ASIA 382 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Buddhist Cosmology, Mandate Of Heaven

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27 Jul 2016
Empress Wu (Reg: 684-690, r. 690-705)
1. Her family background and her early life
Mother who was formerly a nun and a general-father; related with Sui emperors on the
maternal side; with Buddhism as her family faith
3. Empress Wu & Buddhism
A. The political agenda of Empress Wu’s policies toward Buddhism: she primarily used
Buddhism as an ideological tool to justify her usurpation and her position as a female
ruler, which was condemned by Confucianism as an irregular situation (as “a hen crows
like a rooster in daybreak”)
B. She was perceived as a usurper by traditional kingship theory, according to which the
challenger of the current ruler the upholder of the “heavenly mandate” - should come
from outside the current imperial family. A possible way for her to avoid such an
accusation was to use Buddhist cakravartin ideas, which had the potential of recasting a
sovereign as a universal king entitled to rule not only China, but also the whole world.
This, in turn, was to relieve her of the obligation of abiding by the traditional Chinese
politic ethics, which, after all, was local and therefore negligible in comparison with the
cakravartin ideas in the sense that the former was confined to China, no more than a
tiny quarter of the universe according to Buddhist cosmology.
C. In addition, the Buddhist teachings on the universality of Buddha-nature (especially
on the potential that a female can also attain to Buddhahood) particularly appeals to her
when she battled the Confucian biases against women.
Her measures to promote Buddhism
a. Granting precedence to Buddhism in state policies (Buddhism Taoism
b. Expanding the enterprise of Buddhist translations attracting numerous Buddhist
missionaries from India and central Asia importing Buddhist texts from abroad
setting up new translation centers appointing talented Buddhist monks to these
c. Constructing Buddhist monasteries – especially a chain of monasteries spreading all
over the country that was aimed at promulgating a Buddhist text with special
bearing on her female rulership.
d. Opening new Buddhist caves of sculptures, particularly in the scenic Longmen 龍門.
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