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Liang Wudi


LIANG WUDI (464549), or Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, also known as Xiao Yan; first emperor of the Liang dynasty (502557), man of letters, and patron of Buddhism. Although from a Daoist family and versed, like all educated gentlemen of his time, in the Confucian principles of morality and statecraft, Xiao Yan came to be fascinated by Buddhism through exposure as a young man to the teachings of Buddhist monks at the court of Prince Jingling, Xiao Ziliang, of the Southern Qi dynasty (479502). Xiao Yan later overthrew the Qi and declared himself emperor of the Liang dynasty, but he maintained his interest in Buddhism and became a full convert after three years on the throne.

Endeavoring to fashion state policy according to Buddhist ideals, Emperor Wu softened the traditionally harsh penal code by minimizing the application of torture, capital punishment, and other excesses of government. He also forswore meat and alcohol and built numerous temples, including the Tongtai Si, where he often sponsored a kind of Buddhist symposium, known as an "open assembly" (wuzhe dahui ), so called because it was open to men and women, clergy and laity, regardless of class. The emperor, who sometimes delivered lectures on Buddhist doctrine at these assemblies, four times used the occasion to announce that he was surrendering himself to voluntary servitude to the Tongtai temple. He of course expected his imperial officials to ransom him, and so they did, each time for prodigious sums. Each ransoming was followed by a full reenactment of the imperial enthronement ceremony. Emperor Wu's behavior, which had precedents in the history of Indian Buddhism and may have been suggested by the newly translated Aśokāvadāna (Legend of King Aśoka), was intended to raise money for the propagation of the Buddhist religion. The emperor also established "inexhaustible treasuries" (wujin zang ), institutions that provided safe-deposit vaults and repositories for donations made to the religion. These funds were often used in financial transactions the profits of which reverted to the church.

Emperor Wu was overthrown by the rebel Hou Jing in 548. Some anti-Buddhist critics attributed his fall to the slackening effect of Buddhist principles on governmental control. Such a view unjustifiably ignores the political complexities of the period. Nor are his deeds to be comprehended merely in terms of whether or not they conform to Buddhist principles. Although versed in Buddhist doctrine beyond the level of the ordinary layman, Emperor Wu also devoted an important part of his energies to his literary work, much of which is still preserved and admired. This artistic bent, as much as his religious proclivities, must be taken into account in any effort to assess his fitness to rule.


Annals of the reign of Emperor Wu can be found in fascicles 1 to 3 of the Liang shu and in fascicles 6 and 7 of the Nan shih. His writings are collected in Yan Kejun's Quan shanggu sandai Qin Han sanguo liuchao wen (1930, available on microfilm at the University of Chicago library). See also Mori Mikisaburo's Ryo no Butei (Kyoto, 1956).

Miyakawa Hisayuki (1987)

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