Documents Related to the
Official Status of Christianity
in T'ang China
The emperor Taizong
THE IMPERIAL, EDICT OF THE EMPEROR TAIZONG
In the Twelfth year of the Chên-kuan Period (638 A.D.) in the seventh month of Autumn, the following Imperial Rescript was issued:
`The Way' had not, at all times and in all places, the selfsame name; the Sage had not, at all times in all places, the selfsame human body. (Heaven) caused a suitable religion to be instituted for every region and clime so that each one of the races of mankind might be saved. Bishop A-lo-pen of the Kingdom of Ta-ch`in, bringing with him the Sûtras-and Images, has come from afar and presented them at our Capital. Having carefully examined the scope of his teaching, we find it to mysteriously spiritual, and of silent operation. Having observed its principal and most essential points, we reached the conclusion that they cover all that is most important in life, and that this Teaching is helpful to all creatures and beneficial to all men. So let it have course throughout the Empire. Accordingly, the proper authorities built a Ta-ch`in, monastery in the I-ning Ward in the Capital and twenty-one priests were ordained and attached to it.
THE IMPERIAL EDICT OF THE EMPEROR XUANZONG CONFERRING THE OFFICIAL NAME OF "THE TA-CH`IN MONASTERY" ON "THE PERSIAN MONASTERY FOR THE FIRST TIME 745 A.D.
The Luminous Religion of Persia was originally started in Ta-ch`in. It is long since this Religion came to be preached here. Now it is practiced by many, spreading throughout the Middle Kingdom. When they first built monasteries, we gave them the name of "Persian Temple" (because of their supposed origin). But in order that all men might know the (real and true) origin of what are commonly known as "Persian Monasteries" in the two Capitals (Chang-an and Luoyang), (the names) are henceforth to be changed to the Ta-ch`in Monasteries. Let those also which are established in all parts of the Empire follow this (example).
THE PROTEST OF LIU-TSÊ MEMBER OF CENSORATE, AGAINST THE ACTIVITY OF THE NESTORIAN BISHOP CHI-LIEH
In the 2nd year of K'ai-yüan (714 A. D.) Liu-tsê was appointed Censor of the Imperial Court and Supervising Censor over the provincial Circuit of the South of the (Plum) Range (i.e., the two provinces Kuangtung and Kuangsi). Just at that time, Chou Ch`ing-li who was the Director of the Board of Foreign Trade and the Lieut-General of the Right (wing) of the Imperial Guards, presented to the Emperor various article full of strange devises and wonderful cunnings, which he (i.e., Chou) had made by Chi-lieh, a Persia priest.
Hereupon, Liu presented his official address to the Emperor, (Xuanzong "Ming Huang" 712-756) admonishing the same in the following words: "May it please your Majesty to say that I, your most humble servant, have heard that one ought not to take a look of a thing which one may covet, in order that one should not allow one's heart to be disturbed by any means. But it is certain that if a man sees what he covets his heart will surely be disturbed.
"Sire, I am informed that Ch'ing-li and his party got some artful things cut or cast, besides they had some curious and wonderful apparatus manufactured. Anything unsubstantially artful they admire as curious an rare things, while anything mysterious and tricky they call a treasure of wonderful and extraordinary value.
"Such being the case, he (and his party) must be labeled as a great grub in wood (i.e., the depredation of dishonest officials to prey upon the Emperor's country) from the view point of preservation of the national welfare, besides what he (and his party) is (are) doing is strictly prohibited by the Sacred superiors under the pain of severe punishment, since these things are apt to throw the Sacred plan into disorder and to derange the established laws and customs of the country.
"In old times, as your Majesty is well aware of, when the Emperor found that a balcony to be built for him was too expensive, not from the Imperial opulence, but from the ordinary people's standard of wealth, the wise Emperor could not be persuaded by any means to have it built, while even that pair of ivory chop-sticks which were not objectionable things in themselves, caused many faithful and loyal subjects to come forward to protest against it indignantly.
