Manichaeism, also called “Ming Religion”, “Mou Ni Religion” or “Ming Zun Religion”, was a world religion founded by Mani in Persia during the middle of the 3rdcentury AD. Its doctrines blended elements of Buddhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. According to Cologne Mani-Codex (Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis), an ancient papyrus literature discovered in Germany in the 1970s, Mani was a royal family member of Parthia born in Babylon in 216 AD. From the 3rd to 15th centuries, Manichaeism was widespread in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, North Africa, Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, West Asia and China, having in-depth interchanges with other major religions at that time. From the 6th to 7th centuries, Manichaeism was introduced to Xinjiang of China and then to the inland of China. It embraced a heyday period in China following 694 AD. In order to avoid the Persecution of Buddhism, Manichaeism was spread to the southern part of Fujian Province during the Huichang reign of the Tang Dynasty and enjoyed a long period of popularity thereafter. In the History of Fujian (volume 7, Records of Territories), written by Ming Dynasty scholar He Qiaoyuan, there is a paragraph that reads, “Huabiao Peak and Lingyuan Peak face each other, like two towering columns. At the foot of the mountain is a Yuan-Dynasty thatched-roof building housing the Statue of Mani…A policy of ‘eradicating Buddhism’ was exercised nationwide during the Huichang reign of the Tang Dynasty, with Manichaeism as a target as well. A Manichaean monk named Hu Lu came to Quanzhou for the dissemination of Manichaeism and was buried at the foot of the mountain in the north of the town.” This account describes the history about senior monk of Manichaeism Hu Lu who spread the religion in Quanzhou and was later buried at the south foot of Qingyuan Hill (Note: the description of “Yuan-Dynasty thatched-roof building housing the Statue of Mani” provides the evidence that the Statue of Mani was made in the Yuan Dynasty).
Cao’an Temple is located in amountainous area along the west shoreline of Quanzhou Bay. The Statue of Mani is a high relief carved out of cliff rock and set in a round niche within the temple building. It was carved to articulate with shades of rock colors. Its head is dark, while its body shows much lighter color. Its face, body and hands strike a natural contrast of colors, presenting a style of mysterious beauty. The statue is 154cm high, 83cm wide and 11cm thick, with its head part having a length of 32cm and a width of 25cm. Mani wears a monk gown with wide sleeves and with no buttons. The gown hangs down, with a bowknot at the feet. Mani sits cross-legged on a lotus base，with hands placed on legs and palms facing up, looking solemn and dignified. Mani wears long hair that hangs down to the shoulder, a square face and thin lips, bended eyebrows, round forehead, long ears extending to the shoulder, deep mouth corners, long beards at the chin. His face is round and greenish, his hands pink, his clothes greyish white, all using natural colors of the rock. There are 18 wave-like lines of radiant light behind the statue, symbolizing the light. The statue features exquisite craftsmanship and unique style. The Statue of Mani is the only existing stone carving portrait as historical evidence of Manichaeism in the world today, bearing features that exhibit the fusion of diverse cultures.
There are two pieces of stele inscriptions on the cliff outside the niche, reading: “Chen Zhenze, a follower from Xiedianshi, prays for the deceased parents to ascend the Buddhist land. 4 May, 1337” “Yao Xingzu, from Luoshan, Xinghua Prefecture, donated a stone chamber to pray for the deceased Father Yao Rujian,Mother Guo, Step Mother Huang and Brother Yao Yuejian to ascend to the heaven.” They are the evidence to testify to the fact that the Statue of Mani was carved in the 1337.
Manichaeism blended elements of Buddhism after its introduction to Central Asia and elements of Taoism after its introduction to the inland of China. It saw further development by integrating with folk sorcery after being introduced to Fujian. This significant development not only altered the nature of Manichaeism but also made it to evolve into a folk religion focusing on warding off evils and ghosts. No worship of icons was originally one of the ten commandments abided by Manicheans. But after its introduction to China, icon worship gradually became part of the Manichaean tradition as a result of integration with local customs. Manicheans in Fujian created “portraits of demons” to be used for folk rituals. The Statue of Mani in Cao’an Temple and accounts of Manichean activities in genealogical records of some family clans preserved in Qingyang Town of Jinjiang in the vicinity of the temple are the sufficient evidence that Manichaeism was still practiced until the 14thcentury. Therefore, the Statue of Mani in Cao’an Temple is the only best-preserved monument of Manichaeism still existing in China and even the world as a whole, and provides the strong evidence to testify to the fact that Quanzhou was the easternmost place for the dissemination of Manichaeism and the place that saw its disappearance.
