- A Glimpse of Buddhist Developments
- in China and Korea
- Phra Rajavaramuni
I. A Short-Lived Buddhist Reform in China
In China, Tibet and Nepal, political events have also come
into prominence and the progress of Buddhism has been checked or obscured. China which was
for long centuries a stronghold of Buddhism and the main source of the Buddhist tradition
of the Northern School came into the period of decline with the end of the 13th Christian
century. There were some short intervals of revival but long days of exploitation,
suppression and destruction. Throughout this period, the ruling school was Chan, but it
was the Chan whose practice had fallen into habit and which placed a low value on
intellectual pursuits. It was just in the early part of the present century that a
remarkable reform was undertaken by the modernist monk Tai-Hsu (2432-2490/1889-1947).
The destruction of monasteries and scriptures by the rebels who
professed Christianity during the Tai-ping rebellion (2393-2407/ 1850-1 864) stimulated
both monks and laymen to begin a revival. But it was after the overthrow of the Manchu
dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China in 1911 that an active reform started.
In response to the challenge of a new intellectual climate in which traditional and
conservative ideas and institutions were rejected and Marxist ideas were introduced, the
monk Tai-Hsu led his followers in a movement to defend the religion, propagate the faith,
reform the order and promote education. Schools with Western-style classroom instruction
were set up. Welfare and economic development work was taken up. The Chinese Buddhist
Society was organized in 2472/1929. New contacts with Buddhists of other Asian countries
were opened up. Institutes for the training of Buddhist leaders were founded in various
parts of China. The study of Buddhist texts was revived and reformed. Numbers of Buddhist
periodicals were increased. And there was a great revival of interest in Buddhism of the
Pure Land school. It is said that in 2473/1930 there were 738,000 monks and nuns and
267,000 Buddhist temples in China and about 60 or 70 percent of China's lay Buddhists
belonged to Pure Land groups. In the meantime, Chan abbots took to traditional lines for
the revival of their institutions.
The Communists took over China's mainland in 2492/1949 and then
Buddhist activities fell into obscurity. It is said that a Chinese Buddhist Association
was organized in 2496/1953 to bring the large Buddhist community under government control.
Many monks fled to Hong Kong and Taiwan to continue their free activities. The Chinese
government took measures to preserve famous and beautiful old temples, Buddhist sacred
places and art works. Under the Great Cultural Revolution, however, an unrevealed number
of Buddhist buildings and monuments were destroyed by the Red Guards.
In 2521/1.978, as an attempt to render more precisely the sounds of
Mandarin Chinese, China adopted a new system for spelling most Chinese names in the Roman
alphabet, called the Pinyin system. According to this new spelling, Mao Tse-tung
becomes Mao Zedong, Chou En-lai becomes Zhou Enlai, Chu Teh becomes Zhu De and Peking
Although the constitution of the People's Republic of China provides
for religious freedom, religious practice is not encouraged. Under Mao, many restrictions
were placed on traditional rituals and religious observances. After the death of Mao
Zedong in 2519/1976 and under Deng Xiaoping's modernization programme, many restrictions
have been removed and the people have been much more free to observe custom and tradition.
However, though many famous old temples have been restored, foreign visitors meet with
very few Chinese monks. Buddhist activities of real significance have been unheard of. To
many, Buddhism in Communist China has been a kind of 'Showcase Buddhism.'
II. The Reform of Korean Buddhism
Korean Buddhism with its major sect of Chan ran the same
course of development and decline  as in China until the
annexation by the Japanese in the year 2453/1910. Then, under Japanese rule
(2453-2488/1910-1945), Korean Buddhism underwent a great change.
The Japanese brought with them Japanese Buddhism together with the
beliefs, practices and activities of the different sects. They set up their temples and
introduced social and educational programmes. Buddhism seemed to be restored to life. But,
to the Korean Buddhists, the Japanese brought also the worst corrupting element, that is,
the practice of married monkhood which they encouraged by policy and which completely
destroyed the Korean Buddhist tradition.
Therefore, with the end of Japanese rule, leading Buddhists united in a
movement to purify monastic life, to return the monks to the proper monastic discipline,
and to restore their religious life and traditions. They established a well-organized
celibate order of Korean Buddhist monks called the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism
and created a hierarchy of administration headed by a Patriarch or chief executive. From
its headquarters at the Chogye temple, the Korean Sangha supervises all provincial
councils that administer its 1,700 temples  in the 9
provinces of South Korea.
The Korean Sangha is dedicated to education. The Dongguk Buddhist
University, which in 2509/1966 had an enrolment of about 6,000 students, is open both
to monks and to lay students. The Korean Sangha also operates independent colleges, high
schools, middle schools and kindergartens of its own. Monks have been sent to pursue their
studies in other Buddhist countries. There has been an increasing interest in Theravada
Buddhism during recent years. Besides sending Korean monks to study in Theravada
countries, the Korean Sangha welcomes Theravada ordination in its own country. In
2516/1973, a group of Theravada monks from Thailand went on invitation to hold an
ordination ceremony in Seoul, admitting about 40 Korean monks into the Theravada Order.
 Buddhism was introduced into Korea in 915/372 and molded
the national culture of Korea for about 12 centuries before it entered a dark period of
500 years from the beginning of the Yi dynasty.
 Of this number (2510/1967), 1,400 were
monasteries with 8,925 monks and novices (monks numbering about 7,000) and 300 were
nunneries with 3,326 nuns and female novices (nuns numbering about 2,000).
[Originally published in Rajavaramuni, Phra Prayudh Payutto. Thai
Buddhism in the Buddhist World. (Bangkok: Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, 1st
Ed. 1984), pp. 94-97].
Thanking Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for his
retyping this article.