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Taoism and Confucianism—A Search for Heaven’s Way

Taoism and Confucianism—A Search for Heaven’s Way

Chapter 7

Taoism and Confucianism​—A Search for Heaven’s Way

Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism constitute the three major religions of China and the Far East. Unlike Buddhism, however, Taoism and Confucianism have not become world religions but have basically remained in China and wherever Chinese culture has asserted its influence. Though no official figures of the current number of their followers in China are available, Taoism and Confucianism together have dominated the religious life of nearly one quarter of the world’s population for the past 2,000 years.

1. (Include introduction.) (a) Where are Taoism and Confucianism practiced, and how extensive are they? (b) To what time period do we now turn to examine these teachings?

‘LET a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools contend.’ That saying, made famous by Mao Tse-tung of the People’s Republic of China in a speech in 1956, was actually a paraphrase of the expression that Chinese scholars have used to describe the era in China from the fifth to the third centuries B.C.E., called the Warring States period. By this time the mighty Chou dynasty (c. 1122-256 B.C.E.) had deteriorated into a system of loosely bound feudal states that were engaged in continuous warfare, much to the distress of the common people.

2. (a) What led to the “hundred schools” of thought? (b) What remains of the “hundred schools” development?

2 The turmoil and suffering brought about by the wars seriously weakened the authority of the traditional ruling class. The common people were no longer content with submitting themselves to the whims and wiles of the aristocracy and silently suffering the consequences. As a result, long-suppressed ideas and aspirations burst forth like “a hundred flowers.” Different schools of thought advanced their ideas on government, law, social order, conduct, and ethics, as well as on subjects such as agriculture, music, and literature, as the means for restoring some normalcy to life. They came to be known as the “hundred schools.” Most of them did not produce a lasting effect. Two schools, however, gained such prominence that they have influenced life in China for over 2,000 years. They were what eventually came to be known as Taoism and Confucianism.

Tao​—What Is It?

3. (a) What is the Chinese concept of Tao? (b) Instead of a Creator, what did the Chinese believe was the cause of all things? (Compare Hebrews 3:4.)

3 To understand why Taoism (pronounced dow-ism; rhymes with now) and Confucianism came to wield such a deep and lasting influence on the Chinese people, as well as on those of Japan, Korea, and other surrounding nations, it is necessary to have some understanding of the fundamental Chinese concept of Tao. The word itself means “way, road, or path.” By extension, it can also mean “method, principle, or doctrine.” To the Chinese, the harmony and orderliness they perceived in the universe were manifestations of Tao, a sort of divine will or legislation existing in and regulating the universe. In other words, instead of believing in a Creator God, who controls the universe, they believed in a providence, a will of heaven, or simply heaven itself as the cause of everything.

4. How did the Chinese apply the concept of Tao to human affairs? (Compare Proverbs 3:5, 6.)

4 Applying the concept of Tao to human affairs, the Chinese believed that there is a natural and correct way to do everything and that everything and everyone has its proper place and its proper function. They believed, for example, that if the ruler performed his duty by dealing justly with the people and looking after the sacrificial rituals pertaining to heaven, there would be peace and prosperity for the nation. Similarly, if people were willing to seek out the way, or Tao, and follow it, everything would be harmonious, peaceful, and effective. But if they were to go contrary to or resist it, the result would be chaos and disaster.

5. (a) What is Taoism’s approach to Tao? (b) What is Confucianism’s approach to Tao? (c) What questions need to be answered?

5 This idea of going with Tao and not interfering with its flow is a central element of Chinese philosophical and religious thinking. It may be said that Taoism and Confucianism are two different expressions of the same concept. Taoism takes a mystical approach and, in its original form, advocates inaction, quietness, and passivity, shunning society and returning to nature. Its basic idea is that everything will come out right if people will sit back, do nothing, and let nature take its course. Confucianism, on the other hand, takes a pragmatic approach. It teaches that social order will be maintained when every person plays his intended role and does his duty. To that end, it codifies all human and social relationships​—ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, and so on—​and provides guidelines for all of them. Naturally, this brings up the following questions: How did these two systems come into existence? Who were their founders? How are they practiced today? And what have they done as far as man’s search for God is concerned?

