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are not so much as mentioned, and are thus taken
for granted, may be an object-lesson to us less
thrifty nations, and may also help us to under-
stand why Laocius regretted the necessity of even
mentioning justice, learning, and other virtues,
regarded as indispensable by us. As he says : "If
there were no thieves and ill-doers, no laws and
enactments would be necessary ; if matters went


on in an orderly way at all times, no virtues need
be named." Women are only alluded to in
general terms as an indispensable and inferior
part of Nature's scheme ; the intercourse of small
states with large is ingeniously compared with
that of females with males ; it is part of the
"nature of things," and the correct conduct of
the smaller state may in many circumstances put
it on a moral equality with the greater, and may
even lead to its absorption by and its indirect
conquest of the greater, just as a man may
yield to a woman's softer powers. But women
are never specially or concretely mentioned at all :
throughout all grave Chinese literature, in fact,
there has been and is an extreme decency in
alluding to so delicate and personal a subject,
invariably considered as being private and
irrelevant, just as we Westerns consider allusions
to body linen, the workings of the alimentary canal,
or any other bodily function. As Laocius says,
we cannot distinguish between the gem and the
ore ; each has its place in Nature, and from that
point of view all are equal, exactly as the spoke
is indispensable to the carriage. Rewards and
punishments had no objective place in his system.
There can be no joy or sorrow apart from
personality and consciousness, and the personality
which conforms with tao has a subjective satisfaction
which is independent of externals. Like water,
which always seeks the lowest place for itself,
the universal tao finds out the minutest chinks,


solves and dissolves, and is irresistible in its
humility and persistent communicability ; it is
unnameable, and endures for ever beyond the
insignificant life of individuals.

Confucius, who travelled over various states
with a view to inducing princes to arrest the
degeneration of the age, visited Laocius at the
imperial court, and discussed many questions with
him. Neither philosopher seems to have come
out of the encounter with much respect for the
other ; the elder man considered his visitor too
formal and obsequious, whilst Confucius professed
himself unable to understand Laocius' mental flights.
It is not clear how often they met ; but shortly
after the year B.C. 500 the old archivist, recognising
the hopelessness of inducing men to accept his
doctrine in the ever-increasing struggle for political
power and profit, decided to quit China altogether.
He was last heard of at a certain pass on the
Western frontier, accompanied by one of his disciples,
who followed him into the wilds of Tartary or
Tibet. Before he passed into space, the official
in charge of the outpost induced him to record
his views in a book. This is the Tao-teh King,
a translation of which is given in the Appendix.
The outpost official, like most reflecting men in
those days, was himself a convert, and there is a
book still extant, called the " Pass Guardian,"
which develops many points of the doctrine on
independent lines ; but there are evidences that,
respectable though it be, it is a production of a


very much later age ; indeed it was not " dis-
covered " until 1 700 years after the supposed
author's death. There are various traditions
mentioned in standard Chinese history about
Laocius having reappeared in Tartary, Khoten,
and India — even that he is the true oriofinator
of Buddhism ; but these traditions have no real
value, nor do the Chinese of repute ever pretend
otherwise. However, in no case do they seem
to doubt the absolute authenticity of Laocius'
book, which is, moreover, unique in style, and
has never for any considerable period ceased to
exercise the most powerful influence on the cultured
Chinese mind ; the more so in that their best
critics believe it to represent pure native thought,
based on pure native literature and philosophy,
unsullied by outlandish heresy.

Whilst Laocius was alive, he had followers, but
no rival ; and though after his mysterious dis-
appearance he had imitators, developers, exponents,
and critics innumerable, he has never ceased to
be the sole apostle of pure Taoism, as evolved by
himself from materials common to all. If it is
thought better not to encumber these pages with an
account of what other philosophers of his school
wrote, it is because the Chinese from the first
have had the wisdom to discern the inferiority of
their productions, and have never for an instant
allowed the eccentric notions of these secondary
prophets^ to assume the proportions of a national

^ The oldest of these is Lieh Yii-k'ou, commonly called Lieh-tsz


"religion." Even at Buddha's headquarters in
Lhasa, there is a temple to a Taoist apostle of the
T'ang dynasty, and only four years ago the
Manchu Resident invited the Emperor to add
further "divine" honours to his memory.

