What is Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion or Chinese traditional religion (traditional Chinese: 中國民間宗教 or 中國民間信仰; simplified Chinese: 中国民间宗教 or 中国民间信仰; pinyin: Zhōngguó mínjiān zōngjiào or Zhōngguó mínjiān xìnyăng)—also known as Shenism (Pinyin: Shénjiào, 神教)—is the collection of grassroots ethnic religious traditions of the Han Chinese, or the indigenous religion of China. It primarily consists in the worship of the shen (神 "gods", "spirits", "awarenesses", "consciousnesses", "archetypes"; literally "expressions", the energies that generate things and make them thrive) which can be nature deities, city deities or tutelary deities of other human agglomerations, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, ancestors and progenitors, deities of the kinship. Holy narratives regarding some of these gods are codified into the body of Chinese mythology. Another name of this complex of religions is Chinese Universism (not in the sense of "universalism", that is a system of universal application, but in the original sense of "uni-verse" which is "towards the One", that is the Tian—Shangdi or Taidi in Chinese thought), especially referring to its intrinsic metaphysical perspective.
The Chinese folk religion has a variety of sources, localised worship forms, ritual and philosophical traditions. Among the ritual traditions, notable examples include Chinese shamanism (or "Wuism") and Nuo ritualism. Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized inadequately as "Taoism", since over the centuries institutional Taoism has acted as a "liturgical framework" of local religions. Zhengyi Taoism is especially intertwined with local cults, with Zhengyi daoshi often performing rituals for local temples and communities. Various orders of ritual ministers operate in folk religion but outside codified Taoism. Confucianism advocates worship of gods and ancestors through proper rites. Taoism in its various currents, either comprehended or not within the Chinese folk religion, has some of its origins from Wuism.
Despite their great diversity, all the expressions of Chinese folk religion have a common core that can be summarised as four spiritual, cosmological, and moral concepts—Tian (天), Heaven, the source of moral meaning, the utmost god and the universe itself; qi (气), the breath or substance of the universe; jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors; bao ying (报应), moral reciprocity—, and two traditional concepts of fate and meaning—ming yun (命运), the personal destiny or burgeoning; and yuan fen (缘分), "fateful coincidence", good and bad chances and potential relationships.
In Chinese religions, yin and yang is the polarity that describes the order of the universe, held in balance by the interaction of principles of growth (shen) and principles of waning (gui), with act (yang) usually preferred over receptiveness (yin). Ling (numen or sacred) is the "medium" of the bivalency, and the inchoate order of creation.
Xian ling (Chinese: 显灵) is the notion of numinous, sacred (ling) presence of the god or gods in the Chinese traditional religion. The Chinese words can be variously translated as "divine efficacy", "divine virtue" or also "efficacious response", and describe the manifestation, activity, of the power of a god (灵气 ling qi, "divine energy" or "divine effervescence").
Within the context of traditional cosmology, the interaction of these energies constitutes the universe (the All-God, Tian), and their proper cultivation (bao ying) upholds the human world order.
The term xian ling may be interpreted as the god revealing his presence in a particular area and temple, through events that are perceived as extraordinary, miraculous.
Divine power usually manifests in the presence of a wide public, and once the event is witnessed and acknowledged, reports about it spread quickly and the cult of the deity strikes a root, grows in popularity, and temples are built. The ling qi, divine energy, is believed to accumulate in certain places, temples, making them holy.
, the "eight trigrams".
The I Ching, also known as the Classic of Changes, Book of Changes, Zhouyi and Yijing, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. The book contains a divination system comparable to Western geomancy or the West African Ifá system; in Western cultures and modern East Asia, it is still widely used for this purpose.
Traditionally, the I Ching and its hexagrams were thought to pre-date recorded history, and based on traditional Chinese accounts, its origins trace back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. Modern scholarship suggests that the earliest layers of the text may date from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, but place doubts on the mythological aspects in the traditional accounts. Some consider the I Ching the oldest extant book of divination, dating from 1,000 BCE and before. The oldest manuscript that has been found, albeit incomplete, dates back to the Warring States period (475–221 BCE).
During the Warring States period, the text was re-interpreted as a system of cosmology and philosophy that subsequently became intrinsic to Chinese culture. It centered on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change.
A statue of Wenchang Wang.
Wenchang Wang or Wenchang Dijun (Chinese:文昌王 / 文昌帝君), or simply Wen, is a god of culture and literature in the Chinese folk religion, worshiped as the Wéndì (文帝), god civilizer, in southern China (whereas in northern China the Wéndì is Confucius). The literal translation of his name would be King (王) of Flourishing (昌) Culture/Language (文).
Wenchang Wang is physically represented by a constellation of six stars near the Big Dipper. The stars all have names of their own: Shangjiang (上將), Cijiang (次將), Guixiang (貴相), Siming (司命), Sizhong (司中), and Silu (司祿). Wenchang Wang is often depicted as an elderly scholar accompanied by two attendants, Tianlong (天聾 "Heaven-Deaf") and Diya (地啞 "Earth-Mute").
