The Pantheon and Religion of Buddho-Daoist Communities in Medieval China
For a century, between the late fifth and late sixth century, new religious communities appeared in the western reaches of the Central Region in north China. These communities erected stelae that combined Buddhist and Daoist images and salvational rhetoric. The donors who erected the stelae identify themselves as Buddhists or Daoists, revealing the joint religious identity of these communities. During this period the traditional heartland of Chinese culture had been under the rule of Turkic peoples for over a two centuries. Along with the socio-political turmoil, religion and culture were also in great flux. The efflorescence of Buddhism was felt by many Han Chinese as an existential threat. Answering the Buddhist challenge was a major motivation for the emergence and development of Daoism. The two religions were in a complex relationship of competition, contestation, and mutual appropriation. This paper focuses on the stelae erected by the religions communities of central north China. What do the joint images of Buddhist and Daoist deities tell us about religious identity of the community, and of their gods? How did these communities envision their pantheon? Can we adopt Bernard Faure’s that combines a structural approach and nodal network to explore the relationship between the Daoist and Buddhist elements of the religious identities of these communities?