(1894 version) Chinese Characteristics CHAPTER XXVI. POLYTHEISM, PANTHEISM, ATHEISM


CONFUCIANISM, as a system of thought, is among the most remarkable intellectual achievements of the race. It is true that the Western reader cannot escape a feeling that much of what he finds in the Confucian Classics is jejune. But it is not merely by perusing them that we are to receive our most forcible impressions of what the Chinese Classics are and have been, but by contemplating their effects. Here is the Chinese race, by far the mightiest aggregation of human beings in any one nation on earth, "with a written history extending as far back as that of any other which the world has known, the only nation that has throughout retained its nationality, and has never been ousted from the land where it first appeared," existing, for aught that appears, in much the same way as in hoary antiquity. What is the explanation of this unexampled fact? By what means has this incomputable mass of human beings, dwelling on the Chinese plains from the dawn of history until now, been controlled, and how is it that they appear to be an exception to the universal law of the decay and death of nations?

Those who have investigated this subject most thoroughly are united in declaring that this result is due to the fact that, whereas other nations have depended upon physical force, the Chinese have depended upon moral forces. No student, of history, no observant traveller who knows human nature, can fail to be impressed, to the point of deep awe, with the thought of the marvellous restraining power which Chinese morality has exerted upon the race from the earliest times until now. "It would be hard to overestimate," says Dr. Williams, "the influence of Confucius in his ideal princely scholar, and the power for good over his race which this conception has ever since exerted. The immeasurable influence in after-ages of the character thus portrayed proves how lofty was his own standard, and the national conscience has ever since assented to the justice of the portrait." "The teaching of Confucianism on human duty," says Dr. Legge, "is wonderful and admirable. It is not perfect, indeed. But on the last three of the four things which Confucius delighted to teach — letters, ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness — his utterances are in harmony both with the Law and the Gospel. A world ordered by them would be a beautiful world."

The entire freedom of the Chinese classical works from anything which could debase the mind of the readers is a most important characteristic which has been often pointed out, and which is in the greatest possible contrast to the literatures of India, Greece, and Rome. "No people," says Mr. Meadows, "whether of ancient or modem times, has possessed a sacred literature so completely exempt as the Chinese from licentious descriptions, and from every offensive expression. There is not a single sentence in the whole of the Sacred Books and their annotations that may not be read aloud in any family circle in England. Again, in every other non-Christian country, idolatry has been associated with human sacrifices and with the deification of vice, accompanied by licentious rites and orgies. Not a sign of all this exists in China."

The direct personal responsibility of the Emperor to heaven for the quality of his rule; the exaltation of the people as of more importance than the rulers; the doctrine that the virtuous and able should be the rulers, and that their rule must be based upon virtue; the comprehensive theory of the five relations of men to each other; the doctrine that no one should do to another what he would not have that other do to him — these points have stood out like mountain-peaks from the general level of Chinese thought, and have attracted the attention of all observers. In closing what we have to say of the Chinese, we wish to place emphasis upon the moral excellences of the Confucian system, for it is only by putting those excellences in their true light that we can hope to arrive at any just comprehension of the Chinese people. Those excellences have made the Chinese pre-eminently amenable to moral forces. The employment of the classical writings in the civil service examinations for successive ages has unified the minds of the people to a marvellous degree, and the powerful motives thus brought into play, leading every candidate for a degree to hope for the stability of the government as a prerequisite to his own success, has doubtless been a principal factor in the perpetuation of the Chinese people to this present time.

Whether the Chinese ever did have a knowledge of one true God is indeed a point of considerable interest. Those who have examined most critically the classical writings of the Chinese assure us that the weight of scholarship is upon the side of the affirmative. By others who have a claim to an independent judgment, this proposition is altogether denied. If the Chinese ever did recognise the true God, that knowledge has certainly been most effectually lost, like an inscription on an ancient coin now covered with the accumulated rust of millenniums. To us the question seems to be of very much less practical concern than some would make it, and for our present purposes it may be altogether ignored. What concerns us in our present inquiry is neither a historical nor a theoretical matter, but a practical one, to wit. What is the relation which exists between the Chinese and their divinities?

It is in some cases not difficult to trace the stages by which the heroes and worthies of antiquity from being honoured came to be commemorated, and from being merely commemorated came to be worshipped. All the gods of China may be said to have been dead men, and by the rite of ancestral worship it may be affirmed that in a sense all the dead men of China are gods. Temples are constantly erected by the consent of the Emperor, to men who while living had in various ways distinguished themselves. It is impossible to say that any one of these men may not in the slow evolution of ages rise to the highest place among the national divinities. There can be no doubt whatever that as a nation the Chinese are polytheistic. That there is a tendency in man towards the worship of nature is a mere truism. The recognition of irresistible and unknown forces leads to their personification and to external acts of adoration, based upon the supposition that these forces are sentient. Thus temples to the gods of wind, thunder, etc., abound. The north star is an object of constant worship. There are temples to the sun and to the moon in Peking, in connection with the Imperial worship, but in some regions the worship of the sun is a regular act of routine on the part of the people in general, on a day in the second month which they designate as his "birthday." Early in the morning the villagers go out to the east to meet the sun, and in the evening they go out towards the west to escort him on his way. This ends the worship of the sun for a year.

