Constructing the Past


Prominent Buddhist Ju Zan, disciple of the venerable Taixu, saw an opportunity for Buddhism to thrive under the auspices of the Communist's period of New Democracy. However, as is usual in the retelling of history, many sides of a story are told. In the eyes of many modern historians, the treatment of Buddhism during the 1950s seemed to be an antagonistic crackdown to subject and politicize religion. Historian Ernst Benz has compared Chinese Buddhism to that of a "religious museum under state supervision," but that was hardly the case in the immediate post-war period. In the very least, New Democracy supported religious freedom--an aspect that Ju Zan and others hoped would legitimize their genuine efforts to reform. This paper will seek to understand how New Democracy affected Buddhism, or in reverse, how Buddhism responded to the New Democratic period in China. By examining Taixu's teachings and establishing the background for Buddhist reforms in pre-Communist China, one can perceive the myriad journal editions of Modern Buddhism (1950-1966) as a continuation of Taixu's vision to create a humanistic Buddhism. With this knowledge, it will be possible to understand that a congenial relationship existed between Buddhism and the Communist Party leading up to the late 1950s, which was due largely in part to the compatibility and joint ambition of a pure land on Earth.