Confucianism and Its Rivals, by Herbert A. Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
While the Manichæans were endeavouring to spread among the Chinese what can only be called a travesty of Christian doctrine, another sect from the west, heterodox indeed, but not egregiously so, came to offer a new creed. The followers of Nestorius, the famous patriarch at Constantinople in the fifth century, the chief flaw in whose teaching was that he held Christ to have had distinct human and divine persons, dispatched a mission which reached China in A.D. 631, and introduced into China what is now known as Nestorian Christianity, under the title of the Luminous Doctrine. By the year 635 this religion had made such headway that its missionaries were allowed to settle at Chang-an, the capital. In 638 the first Christian church was built there, and the following Imperial decree was issued: "The truth does not always appear under the same name, nor is divine inspiration always embodied in the same form. Religions vary in various lands, but the underlying principle of all is the salvation of mankind"a very remarkable admission by a Chinese Emperor of the seventh century that there is "truth" outside Confucianism,
and that there are other prophets besides Confucius. To continue with the decree: "The Persian priest Raban (really a Syrian) has come from afar, bringing with him sacred books and a doctrine which he has submitted to Us at the capital. Carefully examining the object of this doctrine, We find that it is profoundly mysterious and associated with inaction (Lao Tzŭ's great principle); it establishes the important points of our birth and growth; it helps animals and it profits mankind; and therefore it should circulate wherever in the world We hold sway. Let a monastery be founded in the I-ning ward of Our capital, and let twenty-one priests be appointed to serve it."
Under such auspices, it is not surprising that the Luminous Doctrine continued to flourish, as flourish it must have done for some centuries. Marco Polo mentions Nestorianism as still in existence during the thirteenth century. He meets with it, on his long journeys, in many places, and also mentions it in connexion with the camp of Genghis Khan, marching against Prester John, who was at that date supposed to be a king somewhere in Central Asia. He tells us that Genghis "one day summoned before him his astrologers, both Christians and Saracens, and desired them to let him know which of the two hosts would gain the battle, his own or Prester John's. The Saracens tried to ascertain, but were unable to give a true answer; the Christians, however, did give a true answer, and showed manifestly before him how the event should be. For they got a cane and split
it lengthwise, and laid one half on this side and one half on that, allowing no one to touch the pieces. And one piece of cane they called Genghis Khan, and the other piece they called Prester John. And then they said to Genghis: 'Now mark! and you will see the event of the battle, and who shall have the best of it; for whose cane shall get above the other, to him shall victory be.' Genghis replied that he would fain see it, and bade them begin. Then the Christian astrologers read a psalm out of the Psalter, and went through other incantations. And lo! whilst all were beholding, the cane that bore the name of Genghis Khan, without being touched by anybody, advanced to the other that bore the name of Prester John, and got on the top of it. When Genghis saw that, he was greatly delighted, and seeing how in this matter he found the Christians to tell the truth, he always treated them with great respect, and held them for men of truth ever after."
Marco Polo finds "a few Nestorian Christians" in Yunnan, who "never eat wheaten bread because in that country it is unwholesome. Rice they eat, and make of it sundry messes, besides a kind of drink which is very clear and good, and makes a man drunk, just as wine does." In Ho-kien Fu, Chihli, he finds "certain Christians, who have a church," and of Hangchow he says, "There is one church only, belonging to the Nestorian Christians." Of Chinkiang Fu he says, "There are in this city two churches of Nestorian Christians, which were established in the year of our Lord 1278;" and he goes on to explain
that Kublai Khan, then Emperor of China, had appointed "a Nestorian Christian to be governor of that city for three years, during which he caused two Christian churches to be built, and since then there they are. But before his time there was no church, neither were there any Christians."
During the fourteenth century Nestorianism seems to have faded away, and but for a lucky accident, our knowledge of its appearance in China would have been scanty indeed. For reasons that we shall come to later on, the appeal of Christianity to the Chinese has never had a chance against the appeal of Buddhism; nor even against the appeal of Mahometanism; and Chinese literature has been ransacked in vain to discover any traces of the comparatively long stay of the great faith which by Marco Polo's time had taken such deep root in the west. However, in 1625 some workmen, in the course of certain excavations at a town about forty miles from Hsi-an Fu, in the province of Shensi, came across a large inscribed tablet of stone, about nine feet in height, which at once attracted the attention of the local authorities, who caused it to be removed to a temple about a mile or so outside Hsi-an Fu. The tablet soon became an object of interest to native archæologists, and much more so to foreign archæologists, so soon as, through the medium of the Jesuit fathers, its existence and its inscription had been revealed to western scholars. For the inscription was nothing less than a general account in Chinese of the Christian religion and of its establishment in China, running to a total of two
thousand and thirty-six characters, or nearly the equivalent of three thousand words in English, and followed by a short inscription and a list of names in Syriac. The genuineness of this tablet was not allowed to pass without question. Among the names of distinguished persons who refused, and with some justification, to accept the stone as a true witness, were those of Voltaire, and (later) Neumann, Renan, and Stanislas Julien, of whom the two last-mentioned ultimately saw good reasons for changing their opinions. At the present day, there is no longer any doubt about the genuineness of the tablet. Its value, indeed, has been so far recognized by western collectors that in 1907 an attempt was made to carry it off bodily. Happily, the attempt was foiled, and the tablet was removed to a position of greater safety.