"It is written in the King's Regulations that `Anyone who makes a strange dress or a curious apparatus shall be punished with death,' while it is written in the Book of the Commands of the Month that `It is prohibited that anyone should make unsubstantially artful and licentious things and dissolute the -superior man's mind.'
"Now the word "artfulness" here means anything unusual and strange which will excite curiosity, and the word "dissolution" means anything to tempt anyone to passions and desires.
"If your Majesty condescend to believe in him (i.e., Chou Ch`ing-li) and suffer him to continue to do such a thing, then it would be altogether better for your Majesty to undertake to command the whole people under heaven (the Chinese) to go to excessive lavishness and prodigality.
"If, however, Ch`ing-li did such a thing in opposition to the Imperial will, then he shall be forfeited of all the Imperial grace of pardon.
"Your Majesty has ascended to the throne recently, but the myriad regions have absolute confidence in your Majesty and it is very necessary that your Majesty should decree against mean and trifling manners to enforce frugality and thrift throughout the country. Then, all the myriad families will be happy and prosperous."
THE PROCLAMATION ORDERING THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BUDDHIST MONASTERIES, A.D. 845
We learn that there was no such thing as Buddhism prior to the Three Dynasties, i.e., Hsia, Yin and Chou. After the dynasties of Han and Wei (206 B.C. - A.D. 256), the Image-Teaching gradually began to flourish. And once established, in that degenerate- age, this strange custom prevailed far and wide, and now the people are soaked to the bone with it. Just now the national spirit begins to be spoiled unconsciously by it; and, leading the heart of the people astray, it has put the public in worse condition than ever. In the country -- throughout the nine Provinces and among the mountains and fields as well as in both the capitals (Chang-an and Luoyang) -- the number of priests is daily increasing and the Buddhist temples are constantly winning support wasting human labor in building, plundering the people's purse by golden decorations, neglecting both husband and wife by their vigil-keeping, no teaching is more harmful than this Buddhism. In breaking the laws of the, country and injuring the people, none can surpass this Buddhism. Moreover, if a farmer neglects his field, many suffer the pangs of starvation from his negligence; if a woman neglects her silk-worm culture, many suffer the calamity of being frozen to death through her negligence. Now there are at present so many monks and nuns that to count them is almost impossible. They all depend on farming for their food and upon silk-worms for their clothing!
"The public monasteries and temples, as well as private chapels and shrines, are innumerable; and all of them so gigantic and imposing that they vie with the Imperial Palace in splendor! In Dynasties Chin (317-420 A.D.) and Sung (420-476 A.D.), Ch`i (479-501 A.D.), and Liang (502-557 A.D.), the resources of this Empire were exhausted and the country gradually declined, whilst its manners and customs became flippant and insincere, solely because of this Buddhism.
Our Imperial ancestor T'ai-tsung put an end to confusion and disorder by his arms, and built up the glorious Middle Kingdom and governed his people by his accomplished learning and culture. The right of `the pen' (i.e., peaceful rule or civic administration) and `the sword' (i.e., war) belongs to the State, and they are the two weapons wherewith to govern the Empire. How dare the insignificant Teaching of the Western Lands compete with ours? During the periods of Taizong (626-649) and Xuanzong (712-756), things were bettered once for all, but the remnants were smouldering, and poverty began to grow bigger and wider and threatened to set the count ablaze.
After closely examining the examples set by our Imperial predecessors, We have finally decided to put an end to such conspicuous evils. Do ye, Our subjects at home and abroad, obey and conform to Our sincere will. If ye send in a Memorial suggesting how to exterminate these evils which have beset Us for many Dynasties, we shall do all We can to carry out the plan. Know ye that We yield to none in fulfilling the laws of Our predecessors and in trying to be helpful to Our people and beneficial to the public.
Those 4,600 monasteries supported by the Government shall be confiscated and, at the same time, 260,500 nuns and priests shall return to the secular life so that they may be able to pay the taxes. We shall also confiscate 40,000 private temples with the fertile and good lands amounting to several tens of millions of acres; and emancipate 150,000 slaves and make them into free, tax-paying people. Examining the teaching from the foreign lands in the Empire, We have discovered that there are over 3,000 monks from Ta-ch`in and Mu-hu-fu; and these monks also shall return to the lay life. They shall not mingle and interfere with the manners and customs of the Middle Kingdom.
