Origin, Development and Influence of Buddhism on Chinese Culture

The Chinese originally practiced Confucianism as their main religion. Between 202 B.C to 220 A.D, Buddhism entered China through the Silk Road and flourished especially after the fall of the Han dynasty. It had great influence on Chinese way of life impacting their literature, painting, sculpture, and their socio-economic and political organization. These influences have survived centuries and are still very much in existence in the 21st Century.

Introduction of Buddhism into China: The Silk Road

            The Chinese first came into contact with Buddhism between 202 B.C to 220 A.D from Indian missionaries and traders who had already practiced the religion for a few centuries. This interaction occurred along the Silk Road, which was the gateway to and from China to the rest of Europe during the later years of the Han Dynasty. Buddhism blossomed after the fall of the Han Dynasty as more and more people searched for an alternative faith to Confucianism, which was deemed to favor the political status quo. It initially resembled Chinese Taoism, and most Chinese viewed it through Taoist beliefs.

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The Appeal of Buddhism to the Chinese

            Buddhism developed into a major Chinese religion after the end of the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D. Much of this growth was fueled by the way the tenets of Buddhism resonated with the poor Chinese population. It offered solace to the poverty-stricken masses through its teachings especially on sorrow and how to counter suffering. The faith also challenged the autocracy placed upon the masses by Confucianism and as a result struck a familiar chord with majority of the people. Most of the leaders however were against it as it challenged the way of life that sustained them (Racine, n.d).

The Effect of Buddhism on Chinese Painting, Sculpture and Literature

            Buddhism has over the years greatly influenced Chinese culture in all manner of ways. By the sixth century, Buddhism had already become integral to the Chinese and Buddhist art prevailed with Buddha paintings being made especially in caves and walls. Numerous Buddha statues were carved and distributed while Buddha figures were carved on rock. In literature, many Chinese words and phrases were derived from Buddhism. A lot of Buddhist text was translated into Chinese and schools sprouted to teach the faith (The Buddhist World, 2008).

Influence of Buddhism on Political and Economy

            Buddhism appealed to the Chinese peasants and galvanized them against their leaders as it challenged the divine authority Confucianism granted the leaders. Most leaders protested it because it appeared to contradict the political setting that favored them. Its increasing popularity as the centuries went by had it made a state religion by Chinese leaders such as Sui and Tang. Some foreign rulers also used Buddhism in a bid to connect with their Chinese subjects and justify their occupation. The impact of Buddhism on Chinese economy was also profound as materialism was shunned in favor of spiritualism. However, new materials based on Buddhism entered the Chinese setting, mostly carvings of Buddha and similar paintings.


            Buddhism was brought to China by Indian traders and missionaries via the Silk Road and gained prominence by the time of the end of the Han Dynasty by 220 A.D. It appealed to the Chinese peasants as it taught about sorrow and how to manage suffering, besides challenging the existing autocracy. It had great influence on Chinese art, literature, political and economic organization as Buddhist ideas were integrated into the lives of the Chinese.


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