« AnteriorContinuar »
and kept before her till it is cold. On their return from a voyage, they compliment her with a play, either acted on board of the ship, or before one of her temples.
They have another goddess, in the form of a virgin, called Quonin, who has many votaries, but is mostly worshipped in the province of Pekin and Manking, but being a virgin, she has many lovers all over China.
They have one temple, called the Temple of Apes, in which are numerous ill-shaped images of that animal.
The god Fo, has a human shape, except his head, which has the figure of an eagle. Gan has a broad face and a prodigious great belly. Fo is a very majestic god and is always placed with a great number of little gods to attend him. Minifo, in Fokin, Mr. Hamilton takes to be the god Miglect at Canton, being alike in shape and countenance: he is called the god of pleasure. Passa is set cross-legged on a cushion, bespangled with flowers and stars, and she has eight or nine arms and hands on each side, and two before, that she holds in a praying posture. In every one of her hands (except the two that are dedicated to prayer she bears something em. blematical, as an axe, a sword, a flower, &c. On the great God, that made heaven and earth, they bestow a human shape like a young man in strength and vigour, quite opposite to the church of Rome, who make his picture like Salvadore, withered, old, cold and heavy. Mr. Hamilton saw many more, whose names he forgot; some with human bodies, and dragons; lions, tigers, and dogs' heads; and one he saw, like Stour Yonker, in Finland, with a man's body and clothes, and with eagles' feet, and talons instead of hands.
The Priesthood are in no great esteem among the people, being generally of low extraction. They have many different orders among them, which are distinguished by badges, colour of habit, or the fashions of their capes. They are all obliged to celibacy while they continue in orders, and that is no longer than they please. But while they continue in orders, and should chance to be convicted of fornication, they must expiate their crimes with their lives ; except their high priest, who is called Chiam, and he always keeps near the Emperor's person, and is in very great repute, and he has liberty to marry because the high priesthood must always continue in one family, as Aaron's did for a long while, but not half so long as it has in this family, who has kept up the custom above a thousand years successively, without the in: trusion of interlopers. . There are no persons of figure that care to have their children consecrated to serve at the altar, so that the priests, who can have no issue of their own, are obliged to buy novices of such mean persons as necessity forces to sell their children; and their study being in the large legends of their divinity, and not having the benefit of conversation with men of letters or polity, they are generally ignorant of the affairs of the world, which makes them contemptible among so polite a people as the ingenious and conversible Chinese laity are.
Confucius, or as the Chinese call him, Confuce, was the prince of the philosophers. He was near contemporary with Artaxerxes, Nehemiah, and Malachi, about 450 years before our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He both taught and practised moral philosophy to perfection, and acquired so great a veneration among his countrymen, that his sentences are taken for postulata to this day, no one since having offered to contradict any thing that he has left behind in writing. They have another doctor of philosophy, called Tansine, who was almost as ancient as Confucius, and wrote many excellent tracts of a virtuous life ; and the methods to attain it, but his character is inferior to Confucius.
Their preachers take some apophthegms out of those great men's writings for texts to comment and expatiate on. They live very abstemiously, and rise early before day to pray. Every temple has a cloister or convent annexed to it, and has a certain stipend allowed by the Emperor to support the priests and novices, but they get much more by letting lodgings to travellers, who generally lodge in their cells, than the Emperor's allowance; besides, they have a genteel way of begging from strangers, by bringing tea and sweatmeats to regale them.
The Chinese do not bury in or near their temples ; but in the fields, and when a bouzi, or priest, tells a rich dying person, that such a piece of ground is holy, and that the infernal spirits have no power to haunt such ground, they will persuade the poor man, thus distempered both in body and mind, to buy it at any rate to be buried in, and sometimes they will pay a thousand tayels for ten yards square of such holy ground.
Such is the account which Captain Hamilton has given us of the Chinese religion. It is only from the meagre gleanings of travellers, who, in China, have such little access to the interior that scarcely any glimpse can be had of the opinions and habits of this singular people, that we can get any information on this subject.
The near relation, however, which the religion of China has to that of some parts of Hindoostan, and still more to the religion of the Grand Lama, and the Japanese, enables us to ascertain with tolerable accuracy, what are the general views on this most important of all subjects.
In strict propriety, the Chinese religion cannot be fairly ranked with that of gross idolatry.
The primitive worship of the Chinese, that is, of the most enlightened amongst them, has continued, like their dress, invariably the saine through a long succession of ages down to the present time. We are informed by one of the most learned and respectable French Jesuits, who took great pains in investigating the Chinese religion, “ that the Chinese are a distinct people, who have preserved the characteristic marks of their first origin, whose primitive doctrine will be found to agree, in the essential parts, with that of the chosen people the Jews, before Moses had consigned the explanation of it to the sacred records, and whose traditional knowl. edge may be traced back even to the renewal of the human race by the sons of Noah.”
