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The Tang Dynasty was founded by the Li in 618 AD after a period of chaos called Dark Ages of China (220 – 580 AD). This family concentrated power when the Sui Empire was declining. China was governed by the Tang Dynasty till 907 AD .The Tang Dynasty had the most significant influence on political, cultural and religious development of China. This was the age of poetry and sculpture. Despite these facts the Tang Dynasty initiated the most significant destroy of cultural values in China. This time can be characterized as a period of progress and stability, but it was the era of great transformation as well.
Taoism and Buddhism flourished as a result of the disorderliness of previous years. A lot of Buddhist missioners came to China from central Asia and India. One of the most important Buddhist centers in China, Fayuan Si, was built in 696 AD during the Tang Dynasty. It is Buddhist Academy and publishing department of the Chimese Buddhist Association. The first known Tang temple made of wood is a small hall of Nanchansi in Wutaixian, Shaanxi. It was built in 782 AD. The biggest temple is the hall of Foguangsi on Wutaishan . This one was built in the ninth century.
Architecture of the Tang era is characterized by a curve in a silhouette of the roof. This feature is presented in all Eastern architecture. Buildings of the Tang age are rather complex with a heavy bracketing system: the brackets extend outward and upward to support two slanting cantilever arms called “ang”, the inner ends of which are anchored to a crossbeam. As for the Buddhist art, some Tang artist’s names are known, for example, a painter Yang Huizhi. At that time very little secular works were made, except the guardian figures, tigers, winged horses and “spirit ways” leading toward the tombs.
In spite of the fact that Buddhism was a dominant religion, and art of the Tang era was very reach and developed very quickly, its worshipers were often persecuted by Confucians and Taoists. Such aggression was not very widespread at the beginning, because “wholesale destruction of the religion would only result in divisiveness at a time when unity was important for solidification of the empire”. First steps of persecution appeared in 729 AD when “all monks and nuns were required to register with the authorities”. In 819 AD idolatry of Buddha’s finger bone was criticized and presented as a “barbarian” by scholar and essayist Han Yu (768 – 824 AD). The movement affected other non-domestic religions such as Christianity and Zoroastrianisn too
An anti-Buddhist imperial edict issued in 845 AD caused “the destruction of 4,600 Buddhist monasteries, the demolition of 40,000 temples and shrines, the return of 265,000 of its devotees to secular life, the confiscation monastic property to state uses, and the turning of sacrificial bells and ceremonial bronze vessels into cash”. In 845 “all Buddhist temples were destroyed according to the imperial edict. The ban on Buddhism was later relaxed, but in the meantime so thorough had been the destruction and looting that today little survives of the great Buddgist architecrure, sculpture, and painting of the seventh and eighth centuries”. This anti-Buddhist movement became the most significant in 845 AD. “Buddism was never able to replace Daoism and Confucianism, however, and in 845 the emperor Wuzong began a major persecution”. According to Marc Samuel Abramson “the most famous proscription of Buddhism in Chinese history, the Huichang suppression of 844 – 846 AD, took place in the Tang, anti-Buddhist polemics and official measures” .
Religion is powerful mean of control. Reasons for the destruction of Buddhist templates were quite simple: economic, political, cultural and social. One of the main purposes of this persecution was to gather war funds and to eliminate foreign culture from China. The country was involved in continuous battles against numerous tribes. The country was endangered by bankruptcy and Emperor Wuzong decided to withdraw financial resources from the Buddhist temples and shrines. As for social reasons Confucianism intended to change the social sphere of China. Buddhism intellectuals encouraged people to become monks, and after ordination they stopped to be a useful economic power, i. e. they were not engaged in agriculture and craft activities, so they stopped to pay taxes. The goal of the anti-Buddhism movement was to bring monks back to the rows of tax-payers. The fact that Wuzong saw Teoism as the biggest national religion explains religious reasons of persecution. Existence of one religion that was governed by him gave almost unlimited political power.
The period of the Tang dynasty governance is characterized by up and down of Buddhism in China. The golden days of Buddhism were during this age. But the greatest anti-Buddhist persecution was carried out by the Tang Emperor. The greatest buildings, paintings and sculpture were destroyed. Some of Buddhist teachings were restored, but some schools were lost forever. The goal of these destructions was to support national religions Confucianism and Taoism and to eliminate all foreign influences from the country. On the one hand, these attempts were successful, as Buddhism has never recovered, but on the other hand it was too much enrooted in China to be eliminated completely. “Buddhism retained its identity as Buddhism and generated new forms of expression”. However, golden age of Buddhism was over and the age of Chinese orthodoxy came.