Confucianism and Its Rivals, by Herbert A. Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
The Chows, of whom so much has already been said, chiefly as a tribal community before they secured, under King Wu (1122 B.C.), the hegemony of the feudal States, traced their line back to a personage, called Hou Chi, deified, so soon as the Chows obtained supreme power, as the Consort of God. His date was about 2500 B.C. His real name was Castaway, given to him because more than one attempt was made to get rid of him, some say as a thing of ill omen. For his was indeed a miraculous birth, even if not, as supposed by many, a genuinely virgin birth, to dispose of which view it has been found necessary to drag in an early Emperor as the putative husband of his mother, Chiang Yüan. After these few introductory words, the ode now to be quoted will be found to tell its own tale in sufficiently intelligible terms:
After the above extraordinary incidents, in which it is competent to anyone to detect or to denounce evidence of parthenogenesis and also of supernatural manifestations, we may not be altogether astonished to find that the babe, instead of being warmly received, was on the contrary "despised and rejected of men." This would be entirely in keeping with Chinese views on such subjects, ancient and modern alike; not that any simple claim to divinity of origin would ever be seriously resented by the Chinese people, who would simply believe or disbelieve according to the temperament of each individual, but because, whether supernatural or not, such a birth would at any rate be unnatural, and therefore repugnant to the feelings of a nation to which uniformity of procedure, especially as regards the operation of natural laws, is the criterion of what is right. Several plots were directed against the life of Hou Chi, as detailed in the ode:
Hou Chi devoted himself, in the interests of his countrymen, to agriculture, and at the date of this ode, which of course cannot be older than the twelfth century B.C., was still worshipped as the Father of Husbandry. At the same time, in view of the profound feelings of veneration and affection which his personality aroused in the hearts of his countrymen, it was specially laid down that his spirit was not to be allowed to take precedence of God.
The concluding lines of this panegyric are important for their bearing on sacrifice, a phase of religion on which, so far, we have but slightly touched. Hou Chi himself, we are told, had established the custom of offering up sacrifices of graina primitive form of the Harvest Festival, or Thanksgiving; but now the writer of the ode asks,
[paragraph continues] I must interrupt these closing verses to say that the line which I have translated
and which may be compared with "the ram of consecration" (Exodus xxix. 31), is declared by commentators to mean
[paragraph continues] This is mere guesswork on the part of Chinese scholars. The word, used here for the first and only time in the genuinely ancient Canon, is said to mean a sacrifice at starting on a journey, which would have no application in the present connexion. By the time this ode was written, there may well have been a God of the Road, invoked for safe journeys; but it seems simpler here to keep the idea of sacrifice without insisting on a minor deity. The panegyric ends with the following lines:
[paragraph continues] The coincidence between the last line but one and Genesis viii. 21, where "the Lord smelled a sweet savour" arising from Noah's burnt offering, and promised to curse the earth no more, is sufficiently remarkable; it is further interesting to note the
comment on the words of the Old Testament by Dr Waterland, the distinguished theologian and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1713 to 1740.
It remains to add that the Chinese term used is Shang Ti and not Tien, bearing out a distinction I have attempted to establish between these two expressions, which are beyond all doubt names for one and the same Being. Tien may be regarded as God Passive, Shang Ti as God Active; Tien as Jahveh, or Jehovah (in spite of Dr Pusey's prohibition of these forms), Shang Ti as God. Tien is perhaps more an abstract, Shang Ti a more personal Deity. Reference to Tien is usually associated with fate or destiny, calamities, blessings, prayers for help, and so forth. The commandments of Tien are hard to obey. He is compassionate, as well as to be feared, unjust, and cruel. Shang Ti is more definitely associated with a heaven for departed spirits, and He walks, as God did in the Garden of Eden, leaves tracks on the ground, enjoys, as we have seen, the sweet savour of
sacrifices, approves or disapproves of conduct, deals with rewards or punishments in a more intimate way, and comes more actually into touch with the human race. After all, these are but varying aspects of one Deity, the two forming a Duality in Unitytwo Persons in one God, each of whom is Almighty, though there are not two Almighties; to borrow the words attributed to Saint Athanasius, "neither afore, or after other: neither greater, or less than another."
With the quotation of one more short ode, running only to eight lines, we may take final leave of Hou Chi. This ode is noteworthy (1) for its language as a prayer, and (2) for the varying interpretations which have been discovered of its text.
There is a singular passage in Chuang Tzŭ, the Taoist writer of the fourth and third centuries B.C., who will shortly claim our attention, which passage has nothing to do with Taoism, but has passed, like many other sayings of the kind, into popular usage. The Emperor Yao, who, as we have already seen, abdicated in favour of the peasant Shun, is said to have previously wished to abdicate in favour of Hsü Yu, a worthy hermit of the day, and to have addressed him accordingly. But the hermit replied,
[paragraph continues] "If a cook is unable to dress his funeral sacrifices, the boy who impersonates the dead may not step over the wines and meats and do it for him."
It is with the impersonator of the dead that we now have to deal, references to whom go back to the very earliest ages. This impersonator appears to have been a youth, who was introduced into ancestral worship, not merely as a representative of the dead hero or ancestor in whose honour the sacrifice was offered, but as a body in which the dead man's spirit could find an abiding-place, enabling it to be present among the worshippers. The illusion was enhanced by an absolute muteness and immobility on the part of the boy; hence the appositeness of Chuang Tzŭ's remark, If a cook is unable to dress his funeral sacrifices, the boy who impersonates the dead may not step over the wines and meats and do it for him."
The phrase "impersonator of the dead" occurs twice in the Canon of History, both times as a term of contempt, suggesting indolence of an extreme type. It is used of Tai Kang, third Emperor of the Hsia dynasty, who came to the throne in 2188 B.C., as follows: "Tai Kang occupied the throne like an impersonator of the dead. By idleness and dissipation he extinguished his virtue, until the black-haired people all began to waver in their allegiance." But it is to the Odes that we must turn to find a fairly complete picture of this ancient ceremonial worship. After storing up grain of various kinds, distilling rice-whisky, and preparing various meats, the intending
worshippers, "seeking to increase their own bright happiness," induct the impersonator, and
[paragraph continues] The next stage is the banquet, reserved, with the exception of a loving-cup, for the spirits only. There are large dishes of roast and broiled meats, and many other smaller dishes, in the preparation of which the women of the family are reverently employed. The loving-cup goes round, and all drink.
[paragraph continues] Finally, when the worshippers and guests are thoroughly exhausted, every detail of the ceremonial having been strictly performed, we are told that the celebrant makes the following announcement:
[paragraph continues] Bells and drums then warn the company that the
ceremony is at an end. The celebrant makes one last, and to our ears strange announcement:
upon which the impersonator of the dead rises from his seat, and, amid the clash of bells and the roll of drums, withdraws from the scene. Simultaneously. of course, the spirits cease to inform those temporary tenements of clay; they evanesce, and are gone, no one knows whither.
The spiritual banquet being now over, worshippers and guests, together with the impersonator of the dead, throw off restraint and proceed to enjoy the more material banquet, at which the funeral baked meats amply furnish forth the dining-tables. It is true that by a pleasant fiction the spirits have extracted from these meats, for their own enjoyment, most of their delicate flavour; still, to judge by the last verse of the ode we have been quoting, enough, and to spare, has remained.
We have now nearly done with the Odes, the chief source of all that we really know, or can infer, of the
ancient religion of the Chinese. There still remains, however, a certain attitude of man towards the Deity, already touched upon, which finds its place in these early records, just as we can trace, more faintly perhaps, the murmurings of the Jews in some of the books of the Old Testament. This attitude is one of dissatisfaction with the dispensations of Providence; a dissatisfaction often carried to open resentment, and expressed in stronger language than was ever used, so far as we can see, in the murmurings of the children of Israel. Thus we have such lines as,
[paragraph continues] Again:
[paragraph continues] There is indeed one case in which an epithet applied to the Deity seems translatable only by some such word as "hide-bound," in the sense of strict and unnecessary adherence to the letter rather than to the spirit. The value of the Chinese word in question may be gauged by its application to blocks cut for printing, where it is the equivalent of our term "stereotyped." In some of the Odes, however, a different note is struck; one of obedience and resignation to the heavenly will. Thus we have,
and then a whole verse, as follows:
The next important source of information on early religious sentiments in China dates from about the beginning of the genuinely historical period, and requires a brief introduction.
In addition to the works which Confucius edited, he undertook to write up the annals of his native State from the year 721 B.C. These annals, as they stand, consist entirely of bald entries of events, and would be of little use or interest to anyone but for their association with a famous commentary in which many of the events recorded are treated in detail, showing the circumstances which led up to them, and the consequences which distinguished them from mere everyday happenings. This commentary is supposed to have been written by a disciple, named Tso-chiu Ming, some say under the guidance of Confucius, if even not actually by Confucius himself. It would be impossible, in anything short of a whole lecture, to deal with the literary question here involved; or to give a faint idea of the dramatic incidents related, or of the fascinating style of the writera blend of Tacitean terseness with "Livy's picture page." It must suffice to say that Confucius wrote the annals, entitled the "Springs and Autumns" in reference to the arrangement of the entries under the four seasons of the year; and that someone
wrote the commentary, to which I now ask your attention.
Throughout the annals and the commentary alike, the king of the Chow State, who was suzerain as compared with the rulers of the vassal States, is invariably spoken of in this connexion as God's king, or as we should put it, king by the grace of God; in a more general sense, as the delegated arbiter of human destinies, he was known as God's son, a term which was still in existence until a couple of years ago, and which for obvious reasons, as before stated, has been modified into the Son of Heaven. The intervention of God Himself in the current affairs of men was firmly believed in, and is alluded to again and again in terms of the simplest faith. "God has rid them of that pestilent fellow," says one; "God does not employ men who walk on tiptoe," meaning by this strange figure of speech persons inclined to pass jauntily through the gravest crisis. "Duplicity," we are told, "is contrary to the ordinances of God"; but failing any revealed commandment to that effect, we have no alternative but to class these utterances as intuitions of the writer. They remind us, indeed, of similar remarks by our own bishops and priests, who often declare, with a somewhat reprehensible familiarity, that God likes, or dislikes, this, that, or the other.
The value of an oath was greatly enhanced by calling God to witness. There would be a solemn sacrifice in a temple, and an oath would be taken, of which this is an actual example: "If I am not loyal
to my prince and to those who are working for the good of our countrymay God deal with me!" At the conclusion of the oath it was customary for the covenanter to smear his lips with the blood of the victim. One example is given of a treaty which had been extracted by force; and the commentary says that such a treaty might well have been disregarded, at the same time eulogizing the man who would not repudiate his oath, even though unfairly obtained. A further example, recorded in the year 494, tells us of a man who promised to kill his prince's mother, at a given signal from the prince. This plot he failed to carry out; explaining that he only agreed to do so through fear for his own life, and adding, in anticipation of Paley, that only such promises should be kept as could be justly and rightly performed.
The life of Confucius furnishes us with another illustration. He had been taken prisoner by rebels, and was released on condition of not proceeding to the Wei State. Thither, notwithstanding, he continued his route; and when asked by a disciple whether it was right to violate his oath, he replied, "It was a forced oath; the spirits do not recognize such." One more example of these old-world beliefs. A treaty of peace having been concluded (B.C. 589) with the eastern tribes, a princelet suggested attacking them while off their guard. To this the Grand Augur said, "The violation of a treaty will bring you bad luck. Neither the spirits nor man will help you; how, then, can you expect to succeed?" The princelet went his own way, and suffered a severe defeat.
The fear of God seems to have been ever before the eyes of the Chinese people during the period with which we are now occupied. Of one of the feudal princes a speaker said, "He will not escape his doom. Himself regardless of propriety, he punishes those who observe it. But to practise propriety is to obey the laws of God; propriety is indeed the will of God. A superior man is not harsh either to the young or to the lowly, because he stands in awe of God." The Chinese character here translated by "propriety" is a word of Protean possibilities; it represents one of what we may call the five cardinal virtues of the Confucian moral system, and the application of such a rendering as "propriety" has met with not a little ridicule at the hands of the hasty. For "propriety," according to Murray's New English Dictionary, covers precisely the ground required; e.g., by such definitions of the word as "conformity with rule or principle; rightness; justness; correctness of behaviour or morals." In ordinary Chinese life the word is used to express "politeness and etiquette," but in the classical language its sense may be gathered from the above various meanings of propriety, than which objectors have so far failed to provide a better term.