There are quite a few accounts of Wenchang Wang; most depict him as a man by the name Zhang Yazi (張亞子), of a county in Sichuan Province called Zitong. A particular account cites him as a war hero, having died an honorable death in a rebellion against Emperor Fú Jiān in 374. Other accounts of Wenchang Wang appear rather sporadically at different time periods; he has been given seventeen reincarnations over a period of 3,000 years. A notable account of an appearance of Wenchang Wang was as the Spirit of Zitong, during the suppression of a rebellion in Chengdu, Sichuan, in 1000 A.D. A man allegedly climbed a ladder in midst of battle and declared that the Spirit of Zitong told him the "town [of rebels] would fall on the twentieth day of the ninth moon". The town fell on the day indicated, and the general in charge of repressing the rebellion had the temple repaired.
In addition to being a respected warrior, Wenchang Wang was well respected as a model for filiality. The Book of Emperor Zi Tong records: "Wenchang was had a mature mind at birth. His mother breastfed him even though she was perilously ill and malnourished. In the middle of the night, Wenchang cut flesh from his own thighs and fed it to his mother. She was then cured of her illness".
Wenchang Wang also appears in other texts, where he is praised for other noble virtues. The book Emperor Wenchang and the States He Stabilized states: "He descended into the mortal world seventy-three times as a shidafu" (a scholar-bureaucrat position in the emperor's government of feudal China). Wenchang was uncorrupted, upright and just, and never dealt out harsh punishments to the people. He allegedly helps people when they have hardships, saves those who are in trouble, has compassion for the lonely, forgives people's mistakes, and leaves peace and stability everywhere he goes. Because of this, the Jade Emperor put him in charge of the elections of village leaders.
A seller of offerings (flowers, joss sticks, oranges and other ones) in Singapore
Jingxiang (敬香), shangxiang (上香), baishen (拜神) is a ritual of offering joss incense accompanied by tea and or fruits. It is observed by a devotee holding joss incense with both hands in front of an altar while praying or meditating. For added respect the devotee or descendat is expected to kneel during and after placing the incense in the urn or at the altar.
The number of joss stick varies. When a devotee uses five, the sticks each represent respect for Tian Di Jun Qin Shi (天地君親師), where tian and di denote the realms of heaven and earth; jun the ruler—which could be Guan Shengdi, the prime minister, or another leader; qin the kins and relatives; and shi one's teacher or teachers.
When offered with three joss sticks, each stand for Tian Di Ren (天地人), again tian and di for the two realms, and ren for all humanity as well as those who are deceased. Lastly it can also be practiced with one joss stick, denoting all creation, including both heaven and earth. Rarer still would one use nine josses which come to denote all of creation and all of heavens.
Joss incense is sandalwood or sandalwood-scented (檀香), as the scent of sandalwood is believed to calm the human spirit or yuanshen. The same effect is believed to affect the spirit of a deceased ancestor. In this connection it also serves as a notice to the deity an adherent is respecting. It is not a form of food to gods.
Usually Jingxiang is done with an offering of tea, in a number corresponding to the gods, typically three cups. Fruit is generally offered to accompany Jingxiang, again the specification differs for temples or deities.
Lei Gong (Chinese: 雷公; pinyin: léi gōng; literally: "Lord of Thunder") or Lei Shen (Chinese: 雷神; pinyin: léi shén; literally: "God of Thunder"), is the god of thunder in Chinese folk religion and Taoism. He is depicted as an eagle-faced creature, usually blue or green-skinned, wearing only a loincloth. He carries a drum and a mace or a hammer to produce thunder, and a chisel to punish evildoers, in the behest of Tian-Shangdi.
His worship is not very widespread, with a small number of temples. Lei Gong is said to be extremely prudish, and will not enter a house where copulation is taking place. Pictures of this act are also supposed to have the same effect.
Temples of the Chinese folk religion can be distinguished into miao (庙) or dian (殿), meaning "temple"; family altars or private temples (simiao 私庙 or jiamiao 家庙), or ancestral temples or shrines (citang 祠堂 or zongci 宗祠, or also zumiao 祖庙).
The terms have often been used interchangeably. However miao is the general Chinese term for "temple" understood as "sacred space", "worship place". In Chinese folk religion it is mostly associated to temples which enshrine nature gods and patron gods. Instead ci is the specific term for temples enshrining ancestry gods, deified virtuous men.
Shen temples are distinct from Taoist temples in that they are established and administered by local managers, village communities, lineage congregations and worship associations, and don't have professional priests, although Taoist daoshi, Faist fashi, and also Wuist wu and tongji, may perform services within these temples. Shenist temples are usually small and decorated with traditional figures on their roofs (dragons and deities), although some evolve into significant structures.
Other terms associated to templar structures of Shenism and other religions in China are 宫 gong ("palace"), referring to a templar complex of multiple buildings, and 院 yuan, a general term for "sanctuary", "shrine".
- In the early history of China, the Shang dynasty gave prominence to the worship of ancestral gods and cultural heroes while the Zhou dynasty preferred the worship of gods of nature.
- In the Shang period the fountain of the universe was named Shangdi, regarded as the "Earliest Patriarch" and identified as the imperial power, while in the Zhou period he was regarded as a more abstract and impersonal concept, as Tian, the "Great One", "Great Whole", "Great All".
- The Chinese dragon (龙 lóng) is a symbol representing the universal generating power and qi.
- "Fu, Lu, and Shou" is the concept of "Happiness" (Fu), "Prosperity" (Lu), and "Longevity" (Shou) in Chinese folk religion, and the Lu is also represented as a symbol that in turn refers to the constellation Ursa Major, like the swastika and related Indo-European symbols.