Confucianism and Its Rivals, by Herbert A. Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
We now come to the arguments by which Mencius sought to prove that the original nature of man is good, and becomes corrupted only by environment. A philosopher of the day, named Kao, said, "Man's nature may be likened to a willow-tree, and duty towards one's neighbour to a bowl. You get charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour out of man's nature just as you get a wooden bowl out of a willow-tree." "Sir," replied Mencius, "Can you get bowls from willow-trees without injuring the original nature of the trees? In order to get your bowl, you must first kill and rob the tree; and by parity of reasoning, in order to get charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour, you must first kill and rob the man. The result would be that all mankind would regard charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour as nothing better than calamities."
The philosopher Kao said, "Man's nature is like rushing water; make a passage for it towards the east, and it will flow eastwards; make a passage for it towards the west, and it will flow westward.
[paragraph continues] Man's nature has no particular bent towards good or evil, any more than water has a particular bent towards east or west." "Water has indeed no bias," replied Mencius, "either east or west; but will it flow indifferently up or down? Man's bent towards good may be likened to the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are no men but have this bent towards good, just as there is no water which does not flow downwards. Of course, by striking it, you can make water jump up over your head, and you can also, by proper management, force it up a hill (as by water-wheels); but is this in accordance with the nature of water? It is simply a question of force; and if men are caused to do what is not good, it is in precisely the same way."
The philosopher Kao said, "What is reached at birth, that is the nature." "Do you mean to say, then," inquired Mencius, "that, in a similar way, all white is white?" "I do," replied Kao. "Do you mean," continued Mencius, "that the whiteness of a white feather is the same as the whiteness of snow, and that the whiteness of white snow is the same as the whiteness of white jade?" "I do," replied Kao. "Then," said Mencius, "you evidently mean that the nature of a dog is the same as that of an ox, and that the nature of an ox is the same as that of a man."
Wishing for more direct instructions than can be found in the above, a disciple said to Mencius, "There is the philosopher Kao; he declares that the nature of man is neither good nor bad. Others say
that it may be trained to do either good or evil; others, again, say that some natures are good and some bad; and now you say that man's nature is good. Then are all those wrong?" "To judge by our feelings," replied Mencius, "man's nature is adapted for the practice of what is good; and that is what I mean when I say it is good. if a man does what is evil, the blame cannot be laid upon his natural powers." Mencius goes on to show that certain feelings, such as pity, shame, respect, and sense of right and wrong, belong to the four virtues, charity of heart, duty towards one's neighbour, propriety, and wisdom respectively, all of which, Mencius tells us, are certainly innate; but it is still more difficult to see how this advances the position. His language is clearer when he says, "In good years, the young men have the wherewithal to feed themselves, but in bad years they become desperate. This is not because God has given them different temperaments for different occasions, but because their minds sink under the strain of exceptional circumstances."
Mencius proceeds to argue that crops of barley, for instance, if sown under identical conditions, will yield identical results; and that if there are any differences in results between the harvests of two crops, this will be due to inequalities of soil, of rainfall, or of cultivation, and not to any difference in the nature of the barley. Why, then, should man form an exception to the rule? He quotes in support of this an old philosopher who said, "If a man were to make sandals without knowing the size required, I know that he
would not make them as big as clothes-baskets," the reason given for this being that all sandals are alike and all feet much the same in size. Again, Mencius says, "If men differed in their taste for food in the same way that men differ in this respect from dogs and horses, how could there ever have arisen a standard cookery which is generally accepted? It must be, therefore, that men's palates are alike. And so with regard to music, and even beauty, for which there are fixed standards of taste; and this being the case, is it likely that men's minds can be without some common standard? Where, then, do we find this common standard? It is to be found in the eternal principles and practice of right and wrong. The inspired sages of old were merely beforehand in expressing feelings which I now share with all man- kind, and of which I approve in the same way that my palate approves of such food as is commonly approved of by all men."
"There is the Ox Mountain," said Mencius, "which was once overgrown with beautiful trees. The mountain, however, was situated on the frontier between two States; and in process of time all the trees were hacked about until there was very little left of them. Even when the trees did attempt to sprout again, cattle and goats came and browsed upon the young shoots, and the mountain was stripped bare, so that nowadays people do not understand that it was once finely wooded. But is bareness the nature of that mountain? And can we then say that the human mind is devoid of a sense of charity
and duty? No; a man's moral sense suffers loss just as trees suffer under the axe. Day by day hacked about, how can they retain their beauty? Then comes the restoring influence of night, when the moral sense reasserts itself; still, the fetters and gyves of the day more than counteract this influence, and men sink to the level of brutes, in which condition it would seem that charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour had never had any place in their minds. Can this condition be regarded as fitting for the human race? If it receive its proper nourishment, there is nothing that will not grow; if this nourishment is wanting, there is nothing which will not decay. Confucius said, 'Hold fast to your moral sense, and it will remain with you; let it go, and you will lose it.'"
It was thus that Mencius satisfied himself and others that Confucius was not in error when he handed down the tradition that man is born good; a dogma which has ever since been accepted by Confucianists as the keystone of their arch. Its validity was disputed some few years later by a philosopher, named Hsün (see ante), who wrote an essay to prove that the nature of man at birth is evil. "A crooked stick," says Hsün Tzŭ, "must be softened and bent, if you want to make it straight; a blunt knife must be applied to the grindstone, if you want to make it sharp; and the nature of man, being evil, must be submitted to teachers and laws, if you want to make it correct. Our nature is from God; it cannot be obtained by learning and striving. It is erroneous to
say that the nature of man is originally good, and that it becomes bad by association and environment. If the nature of a man, with which he is born, can diverge from its original purity, that nature is gone; and this makes it clear that the nature must have been evil to start with. Indeed, if it were really good, it would need no training to keep it so. The nature of the eye is to see, and the nature of the ear is to hear; if man's nature could be regarded as something which was so at the beginning and remained so without assistance of any kind, then we might say that the nature of man is good, in the same way that we say the eyes see and the ears hear. If a man is good, that is an artificial result. For, his condition being what it is, he is influenced first of all by a desire for gain. Hence, he strives to get all he can without consideration for his neighbour. Secondly, he is liable to envy and hate. Hence, he seeks the ruin of others, and loyalty and truth are set aside. Thirdly, he is a slave to his animal passions. Hence, he commits excesses, and wanders from the path of duty and right. Thus, conformity with man's natural disposition leads to all kinds of violence, disorder, and ultimate barbarism. Only under the restraint of law and of lofty moral influences does man eventually become fit to be a member of regularly organized society. From these premises we must necessarily conclude that by nature man is evil; and that if he becomes good, that is an artificial result."
Apart from the question of man's nature at birth, Hsün Tzŭ has something to say on man's relations
with the Deity. "God," he argues, "is consistent in His actions, but it is not He who preserves the good man and destroys the bad. A ruler who responds with good government is happy; whereas bad government leads to his destruction. If a man is thrifty and economical, then God cannot make him poor; if he takes care of himself at all seasons, then God cannot make him sick; if he is single-minded in his pursuit of what is right, then God cannot bring misfortune upon him. Therefore, floods and drought will not cause him to hunger and thirst; heat and cold will not be able to affect his health; nor will devils and bogies be able to destroy him. So, too, if a man is extravagant, God cannot make him rich; if he neglects his health, God cannot make him whole; and if he strays from the true path, God cannot make him happy. Before floods and drought can reach him, he will already hunger and thirst; before cold and heat can attack him, he will already be sick; and before devils and bogies can seize him, he will already be destroyed. For such calamities," continues Hsün Tzŭ, "God is not to be blamed; and whosoever can rightly apportion the respective shares of God and man in the scheme of the universe, such a one may be styled perfect indeed."
Hsün Tzŭ set his face against superstition. "When stars fall or trees shriek, all cry out in fear, 'What's that?' I say, 'Tis nothing but some natural process which we may marvel at, not fear.'" Againa favourite quotation"God does not speak, yet the four seasons pursue their regular course; and just so,
inspired men give spiritual guidance, and the whole world obeys them. God is truth, and He expresses it by their help. He does not speak, yet we trust Him; the spirits are not angry, yet we hold them in awe. The inscrutableness of God constitutes His divinity; the unchangeableness of this divinity constitutes God. God is immanent in all things; there is nowhere where He is not. God takes cognizance of objective existences, not by the senses of hearing and sight, nor by any working of the mind, but through that principle to which all physical things and all moral questions are subordinate, which is more effective than the senses or the workings of the mind. God sees and hears through the medium of the people, and is influenced accordingly; therefore it has been said that God is the expression of the people's hearts. The spirits of nature have their limitations, and cannot make themselves everywhere heard. The spirit recognized by the inspired man is God alone, who can penetrate and make Himself known through all things."
The Chinese people decided early not to allow the logic of Hsün Tzŭ to displace the already accepted arguments of Mencius. Luckily for himself, Mencius was no longer alive when the controversy broke out. He had had a sufficient task, as it was, in combating other doctrines. "Master," said a disciple to hire, "people all say that you are fond of disputing; I venture to ask if that is so." "It is not," replied Mencius; "the fact is that I cannot do otherwise." He then proceeds to give reasons. "Unemployed
scholars," said Mencius, "are discussing unorthodox themes. The words of Yang Chu and Mo Ti fill the empire, and those who are not on the side of one will be found on the side of the other. Yang's doctrine is Every man for himself, which means that he recognizes no ruler. Mo's doctrine is Love all equally, which means that he does not recognize the special claim of a parent. But to recognize neither parent nor ruler is to be a brute beast. If these doctrines are not checked, and the doctrines of Confucius are not put forward, heterodox teachings will delude the people, and charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour will cease to prevail. Then, beasts will be led on to devour men, and men will soon be devouring one another. I am alarmed by these things, and address myself to the doctrines of the inspired men of old in order to oppose Yang and Mo."
There is another passage where Mencius, alluding to the system of ethical egoism preached by Yang Chu, has the following words: "Though he might have benefited the whole world by plucking out a single hair, he would not have done it." This is not quite fair to Yang Chu. The story is that someone said to him, "If by plucking a single hair from your body you could save the whole world, would you do it?" "The world could not possibly be saved by a single hair," replied Yang. "But if it could be so saved," said his questioner, "would you do it?" To this Yang made no reply. For us, no reply is necessary; the mere fact of such a question being
put to him is sufficient to disclose the general trend of his teachings. He was an uncompromising pessimist, and answered the famous question "is life worth living?" by an emphatic negative. He argued that even if a man lived to a hundred, so many years would have to be deducted for infancy, sleep, pain and sickness, anxiety and sorrow, and for the dotage of old age, that barely ten years would be left for not altogether unclouded enjoyment.
"What then," he asked, "can be the object of human existence? Wherein is happiness to be found?In the appointments of wealth and luxury? In the enjoyment of the pleasures of sense? Alas! those will not always charm, and these may not always be enjoyed. Besides, there is the stimulus of good report, there is the restraint of law, in things we may do and in things we may not do. And thus we struggle on for a breath of fame, scheming to be remembered after death; ever on our guard against the allurements of sense, ever on the watch over our hearts and actions. We miss whatever of real happiness is to be got out of life, never being able for a single moment to relax the vigilance of our heed. In what, indeed, do we differ from the fettered captives of a gaol? The men of old knew that with life they had come but for a while, and that with death they would shortly depart. Therefore they followed the desires of their own hearts, and did not deny themselves pleasures to which they felt naturally inclined. Fame tempted them not; but led by their instincts alone, they took such enjoyments as lay in their path,
not seeking for a name beyond the grave. They were thus out of the reach of censure; while as for precedence among men, or length or shortness of life, these gave them no concern whatever." To one who asked if speedy death would not be preferable to length of years, and suggested suicide, Yang Chu replied, "No; since you have got life, do not trouble about it, but simply bear it; enjoy yourself as best you can while waiting for death. When death is at hand, do not trouble about it, but simply face it; take that which comes, and yield yourself up to annihilation."
The philosopher Mo, who suffered at the hands of Mencius a castigation similar to that dealt out to Yang Chu, seems to have done no more than propound, as a remedy for all manner of existing evils, the simple doctrine above-mentionedan equal love of one's fellow-creatures.
As a specimen of Mo Tzŭ's reasoning, we may take the following parable. There are two men, one of whom discriminates in his love for his fellows; the other, in accordance with the teaching of Mo Tzŭ, loves all men equally. The former argues, "I cannot feel for my friend so strongly as I feel for myself, neither can I feel for my friend's parents so strongly as I feel for my own parents." As a consequence of this, he may see his friend hungry, and will not feed him; he may see him cold, and will not clothe him; he may see him sick, and will not nurse him; he may see him dead, and will not bury him. The latter argues, "He who wishes to play a
lofty part among men, will feel for his friend as he feels for himself, and for his friend's parents as for his own." Therefore, when he sees his friend hungry, he will feed him; cold, he will clothe him; sick, he will nurse him; and dead, he will bury him. Such will be the language of one who loves all men equally, and such will be his conduct. As a counsel of perfection, there is doubtless little to say against this; but Mencius was a Confucianist to the backbone, and jealous of what he fancied might involve even the faintest deviation from the way of his Master. Therefore Yang Chu and Mo Tzŭ had to go; and, in the striking words of a native critic, "Mencius snuffed them out."
