Confucian Temple

Although sometimes characterized as a religion Confucianism is more of a social and political philosophy than a religion. Some have called it code of conduct for gentlemen and way of life that has had a strong influence on Chinese thought, relationships and family rituals. Confucianism stresses harmony of relationships that are hierarchical yet provide benefits to both superior and inferior. Confucius addressed topics such as heaven, spirits and reverence of ancestors and was very much interested in rituals as a means of maintaining and restoring order in both the tangible world and the cosmos, however he probably would have been appalled by the word "Confucianism," a term thought to have been invented in 1862 by European Christians doing an inventory of "religions" in the non-Christian world.

According to the World Almanac only about 5 million people in the world today — mostly in China and Korea — consider themselves Confucians. This is a small number when considering that there are 1.3 billion people in China and 44 million people in South Korea, plus millions of other people in Asia, that incorporate Confucianism in one way or another into their lives.

Confucianism as it was manifested as a religion in imperial China before 1911 is best viewed as a state cult rather than a religion like Christianity, Buddhism or even Taoism. According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In addition to supporting Confucianism through the civil service examination system, the state was deeply involved in other areas of life that had a major impact on religious practice and belief. Some have referred to this as the State Cult. The arrangement of state ritual below the emperor was coordinated exactly with the national administrative system. At each administrative level — province, prefecture, and county — there was a city or town serving as the administrative seat, where in addition to the government compound (yamen) which was the officiating magistrate’s headquarters, there were several official religious establishments: Among the most important were the Confucian or civil temple (wen miao), and the military temple (wu miao), which were the ritual foci of the two major divisions in the Chinese bureaucracy; and also the City God temple (chenghuang miao). A city serving as both prefectural seat and county seat would have two yamen and two sets of state temples. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia]

Joseph Adler of Kenyon University College said: “Whether or not Confucianism is a religion (or a religious tradition, as I prefer to say) is highly contested by scholars. There are two recent books on the subject: Anna Sun, Confucianism As a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities (Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), and Yong Chen, Confucianism as Religion: Controversies and Consequences (Leiden: Brill, 2013). Also, I have an article on the subject

Good Websites and Sources on Confucianism: Robert Eno, Indiana University; Confucianism ; Religion Facts Confucianism Religion Facts ; Confucius ; Confucian Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Cult of Confucius / ; ; Virtual Temple tour; Wikipedia article on Chinese religion Wikipedia Academic Info on Chinese religion ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies; Qufu Wikipedia Wikipedia Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Confucianism and Religion

Although Confucianism is sometimes described as a religion because of it allusions to ancestor worship Confucius himself never endorsed ancestor worship. He stressed devotion to ancestors out of reverence to their wisdom and moral leadership not as a means of worshiping their spirits. Nevertheless, over the years the term Confucianism has come to include ancestor worship, which has been around much longer than Confucianism.

Some scholars even claim that Confucianism is anti-religion because it has no gods, priest, churches or concept of afterlife. But not everyone agrees. Historian Geoffrey Parrinder argued that even though Confucius's principals were largely pragmatic, the power behind them was spiritual and there is a lot of emphasis on rituals.

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “ Most of Confucius's later life was occupied in training a group of dedicated disciples in the arts of "li", which included many dimensions of inherently rewarding aesthetic practice: learning the poetry, music, and dance of the former Sages, as well as the intensely choreographed ceremonies of ancestor worship and other religious rituals. Confucius's students were among the most literate and artistically accomplished men of their time. But to Confucius's great chagrin, none of these great ritual achievements seemed to move China any closer to an escape from the chaos of the feudal age.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt chinatxt /+/]

Confucius's tenants, Parrinder wrote "were not based on moral good and evil" but rather on "the ritual manipulation of powers to ensure good luck and to avert bad luck...By interpreting...archaic language in a contemporary sense, he evolved an ethical and moral system...dominated by magic and [immortality]...It was the genius of Confucius to have converted much of the language of primitive religion into a vocabulary for ethics." ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Confucianism, Spirituality and Salvation

One of the Ten Kings of Chinese hell

The traditional Confucian view on spirituality is that one should perform the necessary rituals and sacrifices to pay one's respect to the spirits and the forces in heaven. And that’s that. There is nothing more that can be done. Attention should be focused on social matters and living in the here and now.

In "The Analects" Confucius said “Devotion to one’s duties is a subject and respect for the spirits while keeping them at a distance, may be called wisdom.” Mencius said: “The people are the most important; the spirits of the soil and grain come next.”

Confucius was not interested in religious salvation and the afterlife. On the list of things "about which the master never spoke" were "weird things, physical exploits, disorders and spirits." He had little patience for gods. "We do not yet know how to serve man," he said, "how can we know about the spirits?...We don't know yet about life, how can we know about death?" People's problems, he argued, could not be solved by supernatural powers but by rather their own efforts and knowledge learned from the ancestor's experience.

Confucius believed that praying was a waste of time. The "will of Heaven," he said, was not discovered in theology but in "the collective experience of the ancestors." Confucians looked down in the Buddhist view of reward and punishment after death as an attempt to cloak morality as self-interest and viewed the Taoist quest of immortality as selfish and a denial of the natural order of things. Among Confucians there was a preveailing belief that when a person died his spirit simply dispersed.

Heaven was seen as a source of correct conduct and human potential for goodness. Confucius called it the "natural cosmic order that matched the ethical sense in every man." The idea of being a recluse and communing with nature, which are central to Buddhism and Taoism, were fine but only after one performed his social duties first.

Confucianism in China and Asia

20080221-confucian ancestor ritual in Korea seoulsearchiungjpg.jpg
Confucian ancestor ritual in Korea
Confucian philosophy is credited with holding the Chinese government and Chinese society together for 2000 years. Confucianism greatly influenced secular culture in China and provided social code that people were taught in their homes and in schools. In some places Confucianism is treated a religion and there are Confucian temples and rituals.

Confucianism is said to be stronger today in other Asian countries such Korea, Japan and Vietnam than it is in China because Communism was so effective in stamping it out. One study found that the Chinese display less Confucian characteristics such as respect for leaders, ruler of law and the government than South Koreans or Japanese.

In Korea, Confucianism is treated as religion by some people. There are Confucian priests, and Confucian temples were offerings of rice cakes, pears and cow's heads are presented at altars. Korean Confucians wear hats that look like paper bags and perform rites at funerals. See Korea

Confucianism is closely linked with "Asian values" credited by some with spurring economic prosperity in Asia. It has also been used as a justification of authoritarianism, which is misreading of Confucian doctrine. Confucianism does not advocate blindly following and serving the status quo. Rather it teaches one to act decently, honestly and justly. People have the right to question authority if the government does not act in the best interests of the people.

Confucian and Taoism are taught in Chinese school. Leading New Confucians include Tu Wei-ming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Harvard's Yenching Institute.

Structure of Confucian Thought

Neo-Confucian cosmologist Zhou Dunyi admiring lotuses

Dr. Eno wrote: “The following ideas are basic to the structure of early Confucianism: 1) People are only fully “human” to the degree that they are as sensitive to others' needs and human feelings as they are to their own. The perfectly human person Confucius called “humane,” using a word, “”ren”,” which was almost identical to the word for “person.” 2) The patterns of perfect humanity had been embroidered in the past by successive great Sages, inspired by Heaven, of whom the latest were the Zhou Dynasty founders. These heaven-ordained patterns constituted a complex set of social, political, and religious conventions and ceremonies known as “ritual,” or “”li”.” These rituals of everyday and ceremonial conduct were no longer properly practiced in chaotic Eastern Zhou society..restoring these patterns of Chinese civilization was the practical path back to the ideal society. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“3) Individuals should seek to recapture the patterns of “li” in their own conduct. The best place to begin was in one's conduct towards one's parents. “li” were not isolated ceremonies to be practiced alone, but expressed the norms that were meant to govern all human relationships. Of these, the parent.child relationship was most basic; therefore, the first duty of every person was to act towards his or her parents in a perfectly filial manner. /+/

“4) Once a person had mastered the patterns of filial “li” in the role of the child, he or she would discover that the key to “humanity” (the virtue of “ren”) was the mastery of all the social roles that the human community needed him or her to play in a lifetime. The most basic of these roles were expressed as a set of Five Relationships: “parent/child; elder/younger; ruler/subordinate; husband/wife; “3 “friend/friend”. Once everyone understood and acted out the proper “li” for each social role they occupied, the world would be returned to order. /+/

