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speech of modern England ; and though, officially,
Confucianism is the orthodox official belief, it
is Taoism, or, rather, the ancient natural religion
as interpreted and expressed by Lao-tsz, which
really forms the character of the gentleman
philosopher in China. The impassiveness,
stoicism, democratic feeling, contempt for profuse
luxury and vulgar show, patience, humility, calm-
ness, deliberation, aversion from imperial puffery,
boastfulness, and military glory which characterise
the best Chinese minds are ShintS-Taoist rather
than Confucian in spirit ; and the fact that men
in responsible positions only too frequently give
way in fact to cupidity, sensuality, and cowardice
in no way prevents the same men in theory from
honestly aspiring to admiring and teaching their
true ideals : just as with us, a man may be or
try to be a convinced Christian gentleman, although
occasionally he may take a drop too much, or
yield to business frauds and feminine seductions ;
or, as a distinguished Catholic once said to me
of Alexander Borgia, "he may have been a
good Pope in many ways, though perhaps he
was a vile man." The Buddhists did not need
to borrow literary thought from Lao-tsz ; partly

12 INTRODUCTION [introd.

because they had their own discursive literature
more than complete, and wished for nothing
better than to translate it ; partly because the
sublime abstractions of Lao-tsz were altosfether
too high for adequate translation into a foreign
tongue, and yet too simple to satisfy the popular
craving for "business" — in the Salvation Army
sense. Merely to wash in the waters of tao was
not enough for the Chinese Gehazis in search of
a political cure.

The Nestorians and Jews both borrowed largely
from Taoism, as we can see from the extant
Si-an Fu and K'ai-feng Fu inscriptions, recording
particulars of the entry of their respective beliefs
into China. Possibly the authors tried to persuade
themselves that they were only borrowing the
mere expression of ideas ; but it cannot be denied
that they have also bodily borrowed some new
ideas too. The Chinese Jews and some of the
modern Roman Catholic missions in China have not
been above citing and availing themselves of the
fact that in a.d. 62 the Chinese Emperor "heard
of a Sage in the West" (Buddha), in order to
cultivate in the interests of their own religion the
inference that this Sage was in the one case
Jehovah and in the other Christ. The modern
Chinese seem to have thought that Christ must
have obtained many of his reforming ideas from
Buddhist monks who spread themselves over
Persian region, and therefore probably also over
Syria, long before they came to China. There


seems no sufficient reason to regard this sugges-
tion with Christian indignation, as most of Christ's
lessons were based on the text of daily events in
the course of preaching and travel ; and why
should not a Buddhist monk, one of the group
that visited China from Parthia's east frontier,
and who on Christ's own hypothesis was as much
entitled to salvation as any other Gentile, have gone
west to Judaea and there suggested ideas ; as much
as did the Magi or Mazdean priests who, in search
for the Soshyant or Saviour of their belief, made
their way, as St Matthew tells us, westwards in
those degenerate Parthian days in search of the
mysterious star ; and who doubtless contributed to
reformed Judaism some of those moral principles
of their own religion which so closely resemble
those of the Christian faith ? The original perfec-
tion of man ; temptation by the Evil Spirit of the
First Couple to eat of forbidden food ; sin, retribu-
tion, good resolutions, repentance, confession, good
works, sacrifice, rewards and punishments ; — all
these are according to the best authorities present
in the noble Mazdean teaching, which, in its origin,
was, like the ancient Chinese religion, founded on
Nature Worship. In the absence of clear definite
evidence, the most reasonable conclusion is that
the fatalistic Taoist, pessimistic Buddhist, exclusive
Jewish, optimistic Mazdean, and democratic Chris-
tian religions all worked and reacted upon each
other in turn by imperceptible infiltration along
the regular caravan routes ; and were all, equally,

14 INTRODUCTION [introd.

earnest human attempts to grapple with and
correct the misery and political failures of the
times. If some of these human teachers considered
themselves inspired and superhuman, why not, if
done in good faith ? why not now accept or reject
this view in neighbourliness and good faith without
mutual recrimination ?