Between 332 and 295 B.C. there lived one Chü Ping, a famous statesman and poet, whose name is still a household word in China. In despair at the unsatisfactory political outlook, he committed suicide by drowning; and the search for his body has ever since been commemorated at all important centres by an annual regatta, known as the Dragon Festival. His writings, which remain to us, contain many allusions to a Deitythe Deity, in fact, with whom we became so familiar in the Odes. "Man," he says, "sprang originally from God, just as the individual comes from his parents. When the span of man is at an end, he goes back to that from which he sprang. Thus it is that in the hour of bitter trial and exhaustion, there is no man but calls to God, just as in his hours of sickness and sorrow every one of us will turn to his parents."
Among his poems are some songs, written when in exile to replace the coarse ditties used at sacrifices to God. They were sung to an accompaniment of music and dancing, and a priest or augur seems to have acted as a medium between the worshippers and the Deity. One of the songs runs as follows:
[paragraph continues] The ear-plugs, mentioned above, are held by some to have been mere ornaments, hanging down from the cap in front of the ears; it seems, however, more reasonable to regard them as used for stopping up the ear, not after the fashion of Herbert Spencer to shut out conversation, but simply to keep out the dust. The coral branch, with which the augur or medium diffused fragrance, was a magical branch plucked from a coral tree in fairyland; in fact, a kind of Chinese
[paragraph continues] "golden bough." The slow time of the music was arranged to suit the slow movements of the dancer.
Another poem is addressed to "The Infinite One," whose presence is invoked on behalf of worshippers:
[paragraph continues] An attempt has been made by some Chinese critics to show that this poem is an allegory, and that the Deity with whom the writer longs to be at rest is his prince, who has fallen into evil hands and will not listen to his counsels. But it appears rather to be a general expression that he is fatigued with life, and not loth to part, his ever perfervid imagination being highly stimulated by the sacrificial ceremonies and consciousness of the divine presence. He devoted another and much longer poem, entitled "Sinking into Sadness," to chagrin at his ill-success with his prince, describing with an extraordinary wealth of imagery a flight from one end of the
universe to the other, in search of Truth and Honour, first with a phnix as his chariot, drawn by a dragon, and again in a jasper and ivory car to which flying dragons were harnessed. But all in vain; for he found himself back at his native place without having discovered the objects of his search.
Chü Ping passed on the traditional belief in a spiritual survival after death. At the end of a battle-piece he has the following lines:
In the words of a modern patriotic song
One of his longer poems consists of a string of questions addressed direct to the Deity. It is strangely entitled "God Questions," and not, as we should expect, "Questions to God," because, as the Chinese editor tells us, "God is an object of reverence and cannot be questioned; therefore the words are transposed." The poem opens as follows:
Here follows a passage on the great inundation, which some, as already mentioned, have sought to identify with the Noachian Deluge. An officer, named Kun, was first instructed by the Emperor Yao to take it in hand; but after nine years he had accomplished nothing, and the work was entrusted by the next Emperor, Shun, to the Great Yü, who, as we have before seen, carried it to a successful issue. Although it is quite out of the question that this Chinese Flood and the Deluge of the Old Testament can have had any connexion one with the other, still, it is a curious coincidence that China should have suffered from an inundation of such severity that it made quite as deep an impression upon the minds of the Chinese people as was made by the Deluge upon the minds of the Jewish people, and perhaps with equal exaggerations in both cases. Even at the present day, the two catastrophes, embalmed as they are in the sacred books of each nation, are equally familiar to both peoples. "All the high hills," says the Jewish account, "that were under the whole heaven, were covered." "The waters of the Flood," say the Chinese, "rose to the sky."
The poem rambles on to a considerable length, with questions on the myths and popular beliefs of ancient China, such as,
[paragraph continues] In several places God is mentioned; once as sending down a substitute for a wicked ruler, and again as refusing to accept the fat of sacrifice, in view of the irregular prayer with which it was accompanied. We are also told that
sometimes punishing the good, sometimes protecting the wicked, of which statement the poet quotes several historical examples. For the word "God," Shang Ti is used once; otherwise, Tien is employed, or Ti as an abbreviation of Shang Ti.
This singular poem was dealt with by Liu Tsung-yüan, a distinguished poet, who flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries of our era and published a set of "God Answers" to the famous questions, "of which," as a native critic has said, "he missed the real purport." For myself, I freely confess to missing the purport of a great many of the replies, which are wrapped up in exceedingly obscure language; while such as are easily intelligible, seem to be trivial. For instance, in reply to the question how it was that a divine girl who had no husband bore nine sons, the answer simply amounts to "because she was divine"; and the question how shutting brings darkness and opening brings light, meets with a direct denial that such is the case. We may therefore dismiss further reference to "God Answers," the author of which we shall meet again later on.