Taoism​—A Philosophical Start

6. (a) What is known about the founder of Taoism? (b) How did the founder of Taoism come to be known as Lao-tzu?

6 In its early stages, Taoism was more a philosophy than a religion. Its founder, Lao-tzu, was dissatisfied with the chaos and turmoil of the times and sought relief by shunning society and returning to nature. Not a great deal is known about the man, who is said to have lived in the sixth century B.C.E., although even that is uncertain. He was commonly called Lao-tzu, which means “Old Master” or “Old One,” because, as legend has it, his pregnant mother carried him for so long that when he was born, his hair had already turned white.

7. What do we learn about Lao-tzu from “Historical Records”?

7 The only official record about Lao-tzu is in Shih Chi (Historical Records), by Ssu-ma Ch’ien, a respected court historian of the second and first centuries B.C.E. According to this source, Lao-tzu’s real name was Li Erh. He served as a clerk in the imperial archives at Loyang, central China. But more significantly, it gives this account about Lao-tzu:

“Lao Tzu resided in Chou most of his life. When he foresaw the decay of Chou, he departed and came to the frontier. The custom-house officer Yin Hsi said: ‘Sir, since it pleases you to retire, I request you for my sake to write a book.’ Thereupon Lao Tzu wrote a book of two parts consisting of five thousand and odd words, in which he discussed the concepts of the Way [Tao] and the Power [Te]. Then he departed. No one knows where he died.”

8. (a) What book was Lao-tzu said to have produced? (b) Why is the book subject to many different interpretations?

8 Many scholars doubt the authenticity of this account. In any case, the book that was produced is known as Tao Te Ching (generally translated “The Classic of the Way and the Power”) and is considered the principal text of Taoism. It is written in terse, cryptic verses, some of which are only three or four words long. Because of this and because the meaning of some characters has changed considerably since the time of Lao-tzu, the book is subject to many different interpretations.

A Glimpse of “Tao Te Ching”

9. How did Lao-tzu describe Tao in Tao Te Ching?

9 In Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu expounded on Tao, the ultimate way of nature, and applied it to every level of human activity. Here we quote from a modern translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English to get a glimpse of Tao Te Ching. Regarding Tao, it says the following:

“[There was] something mysteriously formed,

Born before heaven and earth. . . .

Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.

I do not know its name.

Call it Tao.”​—Chapter 25.

“All things arise from Tao.

They are nourished by Virtue [Te].

They are formed from matter.

They are shaped by environment.

Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao

and honor Virtue [Te].”​—Chapter 51.

10. (a) What is the objective of Taoism? (b) How is this Taoist view applied to human conduct?

10 What can we deduce from these enigmatic passages? That to Taoists, Tao is some mysterious cosmic force that is responsible for the material universe. The objective of Taoism is to search out the Tao, leave behind the world, and become at one with nature. This concept is also reflected in the Taoists’ view on human conduct. Here is an expression of this ideal in Tao Te Ching:

“Better stop short than fill to the brim.

Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.

Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.

Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.

Retire when the work is done.

This is the way of heaven.”​—Chapter 9.

11. How can the Taoist ideal be described?

11 These few examples show that at least initially, Taoism was basically a school of philosophy. Reacting to the injustices, suffering, devastation, and futility that resulted from the harsh rule of the feudal system of the time, Taoists believed that the way to find peace and harmony was to go back to the tradition of the ancients before there were kings and ministers who dominated the common people. Their ideal was to live the tranquil, rural life, in union with nature.​—Proverbs 28:15; 29:2.

Taoism’s Second Sage

12. (a) Who was Chuang Chou? (b) What did he add to Lao-tzu’s original teachings?

