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than the Shen Si province of to-day ; but it is
certain that this Western dynasty revolutionised
the social life of China. Still, the new ideas
worked into the " Book of Changes" were of old
Chinese stock, just as the ancestors of their
promoters had, from the beginning of the Five
Emperor period, been purely Chinese vassal
princes. Their westerly position had brought them
into close contact with the Tartar and Tibetan
tribes, whose manners, and therefore possibly whose
religious ideas, several of them had adopted ; but
a feeling of duty to their people had decided
them to avoid bloodshed, and to migrate further
in towards Central China rather than go to war.
The grounds upon which at last the mandate of
Heaven was accepted were that the Emperor
had separated himself from Heaven, neglected
his ancestral sacrifices, corrupted the three
principles of Heaven, Earth, and Man, quarrelled
with his relatives, listened to female cajolery,
substituted pleasure songs for orthodox music, and
so on. "When the hen crows in the morn, ruin


is coming apace." The first act of the conqueror,
after dishonouring the bodies of his late suzerain
and his guilty women, was to repair the desecrated
altar of the God of Earth, pouring thereon
a libation of pure dew ; a victim was offered,
and the "Supreme Emperor of Heaven" was
solemnly invited to confirm the change of
dynasty. Offerings were made without delay
to the souls of those who had perished in the
fighting, and the conquered empire was largely
re-distributed in fiefs to the new ruler's own
relatives, or to the descendants of past emperors.
It may be useful to mention here that to the King's
own brother was given the district (still so called)
of K*iih-fu — thenceforward the capital of the State
of Lu, to be later immortalised by Confucius.
Whilst the monarch was thus engaged, he fell
seriously ill ; the brother in question at once
purified himself, offered himself as a victim, and
secured from Heaven his senior's convalescence.
Now followed an Augustan period of peace and
glory : the rites and music, rules and measures,
once more took their orthodox forms ; odes and
ballads were sung everywhere by a contented
people. The leading feature in the new system
was the minute attention paid to sacrifices of all
descriptions, in which not only Chinese vassal
rulers, but also tributary and barbarous outlying
regions were bound under pain of chastisement
to take a part. Some of these were daily, as
those to deceased parents ; some monthly, as


those to great-grandparents ; others quarterly
and yearly, to remoter ancestors ; and, finally, the
great imperial sacrifices on demise of the Crown.
The period of exact chronology begins with
the year b.c. 841, and up to that date, accordingly,
nothing can be very certain : d fortiori, is it
impossible to define with precision the earliest
Chinese religious notions. But from what has
been predicated above, it is plain that there was
little mystery, and that the religious ties were
of a practical and political nature. Conformity
was required, but only in the sense that we
moderns are required to conform to the Law.
There was no dogma, no terror of after life, no
conception of a jealous Deity in any way different
from the human soul. As to the innovation
introduced by the kings of the Chou dynasty,
the most original was a law forbidding marriage
between persons bearing the same family name ;
and. subject to slight concessions in the case of
two or three extremely common family names,
this rule has never ceased to be strictly operative.
Ancestral worship and mourning for the dead
were extended and developed ; posthumous titles
and sacrificial or temple names were longer
confined to the ruling clans. Feudalism became
more pronounced among the mesne lords or
electors, many of whom were now rather princes
of the imperial house than chiefs of clans as of
old. The main result was unfortunate, for these
family princes soon began to intrigue against the


King. The establishment of an imperial harem
with its corrupt train of eunuchs, imitated on a
smaller scale by the courts of the princes, is the
one novelty which suggests Tartar, Assyrian, or
Persian influence ; but there is no evidence of
such. The number of officials, and consequently
the weight of taxation, was largely increased ;
and as though to give these parasites something
to do, ceremonial observances were practised up
to the point of a fine art. The result of all this
was that disunion and contentiousness were
generated in China ; each rival court had views
of its own upon policy and religion ; and an
increasing mental activity gradually led to the
introduction of the hegemony system, under
which this or that great power amongst the
vassal kingdoms assumed the political lead for
several years, and often overawed the royal
court itself.