With regard to any general fear of God, we learn from the earlier records that such fear was limited to evil-doers, whose acts would be contrary to the proper harmony of the universe. Given right conduct on the part of man, there would be no further intervention on the part of God. The
question of belief or disbelief in a God hardly seems to have arisen until later ages. In the commentary, however, we do meet with a more openly expressed desire on the part of the Deity to occupy in the hearts of the people a similar position to that of the God of the Old Testament in the hearts of His chosen race. Sacrifices, if duly performed, had always been supposed to avert divine punishment for some irregular act; but here we have references which tell in a different sense. A man dreamed that God sent an angel to him, saying, "Sacrifice to Me, and I will bless thee." This is a striking point, because it was always to the spirits of deceased ancestors that sacrifices were regularly offered, with a view to ensure assistance in time of need. "My sacrifices have always been abundant and pure," said a reigning prince; "the spirits will surely hold me up." To which his minister replied, "I have heard that the spirits, good and evil alike, do not attach themselves to a mere human personality, but are attracted only by the goodness of a man's disposition."
When sacrifices are mentioned in the various records we have been using, it is understood that the victim in each case would be one of the domestic animals, variously enumerated, under B.C. 637, as six, and under B.C. 529 as five. These animals, to adopt the larger number, would be the horse (specially so mentioned under B.C. 563), ox, sheep, fowl, dog, and pig. Under B.C. 637 we read that the ruler of one feudal State insisted upon the ruler of another State offering up in sacrifice the ruler of
a third State, in order, as we are told, to awe certain wild tribes which had been giving trouble. A minister, too late to save the victim, spoke as follows: "Of old, the six domestic animals were not sacrificed indifferently, one for another; neither for small matters were large animals used. How much less, then, would human beings have been taken as victims? Sacrifices are offered for the benefit of men. Men are the hosts, and spirits are the guests. If you sacrifice a man, who will enjoy it? Our ruler, at his assembly of the feudal princes, has treated with oppression the rulers of two other States, and has further used one of them in sacrifice to a disgusting and unrecognized spirit. Will it not be difficult to secure the hegemony of the States in this way? Our ruler will be lucky if he dies in his bed."
A little more than one hundred years later, B.C. 529, we read that the prince of the Chu State succeeded in extinguishing the Tsai State, and sacrificed the eldest son of his vanquished rival. Even if the sacrifice of human beings, in the usual acceptance of the term, was not widely practised, we know that both men and women were often buried alive as companions to the dead. Under B.C. 590 we have an account of the burial of a feudal ruler, who had governed badly and had wasted the resources of his State upon improper objects. His two chief ministers gave him an extravagant funeral, using lime made from burnt oyster-shells (as extracted at the present day) for lining the inside of the grave, and having more than the usual number of carriages and horses,
for which they were duly censured by the "superior man," who is here supposed to be none other than the writer of the commentary himself. Then, as we are told, "for the first time men were buried alive with the corpse." There must, however, be something wrong either with the text or its interpretation; for under the year B.C. 618 we already have this earlier allusion to the custom: "When the Duke Mu, the ruler of the Chin State, died, three brothers were buried alive with him. They were all good men, and their fellow-countrymen mourned their loss in the ode called the Yellow Birds, which was specially composed to their memory."
Turning to the ode in question, we find it to consist of three stanzas, all in exactly the same strain, but with a different brother commemorated in each. It will suffice, therefore, to quote a single stanza:
[paragraph continues] I may explain that it is customary, especially in Chinese lyrical poetry, to prefix some such lines, the application of which is not always obvious. In the present case, each stanza opens with the two lines given above, but no two critics agree as to their right interpretation. The rest is simple enough.
[paragraph continues] The line
reminds me that at the present day, when the idea of God has faded in China to little more than a name, He is still occasionally spoken of as the Wearer of the Blue Clothes.
In another case, one of the feudal princes, seeing that some mess had been made in his courtyard, fell down in a fit of passion upon a charcoal brazier, and was so badly burnt that he died. Five chariots with their teams of horses, together with five men, were buried alive in his honour. The historian quaintly adds that his death was due, partly to his violent temper and partly to his love of cleanliness.
A writer of the fourth century B.C. relates how and when the custom of burying alive became unpopular with the Chinese people.
"A certain man having died, his wife and steward took counsel together as to who should be buried with him. All was settled before the arrival of his brother (a well-known disciple of Confucius); and then they informed him, saying, 'We must ask you to go down with the body into the grave.' 'Burial of the living with the dead,' replied the brother, 'is not in accordance with established rites. Still, as you say that someone is wanted to attend upon the deceased, who better fitted than his wife and steward?
[paragraph continues] If this contingency can be avoided altogether, I am willing; but if not, then the duty will devolve upon you two.' From that time forth the custom fell into desuetude."
In spite of this last statement, we know that at the grand funeral of the so-called First Emperor, in B.C. 210, all his concubines were buried alive in the magnificent mausoleum where his body was laid, as well as all the workmen who had constructed it and knew the secret of its treasures; the workmen, of course, not from any religious motive.
To return to natural phenomena, which have at all times entered very largely into the religious beliefs of the Chinese, and may be said to do so even at the present day, when gongs and cymbals are still beaten to prevent a great dog from swallowing the sun or moon at eclipse time. There is a passage in the Canon of History which is understood, no doubt rightly, to refer to an eclipse. The two Grand Astronomers, appointed under the Emperor Yao, had been neglecting their duties and giving way to intemperance. Then there suddenly occurred what we may call a "celestial failure"; the blind musicians beat their drums; officials and people hurried wildly about; while the two Grand Astronomers behaved like mere impersonators of the dead. Grand Astronomers had in those days an uneasy billet; the penalty for antedating or postdating an eclipse was, in both cases, death.
Eclipses are only mentioned once in the Odes, at a very early date, which has been carefully verified.
[paragraph continues] The term used was then composed of the word "eat," and either "sun" or "moon," as required. On the 29th of August, B.C. 775, says an ode,
On the 20th April, B.C. 610, another eclipse of the sun took place. This is not the first instance recorded in the "Springs and Autumns," but the remarks of the commentary are more conveniently arranged for quotation. The writer says, "On the occasion of an eclipse of the sun, the Son of Heaven should not have his table spread so lavishly as usual, and should have drums beaten at the altar to the spirits of the land, while the feudal princes should present offerings of silk to the spirits of the land and have drums beaten at their courts, thus manifesting their own service of the spirits and so teaching the people to serve their rulers, according to the respective rights of each, as was customary in ancient days."
It is obvious that an eclipse was regarded as a threatening notification from on high, vague though
the message may have been. Still more so was this the case with comets, of which a large number have been recorded in Chinese history. In B.C. 524 a comet appeared, travelling eastward towards the Milky Way. An official said, "This is a broom, to sweep away the old and give us new. God often makes use of such signs. The feudal princes will suffer from calamities by fire." It was then suggested to the Prime Minister of the Chêng State that the danger should be averted, so far as Chêng was concerned, by offering, presumably to God, valuable goblets of jade and some other precious stone; but this proposal was rejected.
Drought had always been regarded as a divine visitation, and sacrifices and prayers for rain were as common in ancient days as they are at present. In B.C. 637 there was a serious drought in the Lu State. The reigning prince wished to burn a witch as a propitiatory sacrifice; but a minister said, "No, that is not a proper course to take. Rather put your city walls into good repair; spend less on your table, and be economical in your general expenditure. Exalt thrift and urge the people to help one another. That is the right course to take. What has a witch to do with the matter? If God now wishes her to die, why did He ever give her life? If she can really produce drought, to burn her will only increase the calamity." The witch's life was spared, and that year there was not great scarcity of food.
