Buddhism arrived in the many small kingdoms that comprised China sometime around 500 A.D. It traveled via the Silk Road from India. The religion and philosophy took a firm hold in the diverse kingdoms. As Buddhism spread deeper into China, it lost ground to Hinduism in India. Soon, Buddhism was strongest in China than anywhere else.
Most Buddhists remained ordinary farmers, soldiers, and workers. Over time, however, some men and women left their daily lives to form temples or monasteries where they could live a Buddhist life as monks or nuns. As Buddhism spread through China, it also took on its own form of practice, that of Zen Buddhism. The word Zen comes from an Indian word that means meditation. The philosophy of Zen emphasizes meditation and experience over explanations and words.
By 600 A.D. Zen Buddhism was the main form of Buddhism throughout the country. Great monasteries were constructed and powerful women in the T'ang Dynasty worked to get those temples and monasteries exempted from the Emperor's taxes as well as land grants. The Zen Buddhists would spend their time in contemplation and exploration both of their meditative world and the physical world around them.
The Decline of Buddhism in China
Buddhism suffered under the Emperor Wu who saw the monasteries as greedy and dismantled them. Confucianism took root and it would be another 300 years before Buddhism returned to its former glory in the Chinese empire, but it never quite sustained the glory of its first few centuries. The spread of Zen Buddhism traveled out of China to other parts of Asia. By the twentieth century and the rise of Communism, nearly all forms of religion (including Buddhism) were stamped out.
Chinese Buddhism may be practiced in parts of the world as Zen Buddhism, but in China, all that remains of that original belief system are historical relics.