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Heaven worship is a Chinese religious belief that predates Taoism and Confucianism, but was later incorporated into both. Shangdi is the supreme unknowable god of Chinese folk religion. Over time, namely following the conquests of the Zhou dynasty who instead worshipped Tian (天 lit. "sky"), Shangdi became synonymous with Tian, or Heaven. In the Han dynasty the worship of Heaven would be highly ritualistic and require that the emperor hold official sacrifices and worship at an altar of Heaven, the most famous of which is the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
Heaven worship is closely linked with ancestor veneration and polytheism, as the ancestors and the gods are seen as a medium between Heaven and man. The Emperor of China, also known as the "Son of Heaven", derived the Mandate of Heaven, and thus his legitimacy as ruler, from his supposed ability to commune with Heaven on behalf of his nation.
Early Abrahamic missionaries saw similarities between Shangdi/Tian and the Abrahamic God, and therefore rendered "God" as "Shangdi" in Chinese.
Worship of Heaven in the southern suburb of the capital was initiated in 31 BCE and firmly established in the first century CE (Western Han).
- Tian (Heaven) / Shangdi (God)
- Religion in China
- Liu Kwang-ching, “Socioethics as Orthodoxy,” in Liu Kwang-ching, ed., Orthodoxy In Late Imperial China (Berkeley, 1990), 53-100:60.
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