Famines were divided into five classes of intensity, based upon the number of the five kinds of grain
which happened to be affected. A famine of the worst kind, when all the five grains were more or less ruined by drought, entailed various inconveniences upon the prince. From another commentary by another writer (Ku-liang) we learn that he should not be served with two dishes at once, nor renew the plaster on his towers and terraces; that he should discontinue his archery feasts, and leave the road to the archery ground uncared for; that certain offices should be maintained, but nothing done in them; and that the spirits should be prayed to, but no sacrifices offered.
Floods, the result of too much rain, were naturally as much dreaded as drought. In B.C. 681 there were bad floods in the Sung State. The prince of Lu was sent to condole, saying, "God has visited cruel rains upon you, which will lessen your supply of millet for sacrifice. I cannot but offer you my sympathy." "I am an orphan," was the reply, "and wanting in reverence; therefore God has sent this calamity upon me. For the sorrow I have caused you, I beg to express my regrets." It is added that the use of the term "orphan" is proper for the ruler of a State which is overtaken by misfortune, but no further explanation is given. The reference is probably to the alienation of God, his father.
Locusts have always been one of the plagues of China, and there is quite a literature on the various methods for getting rid of this pest. In B.C. 623 we are told that locusts fell from the sky like rain, being, happily, killed by the fall. The annals of China contain
entries of many extraordinary rains, such as blood, gold, millet, hair, grass, pieces of flesh, ashes, earth, pigs, fishes, beans, frogs, paper money, iron, and other things. We know now that some of these entries are anything but ridiculous, being easily explained by the action of whirlwinds, which pick up at one spot and drop at another, too far off for the limited communications available in early years. One night in September 1912I am quoting from the London and China Telegraph
Raining blood, too, has been satisfactorily accounted for by the presence of a red secretion, chiefly from the pupal chrysalis of a certain butterfly (genus Vanessa); as to several of the other entries, we may follow the Confucian maxim: "Hear much, and put aside those points on which you are in doubt."
Earthquakes were very naturally supposed to proceed from supernatural agencies. One writer says, "It is the way of the earth to be still; its moving was accounted strange, and was therefore recorded."
[paragraph continues] Another declares that an earthquake is "nature's response to prevailing disorder in the kingdom, the feudal princes disobedient to the Son of Heaven, and their officers disobedient to them." When, therefore, in B.C. 518, a high official perished in a severe shock, it was simply remarked that God had done with him. He was killed, as he might equally well have been killed for his misdeeds, at a later date, by thunder. I say "at a later date," for it does not appear from any of the older books of the Canon that thunder, though dreaded, was used either by or on behalf of God as an instrument of punishment for the wickedness of man. We shall return to this in another connexion.
Among other natural phenomena which the Chinese regard with uncertainty and fear, must be classed the rainbow. The literati of China have not been able to make much out of it, and confine themselves to saying that its appearance is due to some irregularity in nature. It is of evil omen, and portends fighting. Two lines in the Odes say,
[paragraph continues] For pointing at a rainbow is thought to produce sores on the hands. No one can say precisely who is offended by the act of pointing; whether it be the Deity Himself, or some spirit, good or evil, who may be appointed to the stewardship of rainbows.
Here we may, perhaps opportunely, devote some attention to the term "spirit," which has been so frequently used in reference to beings, if not of another
world like ours, as the Chinese now believe, at any rate of an unseen world. In all ages, spirits have been divided by the Chinese into two classes, good and bad spirits, otherwise known as spirits and devils. Departed heroes, and personal relatives and friends, supply the former class, but it is not so easy to show how the latter came into existence. It is a mere guess to say that they are the souls of wicked persons; there is no authority for such a statement, except in the case of wandering spirits from the unburied corpses of wicked persons. However this may be, it has always been understood that diseases are brought about by evil spirits; more than this, a disease is actually personified as an evil spirit, and is exorcised from a patient, or driven from a village, by incantations, clanging of gongs, and similar ceremonies. We read in the commentary, B.C. 541, that when a certain feudal prince was ill, the divining officer declared that his disease was caused by two spirits, of whom the Grand Augur had never heard. However, the Prime Minister of a friendly State, who had come with "kind inquiries," showed that the two spirits in question presided over a star and a district respectively, and were necessarily harmless. "The spirits of the hills and streams," he explained, "are sacrificed to in times of flood, drought, and pestilence. The spirits of the sun, moon, and stars are sacrificed to on the unseasonable occurrence of snow, hoar-frost, wind, or rain. Your Highness must be suffering from something connected with your outgoings or incomings, with your food, with your
griefs or joys. What can these spirits of the mountains and stars have to do with it?"
