Chronology of the Early History of Buddhism in China




62 CE

Emperor Ming Ti's dream.
Mission to India; Indian monk in Luoyang translates "Sutra of 42 Sections."


An-shi-kau, a Parthian (?) noted as being an excellent translator.


Turfan monk Chi-Meng translates "Rules of Priesthood."


First Chinese translation of "Lotus Sutra."

260 ff.

Dharmaraksha, born in a Yue-chi family in Dunhuang, travels in Inner Asia learning numerous languages; settles in Luoyang where presides over translation of some 165 Buddhist books, including "Nirvana Sutra," Chapter 25 of "Lotus Sutra." Major contributor to making Mahayana texts intelligible in Chinese. Among other noteworthy translations in period, the Futianjing ("Teaching of the Buddha Concerning the Various Activities to Cultivate Merit Fields"), by Fali and FajŁ.


Translations by a non-Chinese monk of Vimalakirti and Lotus Sutras.


Translation by An Faqin of the Ashokavadana ("Legend of King Ashoka").


Sack of Luoyang, just as important missionary monk from Kucha, Fo-t'u-teng arrives to become a translator.

ca. 335

Influence in China of Indian monk Buddhasinha; for first time becomes legal for ordinary people to take Buddhist monastic vows.

ca. 350

In Luoyang alone, some 42 pagodas.


Earliest documentation of cave at Dunhuang.

late 4th-early 5th c.

Hui-yŁan (334-416) active in Nanjing; popularized idea of salvation through Amitabha Buddha, laying foundations for "Pure Land" sect.


Faxian's journey to India and back.


Famous translator Kumarajiva, from Kucha, worked at Ch'ang-an. Among many translations were "Vimalakirti Sutra" and "Lotus Sutra" (in the year 406).

ca. 416-418

Faxian and his Indian collaborator translate Mahaparinirvana Sutra in Ch'ang-an. Period when Northern Liang ruler was major patron of Buddhism and sponsored creation of major cave shrines.


Translation of "Visualization Sutras" by Kalayasas (emphasis on visualization of Western Paradise of Amitabha).


Persecution of Buddhism in north.


Emperor Wu of Liang dynasty in south, important patron of Buddhism. Took Buddhist vows himself; in 504 ordered elite to abandon Daoism and practice Buddhism; in 517 decreed destruction of Daoist temples.


Song Yun (from Dunhuang) and Huisheng sent to India by dowager Empress of the Wei; they returned with 175 books.


Arrival of Indian monk Bodhidharma, important in developing Chan Buddhism, with emphasis on meditative discipline (intersects with Daoism).

ca. 530

Huijiao compiles "Biographies of Eminent Monks," containing (among other items) tales about miraculous Buddhist icons.


Persecution of Buddhism.


Establishment of Sui dynasty (581-617), which soon unifies China. Beginning of period (continuing into subsequent T'ang dynasty, 618-907) of great flourishing of Buddhism as "state religion." Period of construction of some of most impressive caves at Dunhuang.


Xuanzang's journey.

ca. 640

Commentary on "Visualization Sutra" by Shandao (613-681), emphasizing ability of all believers to enter Western paradise (an example being Queen Vaihedi) and filial piety as a Buddhist virtue.

2nd half 7th c.

Building of Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Ch'ang-an.


Usurper Empress Wu identifies herself with Buddha of the Future, Maitreya; sponsors carving of the giant Buddha statue in Cave 96 at Dunhuang.


Tibetan occupation of Dunhuang.


Persecution of Buddhism in central regions of China.


Chang (Zhang) and then Cao (Ts'ao) family prominence and patronage of Buddhism at Dunhuang.

© 2000 Daniel C. Waugh