12 The philosophy of Lao-tzu was carried one step further by Chuang Chou, or Chuang-tzu, meaning “Master Chuang” (369-286 B.C.E.), who was considered the most eminent successor to Lao-tzu. In his book, Chuang Tzu, he not only elaborated on the Tao but also expounded on the ideas of yin and yang, first developed in the I Ching. (See page 83.) In his view, nothing is really permanent or absolute, but everything is in a state of flux between two opposites. In the chapter “Autumn Flood,” he wrote:

“Nothing in the universe is permanent, as everything lives only long enough to die. Only Tao, having no beginning or end, lasts forever. . . . Life can be likened to a fleet horse galloping at full speed​—it changes constantly and continuously, in every fraction of a second. What should you do? What should you not do? It really does not make any difference.”

13. (a) With Chuang-tzu’s elaboration, what is the Taoist view of life? (b) What dream of Chuang-tzu’s is best remembered?

13 Because of this philosophy of inertia, the Taoist view is that there is no point in anyone doing anything to interfere with what nature has set in motion. Sooner or later, everything will return to its opposite. No matter how unbearable a situation is, it will soon become better. No matter how pleasant a situation is, it will soon fade away. (In contrast, see Ecclesiastes 5:18, 19.) This philosophical view of life is typified in a dream of Chuang-tzu’s by which the common folk best remember him:

“Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou.”

14. In what fields is the Taoist influence reflected?

14 The influence of this philosophy is seen in the style of the poetry and painting developed by Chinese artists of later generations. (See page 171.) Taoism, however, was not to remain as a passive philosophy for long.

From Philosophy to Religion

15. (a) To what idea did the fascination with nature lead the Taoists? (b) What statements in Tao Te Ching contributed to such an idea?

15 In their attempt to be at one with nature, Taoists became obsessed with its agelessness and resilience. They speculated that perhaps by living in harmony with Tao, or nature’s way, one could somehow tap into the secrets of nature and become immune to physical harm, diseases, and even death. Although Lao-tzu did not make this an issue, passages in Tao Te Ching seemed to suggest this idea. For example, chapter 16 says: “Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.” *

16. How did the writings of Chuang-tzu add to the magical beliefs of Taoism?

16 Chuang-tzu also contributed to such speculations. For instance, in a dialogue in Chuang Tzu, one mythical character asked another, “You are of a high age, and yet you have a child’s complexion. How is this?” The latter replied: “I have learnt Tao.” Regarding another Taoist philosopher, Chuang-tzu wrote: “Now Liehtse could ride upon the wind. Sailing happily in the cool breeze, he would go on for fifteen days before his return. Among mortals who attain happiness, such a man is rare.”

17. What Taoist practices resulted from earlier speculations, and what was the outcome? (Compare Romans 6:23; 8:6, 13.)

17 Stories like these fired the imagination of Taoists, and they started to experiment with meditation, dieting, and breathing exercises that supposedly could delay bodily decay and death. Soon, legends began to circulate about immortals who could fly on clouds and appear and disappear at will and who lived on sacred mountains or remote islands for countless years, sustained by dew or magical fruits. Chinese history reports that in 219 B.C.E., the Ch’in emperor, Shih Huang-Ti, sent a fleet of ships with 3,000 boys and girls to find the legendary island of P’eng-lai, the abode of the immortals, to bring back the herb of immortality. Needless to say, they did not return with the elixir, but tradition says that they populated the islands that came to be known as Japan.

18. (a) What is the Taoist idea behind ‘immortality pills’? (b) What other magical practices were developed by Taoism?

18 During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.), the magical practices of Taoism reached a new peak. It was said that Emperor Wu Ti, though promoting Confucianism as the official State teaching, was much attracted to the Taoist idea of physical immortality. He was particularly taken up with concocting ‘immortality pills’ by alchemy. In the Taoist view, life results when the opposing yin and yang (female and male) forces combine. Thus, by fusing lead (dark, or yin) and mercury (bright, or yang), the alchemists were imitating the process of nature, and the product, they thought, would be an immortality pill. Taoists also developed Yogalike exercises, breath-control techniques, dietary restrictions, and sexual practices that were believed to strengthen one’s vital energy and prolong one’s life. Their paraphernalia included magic talismans that were said to render one invisible and invulnerable to weapons or enable one to walk on water or fly through space. They also had magic seals, usually containing the yin-yang symbol, affixed on buildings and over doorways to repel evil spirits and wild beasts.

