Buddhism Spreads to China

By A.D. 100, missionaries and merchants had spread Mahayana Buddhism from India into China. At first, the Chinese had trouble with the new faith. For example, Chinese tradition valued family loyalty, while Buddhism honored monks and nuns who gave up the benefits of family life for a life of solitary meditation. In addition, the Chinese language had no word for an unfamiliar concept like nirvana.

Ancient statue of a beast with a dragon’s head, winged feathered sides, and cat like feet.

Han dynasty artists created items of great beauty. This mythical beast, called a “Bixie,” is made of bronze and was used to ward off evil spirits.

Despite such obstacles, Buddhism became increasingly popular, especially in times of crisis. Its great appeal was the promise of escape from suffering. Mahayana Buddhism offered the hope of eternal happiness and presented the Buddha as a compassionate, merciful god. Through prayer, good works, and devotion, anyone could hope to gain salvation. Neither Daoism nor Confucianism emphasized this idea of personal salvation.

In China, Buddhism absorbed Confucian and Daoist traditions. Some Chinese even believed that Laozi had gone to India, where he taught the Buddha. Chinese Buddhist monks stressed filial piety and honored Confucius as a person who had achieved enlightenment.

By A.D. 400, Buddhism had spread throughout China. From time to time, Chinese rulers persecuted Buddhists, but the new religion was generally tolerated. Large Buddhist monasteries became important centers of learning and the arts.

Large relief carving of the Buddha into a cliff, with balconies and stairs surrounding it.

This giant statue of Buddha was carved directly into a sheer cliff that leads to a Buddhist temple in China.


  1. Explain How did Shi Huangdi impose allegiance to a central government?
  2. Summarize Why was the Han period considered a Golden Age of Chinese civilization?
  3. Analyze Information How was the Silk Road used to bring ideas to and from China?
  4. Analyze Information Why was a well-ordered civil service of benefit to the Han government?
  5. Explain What factors helped Buddhism spread through China?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments