Abolition in the Midst of Turmoil: The Case of the Tang Emperor Wu Zong (814–846 CE)
This chapter examines the issue of bondage in China in the ninth century, notably the decision in August 845 by Wu Zong (814–846), who in 840 CE had ascended the imperial throne as the 18th scion of the Tang dynasty (618–907), to grant liberty to 150,000 slaves held by Buddhist monks. Prima facie, this looks like a truly extraordinary act of emancipation. My argument is that it was an extraordinary gift of freedom, but one fraught with ambiguity. This paper examines, first, the environmental, socio-political, and economic context of Wu Zong’s reign, second, the history and significance of slavery, third, the history and import of Buddhism and its growing utilization of slavery, and finally, the reasons for, and impact of, Wu Zong’s attack upon Buddhism.