Thursday, September 4, 2008

Emperor Wuzong of Tang

Emperor Tang Wuzong , born Li Yan, was the fifteenth emperor of the Tang dynasty of China, reigning from 840 to 846. Wuzong is remembered mainly for the religious persecution that occurred during his reign.

Wuzong ascended to the throne in a time of economic and political crisis. Military had controlled the government for some time. They had put the previous emperor, Wuzong's older brother , under house arrest, where he apparently drank himself to death. The eunuchs had also murdered the last two emperors before him, and . Meanwhile, the Khanate was attacking China from the northwest. Imperial finances were in trouble as most provinces were not paying any taxes to the central government. With the help of his uncle, the future , Wuzong was able to stage a coup against the eunuchs and ascend to the throne. He and his prime minister Li Deyu were able to curb the eunuchs' power. Li Deyu took personal command of the war against the Uyghurs and won an important victory in 843.

Wuzong's solution to the financial crisis was to seize the property of Buddhist monasteries. Buddhism had flourished into a major religious force in China during the Tang period, and its monasteries enjoyed tax-exempt status. He closed many Buddhist shrines, confiscated their property, and sent the monks and nuns home to lay life. However, Wuzong's reasons for doing so were not purely economic. A zealous Taoist, Wuzong considered Buddhism a foreign religion that was harmful to Chinese society. He went after other foreign religions as well. He all but destroyed Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism in China, and his persecution of the growing churches sent Chinese Christianity into a decline from which it never recovered. At the same time, Wuzong went far to promote Taoist worship in China through religious regulations and the construction of the Temple for Viewing Immortals in the Imperial court.

Tang Wuzong was one of the last Tang emperors and ruled China during a long period of decline; despite his reforms, he was unable to revive the empire through his religious persecutions. After his death, with the help of his son Wenzong, Buddhism was able to recover from the persecution; but Christianity, Manichaeism, and Zoroastrianism, however, never again played as significant a role in Chinese religious life.

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