Traditional Religions and Beliefs in China
November 5, 1989

The significance of the twin forces of Yin and Yang was that "everything in the universe, such as the elements, people, success and failure, and the rise and fall of dynasties, contain in them these basic forces. The two forces are necessary for the maintaining of the natural order. When in harmony they produce good, and when against each other, bad. The force integrating these two other forces is called Tao.

The beliefs of Taoism - that Tao existed before heaven and earth. The harmony between earth and heaven is achieved when Tao is allowed to take its natural course.

Confucius was the founder of Confucianism. He encouraged the people to respect the past since many of its traditions and customs demonstrated how to live a good life. One of his favourite sayings was "Until you understand life, how can you understand death?". He formulated a code of living, called "Li", and if you adhered to that then harmony would reign throughout the land. He believed that people were basically good and if they were taught to act properly then there would be fewer evils in the world. There would be no trouble anywhere as everyone, from the peasant to the ruler, led an upright life. If men lead good lives, then their families would lead good lives also.

The Chinese viewed Buddhism with suspicion because it was foreign. The Chinese considered themselves superior to anything from outside their country. It was a barbarian's religion from a barbaric place.

The main effect of Buddhism on China was that it led to a great deal of charity work, such as the distribution of food in times of famine. It also had an effect on literature; previously all writings had used big words that only people with an education could understand. The original Buddhist monks wanted as many people as possible to read understand the Buddist works, and so they kept it simple. They put it all into story books with wild illustrations, and sometimes even made songs to accompany them. Chinese literature in general followed this trend and it became very fashionable to write books in this form.

The earlist contact the Chinese had with Christianity was when Sir Francis Xavier arrived in the 16th century. Christianity did not really have a huge effect in China. The people looked on it as barbaric, and the only real success anyone had was a Chinese, Li Ma Tou - he managed to get China to look upon foreigners not as barbarians but as strangers who should be considered before being dismissed.

"... the surname ... is written first, before the other names." "... the individual's freedom and happiness was less important than the welfare of the family or the clan."