What's the future of Buddhism in China ?
To make a start to discussing that question, which I suggest reflects on the future of China itself, I'd like to post two videos (I think I may have posted one of theese videos before). They both originate from the same night, but there are subtle differences (which I'm not criticising).
The occasion was the Buddha's finger bone relic ceremony at the Famen Temple, in Shaanxi Province, China on 09/05/2009. The singer is Faye Wong and she sings the Buddhist Heart Sutra
Now note the differences in this version:
I think everyone is likely to agree that this is a beautiful, moving auditory experience, and I'm glad I heard it. But in the first version the focus is on the experience.
In the second, we can see the occasion - an important occasion as I will show.
The Famen temple is very ancient, so old in fact that it's origins are obscure. Some of the materials in sections of the temple indicate a date in the first half of the first century. To think of that in context, visualise that as Jesus was preaching, some Chinese were building this Buddhist temple located near the former capital city of Changan (now Xian). There is a belief that it was one of the temples that the Indian King Asoka ordered to be built, but that cannot be corroborrated, and as I said that dating is entirely dependent on dating the materials. If we want corroborating evidence, (i.e. something in a written record) we have to opt for a later date.
We can can find written evidence that this temple was in existence during the northern Wei dynasty. That dynasty was formed by Xianbei people who swept into north China and ruled between 386 and 534.
Either way its old!
However, when the Northern Wei collapsed and the Northern Zhou ruled the area, the Emperor Wu, did not like Buddhism and the temple was nearly completely destroyed. It was partially re-built during the Sui dynasty, and then greatly enhanced during the following Tang dynasty.
Here's an image, of the temple.
I'm going to use a description from http://www.china.org.cn/english/TR-e/43270.htm to tell the next bit of the story (don't worry I'll get to the point soon.)
The temple was built because the pagoda was there, and the temple became famous because of the pagoda. According to historical records, Famen Temple Pagoda used to be wooden, but it collapsed between 1567 and 1572 in the Ming Dynasty.
When it was rebuilt in 1579, the pagoda became a thirteen-storey brick building and was called the Pagoda for Sakyamuni's Body. The existing pagoda is the rebuilt one. The octagonal pagoda is more than sixty meters high. Horizontal boards on four sides of the first storey are inscribed respectively with "Pagoda for Sakyamuni's Body," "The Beauty of the Town," "The Buddhist Relic Glows" and "The Pagoda Shines." Under the eaves of the pagoda's first storey are carved brick pillars in the shape of claws, curtains, brackets and rafters. Carved under the eaves from the second to the eighth storey are brackets and supports for brackets; the eaves are built of bricks piled together. The other storeys' piled brick eaves have no brackets or other component parts. They may have been rebuilt later. The thirteenth storey has destroyed and made into an octagonal cover. The steeple has a copper body in the shape of an inverted bowl and a bead.
and then, in 1982, after heavy rains and flooding in Shaanxi, the pagoda's foundation subsided, cracked, and more than half the pagoda collapsed.
Now I'm getting to the point, the government and the Temple authorities agreed the Temple should be repaired (the Government paying much of the cost).
During the preparatory work was carried out in 1986, including cleaning up the damaged pagoda and excavation of its attached underground palace, a large quantity of valuable relics were discovered in the underground palace.
The underground palace consists of seven parts: steps, corridors, balconies, passageway, front chamber, central chamber and rear chamber. Totaling 21.12 meters long and covering an area of 31.84 square meters, it is the largest of all underground palaces of pagodas already known today. Discovered from the underground palace are relics of Sakyamuni’s finger bone, a four-doored pure gold pagoda with single eave and a precious bead on top, double-side pure gold staff with twelve rings, a silver staff with gold flower design, two discs and twelve rings, a gilded silver Buddhist ablutionary basin with mandarin duck and posy designs and a silver bodhisattva statue. These important discoveries have made Famen Temple famous all over the world.
This image illustrates the extent of the damage: