An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Qing Period - Society, Customs, and Religion

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Shamanic rituals

Apart from sacrifices to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guanshiyin Pusa 觀世音菩薩), the "Great Emperor Demon-Vanquisher" Fuma Dadi 伏魔大帝 (i.e. Zhong Kui 鍾馗), the God of War (Guandi Shengjun 關帝聖君, Manchu: Guwan Enduri, also known as Guan Gong 關公), the Seven Maidens (Qi Xiannü 七仙女), the deity of Mt. Changbai 長白山神, ancestors, and various plant and animal spirits, the ruling house of the Manchus (Aisin Gioro) as well as the common people brought sacrifices to the spirits of Heaven (weceku) and Earth (soko). The imperial dawn sacrifices (chaoji 朝祭) were carried out under a tent (meng 幪), in which a small table was placed, as well as candles and incense. The sacrificial objects were cakes (bo 餑), the flesh of sacrificial animals, and blood. The offerings for the sunset sacrifices (xiji 夕祭) differed in so far as rice cakes were presented (gao 糕), wine, and no blood. In 1644, the imperial house set up an imperial family altar in the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquillity (Kunning Gong 坤寧宮), where Buddha Śākyamuni was brought offerings, as well as Guanyin Pusa, Guwan Di and others. Three days after the offerings had taken place, the princes and nobles assembled before the Kunning Palace.

The Manchus used a ceremonial pole (shengan 神桿) during the sacrifices to Heaven. It was made of pinewood, 2 zhang 丈 long and 5 cun 寸 thick (see weights and measures), and had a "sacrificial bucket" (jidou 祭斗) fastened to the top. The pole was fixed to a sacrificial stone, on the east side of which a pig was slaughtered, while the shaman chanted prayers, scattering rice grains. The pig was coocked, the flesh cut into pieces, and these were offered, together with two bowls of rice, to Heaven. The head of the pig and its gall bladder were offered separately on a red-lacquered table. When the prayers were finished, the pighead was plugged on the pole and flesh and rice put into the sacrificial bucket.

As rulers of the cultural superior realm of China, the Qing emperors adopted the state doctrine of Confucianism as their official religion. The emperor underwent all sacrifices for Heaven (at the Altar of Heaven Tiantan 天壇 in Beijing), Earth, and his ancestors. Confucius was venerated as the greatest of the Saints. Indeed, the most of the buildings of Confucius' home court in Qufu 曲阜/Shandong were erected during the Qing Dynasty. Daoism lived as a popular religion since the advent of Buddhism. and was accepted as one of the Three Religions of China (Sanjiao 三教: Confucianism Rujiao 儒教, Daoism Daojiao 道教, and Buddhism Fojiao 佛教). Like the Mongol rulers, the Qing emperors who had made an alliance with the Mongols, followed Tibetian Lamaism as a special religion because of political reasons: The Tibetian rulers accepted the nominal Qing suzerainty over Tibet, but they wanted to have Lamaist monasteries in Beijing and a Tibetian ambassador staying in the Qing capital. Islam (Yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教) was widespread among the population of Chinese Turkestan, but also in many cities throughout China. This foreign religion had no importance throughout Chinese history until the middle of the 19th century. Christianity had made first steps during the end of Ming Dynasty. The Jesuit patres and court astronomers Adam Schall von Bell (Chinese: Tang Ruowang 湯若望) and Ferdinand Verbiest could win the confidence of the Shunzhi and Kangxi Emperors. Bell introduced the solar calendar to China with a 365 day year and 7 day weeks. Like Matteo Ricci, they tried to win the imperial court and the highest elite for Christianity without touching Chinese customs and beliefs, like ancestor veneration and state sacrifices to Heaven. Many performances of Catholic religion indeed resembled Buddhist practices, like incantations, bells, ceremonial prayers, processions, pictures, relics, and so on. The Vatican tried to obviate the missionary way of the Jesuits in China. The theological reason was that the Chinese did not believe in immaterial substances that can be separated from matter, and that they did not see a difference between natural order and human moral law. The downfall of Christianity in China came when the Kangxi Emperor decided that the Jesuits - being his own officials - could not obey orders from Rome. In 1773, the Jesuit order was dissolved worldwide. If we believe in the sources, some 100,000 Christians may have lived in China at the end of the 17th century. French and American missionaries would be the next, but their way to convert the Chinese would be a very different one.

Chen Wenliang 陳文良, ed. (1992). Beijing chuantong wenhua bianlan 北京傳統文化便覽 (Beijing: Beijing Yanshan chubanshe, )271.
Gao Wende 高文德, ed. (1995). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu shi da cidian 中國少數民族史大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 374.
Xue Hong 薛虹 et al., ed. (1998). Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian 中國皇室宮廷辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 64.