Buddhism in China

Table of Chinese Dynasties

Shang 1766-1125 BCE
Chou 1122-256 BCE
Ch'in 221-206 BCE
Han 206 BCE -220 CE
The Three Kingdoms
Wu 222-280 CE
Wei 220-265 CE
Shu 221-263 CE
Western Chin 265-316 CE
Eastern Chin 317-420 CE
Liu Sung 420-479 CE
Ch'i 479-502 CE
Liang 502-557 CE
Ch'en 557-589 CE
Sui 581-618 CE
T'ang 618-907 CE
Wu-Tai 907-960 CE
Sung North 960-1127 CE
Sung South 1127-1279 CE
Yuan 1280-1368 CE
Ming 1368-1644 CE
Ch'ing 1644-1912 CE

Centuries Before 1st Century BCE:

  • Taoism and Confucianism are existing religions in China

1st Century BCE - 1st Century CE:

  • Buddhism begins to enter China along trade routes
  • Buddhism was often mistaken for a simple form of Taoism
  • Mahayana was preferred over Abhidhgarma

61-64 CE:

  • Emperor Ming sends embassy to import Buddhism into China

2nd Century CE:

  • Emperor Huan mentioned to worship Buddha
  • Monks arrived in China to produce texts and translations

200-400 CE:

  • Buddhism officially introduced at 219 CE
  • Buddhism adapts to China, and to taoist religion, from 220-419 CE
  • Sun-Lun school in China-founded by Kumarujiva (343-413) - was a master of translation, translating many influential Mahayana texts into Chinese

420-588 CE:

  • Buddhism divides into sects
  • The death of Bodhidharma, first Chinese Ch'an patriarch (c.527 CE)


  • Hsuan-i, or hidden significance commentaries are written revelaing the characteristics of each sect
  • Known as the period of consolidation of Buddhism in China

618-906 CE:

  • In 845, Taoist Emperor Wu-tsung sends Buddhism into a decline
  • The scholastic sects of Buddhism disappeared during this time-"official" representation of Buddhism
  • After the death of Wu-tsung, the popular sects of Buddhism were revived
  • A new school called chen-yen was started as well


  • Printing of the Buddhist canon begins (c.972 CE)
  • The popular schools of Chinese Buddhism continued on through this period
  • A Buddhist revival occured from 1890-1947, led by T'ai-hsu
  • In 1949, Buddhism was suppressed by Communist leaders

Both Honen and Shinran were Japanese

Chu-she -founded by Paramartha in 6th century CE
-organized by Hsuan-tsang from 596-664 CE
-corresponds to the Indian school Abhiharma
Fa-hsiang -founded by Paramartha
-organized by Hsuan-tsang and K'uei-chi from 632-682 CE
-corresponds to Indian school Yogacara
San-lun -founded by Kumarajiva, who lived from 344-413 CE
-organized by Tao-sheng from 360-434 CE
-corresponds to Indian school Madhyamika
Chen-yen -founded by subhakarsimba
-corresponds to Indian word 'mantra', which means 'true word'
-founded between 618-906 CE
A-pi-to-mo -founded during the Liang Dynasty
She-lun -founded during the Liang Dynasty
San-Lun -founded between 344-413 CE
Lu -founded during the T'ang Dynasty
A-pi-ta-mo -founded in 645
Ch'eng-shih T'ien-t'ai -founder: Hui-ssu (515-576 CE)
-no corresponding Indian school
-organizer: Chih-i (538-597 CE)
Hua-yen -founder: Tu-shun (557-640 CE)
-organizer: Fa-tsang (643-712 CE)
-no corresponding Indian school
Ch'an -founder: Bodhidharma (470-520 CE?)
-Bodhidharma: first Chinese patriarch
-Indian correspondence: dhyana, the word for meditation
-divided into 2 schools that later reunited under the Ming Dynasty
Lin-chi -founded by Lin-chi I-hsuan (867 CE)
-taken to Japan by Eisai (1141-1215 CE)
-known in Japan as Rinzai Zen
Ts'ao-tung -founded by Tung-shan Liang-Chich (807-869 CE) and Ts'ao-shan Pan-chi (840-901 CE)
-taken to Japan by Dogen (1200-1253 CE)
-known in Japan as Soto Zen
Ching-t'u -founder: Hui-yuan (334-416 CE)
-organizer: T'an-luan (476-542 CE)
-2 sects in Japan:
 *Jodo Shu: - pure land Buddhism started by Honen (1133-1212 CE)
 *Jodo Shinshu - true pure land Buddhism started by Shinran (1173-1262 CE)