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Ancient Chinese beliefs in Shang Di, 上帝

Discussion in 'Asian Mythology' started by Rakovsky, May 31, 2016.

  1. Rakovsky

    Rakovsky Active Member

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    Ancient Chinese believed in Shang Di, the supreme deity or highest lord. These beliefs remained, even if faint, throughout the centuries even after the passing of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. They may have been incorporated into Taoism, and so I made a thread in the Taoist section asking about this:

    Does Taoism believe in the Supreme Deity/Highest Emperor/Shangdi 上帝?
    http://www.religiousforums.com/thre...reme-deity-highest-emperor-shangdi-上帝.187867/

    Some questions:
    Can you read or explain the Alternative name for Shang Di: 異名
    Is Chinese society performing ritual animal sacrifice nowadays at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing?


    Edward Werner writes about Shang Di in Myths and Legends of China:
    In other words, in Werner's view, first the Chinese worshiped the supreme Lord, who lived in heaven, and then they worshiped heaven and personified him. Werner was writing in 1922 and there have been a range of theories before 1922 and afterwards on the development of worship of Di (the Lord) and Tien (heaven).

    One theory seems to be that the ancestors, particularly the Jade Emperor, were deified on their deaths. Thus the Jade Emperor became Shang Di. Another theory, espoused by Sarah Allen, proposes that Shang Di was originally the Pole Star, which eventually became a deity in the minds of Chinese. Another theory is that Tien (the heavens) was originally a god or person, since it is drawn as a person in Chinese writing.
     
  2. GoodbyeDave

    GoodbyeDave Well-Known Member

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    As you'll know, one problem is that the classical Chinese language does not distinguish singular and plural. One scholar will read Shangdi as "high sovereign", another as "high sovereigns". Jordan Paper takes the second position and argues that the imperial sacrifices were to the gods collectively, but he has a personal agenda.

    Two quotations I've been able to find from the Han period are
    Zheng Xuan: "Shangdi is another name for Tian."
    Dong Zhongshu: "Tian is the ultimate authority, the king of gods." I find it difficult to see how that could be translated as "the kings of the gods" and make sense.
    There's also a Tang writer who specifically referred to Tian as "one", but I've lost the source :-(

    Belief in a single creator is so widespread — all Africa, most of native America, central Asia — that I can't see why some people reject the idea that the Chinese could have had a concept of a Supreme Being. It's true that they've lost it, but that no different to the ancient Indians, Egyptians, and Greeks starting without the concept and then developing it!
     
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  3. Rakovsky

    Rakovsky Active Member

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    Yes. There are other issues.
    1. China was a one emperor system and the order in heaven was seen as reflecting the order on earth. This ideology implies there being one ruler both places.
    2. The relationship to Tengri ism. The Khan Tengri mountain is called by Chinese Tien Shen. Tengri was one god. Hence the god tien is also one god.
    3. The other religions saw there being one God of the heaven, An for Sumerians, Dyaus for PIE, Nut for Egypt. An even meant both the heavens and the heavens god for Sumerians. You can guess the same thing worked for Tien for Chinese.
    4. The pictograph for Tien and for Di is a single person, not many people.
     
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  4. YAW7911

    YAW7911 Member

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    Before the birth of "宋" (song) dynasty there was a supreme god called "天帝" (tiandi) dated back to at least 2000 BC of the tribal times, who was the supreme deity in the polytheism system and rather than Sky father is primordial. Afterward it was changed to "玉帝" (yudi) who was also used to refer the father of previous emperors and the specific god was an emperor of "宋" (Song) dynasty. It was also by that time the emperors are believed to be Dragonborn (literally).
    Then in Taoism there was "三清" (sanqing) who were the first beings to born out of Chaos, and folklore of "盘古" (pangu) who caused the big bang, and separate darkness and light. While sanqing are revered as gods, Pangu is long dead after he started the universe.
    "女娲" (Nvwa) created men out of clay but is also a naga.
     
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