Edward Harper Parker.

China and religion online

. (page 6 of 23)
Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 6 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to a religion, as nearly all primitive men have
had beliefs of this kind. He probably did, in
common with the received traditions, more or less
vaguely believe in a Supreme Maker ; but, unlike
Laocius, he did not attempt to define or to
dogmatise as to what that Maker was, or how
that Maker created. He preferred to discuss the
practical character of things before his eyes, and
was indifferent to the causes of those things. He
says nothing about the future state, but holds



6o CONFUCIANISM [chap.

that man continues, after what we call death, to
live on. The Chinese idea of death differs from
ours : thus, a man may die and come to life
again ; that is, may lose consciousness and revive ;
their ignorance of physiology precludes conception
of our absolute notion of death. In the same way
with the ghost which takes its departure on death ;
there is always an idea that it is hovering near the
body, and may give trouble at any time if not
propitiated. There have been endless discussions
amongst missionaries as to why Confucius preferred
to speak impersonally of Heaven, avoiding the
personal form God, and as to whether he believed
in the efficacy of prayer. In most cases the argu-
ments appear somewhat biased by the personal pre-
conceptions of the polemic ; that is to say, he wishes
to prove that, if Confucius was good, it was because
he believed what the controversialist believes ; if evil,
because he failed to believe what the controversialist
believes ; and so on. This is, in fact, the course
which the rival schools of Chinese philosophy
themselves adopt. Where Confucius is silent,
they claim that he expressed in general terms the
sentiments expanded by themselves. In other
words, they dogmatise. Thus Mencius insists
that man's nature is evil, Cincius^ that it is good,
in its origin. One philosophy pleads for universal

^ Tseng-tsz, the philosopher Tseng, Confucius' expositor and chief
disciple ancestor of the Marquess Tseng, former Minister to Great
Britain. In 1330, the family chiefs of the Tseng and Meng (Mencius)
houses were made perpetual hereditary dukes, like the representative
of the K'ung family.



III.] CA' CANNY RELIGION 6i

love ; another for pure selfishness. As a matter
of fact, Confucius steered clear of all positivism ;
he said, in fact, that even his "medium policy"
was a shifting medium, according to time and
circumstances : in short, he was in some respects
an opportunist. He objected to commit himself
so far as to say the dead were conscious, lest rash
sons should waste their substance in sacrifices ;
he equally declined to assert that they were
unconscious, lest careless sons should not sacrifice
at all. At the same time he himself always
sacrificed with becomino- reverence, as thouQ^h the
spirits were present.

Some blame Confucius because he was unable
to grasp the full nobility of the Taoist maxim :
" Return ofood for evil." Confucius took time to
consider, and finally decided that evil should be
repaid by justice, and good reserved for the
recompense of good. Moreover, the full Taoist
context shows that Laocius by no means advised
turning the cheek to the unjust smiter. His
own countrymen find fault with Confucius for
glossing over, in his history, the failings of men
of rank, worth, or his own family connection ;
Laocius said, on the other hand, there should be
no respecting of persons ; and his countrymen
respect him for having said it. Confucius was
above all things practical, and considered that
confidence in the stability of the state was more
important than the adequate alimentation of the
people, which again was more vital than the



62 CONFUCIANISM [chap.

possession of military strength or learning. He
said : " First enrich your people, and then instruct
them." As to the concealing of historical truths,
it is hopeless to get men to agree upon this
point ; even Laocius advised the ruler to hide
and disguise his crafty methods. Confucius' frame
of mind may be judged from his reply to a
disciple, who was in doubt how to act when his
master, a feudal prince, was bent on a foolish
act. "Oppose him, but deceive him not." That
is, do not offend by showing your hand too
obtrusively, but do not conceal your hand. What
(it may be argued) is the use of exposing the weak-
nesses of those in power? Is it of real advantage
to us that Bacon should be proved to have been the
meanest as well as the wisest of mankind ? The
old Chinese idea that rulers are the vicegerents of
God is tempered by the conviction that bad rulers
may be dethroned. Perhaps Confucius thought it
better not to rake up slumbering guilt unless it
were possible to punish at the same time. At all
events, Confucius was loyal to the princely houses,
and had no axe of his own to grind : the utmost
that can be charged against him is a certain
canniness which prefers to be on the safe side ;
and, if it must err, then to err on the side of cold
prudence rather than on that of warm impulse.
As to mere personal defects, perhaps a testiness
of temper can be not unfairly charged against
him ; and indeed against Laocius too.

It is a little difficult for us, even after stringing



Ill] CONFUCIUS NOT AN APOLLO 63

together such a galaxy of virtues as Confucius
really possessed, to understand the Chinese
enthusiasm for his memory. Western history
teaches us to admire manly grace and beauty ;
bodily activity and love of Nature. Whether we
take our ideal military, civil, or ecclesiastical
heroes, our poets, philosophers, or lawyers, we
find no character closely resembling Confucius.
Even the founders of our principal religions,
including those of Buddhism and Mohammedanism,
have very little of Confucius in their attitude ;
notwithstanding that in the two instances of
Christianity and Buddhism the qualities which
have secured the reverence of hundreds of millions
are in many respects precisely the qualities
possessed by Confucius. Confucius commands
the regard of the European critics ; but somehow
it always seems that he does not secure a full
measure of respect. He certainly was not a
handsome man ; his heavy round back, long
ears, projecting teeth, and misshappen head were
scarcely heroic ; he disliked to discuss athletic
sports ; his habit of moving about in a springless
ox-cart, or when on foot with his arms extended
like wings, scarcely suggests perfect dignity to us ;
his skill as a musician would perhaps appeal more
strongly to our sympathy if we understood better
the part assigned to music in ancient social life,
and were ignorant of modern Chinese music. At
the same time, there is reason to believe that
much of the ancient theory and science of music



64 CONFUCIANISM [chap.

has been lost. It is certain that a custom existed
of collecting popular ballads for purposes of
government records. Many of the ancient ballads
are very beautiful and simple, besides being
perfectly comprehensible to the modern ear. We
may therefore assume that Confucius possessed
genuine bardic feeling. His treatment of women
was rather contemptuous, and he says almost
nothing about marriage ; but it must not be
forgotten that all Chinese serious writtings are
scrupulously decent and reserved in their specific
allusions to feminine matters ; even empresses
"hearken to government from behind a jalousie."
His love for truth was, as we have seen,
occasionally tempered by prudence. His fondness
for forms, ceremonies, and, above all, for funerals
and mourning is not at all in our line. But here,
again, a due show of grief at the loss of a parent
only forms a continuous chain with the filial
obedience required during life, and with the
solemn sacrifices after death. In short, we can
only account for the unmeasured reverence which
Confucius has secured in the hearts of his country-
men by slightly modifying the celebrated words
"every country possesses the government it
deserves," and by suggesting that China possesses
the teacher she deserves ; or, to put the matter
into a more subjective light, by suggesting that,
when a great teacher or prophet appears, the
mere fact that he is recognised as a prophet or as
an instrument of Heaven connotes the circumstance



III.] A CATHOLIC'S VIEW 65

that he is suitable to the people who believe in
him and recognise him. Moreover, Confucius'
reverence for the divinity that doth hedge a king
in due course brought all kingly influence on his
side. If we have a difficulty in appreciating
Confucianism to the full, the Chinese have a
similar difficulty with our beliefs, which often
appear to them somewhat absurd. An able
Chinese Catholic who a few years ago published
a very learned critical work upon comparative
religions, thus sums up in his native tongue the
attributes of Confucius : " Although Confucius
taught the necessity of reverence and disinterested
charity, he had no true belief in a self-existing
Creator of an organised universe ; no faith in
promised grace to come, or in eternal life ; no
true love of God as a Perfect Being above and
superior to all things ; no true fear of God as the
Supreme and Sole Ruler of the universe ; and no
true obedience to His commandments." Can those
who blame Confucius for not believing all this
show any grounds why at that date he should
have believed it ; and are they sure what they
mean when they say they believe it themselves ?
Others again have charged Confucius with cold-
blooded eud£emonism, that is, with only insisting
upon virtue because it leads to temporal happiness.
What Confucius said was : "He who heaps up
goodness shall have much happiness," and vice
versa. There is nothing very terrible in this ;
but it is evident that argument upon so abstract



66 CONFUCIANISM [chap.

a point might last for ever. He declined to pray
for recovery when he was sick, but he did this
in such a dubious way that the commentators and
the missionaries have not yet come to an under-
standing upon what he really thought on the
subject of prayer. In the absence of Buddhist
or Christian revelation to serve him as a guide to
belief in the doctrine of rewards and punishments,
Confucius did the next best and noblest thing, by
maintaining the impartiality of moral retribution
and the immortality of good fame. In this view
he seems to have been anticipated by Laocius.

