« AnkstesnisTęsti »
The western frontiers, between the Kia-yu Pass in Kansuh, at the extreme end of the Great Wall, leading across the country south to the island of Hainan, are too wild and rough to be densely inhabited or easily crossed, so that the Chinese have always been unmolested in that direction. To invade the eastern sides, now so exposed, the ancients had no fleets powerful enough to attack the Middle Kingdom; and it is only within the present century that armies carried by steam have threatened her seaboard.
The Chinese have, therefore, been shut out by their natural defenses from both the assaults and the trade of the dwellers in India, Thibet, and Central Asia, to that degree which would have materially modified their civilization. The external influences which have molded them have been wholly religious, acting through the persistent labors of Buddhist missionaries from India. These zealous men came and went in a ceaseless stream for ten centuries, joining the caravans entering the northwestern marts, and ships trading at southern ports.
In addition to this geographical isolation, the language of the Chinese has tended still more to separate them intellectually from their fellow-men. It is not strange, indeed, that a symbolic form of writing should have arisen among them, for the Egyptians and Mexicans exhibit other forms of ideographic writing, as well as its caprices and the difficulty of extending it. But its long-continued use by the Chinese is hardly less remarkable than the proof it gives of their independence of other people in mental and political relations. Outside nations did not care to study Chinese books through such a medium, and its possessors had, without intending it, shut themselves out of easy interchange of thought. This shows that they could not have had much acquaintance in early times with any alphabetic writing like Sanskrit or Assyrian, for it is almost certain that, in that case, they would soon have begun to alter their ideographs into syllables and letters, as the Egyptians did ; while the manifest advantages of the phonetic over the symbolic principle would have gradually insured its triumph. In that case, hɔwever, the rivalries of feudal states would have resulted, as in Europe, in the formation of different languages, and perhaps prevented the growth of a great Chinese race. In Japan and Corea the struggle between symbols and sounds has long existed, and two written languages, the Chinese and a derived demotic, are now used side by side in each of those kingdoms.
This isolation has had its disadvantageous effects on the people thus cut off from their fellows, but the results now seen could not otherwise have been attained. Their literary tendencies could never have attained the strengh of an institution if they had been surrounded by more intelligent nations; nor would they have filled the land to such a degree if they had been forced to constantly defend themselves, or had imbibed the lust of conquest. Either of these conditions would probably have brought their own national life to a premature close.
Isolation, however, is merely a negative feature in this question. It does not account for that life, nor furnish the reasons for its uniformity and endurance. These must be sought for in the moral and social teachings of their sages and great rulers, who have been leaders and counselors, and in the character of the political institutions which have grown out of those teachings. A comparison of their national characteristics with those of other ancient and modern people shows four striking contrasts and deductions. The Chinese may be regarded as the only pagan nation which has maintained democratic habits under a purely despotic theory of government. This government has respected the rights of its subjects by placing them under the protection of law, with its sanctions and tribunals; and making the sovereign amenable in the popular mind for the continuance of his sway to the approval of a higher Power able to punish him. Lastly, it has prevented the domination of all feudal, hereditary, and priestly classes and interests by making the tenure of officers of government below the throne chiefly depend on their literary attainments. Not a trace of Judaistic, Assyrian, or Persian customs or dogmas appears in Chinese books in such a definite form as to suggest a Western origin. All is the indigenous outcome of native ideas and habits.
Underlying these characteristics is one general idea that should here be mentioned, because of its importance and power. This is the worship and obedience due to parents and ancestors-a homage given to them in this world, and a reverence to their manes in the next, which are unknown to a similar extent in any other land. Regard for parents has assumed the sanctity of worship in many other countries, indeed, but in no nation has it exerted such a powerful influence, and been kept so long in its original purity.
In the “Book of Odes,” whose existence is coeval with Samuel and David, or earlier, are many references to this worship, and to certain rites connected with its royal observance. At some festivals the dead were personated by a younger relative, who was supposed to be taken possession of by their spirits, and thereby became their visible image. He was placed on high, and the sacrificer, on appearing in the temple, asked him to be seated at his ease, and urged him to eat, thereby to prepare himself to receive the homage given to the dead.
When he had done so, he gave the response in their name; the deified spirits returned to heaven, and their personator came down from his seat. In one ode the response of the ancestors through their personator is thus given:
“What said the message from your sires ?
Vessels and gifts are clean ;
Behave with reverent mien.
And reverent by your side
Shall ceaseless blessings bide.
That in your palace high,
Rich in posterity."-LEGGE's She King. The teachings of this ancient book intimate that the protecting favor of the departed could be lost by the vile, cruel, or unjust conduct of their descendants—thus connecting ancestral worship and reward with personal character. Another ode sums up this idea in the expression. “ The mysterious empyrean is able to strengthen anything; do not disgrace your imperial ancestors, and it will save your posterity.” Many stories occur in the native literature exemplifying this idea by actual experiences of blessing and cursing, all flowing from the observance or neglect of the required duties.
