Sacred Places in China
THE places described in this little volume represent the centers of religious life among the three religions of the great Imperial Kingdom. The time spent in visiting these places gives one an entirely new view of the relation of the religious systems of China to each other, and the hold they have upon the people. Strange as it may be, we find them opposing each other, and yet closely interlocked in silent partnership, of which even the Government is not excluded. Of course, in an Imperial Kingdom which numbers its inhabitants by hundreds of millions, with dialects, temperament, endeavors, and beliefs so different and varied, it is expected to find the greatest possible religious tolerance. And this is here true in-as-far as the principles of the different religious systems are in harmony with the statutes of the Government. For example, the reigning dynasty gave to the religious systems which they found in vogue, when they conquered the Mings, full and complete liberty in all things that pertained to religion. That this policy depended more upon the force of circumstances than their liberality and the exalted opinions they held regarding the Mings, can not be questioned; for the Manchus, being a rough, uncultured race, with no definite belief, they accepted the existing religious systems of China. Their Emperor was made Chief Priest of Confucianism, which was the State religion of the conquered provinces, and the Buddhists, Taoists, Mohammedans, and Jesuits were all recognized and tolerated. In the first instance this tolerance doubtless was due to the indifference towards all systems of faith. They found the Chinese a quiet, industrious people, and as long as they were loyal and obedient they were permitted
to believe what they pleased and worship whom they chose; but whenever the Imperial Government discovered combinations in any religious system that might threaten the peace and welfare of the throne, then the Emperor meted out the cruelest vengeance upon the supposed transgressors.
This religious indifference upon the part of the Government has not existed without showing signs of weakness and . Notice, for example, the policy pursued by the most enlightened and energetic Emperor of the present dynasty, Kang Hsi. As Emperor he was the nation's High Priest, and worshiped Shangti--the High Ruler, at the Altar of Heaven. And in his sacred edicts he pronounced the Buddhists and Taoists as dangerous heretics, while at the same time he had Buddhist and Taoist temples renovated and repaired at his own cost, and worshiped in them. Such examples of duplicity upon the part of Emperors have not been without effect upon the nation. The inevitable result of trying to adhere to three opposing systems of religion is seen in the gradual decay of all religious life among the higher classes. The constant interchanging has produced spiritual stagnation in high places. To-day the great mass of the people choose at will of these systems, and when they have made their choice they little think of the admixture of their temporary elective system. Ask an ordinary Chinese to which of the three religions he adheres, and he will be unable to give an intelligent answer. If he has had some education and considers himself a scholar, then he will at once reply that he is a Confucianist; but it is quite possible that the next day you will find this gentleman burning incense in a Buddhist or Taoist temple, or you may find a priest at his home reading mass for some departed member of the family. Even among the officials, who are all supposed to be strictly Confucianists, there are many who in their official costume enter the temples and worship the idols.
With such lack of conviction, is it strange that Confucianism
THE FOUNDERS OF THREE RELIGIONS.
LAOTSZ, CONFUCIUS, BUDDHA,
ONCE ANTAGONISTIC, NOW SILENT PARTNERS.
and its opposing systems, Buddhism and Taoism, have long since passed their zenith and are rapidly approaching their dissolution? The unpalatable principles of the "Great Wise Man of China," however beautiful and good, and however much good they may have been to the generations of past ages, they can not change the heart of their people nor satisfy their present aspirations. Confucianism has been tested for twenty-five centuries, during which time it has added nothing to the spiritual life of the Chinese people; while its opponent systems, which had some semblance of spiritual life in their beginning, have always been a thorn in the flesh to the highly cultured Mandarin, and often a ridicule to the people. But even in the face of all this decay and the obvious advancement of Western ideas, there are no signs of uneasiness noticeable upon the part of these religions about the wonderful progress of Christianity. And we believe it quite safe to say that no serious obstacle will be placed in its way as long as its propagation gives no cause of suspicion through political interference. No thought is of greater importance to-day in the propagation of the Christian religion than the maintenance of the integrity of the Imperial Kingdom, and carefully avoiding all interference with political questions. The stigma that once rested upon the missionaries has been removed. The Protestant missionaries are no longer looked upon as emissaries of their governments. The officials have come to see that the dominant desire of the missionary is to see the cause of Christ advanced and order and loyalty promoted.
It is indeed pathetic to see such a great mass of human beings so wholly absorbed in things temporal and yet unable to rise from the crushing burden of poverty and misery. If hard labor and diligence could have brought relief they long since would have risen to wealth and happiness. But vastly more pathetic is it to see them in their efforts to satisfy the soul's longing, and in their penury spend millions of dollars
in making pilgrimages to far distant shrines, bringing sacrifices to the dumb idols, involving self-sacrifice of which in Christian lands we have no conception. It must be terrible to be so poor that life no longer is life, but only an existence; but infinitely more terrible to be fettered down by superstition to gods that need to be appeased by such sacrifices, and yet bring no blessing. It is hard to be a heathen! Surely, if God could be found by mere searching for blessings and bringing sacrifice, these people would long since have found Him and rejoice in Him. But their systems to which they trusted, and now hoary with age, have not lifted them upward nor led them to the truth, but estranged them farther and farther away from the truth, and led deeper and deeper into superstition and misery. The only joy these visits brought to me was the convictions of thereby becoming better prepared to guide some of these wandering millions to find the way to Him who is the Light of the world and rejoice in the living God.