The degenerate but harmless Taoist priests seen
nowadays in the Chinese towns and villages no more
represent the noble abstractions of Laocius than
the negro bean-feasters in America, or the dancing
revivalists in London depict the simple charity and
democracy of Jesus Christ ; yet in both cases there
is a pedigree, and the charitable may admit an
honest attempt to do well according to dwindled
lights. Hwang Ti, or the Yellow Emperor, the
remote ancestor of Taoism, had, according to tradi-
tion, a strong vein of medical lore in his learning,
and the great Chinese y^sculapius ^ of the sixth
century B.C. adopted the name of that Emperor's
leech. It will be noticed that Laocius himself
makes some allusions to immortality. He says
somewhat profoundly that "only those who succeed

(Licius), an allegorical writer of the fifth century B.C. More celebrated
a century later was Chwang Chou, commonly called Chwang-tsz
(Sancius), whose cynical and paradoxical treatise has been translated
into English, and is therefore now available to home students. In the
eighth century of our era, just when Buddhism, Taoism, Nestorianism,
Mazdeism, Manicheism, and Mussulmanism were all competing for
High Asia, the doctrines of Sancius received the imperial Chinese
patronage for a brief season. To the following extent, at least, Sancius
is honoured beyond all other stars of the second magnitude. Taoism
is occasionally styled " the doctrines of Lao and Chwang."

^ Pien Ts'ioh. The sixth-century Pien Ts'ioh's real name was
Ts'in Yiieh-jen, and he is credited with having partly discovered the
circulation of the blood.


in dying unforgotten attain to true old age " ; and
" only those who in trust and innocence take their
lives in their hands need no armour in battle, and
fear no wild beasts in time of peace." These, and
a few other apparently paradoxical utterances, were
greedily seized upon by inferior Taoist philosophers.
Medical quacks and unscrupulous politicians ingeni-
ously extracted as much of the joint doctrine of
Hwang-Lao as suited their specific purpose. The
founder of the modern imperial system in B.C. 213
destroyed all the argumentive literature he could get
hold of, except works on Taoism, Astrology, and
Medicine, which were considered positive " sciences."
Up to the beginning of our Christian era, Taoism was
highly favoured by successive emperors and em-
presses, often even to the exclusion of Confucianism.
One famous emperor became a victim of superstitious
quacks, who pretended to brew elixirs, turn base
metals into gold, and, in short, seized upon all the
worst points of degraded Taoism in order to further
their own ambitious ends.^ Thus Confucianism at
last got its main chance ; and when Buddhism
followed, Taoist impostors were driven to still
further shifts of hocus-pocus in order to compete
successfully for popular favour. (We shall be better
able to follow out these struggles when we come to
speak of Buddhism, Manicheism, Nestorianism, and
Islam.) But these aberrations of Taoist degenerates

1 Su Ts'in and Chang I., the celebrated Machiavelian diplomats of
the fourth century B.C., were both pupils of the Taoist recluse Wang
Hii, who applied Laocius' doctrines to a system of political intrigue.


have nothing to do with the question of the grand
old principles of Laocius, which even in our present
times are manifestly beyond the intellect of the
majority ; and this majority is but a small minority
of cultivated men in a sea of ignorance : how much
more, then, must it have been beyond the reach of
the ancient Chinese masses at a time when " books "
were painfully varnished upon shingles with a bamboo
style, and when a " hundredweight of documents "
represented one day's work of the very monarch who
burnt "the books," and who could easily, by reason
of its huge bulk, call in for destruction nearly all the
cumbrous literature in the Empire. The stoical
diplomacy, contempt for luxury and show, democratic
absence of caste feeling, universal veneration for
ancestral ties, contempt of military glory, hatred of
restless activity and needless change, profound
personal humility, resignation in the face of suffer-
ing and death, — these and many other remarkable
qualities which, in spite of degeneration and uni-
versal corruption, mark the whole Chinese race, and
notably the best specimens of the lettered class, are
simply the secular effects of the pure Taoist doctrine,
which endeavours to make men conform in peace
and concord with the decrees of Heaven, whose
Vicegerent is the "eater of the Empire's dirt," that
humblest of individuals, the Emperor. That this
view is not in itself presumptuous may be seen from
the following words of Pope Pius X., taken from his
allocution as published in the Times of the 28th