It must be noted that in the year B.C.
874 the extreme Western state of Ts'in,
corresponding to the modern Shen Si province,
had withdrawn from the imperial system, and
whilst interferins: in Chinese affairs whenever
interest required it, had remained a practically
independent civilisation until B.C. 374. It was
during this period of mental convulsion that
Taoism and Confucianism were evolved, the idea
of both apostles, Lao-tsz and Confucius, being
one and the same, — that is, making use of the
old literature, based upon the eternal and natural


principles imperfectly shadowed above, to save
society by crystallising existing knowledge,
experience, and thought into a workable scheme
of government. In neither case was there any
religion — in our European sense of piety, praise,
and repentance. The main difference was this :
Lao-tsz was a rugged, radical denouncer of the
Jeremiah or Carlyle type. Confucius was a man
of comfort, order, reverence, and courtliness. It
will be for us now to examine how these two
"religions" grew up.



The old literature and spiritual thought. — The mass of popular life
still primitive. — The classical foundations of religious thought. —
Astrologer and Historian the same, because Man works on
Heaven's lines. — Lao-tsz, or Laocius, the Apostle of Taoism,
was such. — Military strife causes a longing for spiritual peace.
— Old religious thoughts with novel interpretations. — The masses
are of Heaven as much as the classes. — Laocius leaves China in
disgust. — His evolution compared with that of Spencer {vide
Appendix). — The influence of cultured Taoism greater than that
of Confucius ; a fortiori than of Buddhism. — Laocius was for
Home Rule : he disapproved of learning as such. — Fill the
stomach, and the soul will take care of itself. — Prepared to fight
for pure principle : a soldier's honour : no joy in warfare as such.
— Government a necessary evil ; Laocius no anarchist. — Objects
to imperial blustering ; glorifies self-effacement. — The philosophy
of Marcus Aurelius. — Nothing said of Faith, Prayer, Dogma, or
Piety. — Justice and benevolence are a kind of complacent
hypocrisy. — No punishments in future life ; no sin or crime
except as against Nature. — Virtues connote vices ; better be
without either. — Woman's place in Laocius' scheme ; an indis-
pensable " functionary." — All pleasures are subjective, and human
life is consciousness ; the enduring of the body of minor im-
portance. — Laocius' interviews with Confucius.— Laocius induced
to write a book before disappearing into space {inde Appendix).
— Traditions of a connection between Laocius and Buddha. —
Laocius and Taoism both purely Chinese, and of undoubted
authenticity : his imitators all inferior. — Degenerate modern
Taoism : medical admixture : origin of elixir quackery. — Taoism
exploited by mischievous ambitions. — Destruction of literature in
B.C. 213. — Rivalry of Confucianism, and then of Buddhism. —
Cumbrousness of ancient books. — Most modern Chinese virtues
may be traced through Taoism. — Humility the key. — The Pope
of Rome in 1905 speaks as a Taoist.

During all this time a literature had existed in



China, and from portions of it that still survive
we are able to form fairly distinct notions of the
spiritual thought. Had the Chinese written upon
clay, like the Mesopotamians ; or upon flax and
the papyrus, like the Egyptians ; we might have
been able to reconstruct for ancient China the
scenes of daily life and barter. Chinese life in
the far interior is, or was until Europe arrived in
force fifty years ago, so simple that we may suppose
without risk that the social and economical con-
ditions are now not far removed from what they
were 2000 or even 4000 years ago. But the
Chinese wrote upon perishable wood, which could
neither be baked into eternity, nor wound round
air-proof and damp-proof mummies : hence we
possess scarcely a shred of script more than 2500
years old, and none of that touches upon popular
life. Moreover, the ancient "Classics" which have
been preserved for us, though they teem with
allusions to the Five Emperor and Three Dynasty
periods, were none of them conceived until the
beginning of the last of the three dynasties — that
of Chou — or put together in their present form till
near the close of that dynasty. Moreover, much
of the cumbrous wooden literature of China was
deliberately consigned to the flames in B.C. 213,
as we shall see ; and therefore what we still possess
had in most cases to be reconstituted by appeal
to memory, or by digging up buried texts which
had meanwhile become partly obsolete. The
"Classics" are the "Book of History" (only half