19. How did Taoism become organized?

19 By the second century C.E., Taoism became organized. A certain Chang Ling, or Chang Tao-ling, established a Taoist secret society in western China and practiced magical cures and alchemy. Because each member was levied a fee of five pecks of rice, his movement came to be known as the Five-Pecks-of-Rice Taoism (wu-tou-mi tao). * Claiming that he received a personal revelation from Lao-tzu, Chang became the first “celestial master.” Finally, it was said that he succeeded in making the elixir of life and ascended alive to heaven, riding a tiger, from Mount Lung-hu (Dragon-Tiger Mountain) in Kiangsi Province. With Chang Tao-ling there started a centuries-long succession of Taoist “celestial masters,” each said to be a reincarnation of Chang.

Meeting the Challenge of Buddhism

20. How did Taoism attempt to counteract Buddhism’s influence?

20 By the seventh century, during the T’ang dynasty (618-907 C.E.), Buddhism was making inroads into Chinese religious life. As a countermeasure, Taoism promoted itself as a religion with Chinese roots. Lao-tzu was deified, and Taoist writings were canonized. Temples, monasteries, and nunneries were built, and orders of monks and nuns were established, more or less in the Buddhist fashion. In addition, Taoism also adopted into its own pantheon many of the gods, goddesses, fairies, and immortals of Chinese folklore, such as the Eight Immortals (Pa Hsien), the god of the hearth (Tsao Shen), city gods (Ch’eng Huang), and guardians of the door (Men Shen). The result was an amalgam embracing elements of Buddhism, traditional superstitions, spiritism, and ancestor worship.​—1 Corinthians 8:5.

21. Eventually, into what did Taoism transform itself, and how?

21 As time wore on, Taoism slowly degenerated into a system of idolatry and superstition. Each person simply worshiped his favorite gods and goddesses at the local temples, petitioning them for protection against evil and for help in attaining earthly fortune. The priests were for hire to conduct funerals; select favorable sites for graves, houses, and businesses; communicate with the dead; ward off evil spirits and ghosts; celebrate festivals; and perform sundry other rituals. Thus, what started off as a school of mystic philosophy had transformed itself into a religion deeply mired in belief in immortal spirits, hellfire, and demigods​—ideas drawn from the stagnant pool of false beliefs of ancient Babylon.

China’s Other Prominent Sage

22. What school of thought came to dominance in China, and what questions do we need to consider?

22 While we have traced the rise, development, and decay of Taoism, we should recall that it was just one of the “hundred schools” that blossomed in China during the period of the Warring States. Another school that eventually came to prominence, in fact, dominance, was Confucianism. But why did Confucianism come to such prominence? Of all Chinese sages, Confucius is undoubtedly the best-known outside of China, but who really was he? And what did he teach?

23. What personal details regarding Confucius are given in the “Historical Records”?

23 Regarding Confucius, we again turn to the Shih Chi (Historical Records) of Ssu-ma Ch’ien. In contrast to the brief sketch on Lao-tzu, we find an extended biography of Confucius. Here are some personal details quoted from a translation by the Chinese scholar Lin Yutang:

“Confucius was born in the town of Tsou, in the county of Ch’angping, in the country of Lu. . . . [His mother] prayed at the hill Nich’iu and begat Confucius in answer to her prayer, in the twenty-second year of Duke Hsiang of Lu (551 B.C.). There was a noticeable convolution on his head at his birth, and that was why he was called ‘Ch’iu’ (meaning a “hill”). His literary name was Chungni, and his surname was K’ung.” *

24. What happened during the early life of Confucius?

24 Shortly after his birth, his father died, but his mother, though poor, managed to provide him with a proper education. The boy developed a keen interest in history, poetry, and music. According to The Analects, one of the Confucian Four Books, he devoted himself to scholarly study when he reached age 15. At age 17, he was given a minor government post in his native state of Lu.

