China is a civilized state with a religion that has some of the oldest qualities and characteristics. Evidence of burial practices dates back to the period before the Chinese population grew to its current size. Today, the religion and ritual practices form a complex mix ranging from Buddhism to Taoism to folk religion to Confucianism. It is, therefore, critical to study the past ritual practices as they were espoused by the Emperor to comprehend the Chinese religion fully. Some of the key questions that may need responses include the origins of the convictions and ideas, the individuals behind their development and influences, and the times at which the rituals were practiced.
The Ming Dynasty ruled in the period between 1368 and 1644. At that time, the locals were afraid of the foreigners’ rule. This resulted in a revolt that forced the Yuan dynasty to move back to the Mongolian steppes to create the dynasty in 1368. The dynasty started as a transformed cultural and ritual bloom. The merchant explored the Chinese art. Under Ming’s throne, a big army and navy were formed. The early period of the Ming’s rule marked China as the most progressed nation on the planet. The Emperor believed in various ritual practices; some meant to appease God, others to direct the way people lived and viewed one another. For instance, the cultural practices in which rituals were performed had a positive impact on the lives of the many, particularly on the way they related to one another and the Supreme Being that they believed existed. The Ming time found Buddhism with poor organization. The same was happening to Taoism. The state, however, was for the Chu His ideas and imposed philosophical uniformity. As a response to the actions, new composites of Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist emerged in an attempt to obtain new methods of self-realization through the mystical and contemplative ways. The sixteenth century was marked by the increase in philosophical discussions, private academies and conflicts. The fall of empire intensified the search for personal fulfillment. The ritual practices generated knowledge that guided people in the way they interacted with nature and the spiritual world; they also organized the people politically.
The emperors espoused various secular rituals that ensured there was respect between different calibers of people. The meeting rituals were one of them. They demanded that a subordinate would observe obeisance when they formally visited people that were considered their superiors. The secular rituals also ensured that two officers would bow simultaneously while clasping their hands. When a duke and a feudal king (also called a gong and a hou respectively), or a fuma (the emperor’s son in law) and a gong, or a fuma and a hou met, the rituals required them to give respect twice. Such rituals served their purposes well as the respected prevailed among juniors and seniors and among people of different ranks. They shaped the way people interrelated and interacted.
The subordinate or the juniors in the society stood to the west and were the first to pay obeisance, then the superior would reply with a salute. Commoners also had their ways of ensuring that they respected one another according to the rituals that existed. They would salute one another according to age, where the younger members saluted first. Obeisance was paid four times for a person who had been on a prolonged absence, and they would do it with their hand clasped. It signified their absence from the society. A person after a short absence would bow just once with their hands clasped. The emperor was the custodian of the rituals, and they ensured that the rituals were performed accordingly. They formed a significant part of the Chinese lives. The rituals remained the standard code that defined the people’s lives and the way they would behave in different occasions.
The rituals never existed for the ordinary society members alone. Even the military had their rituals that defined the way they interacted with fellow military and locals. The military protocols included tax collection, punitive expedition, camp structure erection, and hunting. Rituals governed the way people behaved when a new member arrived to the Chinese society through birth. There were birth rituals that defined their behavior during childbirth. The rites associated with birth from the time when a woman was not pregnant to the time when she wanted to give birth. There were prayers said for a woman that was not pregnant. The theme of the birthright revolved around long life. The woman would still perform some rituals when she was about to give birth. These rituals governed the way people viewed events and the way they behaved. The events that followed the birth included Sanzhao, Manyue, Bairi, and Zhuazhou held at three days, one month, a hundred days, and a year after birth respectively. The rituals held when the baby was three days old saw her/him receive handsels that included initiation gifts that signified wishes for a healthy and wealthy life. When the baby was one month old, during the Bairi rituals, maternal uncles would be identified, and the baby would be named. The baby’s destiny or future luck would be predicted when it was one year old during the Zhuazhou rituals. The ritual would be conducted in an organized manner where all sorts of items would be placed before the child who, out of its volition, would pick one symbolic thing that had particular interpretation regarding its luck. The emperor also ensured that the rite of passage was respected. The young men during that time were coached how to behave when they reached a certain age. For instance, the capping rituals were performed to give a young man a hat that had a close resemblance to a grown man’s hat. There was a puberty rite conducted for both females and males. It was performed when the children were approaching puberty to ensure that they behaved and interacted with other members and among themselves responsibly.
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The Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang established ancestral temples in Beijing as a way to lead people to pay tribute to the past emperors of all the dynasties. During this time, the temples were constructed in the Beijing’s Fucheng Gate to perform the rituals that enabled the people to interact with gods. They had several gods, each for a particular function. Another function that they performed included worshiping the deceased emperors’ lineage, the thirty-six of them. Evidence shows an outstanding ritual and care concerning practices of burial. The practices that shaped the behaviors and the mannerisms of Chinese during the 5th millennium BCE included posture and orientation consistency. For instance, the northwestern dead got a westerly alignment during burial while the dead from the eastern side were given easterly direction. The dead also got separated into various groupings based on the kinships. The Chinese had distinct ritual practices that defined their behaviors and how they treated the dead. They had offertories at the graveside with items such as pig jaws, pig skulls, and liquids. The people had a ritual known as the secondary burial performed collectively. In such rituals, the Chinese took the bones of seventy to eighty corpses and stripped them of the flesh before reburying them. The state religion rituals under the leadership of the emperor were directed to the Five Elements that included metal, wood, earth, water and fire. The others gods included the Lord of Soil and the Supreme Unity. These elements symbolized deity and were accorded respects through ritual performance that defined people’s life.
