Chinese Buddhism (Han Chinese Buddhism) has played an extremely prominent and dynamic role in Buddhist history, particularly in East Asia. Over the course of approximately two thousand years, Buddhist ideas and practices have shaped Chinese culture in a wide variety of areas, including art, politics, literature, philosophy, medicine, and material culture.
The translation of a large body of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and the inclusion of these translations together with works composed in China into a printed canon had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout the Chinese cultural sphere, including Korea, Japan, Ryukyu Islands and Vietnam. Chinese Buddhism is also marked by the interaction between Indian and Chinese religion.
The Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to East Asia. They constitute approximately 92% of the population of Mainland China, 93% of the population of Hong Kong, 92% of the population of Macau, 98% of the population of Taiwan, 76.2% of the citizen population of Singapore, 24.5% of the population of Malaysia, and about 19% of the entire global human population, making them the largest ethnic group in the world. The Han Chinese are regarded as a subset of the Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu). They sometimes refer to themselves as Yan Huang Zisun, meaning the "descendants of (god-emperors) Yan and Huang".
Buddhist expansion in Asia, Mahayana Buddhism first entered China through Silk Road.
Buddhism entered Han China via the Silk Road, beginning in the 1st or 2nd century CE. The first documented translation efforts by Buddhist monks in China (all foreigners) were in the 2nd century CE, possibly as a consequence of the expansion of the Greco-Buddhist Kushan Empire into the Chinese territory of the Tarim Basin.
Direct contact between Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism continued throughout the 3rd to 7th century, well into Tang period. From the 4th century onward, with Faxian's pilgrimage to India (395–414), and later Xuanzang (629–644), Chinese pilgrims started to travel by themselves to northern India, their source of Buddhism, in order to get improved access to original scriptures. Much of the land route connecting northern India with China at that time was ruled by the Buddhist Kushan Empire, and later the Hephthalite Empire, see Gandhara. During these centuries, the combination of Indian Buddhism with Western influences (Greco-Buddhism) gave rise to the various distinct schools of Buddhism in Central Asia and in China.
China was later reached by the Indian form of "esoteric Buddhism" (Vajrayana) in the 7th century. Tibetan Buddhism was likewise established as a branch of Vajrayana, in the 8th century. But from about this time, the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism began to decline with the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana, resulting in the Uyghur Khaganate by the 740s.
By this time, Indian Buddhism itself was in decline, due to the rise of Hinduism on one hand and due to the Muslim expansion on the other, while Tang-era Chinese Buddhism was repressed in the 9th century, but not before in its turn giving rise to Korean and Japanese traditions.
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