of which could be reconstituted even imperfectly) ;
the " Book of Changes," an unfathomable system of
evolution and divination based upon certain mystic
symbols or groupings of lines ; the " Book of Odes,"
containing satirical and other songs, sometimes of
a political nature : these were edited in later days,
and in any case only four or five refer back even
so far as to the second of the three dynasties ; and
the *' Books of Rites " — one being official, the other
domestic — which give us more or less vivid notions
of the formal side of Chinese life. There can be
little doubt that the best standard versions of these,
and of any other important official works then exist-
ing, were kept at the royal court in Central China,
and that copies were secured by the minor courts of
the vassal princes. The fact that the keeper of the
archives and the astrologer were one and the same
person brings out more clearly the circumstance
already suggested, that in ancient China the
movements of heavenly bodies were indissolubly
associated with the vicissitudes of man ; and that,
from the very beginning, any religion that existed
was simply religious duty towards the state organism,
as part of the organism of Nature. As the " Book
of Changes " says : —

"Regard the divine^ road of Heaven, and the

^ This shen-tao, or " divine path," is the shin-to of Japan. The
word " empire " is generally expressed by " below heaven," the
supposition having always been that the " Son of Heaven " is
Vicegerent over the world.


unerring sequence of season. The holy man sets
his teaching by this divine road, and the Empire
submits accordingly."

Lao-tsz, whose name is permanently associated
with the Taoist religion — that is to say, with the
doctrine of tao or "the course (of Nature)" — was
keeper of the archives at the royal or imperial
court during the sixth century, and as such he was
naturally in close touch with his fellow astrologers
and historians at the minor courts. The restoration
of B.C. 827 had not done much to arrest imperial
decay, and in B.C. 770 the Central Government
definitely moved east to the modern Ho-nan Fu.
The " Powers " were, like so many competing
Caesars, more or less intimately related to the
supreme Augustus, and each was attempting to
assert de facto pretensions to coerce Augustus, if
not secretly harbouring hopes to become himself
the de jure Augustus of China. Just as under the
decaying Roman system the title of Caesar was
frequently and freely distributed, so the "grasper
of the ox's ear " in China variously asserted the
shifting hegemony. The situation might be also
compared with the pretensions and hopes of
German electors to succeed to the honours of
the mediaeval Roman Empire. It was after a
couple of centuries of this bloody strife and base
intrigue that Laocius (if we may so latinise his
name) began to acquire universal reputation ;
and men's minds were all the more ready to
hearken to the new gospel of self-denial and


democracy in that all but the ambitious militarists
were beginning to grow sick of intestine strife.
What Laocius particularly preached was the
emptiness of rank, luxury, and show ; the
superiority of mind over matter ; the importance
of being, rather than of having. There is not
much novelty in the texts from which he deduces
his conclusions : almost every clear sentence that
he utters can be referred back to the old classics
from which he manifestly drew his inspiration. In
short, he was simply a reformer, superimposing, as
it were, a New Testament upon the accepted
but misinterpreted structure of the Old. The
degenerate moderns, as they were to him, had
gradually, whilst nominally performing their
sacrifices and conforming to Heaven's eternal
laws as of old, allowed their ambitions, their
cupidity, their lusts, and their caste pride to
obscure their capacity for interpreting rightly the
grand old keys to human happiness. Those
neglected keys had done good service during
the philosophical period of the patriarchal Five
Emperors, and during the semi-feudal period of
the first two dynasties, when Central China, by
means of her superior civilisation and "pacific
penetration," had triumphed over her cognate
neighbours ; and had, by a system of artificial
kinsmanship allied to adoption, made native chiefs
believe that they were becoming pure Chinese.
Earlier records confined themselves to stating
what emperors thought and did. During the


third or Chou dynasty, each court, when decay
had set in, recorded by preference its own ruler's
independent thoughts and acts. The people
languished in misery or bled themselves in wars
solely for the ambition and luxury of an ever-
increasing warrior caste ; and Laocius was the
very first to place the claims of the masses on an
equal footing with those of the classes and the
Supreme Ruler. At first these notions were
enthusiastically received ; but Laocius found in
his old age that human passions were too strong
for him. After "howling in the wilderness" of
solitude until old age forced him to think of his
end, he decided to shake the dust of ungrateful
China from his feet, and to seek death and oblivion
in the real wilderness of the West.