An exceedingly common manifestation of this nature-worship is in the reverence for trees, which in some provinces (as, for example, in northwestern Honan) is so exceedingly common that one may pass hundreds of trees of all sizes, each of them hung with bannerets indicating that it is the abode of some spirit. Even when there is no external symbol of worship, the superstition exists in full force. If a fine old tree is seen standing in front of a wretched hovel, it is morally certain that the owner of the tree dare not cut it down on account of the divinity within.

It is often supposed that the Emperor is the only individual in the Empire who has the prerogative of worshipping heaven. The very singular and interesting ceremonies which are performed in the Temple of Heaven by the Emperor in person are no doubt unique. But it would be news to the people of China as a whole that they do not and must not worship heaven and earth each for themselves. The houses often have a small shrine in the front wall facing the south, and in some regions this is called the shrine to heaven and earth. Multitudes of Chinese will testify that the only act of religious worship which they ever perform (aside from ancestral rites) is a prostration and an offering to heaven and earth on the first and fifteenth of each moon, or, in some cases, on the beginning of each new year. No prayer is uttered, and after a time the offering is removed, and, as in other cases, eaten. What is it that at such times the people worship? Sometimes they affirm that the object of worship is "heaven and earth." Sometimes they say that it is "heaven,'' and again they call it "the old man of the sky." The latter term often leads to an impression that the Chinese do have a real perception of a personal deity. But when it is ascertained that this supposed "person" is frequently matched by another called "grandmother earth," the value of the inference is open to serious question. In some places it is customary to offer worship to this "old man of the sky" on the nineteenth of the sixth moon, as that is his "birthday." But among a people who assign a "birthday" to the sun, it is superfluous to inquire who was the father of "the old man of the sky," or when he was born, for on matters of this sort there is absolutely no opinion at all. It is difficult to make an ordinary Chinese understand that such questions have any practical bearing. He takes the tradition as he finds it, and never dreams of raising any inquiries upon this point or any other. We have seldom met any Chinese who had an intelligible theory with regard to the antecedents or qualities of "the old man of the sky," except that he is supposed to regulate the weather, and hence the crops. The wide currency among the Chinese people of this term, hinting at a personality, to whom, however, so far as we know, no temples are erected, of whom no image is made, and to whom no worship distinct from that to "heaven and earth" is offered, seems to remain thus far unexplained.

The word "heaven" is often used in the Chinese Classics in such a way as to convey the idea of personality and will. But it is likewise employed in a manner which suggests very little of either, and when we read in the commentary that "heaven is a principle," we feel that the vagueness of the term is at its maximum. To this ambiguity in classical use corresponds the looseness of meaning given to it in everyday life. The man who has been worshipping heaven, upon being pressed to know what he means by "heaven," will frequently reply that it is the blue expanse above. His worship is therefore in harmony with that of him who worships the powers of nature, either individually or collectively. His creed may be described in Emersonian phrase as "one with the blowing clover and the falling rain." In other words, he is a pantheist. This lack of any definite sense of personality is a fatal flaw in the Chinese worship of "heaven."

The polytheism and pantheism of the lower classes of Chinese are matched in the upper classes by what appears to be pure atheism. From the testimony of those who know most on this point, from the abundant surface indications, and from antecedent probability, we have no difficulty in concluding that there never was on this earth a body of educated and, cultivated men so thoroughly agnostic and atheistic as the mass of Confucian scholars.* The phrase ''antecedent probability" refers to the known influence which has been exerted over the literati of China by the materialistic commentators of the Sung Dynasty. The authority of Chu Hsi, the learned expounder of the Chinese Classics, has been so overwhelming that to question any of his views has long been regarded as heresy. The effect has been to overlay the teachings of the Classics with an interpretation which is not only materialistic, but which, so far as we understand it, is totally atheistic.

* Mr. Meadows remarks that every consistent Confucianist ought to be a blank atheist, but as human nature is seldom ideally self-consistent, many Confucianists either believe in the gods, or think that they do so.


