CHAPTER XI. RELIGION

All through these five centuries of struggle, between the flight of the Emperor with the transfer of the metropolis in 771 B.C., and the total destruction of the feudal system by the First August Emperor of Ts'in in 221 B.C., it is of supreme interest to note that religion in our Western sense was not only non-existent throughout China, but had not yet even been conceived of as an abstract notion; apart, that is to say, from government, public law, family law, and class ritual. No word for "religion" was known to the language; the notion of Church or Temple served by a priestly caste had not entered men's minds. Offences against "the gods" or "the spirits," in a vague sense, were often spoken of; but, on the other hand, too much belief in their power was regarded as superstition. "Sin" was only conceivable in the sense of infraction of nature's general laws, as symbolized and specialized by imperial commands; direct, or delegated to vassal princes; in both cases as representatives, supreme or local, of Heaven, or of the Emperor Above, whose Son the dynastic central ruler for the time being was figuratively supposed to be. No vassal prince ever presumed to style himself "Son of Heaven," though nearly all the barbarous vassals called themselves "King" (the only other title the Chou monarchs took) in their own dominions. "In the Heaven there can only be one Sun; on Earth there can only be one Emperor"; this was the maxim, and, ever since the Chou conquest in 1122 B.C., the word "King" had done duty for the more ancient "Emperor," which, in remote times had apparently not been sharply distinguished in men's minds from God, or the "Emperor on High."

Prayer was common enough, as we shall frequently see, and sacrifice was universal; in fact, the blood of a victim was almost inseparable from solemn function or record of any kind. But such ideas as conscience, fear of God, mortal sin, repentance, absolution, alms-giving, self-mortification, charity, sackcloth and ashes, devout piety, praise and glorification, - in a word, what the Jews, Christians, Mussulmans, and even Buddhists have each in turn conceived to be religious duty, had no well-defined existence at all. There are some traces of local or barbarous gods in the semi-Turkish nation of Ts'in, before it was raised to the status of full feudal vassal; and also in the semi-Annamese nation of Ts'u (with its dependencies Wu and Yiieh); but the orthodox Chinese proper of those times never had any religion such as we now conceive it, whatever notions their remote ancestors may have conceived.