29 September 2010

Ancient Chinese History in Light of the Book of Genesis

In looking at the Chinese history in light of the Book of Genesis, it will be helpful to look first at the earliest known religion in China. Later, we will see how this ancient religion fits in with the Biblical account of ancient history.

The earliest account of religious worship in China is found in the Shu Jing (Book of History or Book of Documents), the oldest Chinese historical source. This book records that in the year 2230 B.C., the Emperor Shun “sacrificed to ShangDi.” That is, he sacrificed to the supreme God of the ancient Chinese, Shangdi meaning Supreme Ruler. This ceremony came to be known as the “Border Sacrifice,” because at the summer solstice and Emperor took part in ceremonies to the earth on the northern border of the country, and at the winter solstice he offered a sacrifice to heaven on the southern border.

The Chinese have been called one of the most history-conscious and tradition-conscious peoples of the world. This is seen in many aspects of Chinese culture. Perhaps it is seen most of all in this very Border Sacrifice which the Emperor performed twice a year. This ceremony, which goes back at least to 2230 B.C. was continued in China for over four thousand years, up until the fall of the Manchus in A. D. 1911. Even though the people gradually lost an understanding of what the ceremony was all about, and Shangdi was obscured behind all kinds of pagan deities in China, nevertheless the worship of the one God, Shangdi, was continued faithfully by the Emperor up into modern times.

The oldest text of the Border Sacrifice that we have dates from the Ming Dynasty. It is the exact text of the ceremony that was performed in A. D. 1538, which was based on the existing ancient records of the original rituals. Let us look at portions of the recitation script that the Emperor used.

The Emperor, as the high priest, was the only one to participate in the service. The ceremony began:
“Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos, without form and dark. The five elements [planets] had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and the moon to shine. In the midst thereof there existed neither forms for sound. Thou, O spiritual Sovereign, camest forth in Thy presidency, and first didst divide the grosser parts from the purer. Thou madest heaven; Thou madest earth; Thou madest man. All things with their reproductive power got their being.” 
This recitation praising Shangdi as Creator of heaven and earth sounds surprisingly like the first chapter of Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1: 1- 2).
So, in the earliest records of Chinese religion, we see that the people worshiped One God, Who was Creator of all. We also see that the original people of China looked at Shangdi with a sense of love and a filial feeling. The Emperor continued his prayer:
“Thou hast vouchsafed, O Di, to hear us, for Thou regardest us as a Father. I, Thy child, dull and unenlightened, am unable to show forth my dutiful feelings.”
As the ceremony concludes, Shangdi is praised for His loving kindness:
“Thy sovereign goodness is infinite. As a potter, Thou hast made all living things. Thy sovereign goodness is infinite. Great and small are sheltered [by Thee]. As engraven on the heart of Thy poor servant is the sense of Thy goodness, so that my feeling cannot be fully displayed. With great kindness Thou dost bear us, and not withstanding our shortcomings, dost grant us life and prosperity.”
These last two recitations, taken together, bear the same simile as found in the Prophecy of Isaiah in the Bible:
“But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our Potter and we all are the work of Thy hand” (Isaiah 64: 8).
In general, reading the text of the Border Sacrifice reminds one strongly of the prayers of the ancient Hebrews as found in the Old Testament: the same reverent awe before God, the same selfabasement, humility and gratitude before His greatness. For us Christians, these most ancient of Chinese prayers to God are strangely familiar. Why is this? It seems that the most ancient Chinese religion and the ancient Hebrew religion are drawn from the same source. And that is indeed the case, as we will see.

Let us begin at the beginning. Adam and Eve, as we know from the book of Genesis, were cast out of Paradise, and Cherubim with flaming swords guarded the East Gate of Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return to it. Paradise, according to tradition, was on a high place, like a mountain. Adam and Eve remained near to Paradise, “over against” it according to the Greek (Septuagint) version. They remained on a high place, viewed Paradise from afar, and lamented what they had lost.

God placed it into the minds of Adam’s sons Cain and Abel (and, we assume, Adam himself) to offer sacrifice. They would have done this near to the border of Eden. The sacrifice, of course, was not enough to save mankind, or open to him the Paradise and the access to heaven which he lost. However, God placed in man the idea of sacrifice in order to prepare man to understand the Sacrifice that would save man: the Sacrifice of the Son of God on the Cross. Adam lived to be 930 years old. According to the Hebrew genealogy, Adam lived at the same time as Noah’s father Lamech: Lamech was 56 years old when Noah died. According to the genealogy in the Greek version of the Old Testament, there about a thousand years more time between Adam and Noah, so there would have been another generation. But, at any rate, Noah would have heard about the creation and the Fall from his father Lamech, who was only one, and perhaps two, generations removed from Adam himself. This gives us an idea of how direct the knowledge was that Noah had.

