TANG YONGTONG (1893–1964) was an eminent scholar of the history of Chinese Buddhism. A native of Huangmei County in Hubei Province, China, Tang studied in Beijing and graduated from Quinghua University in 1917. In order to pursue his studies he went to the United States in the following year, where he specialized in philosophy, Sanskrit, and Pali at Harvard University. Tang received his master's degree in 1922 and returned to China, where he began a teaching career that spanned four decades.
By the 1940s, Tang was already well established in the philosophy department of Beijing University, becoming its chairman and eventually being named dean of the College of Humanities. In addition to his research on Buddhism and Indian philosophy, Tang was an expert on the school of thought known as xuanxue ("dark learning"), which flourished during the Wei and Jin dynasties (third and fourth centuries ce). He also lectured on such Western philosophical traditions as rationalism and empiricism, having studied European philosophy during his years abroad. In 1947 Tang was named an academician of the Central Research Institute, and thereafter returned to the United States to give a series of lectures at the University of California.
Firmly rejecting suggestions that he go to Taiwan following the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, Tang actively took part in academic affairs in the newly established People's Republic. He was appointed chairman of the Council for Academic Affairs and vice-president of Beijing University, and was elected a member of the Academic Society of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In addition, Tang was a member of the Standing Committee of the first, second, and third National People's Congresses.
Consonant with both Marxist theory and contemporary scholarship in the social scientific study of religion, Tang focused more on the historical and social impact of Buddhist thought than on its religious influence. His principal works include Hanwei liang Jin Nanbeichao fojiao shi (A history of Buddhism from the Han and Wei Dynasties to the Northern and Southern Dynasties), Suitang fojiao shigao (A history of Buddhism in the Sui and Tang Dynasties), and Yindu zhexue shilue (A concise history of Indian philosophy). Through his academic work and official posts Tang influenced an entire generation of Chinese students of Buddhism.
Cihai: Zhexue fence. Shanghai, 1980.
Tang Yongtong. Tang Yongtong quan ji. 7 vols. Shi Jia Zhuang, China, 2000.
Tang Yongtong xueshu wenjhi. Beijing, 1983. Selected works of Tang Yongtong with full bibliography and biographical sketch.
Ren Jiyu (1987 and 2005)