It may be interesting now to touch briefly on the tenor of this inscription, forming, as it does, a striking contrast with the presentation of Christianity as gathered from the Manichæan treatise. The opening paragraph is an adoration of the Triune God, followed up by an account of the creation of the universe, and of man in a state of moral perfection. Grafted, however, on to such details as are more or less in harmony with the first chapter of Genesis, we find an item which belongs to purely Chinese cosmogony: "God excited (as by a drum) the primeval spirit, and called into being the two breaths (or influences)," alluding to the Yin and the Yang, the passive and active principles, by the interaction of which, according to the Chinese view, all things were, and are still
being produced. The introduction of this sentence, not to mention others, which must be regarded as conciliatory, if not ad captandum, militates somewhat against a theory which has been propounded, namely, that the stone was miraculously preserved, and is an answer to the taunt that "God had left the Middle Kingdom for more than fifteen hundred years (i.e. up to the arrival of Catholic missionaries in the sixteenth century) without a word of the only Name under heaven whereby men must be saved" (Rev. A. C. Moule, Journal of C.B.R.A.S., vol. xli. p. 77). Further, the phraseology is often either Buddhistic or Taoistic, although recognized classical expressions from the Canon do predominate. The Jesuit father, P. Havret, made a calculation that out of three hundred to four hundred quotations or allusions appearing on the tablet, about two hundred and fifty came from the Confucian Canon and the standard histories; so that in point of view of style, the tablet is so far strongly fortified.
The next item recorded in the inscription is the appearance of Satan, who, under the guise of innocence, destroyed man's original pure nature, leading, we are told, to the rapid formation of three hundred and sixty-five heretical sects, as though one for each day in the year. "Some of these," in the words of the inscription, "took material objects as their gods; others (meaning the Buddhists) maintained the illusory nature of all things, and were swept into devious paths; others again trusted for happiness to prayer and sacrifice; and again others made a display of
virtue in order to impose upon the world. Wise concern for the future was lost in the confusion; all feelings were worn out; and all was vague without attainment. The fire that oppressed men became a scorching flame; amid the encircling gloom they lost their way; and after long wanderings they failed to return. At this juncture, the Triune God became One; and the luminous and venerable Messiah, gathering Himself under a disguise of His real majesty, came forth among the generations of men. Spirits and dêvas (a Buddhist phrase, probably used here as the best equivalent for angels) proclaimed with joy that a virgin had given birth to the Holy One in Syria. A bright star announced the auspicious event, and Persians, seeing its brilliant light, came to bring tribute. Thus He fulfilled the prophecies in the books of the Old Testament, and with supreme wisdom arranged the management of the family and of the State (these last phrases are based upon 'The Great Learning,' one of the Four Books). He established the new doctrine, which cannot be expressed in words, of the Triune Holy Ghost (apropos of which, it will be remembered, that the Tao of Lao Tzŭ 'cannot be expressed in words'). He made good works subordinate to faith (as Buddha did in the Diamond Sûtra). He enunciated the Eight States (or conditions, for which non-Chinese term, possibly Buddhist, it has been suggested that we should understand the Beatitudes), that worldliness might be refined away, and purity achieved. He opened a door for the three Constant Practices (a classical
term, meaning (1) the appointment of wise men by the sovereign, (2) the reliance on wise men by the officials, and (3) the respect for wise men by the people)." This last seems to be a singular item, so much so that Dr Legge suggested the Three Gracesfaith, hope, and charity; but the phrase belongs to Chinese literature, as here translated. Mr A. C. Moule, following Havret, gives, "He revealed the gates of the three which abide," without any hint as to who or what the three are. To proceed: "He established life and abolished death. He was hung up like a luminous sun, in order to prevail against the gates of hell, and thus the wiles of Satan were wholly frustrated." Mr A. Wylie translates, "He suspended the bright sun;" Dr Legge has, "He hung up the bright sun;" and Mr Moule, following Père Havret, has, "He hung up a bright sun"all of which are without meaning. The allusion is obviously to Christ's death on the cross: "A light to lighten the Gentiles." To continue: "He rowed the boat of mercy, in order to reach the bright palace; and in it souls are conveyed thither. His great work being now done, He ascended to heaven at noon of the day." What authority the Nestorians had for placing the Ascension at noon it is difficult to say; so far as can be gathered from the divergent accounts in the New Testament, the hour would seem to have been a late one in the evening.