Nothing, indeed, as matters turned out; the disease was traced to the fact that four of the ladies of the harem bore the same surname as the prince himself. Marriage between persons of the same surname has always, with certain special exceptions, been forbidden in China; in this case it was held that the rule extended to relations with concubines as well.
Already, as we have seen, the worship of God and of the departed spirits of human beings had been enlarged to include spirits assigned to such inanimate objects as hills and trees. In B.C. 563 a feudal prince, bent, as usual, upon a marauding expedition, had occasion to cross the Yellow River. There was a pause; two pairs of jade tablets were bound together by a thread of red silk, and a prayer was offered up, showing the supposed righteousness of the campaign, and closing with these words: "If the enterprise be crowned with success, there will be no disgrace attaching to you, O ye spirits of the river. Do you, therefore, decide." Then the jade was dropped into the stream, and the prince crossed over.
In all worship of spirits, faith was the essential. We have the record of a minister explaining to his prince that a small State could only contend against a large State if the former were governed according to the rule of right, while the latter was abandoned to wild excesses. "What I mean," he said, "by rule of right is a loyal care for the people on the part of
the authorities, and faith in the spirits on the part of the priests and augurs. Just now, our people are famishing; the prince gives way to his passions, and the priests are but hypocrites in their performance of the sacrifices." To this the prince replied that his sacrificial animals were of the best kind and well fattened, and that the millet he used was good and abundant. "Where," he inquired, "is there any lack of faith?" "The spirits," rejoined the minister, "consider the welfare of the people first, and religious ceremonial second. Consequently, when our virtuous rulers of old offered up fat animals, it meant that their people were fat also; the spirits showered blessings upon them, and they were successful in all their undertakings."
Good spirits are usually regarded as invisible, though instances have been known, in more modern times, of spirits mixing with ordinary people, and being distinguishable only by the fact that their apparent bodies cast no shadow. Evil spirits, in the form of horrid goblins, have often been seen in China as elsewhere. In 660 B.C. a spirit actually came down"came down" are the words usedand settled in the Kuo State. The suzerain, or king of the Chow State, asked his Grand Augur what this arrival might portend; to which the Augur made the following reply: When the prosperity of a State is increasing, good spirits come down to take note of its virtuous administration; similarly, when a State is about to perish, spirits also come down to watch its evil administration. So that the arrival of spirits
has sometimes been followed by prosperity, sometimes by the reverse." The king then commissioned his Augur to proceed to the Kuo State, bearing the proper offerings to the spirit. There the Augur heard that the prince of Kuo was trying to get the spirit to grant him an enlargement of territory, of course at some other State's expense. The spirit stayed in the Kuo State for six months; and after receiving many prayers and sacrifices, finally promised the coveted accession of territory. Thereupon, the Augur predicted the downfall of the Kuo State, saying, "I have heard that when the prosperity of a country is increasing, it is because the prince gives ear to the people; and that when a State is about to perish, it is because the prince gives ear to spirits."
It would be of surpassing interest to know exactly what was in the minds of the ancient Chinese when they spoke of spirits, and especially what was the exact connotation of the phrase "came down" as applied to spirits. Where did they come down from, and what was the nature of the place they left by so coming, and of its other inhabitants? Were they attendants upon God, in a state of happiness, and subject to His commandments? We know from a passage in the commentary, that under the Chow dynasty, as already mentioned, God took precedence of all spirits, including that of Hou Chi, the divine founder of the House of Chow. Let us now see what more the commentary may have to divulge on the shadowy question of the soul.