In the early Ming Dynasty, the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang came to power depending on Manichaeism (Ming Jiao Church) and used character “Ming” as the title of the dynasty. But he was afraid that the religion might threaten his rule and thus persecuted Manicheans and destroyed Manichean temples. Manichaeism had to be practiced secretly and gradually assimilated by Taoism, Buddhism and folk beliefs. The four lines of 18 characters (each has a diameter of 63cm) inscribed on a cliff rock, 40 meters in front of the temple building, reads, “Purity, light, mighty power, wisdom, supreme truth, Mani Buddha of Light”. There is a line of characters below that reads, “The stele is erected by resident monk Ming Shu on the 13th Sep 1445 AD”. This piece of stone inscriptions indicates that Manichaeism was still popular in Quanzhou during 1436-1449 AD, which was over 100 years later following the creation the Statue of Mani. The tradition of Manichaeism is still preserved in some communities of Quanzhou today.
In 1979, a black-glazed bowl and more than 60 porcelain fragments were unearthed in front of Cao’an Temple. Three Chinese characters “Ming Jiao Hui” (society of Manichaeism) are inscribed on the inner surface of the bowl. Later, similar brown-glazed bowls and porcelain fragments with character “Ming” were unearthed from the Dashuwei site of Cizao Kiln series in Jinjiang. Since Dashuwei was a Song Dynasty kiln and activities of the Society of Manichaeism in Cao’an Temple should occur before the Northern Song Dynasty government’s suppression of the Manichean uprising led by Fang La, it can be determined that the date of the bowl should be no later than the 1111-1118. The well-preserved black-glazed bowl has a diameter of 18.5cm and a height of 6.5cm. The three characters, with a diameter of 6.5cm each, had already been carved on the bottom of the bowl when it was fired. Other unearthed porcelain fragments also bear the same carved characters. The bowl is the evidence to testify to the fact that the Society of Manichaeism in Jinjiang had a quite large size during the Northern Song Dynasty and its member Manicheans held open rituals in Cao’an Temple on a regular basis. This type of black-glazed bowls were fired in Cizao Kiln of Jinjiang. Quite many bowls or bowl fragments in this type have been discovered in suburban areas of Quanzhou， indicating that Manichaeism was quite active in Quanzhou during the Song and Yuan dynasties. There is a pair of couplets carved on wood boards on both sides of the Statue of Mani. It reads, “The light on the rock walls shows the image of the Buddha; the historical record indicates that renowned scholars used to read here”. It is said that eighteen scholars did reading in Cao’an Temple together when the image of the Buddha often appeared. Eminent Buddhist monk wrote the pair of couplets based on this historical fact. The discovery of the black-glazed bowl with characters “Ming Jiao Hui” and the related historical accounts are the evidence that Manichaeism was practiced publicly in Quanzhou during the Yuan Dynasty, in a form of blending folk belief with Buddhism.
1. Fujian Cultural Heritage and Museology, Research on Cao’an Temple of Manichaeism in Quanzhou, Lin Jianhua, Quanzhou Maritime Museum
2. He Qiaoyuan, History of Fujian, a punctuated and collated edition of Xiamen
University, Fujian People’s Press, 1993
3. Zhan Liangtu, Research on Cao’an Temple of Jinjiang, Xiamen University Press,
4. Li Yukun, New Discoveries and Research Results of Manichaeism in Fujian during the 20th Century, Journal of Fujian Religion, Issue No. 1 of 1999
5. Han Wangshu, Cao’an Temple of Quanzhou: World’s Best-Preserved Existing Site of Manichaeism, Journal of World Religions and Cultures, Issue No. 3 of 2004
Huang Shichun, Black-glazed Bowl inscribed with Characters “Ming Jiao Hui” from Cao’an Temple of Jinjiang, Fujian, Journal of Maritime History, Issue No. 1 of 1985