March last : Laocius said the same thing 500 years



before the Pope's Master was heard of: — "The
" Pope, who humbly holds on earth the place of
" God, who desires peace and agreement among
"men, prays that Providence may inspire princes
"and peoples with ideas of concord. The ills
" which afflict humanity everywhere are so numerous
"and so severe, that they are enough without any
" further troubles from the noise of arms and the
"struggles of warfare."



K'ung-tsz, or Confucius, also an archivist, but local : had an inborn
taste for ceremonies. — Sketch of his life ; his visit to Laocius. —
The two philosophers do not admire each other. — Confucius
worked on old texts : places wherein he differs from Laocius. —
No theory of rewards and punishments in a future life : he was
political and practical. — No Western philosopher exactly re-
sembles him. — A Jesuit's appreciation of his "religion." — As a
historian. — Dies a disappointed reformer. — At first overwhelmed
by Taoism. — Other competing philosophies. — The "First
Emperor" resolves to be rid of learned men. — Taoism not under
the ban which was laid upon Confucian literature. — Comparison
with Alexander the Great's destruction of Mazde'an books. —
Up to this time the Chinese had never conceived of a religion in
the Western sense. — No " miracles," salvation, or " love of God." —
History of Confucius after his death. — His works and failure. —
Anarchy of the period B.C. 470-220. — Era of contentious
philosophy. — Unification of China. — Destruction of Literature. —
Survival of the Taoist classic. — Summing up of the subject of
religion previous to our era. — Political use made of Confucius. —
Chu Hi's revival of Confucianism. — Mongol ignorance. — Attitude
of the Manchus.

Whilst " Laocius " was keeping the archives at the
imperial capital (marked on modern maps as Ho-
nan Fu), K'ung-tsz, similarly latinised into "Con-
fucius,"^ was making his career in the petty signorial

' The addition of the syllable/^ to the particle isz adds dignity,
but it is not conceded to many philosophers. Thus, Menfucius or
Mencius, Confucius or Concius. Laofucius would be appropriate, but
it has never been accepted ; we say Laocius ; the same with Licius,
Sancius, etc.



state of Lu to the north-east, forming the south-
western part of Shan Tung province. The reigning
duke bore much the same relation to the King or
Emperor of China, that the Duke of Weimar bore
to the "Roman" Emperor of Germany; and Con-
fucius was his Grace's Goethe. In his early youth
Confucius had displayed an inborn appreciation of
ceremonial, and had even used tripods, sacrificial
dishes, candles, and official hats as playthings.
Moreover Lu had always been a literary state, ever
since its foundation about B.C. iioo under the feudal
rule of the new emperor's brother ; nor had it been
so much involved as the four or five " great powers "
amongst the vassals had been, in war and diplomatic
intrigue. Hence the surroundings were compara-
tively favourable to the development of a natural
bent. Confucius married early, and obtained an
official post as inspector of granaries. It is known
that his marriage was not an affectionate one, and
that his solitary son was by no means a success.
Hence Confucius had ample leisure to develop his
somewhat formal and rigid character in congenial
channels ; to read up diligently all the available
records of the past ; and to draw therefrom the
sound principles of good government. To eke out
his slender official salary he took pupils, whom he
instructed in the arts of official, moral, and sacrificial
deportment, music, and archeology. When he was
twenty-four years of age his mother died, and
Confucius now found opportunity to prove his filial
piety by fulfilling to the utmost the forms of mourn-