“5) The person who had fully embodied “li” and “ren” would represent a superior type of ideal person..the fully human being. Confucius referred to such a person by a special term: “junzi”. This term originally had meant a “prince,” or man of high birth. For Confucius “princeliness” was a matter of moral skills not of birth, and he pictured his perfected people as a new type of ethical aristocracy. /+/

Interpretations of Confucian Thought

Taijitu of Zhou Dunyi

Dr. Eno wrote: “As you can see from these core ideas, Confucian thought pictured the perfection of the individual person in terms of his or her mastery of conventional social conduct. Although this has appeared to generations of Western observers to have been a very constraining, or even robotic, ideal for human conduct and personality, in practice Confucian principles were much more flexible and dynamic, and left plenty of room for creativity. A good analogy would be between the Confucian demand that everyone master the single system of “li” conduct and most societies' demand that everyone master the grammar of a single national language. While it is certainly very constraining to learn a language perfectly (and often requires that the learner be coerced into mastery at some points), it is also true that being able to communicate through a mastered language feels very liberating, and that it is hard to picture us achieving any goals of “individual self-realization” unless we first learn to abide by the thousands of syntactical and lexical rules that make up our native language. In a similar way, Confucius seems to have viewed the common mastery of a single corpus of “li” (a type of artistic body-language) as the key to unlocking the deep shared humanity among society's members. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Confucius during his life was only a private tutor in the small feudal state of Lu in eastern China, and his influence was small. Although he attempted to persuade many feudal leaders of his time to adopt his ideas and institute a ritualized form of government and state education, his teachings were largely ignored. Most of Confucius's later life was occupied in training a group of dedicated disciples in the arts of “li”, which included many dimensions of inherently rewarding aesthetic practice: learning the poetry, music, and dance of the former Sages, as well as the intensely choreographed ceremonies of ancestor worship and other religious rituals. Confucius's students were among the most literate and artistically accomplished men of their time. But to Confucius's great chagrin, none of these great ritual achievements seemed to move China any closer to an escape from the chaos of the feudal age. /+/

“However, Confucius's claim that he had discovered the true Dao (Way) of the former sage kings inspired his students, and their students, to persevere in spreading his ideas for generations. Within a century or two of his death, Confucius's ideas had become well known and influenced the thinking of people all over China. Ultimately, later Chinese governments found it useful to proclaim their loyalty to Confucius's ideas, to sponsor state schools to educate Chinese youth in Confucian values, and to appoint to high office people who had demonstrated mastery of Confucian texts. Such sponsorship gave Confucian ideas prestige beyond all others, and Confucius himself was treated as a kind of demi.god, worshipped at great temples constructed by the Chinese imperial state. /+/

“Still, many would argue that much of this devotion to Confucian ethics was actually a way for Chinese rulers to cover up their special brand of absolute power and institutionalized oppression of the mass of Chinese people. The fact that the current rulers of the communist People's Republic of China, now that the power of communist ideology is virtually exhausted in China, have indicated an excited interest in reviving Confucianism as a new ideology for their “socialist” state suggests that the exploitation of Confucius's ideas by China's leaders is far from over.” /+/

Confucian Rituals

Confucians view rituals and sacrifices as necessary to pay respects to the spirits and the forces in the heaven. Although “li” (rituals) were of great importance to Confucius here has not been a whole lot of elaboration on the subject since classical times. Social matters have generally been regarded as more important by interpreters of Confucian thought.

Ritual alter set in the Zhou Dynasty

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The rituals and related human arts that formed the theme of Chinese history in Confucius’s view were, for him, deeply pleasing forms of aesthetic living, rather than constraints on people’s more “natural” inclinations. Ritual arts provided conduits to true human self-expression.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University]

Confucian sacrifices have traditionally been performed within families to family members, rivers and mountains and heavenly bodies. During a sacrifice participants are expected to bow three times before offering a pig, a bullock and a goat. Rooted in animism and shamanism these sacrifices are regarded as means of maintaining order in the natural world. Rituals and sacrifices directed towards ancestors have traditionally been expressions of reverence, not spiritual acts or ways of seeking help from the ancestors. Hsun Tzu wrote: “The motives of sacrifice are remembrance and longing. By it loyalty, faith, love and reverence reach their utmost, and the emotions moderated and refined by ritual are most fully expressed. No one except the sage can understand it."