We need not go further into the language of this inscription, which from this point onwards is chiefly laudatory of those Emperors of the Tang dynasty
who were favourable to, or at any rate tolerant of, the faith: Tai Tsung, who in 638 had issued the decree already quoted; Kao Tsung, his son, who founded Christian monasteries, but fell under the influence of the terrible Empress Wu, a fanatical Buddhist and therefore an oppressor of the Nestorians; the famous Ming Huang, who ordered the wrecked Nestorian temples to be rebuilt, and sent the portraits of his five Imperial ancestors to be hung in the monastery at the capital; Su Tsung, who also rebuilt monasteries, and generally patronized the faith; Tai Tsung, who annually on his own birthday (not on the day of the Nativity, as some have thought) sent a present of incense and food from the Imperial table, in honour of the church; and finally, the then reigning Emperor, posthumously known as Tê Tsung. These bring us down to 781, the year in which the tablet was set up. From this enumeration of Emperors and their attitude to Nestorianism, one fact stands out clearly: that Christianity had already enjoyed for one hundred and fifty years a meed not merely of tolerance, but of actual patronage in high quarters, which has never since fallen to its lot. A death-blow was given in 845 to its further progress as a living faith, after which it dragged out an unprofitable existence, as we have already seen, until the fourteenth century, when it disappeared altogether. The events of 845 belong more closely to Buddhism, to which we will now return.
We left Buddhism a flourishing religion at the beginning of the fifth century A.D. It was a period
of political disunion, with more than one Emperor in the field, a condition regarded by the Chinese as equivalent to having two suns in the sky. Under the House of Wei, Buddhism was much favoured, and three thousand priests arrived from Turkestan, for whom the Emperor caused over one thousand buildings to be erected in connexion with a large monastery. An official was dispatched to India, in company with a priest, for the purpose of procuring Buddhist books; but although he reached Kandahar, and stayed two years in Udyana, his mission was of little interest compared with another mission, a hundred years later, to which we shall shortly come. The first Emperor of the Liang dynasty (A.D. 502-549) was a devout Buddhist. He lived upon priestly fare, taking only one meal a day; and on two occasions he actually adopted priestly garb, and delivered lectures on the faith. In extension of the Buddhist commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," it was forbidden to weave figures of men, birds, or animals of any kind, in cloth, lest they might some day be cut to pieces; animal sacrifices were also prohibited, and vegetables were used instead.
The next great landmark in the development of Buddhism in China was the arrival of Bôdhidharma, the son of a king in southern India. He had served the twenty-seventh Patriarch for forty years, and at the "transformation" of the latter had been elected to the vacant office. The first Patriarch had been an intimate disciple to whom the Lord Buddha confided, before his entrance into Nirvâna, the secret of
the true faith. He may therefore be regarded as the St Peter of Buddhism, the first of a long line of apostles, who handed on the succession from one to another. The fact that the Patriarch was regarded as infallible makes the analogy still more complete; and, in addition, he possessed magical powers. He could fly, and cross water, as we shall see, in a miraculous way. He was the recognized defender of the faith, and he offered an example to all by leading a life of poverty and privation. In the year 520 A.D. Bôdhidharma reached Canton by sea, bringing with him the sacred paten of the Patriarchate, supposed to have been the actual alms-bowl used by Buddha. Summoned to the capital, then at Nanking, he offended the pious Emperor by explaining that real merit lay not in works, but in purity and wisdom duly combined. He therefore retired to Lo-yang in Honan, crossing the swollen Yangtsze on a reed. There he abode for nine years at a temple, sitting in silent contemplation with his face to a wall, and becoming known to the people as the Wall Gazer. He was at length persuaded to give instruction, but about six years later he died. Some one reported having met him after death, crossing a range of mountains en route for India, and holding a sandal in his hand; his tomb was therefore opened, and in his coffin was found nothing except the other sandal. His favourite theme was that true religion could not be learnt from books, but that man should seek and find the Buddha in his own heart (see p. 240). He had been the twenty-eighth western Patriarch; he is
now reckoned as the first of the Chinese or eastern Patriarchs, in which position he had only five successors. To the people of China he is still familiar as the powerful saint who crossed the Yangtsze upon a reed, a favourite motive of Chinese art.
The second Emperor (A.D. 542-585) of the short-lived Minor Liang dynasty wrote a work upon the mysteries of the Mahâyâna and Hînayâna schools; and a son of his asked leave to become a Buddhist priest, but repented and wished to cancel his application when he found that his request had been granted. In A.D. 555 an attempt was made by the reigning Emperor of the Northern Chi dynasty to fuse Buddhism and Taoism into one religion, and a convocation of priests from both sides was summoned to consider the matter. The Emperor decided in favour of Buddhism, and ordered the Taoists, on pain of death, to shave their heads and become Buddhists. Only four refused, and were executed accordingly.
Such a measure of favour, accorded to an alien religion, was sure, sooner or later, to excite opposition among eminent Confucianists, as well as from the Taoists, who were more concerned with the material profits to be obtained from Court influence. One of the former, named Fu I, a learned scholar who had risen to the post of Historiographer under the first Emperor of the Tang dynasty, went so far as to present a memorial asking that Buddhism might be altogether abolished. He urged that at any rate priests and nuns should be compelled to marry and bring up families, and not escape from contributing
their share to the revenue. The result was that for a time severe restrictions were placed upon the propagation of the faith. One day the Emperor got hold of a Buddhist priest from Turkestan, who could "charm people into unconsciousness and then charm them back to life again," and spoke of his powers to Fu I. "He will not be able to charm me," said the latter confidently; and the priest, when put to the test, failed completely.
In 574 the Emperor took upon himself to arrange an order of precedence for the rival faiths which, at that date, might still be called the Three Religions. Thus, even at the present day, when speaking correctly and not under Buddhist influence, we say Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Later in his reign the same Emperor prohibited both Taoism and Buddhism, caused the priests of each religion to return to lay life, and their sacred books, images, and temples to be destroyed. Confucianism alone was to stand. Here, then, would seem to be the end of all things in regard to Taoism and Buddhism, but for the fact, familiar to the Chinese people and also to students of Chinese history, that Imperial edicts, unless based upon the will of the people, must always be understood in a Pickwickian sense. Even Chinese Emperors have never been able to prescribe for their subjects in matters of religion, and within five years this drastic prohibition was withdrawn.
A well-known Confucianist poet of the seventh century, named Chên Tzŭ-ang, was offended by the use of idols, which is a feature of Chinese Buddhism
but quite foreign to Confucianism. After dwelling on the point that virtue should be practised for its own sake and not with a view to reward in a future life, he goes on to say,
On the other hand, Yao Cha, whose name is associated with the history of the Liang dynasty, and who was thought to be the greatest scholar of his day, was a devout Buddhist. At the death of his father, he inherited the title of Duke; upon which he retired to a Buddhist temple, where as a youth he had taken the vows. In his will, he openly professed his belief in the Buddhist faith.
The first Emperor of the Tang dynasty, who at the instigation of Confucianists had imposed certain restrictions upon Buddhist priests, would also have nothing to do with its Taoist rival. He said, "The Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty perished through his fondness for Buddhism, and the Emperor Hsüan of the Chow dynasty from trying to teach Taoism; I will take warning and devote myself to Confucianism, which is as necessary to man as wings to a bird or water to a fish." His son and successor was beloved by all priests, Buddhist, Taoist, and even Christian; for it was under his auspices that Nestorian missionaries were allowed to settle at the
capital, as we have seen, in the year 636. His own religion was that which Confucius had handed down, and which he expressed on one occasion in the following words: "The people say that the Emperor is supreme and has nothing to fear, but this is not the case with me. Above, I fear the eye of Almighty God; here, I fear the eyes of my officials. I am in constant anxiety, lest on the one hand I disobey the will of God, or on the other lest I disappoint the hopes of my subjects." His Empress shared these views. During her last illness she was urged to turn her thoughts towards Taoism or Buddhism. "These two religions," she replied, "are heretical systems, gnawing at the vitals of the State and distressing the people. The Emperor does not practise them; how then should I, a woman, do this?"
Meanwhile, the Buddhist pilgrim, Hsüan Tsang, was on his famous journey to India, undertaken, like that of Fa Hsien two hundred years before, in order to collect books and images as a help towards the further dissemination of his religion. Born in the year 602, he was educated as a Confucianist; but at the age of twenty, following the lead of an elder brother, he was ordained priest, and in 629 he secretly set out alone on his great adventure. In 645 he returned, and was received with public honours by the Emperor, the Court, and the general public. He brought with him six hundred and fifty-seven Buddhist works, besides many images and pictures, and one hundred and fifty relics. He spent the rest of his life in translating these books, with
the help of several learned priests appointed by the Emperor, to whom he submitted, on its completion, the narrative of his travels, known under the title of "A Record of Western Countries."
During the rest of the seventh and the whole of the eighth centuries, the story is the usual one of struggles for Court favour and supremacy between the rival religions, from which even Confucianism did not altogether escape, although invested with an extraordinary prestige which seemed to raise it above the level of all other teachings. We read of both Buddhist and Taoist priests appointed to high office, of an Emperor who saw Lao Tzŭ in a vision, and other similar incidents. In 751 a eunuch was sent as envoy to the king of Kapisa, and among his suite was a youthful civilian, who fell ill and was unable to return to China. As soon as his health began to improve, this young man determined to dedicate his life to Buddha; and he subsequently took the vows, receiving the religious name of Dharmadâtu. He then spent no fewer than forty years wandering through the countries of Central Asia and India, learning Sanskrit and collecting books and relics. At length he returned to China, by land as he had gone, to find, as he said, the trees at his parents grave already grown to maturity; and he passed the rest of his life translating the sûtras he had brought back with him, and advancing the cause of the religion he had so romantically adopted.
