Myths and Legends of China

Page: 37


Confucianism (Ju Chiao) is said to be the religion of the learned, and the learned were the officials and the literati or lettered class, which includes scholars waiting for posts, those who have failed to get posts (or, though qualified, prefer to live in retirement), and those who have retired from posts. Of this ‘religion’ it has been said:

“The name embraces education, letters, ethics, and political philosophy. Its head was not a religious man, practised few religious rites, and taught nothing about religion. In its usual acceptation the term Confucianist means ‘a gentleman and a scholar’; he may worship only once a year, yet he belongs to the Church. Unlike its two sisters, it has no priesthood, and fundamentally is not a religion at all; yet with the many rites grafted on the original tree it becomes a religion, and the one most difficult to deal with. Considered as a Church, the classics are its scriptures, the schools its churches, the teachers its priests, ethics its theology, and the written character, so sacred, its symbol.”3

Confucius not a God

It should be noted that Confucius himself is not a god, though he has been and is worshipped (66,000 animals used to be offered to him every year; probably the number is about the same now). Suggestions have been made to make him the God of China and Confucianism the religion of China, so that he and his religion would hold the same relative positions that Christ and Christianity do in the West. I was present at the lengthy debate which took place on this subject in the Chinese Page 103Parliament in February 1917, but in spite of many long, learned, and eloquent speeches, chiefly by scholars of the old school, the motion was not carried. Nevertheless, the worship accorded to Confucius was and is (except by ‘new’ or ‘young’ China) of so extreme a nature that he may almost be described as the great unapotheosized god of China.4 Some of his portraits even ascribe to him superhuman attributes. But in spite of all this the fact remains that Confucius has not been appointed a god and holds no exequatur entitling him to that rank.

If we inquire into the reason of this we find that, astonishing though it may seem, Confucius is classed by the Chinese not as a god (shên), but as a demon (kuei). A short historical statement will make the matter clear.

In the classical Li chi, Book of Ceremonial, we find the categorical assignment of the worship of certain objects to certain subjective beings: the emperor worshipped Heaven and earth, the feudal princes the mountains and rivers, the officials the hearth, and the literati their ancestors. Heaven, earth, mountains, rivers, and hearth were called shên (gods), and ancestors kuei (demons). This distinction is due to Heaven being regarded as the god and the people as demons—the upper is the god, the lower the evil spirit or demon. Though kuei were usually bad, the term in Chinese includes both good and evil spirits. In ancient times those who had by their meritorious virtue while in the world averted calamities from the people were posthumously worshipped and called gods, but those who were worshipped by their descendants only were called spirits or demons.

In the worship of Confucius by emperors of various Page 104dynasties (details of which need not be given here) the highest titles conferred on him were Hsien Shêng, ‘Former or Ancestral Saint,’ and even Win Hsüan Wang, ‘Accomplished and Illustrious Prince,’ and others containing like epithets. When for his image or idol there was (in the eleventh year—A.D. 1307—of the reign-period Ta Tê of the Emperor Ch’êng Tsung of the Yüan dynasty) substituted the tablet now seen in the Confucian temples, these were the inscriptions engraved on it. In the inscriptions authoritatively placed on the tablets the word shên does not occur; in those cases where it does occur it has been placed there (as by the Taoists) illegally and without authority by too ardent devotees. Confucius may not be called a shên, since there is no record showing that the great ethical teacher was ever apotheosized, or that any order was given that the character shên was to be applied to him.

The God of Literature

In addition to the ancestors of whose worship it really consists, Confucianism has in its pantheon the specialized gods worshipped by the literati. Naturally the chief of these is Wên Ch’ang, the God of Literature. The account of him (which varies in several particulars in different Chinese works) relates that he was a man of the name of Chang Ya, who was born during the T’ang dynasty in the kingdom of Yüeh (modern Chêkiang), and went to live at Tzŭ T’ung in Ssŭch’uan, where his intelligence raised him to the position of President of the Board of Ceremonies. Another account refers to him as Chang Ya Tzŭ, the Soul or Spirit of Tzŭ T’ung, and states that he held office in the Chin dynasty (A.D. 265–316), and was killed in a fight. Another again states that under the Sung dynasty (A.D. Page 105960–1280), in the third year (A.D. 1000) of the reign-period Hsien P’ing of the Emperor Chên Tsung, he repressed the revolt of Wang Chün at Ch’êng Tu in Ssŭch’uan. General Lei Yu-chung caused to be shot into the besieged town arrows to which notices were attached inviting the inhabitants to surrender. Suddenly a man mounted a ladder, and pointing to the rebels cried in a loud voice: “The Spirit of Tzŭ T’ung has sent me to inform you that the town will fall into the hands of the enemy on the twentieth day of the ninth moon, and not a single person will escape death.” Attempts to strike down this prophet of evil were in vain, for he had already disappeared. The town was captured on the day indicated. The general, as a reward, caused the temple of Tzŭ T’ung’s Spirit to be repaired, and sacrifices offered to it.