Chü Ping believed in divination, and he has left
on record an account of his experiences when trying to probe the future. Three years had elapsed since his dismissal from office, and still he was unable to obtain an audience of his prince. His fervent loyalty had been intercepted by the tongue of slander. He was broken in spirit, and knew not whither to direct his steps. In his doubt he repaired to the Chief Augur and asked for a response. Thereupon the Chief Augur arranged the divining-reeds and wiped the tortoise-shell, saying, "What, sir, are the points on which you desire to be enlightened?"
"Tell me," cried Chü Ping, "whether I should steadily pursue the path of truth and loyalty, or follow in the wake of a corrupt generation. Should I work in the fields with spade and hoe, or seek advancement in the retinue of a grandee? Should I rest content in the cultivation of virtue, or practise the art of wheedling women in order to secure success? Should I be pure and clean-handed in my rectitude, or be an oily-mouthed, slippery, timeserving sycophant? Should I hold on my course like an impetuous charger, or oscillate to and fro, with the indecision of a duck in a pool, as self-interest directs? Should I vie with the wild goose in soaring to heaven, or scramble for food on a dunghill with hens? Of these alternatives I would know which to choose. The age is muddy and will not be made clean. The wing of the cicada outweighs a thousand pounds. The priceless goblet is set aside for the delf cup. Flatterers fill high places; men of worth are ignored. Alas! who is there that knows my worth?"
The Chief Augur gathered up his divining apparatus and saluted Chü Ping, saying, "A foot is ofttimes too short; an inch, too long. The implements of my art are inadequate to your requirements. Think for yourself, and translate your thoughts into action. The divining-reeds and the tortoise-shell would avail you naught."
Tan Kung, the writer of the fourth and third centuries B.C. from whom we have already taken a note on the custom of burying people alive, provides further sidelights upon such topics as ordinary burial and mourning. "A certain man," he says, "travelled from afar to witness the funeral obsequies of Confucius. He stayed at the house of a disciple, who observed that a sage conducting a funeral is one thing, and that a sage's funeral is another, and asked the visitor what he had expected to see. 'Do you not remember,' said the disciple, 'that our Master once said, "Some persons pile up the earth over graves into square, others into long-shaped tumuli. Others are content with small heaps. I prefer the small heaps"? So we have given him only a few handfuls of earth, and he is already buried. Is not this as he would have wished it himself?'"
The question of mourning is treated by Tan Kung as follows: "One day, Yu-tzŭ and Tzŭ-yu, two of Confucius disciples, happened to see a child weeping for the loss of its parents. Thereupon the former said, 'I never could understand why mourners should necessarily jump about to show their grief; I would long ago have got rid of the custom. Now here you
have an honest expression of feeling, and that is all there should ever be.'
"'My friend,' replied Tzŭ-yu, 'the mourning ceremonial, with all its material accompaniments, is at once a check upon undue emotion and a guarantee against any lack of proper respect. Simply to give vent to the feelings is the way of barbarians. That is not our way.
"'Consider. A man who is pleased will show it in his face. He will sing. He will get excited. He will dance. So, too, a man who is vexed will look sad. He will sigh. He will beat his breast. He will jump about. The due regulation of these emotions is the function of a set ceremonial.
"'Further, a man dies and becomes an object of loathing. A dead body is shunned. Therefore a shroud is prepared, and other paraphernalia of burial, in order that the survivors may cease to loathe. At death there is a sacrifice of wine and meat; when the funeral procession is about to start there is another; and after burial there is yet a third sacrifice. Yet no one has ever seen the spirit of the departed come to taste the food.
"'These have been our customs from remote antiquity. They have not been discarded, because, in consequence, men no more shun the dead. What you may censure in those who perform the ceremonial is no blemish in the ceremonial itself.'"
The same writer introduces into the same subject the question of a divorced mother. He tells how the son of Tzŭ-ssŭ, the grandson of Confucius, who
had divorced his wife, refused to attend the funeral of his divorced mother, and how his father was interrogated by one of his own disciples, saying, "Did not your father attend his divorced mother's funeral (alluding to the divorced wife of Confucius), and if so, why cannot you make your son do likewise?" "My grandfather," replied Tzŭ-ssŭ, "was a man of complete virtue. With him, whatever was, was right. I cannot aspire to his level. For me, so long as the deceased was my wife, she was my son's mother. When she ceased to be my wife, she ceased also to be his mother." From that time forth, it became the rule among the descendants of Confucius not to attend the funeral of a divorced mother.
Three divorces in four generations of the same family might lead to the inference that divorce has always been common in China; but whatever may have been the case in ancient times, of which even the most meagre statistics are wanting, it is quite certain that nowadays divorce, which has always been justified under certain conditions, is of very rare occurrence. The lady's family has to be reckoned with, and her relatives and friends take care that justice is done. Premising that, in China, the dog has always been regarded as an unclean animal, and is used as a term of abuse, we read that a man, named Pao Yung, who lived about the time of the Christian era, has ever since been lauded for his filial piety, because he divorced his wife, somewhat harshly as we should think, for calling her mother-in-law a bitch.
On the subject of mourning and funeral rites, there is a story told by Tan Kung of Confucius, generally stigmatized as a formalist and an inveterate stickler for etiquette, which shows the Master in a somewhat broader light. An old friend having lost his mother, Confucius went to assist in varnishing the coffin. "Well, well," exclaimed the friend, "tis long since I have had any music." Thereupon he began to singa grave breach of Chinese decorum. Confucius pretended not to hear, and moved away; but one of his disciples cried out, "Master! should you not have done with a fellow like this?" "It is certainly not right," replied Confucius, "to disregard the duties we owe to our parents; but neither is it right to disregard the duties we owe to our friends."
The last quarter of the third century B.C. witnessed the final disappearance of the Feudal System, which had endured, with more or less vigour, for the long period of over eight hundred years. China now became an empire, under the self-named "First Emperor," whose successors were to be called Second, Third, Fourth, and so on, for ever. We need not here linger over the historical fact that the Second Emperor was deposed and put to death, thus bringing the Chin dynasty, as it was styled, to an early end; but it is necessary, in order to a full understanding of the literature and religion of China, to mention an extraordinary event which occurred under the preceding reign. The First Emperor, about B.C. 212, issued instructions, at the suggestion of his prime
minister, that all records of previous dynasties and all copies of existing books, with the exception of those on medicine, divination, or agriculture, should be forthwith burned. The advice was given partly out of flattery to the Emperor, from whose reign literature and history would take a fresh start, and partly with a view of strengthening the recently established house. It was immediately put into force as law, and subsequently several hundred scholars were buried alive for their disobedience in concealing forbidden volumes. Thus perished many valuable works; and it was only by stealth that others, including the prohibited portions of the Confucian Canonthe Canon of Changes being classified as a work on divinationwere hidden away by devoted enthusiasts, and subsequently discovered and preserved for future ages. In fact, so soon after the catastrophe did the revival take place, that scholars were still to be found who could repeat large portions of certain books by heart. This was all as it should be; unfortunately, however, the opportunity was seized by evil-disposed persons to "recover" various works, some of which had actually been destroyed in the great holocaust, or had already disappeared by mere efflux of time, and others which had never previously existed at all. An era of forgery set in, and of skilful forgery too, but not sufficiently skilful to defy the acumen of critics of a later age. This is all that it is necessary to say at the moment in reference to the Burning of the Books.
In our present connexion, this Emperor plays an
important part as having been the first monarch to ascend and worship Mt. Tai in Shantung, which is one, and in a religious sense the most important, of the five sacred mountains of China. 1 By this date, the old monotheism, with its associated worship of spiritual ancestors, had become extensively overlaid with various forms of nature worship. The sun, moon, and stars had long shared with rivers, mountains, trees, thunder, the house-door, the hearth, etc., etc., in the propitiatory sacrifices and prayers which had once been offered to God and to ancestors alone. Great heights have always had an attraction of their own, with perhaps a special appeal in reference to supernatural phenomena. An old poet of the Tang dynasty (Liu Yü-hsi, A.D. 772-842) says,
[paragraph continues] Mt. Tai forms no exception to the rule. It is, in fact, a divinity, manifesting itself from time to time under human form. Five centuries before Christ, the story goes that a prince of the Chi State, that is, of modern Shantung, saw in a dream two men who appeared to be violently enraged, and he was told by an augur that they were the spirits of Mt. Tai, angry because the prince's army had passed the mountain without offering the usual sacrifice. No explanation is given of the two spirits, who ever afterwards were content to be worshipped as a single being. The chief favours sought from the mountain
were (1) rain and fine weather in due season, in order to produce abundant crops for the farmer, and food for the people at large; (2) protection from earthquakes, thunder-storms, and such dangers as were supposed to be connected with the appearance of comets, eclipses, and other natural phenomena. In addition to these occasions of entering into communication with the spirit of the mountain, some Emperors thought it advisable to announce their accession to the throne, as a policy of conciliation in advance.
