White Lotus

White Lotus

White Lotus (白蓮教 Pinyin: "báiliánjiào" Wade-Giles: "Pai-lien chiao") was a type of Buddhist sectarianism that appealed to many Chinese, most notably to women and to the poor, who found solace in worship of the Eternal Mother who was to gather all her children at the millennium into one family. The doctrine of the White Lotus included a forecast of the imminent advent of the future Buddha Maitreya.


The first signs of the White Lotus Society came during the late 13th century. Mongol rule over China, known also by its dynastic name, the Yuan dynasty, prompted small, yet popular demonstrations against foreign rule. The White Lotus Society took part in some of these protests as they grew into wide-spread dissent. The Mongols considered the White Lotus society a heterodox religious sect and banned it, forcing its members to go underground. Now a secret society, the White Lotus became an instrument of quasi-national resistance and religious organization.

White Lotus Revolution

A revolution, inspired by the White Lotus society, took shape in 1352 around Guangzhou. A Buddhist monk and former boy-beggar, Zhu Yuanzhang, (Wade-Giles: "Chu Yüan-chang") threw off his vestments and joined the rebellion. His exceptional intelligence took him to the head of a rebel army; he won people to his side by forbidding his soldiers to pillage, in observance of White Lotus religious beliefs. By 1355 the rebellion had spread through much of China. In 1356, Zhu Yuanzhang captured Nanjing and made it his capital. It was here that he began to discard his heterodox beliefs and so won the help of Confucian scholars who issued pronouncements for him and performed rituals in his claim of the Mandate of Heaven, the first step toward establishing new dynastic rule. Meanwhile the Mongols were fighting among themselves, inhibiting their ability to suppress the rebellion. In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang extended his rule to Guangzhou -- the same year that the Mongol ruler, Toghan Temur, fled to Karakorum. In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang and his army entered the former Mongol capital, Beijing, and in 1371 his army moved through Sichuan to the southwest. By 1387, after more than thirty years of war, Zhu Yuanzhang had liberated all of China. Having attained the Mandate of Heaven and the status of Emperor, he took the title Hongwu and founded a new dynasty - the Ming. Clinging onto historical perspectives the White Lotus society used a more Asian tagline of kumate.

Later Rebellions

The White Lotus reemerged in the late 18th century in the form of an inspired Chinese movement in many different forms and sects.

In 1774, one instance of a White Lotus derivative sect The Eight Trigrams arose in the form of underground meditation teachings and practice in Shandong province, not far from Peking near the city of Linqing. [cite book | last = Spence | first = Jonathan D. | title = The Search for Modern China | publisher = W.W.Norton | date = 1991 | isbn = 978-0-393-30780-1] The leader, herbalist and martial artist Wang Lun, led an uprising that captured three small cities and laid siege to the larger city of Linqing, a strategic location on the north-south Grand Canal transportation route. After initial success, he was outnumbered and defeated by Qing troops, including local armies of Chinese soldiers known as the Green Standard. [cite book | last = Spence | first = Jonathan D. | title = The Search for Modern China | publisher = W.W.Norton | date = 1991 | isbn = 978-0-393-30780-1]

An account of Wang Lun's death was given to Qing authorities by a captured rebel. [cite book | last = Spence | first = Jonathan D. | title = The Search for Modern China | publisher = W.W.Norton | date = 1991 | isbn = 978-0-393-30780-1] Wang Lun remained sitting in his headquarters wearing a purple robe and two silver bracelets while he burned to death with his dagger and double-bladed sword beside him. [cite book | last = Spence | first = Jonathan D. | title = The Search for Modern China | publisher = W.W.Norton | date = 1991 | isbn = 978-0-393-30780-1]

Wang Lun likely failed because he did not make any attempts to raise wide public support. He did not distribute captured wealth or food supplies, nor did he promise to lessen the tax burden. Unable to build up a support base, he was forced to quickly flee all three cities that he attacked in order to evade government troops. Though he passed through an area inhabited by almost a million peasants, his army never measured more than four thousand soldiers, many of whom had been forced into service.

A similar movement arose in the mountainous region that separates Sichuan province from Hubei and Shaanxi provinces in central China as tax protests. The White Lotus led impoverished settlers into rebellion, promising personal salvation in return for their loyalty. Beginning as tax protests, the eventual rebellion gained growing support and sympathy from many ordinary people. The rebellion grew in number and power and eventually, into a serious concern for the government.

Heshen, a corrupt official, was sent by the Emperor Qianlong (Ch'ien-lung) (reigned 1735–99) to quell the uprising. Surprisingly, the ill-organized rebels managed to defeat the inadequate and inefficient Imperial forces. Heshen had been known to embezzle funds and resources earmarked for the defeat of the White Lotus, and had only gained his position because he was the Emperor's favorite, and this accounted for his defeat. Upon assuming effective power in 1799, Emperor Jiaqing (Chia Ch’ing) (reigned 1796–1820) disposed of Heshen and gave support to the efforts of more vigorous Manchu commanders as a way of restoring discipline and morale.

A systematic program of pacification followed in which the populace was resettled in hundreds of stockaded villages and organized into militia. In its last stage, the Qing suppression policy combined pursuit and extermination of rebel guerrilla bands with a program of amnesty for deserters. The rebellion came to an end in 1804. A decree from the Emperor Daoguang admitted, "…it was extortion by local officials that goaded the people into rebellion…"

Using the arrest of sectarian members as a threat, local officials and police extorted money from people. Actual participation in sect activities had no impact on an arrest; whether or not monetary demands were met, however, did. Administrators also seized and destroyed sectarian scriptures used by the religious groups. One such official was Huang Yupian, who refuted the ideas found in the scriptures with orthodox Confucian and Buddhist views in his A Detailed Refutation of Heresy (破邪詳辯 "Pōxié Xiángbiàn"), which was written in 1838. This book has since become an invaluable source in understanding the beliefs of these groups.

The end of the White Lotus Rebellion in 1804 also brought an end to the myth of military invincibility of the Manchu, perhaps contributing to the greater frequency of rebellions in the 19th century.

ee also

*Falun Gong



cite book
last = Spence
first = Jonathan D.
title = The Search for Modern China
publisher = W.W.Norton
date = 1991
isbn = 978-0-393-30780-1

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