1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Religion. Chinese Education.

(Part 61)


Chinese Religion. Chinese Education.

Chinese Religion

The principal religions of China are Buddhism, Taouism, and Confucianism, to which must e added Mahometanism in the northern and western provinces of the empire. Buddhism was introduced from India during the 1st century of the Christian era ; and thus coming at a time when the national mind had been prepared by the teachings of Confucius and the mysticisms of Laou-tsze for the reception of a religious system which should satisfy the requirements of its higher nature, the new faith spread rapidly through the country, and at the present day numbers more adherents than either of the other two leading religions. Laou-tsze, who was the founder of the Taouist sect, was a contemporary of Confucius. Like that sage also, he held office at the court of Chow, but being disheartened at the want of success attending his efforts to reform the manners of the age, he retired into private life and devoted himself to the composition of The Sûtra of Reason and Virtue. In this work he enunciated a scheme of philosophy which bears a strong analogy to the doctrines of the Quietists and Manichaeists, the leading point being the relation between something which he calls Taou and the universe. The philosophical bearing of his system was, however, soon lost sight of and his profound speculations were exchanged for the pursuit of immortality and the search after the philosopher’s stone by his followers. But while Buddhism and Taouism find their adherents among the common people, Confucianism is par excellence the religion of the learned. The opinions and teachings of the sage are their constant study ; and at stated periods they assemble in temples devoted to his honour to worship at the shrine of the "Throneless King." But the process of decay, which has been going on for so many centuries in the distinctive features of these creeds, has served so to obliterate the lines of demarcation which originally separated them, that at the present day the dogmas of Buddha and Laou-tsze and the teachings of Confucius may, as far as the masses are concerned, be treated as the foundations of a common faith.

Chinese Education

Education is probably more widely spread among the male population in China than in any other country. Being the only high road to honour and emolument it is eagerly sought after by all who are desirous of following an official career, while the universal respect for letters which has become a national tradition encourages all of every degree to gain at least a smattering of leaning—except the women. Very little trouble is taken with the education of girls. If they re taught to be good needle-women and expert cooks, if they learn to act modestly and to show due deference to their superiors, little more is as a rule required of them. But it is very different with the men. No one can hold any Government office unless he has passed at least the first of the three great literary competitive examinations, and the whole education of boys is arranged with the object of enabling the to pass successfully through these ordeals to office, the only subject required of them is a knowledge of the Nine Classics, and the result is that from childhood upwards these works are the only text-books which are put into the hands of Chinese school-boys. These they are taught to regard as the supreme models of excellence, and are any deviation either from the opinions they contain or from the style in which they are written, is looked upon a s heretical. The result is that there have grown up in China generation after generation of men who have learned to elevate mere memory above genius, and whose mental powers have been dwarfed by servile imitation and by the paltry literalism of the schools.

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