As to ancient cosmical speculations, whether
Chinese or other, it is futile to discuss them, as,
in spite of the discoveries of gravity, the circulation
of the blood, the purely animal character of man's
corporeal body, electricity in its various forms,
spectrum analysis. X-rays, and so on, we know
just as little of "final causes" as Lao-tsz did. It
is probable, if we may judge by the orderly and
perfectly consequent and harmonious nature of
discoveries as we successively make them, that the
solution of the whole question of human life will
some day astonish us by its obviousness and
simplicity. An ant goes about its destiny in one
yard of space like we do over a square mile. From
an ant's point of view the inexplicable vastness of a
petty furlong of land is as hopeless as to us is the
universe. Perhaps we exaggerate the importance
of our power to think, speak, and remember ; for
it avails us to escape death no more than the
unknown powers of the ant or bee. If a fraction
of a grain of radium or helium can repel and
contract a pendulum under our own eyes for
50,000 years, tons of the same or still more
formidable material might equally keep in eternal


movement any number of solar systems. In the
first pages of his " Descent of Man," Darwin causti-
cally alludes to the division (by Man) into Plants,
Animals, and Man. "Spiritually" it seems equally
presumptuous of Man to place his instincts so
much above those of his fellow-animals as to hold
in their embrace the creation and direction of all
things. We know at least the use — often little
dignified — of most of our organs, and why the
body is shaped for and accommodated to such and
such animal uses ; surely it is absurd to insist upon
a Supreme Ruler bearing this unworthy image ?
There is no reason why the imagination should
not indulge in such makeshifts, or even why for
the orderly conduct of human affairs such beliefs
should not be cultivated, so long as no attempt is
made to shackle men's minds. No one who, like
President Kruger did, honestly believes the earth
to be flat, incurs the hostility of the millions who
are satisfied that it is nearly round. Why, then,
should the odium theologicum be so persistent,
except on the hypothesis that no one possesses
the least knowledge about either life or soul, and
therefore each apostle feels angry at being driven
into a corner when pressed for demonstration ?
Such, at least, is the tolerant view the best rulers
of China have always taken of religion. It has
always been, and still is held that the Emperor
and his functionaries are alone capable of fully
realising the inner meaning of the classics — Taoist
or Confucian — and that the sole duty of each of their

i6 INTRODUCTION [introd.

lieges is to co-operate in the universal harmony,
at least until by study he himself forms one of
the eclectic ; and the door is wide open to all.
For this reason emperors of each important
dynasty have from time to time, whilst carefully
refraining from enslaving the mind with com-
pulsory dogmas, issued paternal homilies to their
"children," inculcating the virtues of filial piety,
respect for elders and superiors, neighbourliness
in villages, severity (with kindness) to children,
contentment with one's lot, and abstention from
causing pain or evil. If our Western missionaries
would conform to these simple principles, which,
after all, are Christian in spirit, we should hear
little of persecution ; and it is back to these
simple principles that the Japanese seem to be
going with their Shinto ; perhaps carrying the
Chinese with them.


china's primitive religion

Untutored man and his spiritual fancies. — Comparison with the
finer instincts of animals. — First Chinese dual conception of the
yin and yang principles. — Influence of the five elements. —
Conciliating the Spirits of Good and Evil. — Observations drawn
from the order of Nature.— The application of Music as a test or
measure. — Civilisation confined to the central parts of what we
now call China. — Early rulers not necessarily hereditary : origin
of the term " Son of Heaven." — Filial piety and ancestral worship. —
Ritual duties to manes. — Definitions of Heaven. — No dogma or
mystery. — Folk-lore and superstition stand apart. — The idea was
to conform human conduct to Nature. — Legendary period ends
B.C. 2200. — Two later dynasties covering a thousand years : no
great progress in religious thought. — Nine Virtues, and Sin. — The
three principal powers, Heaven, Earth, Man. — Portable gods. —
Evil rulers chastised by Heaven. — Rulers are but links in Nature's
chain.— 7a(3, or " correct road."— Evil end of the second of the
two hereditary dynasties.—" Book of Changes," or " Philosophy of
Nature."— Real history begins with the Chou dynasty, B.C. 1122.
— Kings replace "Sons of Heaven." — Religious ideas remain
essentially the same ; purely Chinese. — Heaven confirms new
dynasties ; appeals to Heaven. — Importance of sacrifices. — Exact
chronology begins B.C. 841. — Religious ties always practical and
political. — No terror of after life, or conception of a jealous God.
— New marriage laws and extensions of worship. — Possibility,
not probability, of Tartar influence.— Refinement in ceremonies.
— Disunion sets in. — Taoism and Confucianism both attempt to
arrest politico-religious decay.— Both apostles work on purely
Chinese old texts.— One was radical, the other conservative ;
neither was piously religious in the Western sense.