Confucius' own reigning duke set up a great
lamentation for him when he died in B.C. 479, and
it is (somewhat doubtfully) said erected a temple
to his memory for quarterly sacrifices of a bullock ;
but no word of panegyric beyond the bald
expression "Father Ni " was conferred upon his
memory, — in allusion to the philosopher's personal
appellation Chung-ni. The royal or imperial
dynasty took no notice whatever of his death.
The people of the ducal state, who came from
time to time to pay their respects to his memory,
gradually formed a village round the tomb, and
such relics as the Sage's hat, clothes, cart, lute,
and books were preserved in what seems to have
been the shrine ; or, if there was no temple, then
in a museum or other commemorative building.
Confucius was the first Chinese historian to deal
with facts in contradistinction to exhortations,
eulogia, and denunciations. His book begins



III.] PHILOSOPHICAL SCHOOLS 6j

with the reign of the fourteenth duke of his own
petty state, in B.C. 722, and continues down to
the second year before his death ; he obtained
his facts from the state records of the central
court, possibly on the occasion of his visit to
Laocius there. After his death began the great
degringolade which it had been the great common
object of the two rival philosophers to stave off —
the so-called " Fighting States Period," lasting
until the unification of the Empire under one
autocrat in B.C. 221. Confucius' last (or almost
the last) words were : "My words are ignored, and
tao has no vogue." During these two and a
half centuries of fighting and intrigue, only one
prince found time to patronise literature, which,
however, did not languish in the two states of
Lu and Ts'i, forming modern Shan Tung province.
During all this time Taoism had chief possession
of men's minds, and Confucianism was literally
nowhere with its "justice and benevolence, rites,
and music." But Taoism had not the field
exclusively to itself; though inter arma legis
silent, it seems as though in all ages war
stimulates contentious knowledge. There was
the school of simplicity, socialism, and universal
love, the head of which was a Quixotic Diogenes
called Meh-tsz or Meccius (fifth century b.c.) ;
the school of denominationalists, or pedantic
adherents to the letter of absolutely defined
principles ; the legists, or partisans of a system
of repression and punishment (on the Plehve-



68 CONFUCIANISM [chap.

Pobyedonoschtschoff basis) ; the astrologists, or
believers in occult influences ; the medicals or
elixirists ; the sensualists ; and many others, recall-
ino- to our minds the various divisions of Greek
philosophy at the same period. When the King
of Ts'in (a state which had held aloof from
civilised China between the years B.C. 874 and
374) at last forcibly united all the competing
states, he found the multitude of counsellors a
serious obstacle to his new project of centralisa-
tion under trained functionaries, and in the year B.C.
213 he was persuaded by his prime minister (a
sort of creative Bismarck) to destroy all objectionable
literature and scholars. Over 700 literary men,
comprising most of the known savants in the
empire, were invited to the capital, decoyed to a
convenient spot "to inspect the flowers," tumbled
into a prepared hole, and buried alive. The
penalty of death was decreed for any persons who
should in future raise discussions as to the meaning
of passages in the " Book of History" and the " Book
of Odes " as revised by Confucius, and no one was
allowed even to possess these works, except those
officially dubbed "scholars." All other histories
except the annals of Ts'in were burnt, and the
world was directed to begin afresh with the
conqueror as innominate "First Emperor"; future
emperors to be equally innominate and numbered.
Works on medicine, divination, and agriculture
were spared, and amongst them the " Book of
Changes " : that the Taoist classic fell within the



rii.] THE LOVE OF GOD 69

shadow of the " Book of Changes " is almost certain ;
for the First Emperor was under Taoist influence,
and the classic never needed rediscovery as the
classics of Confucius did ; it was never lost. It
is impossible in all this not to recall to mind the
new era of the French Revolution, and the burning
by Alexander the Great, 2200 years before that
event, of all the Mazdean books except those on
medicine and astrology.

