Elsewhere we were discussing the merits of studying Chinese Buddhism in greater China (Hong Kong, PRC, Taiwan) versus Japan and I made the statement that the true heirs to Tang and Song dynasty Buddhism are to be found in Japan.viewtopic.php?f=102&t=13098&start=20#p171411
It got me thinking of how much ancient Chinese Buddhism has been preserved in Japan. Both China and even Taiwan have either lost or simply dropped what has been preserved in Japan, especially with the 20th century reforms and development of Humanistic Buddhism in Taiwan.
There are a lot of things that the Japanese preserved. A lot of the older schools like Tendai and Shingon have preserved ancient liturgy, art traditions (especially sculpture), practices (Tang Vajrayāna which was lost in China is one prominent example), architecture (the old wooden temples, which are well researched, restored and reconstructed where necessary), clothing and maybe even some deities.
I mean, you don't see figures like this (Brahma) any longer around Taiwan, and to my knowledge the PRC as well except maybe in museums:
This is a famous specimen, but it is well preserved along with the artistic tradition. Even the religious traditions behind it has been maintained strongly. Japanese Buddhists have generally felt preserving such things to be more important. That's why in a lot of old temples around Japan you only see old things. They try to keep things as they were before with minor modifications (like fire extinguishers).
One thing I noticed around Taiwan was that the ones identifying themselves with Humanistic Buddhism have effectively dropped the old deities. You don't see much if any of Indra, Brahma or even the Four Mahārāja, to say nothing of the traditional local deities and guardians that you see in more traditional Chinese temples. The famous bodhisattvas and maybe arhat images are around along with the buddhas, but judging from the modern literature there was a strong will to purge all the "externalist" 外道 elements and return a perceived purer form of Buddhism.
The reforms instigated by figures like Taixu, Yinshun, Sheng Yen, Xingyun and so forth heavily modified everything to the point that you'd be hard pressed to say the new forms of Buddhist traditions in Taiwan don't really reflect even pre-WWII Taiwanese Buddhism (which isn't surprising because the leadership was mostly from the mainland), let alone what existed in the Qing Dynasty. There was also an intentional process of "de-Japanization" in Taiwan after WWII by the KMT, which helps to explain why mainland teachers and their institutions could be so successful there.
Even outside of Humanistic Buddhism, you see a lot of cement temples, plastic buddhas, western style wedding ceremonies, emphasis on modern teachers and widespread disregard for past artistic and ritual traditions. So much heritage was either neglected or simply dropped. Understandably, Taiwan wasn't a big Buddhist hub until after WWII, but still they could have restored or relearned the old artistic and architectural traditions.
This leads me of course to think the true heirs to Tang and Song Buddhism are the Japanese and maybe the Koreans (I don't know much about Korean Buddhism, so please clarify this). I know this is a potentially provocative statement, but it isn't baseless. A lot of teachers in Taiwan go on about "Chinese Buddhism" and this influences how even academic projects are constructed (CBETA for example doesn't include Japanese works written in classical Chinese), yet so much of what was Chinese Buddhism is found in Japan now, not Taiwan or the PRC.
But then it begs the question: does it matter? I think there's a lot of value to archaic traditions and practices because of the distilled wisdom, but some might argue scraping a lot of the the old to suit newly constructed paradigms deemed better suited to modernity is a better idea.