The Great Flood occurred, according to the Biblical reckoning, in approximately 2348 B.C. It was a global Flood which wiped out the entire earth and all human beings except for Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives (8 people in all).

The Bible says that, when Noah got off the Ark after the Flood, the first thing he did was to offer sacrifice to God, just as his forefather Adam had once done. In fact, before the Flood Noah had brought on the Ark with him some animals which were specifically meant to be offered in sacrifice, in addition to all the other animals that were on the Ark. So, the religion of Noah, which he had received from his forefather Adam, included the sacrifice of animals.

Only 101 years after the Flood, evil abounded again; and therefore, as the Bible tells us, “the earth was divided.” This occurred at the Tower of Babel, when God confounded the languages, and people began to be scattered about the earth. The Tower of Babel incident occurred at about 2247 B. C . And it is soon after this point that Chinese history begins.

The original people of China were undoubtedly a group of people (of unknown number) who traveled to China from Babel. It is probable that most of the people living in China today have descended from this original group.

Many Christians who have looked into this question have suggested that, in the Genesis “table of nations” chronicling the language groups migrating from Babel, the “Sinite people” (Genesis 10: 17) could refer to the group that became the Asian peoples.

Whether or not this is the case, here is a very interesting fact to consider: According to the Chinese records, the establishment of China’s first dynasty, the Hsia (Xia) dynasty, occurred in 2205 B.C. Modern scholars ascribe a somewhat later date of between 2100 and 2000 B.C. Therefore, depending on which reckoning one accepts, the establishment of China’s first dynasty occurred anywhere from 42 to 205 years after the approximate date of the Tower of Babel incident. That was the time it took for the protoChinese to migrate to China from present- day Iraq (the site of the Tower of Babel) and already begin their dynastic civilization.

From the Bible we know that Noah lived 350 years after the Flood. So the founding of China’s first dynasty occurred while Noah was still alive.

The first people of China could have heard about the creation, the Fall, and life before the Flood from Noah himself. And Noah, as we have said, could have learned about these things, through one or at most two intermediaries, from Adam himself. This gives us an idea of how close were the first Chinese people to the first man, Adam.

We know that when the original settlers of China came to their new land, they brought the religion of Noah with them. We know this from the Border Sacrifice of which we spoke earlier. The Border Sacrifice was like the sacrifices of Noah, which were like the sacrifices of Adam. And, as we have seen, the God that was invoked at the Border Sacrifices was the One God, the Creator of universe, that both Noah and Adam worshiped. The prayers that were at the Chinese Border Sacrifice bear remarkable similarity to the prayers of the ancient Hebrews because both come from the same source: the religion of Noah.

An interesting point to ponder is why the Chinese called their sacrifices “Border Sacrifices,” and why the Emperor traditionally performed them at the border of the Empire. We know that Adam would have performed his sacrifices outside the borders of Paradise, probably as close as possible to Paradise, outside the Gate that was guarded by the Cherubim. It is possible that the Chinese Border Sacrifice were based on the tradition of a “border sacrifice” from the time of Adam.

As we have said, the Sacrifices— whether of Adam, Noah, or the Chinese Emperors— could not save mankind from the consequences of the Fall: death, and eternal separation from God. They could not get man back into Paradise. For this, a totally pure and unblemished sacrifice had to be offered, by a totally pure and sinless human being: one who would be the Second Adam and set aright what Adam had ruined. This sacrifice was offered for all time by Jesus Christ, the “Second Adam.” And another interesting point: Just as the first Adam had offered his sacrifice outside the Gates of Eden, the Second Adam offered His Sacrifice outside the Gates of the Holy City of Jerusalem, when He was taken outside the city to be crucified.

Christ fulfilled what was prefigured by the sacrifices of Adam and Noah, and by the Border Sacrifices that were offered by the Chinese from the very beginning of their history.

Let us go back now and look at the recorded history of China in light of what we’ve just been talking about, that is, in light of the Biblical history of the world.

We’ve already mentioned the oldest book of Chinese recorded history: the Shu Jing, or Book of Documents. This book was written in about 1000 B.C. and was based on material from the Shang Dynasty, which began in 1700 B.C. (1700 B.C., by the way, is 200 years before the time of Moses, who wrote the book of Genesis.) Even if we assume that the original materials for the Shu Jing came from the beginning of the Shang Dynasty in 1700 B.C., this means that at least 500 years would have passed from the beginning of China to the first written record of its history.