After the Yellow River emerges from the mountains of Shansi and Shensi, it continues its way for hundreds of miles to the sea. In successive ages it has taken many different routes, ranging through six or seven degrees of latitude, from the mouth of the Yang-tse-Kiang to that of the Peiho. But wherever it has flowed it has carried ruin, and has left behind it a barren waste of sand. Not unlike this has been the materialistic current introduced by the commentators of the Sung Dynasty into the stream of Chinese thought, a current which, having flowed unchecked for seven centuries, has left behind it a moral waste of atheistic sand, incapable of supporting the spiritual life of a nation. Taoism has degenerated into a system of incantations against evil spirits. It has largely borrowed from Buddhism to supplement its own innate deficiencies. Buddhism was itself introduced to provide for those inherent wants in the nature of man which Confucianism did little or nothing to satisfy. Each of these forms of instruction has been greatly modified by the others. Any kind of organisation which offers a method of practising virtue will be patronised by those who happen to be disposed to lay up a little merit, and to whom this avenue appears as good as any other. Any kind of a divinity which seems adapted to exert a favourable influence in any given direction will be patronised, just as a man who happens to need a new umbrella goes to some shop where they keep such goods for sale. To inquire into the antecedents of the divinity who is thus worshipped, no more occurs to a Chinese than it would occur to an Englishman who wanted the umbrella to satisfy himself as to the origin of umbrellas, and when they first came into general use.

It is not uncommon to meet with learned disquisitions upon the question as to the number of Buddhists and Taoists in China. In our view this question is exactly paralleled by an inquiry into the number of persons in the United Kingdom who use ten-penny nails as compared with the number of those who eat string-beans. Any one who wants to use a ten-penny nail will do so if he can obtain it, and those who like string-beans and can afford to buy them will presumptively consume them. The case is not different in China as regards the two most prominent "doctrines." Any Chinese who wants the services of a Buddhist priest, and who can afford to pay for them, will hire the priest, and thus be "a Buddhist." If he wants a Taoist priest, he will in like manner call him, and this makes him "a Taoist." It is of no consequence to the Chinese which of the two he employs, and he will not improbably call them both at once, and thus be at once "a Buddhist" and "a Taoist." Thus the same individual is at once a Confucianist, a Buddhist, and a Taoist, and with no sense of incongruity. Buddhism swallowed Taoism, Taoism swallowed Confucianism, but at last the latter swallowed both Buddhism and Taoism together, and ±us "the three religions are one!"

The practical relation of the Chinese to their "three religions" may be illustrated by the relations of an Anglo-Saxon to the materials of which his language is composed: "Saxon and Norman and Dane are we;" but even were it possible to determine our remote origin, the choice of our words would not be influenced in the smallest degree by the extent to which we may happen to have Saxon or Norman blood in our veins. Our selection of words will be determined by our mental habits, and by the use to which we wish to put the words. The scholar will use many Latin words, with liberal admixture of the Norman, while the farmer will use mostly plain Saxon terms. But in either case the Saxon is the base, to which the other stocks are but additions. In China Confucianism is the base, and all Chinese are Confucianists, as all English are Saxons. To what extent Buddhist or Taoist ideas, phraseology, and practices may be superimposed upon this base, will be determined by circumstances. But to the Chinese there is no more incongruity or contradiction in the combination of the "three religions" in one ceremony, than there is to our thought in the interweaving of words of diverse national origin in the same sentence.

It is always difficult to make a Chinese perceive that two forms of belief are mutually exclusive. He knows nothing about logical contradictories, and cares even less. He has learned by instinct the art of reconciling propositions which are inherently irreconcilable, by violently affirming each of them, paying no heed whatever to their mutual relations. He is thus prepared by all his intellectual training to allow the most incongruous forms of belief to unite, as fluids mingle by endosmosis and exosmosis. He has carried "intellectual hospitality" to the point of logical suicide, but he does not know it, and cannot be made to understand it when he is told.

Two results of this mechanical union of creeds are very noteworthy. The first is the violence done to the innate instinct of order, an instinct for which the Chinese are especially distinguished, which is conspicuously displayed in the elaborate machinery of the carefully graded ranks of officials, from the first to the ninth, each marked by its own badge, and having its own special limitations. Something analogous to this might certainly have been looked for in the Chinese pantheon, but nothing of the sort is found. It is vain to inquire of a Chinese which divinity is supposed to be the greater, the "Pearly Emperor" or Buddha. Even in the "Temple-to-all-the-gods" the order is merely arbitrary and accidental, and subject to constant variations. There is no regular graduation of authority in the spirit world of the Chinese, but such utter confusion as, if found on earth, would be equivalent to chronic anarchy. This state of things is seen in a still more conspicuous manner in the "Halls of the Three Religions," where the images of Confucius, of Buddha, and of Laotze are displayed in a close harmony. The post of honour is in the centre, and this we should expect to be conceded to Confucius, or if not to him — since he made no claim of any kind to divinity — then to Laotze. There is good reason to think that this question of precedence has been in by-gone days the occasion of acrimonious disputes, but in nearly all the instances of which we happen to have heard, it has been settled in favour of Buddha, albeit a foreigner!

Another significant result of the union of all beliefs in China, is the debasement of man's moral nature to the lowest level found in any of the creeds. This is in accordance with a law akin to that by which a baser currency invariably displaces that which is better. All the lofty maxims of Confucianism have been wholly ineffective in guarding the Confucianists from fear of the goblins and devils which figure so largely in Taoism. It has often been remarked, and with every appearance of truth, that there is no other civilised nation in existence which is under such bondage to superstition and credulity as the Chinese. Wealthy merchants and learned scholars are not ashamed to be seen, on the two days of the month set apart for that purpose, worshipping the fox, the weasel, the hedgehog, the snake, and the rat, all of which in printed placards are styled "Their Excellencies," and are thought to have an important effect on human destiny.

It is not many years since the most prominent statesman in China fell on his knees before a water-snake which some one had been pleased to represent as an embodiment of the god of floods, supposed to be the incarnation of an official of a former dynasty, whose success in dealing with brimming rivers was held to be miraculous. This habit of worshipping a snake, alleged to be a god, whenever floods devastate China appears to be a general one. In districts at a distance from a river, any ordinary land-serpent will pass as a god and "no questions asked." If the waters subside, extensive theatrical performances may be held in honour of the god who has granted this boon, to wit, the snake, which is placed on a tray in a temple or other public place for the purpose. The District Magistrate, and all other officers, go there every day to prostrate themselves and to bum incense to the divinity. A river-god is generally regarded as the rain -god in regions adjacent to waterways, but at a little distance in the interior, the god of war, Kuan Ti, is much more likely to be worshipped for the same purpose; but sometimes both are supplanted by the goddess of mercy. To a Chinese this does not seem at all irrational, for his mind is free from all presumptions as to the unity of nature, and it is very hard for him to appreciate the absurdity, even when it is demonstrated to him.

In connection with these prayers for rain, another curious and most significant fact has often been brought to our notice. In the famous Chinese novel called "Travels to the West," one of the principal characters was originally a monkey hatched from a stone, and by slow degrees of evolution developed into a man. In some places this imaginary being is worshipped as a rain-god, to the exclusion of both the river-god and the god of war. No instance could put in a clearer light than this the total lack in China of any dividing line between the real and the fictitious. To a Western mind causes and effects are correlative. What may be the intuitions of cause and effect in the mind of a Chinese who prays to a non-existent monkey to induce a fall of rain, we are not able to conjecture.

The gods of the Chinese being of this heterogeneous description, it is of importance to inquire what the Chinese do with them. To this question there are two answers: they worship them, and they neglect them. It is not very uncommon to meet with estimates of the amount which the whole Chinese nation expends for incense, paper money, etc., in the course of a year. Such estimates are of course based upon a calculation of the apparent facts in some special district, which is taken as a unit, and then used as a multiplier for all the other districts of the Empire. Nothing can be more precarious than so-called "statistics" of this sort, which have literally no more validity than that census of a cloud of mosquitoes which was taken by a man who "counted until he was tired, and then estimated."

There is very little which one can be safe in predicating of the Chinese Empire as a whole. Of this truth the worship in Chinese temples is a conspicuous example. The traveller who lands in Canton, and who perceives the clouds of smoke arising from the incessant offerings to the divinities most popular there, will conclude that the Chinese are among the most idolatrous people in the world. But let him restrain his judgment until he has visited the other end of the Empire, and he will find multitudes of the temples neglected, absolutely unvisited except on the first and fifteenth of the moon, in many cases not then, and perhaps not even at the New-Year, when, if ever, the Chinese instinct of worship prevails. He will find hundreds of thousands of temples the remote origin of which is totally lost in antiquity, and which are occasionally repaired, but of which the people can give no account and for which they have no regard. He will find hundreds of square miles of populous territory in which there is to be seen scarcely a single priest, either Taoist or Buddhist. In these regions he will generally find no women in the temples, and the children allowed to grow up without the smallest instruction as to the necessity of propitiating the gods. In other parts of China the condition of things is totally different, and the external rites of idolatry are interwoven into the smallest details of the life of each separate day.

The religious forces of Chinese society may be compared to the volcanic forces which have built up the Hawaiian Islands. In the most northern and western members of the group the volcanoes have for ages been extinct, and their sites marked only by broken-down crater-pits now covered with luxuriant vegetation. But on the southeastern member of the group the fires are still in active operation, and continue at intervals to shake the island from centre to circumference. In some of the oldest parts of China there is the least attention paid to temple worship, and in some of the provinces which at the time of China's greatest glory were wild and barbarous regions, idolatry is most flourishing. But it is easy to be misled by surface indications such as these. It is quite possible that they may pass for more than they are worth, and before well-grounded inferences can be safely drawn the subject requires much fuller investigation than it has as yet received.