So far as Laocius' doctrine simply developed
the ancient conceptions of the yi7t and the yang,
the five elements, three principles or primaries,
the indestructibility and mutability of Nature, and
his own extended theory of evolution generally, we
are scarcely justified, even at this distance of time,
in ridiculing him ; for "our great philosopher," after
all his life's labours under the most favourable cir-
cumstances of access to stores of ascertained facts,
has scarcely advanced one step beyond Laocius
in solving the mystery of who we are and why we
are here. The utmost we can do is to say, with
Huxley : "If we could ijnagine ourselves to have
existed 100,000 years ago, we might expect to
have then witnessed the gradual development of


life out of inorganic matter." Such as Laocius'
necessarily hazy theories were, they are given in
full in the Appendix to this work ; so far, at least,
as it is possible to understand and translate them.
They seem to be a kind of Monism, minus the
basis of applied science which has enabled the
latest German philosophers to express it more
clearly. But his declamations and denunciations
of the corruption, heartlessness, and vanity of his
day are perhaps as applicable to our own times
as to the Fiehtins: States Period of China. He
was an apostle of simplicity, and pleaded in season
and out of season consistently for a return to
Nature. It is this part of his doctrine which has
always been quite as comprehensible to the lettered
Chinese as the incisive words of Voltaire or Diderot
have been to the cultured of Europe. Buddhism
has never exercised — we might even say Con-
fucianism has never exercised — anything like the
durable influence upon the cultured Chinese mind
that pure and unadulterated Taoism has. Through-
out the ages, solemn quotations from the Taoist
classic have ever been in the minds of statesmen
at supreme moments ; it is doubtful if a single
historical instance can be cited where a saying of
Buddha has conveyed solace or warning to the
world from the mouth of a really first - class
Chinese statesman or scholar.

Laocius was, so to speak, secretary of state at
the imperial court just at the time when the royal
power was becoming ridiculous ; when unscrupulous


diplomats and ambitious princes were dragging
the home - loving people from their tillage and
their weaving to shed their blood in distant and
unprofitable wars. Each menacing vassal lord
vied with the other in extravag^ance and maonifi-
cence : the king or emperor was often a mere
puppet in the hands of a "protecting" mesne-
lord. Ill-gotten treasures were amassed from
plundering wars, which were often fought on the
flimsiest pretexts of outraged dignity. Laocius
drew pictures of an ideal and idyllic age, when
"home rule" should reign in all tracts bounded
by Nature's lines ; when men attended to their
own business without carkinof cares or anxieties,
without recking what might be going on beyond
the brook which circumscribed their villaee. He
discouraged "learning" as such, for at best it only
repeated what other men like ourselves had said,
and moreover inclined men to make invidious and
vain personal distinctions. The only eternal study
was how to arrive at the principle of the "right
way." Once this principle ascertained, it was
applicable to all possible sets of circumstances
which might occur. The point was to avoid
creating artificial circumstances, and thus cumber-
ing the mind with artificial remedies for such.

As one of Laocius' chief tenets is the vanity of
petty human distinctions, it is not to be wondered
at that he never once mentions a specific person
or place. There is no evading the manifest
elementary fact that the human body is here,


and must be fed ; it is the hungry and dis-
satisfied stomach that stimulates the mind to
evil. Hence, feed to repletion, deal with
events as they come in a spirit of nature and
reasonableness, i.e. of human nature as ascer-
tained by incessant contemplation of the tao or
"order" of things. To employ a modern simile:
having once generated the true spirit of the
right way in the mind, all that is necessary is
'* to switch it on " as wanted, when it irresistibly
solves all entanglements, equalises all irregularities,
and subdues all excesses. So completely does
Laocius recognise the possibilities of frail human
complications, and so practical is he, that he even
admits the necessity of sacrificing life on a whole-
sale scale in order to assert the legitimate power
of tao ; and we could not have a better modern
illustration of this application than the flinging
away by the Japanese of countless bushi^ lives
on the battlefield, in order to secure to the majority
and to their country in the future the full results
of the all-pervading power or principle thus applied
to unfortunate circumstances. The attitude of
the orbate and Spartan General Nogi is expressed
in Laocius' own words : —