In 757 there were several hundred Buddhist priests employed in the palace to conduct religious services;
in 765 the Emperor, taking with him two cartloads of the Buddhist Scriptures, proceeded to deposit them in a monastery and to expound their contents. In 768 the Emperor visited a large Buddhist temple which had been built for the repose of his deceased mother, and appointed one thousand priests and nuns, also defraying the expense of annual masses for her soul. In 810 things came to such a pitch that the Emperor received into the palace with great honour a bone of Buddha, which had been originally brought from India and placed in a monastery, where it was exhibited to the populace once in thirty years, and was supposed to have a beneficial influence upon the crops. The relic was kept for three days in the palace, and then passed round to various Buddhist monasteries, where it was on exhibition. This outrage upon conventions was too much for the Confucianists of the day, as represented by Han Wên-kung, one of the greatest in the long roll-call of China's great men. He had already been degraded sixteen years before, for an offensive memorial on the subject of tax-collection; but now, at the age of fifty-one and full of honours, he rose again to the occasion, and presented another more offensive still. He begins by pointing out that Buddhism is a religion of barbarians, of late introduction into China, and quite unknown to the ancients. He shows that the monarchs of old enjoyed long lives without Buddhism, and that not only the Emperors but also the dynasties of Buddhistic tendencies had always been short-lived; and he further enlarges upon the bad example which will
be set by the Emperor to an ignorant people. The memorial ends thus: "Buddha was a barbarian. His language was not the language of China. His clothes were of an alien cut. He did not teach the maxims of our ancient rulers, nor conform to the customs which they had handed down. He did not appreciate the bond between prince and subject, the tie between father and son. Supposing, indeed, that this Buddha had come to our capital in the flesh, under an appointment from his own State, then your Majesty might have received him with a few words of admonition, bestowing on him a banquet and a suit of clothes, previous to sending him out of the country with an escort of soldiers, and thereby have avoided any dangerous influence on the minds of the people. But what are the facts? The bone of a man long since dead and decomposed, is admitted, forsooth, within the precincts of the Imperial palace Did not Confucius say, 'Revere spiritual beings, while maintaining always a due reserve'? When the princes of old paid visits of condolence to one another, it was customary for them to send on a magician in advance, with a peach-wand in his hand, whereby to expel all noxious bewitchments previous to the arrival of his master. Yet now your Majesty is about to introduce, without cause, a disgusting object, personally taking part in the proceedings without the intervention either of the magician or of his peach-wand. Of the officials, not one has raised his voice against it; of the censors, not one has pointed out the enormity of such an act. Therefore your servant,
overwhelmed with shame at such slackness, now implores your Majesty that the bone may be handed over for destruction by fire or water, whereby the root of this great evil may be exterminated for all time, and the people know how much the wisdom of your Majesty surpasses that of ordinary men. The glory of such a deed will be beyond all praise. And should the Lord Buddha have power to avenge this insult by the infliction of some misfortune, then let the vials of his wrath be poured out upon the person of your servant, who now calls God to witness that he will not repent him of his oath. In all gratitude and sincerity, and with fear and trembling, your servant now humbly presents this memorial for your Majesty's benign consideration." The phrase "with fear and trembling" was only a formal one to Han Wên-kung. He risked death in the cause of Confucianism, and would certainly have been executed, but for the powerful intercession of friends; as it was he was banished, temporarily as it turned out, to what were then the wilds of Kuangtung.
There is another side, so to speak, to this picture. For just as, in the west, religious feeling is a matter of temperament, and has nothing to do whatever with intellect, so in China many whose intellects, eminently powerful, have been trained on strictly Confucian lines, nevertheless turn, by what is to them a natural instinct, towards the hope of somethinganything rather than nothingbeyond the promisesif such there beheld out by the simple teachings of Confucianism. Thus, we have the spectacle of Liu
[paragraph continues] Tsung-yüan, a celebrated poet and essayist, a contemporary and intimate friend of Han Wên-kung, like whom he was banished on political grounds to a distant post, pleading the cause of the religion which the latter so deeply detested. His breadth of intelligence allowed him to tolerate Buddhism, in direct opposition to the utterances of Han Wên-kung, who perceived in its growing influence a menace to Confucianism and to the State. Here are his thoughts on the subject: "My learned and esteemed friend, Han, has often reproached my sympathy with Buddhism and the intercourse I hold with its priests. In point of fact, there is much in Buddhism which could not well be denounced; to wit, all those tenets which are based on principles common to our own sacred books. And it is precisely to these essentials, at once in perfect harmony with human nature and the teachings of Confucius, that I give in my adhesion. My friend says that Buddha was a barbarian. But if this argument is good for anything, we might find ourselves embracing a criminal who happened to be a fellow-countryman, while neglecting a saint whose misfortune it was to be a foreigner. My friend also objects to the Buddhist commandments. He objects to the bald pates of the priests, their dark robes, their renunciation of domestic ties, their idleness, and life generally at the expense of others. So do I; but he misses the kernel while railing at the husk. He sees the lode, but not the ore; I see both, which accounts for my partiality to the faith. Besides, intercourse with men of this religion does not necessarily
imply conversion. Even if it did, Buddhism admits no envious rivalry for place or power. The majority of its adherents love only to lead a simple life of contemplation amid the charms of hill and stream. And when I bend my gaze towards the hurry-scurry of the age, in its daily race for the seals and tassels of office, I ask myself if I am to reject those in order to take my place among these."
