Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION (oxfordre.com/religion). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 20 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

The period from the 3rd to the late 6th century, variously known as the period of the Northern and Southern States (Nanbeichao) and the Six Dynasties period (Liuchao) signals a formative period in Chinese history when Buddhism established itself in China. Virtually all its major scriptures, doctrines, and practices were introduced in some form during this period, which in many ways can be considered a defining development in the religion’s history in East Asia. During this time Buddhism, which entered China from both the Central Asian Silk Road and from the southern sea route, was at the beginning accompanying merchants from abroad, and during its early time mainly served foreign communities.

The Nanbeichao period is the time when Buddhism not only established itself but also became the dominant religious power in China, far outdistancing the native Daoist and Confucian traditions in terms of influence, economic power, and number of adherents. Even so, Buddhism in China was not a monolithic tradition with a centralized hierarchy or power structure. Buddhism in China, as in its native India, was divided into numerous independent communities each with its own leaders and support units, many reflecting specific local tendencies and geo-political conditions. As in many other religions, Buddhism was greatly dependent on royal and upper-class patronage for support in order to sustain its growing monastic populations and the costly building and construction projects its practices required. This meant land donations and the building of temples and monuments, including large-scale excavation of cave complexes for worship and habitation, which dot the Chinese landscape to this day.

Keywords: monastic communities, sutras, cave temples, Buddhist imagery, state control, meditation, doctrine and philosophy, Daoist and Confucian interactions, translation projects

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.