When Emperor Wu Met Bodhidharma: A Reading of Mid-Tang Religious Policy

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    From the early eighth century on, those concerned with the practice and theory of statecraft paid recurring attention to emperor Wu of Liang 梁武帝 (r. 502-549). They cast him as a "Buddhist" ruler and used him as an ideological cipher to debate the imperial religious policy of their own times. Their discourse was dominated by critiques of the Liang ruler, in particular his material and ritual support for the Bud-dhist church. To counter such critiques, defenders of Buddhism's role in imperial statecraft sought novel argumentative strategies. They attempted to divorce em-peror Wu's practice of Buddhism from what they defined as fundamental doctrine. Through evaluations of emperor Wu's religious merit, they now established moral and metaphysical criteria for imperial legitimacy, bringing into question the limits of spiritual and temporal authority. This paper uses the shift in mid-Tang accounts of emperor Wu to shed light on contemporary struggles for political and social control between the imperial state on the one hand, and the Buddhist church on the other.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)119-165
    JournalAsia Major
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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