This writer was the author of answers to the famous questions, already described, which had been addressed to God by the poet Chü Ping, al. Chü Yüan, of the fourth century B.C.; but these answers have never been regarded as worthy of his reputation, being random statements rather than reasoned replies. That the Confucian concept of a Supreme Being was often present to his mind and seriously occupied his thoughts, we can discover from the following short essay, based upon the familiar theory of design. "Over the western hills the road trends away towards the north, and on the further side of the pass, separates into two. The westerly branch leads to nowhere in particular; but if you follow the other, which takes a north-easterly turn, for about a quarter of a mile, you will find that the path ends abruptly, while the stream forks to enclose a steep pile of boulders. On the summit of this pile there is what appears to be an elegantly built look-out tower; below, as it were a battlemented wall, pierced by a city gate, through which one gazes into darkness. A stone thrown in here, falls with a splash suggestive of water; and the reverberations of this sound are
audible for some time. There is a way round from behind up to the top, whence nothing is to be seen far and wide except groves of fine straight trees, which, strange to say, are grouped symmetrically, as if by an artist's hand. Now, I have always had my doubts about the existence of a God; but this scene made me think that He really must exist. At the same time, however, I began to wonder why He did not place it at some worthy centre of civilization, rather than in this out-of-the-way barbarous region, where for centuries there has been no one to enjoy its beauty. And so, on the other hand, such waste of labour and incongruity of position disposed me to think that there could be no God after all. One friend suggested that the spot was designedly chosen in order to gratify virtuous men who (like the writer) might be banished thither in disgrace. Another argued that it was simply a question of the nature of the locality; but I do not accept either explanation."
Han Wên-kung entertained no such doubts as these; and when his friend died at the early age of forty-six, in the brief funeral farewell which he burnt at the grave, he spoke of him as one "released in mid-career, by God, from earthly bonds."
The son and successor of the Emperor who received Buddha's bone, said to have been a finger-bone, with such honour, turned his attention rather to Taoism. This shortened his reign; for he died, only four years after his accession, from an over-dose of the elixir of immortality. The check that Buddhism had received from the energetic action of Han Wên-kung,
and the restrictive measures he adopted on being recalled from banishment to high office, offered a better chance to the Taoists than they had enjoyed for some time. Han Wên-kung himself had not the same dread of Taoism as he had of the foreign religion; partly, no doubt, because he saw that Taoism, with its borrowed plumes, was purely a money-grinding concern, and had a much weaker hold, as a religion, over the popular imagination; while as a philosophic cult, it was only for the educated student, and was likely to do little harm. In one of his finest essays, "On the True Faith of a Confucianist," he does indeed attack both religions in terms of equal severity. He shows how, under the Han dynasty, the teachings of Lao Tzŭ and Buddha and several heterodox philosophers disturbed men's minds to such an extent that the spirit of Confucianism began to die out, and a general state of apathy to prevail. It may not be amiss to quote here a passage from this uncompromising essay: "The followers of Lao Tzŭ say, 'Confucius was a disciple of our Master.' The followers of Buddha say, 'Confucius was a disciple of our Master.' And the followers of Confucius, by dint of hearing this so often, have at length fallen so low as themselves to indulge in such random talk, saying, 'Our Master also respected Lao Tzŭ and Buddha.' Not only have they uttered this with their tongues, but they have written it down in books; and now, if a man would cultivate morality, from whom should he seek instruction? Great is the straining of mankind after
the supernatural! Great is their neglect of fundamentals in this yearning for the supernatural alone."
Han Wên-kung proceeds to draw a picture of his countrymen as seen under the rule of their ancient kings, concluding as follows: "Happy in their lives, they were remembered after death. Their sacrifices were grateful to Almighty God, and the spirits of the departed rejoiced in the honours of ancestral worship. Let us then insist that the followers of Lao Tzŭ and Buddha behave like ordinary mortals. Let us burn their books. Let us turn their temples into dwelling-houses." Yet the writer of these words could himself confess to a friendly intimacy with a Taoist priest. Describing in another of his essays a beautiful country scene, he says, "One would naturally conclude that such a spot must be the birthplace of genius, the home of loyal and honourable and virtuous men. But I never saw any; for the people round about are sunk in superstition, in the worship of Lao Tzŭ and of Buddha. However, there is my friend Liao, a priest of the religion of Tao. He is a native of these parts, and a man of infinite learning and goodness of heart. How can I class him among those who grovel in superstitious depths? I asked him concerning this strange paradox, but he would not discuss the question, and I must await a more favourable opportunity."
Han Wên-kung died twenty years before the great Taoist revival, which culminated, in the year 845, in an attack upon Buddhism, of greater severity
than any to which that faith had hitherto been subjected. We can form some estimate of the attack from the Imperial proclamation which was then issued; the only wonder is that Buddhism should have survived at all. "We have heard," says the Emperor, "that in the early ages the name of Buddha was unknown. It was from the time of the Hans (B.C. 206A.D. 220) that his images and doctrines became familiar institutions in the land. The strength of man was lavished over his shrines; the wealth of man was diverted to their costly adornment with gold and jewels. Unsurpassed was the injury to public morals; unsurpassed the injury to the welfare of the people! A man who does not work suffers bitter consequences in cold and hunger. But these priests and priestesses of Buddha consume food and raiment without contributing to the production of either. Their handsome temples reach up to the clouds and vie with the palaces of kings. The vice and the corruption of the dynasties which followed upon the introduction of Buddhism, can be attributed to no other source. The founders of my House put down disorder by might, and then proceeded to govern by right. With these two engines of power, they succeeded in establishing their rule. Shall then some paltry creed from the west be allowed to dispute with Us the sovereign power? At the beginning of the present dynasty (A.D. 618), efforts were made to get rid of this pest; but its extermination was not complete, and it became rampant once more. Now, We, having extensively studied the
wisdom of the ancients, and guided, moreover, by public opinion, have no hesitation in saying that this evil can be rooted out. Already, more than four thousand six hundred monasteries have been destroyed; and their inmates, to the number of two hundred and sixty-five thousand persons of both sexes, have been compelled to return to the world. Of temples and shrines, more than forty thousand have likewise been demolished; while many thousands of fat acres have been added to the wealth of the people. The work which my predecessors left undone, I have thus been able to accomplish."
