Imatges de pàgina


under the later dynasties it was to show greater and more remarkable energy. This system had at least in its favour that the nobles were of the same race as the people of the soil, and that in their provincial capitals they set themselves to imitate not the vices and folly of the ruling Emperor, but the wisdom and irreproachable conduct of those earlier and wise princes who are held up as the pattern of every kingly virtue. By these means China, though under the sway of tyrants and incapable princes during the last five hundred years of the Chow dynasty, was well governed on the whole, and the people remained fairly contented. To this circumstance the ruling House undoubtedly owed its preservation. It had become contemptible in the eyes of the nation, but contempt is not hatred, and it was suffered to maintain a station which, by its own act, had been deprived of practical significance. Not until personal ambition was called into play, and the overthrow of the Emperor had become the special desire and object of a single noble, did the Chows receive the blow which destroyed them. It is the one instance in Chinese history of a dynasty surviving by several centuries the period of its utility—a proof, in its way, of the fact that the grandeur of the Empire as a fixed unit has been created since that time."

• Something may be said here of the origin of the name of China, which is at present wrapt in some doubt. It is probable that the root whence this name came is lost in a very remote antiquity, although the Chinese themselves are unaware of it, and apparently puzzled at the name being applied to their country, which they speak of by the title of the reigning family. It may be possible that the Sinim of Isaiah was identical with China; but "in the laws of Manu and in the Mahabaratha" the country of Chinas or Shinas bears a closer resemblance, and it has been pointed out that they were probably a tribe in the country west of Cashmere, now known as Dardistan. The Romans spoke of the people of 1 far eastern country—the most remote in the world, and consequently beyond the India of Alexander—as Seres Sinenses, rich in silk and gold, great traders. Later philologists have traced the name back to the Ttins (Tsina, Tchin, Tchina, China), and many other curious explanations hare been given of its origin. In fact, every writer has had a theory to lamlate, and the reader may be referred to the works already quoted, ind especially to the admirable article on China from the pen of Professor R. K. Douglas, in the ninth edition of the "Encyclopaedia Hritannica." The late Sir Henry Yule, in a note on p. 210 of vol. ii. of " Marco Polo," VOL, L C

says, "We get the exact form ' China'—which is also used in Japanese —from the Malay." This ought to be decisive, and remove all necessity for further speculation. The fact may be noted that whereas this vast Empire became known as China to those who approached it by sea, or derived their information by intercourse from the south, Cathay, or Khitay (the Russian name), was the name given by those coming overland from the north.



THE earliest religion of the Chinese consisted in the worship of a Supreme Being, who was the sovereign both of the heavens and of the earth. The people recognized with shrewd practical judgment that the power which could not be divided on earth without suffering in extent could not be divided in a sphere of assumed perfection. It may be doubted whether any nation possessed and described, with anything approaching the same degree of beautiful conception, the idea of that moral and spiritual pre-eminence which among all the peoples of the world has taken form in the creation of a great and supreme God. Originally, and in its essence, the religion of the Chinese was as far removed from materialism as can be conceived. The great moral teaching of Christianity had been learnt and taken to heart at least seven centuries before the birth of Christ, and among the traditions of the Chinese, in the days of the great philosophers, were that "God ultimately rewards the good, and punishes the wicked; but his punishment is awarded without hatred and without anger," and "however wicked a man may be, if he repent of his sins, he may oner sacrifices." China, like Rome, was hospitable to all the gods, and when foreign nations came, as recorded in the chronicles, they brought with them their rites, if not a distinct religion. It is impossible to estimate how much or how little influence exterior considerations exercised on the religious life of the Chinese, but we know by the history of the human race that a religion composed solely of the worship of a single Supreme Being has never sufficed to meet the wants of a people. The cult has in every case been extended so as to include a mediator, or to permit of an elaborate ritual being grafted on what were the simple and original impressions of the earliest of mankind. China could be no exception to the rule, and when the great philosophers of the sixth century B.C. appeared, the grand truths of the single-minded worship of the Chinese had lost their efficacy, and the nation was plunged in a condition of moral indifference which was on a par with the prevailing corruption among the officials, and with the decline in the authority and power of the king.

The appearance of Laoutse, the first and perhaps the greatest of the Chinese philosophers, was therefore doubly opportune; of him it may be said that the times produced the man, although his individuality has been most difficult to grasp. In fact, some have doubted his existence, and believed that many of the most cherished of the objects of the Chinese rested upon a myth. A brief sketch of his career may best serve to explain the ambiguity as to his existence, and to throw light on the achievements of the great reformer. Laoutse was born in the year B.C. 604, of humble parents. A village in the province of Honan is identified with the place where he was born, which bore the doubtless apocryphal name of Keuhjin, or "oppressed benevolence." Of his youth and early manhood we know nothing more than that he obtained a small official post in one of the departments of the province of Chow. The probability is that this was the Department of the Archives, of which, in the course of time, he became the chief keeper. When he was at the advanced age of more than one hundred years he was visited by Confucius, but the interview was not of a satisfactory character. Confucius, full of the wrongs of his country, importuned the aged philosopher with his description of the remedies for prevailing evils, and something in his impetuosity, and the very sanguineness of his expectations, chafed the old man's spirit. In his concluding address, which was the reverse of complimentary to Confucius, he said, " Put away, sir, your haughty airs and many desires, your flashy manner and extravagant will; these are all unprofitable to you." In this it is easy to discern the disappointment of one LAOUTSE AND VIRTUE. 21

who had aspired to be the founder of a new state religion, and who saw in the ambitious Confucius a rival, and one likely to prove more successful than himself.

Shortly after this interview, Laoutse resigned his office, and led a life of retirement, giving himself up to " the cultivation of Taou and Virtue." The disorders in the state compelled him to seek a safer abode, and he accordingly left Chow by the Hankoo pass, for the western countries. To the guardian of this pass he gave a book containing five thousand characters which represented the meditations of his life. This book was called the Taoutihking, and is the Bible of Taouism. After this act Laoutse continued his journey and disappeared from history. We are told that thenceforth all trace of him was lost; but according to one version he announced his intention of visiting and returning from India, Cabul, Rome, and other kingdoms of the West . Of the exact significance of his teaching it is difficult to speak with any degree of confidence, for, as M. de Remusat said in his Memoir on Laoutse, "the text is so full of obscurity, we have so few means of acquiring a perfect understanding of it, so little knowledge of the circumstances to which the author makes allusion, we are, in a word, so distant in all respects from the ideas under the influence of which he wrote, that it would be temerity to pretend to reproduce exactly the sense which he had in view, when that sense is beyond our grasp." Laoutse's great object was to define the method of attaining true virtue and religion. Taou, which has been defined as meaning " reason" and other significations, was simply the ** way ;" and Laoutse, in explaining what in his eyes Taou was, rejected the old beliefs and trusted solely to his own inspiration. His work was therefore entirely original, and the writer quoted compares him to Pythagoras. Three centuries after his disappearance, there was what may be called a revival of Taouism, under the short-lived dynasty of the Tsins, and the precepts of the philosopher have become grafted in the national religion, of which it has been truly and graphically said by a French writer that it is "practically one religion, of which the doctrine belongs to Confucius, the objects of the cult to Laoutse, and the precepts to Buddha."

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