25. How did the death of Confucius’ mother affect him? (Compare Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6; John 11:33, 35.)

25 His financial status apparently improved, so that he married at the age of 19 and had a son the next year. In his middle 20’s, however, his mother died. That evidently had quite an effect on him. Being a meticulous observer of ancient traditions, Confucius retired from public life and mourned his mother at her grave for 27 months, thus furnishing the Chinese with a classic example of filial piety.

Confucius the Teacher

26. What profession did Confucius take up after the death of his mother?

26 Thereafter, he left his family and took up the occupation of a wandering teacher. The subjects he taught included music, poetry, literature, civics, ethics, and science, or what there was of it at that time. He must have made quite a name for himself, for it was said that at one time he had as many as 3,000 students.

27. What is known about Confucius as a teacher? (Compare Matthew 6:26, 28; 9:16, 17; Luke 12:54-57; John 4:35-38.)

27 In the Orient, Confucius is revered principally as a master teacher. In fact the epitaph on his grave in Ch’ü-fou, Shantung Province, reads simply “Ancient, Most Holy Teacher.” One Western writer describes his teaching method this way: “He walked about from ‘place to place accompanied by those who were absorbing his views of life.’ Whenever the journey took them any distance he rode in an ox cart. The slow pace of the animal enabled his pupils to follow on foot, and it is evident that the subject of his lectures was frequently suggested by events occurring on the road.” Interestingly, Jesus at a later date, and independently, used a similar method.

28. According to the Chinese writer Lin Yutang, what made Confucius an honored teacher?

28 What made Confucius an honored teacher among the Orientals, no doubt, was the fact that he was a good student himself, especially of history and ethics. “People were attracted to Confucius, less because he was the wisest man of his time, than because he was the most learned scholar, the only one of his day who could teach them about the ancient books and ancient scholarship,” wrote Lin Yutang. Pointing to this love of learning as perhaps the key reason Confucianism triumphed over other schools of thought, Lin summarized the matter this way: “The Confucian teachers had something definite to teach and the Confucian pupils had something definite to learn, namely, historical learning, while the other schools were forced to air merely their own opinions.”

“It Is Heaven That Knows Me!”

29. (a) What was Confucius’ real ambition in life? (b) How did he try to achieve his ambition, and with what result?

29 In spite of his success as a teacher, Confucius did not consider teaching to be his lifework. He felt that his ideas on ethics and morals could save the troubled world of his day if only the rulers would apply them by employing him or his pupils in their governments. To this end, he and a small group of his closest disciples left his native state of Lu and went traveling from state to state trying to find the wise ruler who would adopt his ideas on government and social order. What was the outcome? Shih Chi states: “Finally he left Lu, was abandoned in Ch’i, was driven out of Sung and Wei, suffered want between Ch’en and Ts’ai.” After 14 years on the road, he returned to Lu, disappointed but not broken.

30. What literary works form the basis of Confucianism?

30 For the remainder of his days, he devoted himself to literary work and teaching. (See box, page 177.) Though undoubtedly he lamented his obscurity, he said: “I do not murmur against Heaven. I do not grumble against man. I pursue my studies here on earth, and am in touch with Heaven above. It is Heaven that knows me!” Finally, in the year 479 B.C.E., he died at the age of 73.

The Essence of Confucian Ideas

31. What did Confucius teach was the way to achieve social order?

31 Although Confucius excelled as a scholar and as a teacher, his influence was by no means limited to scholastic circles. In fact, the aim of Confucius was not just to teach rules of conduct or morals but also to restore peace and order to society, which was, at the time, torn apart by the constant warfare between the feudal lords. To achieve that goal, Confucius taught that everyone, from the emperor to the common folk, must learn what role he was expected to play in society and live accordingly.

32, 33. (a) What was the Confucian concept of li? (b) According to Confucius, what would be the result of practicing li?