Two years later, another Emperor came to the throne, who at once issued orders for all Buddhist temples to be rebuilt; although it was still forbidden to become a priest or nun without proper authorization. His real sympathies, however, were with Taoism, and he went so far as to consult one of the Taoist hierarchy as to the best means of securing eternal life. "Cast aside all desires," answered the priest, who must have been a Taoist in the older and loftier sense of the word; "prize virtue; and the rest will follow as a matter of course." This unsatisfactory advice was promptly rejected, and not long afterwards the Emperor poisoned himself, as usual, with the elixir of immortality. The next Emperor, who began his reign in the year 860, turned the tables once more in favour of Buddhism, which he patronized largely, to the detriment of public affairs. Once more the palace was overrun by priests and nuns, and the Emperor himself joined in chanting
the liturgies. Officials were dispatched to receive another relic of Buddha, and gratuitous vegetarian meals were provided for a large number of persons. The State, indeed, had become a mere shuttlecock, to be bandied backwards and forwards between the supporters of the two rival religions. Meanwhile, the great Tang dynasty, after nearly three hundred years of glory, was rapidly coming to an ignoble end. It collapsed altogether in 905; after which, for some fifty years, the country was hardly in a condition favourable to the development of either Buddhist or Taoist doctrines.
So far no mention has been made of Mahometanism, which also first reached China during the Tang dynasty, and is still professed by considerable numbers in certain parts of the Chinese empire. Very little indeed is really known, with anything like historical certainty, of the early centuries of this religion. No monument has yet been discovered, similar to the Nestorian tablet, from which the desired information might be gleaned; nor does Chinese official history afford the slightest clue to the establishment of a faith which even now has by no means lost its grip. Various accounts of this important incident have been provided in purely Mahometan-Chinese literature dating from the seventeenth century and onwards, some of which must be taken with reservations. For instance, a Mahometan mission, led by Wahb-Abi-Kabcha, a maternal uncle to the Prophet, is said to have reached Canton by sea in A.D. 628. The mission travelled overland to Chang-an, the capital, and was
well received by the Emperor, who graciously accepted as tribute the presents offered.
The first mosque was built at Canton, where, after several restorations, it may still be seen. The minaret, known as the Bare Pagoda, to distinguish it from a much more ornamental Buddhist pagoda near by, dates back to 850. There must at that time have been a considerable number of Mahometans in Canton, though not so many as might be supposed if reliance could be placed on the figures given in reference to a massacre which took place in 879. The fact is that most of these Mahometans went to China simply as traders; they did not intend to settle permanently in the country, and when business permitted, they returned to their old haunts. About two thousand Mussulman families are still to be found at Canton, and a similar number at Foochow; descendants, perhaps, of the old sea-borne contingents which began to arrive in the seventh and eighth centuries. These remnants have nothing to do with the stock from which came the comparatively large Mussulman communities now living and practising their religion in the provinces of Ssŭchuan, Yunnan, and Kansuh. The origin of the latter was as follows. In A.D. 756 the Khalifa Abu Giafar sent a small army of three thousand Arab soldiers to aid in putting down a rebellion. These soldiers had permission to settle in China, where they married native wives; from which it is obvious that the present Mahometan population, their descendants, and also those Mahometan communities at Canton and Foochow, where the same
conditions prevailed, are practically of pure Chinese blood. In 798 the Khalifa Harun-al-Raschid dispatched a mission to China, and there had been one or two less important missions in the seventh and eighth centuries; but from 879, the date of the Canton massacre, for more than three centuries to follow, we hear nothing of Mahometans and their religion. They were not mentioned in the edict of 845, which proved such a blow to Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity; perhaps because they were less obtrusive in the propagation of their religion, a policy aided by the absence of anything like a commercial spirit in religious matters. 1
In 960 China was once again a united empire under the House of Sung. The House of Tang, with its three hundred years of rule (618-906), stands out as an epoch of brilliant poets and painters, the like of whom have not since been seen. It was also an age of highly-strung religious sentiment, which degenerated into gross superstition. The Sung dynasty, the duration of which was also about three hundred years, is distinguished rather for its solid scholarship, its philosophy, and its scepticism, though poets and painters of the first rank were not wanting, and there were also periods when superstition was rife. The founder of the line, an extraordinarily able man, turned for his hopes of successful government to Confucianism. He caused the Confucian temples to be put into repair, and portraits of the Master and his disciples to be painted. He himself wrote a
panegyric on Confucius and the favourite disciple Yen Hui, panegyrics on the other disciples being provided by scholars of the day. His brother, who succeeded him, failed to preserve the Confucian tradition, and showed signs of a tendency to Buddhism; while the third Emperor, son of the last, affected Taoism, and became an easy prey to impostors. Written revelations began to be received from God, and these, by order of the Emperor, were lodged in special temples. In the year 1008 a high official, Wang Chin-jo, produced a letter, written on silk and about twenty feet in length, which he declared had come down from heaven and was addressed by God to the Emperor; and when opened, it was found to contain congratulations, expressed in archaic language, on the just government and prosperity of the country which prevailed. The Court officials, who had been summoned to assist, on their knees, at the reading, now saw a purple cloud, shaped like a dragon and a phnix, descend and hang over the palace buildings. This roused the anger of another high official and scholar of the day. "I have heard," he cried, quoting Confucius, "that God does not even speak; how then should He write a letter?" We must consider this episode in chastened silence, remembering that our own old chroniclers of the twelfth century, Roger of Hoveden and Roger of Wendover, both mention the receipt of a letter from Christ, on the prevailing neglect of the Sabbath.
