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RELG 1040 - 12

Chinese Religions: The Three Teachings

Manuel Lopez

on 26 March 2012

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Transcript of RELG 1040 - 12


Chinese Religions: the three teachings (san jiao; ); Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors.

Ancient Religion and the Five Classics

Confucianism 1: Confucius and a conservative view of the past.

Confucianism 2: the influence of Confucius in Chinese culture.

Daoism part 1: the Daodejing.

Daoism part 2: Celestial Masters

Popular Religion and Festivals
Start reading Analects and Tao Te Ching
Important Themes for Chinese
Religion and Culture


Family (Ancestors)

Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors

Importance of History in Chinese Culture
History has a prominent role in Chinese culture (as we saw in the Olympic Games ceremony!)
Contrast to India culture (and by extension, Buddhism)
Importance of dates, dynasties, careful record keeping: Chinese Annals
Notion that China is the oldest longest continuous civilization... but is this true?
History as a tool to organize / structure reality
Importance of the past in the present (with the exceptions of the Qin Emperor and Mao)
Importance of Writing
in Chinese Culture
What is writing? what do we reproduce when we write?
Most languages use alphabets, what do alphabets reproduce?
In India (and this includes Hinduism and Buddhism) there is an emphasis on orality: oral transmission, preservation of scriptures through orality, etc.
In China, the emphasis will be on writing. Writing will have sacred connotations
In China, writing never became alphabetized, it is not the replication of speech, which allowed it to represent many languages under one cultural paradigm. This is a very important aspect: the Chinese writing system will unify many different cultures (and many different languages) by using the same writing system (movies have subtitles in China so everyone can understand them!)
In China, writing crosses space (various cultures and ethnic groups) and crosses time (you can read a text from 2500 years ago).
Chinese characters and numbers
Source: http://cm.dce.harvard.edu/2012/01/13785/L04/index_H264SingleHighBandwidth-16x9.shtml
The power of writing
Oracle Bones
San jiao he yi
Importance of the family... as a metaphor and strategy (Teiser in Lopez)
Patrilineal: descendence through the father line (father to son)
Virilocal (patrilocal): Living with the husband's parents (extended family: many generations under one roof). Women have to leave their family household when they marry.
Ancestors: when the elders die they can become ancestors and be venerated in the altar
Filial Piety: the duty of the son to worship his/her parents and, by extension, his/her ancestors

Ancestor Cult will be one of the most important forms of ritual expression in China till the 20th century

Buddhist monks will adopt the metaphor of family and ancestors with the adoption of the last name of the Buddha (Shi), and by creating, in some traditions like Chan, the notion of the patriarchs, which can be considered a form of ancestor cult translated into the Buddhist world.

Main form of ritual: banquet, which is at the heart of the family life. Many form of ritual exchange with ancestors, gods, etc. will take the form of a banquet
Destroy the Old World
Forge the new World
China vs. India
Vast cultural differences:
Linguistic differences: Indo-european vs. Sino-Tibetan
Ethnic diversity
History of Chinese characters
From very early on in Chinese history they had created a very successful and stable form of government based on a strong bureaucratic system. Dynasties (rulers) may change, but the bureaucratic system was a constant, adapted even by foreign dynasties like the Yuan (Mongol) and the Qin (Manchu)

Notion of dynastic rule under the auspiciousness of Heaven (we will see this next week): The Emperor rules by the power of his virtue, but can be deposed if he loses the favor of Heaven. This will help legitimize power, but also will help justify the change of dynasties. This is an important concept even today.

Importance of Confucianism in the establishment of this ideology: government by virtue, hierarchy, importance of history, ritual, etc.

Keeping records will be a very important aspect of Chinese history. This has helped scholars have a clear picture of the Chinese past.

Examination system: establishment of the examination system helped create a system in which merit was important. The Emperor may legitimize himself through power and virtue, but the people working for the government earned (for the most part!) their position because of their knowledge.

Bureaucracy as a metaphor: Chinese pantheon as a form of bureaucracy.
These are three important categories in Chinese religion that are closely connected. Wolf Article Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors. These three categories will be very important in popular religious traditions: you petition the Gods for things you need/want; you try to keep ghosts away since they can harm you; you celebrate the ancestors since they are your connection with the other world and can help you intercede with either of the two other categories

These three categories are also different Chinese responses to explain what happens to us after death .

Jordan, in his book also called Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, offers a very schematic but helpful introduction to these three categories and their connection to death: “when a person dies, he becomes a Linghun [one of the two different types of soul that are part of all human beings during their life] . Or, if you prefer, his Linghun lives after him. He goes to hell, where he is punished for his earthly transgressions and is then reincarnated to try again. At the same time another theory tells him that what is crucial is whether or not he has descendants. If he does, and if they worship him and provide him with sacrifices, he lives a fairly content life as an ancestor in a shadowy afterworld that is not known in detail. If he has no descendants (or if the unfilial wretches fail to provide for him), he lives in the same shadowy afterworld as a miserable and starving gui [ghost]. If he was in life a man of exceptional virtue, he may be appointed to a position in the celestial bureaucracy and be a Shen [god], although the chances for this are, frankly, slim, given the number of virtuous competitors and the small number of positions that seem to be available. As a Shen he presumably has a coterie of worshippers who provide for him, and his position is substantially better than it was when he was merely an ancestor, not to mention a gui” (Jordan Ch 2 p. 7). So, as we can see, the three categories of supernatural beings, gods, ghosts, and ancestors have their origins with the death of the individual, which helps explain the first connection between these two worlds.

Link to Jordan's book:

Some important aspects of this ideology: Gods start as human beings and they may get promoted (through their virtue) to Gods. This is an important aspect of Chinese culture, where men and society are the priority (in general terms). This is a very Confucian notion.
How does China see itself?

What image does China want to project to the world?
Guo Xi (1020–1090)- Early Spring
What is China?


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