"Warfare is an inauspicious engine, and not
the engine of the accomplished man, who only
makes use of it when unavoidable. When the

^ Bushido, or as the original Chinese words are now pronounced,
Wu-shi Tao., means the "principles of the military man," or "a
soldier's honour," as we might say in England,


butchery of human beings is very heavy, we
should bewail the fact with weeping and mourning ;
and thus, when the victor emerges from the fight,
he should be associated with the melancholy
insignia of death and destruction, and not with

Even Government was viewed in the light of
an indispensable executioner, and placed, with the
war-lord, in the category of necessary evils. Just
as ordinary individuals were warned not to amuse
themselves too curiously with the headsman's art,
so the ruler is advised to keep the objectionable
arcana of his craft concealed from the common
people. But, whilst regarding all governments as
an eyesore, Laocius does not go to the length
of Tolstoy in denouncing them ; he is a socialist
without being an anarchist, and would even
assist government to carry out thoroughly the
unavoidable minimum of work. He admits that
all men must be hammers or anvils, leaders or
led, in this imperfect world. He is totally against
the use of force for purposes of moral compulsion ;
but, when force is necessary, he will even admit
the use of guile to deceive the foe. So, when
government measures are indispensable, he will
tolerate deception on the part of the statesman
in order to gild the pill for the uninstructed
people. Laocius leaves the assertion of superiority
to conscious mental power, and is entirely against
imperial blustering and self-assertion, gorgeous
display, armed peace, and "mailed fists." By


self-effacement a really able man will find that his
mental inferiors unconsciously insist on exalting
him. Life as we find it, can, he knows, never
be pure Nature unadorned ; a carpenter must
hack the trees for vulgar uses ; an executioner
must hack the body, a governor tax the people,
a general slash off heads. Let the fish remain
in his tank ; let us each remain quiescent in our
respective spheres. We are not responsible for,
nor can we affect the departed past. If we are
fortunate enough to "find salvation " in the shape
of tao, whatever our calling may be when this
mental enlightenment dawns upon us, let us apply
the principle consistently to whatever circum-
stances may supervene, leaving detail to take
care of itself — the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
We have seen that in the ancient Chinese
philosophy there was little to justify our popular
use of the word "religion." Beyond notifying
Heaven, the Spirit of Earth, and the ancestral
spirits of events, and propitiating them with
sacrifice, there is no trace of "faith," prayer, or
dogma. Beyond the inculcation of humility,
economy, and justice, there is no trace of devout
piety. In Laocius' development of the old system,
there is even less religion than before. Filial piety,
tenderness, and loyalty connote the absence of
those qualities, and the inference that the bulk
of men are not what they ought to be. Justice,
benevolence, and learning would never be
recommended unless the majority of men had


so neglected the simple principles of Nature as
to exhibit inharmonious deficiencies in those
appropriate adjuncts of tao. In Laocius' opinion,
fine art, love of possession, greed, and crime
are on the same level of progression as learning,
ceremony, rank, and tyranny. You need to
unlearn rather than to learn ; that is to get rid
of all unnecessary adornments beyond the "good
old simple plan." The keynote is simplicity — in
dress, in mode of life, in mode of expression, in
social form, in personal enjoyment, husbanding
of force, absence of friction, independence of
favour ; avoidance of flurry, of emulousness,
argumentativeness, luxury, display, exclusiveness,
restlessness, and of strife. There is not the
faintest suggestion of punishment in a future
life; of "love" of a jealous God as distinct from
devout respect for the figurative God presiding
over Nature ; of sin, except as an outrage upon
the eternal principles of Nature as gathered from
the contemplation of heaven, earth, and man ; or
of crime, except so far as equality of natural right
is infringed. The fact that continence and sobriety

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Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 4 of 23)