Chapter 6 presents another excellent example of really interesting history on how the Chinese Communist Party set out to re-shape Buddhist doctrine to get practicing Buddhists to follow the party line and willingly enlist with the Red Army to help defend Korea from the Americans.
In other words, it’s another example of fine scholarship that contradicts what the editors of this collection assert – that Buddhism rationalizes violent action and warfare – by clearly showing that Buddhists succumbed to the pressures of the prevailing hegemony either through acquiescence or through intentional action to curry political favor.
Buddhists in China at this time didn’t become soldiers because Buddhist doctrine condoned it; rather, the Chinese Communist Party beguiled Chinese Buddhists into believing that by helping the North Koreans defend themselves from American forces, they would be practicing the Bodhisattva path.
This was a clever ruse by the Chinese Communist Party achieved by co-opting Buddhist terms and concepts and re-packaging them in terms that would benefit the party. And in part, it was also a reaction by Buddhists there to secure preservation of their practice under the Communist regime.
For example, the author, Xue Yu, writes: “Many Buddhists believed that, by positively responding to the government’s call and undertaking socialist transformation, they would in return receive sympathy from the government, which would then protect Buddhist institutions.”
But the Party was also much more direct in coercing cooperation from monks and nuns:
“Monks and nuns were advised to closely follow government policies or be considered enemies of the people within the framework of the people’s democratic dictatorship. To a large extent, these campaigns successfully transformed monks and nuns, physically as well as mentally.”
The results of these efforts can still be witnessed in China today as the Party prepares for its 90th anniversary, as evidenced by this article.
Using Orwellian speech tactics, the CCP mounted an aggressive propaganda campaign to malign the intentions of America while portraying Chinese intentions as pure:
“We Buddhists uphold peace, yet America is the deadly enemy of peace. Therefore, we must reject American imperialism in order to safeguard peace… Now, the people of Korea have been severely tortured by the imperialist America; assisting Korea will safeguard not only the nation and the world, but also Buddhism.”
By using the language of the bodhisattva, the pure and good intention of the Chinese and efforts to support the underdog Korea were made palpable to a Buddhist constituency. Never mind that it was the North Koreans who started everything by invading the South and that America only ventured into the fray following the North’s aggression and near occupation of Seoul.
This chapter, “Buddhists in China during the Korean War,” is an excellent read and bit of history. But as an article to support the editors’ thesis that Buddhism in and of itself it “warlike?” Sorry, not a chance.
I'm a content director for a television company, guiding content on Web sites. I'm an avid listener of Frank Zappa and a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle. I'm an insatiable traveler who calls Chicago home.