In B.C. 542 there died a wild, hard-drinking individual, named Po-yu, who had been obliged to flee from his home for political reasons which are of no importance here. Some few years later, a report spread about that Po-yu was alive and had been seen by several persons, to whom he had used threatening remarks about others. This created a small panic; so that when people met together, if anyone said, "Here's Po-yu!" there would be a general stampede in all directions, "no one quite knowing," as the commentary tells us, "where he was going to." The excitement reached its climax when one of the threatened persons died; then the Prime Minister intervened, and made arrangements by which the fears of the populace were allayed. He explained that if a disembodied spirit has a place to go to, it does not become an evil spirit," and that he had now provided a proper refuge for Po-yu's spirit, thereby bringing the manifestations to an end. Later on, he was asked if he really believed that Po-yu could become a disembodied spirit; in other words, if he believed in spirits at all. "It is quite possible," he replied. "When a man is born, what he first develops is called po (answering to what is now known as the supraliminal soul); then follows the male, or positive, of the po, which is called hun (the subliminal soul). By drawing from its environment what is essential, this joint soul becomes strong, and finally active. With regard to the manifestations of spirits, if an ordinary man or woman dies, this joint soul can still keep hanging about in the form
of an evil apparition; still more would this be so in the case of such a man as Po-yu."
Thus we have, five hundred years before Christ, a simple statement that there was such a thing as a soul, that it was of a twofold character, and could remain in the world after the death and disappearance of the body to which it had belonged. How this view was further expanded in scope as time went on, and overlaid with a variety of fantastic beliefs, will be more appropriately dealt with when we come to a later period of religious development in China.
In addition to the chief commentary on the "Springs and Autumns," from which most of the above details have been gleaned, two other commentaries of considerable, but not of such surpassing value have come down to us. There is a short note on "Praying for Rain " by one of these commentators (already mentioned), named Ku-Jiang, which is perhaps worth quoting. "Prayers for rain should be offered up in spring and summer only; not in autumn or winter. Why not in autumn or winter? Because the moisture of growing things is not then exhausted; neither has man reached the limit of his skill. Why in spring and summer? Because time is then pressing, and man's skill is of no further avail. How so? Because without rain just then, nothing could be made to grow; the crops would fail, and famine would ensue. But why wait until time is pressing, and man's skill is of no further avail? Because prayers for rain are the same as asking a favour, and the ancients did not lightly ask favours. Why so? Because they
held it more blessed to give than to receive; and as the latter excludes the former, the main object of man's life is taken away. How is praying for rain asking a favour? It is a request that God will do something for us. The inspired men of old who had any request to make to God were careful to prefer it in due season. At the head of all his high officers of state, the prince would proceed in person to offer up his prayer. He could not ask anyone else to go as his proxy." The idea here seems to be, and this will be borne out by an example to be cited later on, that improper or unseasonable requests are not to be preferred to God. A native critic adds, "If we are not to ask favours of God, how much less may we ask them of one another. Persons who recklessly ask favours should not be treated with the consideration to which they would otherwise be entitled."
So far we have reviewed in a desultory wayperhaps the only possible waytwo important ages in Chinese history: (1) the age of the early, and more or less legendary Emperors, who first ruled, and finally misruled the empire from the beginning of the third to nearly the end of the second millennium B.C.; and (2) the feudal age, from 1122 B.C. down to, roughly speaking, the middle of the sixth century B.C. The feudal age did not, indeed, come to an end at that date; there were still a couple of centuries and more to run before the Chow dynasty collapsed under the overwhelming power of one of the feudal States, the ruler of which became, as he styled himself, the First Emperor of a united China, meaning that "the great
procession of the centuries was to begin again" from his reign. The reason why our second period has to end when it does, is that the continuance of the Chow dynasty, or feudal age, amid scenes of rivalry and bloodshed which gained for its last century and a half the distinctive title of the age of the "Fighting States," is of no account whatever as compared with the appearance on the scene of a man who for twenty-five centuries past has been the guiding star of the Chinese people, and whose influence, temporarily obscured during the great political crisis of recent days, is now likely to continue to mould the lives and destinies of his countrymen.