The End of Tang China and the Rise of Xenophobia

Tang China was a powerful and culturally rich multicultural Empire with satellite states in Afghanistan and strong centralized control and friendly relations with neighbours (tributaries).

During this time period, countries like Japan and Korea developed their classical culture by almost completely copying Tang Chinese Culture. Multiple Zen masters and prominent Foreign Buddhists of this era were all trained/or successors to schools in China. Kyoto for example, is a smaller replica of Chang’an, Matcha was actually the method of green tea preparation enjoyed by the Tang Chinese (China later developed loose tea leaf instead of powdered tea). Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean were actual languages influenced by Middle Chinese.

The Capital of Chang’an had a population of almost a million people. Half of those people were foreigners. Many of them multi-generational, growing up in China, taking the Civil Service Exams, becoming Officials and Aristocrats, marrying the locals, etc. Many were slaves as well.

Something like 14% of Tang China’s Prime Ministers were foreigners (yes, actual foreigners).

The surviving Persian Royal Familiy (escaping the Rashidun Caliphate’s Conquest of Iran) married into the Tang Royal Family and were given the royal surname of “Li”. The Last Prince of Persia, Peroz III, was actually the Commander of “Area Command of Persia” in Tang Afghanistan.

However, a series of disasters happened during the height of the Empire and caused a dramatic downfall.

The Sequence of Decline 

1) The half-Sogdian (Persian) General An Lushan lead a rebellion against the Empire and occupied the secondary Capital of Luoyang.

2) Military betrayal by the Uighurs (another Turkic Persian group, at this time mostly Zoroastrians, not Muslims), who helped retook Luoyang from the rebels, but refused to leave until they were paid huge monetary rewards. AND the Tibetan Empire took this opportunity to invade and steal Chinese Territory.

3) The perceived betrayal by foreigners lead to a rise of xenophobic sentiments in the normally very multicultural Tang Culture.

4) The xenophobia culminated in the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845 AD, where Emperor Wuzhong, acting under both financial interest and religious favouritism towards Taoism, destroyed 4,600 Buddhist temples, 40,000 shrines, and removed 260,500 monks and nuns from the monasteries. He forced monks and nuns to return to lay life, and expelled foreign monks and nuns back to their home countries. Because he classified Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism as “Foreign forms of Buddhism” (despite the fact Buddhism was already foreign), those religions were persecuted as well, and eventually became extinct in China. Because they were also the last bastions of those religion in the world, Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism was practically finished globally. Surviving Manichaeans did manage to hide themselves as Buddhists and Taoist until well into the present day.

5) Emperor Wuzhong’s successor immediately repealed the persecution and tried to rebuild the religious institutions, but the damage was already done. Most of the persecuted religions would never recover. Islam survived, mostly because it was new, and because the Arab traders of the time were focused on trade, not religious propagation.

6) Xenophobia remained rampant, and several Peasant Rebellions were launched on a partially racist platform (mostly anti-government, tbh, I am not sure where I heard the xenophobic platform of the rebel armies from, but it was probably widespread at this time). These peasant armies eventually sacked both Chang’an and Luoyang. The Arab historian Abu Zayd Hasan of Siraf wrote that when Huang Chao (the rebel leader) captured Guang Prefecture, his army killed 120,000 to 200,000 foreigners.

7) Surviving ancient Chinese noble families (some who can trace their lineage to the ancient Zhou, Shang, and Xia Dynasties) were almost rendered extinct, forcing survivors to flee southwards.

8) The Succeeding Song Dynasty, after they reunited all of China from the pretender dynasties, was SINOCENTRIC. Confucianism (a native Chinese religion) became the state religion; women, who enjoyed liberties close to or greater than our modern world today during the Tang Dynasties were shackled under tighter conservative expectations, and foreigners were never again as welcome in China.

From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god


Before we begin, this paper was actually written on November 29th, 2015, during my college days (I was in the Design Foundations program at the time).

I finally dug it out! I presumably have a copy on my old PC hard-drive, as I couldn’t find any in either of my Google Doc accounts. However, I actually discovered an attached copy in my FB messenger app, because I had sent one to a friend while I was writing it years ago…so, here we go.

I hope you will learn something absolutely fascinating about Buddhism, Alexander the Great’s Conquests, Wind Gods, and how Art and Religion are interwoven.

This paper actually reminded me why I was sold on the idea of starting a blog. Ask interesting questions, find interesting answers, and share them with people. What could be more fun?

Without further ado, the full transcript:

Justin Hsu


Mini Research Paper

From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god

The Japanese Buddhist Wind Deity, Fujin had his origins as the Greek Wind God Boreas. This short research paper will explore the iconographic evolution of Boreas through several different cultures, finally culminating in his final form in Japan.

