Legal protection of Buddhism in China 1912-1915

Legal protection of Buddhism in China 1912-1915

From March, 1912 to December, 1915, several dozen laws were issued by the newly established government of the Republic of China in Beijing to legally protect Buddhism, Buddhist temples, and Buddhist property, and prohibit the seizure of temple grounds by regional authorities of the warlords.

On June 25, 1912, the government ordered that “all Buddhist property shall be protected”.

On September 20, 1912, the newly established government of the Republic of China, the first republic in Asia, abolished the “imperial minister of religion”.  The declaration of abolishment of the “imperial minister of religion” stated:  “The establishment of the Republic provides equality to all citizens without government preference.  The existence of any government bureaucracy headed by an official monk counters this equality.  All official titles and official seals of the imperial minister of religion shall be abolished and canceled.”  Over 1,000 “official monks” were let go or withdrew from government.

The “imperial minister of religion” was established by the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 A.D.)  A monk was appointed to manage religious (Buddhist) affairs.  The “imperial minister of religion” existed throughout all the dynasties up to 1911 when the Manchu dynasty was overthrown by the 1911 Republican revolution and the founding of the first republic in Asia, the Republic of China, on January 1, 1912.

In November, 1912, the order to protect Buddhist temples was issued.  It specifically stated that (1) Buddhist temple property belongs to Buddhism.  (2) Buddhist monks and nuns have the right to manage the temples but they do not have ownership rights.  Temple real estate cannot be transfered or mortgaged under the name of any private citizen.

On January 13, 1913, Buddhist and Taoist temples were declared as “public property”.  (3)  Monks and nuns who commit crimes shall be prosecuted as individuals, and their criminal activities shall not be the responsibility of the management body of the temples.  Temple organizations are considered as charities and public benefit and benevolent associations, and therefore, criminal activities of monks and nuns are considered individual acts.  On January 13, 1913, the central government also specified that (4)  Buddhist organizations and associations are the bodies that hold ownership of temple property.

On June 20, 1913, “temporary rules for the management of temples” were issued by the central government.  The “rules” specifically stated that “any seizure of temple property is prohibited”.  (5)  It also stated that “temple property shall be subject to taxation” and (6)  “Temple property shall be registered”.

On July 19, 1913, provisional president Yuan Shih-kai declared:  “The people have  freedom of religion.  All religions shall be regarded as equal and they shall respect each other.”

On January 23, 1914, constitutional provisions were issued.  They stated:  “The people have the right to religious freedom.  The people have the right to assembly and the right of association and the freedom to organize associations.  The establishment of civilian Buddhist associations is therefore encouraged.”  Between March, 1912 and October, 1913, five national Buddhist organizations were founded.  On December 4, 1912, the China Buddhist Association (Zhong Hua Fo Jiao Zhong Hui) was founded.  On October 11, 1912, the Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist Alliance Association (Meng Tsang Fo Jiao Lian He Hui) was founded.  On May 17, 1913, the General Association of Chinese Buddhists (Zhong Hua Fo Jiao Gong Hui) was established.  On July 31, 1913, the Chinese Buddhist Youth Association (Zhong Guo Fo Jiao Qing Nian Hui) was founded.  On September 3, 1913, the “Fan Han Tseng Shu Fo Jiao Lian He Hui” (Buddhist union of foreign and Han monks and laymen” was founded.  They were listed as Buddhist organizations by public notice  on January 23, 1914.

On October 29, 1915, the “temple management regulations” were issued.

Historical background

On May 12, 1902, the Shen Bao of Shanghai reported that there had been over 40 incidents of mob attacks on monks and nuns, killing, raping, and seizing temple property.  This was a popular campaign to eliminate superstition between 1895 and 1916.

On July 20, 1912, the Shen Bao reported that on June 7, 1912, soldiers in Changsha ransacked a school inside the Cheng Huang Temple.  This caused a mob riot in protest, the Shen Bao reported on January 5, 1913.    On November 20, 1912, the government’s public announcement mentioned a case of a nun being forced to marry that resulted in her death.  On January 23, 1913, a group of merchants gathered in Anqing, Anhui province, to protest the destruction of a Buddhist statue.

In October, 1913, provisional president Yuan Shih-kai proposed “to take morality as the core in the implementation of law.”  He said:  “Use law to support the implementation of morality.”

At the time, most Chinese people were illiterate.  The Buddhist temples provided moral education and schooling, and the Nationalist Republican government of the Republic of China enacted laws and provided legal protection to Buddhist organizations and temples, and ensured that the Buddhist temples were able to provide both classical and modern education to children.  An “industrial school for girls” set up inside a temple had also been ransacked by mobs.

[Master Chen says]

This is a brief history of how the Republican government of the Republic of China protected Buddhism by issuing several dozen laws from 1912 to 1915.  However, immediately after the usurpation of power by the Chinese Communists and the founding of the “People’s Republic of China” on the Chinese mainland on October 1, 1949, all of the efforts described above were destroyed and eliminated through anti-religious and anti-Confucius political purges in establishing an atheist regime by the Chinese Communists.

Dissertations of this type by Chinese mainland scholars are rare and are politically risky.

In the 1920s and 1930s, this would have been a good example of sinological studies popular in France and Germany, and French and German scholars have produced good historical research in sinology.

I encourage all those who wish to learn Chinese and Chinese history, to go to Taiwan where access to such historical information is unrestricted.  In fact, historical studies of this type are encouraged by Chinese scholars on Taiwan, and there is no political agenda that attempts to whitewash history that is not politically correct according to the Chinese Communist regime.  Xi Jinping has tightened his grip on ideological control and recent comments describe Chinese mainland scholars as “being in fear”.

The Nationalist Republican government of Chiang Kai-shek had very close relationship with Germany, and the Soviet Union in the 1920s up to around 1940.  In fact, Chiang Ching-kuo, the eldest son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, studied at the Moscow Dr. Sun Yat-sen University, took a Russian name, became a factory manager in Siberia, and married a Russian woman who has become known as Chiang Fang-liang and was first lady of the Republic of China on Taiwan.   Chiang Wei-kuo, the younger son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek wrote a book in German about his military training in Germany during that period.  And from the 1930s to 1950, there were German and Russian Jews in Shanghai known as the Shanghai Jews.  Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek also maintained good relations with Generalissimo Franco of Spain.

I once asked an American researcher whether he had seen any historical records about the Shanghai Jews in the Russian archives.  He gave me a blank stare!

Therefore, I propose that all those who wish to learn Chinese and Chinese history and whose native language is French, German, Russian and Spanish, to go to Taiwan to become a sinologue, and translate the abundance of Chinese historical material available only on Taiwan into French, German, Russian and Spanish, partly so that the German and Russian legacy in China between 1895 and 1949 is not forgotten.

I am posting this here and as a separate page on [masterchensays] for easy access.