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Xuan Zang


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Xuan Zang (aka Hsuan Tsang) is one of the most extraordinary figures in Chinese history. He is the monk that made the journey across the Silk Road to India to bring the teachings of Buddhism to China. The Legend of the Monkey King is based on his story.

There was a very interesting program broadcast on ABC Radio National this week called The Monk & the Modern Girl. It is an interview with a Chinese woman who retraced the journey of Xuan Zang and recorded her experiences in a book called Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud. There is a full transcript of the interview on the website linked to above.

If you want to know more about Xuan Zang have a look at this website: Travels of Hsuan-Tsang -- Buddhist Pilgrim of the Seventh Century

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Yes, he was quite an extraodinary figure.

Xuan Zang escaped death many times and often converted over enemies who tried to kill him by engaging them with his personality.

Tang Taizong issued an imperial decree forbading foreign travel. At that time, foreigners of all different kinds of ethnic origins were welcomed in China, but Chinese citizens were not allowed to travel outside of the country. Likewise, if a foreigner wanted to marry a Chinese girl, he could come to China to marry and stay with her, but was not allowed to take her out of the country.

Xuan Zang defied this decree so he could pursue his dream of travelling to India in search of sacred literature and Buddhist relics. Taizong ordered border patrols to be on the lookout for Xuan Zang in case he tried to sneak out. So Xuan Zang conducted his escape in a stealthy manner at night like a fugitive on the run.

He returned to Changan in 645AD as a celebrity after being gone for 16 years, conducting many daring escapes from robbers and dangerous life-threatening situations. His charismatic personality was also an asset that he used to convert over people who tried to kill him. Upon his return, Taizong treated him like a long-lost friend. The emperor asked Xuan Zang to give up his religious life and offered him a job in the foreign ministry, which the monk flatly refused. Taizong then asked the monk if he could provide a written account of his adventures. This provided the basis for the novel Journey to the West.

During the Han dynasty, there was also a great adventurer named Zhang Qian, the father of the Silk Road. But unlike Xuan Zang, he was ordered to embark on his journey by Han Wudi.

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Did anybody forget about another great Tang monk Jian Zhen?

Jian Zhen crossed the ocean seven times to Japan from Yangzhou. He faced pirates and typhoon with many of his followers killed. A shipwreck even led him wind up in Hainan during the hazardous journey.

On the 7th time, he made the trip to Japan after becoming totally blind. However, he preached Buddhism in Japan for years and built the Toshidaiji in Nara.

On June 6th every year, a woodcrafted body statue of Jian Zhen is displayed for reverence in Toshidaiji.

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  • 1 year later...

I finally got around to reading the book (Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud) and I can highly recommend it. One of the things I thought that was most amazing was how important Xuanzang's writings have been as historical records. In the nineteenth century Buddhism was more or less lost in India but the British rediscovered many of the important Buddhist sites with the help of Xuanzang's writings.

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