The great sages Confucius and Mencius, with the earlier rulers, King Wăn and Duke Chau, and their millions of followers, have all upheld these sentiments, and those teachings and examples are still as powerful as ever. In every household, a shrine, a tablet, an oratory, or a domestic temple, according to the position of the family, contains the simple legend of the two ancestral names written on a slip
of paper or carved on a board. Incense is burned before it, daily or on the new and full moons; and in April the people everywhere gather at the family graves to sweep them, and worship the departed around a festive sacrifice. To the children it has all the pleasant associations of our Christmas or Thanksgiving; and all the elder members of the family who can do so come together around the tomb or in the ancestral hall at the annual rite. Parents and children meet and bow before the tablet, and in their simple cheer contract no associations with temples or idols, monasteries or priests, processions, or flags and music. It is the family, and a stranger intermeddleth not with it; he has his own tablet to look to, and can get no good by worshiping before that bearing the names of another family.
As the children grow up, the worship of the ancestors, whom they never saw, is exchanged for that of nearer ones who bore and nurtured, clothed, taught, and cheered them in helpless childhood and hopeful youth, and the whole is thus rendered more personal, vivid, and endearing. There is nothing revolting or cruel connected with it, but everything is orderly, kind, and simple, calculated to strengthen the family relationship, cement the affection between brothers and sisters, and uphold habits of filial reverence and obedience. Though the strongest motive for this worship arises out of the belief that success in worldly affairs depends on the support given to parental spirits in Hades, who will resent continued neglect by withholding their blessing, yet, in the course of ages, it has influenced Chinese character in promoting industry and cultivating habits of domestic care and thrift, beyond all estimation.
It has, moreover, done much to preserve that feature of the government which grows out of the oversight of Heaven as manifested to the people through their Emperor, the Son of Heaven, whom they regard as its vicegerent. The parental authority is also itself honored by that peculiar position of the monarch, and the child grows up with the habit of yielding to its injunctions, for to him the family tablet is a reality, the abode of a personal Being who exerts an influence over him that can not be evaded, and is far more to him as an individual than any of the popular gods. Those gods are to be feared and their wrath deprecated, but the “illustrious ones who have completed their probation ” represent love, care, and interest to the worshipers if they do not fail in their duties.
Another indirect result has been to define and elevate the position of the wife and mother. All the laws which could be framed for the protection of women would lack their force if she were not honored in the household. As there can be only one “illustrious consort” (hien pi) named on the tablet, there is of course only one wife (tsi) acknowledged in the family. There are concubines (tsieh), whose legal rights are defined and secured, and form an integral part of the family; but they are not admitted into the ancestral hall, and their children are reckoned with the others as Dan and Asher were in Jacob's household. Polygamous families in China form a small proportion of the whole; and this acknowledged parity of the mother with the father, in the most sacred position she can be placed, has done much to maintain the purity and right influence of woman amid all the degradations, pollutions, and moral weakness of heathenism. It is one of the most powerful suports of good order. It may even be confidently stated that woman's legal, social, and domestic position is as high in China as it has ever been outside of Christian culture, and as safe as it can be without the restraints of Christianity. Another benefit to the people, that of early marriages, derives much of its prevalence and obligation from the fear that, if neglected, there may be no heirs left to carry on the worship at the family tomb.
The three leading results here noticed, viz., the prevention of a priestly caste, the confirmation of parental authority in its own sphere, and the elevation of the woman and wife to a parity with the man and husband, do much to explain the perpetuity of Chinese institutions. The fact that filial piety in this system has overpassed the limit set by God in his Word, and that deceased parents are worshiped as gods by their children, is both true and sad. The knowledge of his law can alone put all parties in their right positions; but the result now before us in the history of the sons of Han may lead us to acknowledge that the blessing of the first commandment with promise has come upon them, and their days have been long in the land which God has
There is, however, need of something much stronger and wiser than all these influences and obligations to control and direct a wellconstituted state. We must seek for it in the literary institutions of China, and examine how they have worked to preserve it. Without stopping to discuss the origin and quality of her literature, previous to the Chau dynasty (B.c. 1122), it may be remarked that at that time some of the best men ivhose deeds are recorded succeeded in overthrowing the Shang dynasty, and planting their own family in its stead. Their sway was patriotic and beneficial, and their writings upon the principles of good government became authoritative Their empire, however, gradually fell into the condition of France after Charlemagne's death, through the internecine strifes of the feudal kings, when Confucius and Mencius arose in the fifth and fourth centuries. They saw that the people were lapsing into barbarism, and undertook to teach them political ethics, and fortify their own precepts by the well-known instructions of the ancient kings. They appealed to their recognized excellence as the best exemplars, and a reason for urging a return to those approved standards. These eminent men thus obtained a hearing and support from their countrymen, while the experience of the intervening centuries enabled them to enlarge their range of thought and discuss every function of a state. If it be suggested that God raised up Confucius, Mencius, King Wăn, and Duke Chau, and others, as leaders of the Black-haired race, to give them good examples and wise maxims in social, political and domestic life, he also raised up similar guides and rulers in Persia, Babylon, Greece, and especially in Israel, whose instructors were purer and better than all. What, then, accounts for the paramount influence of the Chinese classics on that