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During the Shang Dynasty, the divine practices adopted by the Emperor played key roles in the way people led their lives. The turtle plastrons and the cattle scapulae were planned, and holes were made in them. Then, they were heated using various sources of heat. The resulting product from the process was a T-shaped crack. The interpretation for that meant to be either unlucky or lucky. After making the prognostication, the presiding diviner’s name, the day, the charge’s subject, and the result would be curved on the bone’s surface. The topics divined included campaigns, sacrifices, hunts, weather, good fortune, harvest, childbearing, sickness, settlement buildings, dreams, tributes, prayers to spirits, and divine assistance. The divination had significantly evolved and was considerably simplified by the time the last Shang emperors Ti-hsin and Ti-i appeared. Special rituals were performed in the form of worship that made people respect the past heroes and leaders. Confucius was accorded the respect as an ancient master and worshiped according to that title while King Wu of Zhou’s son was considered an ancient sage and worshiped in that respect.
During this time, the emperor unified the people into a solidary civilization. The ritual practices from different places interacted and integrated. Various forms of differences resulted; however, the country developed a pantheon where every god was attributed to a particular function. This was a representation of the empire out of the Chinese unification with its societal bureaucracy. The Dynasty included the knowledge of Mo-Tzu and Confucius. The two teachings had their central theme and emphasis on humanity, virtue, just ruling, and the significance of the social relationship. The interaction of the various ritual practices from different regions as a result of the unification under the dynasty saw the Chinese change way of life concerning worship and relations.
The Han Dynasty was known for introducing and upholding Confucianism, which was the foundational ideology of the China regimes up to the end of imperialism in the country. The Confucius’ Five Classics were made mandatory for anyone who wanted to hold any leadership position. Apart from the ritual practices, the Han Dynasty Emperor encouraged the Chinese to be involved in the development of technology, art, science, and literature. During his time, the country experienced great prosperity in spheres ranging from economic issues to religious matters. The people believed that the Emperor was ruling with a direct mandate from heaven. The responsibility of securing blessings spiritually for the Chinese people was vested in them. Before, one of the nine state’s ministries executed the responsibility of securing the blessings from gods, but later, the Emperor assumed the responsibility and got involved directly in official ritual and worship.
The Tang dynasty had its headquarters at Chang’an, which was by then mostly populated. It was regarded as the place where the Chinese civilization began. The place was acquired through military actions against the rulers. The emperors adopted new methods of performing the religious rituals. As a result, the empire witnessed an increase in individual creativity in various fields. Their interactions led to the growth of art and literature. Tang rule perfected the government systems, which had tremendous support of the Confucian literati. Up to the last days of Qing Empire during the 1911 century, the intellectual officials had served as mediators between the government and the local people. Taoism had the support of the royal family, as they believed that they were the descendants of Lao-Tzu, the Buddhist religion was preferred by the imperial patronage. The scholar Hs?an-tsang went to India at a home time around 629 and returned sixteen years later. He focused on the translation of the Sanskrit Buddhists, which were mainly religious texts, into the Cantonese language. These were the materials used in most of the rituals and other religious functions headed by the Emperor to influence their ways of life. The doctrines led to an increase in the popularity of Buddhism, especially of the T’ien-Tai, Buddhism Land schools, and the. The people were meant to believe that their ways of life were incomplete without proper places of worship. The period saw an increase in the number of monasteries and temples, both local and small and large, receiving sponsorship the state. The larger monasteries got land and wealth from the pious laymen and the individuals who were receiving monastic vows. As emperor Wu-Tsung ascended to the empire, his ritual practices conflicted with the Buddhism belief. The change of practices, particularly the religious matters that had to do with ritual performances, were a great setback to the individuals who had ascribed to the Buddhists doctrines. They suffered under Wu-Tsung throne since he was a Taoism fanatic. Most of the Buddhists were prosecuted for economic and religious reasons between 843 and 845. The emperor’s ideologies, including the ritual practices, did not favor most of the Chinese. The initial peaceful environment and relations almost collapsed as the country faced financial issues. The period saw the closure of 40,000 temples and shrines while approximately 260,000 nuns and monks took to lay life. The lives of Buddhists changed completely, the rituals according to the emperor Wu-Tsung worked against their wellbeing.
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In conclusion, various rituals espoused by the emperors had a significant role in their lives and the way they interacted with one another. The ritual responsibilities that the emperor performed and made people believe that he could cause blessing from heaven also played a critical role in the way the people viewed different aspects of life. The rituals shaped the way they interacted. The interactions between different people from different regions followed the doctrinal teachings of the ritual leader. To receive blessings, they were to behave in some way in front of one another. The practice also streamlined leadership with minimal complains and unrest, as people had a standard way of interactions and mannerisms as espoused by the emperor. The emperors played significant role in making people believe that a supreme being existed. The gods directed their lives on earth, as a result the Chinese were to behave in a given way before them. The state religion rituals under the leadership of the Emperor were directed to the Five Elements that included metal, wood, earth, water, and fire. The others were the Lord of Soil and the Supreme Unity. The rituals also ensured that respect prevails among different members of the society, for instance the secular rituals that defined how juniors or subordinate behaved or greeted their seniors/masters. Through the rituals, the emperor ensured that the society coexisted peacefully, shaped the character and the individual behaviors.