Buddhism in Contemporary China

Chinese Buddhist Monk prays over a dead man in Shanxi, China
A Chinese Buddhist monk prays over a dead man in Shanxi, China

There are many faces to Buddhism in China today. But this is surely one of the most astonishing, not only for one gets from seeing a monk praying over and holding the hand of a dead stranger in a public place, but for the faces of the curious onlookers behind him.

What is the story of each of these people? What must their lives be like? And the man who had died?

The monk’s face elicits a sense of calm amidst emotional chaos.

The site that brought the image to my eyes, latitude news, does a good job of giving the back-story to Buddhism in China and the question of widespread apathy growing in this ever more densely packed and materialistic nation. Buddhism has had a very long and varied history in China, ranging from full government sponsorship to contempt and persecution. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s marked the most recent period of persecution and only recently has the government begun allowing Buddhism to reassert its presence in the public sphere, granted in a very guarded and controlled manner.

But given scenes like this, I can only imagine that Buddhism will continue to grow as a much-needed moral power in a country in great need of just such a force.

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