The first thing that students of Chinese history learn is that Chinese history began with a Flood. This is not surprising, since we know that ancient peoples from all the continents of the world have a story of a Great Flood which covered all the earth as a judgment on man’s sin. In many cases, the details are remarkably like the details recorded in the book of Genesis. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia, for example, speak of a global flood and how only eight people escaped it in a canoe.

The flood story was the most pervasive of all the other legends in ancient China. The Shu Jing records: “The flood waters are everywhere, destroying everything as they rise above the hills and swell up to heaven.”

Since the Shu Jing only begins with Chinese history, however, this statement does not refer to the global Flood, but rather to the local flooding that was caused in China by the remnants of the Great Flood. The Shu Jing speaks of how, after the Great Flood, some of the land was not yet habitable because the flood waters were still inundating the land. This was certainly possible. The time between the Flood and the founding of the first Chinese dynasty was as little as 143 years, and we would expect that huge pockets of water would have been on the land at that time, which are not there today.

This phenomenon of post- Flood water- pockets is described in the book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by a geologist, Steven Austin. Dr. Austin is a believer in the Biblical account of the Flood, and in this book he posits that Grand Canyon was formed by a huge pocket of water that was left over from the Flood, and which broke loose over the land. Since the layers of sediments had recently formed during the Flood and the land was still soft, the leftover Flood waters were able to carve out the magnificent Grand Canyon.

Going back to ancient China: These leftover Flood waters made parts of the land uninhabitable. At that time, according to Chinese history, there were the first righteous Chinese Emperors, Yao and Shun: the first emperors to offer the Border Sacrifices to Shangdi. To a man named Kun given the task of ridding the land of the flood waters, but he was not able to do so. It was not until Kun’s son, Yu, devised a new technique to channel the waters out to sea that the land was eventually made habitable.

It took nine years for Yu to channel the waters out to sea. He became a hero because of this amazing feat. As a result, Shun turned the rulership over to Yu. Yu became emperor, thus beginning China’s first dynasty, the Xia. After that, China’s dynastic culture lasted almost another four thousand years.

There do exist legends about dynasties in China before the Xia dynasty, but these dynasties are of a different sort, with questionable details attributed to them and very long lives ascribed to their people. The Xia dynasty is the first precisely documented dynasty. Christian geologist Dr. John Morris suggests that the well documented dynasties date to dispersion from Babel, “while the prior dynasties were faded memories of pre-Flood patriarchs, preserved as legends.” Emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty “evidently gained prominence when he engineered the draining of swampy land left saturated by leftover flood waters. His following dynasty commenced about the time of Abraham or so, and the memories of long-lived patriarchs of pre-Flood days became legends of early dynasties.”

So, now we have looked at Chinese history in relation to the Bible. If we start with the most ancient record of Chinese history, the Shu Jing, we find that the history of ancient China matches very well with the history of mankind as recorded in the Bible. (The Shu Jing, by the way, was the source of Chinese history used by Confucius, considered by him to be the most authentic source of Chinese history.)

Since the Shu Jing begins with specifically with Chinese history, however, it does not refer to Noah, or to what occurred before the Great Flood. Is there anything in ancient Chinese history that refers to the Great Flood or to what occurred before it? Yes, there is, but unfortunately it was written much later than the Shu Jing, and thus filled with legendary material. In the Huainan-tzu, written in the 2nd century B.C., we read the story of Nu-wa (also pronounced Nu-kua), whose name sounds a lot like “Noah.” The story says that, in very ancient times, the habitable world was split apart, waters inundated the earth without being stopped, and fires flamed without being extinguished. “Therefore,” the text reads, “Nu- kua fused together stones of the five colors with which to patch together the azure heaven.” This is perhaps a distorted retelling of the Flood story, over 2,000 years after it happened. The stones of Five Colors by which Nukua patched the heavens may be a legendary retelling of the rainbow that Noah saw in the sky after the Flood, which was to be a covenant between God and the earth that God would never again destroy the earth by water.

Whether or not the Nu- kua legend was based on actual history of the Noahic Flood, we know that the original people of China knew the basic facts concerning the creation of the world. We know this because these facts are laid out in the text of the Border Sacrifice which we have quoted earlier. As we have shown, the Border Sacrifice describes the creation in a way remarkably similar to the book of Genesis.

