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
In ancient China, as elsewhere, religion, scholarship and what would eventually be called philosophy were intertwined with political power. Zhou emperors told those they conquered that they, the Zhou, had ousted the ancestors of their predicessor emperors, the Shang, emperors from heaven. 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 admited 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.
In early Zhou civilization (after 1066 BCE), people continued their attempt to appease the gods by giving them gifts. Those who could afford it sacrificed cattle, sheep, pigs or horses. The sacrificing of humans diminished from what it had been under the Shang emperors, but Zhou emperors had their wives or friends join them in the grave.
Each year a young woman was offered as a bride to the river god. This latter sacrifice began with sorceresses choosing the most attractive woman they could find. They dressed the girl in satin, silk and jewelry and put her on a nuptial bed on a raft. They floated the raft down river. The raft sank and the girl drowned, gone as a gift to the invisible world of the river god.
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 1600s CE his name would be Latinized to Confucius.
By the time of Confucius (551-479), the founder of the Zhou dynasty, Houji, was described as having been born by a virgin. Confucius may not have believed this, but he is 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 held 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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