In their moments of leisure, which must have been
numerous, the primitive Chinese, Hke the rest of

B 17


mankind, were puzzled to account for the phenomena
of human memory and Nature's changes. As each
day dawned, and the animals, birds, and reptiles
began to stir, untutored man, when he uncoiled
himself from his distressful sleep, would re-
gain some confidence from the contemplation of
recurring light. In a short time the mysterious
orb of day would rise majestically from the same
familiar spot, or from a point within a certain arc
of the horizon, the extreme limits of which would
recall to the mind statements of fathers and grand-
fathers. As the cheerful rays of the sun warmed
up the veins of the guileless savage, and stimulated
his appetites, the desire for activity and movement
would be combined with feelings of caution, lest
some angry beast or malevolent human rival should
emerge from well-known lurking-places to contest
possession of the quarry or the wife. The cravings
of the stomach once satisfied, the winds, the storms,
or the heat, according to season, would suggest
the desirability of retreat and shelter, to be shared
with mate and babes. As chill evening approached,
and the stars began to twinkle, another mysterious
orb, with irregular movement and shape, would
feebly light up the awe-inspiring darkness. Dreams,
and possibly occasional nightmares, would lead to
rude mental comparisons between conscious and
unconscious life. Visions of parents, rivals, and
enemies would inevitably suggest inexplicable rela-
tions between the absent and the present folk.
The corrupted body, finding its only possible


resting-place in the earth, or on the bosom of
an endless river flowing no one knows whither,
would be to the imagination eloquent of other and
unseen worlds ; and of course no simple-minded
man can possibly picture to himself any far-off
worldly conditions other than those of which his
experience has already taught him. As the dead
bodies have manifestly left memories and visions
behind, what more natural than to suppose that
a puff of once active life has risen from this
material corruption into the pure air, to come
whistling round at some other time in the shape
of wind, dust, hail, thunder, lightning, eclipses, and
comets, according to season and circumstance ?

Ideas of this kind, modified according to
surroundings, must have occurred to all untutored
men alike in attempting to account for these
strange things. Animals, as is proved by their
nice hereditary instincts, are as observant as men ;
and because an animal does not utter ordered
sounds in the sense that we call "speaking," it
seems logically hardly necessary to attach more
importance to the experiences of man than to
those of other animals, as all disappear from
existence with equal certainty and equal helpless-
ness. However, "the proper study of mankind is
man " : yet, if other living creatures are debarred
from sharing our intellectual feasts, it must be
remembered that we are equally unable to identify
ourselves with the progressive advance of animals
in what we call "instincts," often so sublime as


to be even inconceivable to our five senses. As
men, therefore, we have a natural tendency to
exaggerate the importance of what our earliest
ancestors in their ignorance may have thought.
As that most religious of men, Dr Samuel Johnson,
has well observed, "at the time when very wild
improbable tales were well received, the people
were in a barbarous state, and so on the footing
of children."

If we penetrate so far as we can into Chinese
antiquity, we find the earliest rulers attempting to
conciliate by sacrifices, or by offerings of food, the
spirits of the mountains and rivers. The ruler,
or high priest, succeeded by degrees in co-ordinat-
ing the movements of heavenly bodies ; and the
alternations of darkness and light suggested the
philosophic conception of sky and earth, summer
and winter, shadow and glare, soul and body,
life and death, tempest and calm, man and
woman. This primitive conception, which runs
persistendy through all Chinese astrology, religion,
and philosophy down to the present day, is known
as the doctrine of the yin and the ya72g, often
symbolised by a circle divided into tapering halves
of dark and white. The next step was to connect
the five obvious elements — ores, woods, water,
fire, and soil — with the internal organs of the
body, the primary colours, and the tendencies of
individual character. The earliest rulers were
patriarchal ; but there seems, notwithstanding, to
have always been a stratum of middle - men or