32 In Confucianism this concept is known as li, which means propriety, courtesy, the order of things, and, by extension, ritual, ceremony, and reverence. In answer to the question, “What is this great li?” Confucius gave the following explanation:

“Of all the things that the people live by, li is the greatest. Without li, we do not know how to conduct a proper worship of the spirits of the universe; or how to establish the proper status of the king and the ministers, the ruler and the ruled, and the elders and the juniors; or how to establish the moral relationships between the sexes, between parents and children and between brothers; or how to distinguish the different degrees of relationships in the family. That is why a gentleman holds li in such high regard.”

33 Hence, li is the rule of conduct by which a true gentleman (chün-tzu, sometimes translated “superior man”) carries out all his social relations. When everyone endeavors to do so, “everything becomes right in the family, the state and the world,” said Confucius, and that is when Tao, or heaven’s way, is done. But how is li to be expressed? That takes us to another of the central concepts of Confucianism​—jen (pronounced ren), humaneness or human-heartedness.

34. What is the Confucian concept of jen, and how does it help in dealing with social ills?

34 While li emphasizes restraint by external rules, jen deals with human nature, or the inner person. The Confucian concept, especially as expressed by Confucius’ principal disciple, Mencius, is that human nature is basically good. Thus, the solution to all social ills lies in self-cultivation, and that starts with education and knowledge. The opening chapter of The Great Learning says:

“When true knowledge is achieved, then the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, then the heart is set right . . . ; when the heart is set right, then the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, then the family life is regulated; when the family life is regulated, then the national life is orderly; and when the national life is orderly, then there is peace in this world. From the emperor down to the common men, all must regard the cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation.”

35. (a) How can the principles of li and jen be summarized? (b) How is all of this reflected in the Chinese view of life?

35 Thus, we see that according to Confucius, the observance of li will enable people to behave properly in every situation, and the cultivation of jen will make them treat everyone else kindly. The result, theoretically, is peace and harmony in society. The Confucian ideal, based on the principles of li and jen, can be summarized this way:

“Kindness in the father, filial piety in the son

Gentility in the eldest brother, humility and respect in

the younger

Righteous behavior in the husband, obedience in the


Humane consideration in elders, deference in juniors

Benevolence in rulers, loyalty in ministers and subjects.”

All of this helps to explain why most Chinese people, and even other Orientals, place so much emphasis on family ties, on being industrious, on education, and on knowing and acting according to one’s place. For better or for worse, these Confucian concepts have been driven deep into the Chinese consciousness through centuries of inculcation.

Confucianism Became a State Cult

36. How did Confucianism gain the status of a State cult?

36 With the rise of Confucianism, the period of the “hundred schools” came to an end. Emperors of the Han dynasty found in the Confucian teaching of loyalty to the ruler just the formula they needed to solidify the power of the throne. Under Emperor Wu Ti, whom we have already referred to in connection with Taoism, Confucianism was elevated to the status of a State cult. Only those versed in the Confucian classics were selected as State officials, and anyone hoping to enter government service had to pass nationwide examinations based on the Confucian classics. Confucian rites and rituals became the religion of the royal house.

37. (a) How did Confucianism become a religion? (b) Why, in reality, is Confucianism more than just a philosophy?

37 This change of events did much to elevate the position of Confucius in Chinese society. The Han emperors started the tradition of offering sacrifices at the grave of Confucius. Honorific titles were bestowed on him. Then, in 630 C.E., the T’ang emperor T’ai Tsung ordered that a State temple to Confucius be erected in every province and county throughout the empire and that sacrifices be offered regularly. For all practical purposes, Confucius was elevated to the status of a god, and Confucianism became a religion hardly distinguishable from Taoism or Buddhism.​—See box, page 175.

The Legacy of the Wisdom of the East

38. (a) What has happened to Taoism and Confucianism since 1911? (b) But what is still true of the basic concepts of these religions?

