Ancestor worship is a part of the Chinese traditional religion that revolves around the habitual celebration of deified ancestors as well as tutelary deities of the people with a similar surname. They are organized into lineage societies in shrines for the ancestors. To the living people, ancestors are living and present among their lives through ghosts, spirits, and gods. They are not supernatural or transcendent, but they are in our world according to those who practice this. Confucianism is a system of philosophical and ethical teachings founded by Confucius and developed more by Mencius. Confucius began this from 6th to the 5th BCE. Chinese people have followed this for over two millennia. It’s influence has extended past China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
Confucianism is considered a worldview, an ethical, political, and scholarly tradition. Some would even argue that it is a religion of sorts. Confucianism has affected government, education, family, and all of society in Eastern Asia. There was a short time it was banned by Emperor Qin Shi Huan from 259 to 210 BCE. Yet, Confucius explained that his doctrine was to be used to reestablish peace and set order through the world for prosperity. Even though his ethics was heavily based on family, he was divorced and lived with his students.
Taoism is a Chinese philosophy based on Lao-tzu’s writings. They advocated for humility and religious piety. It began spreading in 500 BCE. It is considered both a philosophy and a religion. Much of its mantra has to do with “going with the flow” due to Tao’s belief in the cosmic force that flows through all things. This stemmed from Tao’s observance of the natural world and how things ran in a cosmic flow. Originally, ancestor worship and spirit worship were not necessarily apart of the belief, but it is practiced by Taoists today. This religion had great influence on the Tang Dynasty especially emperor Xuanzong who reigned from 712 to 756 CE and declared Taoism a state religion. It was later replaced by Confucianism and Buddhism.
While Confucianism and Taoism have similar beliefs, there are some keys differences. In Confucianism, it is believed that it is important in life to follow a set of good examples. This includes having 5 key relationships in life: ruler and subject, husband and wife, older and younger sibling, friendships, and parent to child. However, Taoism focuses on being harmonious with what is around you.
This is where yin and yang originate from. Both originated from China. Their goals are slightly different. The goal surrounding Confucianism was to have a structured, fluid society while Taoism’s goal is to be one with the Tao. Taoism does not believe in a personal God, but it does acknowledge a dynamic existence. Yet, Confucianism believes in one God even if they do worship their ancestors, and this means they think their afterlives will be full of being worshiped as ancestors. One interesting difference between Confucianism and Taoists is how they view women’s role in society.
Confucianists view women as inferior to men wile Taoists do not see a distinction because both men and women are seen as manifestations of the Tao. Similarly, they both see the goal of their philosophies to be finding a balance in life that includes social harmony.
Confucianism and Taoism have both played important roles in shaping Chinese people as well as surrounding areas in East Asia. While Taoism reached China, Korea, and a little of Vietnam and Japan, Confucianism reached most of Asia, and they both began around 550 B.C.E. Confucianism allowed China to finally have a time of stability that was different from the previous times. This was because its philosophy believed everyone had a place in society. This altered the way Ancient China viewed people of all classes.
Most of the hierarchy was based on people who actually worked and labored because it proved that you were giving effort to society that would benefit everyone. This is why farmers, for example, would be seen in a higher way even though people like merchants made more money. Confucius also began a school which shows why it had such an impact on education itself.
It educated young boys in the teachings of Confucius along with teachings like calligraphy which made these boys become scholarly men. This is also an example of how they viewed women as subordinate. They did not get the same education and were see as less powerful and wise. Instead, they resorted to finding class and social status through terrible things like foot binding. It also created a positive surge in the economy which was very important for China at the time. While there were drawbacks in Confucianism, it clearly changed China forever, and Taoism did as well. Taoism quickly became popular with at least thirty percent of China practicing at one point. Taoism helped society adopt a relaxed and natural way of life which changed things socially and economically. People spent more time with nature which also led to more scientific observation of our world.
Confucianism is seen more as a philosophy than a religion, but this does not mean there are not religious aspects to its practice and ideology. Taoism in a similar started off as an idea that turned into a religious way of life, searching for meaning. They can be both be a philosophy and a religion because they have ideologies as well as practices they maintain.
There were many dynasties in China over the years, and some had an impact greater than others. There are 13 that are noted in China’s history. The first notable dynasty was the Xia Dynasty which lasted for almost 500 years. There were 17 emperors in total, the first being Emperor Yu. Some were more dictators than others, but they did were key in revolutionizing agricultural aspects of their culture.
Next, Emperor Tang overthrew the Xia Dynasty to set into place the Shang dynasty that lasted for around 600 years with about 30 emperors. The Shang dynasty brought a lot of change in the set up of society due to Emperor Tangs kindness and compassion for his people. After the ninth emperor, things took a bad turn which created social issues.
The third dynasty is the Chou dynasty that quickly was overtaken by the Qin dynasty. The Qin dynasty was prominent during the Warring States Period, and the Emperor Qin placed many reforms in areas like politics, military, economics, and culture. He even started the use of the Ban Liang Coin and the building of the Great Wall of China. The Han dynasty was next, and it is seen as a time of peace and wealth.
The next six dynasties are not seen as very united or prosperous so not much is said about them. They were (in order of reign) the Wu, Dong, Liu-Song, Nan, Nan Liang, and Nan Chen Dynasties.
Next was the Sui Dynasty that did not last long due to the Tang Dynasty taking charge. The Tang Dynasty was known for a culture that flourished in literature, technology, and art. There were five ununited dynasties before the Song dynasty which unified in 979 AD.
The Yuan and Ming Dynasties were next with the Qing dynasty being the last one before the Republic of China ended the period of ancient dynasties.
Empress Dowager Cixi was known for being the woman who helped reform China during her powerful reign. She was able to be more powerful once Emperor Xianfeng died because she could influence her young son who was to become the new emperor. She especially influenced China in the Imperial Court where she appointed leaders, created education policies that would stop powerful people, had an emperor arrested, and invited foreigners to visit her in the Forbidden City.
There came a time where Western civilization had the opportunity to bring imperialism and colonialism into China. This began to occur as the trade between China and the West was fluctuating with trading of silver and opium until the Opium Wars. As more wars and rebellions continued, China realized they needed to become more equipped to handle these things using Western ideas. As internal strains continued, more Western theories like Marxism were coming over to Asia, China specifically, to colonize.
However, China struggled to modernize like Japan because their imperial government was too weak and sensitive. They struggled too much in trying to change their civil infrastructure making them unable to be like Japan. While it is shown that they did modernize in some capacity around the 19th century, they definitely did not reach the same level as Japan. Yet, this has not stopped China from becoming an important world power.