"lords" between the sovereign and his children
or people. It was the duty of the sovereign to
take the lead in conciliating the spirits, or the
unseen powers who granted or refused successful
harvests. The spirits of men were called kwei,
and those of Heaven and Nature shen. It is usual
for Europeans to translate these words by "ghosts"
or "devils," and "gods" or "genii," respectively:
the Chinese have never been perfectly successful in
depicting to our European imaginations what their
two terms really do mean ; when we shall have
agreed amongst ourselves what our four translated
terms positively signify, it will be time enough
to determine how far they agree etymologically
with the Chinese, The next steps were to sub-
divide winter and summer into four seasons ;
male and female into degrees of kinship ; to
mark the equinoxes and solstices with precision ;
to regulate the duties of husbandry ; to note the
periods of moulting, hibernating, and breeding ;
to balance the affairs of the earth with reference
to the Pole Star as a pivot ; to distinguish
between supreme sacrifice to the Ruler on high,
and the attentions due to the lesser and minor
deities ; i.e. to the more or less unseen specific
powers of Nature on the one hand, and the
visible objects of Nature on the other. A com-
plicated system of musical tubes symbolised all
measures, such as degrees of noble rank, of
punishments, of weight and extent. The number
of the elements — five — was extended to cover the


principles of worship, mourning, courtesy, chivalry,
and rejoicing ; also to mark the four points of the
compass (with the imperial tours of inspection
each season), and the fifth point, or imperial
centre, with sacrifices of oxen to royal ancestors.
It must be remembered that the patriarchal life
here described was confined to the central tract
of China, as we see it depicted on modern maps,
and that beyond the line of inspection lay the
Tartars to the north, the Tibetans to the west,
the Annamese and cognate tribes to the south,
and certain savage tribes (of which no trace
remains) on the northern coasts of the Yellow

In the year B.C. 2356 the Supreme Ruler had
decided not to pass on the imperial authority to
a worthless son, but to confer it upon a worthy
Minister, who had assisted in bringing about many
of the above extensions or reforms. This new
departure was regarded by the incoming monarch
as " Heaven's doing," and from that moment he
took the dignity of "Son of Heaven,"^ which
belongs to the Emperors of China in our day.
The most ancient explanation of the term is that
"he was parent of the people, ruling over all
under the heavens." This particular Emperor was

^ The Hiung-nu {i.e. Scythian Hun, or old Turkish) tengri-kudu,
the Tungusic and (later) Turkish khaghan or "khan," the Persian
and Arabic faghfur., and perhaps other Eastern titles all have the
meaning of T^ien-tss, or " Son of Heaven," still used by the Ten-shi
(sama) or Mikado of Japan. It is much the same as the Western
Dei grah'd.


noted for his filial piety, which virtue continues
to be the strongest religious force in the Chinese
mind ; in fact, he took over the abdication in the
temple erected to the spirit of his predecessor's
ancestor, a further proof of the antiquity of this
form of worship. One of the new ruler's first
acts was to appoint an officer of worship, charged
with ritual duties towards the spirits of heaven
and earth, and towards the manes of individuals.
Other ministers were charged with the duty of
correcting calumnious popular reports and govern-
ing the people in accordance with the laws of
Heaven — here defined by the commentators to
mean the physical heavens, i.e. the seasons and

It will be plainly seen from the above that
the ancient "religion" of China had nothing in
it of dogma, faith, or mystery. We are justified in
believing, or at least surmising, that the masses
did not trouble themselves about deep thinking
at all, and were willing to accept the principles
of government evolved by their more leisured
superiors. The superstitions of the vulgar belong
rather to the department of folk-lore. From the
very beginning it was the aim of virtuous rulers in
China to study the order of Nature ; to endeavour
to rule human affairs on principles harmonious with
Nature ; and to accept with resignation, whilst
philosophically ignoring, the possible prospect of
future spiritual prolongation of this fleshly life.
Parents were manifestly the immediate cause of


individual human life, and it was not considered
necessary to speculate upon remoter biogenesis
beyond the evidence of the senses. The period
embraced ends in B.C. 2200, and is usually called
the "Five Emperor" period. It is, of course,
largely legendary, and there are conflicting ways
of determining precisely who the five emperors
were, and how long they reigned ; they are even
connected sometimes by an obscure train of
thought with the Five Elements, The " Yellow
Emperor " has the best claim to be considered
the first of them, because he at least was the
earliest to organise primitive Nature-thought as
above described. It is also certain that the last
of the five was Shun, the first "Son of Heaven"
by acclamation.