38 Since the end of dynastic rule in China in 1911, Confucianism and Taoism have come under much criticism, even persecution. Taoism was discredited on account of its magical and superstitious practices. And Confucianism has been labeled as feudalistic, promoting a slave mentality to keep people, especially women, under subjection. In spite of such official denunciations, however, the basic concepts of these religions are so deeply embedded in the Chinese mind that they still have a strong hold on many of the people.

39. What does one news report say about superstitious religious practices in China?

39 For example, under the headline “Chinese Religious Rites Rare in Beijing but Flourishing in the Coastal Regions,” the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail reported in 1987 that after nearly 40 years of atheistic rule in China, funeral rites, temple services, and many superstitious practices are still common in rural areas. “Most villages have a fengshui man, usually an elderly resident who knows how to read the forces of wind (feng) and water (shui) to determine the most propitious location for everything from the ancestral grave, a new house or living room furniture,” says the report.

40. What religious practices are seen in Taiwan?

40 Elsewhere, Taoism and Confucianism are found wherever traditional Chinese culture survives. In Taiwan, one man who claims to be a descendant of Chang Tao-ling presides as “celestial master” with the power to ordain Taoist priests (Tao Shih). The popular goddess Matsu, billed as “Holy Mother in Heaven,” is worshiped as the patron saint of the island and of sailors and fishermen. As for the common people, they are mostly preoccupied with making offerings and sacrifices to the spirits of the rivers, mountains, and stars; the patron deities of all the trades; and the gods of health, good luck, and wealth. *

41. How is Confucianism as a religion carried on today?

41 What about Confucianism? Its role as a religion has been reduced to the status of a national monument. In China at Ch’ü-fou, the birthplace of Confucius, the State maintains the Temple of Confucius and family grounds as tourist attractions. There, according to the magazine China Reconstructs, performances are put on “reenacting a ritual of worship for Confucius.” And in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other places in eastern Asia, people still celebrate Confucius’ birthday.

42. How do Taoism and Confucianism fall short as guides in the search for the true God?

42 In Confucianism and Taoism, we see how a system based on human wisdom and reasoning, no matter how logical and well-meaning, ultimately falls short in the search for the true God. Why? Because it leaves out one essential element, namely, the will and requirements of a personal God. Confucianism turns to human nature as the motivating force to do good, and Taoism turns to nature itself. But this is misplaced confidence because it simply amounts to worshiping created things rather than the Creator.​—Psalm 62:9; 146:3, 4; Jeremiah 17:5.

43. How have the religious traditions of the Chinese worked against them as a whole in the search for the true God?

43 On the other hand, the traditions of ancestor and idol worship, reverence for a cosmic heaven, and veneration of spirits in nature, as well as the rites and rituals connected with them, have become so deeply rooted in the Chinese way of thinking that they are accepted as the unspoken truth. Often it is very difficult to talk to a Chinese person about a personal God or Creator because the concept is so foreign to him.​—Romans 1:20-25.

44. (a) How do reasoning minds react to the marvels of the way of nature? (b) What are we encouraged to do?

44 It is undeniable that nature is filled with great marvels and wisdom and that we humans are endowed with the wonderful faculties of reason and conscience. But as pointed out in the chapter on Buddhism, the wonders we see in the natural world have caused reasoning minds to conclude that there must be a Designer or Creator. (See pages 151-2.) That being the case, then, is it not logical that we should endeavor to search out the Creator? In fact the Creator invites us to do so: “Raise your eyes high up and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name.” (Isaiah 40:26) Doing so, we will come to know not only who the Creator is, namely Jehovah God, but also what he has in store for our future.

45. What other Oriental religion will we consider next?

45 Along with Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, which have played a major role in the religious life of the people of the Orient, there is another religion, one unique to the people of Japan​—Shinto. How is it different? What is its source? Has it led people to the true God? This we will consider in the next chapter.


^ par. 15 Lin Yutang’s translation of this passage reads: “Being in accord with Tao, he is eternal, and his whole life is preserved from harm.”

^ par. 19 A peck is a dry measure equaling two gallons [8.8 L].