Approval and assistance were also invoked in the event of a campaign in distant regions, with a view to the preservation of life as well from the risks of disease as from death and wounds in the ordinary course of war. Prayers, many of which are still extant, were addressed to the mountain, not as an independent deity whose fiat was all that it was necessary to obtain, but as a mediator between God and man, and one especially well situated by virtue of elevation to convey human entreaties to the far-off Supreme Ruler in the sky. On the other hand, the mountain was saddled with full responsibility for the success of the negotiations between God and man. One Emperor, so late as 1455, to anticipate chronological order, made this quite clear in his address, as follows: "If it is through my wrong-doings that I have drawn down these calamities, I shall not indeed seek to escape from personal responsibility; but in the matter of changing misfortune into happiness, it is really you, O divine one, whose duty it is to attend
to that. If after my error you fail to bring about a satisfactory issue, you will then he as guilty as I am; but if, on the contrary, you change misfortune into happiness, whose merit will be equal to yours?" Again, on the occasion of a disastrous flood, the same Emperor addresses the mountain in similar terms: "Upon whom rests the responsibility? Undoubtedly, this calamity is due to my lack of virtue; but you too, O divine one, how can you escape from blame? It is your business to see that, when the waters burst forth, profit may ensue, and that they may be for the advantage and not for the distress of the people. Thus, both you and I will have done our duty; in the eyes of God we shall have committed no crime, and in the eyes of the people there will be nothing for which we need blush."
The east is regarded by the Chinese as the source of life; it is from that quarter that the sun daily renews its light, after being nightly extinguished in the waves of the western sea. Mt. Tai dominates the east; and consequently, when an Emperor desired a son, it was to this mountain that he addressed his prayer: "From of old, your divine influence has been concentrated upon the production of life. You dominate one quarter of the empire, and secretly give assistance to the State. I, with all my imperfections, have now for eleven years been the respectful depositary of the will of God, and during this period I have reverently served the spirits of heaven and earth without any neglect. I have no heir, and this causes me constant anxiety. Therefore I have
specially prepared a fitting offering, to wit, a sacrificial animal, silk, unfermented wine, and vegetables, and I have deputed an officer to convey this humble prayer, hoping that by virtue of your supernatural power you will obtain for me an heir, and thus prolong the happiness and duration of my line, and at the same time secure to yourself the blessing of sacrificial worship for ever and ever."
Some of the still extant prayers addressed to the mountain read more like invocations of God Himself. For instance, one prayer opens thus: "O Thou Spirit, who since the beginning of the world hast ruled with might over the eastern quarter, who bringest the clouds and the rain, and dost nourish in abundance all living creatures, etc., etc."
The functions of Mt. Tai have not been restricted to care for the living; at a very early date the mountain came to be regarded as the rendezvous of the dead, whose souls found their way thither after death, and settled down on a small hill hard by, where relatives often put up tablets to their memory. This connexion with the dead gave rise to the belief that the mountain was in some way an arbiter of human existence, in consequence of which it became customary to address to the spirit prayers for the prolongation of life.
The ascent of Mt. Tai by the First Emperor seems to have been nothing more than an incident, as compared with a similar ascent, B.C. 110, by Wu Ti of the Han dynasty, one of China's most famous Emperors, whose long reign extended from B.C. 140
down to B.C. 86. Wu Ti decided that the ceremony should not be a public one, and he took with him to the summit of the mountain a single official only. Why this secrecy should have been practised is not actually known. It has been suggested that the Emperor's object was to obtain for himself happiness and longevity, and to divert to his attendant, as a scapegoat, any possible misfortunes in the future which might otherwise fall to his own lot. The point in question will always remain a mystery; within a few days the attendant was suddenly taken ill and died, leaving no one behind, except the Emperor, who could say what had actually taken place.
