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The tendency of man to idolatry is shown by the history of all nations. The most intelligent of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, alike bowed the knee to idols made of wood and stone. Nor is there any occasion to revert to the nations of antiquity for a confirmation of this appalling fact. Our own forefathers, what were they but idolaters? India and China, also, exhibit mil
lions of human beings, who, having no knowledge of the God that made them, and the Saviour who died on the cross for the salvation of sinners, make them graven images, and falling down before them, pray unto them, and say, individually, “ Deliver me, for thou art my god!”
There are facts in the history of China which prove that the Chinese did not arrive at this state of utter degradation all at once. Like the nations of antiquity, they only reached it by slow degrees. Its first inhabitants imparted to their children, and their posterity through them, for several ages, some proper sentiments concerning the Supreme Being. They taught them to fear and honour Him as the Sovereign Lord of the universe. Traces of this are discerned in the five canonical works called King, of each of which Confucius was either the author or compiler, and which the Chinese look upon as the source of all their science and morality. Thus in one of these works (the Shoo-king) Tien, or the Deity, is called the Father of the people, independent, almighty; and a Being who knows the most hidden things, even the secrets of the heart. He is also there represented as watching over the government of the universe, so that no event can happen but by his command; as holy; as pleased with human virtues ; as superlatively just; and as punishing wickedness in the most signal manner, and even in kings, whom he deposeth, setting up others in their room, according to his pleasure. It is likewise there said that he dispenses public calamities, as warnings for repentance, and that repentance is followed by acts of mercy and goodness.
The remote ancestors of the Chinese derived some information from the immediate descendants of Noah; but the influence of knowledge thus obtained was vague and transitory. Hence, like the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Phenicians, Greeks, and many other ancient nations, the Chinese, in the lapse of time, forsook the worship of Tien, or the Deity, and bowed in homage to the visible material heaven. Sun, moon, and stars, were worshipped by them, instead of Him whose hands had created them, and whose will appointed their destined courses. This was the first great step in their downward path of moral turpitude, and having taken it, it led to another still more fatal in its results. They next worshipped inferior spirits, whom they supposed to depend on a Supreme Being, and who presided over cities, rivers, mountains, kingdoms, provinces, and particular persons, and nearly answered to the demons and genii of the Greeks and Romans. Having gone thus far, they were unable to retrace their steps, or to halt in their downward career. Step after step was taken, until they reached that depth of degrading superstition in which they have now for ages been sunk.
The religion of China, as it exists, and has for a long time existed, is three-fold; first, there is the religion of the state ; secondly, Taouism; and thirdly, Budhuism. In order that the reader may clearly understand the religious state of that vast empire, these are described under their separate heads.
SECTION 1.-THE RELIGION OF THE STATE.
Ancient Chinese legislators appear to have thought, that unless they had power over the minds of men, they could not control their bodies. For this purpose, they invented a religious system which delegated to their rulers all power upon earth ; a system which raised them to the rank of mediators between Heaven and their subjects, and which identified them with ideal spirits, demons, gods, and invisible powers. By it, indeed, they were made the representatives of the people, for whom it was asserted they could pray down blessings from on high.
This system, as might be supposed, was not promulgated or imposed upon the credulity of the people abruptly. It was gradually unfolded, lest common sense should be shocked, and it should thereby meet with such opposition as would have prevented its establishment. The designing usually work slowly and secretly, and thus these Chinese legislators proceeded. Hence they were successful in palming this religious system upon the multitude, and thereby triumphed over all obstacles. And the religious rites they established exist, notwithstanding a change of opinion has taken place in the minds of the higher classes, through the exertions of philosophers, from the period of the Sung dynasty downwards. In vain does their scepticism strike at the root of superstition; the mass of the people still sit under its wide-spread branches. Even the very philosophers themselves, and their warmest adherents, who see and know the frivolity of all
existing creeds in China, when sickness and sufferings come upon them, have recourse to a despised priest of Budhu, and follow the most ridiculous directions, in order to appease a guilty conscience. They would destroy superstition, but having no better creed to bring forward as a substitute, they are yet compelled to submit to its directions. Alike with the priests of China, therefore, they are blind leaders of the blind ; and it cannot but follow that all are engulfed in the vortex of
The religious rites established by Chinese legislators are watched over by the Le-poo, or tribunal of rites, with an eye as jealous as that of a Romish inquisitor. All innovations are violently resisted, whence no change has taken place since the period of their complete establishment.
The catalogue of the canonical objects of adoration amongst the Chinese rulers is truly appalling. Among them may be enumerated Teën, or heaven; Te, earth; the ancestors of the existing dynasty; the sun and moon; the gods of the land; Confucius; Shin-nung, the inventor of agriculture; the ancestors of the ancient dynasties; the inventor of silk; the spirits of heaven; the gods of the earth; the god of the passing year; the worthies of antiquity; the stars, clouds, wind, rain; the ocean, rivers, hills, streams; five mountains upon which the ancients sacrificed; flags; roads ; gods of the cannon, gate, and soil; the north pole; the north star; the gods of some hills; with a great variety of others, to which a number is being continually added. Every year objects of worship are increased, so that the deities of