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Religion and Philosophy in Ancient China

Religion to the Time of Confucius | The Scholar Confucius | The anti-Confucian scholar, Mozi | The Confucian Scholar Mencius | Taoists, China's Cynics | Xunzi, Revisionist Confucian | the Legalists | Yin and Yang, the I-Ching, School of the Five Elements | Many Gods and New Paradises | Taoism, Religiosity and Politics | Buddhism Changes China and Responds to China | Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian Interactions

Religion to the Time of Confucius

Zhou rule claimed that it had ousted from heaven the ancestors of the former rulers, the Shang dynasty. The Zhou claimed that heaven was now occupied by their supreme god, a god they called "The Lord on High," who, they said, had commanded the downfall of the Shang emperors. But, as an act of continuity and appeasement, the Zhou admitted into their pantheon of gods some of the gods of the Shang, including the gods of grain, rain and agriculture.

It was from the Zhou emperors that local lords received the right to act as a priest, to perform sacrifices, to have certain hymns sung and certain dances performed, the right to propitiate the gods of local mountains, streams and of the soil and crops.

The Zhou dynasty began a new age of scholarship. They invited scholars to their courts to conduct their sacrifices and funerals and to teach their children. And among the scholars during the Zhou era was a man named Kongfuzi, believed to have lived by 551 and 479 BCE. In the 1600s of the Common Era his name would be Latinized to Confucius.

The earliest biography on Confucius was written four hundred years after his death, and those writing about him most likely portrayed him without any details that the passing of time had made disagreeable. The earliest copy of the writings of Confucius available to modern scholars dates back to the 300s of the Common Era – seven centuries after Confucius lived.

When Confucius lived, Zhou lineage was being described as having begun with a virgin birth by the king's consort, a result of she having stepped on a divine footprint. It's unknown whether Confucius believed this, but he has been described as believing the claim of Zhou emperors that their rule was a mandate from heaven. Confucius is described as seeing events as a morality play directed from heaven, as believing that Shang emperors had lost the mandate of heaven through a decline in their virtue and especially through the wickedness of their last ruler, Zhouxin. Confucian ideology would hold the Zhou leaders who overthrew Zhouxin as great heroes. According to the followers of Confucius, he believed that early Zhou rule was a golden age, a time of order, reason and virtue, and that Zhou emperors lost their power by having failed to exercise virtue.

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