Upon four more occasions, at intervals of several years, this same Emperor repeated his pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Tai; and his example was followed by the Emperor Kuang Wu of the Later Han dynasty in A.D. 56; by the Emperors Kao Tsung and Hsüan Tsung, both of the Tang dynasty, in A.D. 666 and 725 respectively; by the Emperor Chên Tsung of the Sung dynasty in A.D. 1008, an account of which will be given in its more chronological place; and finally by the vigorous Manchu Emperor Kang Hsi in 1684. Gradually there grew up two definite services of religious rites and ceremonies, known as fêng and shan, the former consisting of sacrifices to God as father, and the latter of sacrifices to Earth as mother, of all living things. On arrival at the foot of Mt. Tai, the worshipper began by a preliminary sacrifice at a special altar on a small hill, in order to
announce to the spirit that the ascent of the mountain was about to be made. The more important sacrifice was reserved for the summit, on which a second altarboth were round in shapehad been prepared on a larger scale. A similar sacrifice to Mother Earth was also performed on the summit, and a second sacrifice, after descending, on an octagonal altar built on another small hill at the foot of Mt. Tai. For the fêng ceremonial the offerings were burnt, as in ordinary sacrificial worship, so that they might be carried up by fire and smoke into the presence of God; for the shan ceremonial in honour of Mother Earth, the offerings were buried. These rites were no longer personal on the part of the Emperor concerned, that is, performed with an eye to individual benefits, such as happiness and long life; their chief object was to acknowledge to God and to Mother Earth, through the medium of the mountain spirit, the blessings which had been vouchsafed to the reigning house, and to render thanks for the same. This fact was recorded by inscriptions on two tablets of jade, which were carefully enclosed in two stone chests and then deposited, one on the summit of Mt. Tai, to be communicated to God, and the other on the shan hill at the foot of the mountain, to be communicated to Mother Earth.
The worship of Mt. Tai, to which we shall return in a future lecture, has spread all over China, and temples dedicated to its spirit are to be found in most large towns. Any worshipper may now approach these shrines, and offer up his commonplace prayers.
[paragraph continues] It was not always so. When, in the days of Confucius, the head of a powerful clan proposed to sacrifice to Mt. Tai, the Master was horrified that a vassal should venture to usurp the rights of his suzerain. He consoled himself, however, by reflecting that the spirit of the mountain would assuredly resent the affront.
It will be convenient here to say a few words about another minor deity, whose worship dates from early ages, and is still, with such modifications as time brings about, in the forefront of Chinese religious life. We need not accept too literally the native tradition that agriculture was first taught to the Chinese by an inspired Emperor who lived some thirty centuries before the Christian era; on the other hand, we may take it for certain that so soon as it became a matter of routine to extract from the earth a much more satisfactory livelihood than could be obtained from berries and fruits, a desire to secure regular supplies would naturally suggest to man's growing intelligence the deification of the source of supply and some form of propitiatory recognition. It was thus that the agriculturalist came to look upon the earthnot the whole earth as contrasted with the sky, but his own particular portion of the soilas a conscious being, able to provide at will for his daily necessities, and amenable to the soft flattery of sacrifice and prayer. The soil, with its apparent powers of yielding or withholding its vegetable products, became a goda fifth among the cluster of family deities, the gods of the kitchen-stove, of the
well, of the front door, and of the parlour. The god of the soil once had his seat in every house, below a small hole in the roof which admitted both light and especially rain, for the latter of which it was necessary to preserve an uninterrupted line of communication with the sky. We are told that this hole originated with underground dwellings built in layers, one over another; but in such case it is more than probable that the god of the soil had nothing to do with the matter, even if he had ever been heard of by the inhabitants of such primitive homes. However this may be, it was of paramount importance that the altar of the god should be without roof or covering of any kind; and thus these altars were always built, as by degrees the worship ceased to be an individual rite and became a public rite, until first villages and later large cities possessed altars which belonged to the people in common. When, in 1766 B.C., Tang the Completer had destroyed the last evil Emperor of the dynasty of Hsia, he wished to remove the altar of the god of the soil who had been associated with the rulers of that time; but he found that this plan would be undesirable, for technical reasons. Being a man of resources, he speedily hit upon means to achieve the end in view. He put a roof over the spot, and from that moment all spirituality was gone. The roofed altar was preserved, as a reminder of the justice of God.
Worship of the god of the soil may still be seen nightly in any Chinese city. At the doors of shops and houses, lighted sticks of incense are set before
small stone tablets which record the presence of the god, worshipped here no longer for agricultural assistance, but for anything that can be got out of him.
The attempt to deal chronologically with traces of the genuinely religious feelings of the Chinese people has brought us, with some necessary anticipations, down to the time of the Christian era, or thereabouts. We must now break off what is meant to be the main thread of these lectures in order to deal with other strands of thought, which have for many centuries largely influenced, and do still largely influence, the religious life of the Chinese.
108:1 Of the ancient Chinese scale.
120:1 See Le Tai Chan, by Prof. E. Chavannes.