Kumārajīva: A great contributor to the creation of Chinese Buddhism and the Chinese culture

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It is well known that the cultural development in ancient China from the Eastern Han 東漢 Dynasty (25-220 CE) to the Northern Song 北宋 Dynasty (960-1127 CE) was directly and deeply influenced by Indian culture and civilization. The impact was largely achieved through the dissemination of Indian Buddhism. Without this magnificent religious medium, it is hard to imagine that a foreign culture with a considerably different character could have had such a great influence on the already highly developed and extremely secularized Chinese culture. For this reason, Chinese scholars tend to apply Indian Buddhism to refer to Indian culture or civilization when discussing its influence on Chinese culture. As Professor Ji Xianlin 季羨林 (1988) once said, “Without studying the impact of Buddhism on Chinese culture, it is impossible to write an authentic history of Chinese culture, Chinese philosophy, or even a history of China.” The term “Buddhism” mentioned here does not only refer to the religion per se, but to the whole complex of ancient Indian culture and civilization that had been brought by Buddhism into China. People may wonder: how did Buddhism, the carrier of Indian culture, find its way into China? The language used for the transmission of Indian Buddhism and Indian culture are mostly from the indo-European language family, while the Chinese language as the essential vehicle of Chinese culture belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. The huge typological gap between the languages used in ancient India or Central Asia and Chinese cultures. Anyone with a little knowledge about this difference will be astonished by the tremendous achievements accomplished by the communication between these two cultures in ancient times. A substantial part of the achievements, fairly speaking, is owed to the enterprise of translating Buddhist texts into Chinese, which lasted for about a thousand years. This enterprise perhaps serves as one of more spectacular examples of intercultural exchange in human history. During nearly ten centuries, from the Eastern Han東漢 to the Northern Song 北宋, hundreds of Buddhist master coming from India or Central Asia to China, along with their Chinese assistants, translated thousands of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Thereby, they made known to the Chinese people not only Buddhist teachings, but also an extensive and rich set of Indian cultural information, which finally even had effects on their daily life. In this sense, it is reasonable to say that without the translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese, there could have neither been the widespread dissemination of Buddhism in China, nor the establishment of Chinese Buddhism, not to mention the profound influence of Indian culture on Chinese popular culture. Among those honourable Buddhist masters the most outstanding one is Kumārajīva (344-413 CE) whom we commemorate today. Copyright © 2015 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKumārajīva: Philosopher and seer
Place of PublicationNew Delh
PublisherIndira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts
ISBN (Print)9789380935614, 9380935617
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Zhu, Q. (2015). Kumārajīva: A great contributor to the creation of Chinese Buddhism and the Chinese culture. In Shashibala (Ed.), Kumārajīva: Philosopher and seer (pp. 251-286). New Delh: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.


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