Dr. Andrew spoke to us today about religion in China (actually, religion in China up to 1949.)    Andrew began with an observation that the promise we read each week includes a declaration of a covenant with the world.  The world, he said, is a very diverse place.  Every culture has its own religion, and there are many of them.

In China there are, traditionally, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism as the three strongest religious influences.  However, it is important to know that for the Chinese (and other Asian cultures,) borrowing from other religious beliefs is common, indeed, expected.  They move between religious traditions in ways that puzzle Westerners.  The unifying themes of Chinese religion are

Strong feeling for family, strong feeling for community, strong feeling for ancestor worship, strong feeling for fortune telling, strong feeling for natural forces, vital energy, and for harmony in the universe.

Confucianism is an all inclusive set of ideas.  Individual behavior influences family behavior, which influences national behavior.  It is male dominated and rule oriented.  A righteous individual obeys the rules and religious rites and a should recognize a duty to live in harmony with the cosmos.  One should pay attention to real problems for real people.

Taoism is much different.  In this tradition it is acceptable to sit back and enjoy the lack of rules.  Everything will be ok.  We can’t understand anything in creation anyway.

Buddhism comes from India.  It teaches compassion for living things, and reincarnation for some of the dead ones.

In addition to these three, folklore survives from the ancient times.  Much is still  explained by old ways that have come down to us.

The Mongol invasion brought with it much tolerance.  Mongols were not interested in being thought police.  It was a cosmopolitan age of religious freedom.

The most important development to understand is the coming of Christianity and the Opium wars.  Just as the British Navy was crippling China’s ability to trade, Christian missionaries became complicit in advancing the sale of opium and pushing Christian bibles at the same time.  Resistance to the Christians and the opium lead to a civil war of epic proportions.   Millions were killed in the Taiping Rebellion.

Chinese children are taught that the U.S. fomented a terrible injustice on the children of China.  In America, schoolchildren are hardly taught anything about it at all.

Stay tuned next week for more on this topic.