The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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China is a large country in northern Asia surrounded by Russia, Mongolia, Tibet, Burma and Vietnam on the land side and the sea on the other. According to tradition, Buddhism was brought to China by two Indian monks during the Han Dynasty, perhaps in about 50 CE. After several centuries of gradual growth Buddhism began to attract the educated class and eventually became the state religion. The high point of Buddhism in China was during the Tang Dynasty, after which it was persecuted and went into a long period of decline, punctuated by occasional periods of renewal. Buddhism was again persecuted during the Republican period and even more severely after 1949 by the communists who closed all temples and either killed monks and nuns or forced them to disrobe. Today Chinese Buddhism is slowly beginning to re-establish itself and adapt to a rapidly changing society. Many Chinese living outside China – in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the West, continue to practise Buddhism, although significant numbers have become secular or converted to Christianity. See Kāśyapa Mātaṅga and Dharmaratna.
China is officially communist (although many free market conditions are already in place) and does not keep records on religion statistics of adherents. Also, many western reference sources refuse to accept that a person can belong to more than one religion. In Asia it is quite common for one person to have two, three, or more religions. In China, it is common for a family to have a shrine in their home with statues and icons from Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.
Currently there are about 1.3 billion Chinese living in the People's Republic. Surveys (Gach-Alpha Books, U.S. State Dept. report on China, Global Center for the Study of Contemporary China, BBC News, China Daily, and a report by Christian missionaries in China) have found that about 8% to 91% identify with Buddhism as one of their religions. If we use a percent near the upper end of this estimate, of about 80% it works out to about 1.1 billion Chinese Buddhists.