To "reverence the gods, but to keep at a distance from them," was the advice of Confucius. It is not strange, therefore, that his followers at the present day consider respectful neglect to be the most prudent treatment for the multitudinous and incongruous divinities in the Chinese pantheon. When contrasted with the Mongols or the Japanese, the Chinese people are felt to be comparatively free from the bias of religion. It is common to see over the doors of temples the classical expression, "Worship the gods as if they were present." The popular instinct has taken at its true value the uncertainty conveyed in the words "as if," and has embodied them in current sayings which accurately express the state of mind of the mass of the people:

"Worship the gods as if they came,

But if you don't, it's all the same."

"Worship the gods as if the gods were there,

But if you worship not, the gods don't care."

One Step beyond respectful neglect of the gods is ceremonial reverence, which consists in performing a certain routine in a certain way, with no other thought than that of securing certain external results by so doing.

The idea of solemnity appears to be foreign to the Chinese mind. We do not know how to speak of it without expressing an idea of what is merely decorum. All Chinese worship of Chinese divinities, of which we have ever been cognisant, has appeared to be either routine ceremonial, or else a mere matter of barter — so much worship for so much benefit. When "the old man of the sky" is spoken of as a being, and to be reverenced, the uniform presentation of this aspect, to the exclusion of all others, shows in a most decisive manner what the worship really is. "Because we have our food and clothes from him," is the reply when a Chinese is asked why he makes periodical prostrations to this "person." Even when the individual has no definite opinions as to the real existence of such a being, this does not prevent his conformity to the rite. The ancients did so, and he does as they did. Whether it is of any use "who knows?"

This habit of looking at religious ceremonial from a superficial standpoint is well illustrated in a couplet which is sometimes posted, in a semi-satirical sense, upon the pillars of a neglected shrine:

"When the temple has no priest, the wind sweeps the floor;

If the building is without a light, the moon acts as lamp."

The gods are worshipped, just as in Western lands an insurance policy is taken out, because it is the safer way. "It is better to believe that the gods exist," says the popular saying, "than to believe that they do not exist;" that is, if they do not exist at all, there is no harm done; whereas if they do exist, and are neglected, they may be angry and revengeful. The gods are supposed to be actuated by the motives which are known to actuate men. It is a proverb that one who has a sheep's head (for a temple offering) can get whatever he desires, and also that those divinities, such as the "Three Pure Ones," who have nothing special to bestow, will always be poor, while the goddess of mercy and the god of war will be the ones honoured and enriched.

Not only do the Chinese base the argument for the worship of the gods upon the strictly hypothetical foundation, "it can do no harm, and it may do some good," but they go a step farther, into a region where it is totally impossible for an Occidental mind to follow them. They often say and appear to think, "If you believe in them, then there really are gods; but if you do not believe in them, then there are none!" This mode of speech (a mode of thought it can scarcely be called) resembles that of a Chinese who should say: "If you believe in the Emperor, then there is one; but if you do not believe in one, then there is no Emperor." When this analogy is pointed out, the Chinese are ready enough to admit it, but they do not appear to perceive it for themselves by any necessary process.

There are many Chinese worshippers who are to be seen making a prostration at every step, sometimes occupying very long periods of time in going on tedious and difficult pilgrimages. When asked what is their motive for submitting to these austerities, they will tell us that as there is so much false worship of the gods, it is necessary for worshippers to demonstrate by these laborious means that their hearts are sincere. Whatever may be said in regard to such exceptional instances, we have no hesitation in affirming that all that has been already said of the absence of sincerity among the Chinese, in their relations to one another, applies with even greater force to much of their worship. The photograph of a group of priests belonging to a temple near Peking is a perfect masterpiece in the representation of serpentine cunning. Men who have such faces live lives to correspond with their faces.

It is as true of the Chinese as it has been of other nations in heathenism, that they have conceived of their gods as altogether such as they are themselves, and not without reason, for many of the gods are the countrymen of those who worship them. The writer once saw a proclamation posted in the name of the goddess of mercy, informing the world that representations had been made at the court of heaven to the effect that mankind were waxing very vicious. The "Pearly Emperor" of the divinities, upon hearing this, was very angry, and in a loud tone reviled all the subordinate gods because they had failed to reform mankind by exhortation! Human beings are supposed to be surrounded by a cloud of spirits, powerful for evil, but subject to bribes, flattery, cajolery, and liable to be cheated. A Chinese is anxious to take advantage of the man with whom he makes a bargain, and he is not less anxious to take advantage — if he can — of the god with whom he makes a bargain — in other words, the god to whom he prays. Perhaps he purchases felicity by subscribing towards the repair of a temple, but he not improbably has his subscription of two hundred and fifty cash registered as a thousand. The god will take the account as it stands. While the temple is in process of repair a piece of red paper is perhaps pasted over the eyes of each god, that he may not see the confusion by which he is surrounded and which is not considered respectful. If the temple is situated at the outskirts of a village, and is in too frequent use by thieves as a place in which to divide their booty, the door may be almost or even altogether bricked up, and the god left to communicate with the universe as best he can.

