Myths and Legends of China
Page: 11After the establishment of absolute monarchical government standing armies became the rule. Military science was taught, and soldiers sometimes trained for seven years. Chariots with upper storeys or spy-towers were used for fighting in narrow defiles, and hollow squares were formed of mixed chariots, infantry, and dragoons. The weakness of disunion of forces was well understood. In the sixth century A.D. the massed troops numbered about a million and a quarter. In A.D. 627 there was an efficient standing army of 900,000 men, the term of service being from the ages of twenty to sixty. During the Mongol dynasty (1280–1368) there was a navy of 5000 ships manned by 70,000 trained fighters. The Mongols completely revolutionized tactics and improved Page 34on all the military knowledge of the time. In 1614 the Manchu ‘Eight Banners,’ composed of Manchus, Mongolians, and Chinese, were instituted. The provincial forces, designated the Army of the Green Standard, were divided into land forces and marine forces, superseded on active service by ‘braves’ (yung), or irregulars, enlisted and discharged according to circumstances. After the war with Japan in 1894 reforms were seriously undertaken, with the result that the army has now been modernized in dress, weapons, tactics, etc., and is by no means a negligible quantity in the world’s fighting forces. A modern navy is also being acquired by building and purchase. For many centuries the soldier, being, like the priest, unproductive, was regarded with disdain, and now that his indispensableness for defensive purposes is recognized he has to fight not only any actual enemy who may attack him, but those far subtler forces from over the sea which seem likely to obtain supremacy in his military councils, if not actual control of his whole military system. It is, in my view, the duty of Western nations to take steps before it is too late to avert this great disaster.
The dancing and chanting exorcists called wu were the first Chinese priests, with temples containing gods worshipped and sacrificed to, but there was no special sacerdotal class. Worship of Heaven could only be performed by the king or emperor. Ecclesiastical and political functions were not completely separated. The king was pontifex maximus, the nobles, statesmen, and civil and military officers acted as priests, the ranks being similar to those of the political hierarchy. Worship took place in the ‘Hall of Light,’ which was also a palace and Page 35audience and council chamber. Sacrifices were offered to Heaven, the hills and rivers, ancestors, and all the spirits. Dancing held a conspicuous place in worship. Idols are spoken of in the earliest times.
Of course, each religion, as it formed itself out of the original ancestor-worship, had its own sacred places, functionaries, observances, ceremonial. Thus, at the State worship of Heaven, Nature, etc., there were the ‘Great,’ ‘Medium,’ and ‘Inferior’ sacrifices, consisting of animals, silk, grain, jade, etc. Panegyrics were sung, and robes of appropriate colour worn. In spring, summer, autumn, and winter there were the seasonal sacrifices at the appropriate altars. Taoism and Buddhism had their temples, monasteries, priests, sacrifices, and ritual; and there were village and wayside temples and shrines to ancestors, the gods of thunder, rain, wind, grain, agriculture, and many others. Now encouraged, now tolerated, now persecuted, the ecclesiastical personnel and structure of Taoism and Buddhism survived into modern times, when we find complete schemes of ecclesiastical gradations of rank and authority grafted upon these two priestly hierarchies, and their temples, priests, etc., fulfilling generally, with worship of ancestors, State or official (Confucianism) and private or unofficial, and the observance of various annual festivals, such as ‘All Souls’ Day’ for wandering and hungry ghosts, the spiritual needs of the people as the ‘Three Religions’ (San Chiao). The emperor, as high priest, took the responsibility for calamities, etc., making confession to Heaven and praying that as a punishment the evil be diverted from the people to his own person. Statesmen, nobles, and officials discharged, as already noted, priestly functions in connexion with the State religion in addition to their ordinary Page 36duties. As a rule, priests proper, frowned upon as non-producers, were recruited from the lower classes, were celibate, unintellectual, idle, and immoral. There was nothing, even in the elaborate ceremonies on special occasions in the Buddhist temples, which could be likened to what is known as ‘public worship’ and ‘common prayer’ in the West. Worship had for its sole object either the attainment of some good or the prevention of some evil.
Generally this represents the state of things under the Republican régime; the chief differences being greater neglect of ecclesiastical matters and the conversion of a large number of temples into schools.
We read of physicians, blind musicians, poets, teachers, prayer-makers, architects, scribes, painters, diviners, ceremonialists, orators, and others during the Feudal Period, These professions were of ecclesiastical origin, not yet completely differentiated from the ‘Church,’ and both in earlier and later times not always or often differentiated from each other. Thus the historiographers combined the duties of statesmen, scholars, authors, and generals. The professions of authors and teachers, musicians and poets, were united in one person. And so it continued to the present day. Priests discharge medical functions, poets still sing their verses. But experienced medical specialists, though few, are to be found, as well as women doctors; there are veterinary surgeons, musicians (chiefly belonging to the poorest classes and often blind), actors, teachers, attorneys, diviners, artists, letter-writers, and many others, men of letters being perhaps the most prominent and most esteemed. Page 37