Now come two equally legendary dynasties,
lasting together over 1000 years. Though much
was done for the physical development of the
Empire during this period, the religious ideas
exhibit no great extension or novelty. Sacrifices
are offered on mountain-tops and at cross-roads,
the evident intention being to deprecate or exorcise
evil influences. The celestial order, which forms a
human guide, now crystallises into nine evidentiary
virtues ; to wit, firmness with consideration, energy
with gentleness, being bold but respectful, impera-
tive but cautious, determined but submissive,
unshakable but courteous, careful but not petty,
strong but true, irresistible but just. Hence Sin
or crime is simply the disturbance of celestial

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routine. The mandate of Heaven is withheld
from the incestuous, the sacrilegious, and the
debauched ; ceremonies and music illustrate the
harmonious movements of heavenly bodies. The
Emperor presents to Heaven his chosen and fit
successor according to these tests. Heaven, earth,
and man must be in harmony. Obedient subjects
are rewarded " in front of the ancestor " ; the dis-
obedient are slain "before the God of Earth,"
alone with their descendants. These last allusions
are to the representative tablets which the Emperor
carried with him when on the move, like the Ark
of the Covenant, or the Roman Terminus.

The second of the two dynasties mentioned
above lasted from B.C. 1766 to 1122, and owed
its origin to the absence of virtue, the tyranny,
and nonconformity with Heaven's principles of
the last ruler of the first hereditary dynasty
ending in 1766. The earliest duty of the new
monarch was to punish the mesne lords who had
neglected their sacrifices. He justified his action
before an assembly of the people : " You have
all cried out against guilt. I fear the Emperor
on High, and dare not but chastise. Heaven
commands me to put my predecessor to death."
After taking possession, the conquering ruler
made some change in the terfninalia, — so far as
tradition permitted of dynastic modification. On
the other hand, we find later emperors of the
new house reporting serious political matters
to the ancestral shrine. The following speech


delivered about B.C. 1340, after internal troubles
had necessitated a change of title in the
" restored " dynasty, well illustrates the religious
views of the age : —

** Be your majesty calm ! Reform the govern-
ment. Heaven looks down on those below, and
grants them years according to their compliance
with immutable laws. It is not Heaven which
cuts off man's destiny prematurely, but man who
neglects virtue and breaks off his own career. It
is the hereditary duty of rulers to care for the
people, and each of them is a continuing link
in the ordered scheme of Heaven. Sacrifices
must be regular, not so excessive as to travel
beyond the correct-road."

This idea of a taOy or correct-road, is henceforth
to run through all Chinese philosophy. During
this dynasty, too, deceased emperors of merit
began to be called divi, or, as the Chinese
express it, avi ; for, as we see, the " ancestral
gods " are mere links connecting the virtuous
ruler with Heaven and the Emperor on High :
on the other hand, the wicked ruler is rejected
of the people. This was the case with the last
monarch of the second dynasty, an extremely
clever but at the same time cruel and debauched
man. One of the feudal lords, the " Chief of the
West," undertook to represent the grievances of
his vassal colleagues and the people ; for this
he was imprisoned by the tyrant, and tradition
says that he beguiled his prison hours by
composing the celebrated " Book of Changes,"


the handbook of all metaphysical learning.
His son slew the wicked autocrat, and founded
the celebrated reforming dynasty of Chou, with
which Chinese history properly so called really
begins. This was in B.C. 1122. After the son's
death the title " Son of Heaven " was abandoned
in favour of " King."

There is absolutely nothing in Chinese history
to connect the " West " with any remoter region

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Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 3 of 23)