The familiar case of the kitchen-god, who ascends to heaven at the end of the year to make his report of the behaviour of the family, but whose lips are first smeared with glutinous candy to prevent his reporting the bad deeds which he has seen, is a typical instance of a Chinese outwitting his celestial superiors. In the same way a boy is sometimes called by a girl's name to make the unintelligent evil spirits think that he is a girl, in order to secure his lease of life. Mr. Baber speaks of the murder of female infants in Szechuan, whose spirits are subsequently appeased by mock money, which is burned, that it may be conveyed to them for their expenses! The temples to the goddess who bestows children, unlike most other temples, are often frequented by women. Some of these temples are provided with many little clay images of male children, some in the arms of their patron goddess, and others disposed like goods on a shelf. It is the practice of Chinese women, on visiting these temples, to break off the parts which distinguish the sex of the child and eat them, so as to insure the birth of a son. In case there are large numbers of little images, as just mentioned, it is with a view to the accommodation of the women who frequent the temple, each of whom will take an image, but it must be stolen and not openly carried off. In case the desired child is born, the woman is expected to show her gratitude by returning two other images in the place of that which she stole! Chinese sailors suppose that the dreaded typhoons of the China seas are caused by malignant spirits, which lie in wait to catch the junks as they navigate the dangerous waters. When the storm reaches a pitch of extreme violence, it is said that it is the habit of the mariners to have a paper junk made of the exact pattern of their own, and complete in all its details. This paper Junk is then cast into the sea at the point of maximum disturbance, in order that the angry water-spirits may be deceived into thinking that this is the vessel of which they are in quest, and thus allow the real one to escape!

The custom prevails in many parts of China, upon occasion of the spread of some fatal epidemic like cholera, at the beginning of the sixth or seventh moon to hold a New-Year's celebration. This is with a view to deceiving the god of the pestilence, who will be surprised to find that he is wrong in his calculations as to the time of year, and will depart, allowing the plague to cease. This practice is so well understood that the phrase "autumnal second month" is understood to be a periphrasis for "never.'' Another method of hoodwinking a divinity is for a man to creep under a table upon which are placed offerings, and to put his head through a round hole made for that purpose. The god will think that this is a genuine case of offering a man's head in sacrifice, and will act accordingly. The man will withdraw his head, and enjoy his well-earned felicity.

In one case of which we happened to be cognisant, where a village decided to remove the gods from a temple and use it for a schoolhouse, they had hoped to pay a considerable proportion of the expenses of the alterations by the "silver" to be extracted from the hearts of the late gods. But the simpleminded rustics were not familiar with the ways of Chinese gods and of those who make them, who are like unto them; for when they came to search for the precious hearts they were not found right, but consisted simply of lumps of pewter! Cases no doubt occur in which the priests do conceal treasures in the images of their gods, and they are matched by corresponding cases in which the temples are robbed, and the gods either carried off bodily or pulverised on the spot. Violent treatment of Chinese divinities on the part of those who might be expected to worship them, is by no means unknown. We have heard of an instance in which a District Magistrate tried a case which involved a priest, and by implication the Buddha which was the occupant of the temple. This god was summoned to appear before the magistrate and told to kneel, which he failed to do, whereupon the magistrate ordered him to be beaten five hundred blows, by which time the god was reduced to a heap of dust, and judgment was pronounced against him by default.

Nearly every year petitions are incessantly put up to the rain-god to exert his powers on the parched earth, which cannot be planted until there is a rainfall. After prayers have been long continued with no result, it is common for the villagers to administer a little wholesome correction by dragging the image of the god of war out of his temple and setting him down in the hottest place to be found, that he may know what the condition of the atmosphere really is at first hand, and not by hearsay only. The habit of exhibiting undisguised dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the gods is referred to in the current saying, "If you do not mend the roof of your house in the third or fourth moon, you will be reviling the god of floods in the fifth moon or the sixth."

We have heard of an instance in which the people of a large city in China, having been visited by an epidemic of great severity, decided that this was owing to the malevolent influence of a particular divinity of the district. Banding themselves together precisely as if the god were a living bully, they set upon him and reduced him to his original elements. Of the accuracy of this narrative we have no proofs except its currency, but that appears to be sufficient in itself. The whole proceeding is not inconsistent with the Chinese notions about gods and spirits.