The next chapter will be on Buddhism ; but it is
important first to bear well in mind that, up to 2000
years ago at least, the Chinese mind had never
conceived the idea of religion, as superior to, and
divested from human affairs. Such spiritual matter
as can be discerned in Laocius and Confucius is
indissolubly connected with the Universe and with
Man : miracles are never so much as hinted at ;
after life is scarcely conceived ; the idea of " saving
one's self" is not only not in the remotest degree
suggested, but is indirectly condemned as an
unworthy, a selfish preoccupation. Sacrifice, includ-
ing sacrifice in the highest and sublimest sense of
self, is commended ; and devout respect for the
Unknown takes the place of " Love of God," — an
emotional passion not easily presentable by available
language to the logical Chinese mind, and which
is apt to appear to them much in the same light as
would a Reverence for the Equator, or Adoration of
the Sun, — the last, in fact, a universal Tartar form
of religion. As to the vicissitudes of Confucianism,
the cult has never at any period been dislodged



70 CONFUCIANISM [chap.

from its privileged position, when once established
at the beginning of our era. During the first
century, emperors on three or four occasions made
personal visits to the Sage's old house, in order to
perform sacrificial worship; in a.d. 72 the Emperor
even mounted the local rostrum and delivered a
eulogistic discourse. The lineal descendants then
bore the hereditary title of Marquess. This title
was confirmed and modified on several occasions
during the next three centuries, the founders of each
dynasty naturally endeavouring to secure their own
succession to the imperial dignity by associating
themselves with the oldest and most revered spiritual
succession in China. When subsequently the empire
was divided into north and south dynasties, the
Toba Tartars in turn, and the Sung, Ts'i, Liang,
and Ch'en houses of Nanking, all took opportunities
to facilitate and provide for Confucius' sacrificial
honours ; by this time the hereditary Marquess
had in various ways been assimilated in dignity to
a prince of the empire, and in the year 608 the Sui
dynasty, which had reunited China, ordered a
report on the family to be prepared. In the year
739 the T'ang Emperor, who had a few years
previously visited the mansion in person, placed
Confucius on a " south - facing " footing (kingly
status) with the Duke of Chou, his ancient imperial
model ; and in 978 the lineal holders of the heredi-
tary title were exempted for ever from all taxes by
the first Sung monarch. At last, in the year 1055,
the still existing ducal title of Yen-sheng Kung, or



III.] RESPECT FOR CONFUCIUS 71

" Duke of Prolific Holiness " was conferred, and
(with the exception of a short change between 1086
and 1 103) this distinction has been held ever since
without a break. During the twelfth century the
great philosopher Chu Hi/ after carefully studying
and rejecting both Taoism and Buddhism, placed
the critical study of Confucius' doctrine on a new
and more uniform footing, and ever since then the
best literary men of China have, with rare exceptions,
continued to abide by this reformed Confucianism
as the sole intellectual training worthy of a patriot
and a gentleman. It is noteworthy, however, that
throughout the Mongol dynasty (1206- 1368) pure
Chinese held a social and political position inferior
to that enjoyed by Mussulmans, Ouigours, and, of
course, Mongols : it followed, as a matter of course,
that the rough and gross Tartar rulers, mostly
bigoted Buddhists of the most sensual type, who
relied on pure force for the success of their admini-
stration, treated Confucianism with a certain amount
of ignorant contempt ; but for political reasons the
emperors were always ready notwithstanding to
sanction the succession of each duke as his turn
came. The present Manchu dynasty, like its pre-
decessors of the Ming family, has always shown
extreme deference to the rights and privileges of
the K'unor clan.

o

' The Chinese philosopher Wang Yang-ming (1472- 1528) (pro-
nounced in Japanese O Yo-mei) opposed the system of Chu Hi or
Chu Tsz (Japanese Shu Shi). This is interesting in view of Admiral
Togo's reported " Yo-mei " proclivities. This last philosophy was
thoroughly explained in 1892 before the Japan As. Sec. by Dr G. W.
Knox.