It is often easy to assume that different cultures are isolated, developed separately and have no relations to one another, but this is often untrue. Indo-Europeans for example, counts amongst their descendants everything from the Irish to the Hindus. Austronesians can be found in Taiwan, New Zealand and even Hawaii. For this reason, art and culture can often transcend their boundaries. The Japanese Wind God, Fujin is but the final form of a long line of wind deities that have their origins in ancient Greece.

After Alexander the Great passed away, he left behind a sizeable Hellenistic presence in the East. In parts of what we would call Afghanistan today, his subordinates set up an ancient Kingdom known as Bactria and they became a bridge between East and West, a kingdom right alongside the silk road (Crabben 2011).

In the Indian subcontinent, the Mauryan King, Ashoka the Great rose to power and converted to Buddhism. He commissioned great missionary expeditions to spread Buddhism to all four corners of the world, and erected stupas- pillars with religious inscriptions in multiple languages that also housed the ashes of the Buddha- wherever Buddhism spread. (Szczepansk).

Eventually, the Bactrian King invaded India and created what is now known as the Indo-Greek Kingdoms “Indica served as an important source to many later writers such as Strabo and Arrian. The 1st century BC Greek historian Apollodorus, quoted by Strabo, affirms that the Bactrian Greeks, led by Demetrius I and Menander, conquered India and occupied a larger territory than the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, going beyond the Hyphasis…” (Sanujit, 2011, para.31). The Indo-Greek Kingdom was eventually divided into several kingdoms. Greeks living in India at the time were referred to as Yonas in Pali or Yavanas in Sanskrit (Simonin, 2011, para.2).

So where does Fujin come into all of this? Well, Boreas, the Greek wind deities were brought along with the Greeks, and found their way into Ghandara (a geographical region in Pakistan bordering the Kush Mountain range and the Himalayas). There, Ghandara artisans created incredible fusions of Greek and Hindu styled Buddhist art.

Here, the Buddha himself was given human form, modelled after Apollo. Now, these sculptures and reliefs often have decorative deities accompanying the central figure or story. Some of these included Centaurs or Tritons. One of these was the figure of Boreas, who was depicted in the classical style with a bag of wind. Eventually, this Greco-Buddhist version of Boreas became known as Wardo.

Iconographic Evolution of Fujin
Figure 1. Boreas to Wardo to Fujin. From Shizhao (2006, Wikimedia)
Did you know that the Japanese Wind God Fujin evolved from the Greek God Boreas/Aeolus? This is a case of art influencing the creation and depiction of a deity. In the Indo-Greek kingdom, Boreas became the Greco-Buddhist Wardo, was transplanted to China as Feng Bo and then to Japan as Fujin (all because of the spread of Buddhist decor and iconography). In all incarnations, he carries a bag of wind. The following images shows his iconographic evolution. Image 1. Left: Greek wind God (Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara), Hadda, 2nd century. Middle: Wind God from Kizil, Tarim Basin, 7th century. Right: Japanese Wind God Fujin, 17th century by painter Tawaraya Sotetsu. 

Wardo was transplanted to the nearby Tarim Basin in Northwestern China. He became the Taoist wind deity, Feng Po, literally, “Uncle Wind (Andrews, 2000, p.68). When Buddhism reached Japan, they brought with them Feng Po’s iconography, and he became Fujin, literally, “Wind God” (Petretta, 2014, para.3). He was adopted into Shintoism and given name and narrative. To be clear, Fujin is not a native Japanese deity that was given the iconography of Boreas, but he literally is Boreas. They are one and the same. “The Japanese wind god images do not belong to a separate tradition apart from that of their Western counter-parts but share the same origins.” (Tanabe, 2003, p.21).

In all incarnations, they have carried a bag of wind. “One of the characteristics of these Far Eastern wind god images is the wind bag held by this god with both hands, the origin of which can be traced back to the shawl or mantle worn by Boreas/ Oado.” (Tanabe, 2003 p.21).


And that was how Boreas made his way to Japan, carried forth by the passage of time, the syncretism of human cultures and the expansion of Buddhism.


1. Crabben, J. (2011, April 28). Bactria. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from

2. Szczepansk, K. (n.d.). Learn About Ashoka the Great (and Terrible). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from

3. Sanujit. (2011, February 12). Cultural links between India and the Greco-Roman world. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from

4. Simonin, A. (2011, April 28). Indo-Greek. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from

5. Andrews, T. (2000). Dictionary of nature myths: Legends of the earth, sea, and sky (p. 68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

6. Petretta, D. (2014, November 22). Fujin: Origins Along The Slik Road | Global Connections. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from

7. Tanabe, K. (2003). Alexander the Great: East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan (p. 21). Tokyo: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan.

8. Shizhao, (2006, April, 20th). WindGods.JPG [digital image].

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