In view of facts such as those to which we have been directing the reader's attention, it might be most natural for one who was not familiar with the Chinese character, to draw the inference that it cannot be possible that the Chinese have any religion at all. This statement has indeed been often made in explicit language. In Mr. Meadows' work on "The Chinese and Their Rebellions," he quotes some of the too sweeping generalisations of M. Huc only to denounce them, affirming them to be "baseless calumny of the higher life of a great portion of the human race." Mr. Meadows is ready enough to admit that the Chinese are not attracted either to the bare results of centuries of doctrinal disputes or to the conduct of the nations which accept those results as their creed, but emphatically denies the assertion that the Chinese have "no longing for immortality, no cordial admiration of what is good and great, no unswerving and unshrinking devotion to those who have been good and great, no craving, no yearning of the soul to reverence something high and holy." Sir Thomas Wade, on the other hand, whose long familiarity with China and the Chinese might be supposed to entitle him to speak with authority on so plain a question as whether the Chinese have or have not a religion, has recently published his opinion as follows: "If religion is held to mean more than mere ethics, I deny that the Chinese have a religion. They have indeed a cult, or rather a mixture of cults, but no creed; innumerable varieties of puerile idolatry, at which they are ready enough to laugh, but which they dare not disregard."

Into the interesting and by no means easily answered question here raised we do not feel required to enter. It would be easy to discuss it at great length, but we are not certain that any light would be thrown upon it. In our view there is a practical method of approaching the matter, which will serve our purpose much better than abstract discussion. Taoism and Buddhism have greatly affected the Chinese, but the Chinese are not Taoists as such, neither are they Buddhists. They are Confucianists, and whatever may be added to their faith, or whatever may be taken away by the other systems of thought, the Chinese always remain Confucianists. We shall close by endeavouring to show in what respects Confucianism comes short of being a religion such as the Chinese ought to have. In order to do this, we shall quote the language of a distinguished Chinese scholar, whose conclusions cannot be lightly set aside.

At the end of his "Systematical Digest of the Doctrines of Confucius," Dr. Ernst Faber devotes a section to The Defects and Errors of Confucianism, which are set forth, while at the same time it is acknowledged that there is in Confucianism much that is excellent concerning the relations of man, and many points in which the doctrines of Christian revelation are almost echoed. We quote the four-and-twenty points specified, adding here and there a few words of comment.

1. "Confucianism recognises no relation to a living god."

2. ''There is no distinction made between the human soul and the body, nor is there any clear definition of man, either from a physical or from a physiological point of view."

The absence of any clear doctrine as to the soul of man is very perplexing to the foreign student of Confucianism. The ultimate outcome of its teaching, in the case of many of the common people, is that they know nothing about any soul at all, except in the sense of animal vitality. When a man dies, there is classical authority for the statement that his "soul" goes upwards towards heaven, and his "animal soul" goes into the earth. But a simpler theory is that so constantly advanced, and which is entirely harmonious with the agnostic materialism of the true Confucianist, that "the soul" or breath dissolves into the air, and the flesh into the dust. It is frequently quite impossible to interest a Chinese in the question whether he has three souls, one soul, or no soul at all. To him the elucidation of such a matter is invested with the same kind and degree of interest which he would feel in learning which particular muscles of the body produce the movement of the organ concerned in eating. As long as the process is allowed to go on with comfort, he does not care in the smallest degree by what name the anatomist designates the muscular fibres which assist the result. In like manner, as long as the Chinese has enough to do to look after the interest of his digestive apparatus, and that of those who are dependent upon him, he is very likely to care nothing either about his "souls" (if he has any) or about theirs, unless it can be shown that the matter is in some way connected with the price of grain.

3. "There is no explanation given why it is that some men are born as saints, others as ordinary mortals."

4. "All men are said to possess the disposition and strength necessary for the attainment of moral perfection, but the contrast with the actual state remains unexplained."

5. "There is wanting in Confucianism a decided and serious tone in its treatment of the doctrine of sin, for, with the exception of moral retribution in social life, it mentions no punishment for sin."

6. "Confucianism is generally devoid of a deeper insight into sin and evil."

7. "Confucianism finds it therefore impossible to explain death."

8. "Confucianism knows no mediator, none that could restore original nature in accordance with the ideal which man finds in himself."

9. "Prayer and its ethical power find no place in the system of Confucius."

10. "Though confidence is indeed frequently insisted upon, its presupposition, truthfulness in speaking, is never practically urged, but rather the reverse.''

11. "Polygamy is presupposed and tolerated."

12. "Polytheism is sanctioned."

