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Emperor Wuzong of Tang China

Emperor Tang Wuzong (武宗 814-846), born Li Yan, was a later emperor of the Tang dynasty of China. He reigned from 840 to 846. Wuzong is remembered mainly for the religious persecution that occurred during his reign.

Wuzong ascended to the throne in a time of economic and political crisis. Military eunuchs had controlled the government for some time. They had put the previous emperor, Wenzong , under house arrest, where he apparently drank himself to death. The eunuchs had also murdered the last two emperors before him. Meanwhile, the Uyghur Khanate was attacking China from the northwest. Imperial finances were in trouble as most provinces were not paying any taxes to the central government.

Wuzong, together with his prime minister Li Deyu, were able to rein in the eunuchs. Li Deyu took personal command of the war against the Uyghurs and won an important victory in 843.

Wuzong's solution to the financial crisis was to go after the Buddhist monasteries. Buddhism had flourished into a major religious force in China during the Tang period, and its monasteries enjoyed tax-exempt status. He closed many Buddhist shrines, confiscated their property, and sent the moks and nuns home to lay life. However, Wuzong's reasons for doing so were not all economic. A zealous Taoist, Wuzong saw Buddhism as a foreign religion that was harmful to Chinese society. He went after other foreign religions as well. He all but destroyed Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism in China, and his persecution of the growing Nestorian Christian churches sent Chinese Christianity into a decline from which it never recovered.

Tang Wuzong was one of the last Tang emperors and ruled China during a long period of decline; despite his reforms, he was unable to revive the empire through his religious persecutions. After his death, Buddhism was able to recover from the persecution, but Christianity, Manichaeanism, and Zoroastrianism were not.

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Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46