The next step on the part of those who thus took advantage of the Emperor's superstitious feelings,
was to persuade him to offer, at the summit of Mt. Tai in Shantung, the sacrifices to God the Father and Earth the Mother, to which allusion has already been made, and for which purpose Wang Chin-jo, the fabricator of the letter from God, was appointed Master of the Ceremonies. The Emperor, who with all his faults was a humane ruler, issued a special decree that no exactions were to be levied upon the people along the route to the mountain, and also that carts and horses were to be strictly prevented from doing injury to the crops. From the beginning of the tenth month, during which the pilgrimage was to be performed, the Emperor further forbade the slaughter of any animal throughout the empire, he himself living only on coarse vegetables. Music, too, was prohibited, until the moment when it would be used at the opening of the sacrificial ceremonies. During the ascent of the mountain, in spite of its steepness, the Emperor sometimes walked and sometimes rode in a sedan-chair; those of his suite who were unfit for mountain climbing were pulled and pushed up by lusty soldiers, whose shoes were fitted with iron crampons. All along the tortuous path up to the summit, guards were stationed, two paces apart and connected together by strips of silk; even the trees were swathed in silk. At dangerous points, the Emperor always got out of his sedan-chair and went on foot. On the following morning a throne was arranged for God on the top of the round terrace, where seats were reserved for the two predecessors of the Emperor, the letters received from heaven being
also deposited there. The Emperor, duly robed, then mounted the terrace alone, all soldiers, sedan-chair and torch bearers, and others, being sent away to a distance. He proceeded to offer certain jade tablets on which had been inscribed addresses, rather than prayers, as may be seen from this specimen. "I, Thy subject, and son by heredity, venture to make a declaration to the Lord God of Heaven. I have inherited Thy glorious mandate to make manifest my services to heaven above. To my uncle, the first of our line, the throne was quietly yielded; my father, the second Emperor, by his zeal and diligence brought about a state of good government. He purified the world; he caused all axle-trees and written characters to be uniform throughout the empire; but he firmly refused to ascend this mountain and make his report, wishing to collect still further blessings. Divine authority has conferred this honour upon me; auspicious omens have come from every side; foreign nations all cherish us; many years of abundance have responded to our desires; and I now reverently perform these sacrifices, in the hope of securing happiness for the black-haired masses. I have carefully selected jade, silk, the proper victims, vessels filled with millet, etc., in order by means of this burnt offering to testify to my perfect sincerity. O my deceased uncle, the first Emperor, and my deceased father, the second Emperor, who sit by God's side and are associated in His power, deign to accept these sacrifices!"
On his way home from Mt. Tai, the Emperor passed the birthplace of Confucius and conferred
upon the sage the title of "King"; six years afterwards he visited a temple he had built in honour of Lao Tzŭ, and invested the Taoist philosopher with the title of "Emperor." Two years later he convened a huge assembly of Taoist and Buddhist priests to consider why it was that the planet Venus had appeared in the daytime, and to avert by prayer any evil consequences therefrom.
These kaleidoscopic phases of religious feeling on the part of Emperors were reflected in the lives of the people, and the natural result was an instability of national faith in any given direction. The spirit of Confucianism, soon to obtain a permanent triumph, was kept alive among the educated. As an example, we may take the life of Chao Pien, an official of the eleventh century, celebrated for his benevolence and integrity, two virtues placed by Confucius in the very front rank. His fearless outspokenness as Censor gained for him the sobriquet of the Censor with the Iron Face; his wise administration in times of great distress caused him to be regarded as the saviour of the people. But it is not on these accounts that he is mentioned here. It is because every night, on retiring, he was accustomed to put on his official robes, and with offerings and incense to submit to Almighty God the events of the day. That God was the God of ancient China, the God of the Odes, now about to disappear, almost altogether, in the coming apotheosis of the greatest of all His prophets.
224:1 See Recherches sur les Musulmans Chinois, by Prof. A. Vissière.