition, Buddhism in this way become more popular and the ideas were more accessible to the Chinese since they were added to Daoism and written in Chinese.  Buddhism had a profound influence during the times of Tang Dynasty and influenced the populace. It became widely populated when a Chinese monk named Xuanzang who went to India for studies and upon his return brought back a lot of ideas and learned a lot of new concepts which he introduced it to his fellow citizens. The religion became popular to a point where many Buddhist monks began establishing Buddhist schools to have a more mature teaching atmosphere. One of them was the Huayan School of Buddhism which had a vast influence in modifying Asian Buddhism. Another crucial Buddhist educational school was the Tiantai school. It was supported by the emperor himself. However, not all the Emperors were in favor of having Buddhism in their nation. Tang Wu Zong became the main persecutor of Buddhist monks and destroyed many temples claiming that Buddhism was not their native religion and that it affected the overall culture of China.  The anti-Buddhist campaign began in 845 but was not directed only at Buddhists but also other religions too. The purpose was to purify the culture and influence the native one instead (2). This brought a huge disadvantage to the Chinese society since many citizens, even those who were native Chinese, were suppressed and did not have the opportunity to practice what they believed in. This, however, did not take a while and upon emperor’s death the new emperor came and he granted general amnesty to all the Buddhists.  After the Tang Dynasty, the Song Dynasty was established which was still bearing the consequences of its predecessors. It is important to note that it took time for the Chinese people to recover from its earlier tragedies. The freedom of worshipping continued with little modifications for the religions. During the Tang Dynasty many clergies were tax-free and did not have to do any labor or military service. In Song Dynasty, however, Buddhist clergies began to pay taxes as well.

Daoism in China throughout the timeline of Tang and Song Dynasties, played an important role in the overall attitude of the society. Daoism was in important part of people’s everyday life in Tang Dynasty. Even when their Li Yuan, who at the time was campaigning for power, claimed that he was a descendant of a traditional Daoism clan. As previously mentioned,  Tang Dynasty was quite tolerant to different religions in their society and many of them were openly being practiced. Daoism, being one of the native cultural concepts in Chinese history was quite popular and widely practice philosophical religion in  China. During the Tang Dynasty, Daoism was being practiced alongside Buddhism and these two dominant religions were coexisting in harmony with no conflicts coming in between them. It held several advantages that many people were not willing to sacrifice. For instance, Daoism pursues openness toward sex. This is why the desire of many wealthy women to joining Daoism and becoming nuns  became a common factor in the Chinese society. The latter factor increased the popularity in both dynasties, therefore courts were set up particularly for those practicing Daoism for their religious affairs. The court was called “Ming court” and was relatively popular throughout those six centuries. Daoism was in particular active throughout the reign of the Song Dynasty. The importance that was given to Daoism inevitable lead to thorough study of the religion and further modified and reformed some of the philosophical concepts of the religion. There were also schools established to study and teach Daoism: they  were called the Talisman and Register Schools which were quite popular during the early period of Song Dynasty but lost its popularity during the Southern Song dynasty. Throughout the six centuries, the people of China, under Tang and Song Dynasties freely practiced the religion with no difficulties or oppressions. Daoism, however, was suppressed during the Qing d Dynasty.

The last but equally important religion that was widely practiced in China during the Tang and Song Dynasties was the Confucian religion. As mentioned earlier, at one point during the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism was being oppressed and further declining its popularity. That is

when Confucianism became more popularized and dominant religion. Confucianism, however, was a more ancient religion and had more native roots. Also, the dominance in China did not come as a surprise to Chinese people since Confucianism was there before as a dominant religion, even before Buddhism arose. For instance, when Buddhism was beginning to evolve in China during the Han Dynasty, Confucianism was already the main dominant religion in the empirical circles. Those who were prominent members in the circle of the empire mastered at Confucianism. The reason why it was so supported and so popular was because the religion itself imposed moral and ethical concepts to the people of China. There were important ideas such as respect and devotion which affected the people in a positive way and made it easier for the emperors to rule the people. It also expected that people give importance to their ancestors which is why many people respected their ancestry. They, however, had to give the most importance to the emperor who was referred to as the Son of God and had to receive unlimited respect.(4) His advisors and members of the family were respected as the main guardians of the emperor.  The main hardship, however, began to come up when Buddhism became popular.  There were several minor issues which seemed more accessible and easier to follow for the society (3). The influence rose back during the Song Dynasty. This is when the empire and the overall government began to force Confucianism into the society which they did by reforming and redefining some of its important factors. This is the period that most scholars call the period of Neo-Confucianism. The main point in the religion that period shall habituate in self-cultivating not for personal reasons but also for the benefit of all of the people in the nation. In other words a human being was in this world not only for personal reasons and not simply for the self-fulfillment but also for the benefit of other and had a more important cause of living than the personal one. Even though this whole concept about the benefit of the collectivity started  in Tang Dynasty, it did not come into much use until the beginning of the Song Dynasty and continued on through Southern and Northern Dynasties and was also popular during the Qing Dynasty.

All in all, religions played important role in shaping the attitude and the overall morality of the people of China, in particular during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Many important religions began to evolve and more widely exercised. Religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism were also practiced freely except for a brief time when hyper-nationalism caused these  religions to be oppressed while the nation overall began to focus on native culture. This, however, did not last long and not too long after China was again a country of multiple religions. Also,  it is important to note that these religions coexisted in harmony at almost all the times. In addition, these religions, which prior to Tang and Song Dynasties still existed, were modified and reformed in a way that benefited the society and simultaneously benefited the empire as a whole.

References

http://asiasociety.org/countries/religions-philosophies/buddhism-china

Phillip, East of the Euphrates: early Christianity in Asia,  Christian Sahitya Samithy,  India, 1998

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/song/sch/confuc.htm

http://www.angelfire.com/ny5/tang/bc.html

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