ing etiquette. His father had been a gallant soldier ;
and at the age of seventy, despairing of offspring
from his original wife, had taken Confucius' mother,
a mere girl, as handmaid ; her remains were rever-
ently placed in his father's tomb. After the three
years' mourning had been fulfilled, the Duke placed
a travelling equipage at Confucius' disposal in order
that he might visit the imperial capital, as was the
practice with cultured vassals in those days, in order
to compare local documents with those filed in
original at headquarters, and thus increase his know-
ledge of antiquity and music ; which, as we have seen,
was considered along with astrology as a key to the
fitness of things. Here he visited Laocius. The
grim old democratic sage did not give a very
gracious reception to the young courtier from the
provinces, whom he seemed to regard with a sort of
amused contempt as a mere master of deportment.
It was much as though, during the throes of the
Slave War, a European lord-in-waiting should have
visited Abraham Lincoln with a view to ascertaining
his opinion upon the divine right of kings and grand-
dukes, the proper respect to show to the ivohlgeboren
class, the advantages of morganatic marriage, and
the question what position in Heaven would be
occupied by the coloured races. On the other hand,
Confucius, whose mind was full of veneration for
blood and rank, and for the advantages of obedience,
respect, "justice and benevolence" (the two pet
aversions of Laocius), confessed himself unable to
understand all the mystic self-abasement of Taoist


ideal rulers, the metaphysical and astrological system
as extended to human affairs, and so on.

Whilst admitting that Confucius was a very
worthy man, the Westerner fails to discover any
symptoms of extraordinary genius, or any reason for
the unlimited admiration in which the Chinese hold
him. In his Miscellaneous Conversations (a book
compiled by disciples), and in those later parts
of the royal Record of Rites emanating from Con-
fucius and his disciples, we get more precise ideas
touching his character. He was a moderate eater,
but very particular and nice. He was not a tee-
totaler, but he never got tipsy. When the mysterious
forces of Nature manifested themselves in the shape
of storms or thunder, he considered it his duty to sit
up with respect ; but he declined to enlarge upon
his reasons for so doing. He always said a kind of
grace before his frugal meals by offering an oblation :
but probably he only followed common practice, for
the oriental custom of pouring out a drop of liquor,
or scattering a few grains of food before partaking
of it, is still in popular Chinese vogue. Confucius'
own deportment was in consonance with his teach-
ings. He used, giving them a negative turn, almost
the exact words so familiar to all Christians : he
said : " What you do not wish others to do to you,
do not to them." Self-control, modesty, forbear-
ance, patience, kindness, orderliness, absence of
effusiveness and passion, studiousness, industry,
mildness, dutifulness, neighbourliness, fidelity, up-
rightness, moderation, politeness, cerenioniousness ; —


these were the qualities which Confucius consistently-
practised and taught, and which (with the exception
of those printed in italics) Laocius had taught before
him, and most of the prehistoric teachers had taught
before Laocius. He laid special stress upon the
necessity of cultivating intelligence and alertness.
He abominated extremes, and preached the doctrine
of the happy mean in everything ; — in short, the
doctrine of the Peripatetics ; a sort of machine-like
smoothness, with no jerks or surprises, either on the
side of virtue or on that of vice. Gloomy asceticism,
tearful emotionalism, and passionate militancy were
alike foreign to his taste. He was neither a theolo-
gian nor a metaphysician. He simply saw and
understood his countrymen, and went to history for
the means of governing them : according to his
lights, obedience to superiors, and recognition of
the "divine right" principle were essential: it was
herein that he chiefly differed from Laocius. There
was nothing of the fanatic in his composition. Like
Laocius, he scarcely alludes to specific members of
the gentler sex ; it seems as though he despised
women, except as mothers ; that is, he granted them
no such equality as we do, and he would have
nothing to do with flirtations, dances, singing, or it
may be presumed those harmless kissing amenities
so popular with Europeans. Mencius, 200 years
later, was the first to qualify him as "holy." But
Confucius declined for himself the right to be called
a saint, or even a good man. He said : " I am
never tired of learning myself, and never weary


