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.
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.
This giant statue of Buddha was carved directly into a sheer cliff that leads to a Buddhist temple in China.
Why did so many people in China find Buddhism appealing?