Liu Ying

Liu Ying (simplified Chinese: 刘英; traditional Chinese: 劉英; pinyin: Liú Yīng) (died 71) was a son of Emperor Guangwu of Han, and half-brother of Emperor Ming. After becoming Prince of Chu, he was a known supporter of many religions. In particular, his sponsorship of Buddhism in 65 CE is the first documented case of Buddhist practices in China.

Born to the Lady Xu (許氏), a junior consort of Emperor Guangwu, Liu Ying was given the rank of duke in 39 CE, and prince (wáng) in 41 CE. The next year he received Chu as his hereditary fiefdom, with his capital at Pengcheng (modern Xuzhou, Jiangsu province). The young Liu Ying seems to have been close to his half-brother Liu Zhuang, the future Emperor Ming. He is also said to have travelled widely and gained an interest in Huang-Lao Daoism (黃老) and Buddhism (浮屠). After Liu Ying became a prince, he actively supported both religions in the hope of finding a drug of longevity or immortality.

Because of these activities, Liu Ying was suspected of treasonous intrigue and the subject of an imperial edict from Emperor Ming. The edict, which survives in the Hou Han Shu shows that at the time Buddha was associated in the opinion of the Chinese imperial court with Daoism. He was treated like a god to whom sacrifices and honour fasts were held. The Buddhist religion was described as "humane" and generally accepted by the elite. Citing Liu Ying's support of Daoism and Buddhism, Henri Maspero noted, "It is a very curious fact that, throughout the whole han dynasty, Taoism and Buddhism were constantly confused and appeared as a single religion."

Five years later, in 70, Liu Ying's activities were again denounced by high officials and he was accused of plotting against the throne, a crime punishable by death. Among his supposed crimes was the most heinous of those in Han law: usurping the prerogatives of the emperor, and great improprietry and immorality in his conduct toward the throne (大逆不道). Nevertheless, Emperor Ming refused to execute Liu Ying, instead demoting him to the rank of a commoner and exiling him to Danyang, in the lower Yangtze River region. Liu Ying committed suicide the next year, upon reaching his destination.

He was buried with the honours of a full marquess (侯). As part of the purges following Liu Ying's downfall, thousands of his supposed adherents were arrested and implicated each other under torture. Nevertheless, the Buddhist community at Pengcheng survived. More than a century later, it was still thriving under the patronage of Zhai Rong, a local official. A number of Liu Ying's followers may also have followed him to the lower Yangzi region and established Buddhist communities there also.

Last update 03-06-2012

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