Chinese history and culture, which span 5,000 years, have enormous diversity and are rich in arts and sciences, with elaborate paintings, literature, printing techniques and delicate pottery and sculpture. Chinese architectural traditions are respected all over the world.
China comprises 56 ethnic groups. The Han makes up nearly 92 percent. The numerous and diverse ethnic groups share China’s vast lands, but at the same time live in their individual communities.
While hundreds of Chinese dialects are spoken, a minority language is not simply a dialect. Rather, it is a language with distinct grammatical and phonological differences. Language families include Tibetan and Altaic. Twenty-one ethnic minority groups have unique writing systems.
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism made a collective and lasting impression on culture and tradition. Confucianism is predicated on ren(love) and li (rituals), signifying respect for society and social hierarchy. Taoism propagates the philosophy of inaction. Buddhism emphasizes self-emancipation.
Buddhism, the most important religion in China, is generally believed to have spread to China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). During its development in the country, it has had a profound influence on traditional culture and thoughts.
Three different forms of this religion have evolved, namely Han, Tibetan and Southern Buddhism.
Buddhism has had an indelible impact on Chinese civilization. Many words and phrases have Buddhist origins. For example, to “hold the foot of Buddha at the moment” means to make a last-minute effort.
Many people kowtow to whatever gods they encounter and will burn incense in any temple.
In literature, discernible traces of Buddhism and Zen are apparent. Renowned poets in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), such as Bai Juyi ─ were lay Buddhists, but this did not prevent them from imbibing a little alcohol from time to time.
In contemporary China, Buddhist temples, caves/grottoes and holy mountains, particularly those listed in the national and provincial historical heritage, have become hot spots for tourism. It is not uncommon for the income of a temple to cover the expenses of an entire county or district.
Confucius (551-479 BC) is China’s most famous philosopher. He was a government official, and during his lifetime he saw growing disorder and chaos. Perhaps due to the turmoil and injustices, he set about developing a new moral code based on respect, honesty, education, kindness and strong family bonds.
His teachings later became the basis for religious and moral life throughout China.
Confucius believed that a good government was the basis for a peaceful and happy society and the basis for a good government was good officials. In order to become a “good official, a person had to master the following five virtues:
Li (礼), or ritual, etiquette, manners, gravity — “Man’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.”
Ren (仁), or kindness to our fellow man — “Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.”
Xin (信), or truthfulness, faithfulness and sincerity — “The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.”
Yi (义), or righteousness or honesty, generosity of soul — “When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.”
Xiao (孝), or filial piety, strong family values — “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”
The Chinese word dao means way, indicating a way of thought or life. There have been several such ways in China’s long history, including Confucianism and Buddhism. In the 6th century BC, Taoism — spurred by philosopher Lao-tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” — became “the way.”
Much like Confucianism, it has influenced every aspect of Chinese culture.
Taoism began as a complex classification of philosophical thought — practiced by relatively few people. Later, it emerged, perhaps under the influence of Buddhism, as a communal religion. It later evolved as a popular folk religion.
Philosophical Taoism speaks of a permanent dao, in a similar manner to how some Western religions speak of God. Dao is considered unnamed and unknowable, the essential unifying element of all that is. Everything is basically one despite the appearance of differences.
Because all is one, matters of good and evil and of true or false, as well as differing opinions can only arise when people lose sight of the oneness and subscribe to the attitude that their personal beliefs are absolutely true.
This can be likened to a person looking out a small window and thinking he sees the whole world, when all he sees is a small portion. Because all is one, life and death merge into each other as do the seasons of the year. They are not in opposition to one another but are only two aspects of a single reality. The life of the individual comes from the one and goes back into it.
The goal of life for a Taoist is to cultivate a mystical relationship to the dao. Adherents therefore avoid dispersing their energies through the pursuit of wealth, power, or knowledge. By shunning earthly distractions, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer their life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become.
The eventual hope is immortality.