CHAPTER IV

BUDDHISM

Results of the Great Chinese Revolution. — Confucius begins to be
recognised.— Religions hitherto viewed as " crafts." — The ground
favourable for the introduction of Buddhism. — Chinese conquests
cause contact with the Indo-Scythians ; various foreign notions
about religion observed. — Rumours concerning Hindoo culture. —
An Emperor's dream interpreted to mean Buddha. — Mission to
India, and return of Hindoo priests with books. — The Indo-
Scythians first told the Chinese of Baddhism. — A Scythian "idol"
or effigy confused with Buddha, — How the Indo-Scythians
received Buddhism from the Indus. — Impossibility of Buddhism
reaching China by land before A.D. i. — The Emperor's brother
converted ; rivalry of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism at
Court. — Buddhism discredited for a century. — Taoism begins to
borrow from Buddhism in order to compete with it. — More
Buddhists from India, Parthia, and the Oxus. — More siitras
translated. — New ideas about souls and future existence ; and
about alphabets. — Sympathy between Chinese and Hindoo ideas.
—Some slight ground for ascribing Buddhism to Laocius. —
Celibacy and transmigration of souls the chief novelty. — Ideas
about women suit the Chinese. — Not antagonistic to Taoism. —
Definition of the various forms of Buddhism that found favour in
and around China. — Distinction between the higher and the
popular forms of one and the same religion. — Buddhists by the
sea route, and China divided into three empires. — Magadha and
South-west China. — Adventurer dynasties under Buddhist spell.
— Political influence in North China of Buddhochinga and
Kumaradjiva. — Travels of the Chinese pilgrim Fah Hien. — No
persecution in China. — A statesman's comparison with Taoism.
— Fifth century revival of Taoism. — First persecutions. — Travels
of Sung Yiin. — An Emperor assumes the cowl.— Vicissitudes of
Buddhism and Taoism. — China once more united. — The illustrious

T'ang dynasty. — Vicissitudes of Buddhism during the various
72






Q.
O



<



^r-:

V !;'!;



-(^ii



N



H



CHAP. IV.] A ROMAN PARALLEL 73

Tartar and Chinese dynasties from a.d. 960 to now. — Chu Hi's
revivalism and Confucian " Orthodoxy." — Genghis and Kublai
Khans. — Mongol Buddhomania.

The great Chinese revolution was as permanent
in its effects as the French one was destined to be
2000 years subsequent to it, but the first imperial
dynasty vanished as quickly as Napoleon's was to
do. By the year 202 e.g., after a period of
unparalleled bloodshed, a successful soldier of genial
practical temperament had founded the celebrated
dynasty of Han upon the ill-digested conquests of
Ts'in. Far from being a patron of literature, the
new emperor took a pleasure in expressing his
contempt for learned men. But meanwhile the
village tomb of Confucius had enshrined itself in
local memory ; his hat, clothes, cart, lute, and books
had been preserved; and in the year 195 e.g. the
monarch, having found respite from his warlike
labours, personally paid a visit to the grave, sacri-
ficing an ox, a hog, and a sheep — the Roman
suovetaurilia — to his memory. Both Taoism and
Confucianism were spoken of at this period as
shuk} or " crafts " ; some of the Han emperors and
princes patronised the legists ; others the terrorists ;
but most of them the Taoists. It was not until
B.C. 49 that the Confucianists obtained favour at
Court ; but meanwhile there had been many

* Then, as now in Canton, pronounced sliut or zhut ; the
Japanese, who must sibilate final /, pronounce it dzhuts or djitsu.
This is the word used in djii-djits {jujiisu) or " gentle craft," the
"painless wrestling" of the Japanese. The History, Odes, Rites,
and Music classics are sometimes styled the " Four Crafts."



74 BUDDHISM [chap.

imperial patrons of learning ; search had been
made for copies of missing books ; the Confucian
classics had been as far as possible reconstituted ;
and there was no persecution — rather, indeed,
" open door " to all opinions. Thus the ground
was favourable for the planting of Buddhist seed.
But there was another circumstance which
predisposed the Chinese to give thought to
outlandish spiritual notions. The necessity for
expanding and protecting extended frontiers had
led to the systematic settlement of South China
(B.C. 138-135); the "cutting off" of the Tartars'
right arm (b.c. 127-111); the conquests of South-
west China (b.c. 111-109) ; and that of Corea (b.c.
108). The western expeditions brought the
Chinese into contact with the great Indo-Scythian
monarchy of the Oxus Valley, then gradually
extending itself towards the Indus. Apart from
growing familiarity with Corean — and through
Corea with Japanese — notions of worship, with
the superstitions of the nomad Tartars and
Tunsfuses, and with the customs of the Tarim
Valley, the Chinese generals and commissaries
had begun to hear strange things of India and
its mysterious culture. The way the name of
Buddha was first introduced into China was this
wise : Two centuries had elapsed since the era
of discovery and external conquest began ; the
Han dynasty had collapsed and been reconstituted ;
and Chinese influence was once more beginning
to assert itself in High Asia when, one day in



IV.] A DREAM OF BUDDHA 75

A.D, 62, the Emperor had a vision. He dreamt
that a golden man with a bright Hght in the crown


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 6 of 23)