Rituals have traditionally been performed by the state and family. A great emphasis has been placed on music as an accompaniment for certain rites. According to the Book of Rites: “Music issues from within, the rites act from the outside. Serenity is the result of music issuing from within; refinement is the result of the rites acting from outside. Great music must be simple; great notes must be easy. When music is it at its best there is no resentment, when the rites are at their best we do not contend."

Many of the rituals performed by the Chinese Emperor had their roots in the idea of maintaining order within the natural world. If the order of the natural world was disrupted then famines, floods, rebellions and other disasters would occur. The emperor presided over special religious ceremonies conducted over a special Altar of Heaven that only he alone was allowed to perform. During these ceremonies the emperor approached the altar barefoot, accompanied by an orchestra playing hymns, and prostrated himself before the celestial deities. It was believed that whether or not the coming year was to be good or bad was determined by how skillfully he performed the ritual. The performance of these ritual was critical to receiving the Mandate of Heaven. See Mandate of Heaven.

Confucius and Li

Li is often defined as “ritual. Dr. Eno wrote: “Heaven-ordained patterns constituted a complex set of social, political, and religious conventions and ceremonies known as Ritual (in Chinese, li). These rituals, which covered both everyday and ceremonial conduct were no longer properly practiced in the chaotic society of Confucius’s time and after (the Classical era)...Restoring these patterns of Chinese civilization was the practical path back to the ideal society...In making the claims that he did for the power of “li” to transform the individual into a powerful and humane social actor, Confucius accelerated the trend towards empowering the ordinary man of talent over the man of pedigree, a trend which was only beginning to be understood during his lifetime. But Confucius’s case for “li” went further. He also claimed that “li” was the only tool necessary for the success of political administration. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Susanoo Kagami wrote: “On the a difference between legalism and ritualism, Confucius argued that under law, external authorities administer punishments after illegal actions, so people generally behave well without understanding reasons why they should; whereas with ritual, patterns of behavior are internalized and exert their influence before actions are taken, so people behave properly because they fear shame and want to avoid losing face. In this sense, “rite” (li) is an ideal form of social norm. [Source: “Kagami, Susanoo no mikoto and Confucianism” ***]

Confucian alter

“The Chinese character for “rites”, or “ritual”, previously had the religious meaning of “sacrifice”. Its Confucian meaning ranges from politeness and propriety to the understanding of each person’s correct place in society. Externally, ritual is used to distinguish between people; their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, who is the guest and who the host and so forth. Internally, rites indicate to people their duty amongst others and what to expect from them. Internalization is the main process in ritual. Formalized behavior becomes progressively internalized, desires are channeled and personal cultivation becomes the mark of social correctness. Though this idea conflicts with the common saying that “the cowl does not make the monk,” in Confucianism sincerity is what enables behavior to be absorbed by individuals. Obeying ritual with sincerity makes ritual the most powerful way to cultivate oneself: Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the Rites, become timidity; boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness. ***

“Ritual can be seen as a means to find the balance between opposing qualities that might otherwise lead to conflict. It divides people into categories, and builds hierarchical relationships through protocols and ceremonies, assigning everyone a place in society and a proper form of behavior. Music, which played a significant role in Confucius’ life, transcends such boundaries and “unifies the hearts”. Although the Analects heavily promote the rites, Confucius himself often behaved other than in accord with them. Later, more rigid ritualists forgot that ritual is “more than presents of jade and silk” (XVII, 12), and strayed from their master’s position. In Confucianism the term “ritual” (li) was soon extended to include secular ceremonial behavior, and eventually referred also to the propriety or politeness which colors everyday life. Rituals were codified and treated as a comprehensive system of norms. Confucius himself tried to revive the etiquette of earlier dynasties. After his death, people regarded him as a great authority on ritual behaviors.

