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Heaven and earth, sacrifices to

Heaven and earth, sacrifices to. The most important rituals of the Imperial Cult in China from most ancient times down to the 20th cent. In the earliest historically known period (late Shang dynasty, c.1300–?1111 BCE), the high god was called Ti, or Shang-Ti. He dwelt in Heaven where he presided, so to speak, over the council of ancestors of the incumbent king. The high god of the succeeding Chou dynasty (?1111–256 BCE) was called T'ien, which means Heaven. Shang-Ti and T'ien gradually became assimilated as the supreme ruler, by whose mandate (t'ien ming) every ruling dynasty was legitimated. In Chinese philosophy Heaven was the embodiment of yang, one of the two basic forces (yin-yang) in the universe. By the same token Earth, mother of all and source of their nourishment, as well as ultimate devourer of their physical forms, was the embodiment of yin.

In worshipping Heaven and Earth, therefore, the emperor was on the one hand acknowledging the subordination and dependence of all humans in relation to the supreme powers of the universe, and on the other hand demonstrating his own supremacy as ruler of all, who alone had the right to act as their intermediary with those powers. Hence, these rituals were the sole prerogative of the emperor.

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