Religion Among The Chinese -- By: George Durand Wilder

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:249 (Jan 1906)
Article: Religion Among The Chinese
Author: George Durand Wilder


Religion Among The Chinese

Rev. George Durand Wilder

It is my purpose in this article to give only my own observation of religious phenomena, or the results of reading and the study of Chinese literature that have been verified in my own experience. This purpose necessarily narrows the scope of the essay, but it may add something of definiteness and concreteness. The writer has never made a special study of Chinese religion, and will simply glean from the memories of ten years in China,—a period spent in study of the Chinese language, and in evangelistic work in the districts adjoining the cities of Peking, T’ung Chou, and Tientsin.

Probably nearly every missionary in his first attempts at introducing the subject of religion to individual Chinese makes the mistake of asking, “To what religion-door do you belong?” or “To which of the three great religions, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, do you adhere?” The dropping of the jaw and the blank expression on the man’s countenance are sufficient to convince one of his mistake, and prevent its repetition, for he soon learns that probably the man belongs to no religion in any such sense as a Christian belongs to the church; but, being born a subject of China, he is a Confucianist; being brought up in the society around him, he has imbibed a lazy, indifferent sort of belief in the doctrines of Taoism and Buddhism, and any other ism that happens along. He

has no conception that doctrine has anything to do with everyday life, or that there is any incompatibility between different religions. He is ready to accept any standard religion, and to worship any new god about which he learns, on the principle that if he can have all he will surely have the true. When one of his family dies, he will hire priests of all faiths accessible to come and perform their rites for the soul of the dead. The Christian missionary has been invited, but our rule is never to have Christian ceremonies in connection with any heathen rites at either funeral or wedding. The fact that the heaven to which one set of priests would send the soul is in the north, that of another set in the south, of another in the east, and that of a fourth set is in the west, does not at all embarrass him, but rather gives him all the more confidence that the dead man’s soul will surely reach the abodes of the blessed.

I have held friendly discussion with Buddhist and Taoist priests and Confucian scholars in a Buddhist temple where we were all entertained by the abbot, and none of my companions apparently had any idea of fundamental hostility between the religions represented. In Tientsin, I am told, there is a small temple with images of Buddha, a Taoist divinity, Jesus Chr...

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