The canonical books of the Chinese set forth the idea, and enforce the belief of the Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of all things. They mention him under distinct names, corresponding to those which we use when we speak of God, the Lord, the Almighty, and the Most High. These books assert that the Supreme Being is the principle of every thing that exists ; that he is eternal, unchangeable, and independent, that his power knows no bound ; that his knowledge comprehends the past, present, and future ; and that he is the witness of whatever passes in the recesses of men's hearts. They acknowledge his universal providence, his approbation of virtue and goodness, and his abhorrence of vice, which he punishes with parental compassion to induce his creatures to reform and amend their lives.
Upon these general principles the Chinese refer every remarkable event to the appointment and dispensation of the Deity. If destruction threatens their crops, or alarming sickness endangers the life of a virtuous emperor, sacrifices and prayers are offered up to God. If a wicked prince has been suddenly taken away by accident, they attribute it to his just and avenging arm. Upon these same principles one of the ancient emperors gave his orders to the priest ; "the Supreme Being,” says he, “is entitled to our homage and adoration. Compose, therefore, a catender, and let religion re. ceive from man those times and seasons which are its just stue.''
Another emperor, when he was invested with his office,
and had distributed the various employments to the persons under him, exhorted them to a faithful discharge of the duties incumbent upon them, and concluded with these words : “Never shut your ears against the voice of religion : let every moment redouble your diligence in serving God.”' And a priest, addressing himself to an emperor, said, “ Think on eternity, if you are desirous of improving your mind, and of adding new virtue to it.”
In another period of Chinese history we are told, that the fear of the Supreme Being was alone sufficient to restrain all the subjects of the empire, and to confine them within the bounds of duty. Konesty was so prevalent at that time, that it was not necessary to intimidate the people by exercising the severity of penal laws. Imprisonment was the only punishment inflicted on the guilty. The doors of the gaols were thrown open in the morning : the prisoners went out to labour, and they returned again thither in the evening without compulsion.
These facts, and they might be multiplied, almost without end, will go to prove that the religion of China is founded on the belief of the existence and attributes of the Supreme Being; and it is asserted, upon good authority, that there is not to be found a single vestige of idolatry upon their most ancient monuments.
The first sacrifices of this people were instituted in honour of the Supreme God, and were offered on the tan, or heap of stones, in the open fields, or upon some mountain. Around the tan was raised a double fence, composed of turf and branches of trees; and between the fences were erected two smaller altars, upon which, after the greater sacrifice, they offered others in honour of superior spirits of every rank, and of their virtuous ancestors, among whom was Confucius. To the sovereign alone it was permitted to sacrifice on the tan ; to the Supreme Deity they offer their prayers, but from their ancestors and superior spirits they only seek for protection and mediation.
In the early ages of the empire a single mountain was set apart for sacrifices ; afterwards there were four consecrated to those purposes, to which the prince went successively every year. To the first he repaired at the vernal equinox, to entreat heaven to watch over the seed committed to the earth. At the summer solstice he went to the second, to ask for the warmth and heat necessary to bring forward the crops. He sacrificed on the third at the autumnal equinox, in the hope of averting blights, excessive moisture, winds, and injuries from the air, which might destroy the rising hopes of the labourer. And on the fourth mountain he sacrificed at the winter solstice, in gratitude for all the mercies of the past year, and to solicit a continuance of them through that which was about to commence.
This institution, which subjected the emperor to regular journies, was attended with many inconveniences. Sometimes important deliberations required his attendance in the city when he was performing sacrifice at a distance from it. At other times old age, severe weather, and bad roads, were great obstacles to ihe business. Means were therefore de. vised to obviate these difficulties, by erecting a temple in the city, where these sacrifices might be offered up.
The principal Chinese temple contained within its circumference five separate halls, appropriated for different purpo, ses. They had neither paintings nor ornaments of any kind ; one of them was the place of sacrifice : the other four contained all those things which were necessery for the ceremony. The edifice had four gates covered with fine moss, rep. resenting the branches of which the double fence about the tan was made. This sine moss covered also the ridge of the roof, and the whole building was encompassed by a canal, which was filled with water at the time sacrifices were offered.
Pekin contains two principal temples, in the construction of which the Chinese have displayed all the elegance of their architecture. These are dedicated to the Deity under different titles ; in the one he is adored as the Eternal Spirit; in the other, as the Spirit that created and preserves the world. The ceremonies with which modern sacrifices are accompanied are greatly inultiplied, and nothing can exceed the splendour and magnificence with which the emperor is surrounded when he performs the solemn part of his duty, which he does in the name of all his people. Some time before the day fixed for this important business, the monarch, and all persons qualified to assist him, prepare themselves by retirement, fasting, and continence. During this period the emperor gives no audience, the tribupals are all shut; marriagcs, funerals, and festivals of all kinds are then prohibited. On the day appointed for sacrifice; the emperor appears with all the pomp and magnificence of power, to which every thing in the teinple corresponds. All the vessels are of gold, and never used in any other place. Notwithstanding this grandeur the monarch appears to the last degree humble and dejected. He rolls in the dust, and applies to himself