« ZurückWeiter »
China provoke a comparison with those of Greece, of whom no one, in the end, could undertake to say “ how many there were not."
The regulation of the order of deities rests with the emperor of China. He it is who exalts or degrades, canonizes or excommunicates, according to the merits or demerits of the parties. He himself ranks high among them, for only heaven, earth, and his deceased ancestors are deemed his superiors. The rest are more or less inferior to the monarch, and he can strike such off the catalogue of divinities as he pleases. The proper rank of idols is strictly observed in every temple: for if a mandarin lodges in a temple where there are images below his rank, he may order them to be removed; but they consider that a mandarin has no power to confer divine honours : that rests solely with the emperor.
By this it will be seen, that the religion of state in China enjoins the worship of numberless imposing visible objects, thereby confounding the universe with the supreme God. It also fills all parts of the world with genii, demons, spirits, or deceased mortals, to whom the control of some part of the world is assigned. But these are not exactly deities ; they are looked upon only as rulers and governors of the universe, under the sway of the emperor, who can dictate laws to them, and punish them if they do not obey those laws.
A prominent feature in the religion of the Chinese, whether of the state or individuals, is the worship of the dead. The emperor and the peasant alike bow down before the shades of their ancestors. Such are idols of the first order; and
whatever duty may be forgotten, this is surely remembered. To neglect it would be to gain a character for impiety, which neither personal virtues nor time could obliterate.
The various deities of China are variously represented. Some are recognised by altars in a series of steps, like the tower of Babel; and others by temples, images, and pictures. The images
are in general made of clay, and gilt, those of brass being in disrepute. The country abounds with temples, which either belong to the government, or to the Taou and Budhu sects. Those in Pekin appear to be the most celebrated, but there is a great uniformity in their construction throughout the empire. The largest consist of a row of buildings with intervening court-yards. All of them have one large hall, to which a few steps lead; and when that is gained the visitor
beholds an idol placed upon an altar, resembling a table, walls daubed with historical paintings, and a roof adorned with dragons and griffins, after the manner of the mystic cells of Egypt.
This feature of the Chinese temples will also serve to remind the reader of the “chambers of imagery," described by the prophet Ezekiel, as chambers wherein “every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, were portrayed upon the wall round about."*
The 6 chambers of imagery' erected by the idolatrous Hebrews were evidently formed from a model supplied by the Egyptians ; and it may be a question, whether the Chinese derived their ideas for the paintings which adorn the interior of their temples from the same source, or from their own corrupt imagination. But, whichever it may be, the fact exhibits the universality of the corruption of the human heart in the most glowing colours. It testifies of the truth which the psalmist uttered, in holy indignation, when contemplating the apostasy of man in the aggregate :
“ They are all gone aside,
They are all together become filthy :
Psa, xiv, 3. The splendour of some of the temples in China is said to be very striking. This is more especially the case with the Teën-tân, or celestial altar, which is a mound of earth built in terraces, and made to represent the firmament. Similar monuments are erected in honour of “mother earth ;" but they do not vie in splendour with the Teën-tân,
* See Ezek. viii, 7–12.
and none are equal to the gorgeousness of the palaces. When the object of worship is presumed to be like a man, the oblations which the Chinese offer at their shrines consist of various kinds of edibles. These are presented amidst the fumes of incense, the effulgence of tapers, or the lighted tinsel, and the sound of the gong; all which they suppose to be essential in order to propitiate their deities. The model after which all altars are made, is a large censer in the middle of a table, with an urn on each side. These vessels are, for the most part, made of pewter, and somewhat resemble European ornaments on chimney-pieces. Incense sticks are stuck into the censer, and as they waste they deposit their ashes around in the hollow of the censer.
In the state religion all sacrifices are either offered by the emperor himself or by his deputies, who are either ministers of state or members of the Le-poo. When the ceremony takes place every one appears in his state robes, which differ in colour according to the object of worship. For instance, when the material heaven is worshipped
, the robes are azure; when the earth, yellow; the sun, red; and the moon, a pale white. Their very altars are also shaped according to the notion which the Chinese have of their object of worship. Thus, the earth being considered by them as having 'right angles, the altar dedicated to the earth is made square likewise. Every thing, in: deed, belonging to the Chinese temples is fabricated according to rule. The dimensions are given, and they must be strictly executed according to the pattern.
It has been seen, in the article on the Chinese Court, that various officers are maintained for the purpose of feeding the sacred animals, and preparing the offerings. These offerings consist of three kinds, according to the rank or sanctity of the idol. They are prepared the day before, and are presented with a variety of fruits and cakes, which are publicly exhibited for a while, and are then consumed by the assistants. Like the priests of Bel and the Dragon, the Chinese priests prepare the meat for their idols, but come in at a side-door and eat it themselves, making their hearts right merry over the credulity of the worshippers.
It would be tedious to dwell on the numberless festivals observed by the Chinese state. At every new moon, and the change of the season, they take place; and they are generally made seasons of mirth and merriment. One example must suffice, that of the emperor's ploughing the sacred field.
This festival takes place when the sun enters the fifteenth degree of Aquarius. It is not, however, performed till the astrologers have consulted the stars, and discovered a propitious day. This done, the ceremonial is forwarded to the emperor, who, after nominally fasting for three days, informs his ancestors, by proxy, what he is going to do, and solicits their approbation. This is granted as a matter of course— for the dead cannot oppose the proceedings of the living; and then the emperor sets out, accompanied by the highest officers of state, for the altar erected in honour of “ mother earth.” Here he offers sacrifices, and reads the formula of prayer; and then he proceeds to the sacred field, which lies to the south of Pekin, where he grasps the plough, and