Why did Buddhism, a foreign religion, become so popular in China? How was it transformed in China?
Buddhism, which originated in what is today north India around the fifth century B.C.E., spread into China via the network of trade routes that would later be known as the Silk Road. Many Chinese converted to Buddhism through marriage, and through the business relationships forged in the process of trade and exchange. Buddhist temples popped up along the Silk Road at oases and trading posts like Dunhuang on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, and their wealth and affluence (as well as the Hellenistic influence in their statuary) spread via merchants into China. Aside from the economic factors, Buddhism caught on among Han Chinese emperors eager for a unifying force that would serve as a basis for their power. They sent scholars into India and Central Asia to find original Buddhist texts to translate into Chinese. As Buddhism spread, people adapted it to local customs, a process known as syncretism. What appealed to individual people about Buddhism was its egalitarianism. Unlike court Confucianism, Buddhism emphasized the individual's struggle to overcome the suffering of life, not the divisions and stratifications that characterized Chinese life.