of teaching others." He did not wish to appear
censorious. Though tolerant of old religious or
superstitious notions, he did not care to go into
questions of future life, extraordinary things, spirits,
devils, anarchy, revolution, and mystic doctrines.
Hence the shrugging of his shoulders at Laocius.
In the presence of the forces of Nature he was, as we
have seen, awed but silent ; he declined to discuss
what he did not understand : he said : " Heaven
does not talk, and yet the four seasons come with
regularity." It is scarcely wrong to say that pure
Confucianism is no religion at all in our Western
sense. Some missionaries describe the ancient
notions, which Confucius confined himself to criticis-
ing and transmitting, as spirit-worship tending
towards fetichism. What Confucius really did was
to arrange ancient ideas in orderly form, and revivify
them with notions of his own, just as the old Jewish
teachings received fresh inspiration in the form of
Christianity. The ancient idea, as explained above,
was that there existed a Supreme Power, and that
the King or Emperor, as a sort of vicegerent, was
the only orthodox channel of spiritual communication
with that power. In this capacity the Son of
Heaven was a Mediator for his people ; or, as
Laocius put it, "ate dirt for the Empire." The
worship of private families and individuals was
confined to the spirits of deceased ancestors, " To
sacrifice to spirits not belonging to a man," says
Confucius, "is mere flattery." The Chinese re-
garded and still regard the next world as being a


mere repetition of this, each person in this world
addressinor himself to those of his own rank and
kind in the next. Confucius, like every one else
both before and after him, grew up totally ignorant
of any world except that in which he found himself.
His prudent attitude has led some European divines
to brand him outright as a sceptic, who only veiled
his disbelief out of deference for antiquity. But
that is going too far. He noticed that the imagina-
tions of his fellow-men led them to express belief in
much that was not evident to him, so he adopted the
safe and already sanctioned course of admitting
nothing but the possible existence, in a form not
quite apparent to him, of sentient beings that had
already lived in this world. He did not care much
about the constituent elements of emotion or intellect.
Metaphysics had no charms for him. It cannot even
be made out whether he thought man's nature good
or evil in its origin. He admits that men are
naturally born different, but the effects of such
initial differences are as nothing compared with the
levelling effects of education and training.

Nor was Confucius inclined to split hairs upon
the vexed question of " Sin," or even to speak of sin
except in connection with the practical affairs of
life. "The proper study of mankind is man,"
once more. On one occasion he said that, setting
aside theft and robbery, there were five capital
sins — malignancy, perverseness, mendacity, and
two others not very clearly defined, but which
look like vindictiveness and vacillating weakness.


Confucius was a believer in the three ancient
forms of divination, and an ardent student of the
mystic diagrams dating in their extended form
from 600 years previous to his own birth. It
has never been proved that these diagrams had
any practical meaning ; or, if they had, that the
meaning now given to them by curious students
expresses what Confucius really had in his mind.
Confucius, in short, consulted the popular oracles,
as did the Greeks and the Romans. We may
disapprove ; but if it was foolish to consult oracles
of which he knew nothing, why should it be
wiser to make requests to spiritual beings of
which he also knew nothing? The government
of China still publishes a list of dies fasti and
nefasti, and orders prayers to " save the moon "
at an eclipse, although its officers are scientifically
acquainted with, and perfectly capable of fore-
telling the eclipse. Probably Confucius fell in
with popular views ; herein he was of less stern
stuff than Laocius. One thing is quite certain :
whatever Confucius believed in a vague way as
to the spiritual form which man took after death,
he certainly never conceived any such idea as the
doctrine of rewards and punishments. His view,
concisely expressed, was that " life and death
are a matter of destiny ; wealth and honours are
disposed by Heaven." In other words, whilst
approving individual effort, he counselled patient
submission. To this extent, therefore, it may be
said that Confucius had no religion, and preached


no religion. Like the Persians and Chaldseans,
the Chinese and the Tartars had a sort of popular
Sabaean reHgion, in which worship was offered to
the Sun, Moon, and Stars : at times also to other
forces of Nature, such as wind, the forests, and
the rivers. But some of these beliefs, including
certain forms of divination, may be popular
excrescences which have been superadded at a
later date upon the more ancient monotheism, or
upon the sanctioned state beliefs described in the
first chapter. Dr Legge considered that even
now this basis of monotheism is no more
destroyed by popular additions than is our own
monotheism destroyed by the worship of saints
by large numbers of Christians. Of all the things
which we Westerners, as Christians, profess to
believe, there are only two essential things which
it was reasonably possible for Confucius to believe.
He might have believed in a Maker of Heaven
and Earth, in the Resurrection of the Body, and
in a Life Everlasting ; but that scarcely amounts

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Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 5 of 23)