13. "Fortune-telling, choosing of days, omens, dreams, and other illusions (phoenixes, etc.) are believed in."

14. "Ethics are confounded with external ceremonies, and a precise despotic political form."

15. "The position which Confucius assumed towards ancient institutions is a capricious one."

16. "The assertion that certain musical melodies influence the morals of the people is ridiculous." 17. "The influence of mere good example is exaggerated, and Confucius himself proves it most of all."

If it be true, as Confucian ethics claim, that the prince is the vessel as the people are the water; that when the cup is round the water will be round, and when the dish is flat the water will be flat — it seems hard to explain how the great men of China have not exerted a stronger influence in the way of modifying the character of those who study their lives. If example is really so powerful as Confucianists represent, how does it happen that as seen in its effects it is so comparatively inert? The virtual deification of the "superior man," as mentioned below under No. 20, is matched by the entire absence of any mediator, as already pointed out under No. 8. No matter how "superior" the sage may be, he is obliged to confine himself to giving good advice. If the advice is not taken, he not only cannot help it, but there is no further advice given.

To us that has always appeared to be a singularly suggestive passage in which Confucius said: "I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one comer of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat the lesson." The advice which he gives is for superior men only. Such advice is excellent, but it is by no means a prophylactic. When it has failed to act as such, then what is wanted is a restorative. It is idle to stand over the traveller who, having fallen among thieves, is stripped and wounded, and to discourse to him of the importance of joining friendly caravans, of the unadvisability of sustaining serious lesions of the tissues, by which much blood is likely to be lost and the nervous centres injured. The wounded man, already faint from loss of blood, knows all that; indeed, he knew it all the while. What he needs now is not retrospective lectures on the consequences of violating natural laws, but oil, wine, a place of refuge for a possible recovery, and above all, a wise and helpful friend. For the physically disabled, Confucianism may at times do something; for the morally and spiritually wounded it does and can do nothing.

18. "In Confucianism the system of social life is tyrranny. Women are slaves. Children have no rights in relation to their parents, whilst subjects are placed in the position of children with regard to their superiors."

19. "Filial piety is exaggerated into deification of parents."

20. "The net result of Confucius' system, as drawn by himself, is the worship of genius, i.e., deification of man."

21."There is, with the exception of ancestral worship, which is void of any true ethical value, no clear conception of the dogma of immortality."

22. "All rewards are expected in this world, so that egotism is unconsciously fostered, and if not avarice at least ambition."

23. "The whole system of Confucianism offers no comfort to ordinary mortals, either in life or in death."

24. "The history of China shows that Confucianism is incapable of effecting for the people a new birth to a higher life and nobler efforts, and Confucianism is now in practical life quite alloyed with Shamanistic and Buddhistic ideas and practices."

Of the strange intermixture of different forms of faith in China we have already spoken. That neither Confucianism nor either of its co-religions is capable of "effecting for the people a new birth to a higher life and nobler efforts" is well recognised by the Chinese themselves. This is strikingly shown in one of their fables, the literary authorship of which we have not ascertained.

According to this account, Confucius, Laotze, and Buddha met one day in the land of the Immortals, and were lamenting the fact that in those degenerate times their excellent doctrines did not seem to make any headway in the Central Empire. After prolonged discussion, it was agreed that the reason must be that while the doctrines themselves are recognised as admirable, human nature is inadequate to live up to them without a constant model. It was accordingly decided that each of the founders of these schools of instruction should materialise himself, go down to earth, and try to find some one who could do what it was so necessary to have done. This plan was at once carried into effect, and in process of time, while wandering about the earth, Confucius came on an old man of venerable appearance, who, however, did not rise at the approach of the sage, but inviting the latter to be seated, engaged him in a conversation on the doctrines of antiquity and the degree to which they were at that time neglected and practised. In his discourse the old man showed such profound acquaintance with the tenets of the ancients, and displayed such vast penetration of judgment, that Confucius was greatly delighted, and after a long interview retired. But even when the sage took his leave, the old man did not rise. Having found Laotze and Buddha, who had been altogether unsuccessful in their search, Confucius related to them his adventure, and recommended that each of them should in turn visit the sitting philosopher, and ascertain whether he was as well versed in their doctrines as in those of Confucius. To his unmixed delight, Laotze found the old man to be almost as familiar with the tenets of Taoism as its founder, and a model of eloquence and fervour. Like Confucius, Laotze was struck by the fact that although maintaining a most respectful attitude, the old man did not rise from his place. It was now the turn of Buddha, who met with the same surprising and gratifying success. The old man still did not rise, but he exhibited an insight into the inner meaning of Buddhism such as not had been seen for ages.

When the three founders of religion met to consult, they were unanimously of the opinion that this r

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