From Early Tang Court Debates to China’s Peaceful Rise, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2009)
This chapter introduces the institution of inter-religious court debate according to a to-date neglected source text, Daoxuan’s Ji gujin Fo Dao lunheng (Collection of Critical Evaluations of Buddhism and Daoism from the Past and Present, T1 2104). During the Six Dynasties and the Tang dynasty inter-religious debate constituted a forum of intellectual exchange between Daoists and Buddhists and between secular authori- ties and clergy. A detailed study of Daoxuan’s reports allows us for the first time to describe the rhetoric characteristics and formal proceed- ings of these debates. In early medieval China, Buddhism and Daoism influenced each other as they developed, yet documentation of their meeting points is scarce. Court debates represent a comparatively well-documented forum where Daoism and Buddhism were in direct contact.
Debate in various forms was an important part of the intellectual life of the literati elite in early medieval China. Studies of the introduction and spread of Buddhism in China have demonstrated that the tradition of ‘pure talk’ (qingtan 清 談), an indigen- ous Chinese form of debate, was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism among the literati (Zu ̈rcher 1959: 95, 159). In addition, Buddhists also fostered scholarly debate following Indian customs of debate.
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