“In Confucianism, the acts of everyday life are considered ritual. Rituals are not necessarily regimented or arbitrary practices, but the routines that people often engage in, knowingly or unknowingly, during the normal course of their lives. Shaping the rituals in a way that leads to a content and healthy society, and to content and healthy people, is one purpose of Confucian philosophy. To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it. Another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king’s personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. By being the “calm center” around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole. Early Chinese shamans believed the king was the axle between the sky, human beings, and the Earth. The very Chinese character for “king” shows the three levels of the universe, united by a single line.” ***

Analects on Li

“The Master said, “Arise with the “Book of Songs”, take your stand by means of ritual "li", and be fulfilled in music.” (8.8) “If you do not study the “Poetry”, how will you have words to speak... If you do not study ritual, how will you be able to take your stand?” (16.13) Moreover "li" was a perfected medium of social communication, and only by acting through this shared medium of ritual and etiquette could people come to appreciate one another’s humanity. /+/

bronze bells used in Zhou-era rituals

On li the Analects says: “The disciple Yen Yuan asked the Master about humane goodness (“ren”). The Master said, “Conquer yourself and return to “li”: that is goodness. If one could for a single day conquer oneself and return to “li”, the entire world would respond to him with goodness.... If it is not “li”, don’t look at it; if it is not “li”, don’t listen to it; if it is not “li”, don’t say it; if it is not “li”, don’t do it.” (12.1)

“The Master said, “When a ruler loves “li”, the people are easy to rule.” (14.41) “The Master said, “Can ritual “li” and deference be employed to rule a state? Why, there is nothing to it!” (4.13) Confucius’s vision of reform, which does not seem particularly coherent in some respects, involved both the restoration of the original Zhou power holders and a society organized according to moral merit, wherein the most patterned and humane actors were allowed to rise to the high position that the people would spontaneously wish to accord to them. /+/

“Lin Fang asked about what is fundamental in rites. The Master said, “This is indeed a great question. In rites, it is better to be sparing than to be excessive. In mourning, it is better to express grief than to emphasize formalities.” (3:4)“Sacrifice as if they were present” means to sacrifice to the spirits as if they were present. The Master said, “If I am not present at the sacrifice, it is as if there were no sacrifice.” (3:12) [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 45-50, 52, 54-55; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“The disciple Master You said, “In the action of “li” harmony is the key. In the Dao of the former kings this was principle of greatest beauty. Affairs large and small all proceeded from this. Yet there was a limit. When one knew that a course of action would yield harmony but it was not according to “li”, one would not pursue it.” (1.12) The Master heard the Shao Music while in the state of Qi and for three months the succulent taste of meat dishes meant nothing to him. “I never imagined that music could reach this!” he said. (7.14) The Master said, “They talk of ritual, ritual: but is it just a matter of jades and silks! They talk of music, music: but is music just a matter of bells and drums!” (17.11) “If a man is not “ren”, how can he manage “li”? If a man is not “ren”, how can he manage music?” (3.3) Confucius referred to the use of the royal form of eight ranks of dancers by the Ji family of Lu. “If this can be tolerated, anything may be tolerated!” (3.1) /+/

Confucianism and Ancestor Worship

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In the eyes of the orthodox Confucians, ancestor veneration was considered to be essentially a secular rite without religious implications. Deemed to be nothing more than the “expression of human feelings,” mourning and other ritual observances expressed love and respect for the dead and at the same time cultivated the virtues of filial piety, loyalty, and faithfulness. Ancestor veneration was a standard means of “honoring virtue and repaying merit” (chongde baogong), in the stock Chinese phrase. The Confucian gentleman sacrificed to his ancestors because it was the proper thing to do; lesser men did so to “serve the spirits.” [Source: [C. K. Yang in “Chinese Thought and Intuitions,” ed. John K. Fairbank (Chicago, 1957), p. 276; Asia for Educators, Columbia University ]

Chinese ancestor alter

“This attitude was consistent with the general neo-Confucian tendency to encourage rational and secular interpretations of otherworldly phenomena. In neo-Confucian literature, for example, the popular religious terms gui and shen became expressly identified as the abstract forces of yin and yang. Official religion was justified at least in part as a means of motivating the masses to perform acts of Confucian piety. Sections on religion in local gazetteers often quoted the following commentary to the Yijing, attributed to Confucius himself: “The sages devised guidance in the name of the gods, and [the people of] the land became obedient.” Even the employment of priests, geomancers, and other religious agents by elite households could be explained away as matters of habit, female indulgence, or a kind of filial insurance for ancestors in case the popular Buddhist version of the afterlife happened to be correct. [Ibid., p. 227; see also Holmes Welch, The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900-1950 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), pp. 181-85; Timothy Brook, “Funerary Ritual and the Building of Lineages in Late Imperial China,” Harvard Jounral of Asiatic Studies 49 (1989). Jordan Paper, “‘Riding on a White Cloud’: Aesthetics as Religion in China,” Religion 15 (1985), p. 3, offers the intriguing suggestion that in china “aesthetic activity... became an alternative mode of religiosity for the traditional elite.”]

