Fei lai feng Buddha, from the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN

The currently Beijing-based Buddhist Association of China (BAC) was founded in Shanghai in 1927 by lay Buddhists who were inspired by reformist monks such as Taixu to defend their collective interests. The organization fell apart during the civil war and its factions split under Communist rule, but resumed activities in 1976 under the leadership of Zhao Puchu.

Until recently only two organizations claimed to represent all Buddhists in China: the Buddhist Association of China ([BAC] zhongguo fojiao xiehui), based in Beijing, and the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China ([BAROC] zhongguo fojiaohui), based in Taipei, Taiwan. This situation differs from that in imperial China, when Buddhists were not affiliated with a unique institution. In the absence of a supreme authority Buddhists have been spared internecine (occurring within a group) conflicts over doctrine, but on the other hand they have been vulnerable to attempts by the state to control or even suppress their activities.

Beginning with the persecution against them during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), Buddhist institutions experienced a secular decline until laypeople revived the tradition through charity work at the end of the nineteenth century. Although the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was supportive of the Tibetan Buddhism practiced by Mongols, Tibetans, and other minorities, it did not protect Buddhist institutions during the Taiping Rebellion, and the later emperors were too weak to react when modernizers converted temples into schools. In this context lay Buddhists during the beginning of the Republican period (1912–1949) tried to set up a unified Buddhist organization to defend their collective interests. In 1927, inspired by reformist monks such as Taixu (1890–1947), they founded the BAC in Shanghai. The civil war proved fatal to the organization, which split after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power. Some monks went into exile in Hong Kong, others to Taiwan or abroad. In 1950 exiled monks living in Taiwan created the BAROC, which exercised a monopoly of representation for all Buddhists on the island and claimed to represent all Chinese Buddhists in international Buddhists organizations during the period of martial law (1947–1987).

Although the BAROC represented a small proportion of Chinese Buddhists in the world, it was the only organization recognized by the World Buddhist Sangha Council. The BAROC benefited from the protection of the government, but its authority declined at the onset of the democratization process as new organizations, such as the Foguangshan monastic order and the Tzu Chi Foundation, became much more important in Taiwan and within the Chinese Diaspora (scattering of a people). Meanwhile, in the People’s Republic of China, the CCP encouraged monks and laypeople to join the BAC, which was reconstituted in 1953. The BAC was cautious and expressed its loyalty to Chinese authority, but this attitude did not prevent the organization from suffering persecution during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). As a result the organization could not operate for years, and its future was uncertain. The BAC finally resumed activities in 1976 under the leadership of Zhao Puchu (1908–2000), a lay leader who shared the ideas of Taixu. Under his leadership Buddhism experienced a remarkable comeback and even an endorsement by CCP leader Jiang Zemin. In 2006 the BAC sponsored a historical gathering in Hangzhou, China, when it organized the first World Buddhist Forum, at which monks from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan jointly acted as overseers.

Further Reading

Chen, B., & Deng, Z. (2003). Ershi shiji zhongguo fojiao [Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century]. Taipei, Taiwan: Xiandai chan.

Jones, C. B. (1999). Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the state: 16601990. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Welch, H. (1972). Buddhism under Mao. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walk sidewise and block the way.


Héng xíng bà dào

Source: Laliberté, André. (2009). Buddhist Association of China. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 243–244. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Buddhist Association of China (Zhōngguó Fójiào Xiéhuì 中国佛教协会)|Zhōngguó Fójiào Xiéhuì 中国佛教协会 (Buddhist Association of China)

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