More than a hundred thousand idle, lazy people and busy-bodies have been driven away, and numberless beautifully decorated useless temples have been completely swept away. Hereafter, purity of life shall rule Our people and simple and non-assertive rules prevail, and the people of all quarters shall bask in the sunshine of Our Imperial Influence. But this is only the beginning of the reforms. Let time be given for all, and let Our will be made known to everyone of Our subjects lest the people misunderstand Our wish.
QUOTATIONS FROM TZU-CHIH T'UNG CHIEN
(The Chronological History of T'ang Dynasty, Vol. 248; Pt. 64)
In the seventh month, autumn, in the year of Hui-ch`ang Period, the Emperor hating to see the priest and nuns preying upon all the people of the Empire determined to stop them. The Taoist priest Chao Kuei-chên and others also urged the Emperor to execute His plan. Consequently homes for monks and hermits' cells scattered over the country places were ordered to be destroyed. Only two Buddhist Monasteries in each capital, Chang-an and Loyang were suffered to exist. Then the Imperial Edict was proclaimed, and by which to these (four) monasteries only 30 priests each were allowed to remain, whilst they were all put under the direct control of the highest provincial Governor of the Empire. And only one monastery was allowed to continue its existence in each of T`ung-chou, Hua-chou, Shang chou, and Hsü-chou. The Monasteries in the provinces were divided into three classes. A monastery belonging to the uppermost class was allowed to have 20 priests, the middle class 10 priests, and the lowest class only 5 priests. (The annotation of the Book says: It is said that 4,600 monasteries were destroyed, whilst 260,500 priests and nuns ceased to continue their profession as such). The rest of the priests and nuns besides the priests of the Ta-ch`in (i.e., Nestorian), Mo-ho (i.e., Mohammedan) and Hsien (i.e., Zoroastrian) religions were made to return to the secular life. Any monastery which could not get permission to continue its existence was destroyed at once. Then the Imperial Censors were sent out to each province to oversee the execution of the Imperial Edict. All the property, movable or immovable which was owned by the monastery was confiscated to the Government. The materials used in all the monastery buildings were utilized for the construction of public buildings, whilst all the copper and bronze of which the Buddha's images were made together with the bells and gongs were appropriated for the coinage of the Empire.
A QUOTATION FROM THE INSCRIPTION OF A BUDDHIST MONASTERY WRITTEN DURING THE T'ANG DYNASTY
Therefore, even a small village consisting of ten families or a town consisting of a hundred houses had a Buddhist temple to the glorious decoration thereof. Even since our Imperial Dynasty has begun to reign over the land and the people of China the number of the Buddhist temples gradually increased. And many foreigners also came to this country and among those foreigners that have come to us there are the Mo-ni (i.e., Manicheans), the Ta-ch`in (i.e., Nestorians) and the Hsien-shên (i.e., Zoroastrians). But all the monasteries belonging to these three kinds of foreign religions in the Empire, even if they were put together, will not come up to the number of our Buddhist monasteries existing in a small town."
A POEM ON A RUINED NESTORIAN TEMPLE AT CHOU-CHIH,
COMPOSED IN 1200 BY GENERAL YANG YÜNG-I
On the Ta-ch'in Temple
1 The temple is in ruins -- he who laid
Its firm foundation laboured but in vain.
2 No longer do the pious folk invade
Its courts; now only peace and quiet reign.
3 The soft green moss has mantled every tile
To rob the luster of its delicate green.
4 But still against the hill, the slender pile
Stands dazzling white in golden rays of evening.
5 Over the valley hang the passing clouds
A few lone birds go winging on their way,
6 Towards their mountain home; the dusk beshrouds
The land; the smoke climbs upward, silver grey.
7 Those days have gone in dust; my dream is over,
Now I may muse on waters clear and pure.