“But where did Confucian “rationalism” end and popular “superstition” begin? Although popular religion reflected the social landscape of its adherents, it was still in many ways “a variation of the same [elite] understanding of the world.” The “Heaven” of the Chinese literati may have been remote and impersonal, but it could reward Confucian virtue and punish vice in the same spirit as the Jade Emperor and his agents; and the omens and avenging ghosts of popular vernacular literature had their supernatural counterparts in the official dynastic histories. [See Myron Cohen, “Being Chinese: The Peripheralization of Traditional Identity,” Daedalus 120:2 (1991), esp. pp. 117-23; Richard J. Smith, Fortune-tellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society (Boulder and Oxford, 1991), esp pp. 265-66; P. Steven Sangren, History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community (Stanford, 1987), esp. pp. 191 ff.]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The guilty ancestor, "Pan-geng", was a revered figure for the Classical Chinese, who knew of him through a moral speech included in the “Book of Documents” that he was said to have made at the time he moved the Shang capital to Yin. What would they have thought if they had known that he spent his free postmortem time digging cavities in his nephew’s teeth!” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Should Confucius Be Worshipped as a God?

Western rendering of Confucius

According to Asia for Educators: “There was a debate over many centuries at the highest levels of government in China as to whether Confucius should be made a god. Many scholars were opposed to this idea for a variety of reasons, one key reason being that they did not want Confucius to be represented as something other than a human being acting according to the highest standards of human behavior. The competing notion held that if Confucius were not made a god, people would not ask him for favors, and there was a danger of him becoming irrelevant. For most ordinary people, however, Confucius was already considered to be a deity, and people frequently went to the Confucian temples in their city and prayed for good results in the civil service examinations. Confucius was also considered by many to be the patron deity of the literati, along with Kui Xing and Wen Chang, who were also important Confucian scholars. Many people prayed to all these deities for success in the civil service examinations. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University ]

“In considering the State Cult, a question is whether emphasis should be on ritual or on religion — on the symbolic expression of those social and political values given emphasis in state ideology, or on the worship of the supernatural. For many Chinese thinkers in the Confucian tradition, there was a natural order linking humanity to the rest of the cosmos, which, as a totality, operated on moral principle. Humans are endowed with a nature that is good, and only selfish desires and passions place them in conflict with the (or their) natural order.

“Confucius himself stressed the use of ritual and sacrifice as means to inculcate values of ethical and social importance for the living; rituals thus were used to encourage greater conformity to this natural order, rather than to express dependence on the supernatural. The arrangement of state ritual largely was compatible with such Confucian views; the focus of sacrifice and reverence was on natural forces or historical sages represented as inscribed tablets and not personified by images (which, in contrast, were the focus of Buddhist and Daoist temples). Whether these beliefs were “religious” has been a matter of some debate. However they may be characterized, these elite convictions did contrast with the beliefs in the supernatural held by the masses and indeed by many if not most officials and degree-holders.”

I Ching

leftThe I Ching (or "Book of Changes") is a book of divination that first appeared during the Age of Philosophers. It has been attributed to Confucius and is regarded as a Confucian text but in reality it predates Confucius and was incorporated into Confucianism when it became more mystical.

I Ching divinations involve reading 64 hexagrams made of divided lines (yin) and undivided lines (yang) in accordance with sticks thrown by a fortuneteller. The 64 hexagrams are created by combining two groups of trigrams — each composed of eight trigrams, which in turn are each composed of combinations of three divided lines and undivided lines. Each hexagram has a description and symbolic meaning, which are revealed using interpretations written hundreds of years before the Book of Changes appeared.

In the old days the solid lines meant yes and a broken lines meant no. These days the interpretations are not so black and white. Four broken lines over two solid lines can mean "Approach has supreme success. Perseverance further. When the eighth month comes there will further misfortune."

I Ching is also regarded as a major treatise of the Chinese belief that philosophy and aesthetic theory is based on intuitive insight. The translation of I Chingby Princeton University Press is 740 pages.

See Folk Religions

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt chinatxt /+/; Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.