Chinese Religions and Science

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Chinese Religions and Science

The three main Jiao (systems of teachings and beliefs) in Chinese tradition are Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, which are called the "three religions." However, Chinese scholars generally consider Confucianism, the School of Daoism (Dao Jia ), and the School of Buddhism (Fu Jia ) to be philosophies, whereas Daojiao (Jiao of Daoism) and Fujiao (Jiao of Buddhism) are considered to be religions. In the West, all are regarded as either religions or philosophies or both.

In regard to Chinese science, traditional Chinese scientific discoveries should not be measured by the standards of modern Western science. By doing so, one risks missing many of the real merits in non-Western cultures. One example is that the holistic view and the harmony of the yin-yang (shade and sunshine) concept of the human body and soul in Chinese medicine does not correlate directly with the standard Western (Greek) dichotomy of body and soul, although many have tried to make this correlation.

The main themes of traditional Confucianism are to cultivate the person, to regulate the family, to effectively govern the state, and to exemplify virtue throughout the world. The purpose of science and technology is to help a person be a good politician and sage. Moral teachings are considered far more important than scientific findings. Confucianism does not oppose scientific and technological knowledge; the attitude of Confucianism toward science is to leave it alone.

Daoism as a religion can be traced back to ancient China, especially to the philosophers Lao-tzu (c. 604490 b.c.e.) and Chuang-tzu (c. 399295 b.c.e.), although Daoist teachings were later radically reinterpreted. Later Daoism is called Daojiao (Daoist religion) rather than Daojia (School of Daoism), the name for classical Daoism. The Daoist religion sought to lead its adepts into such a harmonious relationship with the world that they would escape the horrors of disease and the tragedy of death. It was not life after death that they sought, but life without death, which they tried to achieve through the use of drugs, meditation, exercise, appropriate sexual activity, and purity of life. These approaches to immortality led to the development of traditional Chinese sciences, which include Chinese medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, and health care techniques. Traditional Chinese science also includes efforts to exploit the outside world in order to find a place for immortals to live. Such efforts constitute the earliest Chinese geographical work.

Buddhism was introduced to China around the first century b.c.e. In order for assimilation to take place, Buddhism had to undergo a process of contextualization in China. Chinese Buddhists declared that Buddhism is different from Daoism. In The Emptiness of the Unreal, the Buddhist philosopher Seng Chao (384414) pointed out that Daoism teaches belief in wu (nothingness), which is a metaphysical reality. Buddhists, however, believe in sunya (emptiness), which is the negation of any kind of independent reality. Seng Chao also taught that all existences are conditioned by necessary causes and sufficient causes; there are no eternal realities in themselves. He quotes from the teaching of Buddha to assert "no life and no death, no continuousness and no discontinuousness. No universal and no particular, no come and no go this is the first truth of Buddha." The basic teaching of Buddhism is to release human beings from suffering, which comes from desire. Buddhists strive to leave this world by entering the realm of nibbana or nirvana, where all the activities of the mind stop. From this point of view, Buddhism contributes little to science in Chinese culture.

See also Chinese Religions, Confucianism and Science in China; Chinese Religions, Daoism and Science in China; Chinese Religions, History of Science and Religion in China


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ying siu-leung. a study on the thought of traditional chinese science. nanchang, china: kiangsi people's publisher, 2001.

hing kau yeung

Chinese religion

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Chinese religion. Religion in China is not a single system of belief and practice. It is a complex interaction of different religious and philosophical traditions, of which four main strands (themselves by no means uniform) are particularly important: popular or folk religion (vivid with festivals, spirit-worlds, procedures in crises, and care of the dead), Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism (see BUDDHISM IN CHINA). In addition, Islam and Christianity have substantial followings in different parts of China, but they are distinguished from the others by appearing to the Chinese to require separation from the other religions/philosophies. In contrast, the Chinese in general have no problem in being entirely eclectic, being, for example, a Confucian in public life, a Taoist in the quest for immortality, a Buddhist in relation to ancestors, and dependent on folk wisdom in crisis or illness, or when buying a house. Thus religion is defined more by cultural geography than it is by bounded systems of beliefs and practices (though schools or traditions of teaching were formally organized). From c.1100 to 206, the Six Ways (yin-yang sched, Confucianism, Mo Tzu, Fa-chia, Logic, and Taoism) developed which constitute some of the main themes of Chinese religious history.

There is no exact equivalent in Chinese for the word ‘religion’. Men means ‘door’, i.e. door leading to enlightenment, immortality, etc.; tao means ‘way’, and both are used. But more usual now is chiao, ‘teaching’, ‘guiding doctrine’ (as in fo-chiao, the religion of the Buddha; ju-chiao, the way of Confucius; tao-chiao, religious Taoism), usually in combination with tsung, ‘ancestral, traditional’, ‘devotion, faith’: tsung-chiao, the nearest equivalent to ‘religion’.

Traditionally, religious history in China has been divided into four stages named after the seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Societies, Chinese religious

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Societies, Chinese religious. An important feature of the Chinese religious tradition. They have been particularly important for those without a secure place in the family and clan system. Such communities have usually been organized around religious ideals and symbols, sometimes including special revelations, in writing or through oral media. The state has often been suspicious of them because of their liminal social position and deviant loyalties, and sometimes with good reason, since many rebellions were inspired and led by such groups. The Taoist-led Yellow Turban rebellion in the Han (see CHANG CHÜEH), the nationalistic White Lotus revolt (see WHITE LOTUS SOCIETY) which helped to overthrow Mongolian rule and restore a Chinese ruler to the throne at the outset of the Ming, the millenarian Eight Trigrams uprising in N. China in 1813, and the T'ai-p'ing rebellion later in the same century, are only four of the most prominent examples. The Societies may be Taoist or Buddhist, but most are deliberately syncretistic.

Many Chinese religious societies, however, have been smaller than these, and without explicit political goals or reformist militancy. They have remained locally organized at the village level; others have joined in regional and national federations, though in most cases the degree of central control is minimal. See also SECRET SOCIETIES.

Chinese Religion

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This entry consists of the following articles:

an overview
popular religion
mythic themes
history of study

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Chinese religion

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