Three Disasters of Wu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Three Disasters of Wu (Chinese language: 三武之禍; pinyin sān wǔ zhī huò) were three major persecutions against Buddhism in Chinese history. They were named as such because the posthumous names or temple names of all three emperors who carried out the persecutions had the character Wu (武) in them.

First Disaster[edit]

The first Disaster of Wu started in 446, when Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, a devout Taoist who followed the Northern Celestial Masters, was fighting the Xiongnu rebel Gai Wu (蓋吳). During the campaign, weapons were located in Buddhist temples, and he therefore believed that Buddhists were against him. With encouragement from his also devoutly Taoist prime minister Cui Hao, Emperor Taiwu ordered Buddhism abolished under penalty of death, and slaughtered the Buddhists in the Guanzhong region, the center of Gai's rebellion.[1] The ban against Buddhism was relaxed in Emperor Taiwu's later years, and formally ended after his grandson Emperor Wencheng of Northern Wei, a Buddhist, took the throne in 452.

Second Disaster[edit]

The second Disaster of Wu was carried out in two separate attempts, one in 574 and one in 577, when Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou banned both Buddhism and Taoism, for he believed that they had become too wealthy and powerful. He ordered the monks of both religions to return to civilian life, to add to the military manpower supply and the economy.[2] Compared to the first Disaster of Wu, the second was relatively bloodless. When it officially ended was difficult to gauge, but it was probably over by the time that his son Emperor Xuan of Northern Zhou took the throne in 578.

Third Disaster[edit]

The third Disaster of Wu started in 845, when Emperor Wuzong of Tang, a devout Taoist, ordered that Buddhist temples and statues be destroyed and their properties confiscated to state treasury. The ban was not a complete ban; two Buddhist temples were permitted in both the main capital Chang'an and the subsidiary capital Luoyang, and the large municipalities and each circuit were each allowed to maintain one temple with no more than 20 monks. More than 4,600 temples were destroyed empirewide, and more than 260,000 monks and nuns were forced to return to civilian life.[3] The disaster affected not only Buddhism, but also Nestorian Christianity and Zoroastrianism. It appeared to end after Emperor Wuzong was succeeded by his uncle Emperor Xuānzong of Tang in 846.


  1. ^ Wei Shu(《魏书·释老志》):“世祖初继位,亦遵太祖、太宗之业,每引高德沙门,与共谈论。……及得寇谦之道,帝以清净无为,有仙化之证,遂信行其术。时司徒崔浩,博学多闻,帝每访以大事。浩奉谦之道,尤不信佛,与帝言,数加非毁,常谓虚诞,为世费害,帝以其辩博,颇信之。”
  2. ^ 《续高僧传》(卷二十三):“数百年来官私佛寺,扫地并尽!融刮圣容,焚烧经典。禹贡八州见成寺庙,出四十千,并赐王公,充为第宅;三方释子,减三百万,皆复为民,还为编户。三宝福财,其赀无数,簿录入官,登即赏费,分散荡尽。”
  3. ^ Old Book of Tang 《旧唐书·武宗纪》(卷一八上):“还俗僧尼二十六万五百人,收充两税户”“收奴婢为两税户十五万人”。