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Empress Wu And Buddhism: A Symbiotic Relationship

2131 words - 9 pages

Wu Zhao, the first female emperor of China, rose to power during the Tang Dynasty and her active role with Buddhism fabricated a perpetual impact in the Chinese society as a whole. There is no doubt that Buddhism and the Tang administration, under Wu’s reign, formed a symbiotic relationship with one another. She is considered to be one of the most prominent advocators of the religion during the era. Her efforts to spread of Buddhism and the monetary support help Buddhism to expand throughout the people significantly, which provide the religion another source of financial income to spread even further. Regardless of Empress Wu’s intention, she has furnished the religion in numerous ways, but what did she receive in return? This proposes the question: To what extent did Empress Wu’s support of Buddhism, politically and financially, help Wu and better her empire overall?
There is no simple answer to this question, especially with the convoluted and entwining relationship between Buddhism and Wu, so we focus on how the religion assisted Wu in grasping power and its indispensable role in the Chinese economy. The close connection between government and religion is not a new concept to the Tang era as it has been well-established prior to its time, and it even survived long after. In the case of Buddhism and Empress Wu, the religion played a pivotal role in justifying her rule, which could explain her special interest in it. Among the Buddhists followers, she was identified as the bodhisattva Maitreya, which helped her gain a sense of legitimacy to her reign, especially in a male-dominant society (Smarr Feb. 17 2012). The association of Buddhism with Wu helped spur Wu’s benevolent policies towards the religion, who benefitted handsomely from this intertwining relationship with Wu. From the relationship with Wu, Chinese Buddhist monastic lands are exempt from tax and they gain a substantial sum of donations from the state on a regular basis, helping to install Buddhist iconographic art as seen in A Pilgrim’s Visit to the Five Terraces Mountains. On top of being advantageous for the justification of Wu’s throne, the adoption of Buddhism also benefitted the Chinese government. Wu’s openhanded policies towards Buddhism and her proclamation of an era of peace brought the empire economic stability and prosperity (Smarr Feb. 17 2012). The reciprocated correlation between religion and state is clearly identified by Wu’s unambiguous relationship with Buddhism: Wu accepts the previously rejected religion and becomes its primary fiscal source, which ultimately leads to the wide-spread of Buddhism throughout the country, while Buddhism, in return, legitimizes her reign and facilitates the trade routes on the silk roads to the western world, bringing countless advantages to China and significantly boosting the Chinese economy during a peaceful period.
The interdependency between Wu and Buddhism blooms as early as her overtaking of the imperial rule of China....

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