^ par. 23 The word “Confucius” is a Latin transliteration of the Chinese K’ung-fu-tzu, meaning “K’ung the Master.” Jesuit priests who came to China in the 16th century coined the Latinized name when they recommended to the pope of Rome that Confucius be canonized as a “saint” of the Roman Catholic Church.

^ par. 40 One Taoist group in Taiwan, called T’ien Tao (Heavenly Way), claims to be an amalgam of five world religions​—Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islām.

[Study Questions]

[Box on page 162]

Pronunciation of Chinese Words

To be consistent with most scholarly work, the Wade-Giles form of transliteration of Chinese words is used in this book. The English equivalents in sound are given below:

ch j, as in Tao Te Ching (jing)

ch’ ch, as in Ch’in (chin) dynasty

hs sh, as in Ta Hsüeh (shu-eh), The Great Learning

j r, as in jen (ren), human-heartedness

k g, as in the Buddhist goddess Kuan-yin (gwan-yin)

k’ k, as in K’ung-fu-tzu (kung-fu-tzu), or Confucius

t d, as in Tao (dao), the Way

t’ t, as in T’ang (tang) dynasty

[Box on page 175]

Confucianism​—Philosophy or Religion?

Because Confucius made few comments about God, many people view Confucianism as only a philosophy and not a religion. Yet, what he said and did showed that he was religious. This can be seen in two respects. First, he had a reverent fear for a supreme cosmic spiritual power, what the Chinese call T’ien, or Heaven, which he regarded as the source of all virtue and moral goodness and whose will, he felt, directs all things. Second, he placed great emphasis on meticulous observance of the rites and ceremonies relating to the worship of heaven and the spirits of departed ancestors.

Though Confucius never advocated these views as a form of religion, to generations of Chinese they have become what religion is all about.

[Box/​Pictures on page 177]

Confucian Four Books and Five Classics

The Four Books

1. The Great Learning (Ta Hsüeh), the basis of a gentleman’s education, the first text studied by schoolboys in old China

2. The Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung), a treatise on the development of human nature through moderation

3. The Analects (Lun Yü), a collection of Confucius’ sayings, considered the main source of Confucian thought

4. The Book of Mencius (Meng-tzu), writings and sayings of Confucius’ greatest disciple, Meng-tzu, or Mencius

The Five Classics

1. The Book of Poetry (Shih Ching), 305 poems providing a picture of daily life in early Chou times (1000-600 B.C.E.)

2. The Book of History (Shu Ching), covering 17 centuries of Chinese history beginning with the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.E.)

3. The Book of Changes (I Ching), a book of divination, based on interpretations of the 64 possible combinations of six whole or broken lines

4. The Book of Rites (Li Chi), a collection of rules on ceremonies and rituals

5. Annals of Spring and Autumn (Ch’un Ch’iu), a history of Confucius’ native state of Lu, covering 721-478 B.C.E.


Five Classics, above, and a portion, left, of The Great Learning (one of the Four Books), quoted on page 181

[Picture on page 163]

Tao, ‘the way a person should go’

[Picture on page 165]

Lao-tzu, the philosopher of Taoism, on the back of a buffalo

[Picture on page 166]

Taoist temple to Matsu, “Holy Mother in Heaven,” in Taiwan

[Picture on page 171]

Misty mountains, tranquil waters, swaying trees, and retiring scholars​—popular themes in Chinese landscape paintings—​reflect Taoist ideal of living in harmony with nature

[Pictures on page 173]

Ancient Taoist carving, left, of god of Long Life with the Eight Immortals.

Right, Taoist priest in full regalia officiating at a funeral

[Picture on page 179]

Confucius, China’s foremost sage, is revered as a teacher of morals and ethics

[Picture on page 181]

Celebrations, with music, at Sung Kyun Kwan, a 14th-century Confucian educational center in Seoul, Korea, perpetuate Confucian rituals

[Pictures on page 182]

Whether Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian, the typical Chinese, from left, pays homage to ancestors at home, worships the god of wealth, and offers sacrifices at temples on festive days