Dr. John Morris points out that many of the language groups migrating from Babel “took with them technological knowledge which they put to use in their new homelands. History documents the fact that several major cultures sprang into existence seemingly from nowhere at about the same time— the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Phoenecians, the Indians, as well as the Chinese— and each possessed a curious mixture of truth and pagan thought, as would be expected from peoples only briefly separated from Noah and his teachings as well as the star- worshipping, pyramid- building heresy of Nimrod at Babel.”

Now that we have gone this far in our examination of Chinese history in the light of Genesis, a few questions may remain. First of all, it may be objected that, according to secular scientists, the first inhabitants of China were actually hominid ancestors of man. About thirty years ago, it was generally believed by evolutionists that the hominid ancestor of Chinese man was the Asian Homo erectus, otherwise known as “Peking Man” or Sinanthropus (meaning China Man). Sinanthropus was supposed to have lived from a million or two million years ago in China. Today, however, some scientists disagree that this Sinanthropus is really an evolutionary ancestor of today’s Chinese people. In fact, the whole field of paleoanthropology is becoming more and more confused as time goes on. The paleoanthropologists can’t agree on the evolutionary tree of man, and different parties among them have heated fights over this question. Now it is generally thought that there is not an evolutionary tree at all in relation to man, but rather a confused “bush.”

If we look at the so- called ancestors of man, we can see that, in some cases they are extinct apes, and in some cases they are human beings. Sinanthropus, whose skulls have been found in China, is a case in point. What is this Sinanthropus? Clearly, he is a human being, probably one of the early settlers in China after the dispersion at Babel. He did not live two million years ago, which is an inconceivable amount of time. All over the world, recorded human history begins no earlier than about 2,400 B.C., which is the approximate date of the Flood. The radiometric dating methods that are used to get ages of a million or a billion years are based on untestable and unprovable assumptions, as the scientists who believe in them will admit themselves. (As an indication of hypothetical nature of these methods, rocks known to have been formed in volcanic eruptions within the last 200 years have yielded radiometric dates of up to 3.5 billion years.)

Many secular and even evolutionist scientists today say that the distinction between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens (human beings) is an artificial one: Homo erectus, including Sinanthropus, is nothing else than a human being. This claim has been made by paleoanthropologists both in the West and in China (such as Wu Xin Zhi at the Institute of Paleoanthropology in Beijing).

Professor William S. Laughlin (University of Connecticut), in studying the Eskimos and the Aleuts, noted many similarities between these peoples and the Asian Homo erectus people, specifically Sinanthropus (Peking Man). He concludes his study with a very logical statement:
“When we find that significant differences have developed, over a short time span, between closely related and contiguous peoples, as in Alaska and Greenland, and when we consider the vast differences that exist between remote groups such as Eskimos and Bushmen, who are known to belong within the single species of Homo sapiens, it seems justifiable to conclude that Sinanthropus belongs within this same diverse species.”
Another question arises: If, as we believe from the Biblical account, the earth is only several thousands and not billions of years old, and if Adam lived only two or three thousand years before the first Chinese dynasty, then how do we account for the dinosaurs, which supposedly became extinct seventy million years before the first man appeared on earth?

This is a very fascinating subject to discuss, especially in relation to China. What about dinosaurs? Were there dinosaurs in China? The Censer Dragons, of course, are depicted everywhere in Chinese culture. But these are only legendary creatures, some will say. No, not at all. Later depictions of dragons, to be sure, contained fanciful elements, because they were drawn by people who did not see dragons themselves but had only heard about them from others or from historical sources. But dragons did live contemporaneously with humans in the history of ancient China. Dragons are written about in ancient Chinese annals, and not as imaginary creatures, but as real live animals. It is known from Chinese history that certain parts and fluids of dragons were used for medicines. And one historical account even mentions a Chinese family that bred dragons to be used to pull the Royal Chariot during Imperial processions!

What the ancient Chinese wrote about dragons fits in with what ancient people all over the world had to say about them. In all the ancient cultures of the world, people wrote about seeing dragons or killing dragons. They painted pictures of them or, in the case of some Central American cultures, made statues of them. Many of the historical descriptions and depictions of dragons match precisely with the physical features of known dinosaurs such as Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were not called dinosaurs then, because the word “dinosaur” was not invented until 1841 (by the way, it was invented by a Christian scientist who believed the Biblical account of origins).

When the army of Alexander the Great (356- 323 B.C.) went through India, they went to see a dragon living in a cave, which the Indians worshiped as a god, bringing it sacrificial food. This is only one of many historical accounts of dragons from places in the world other than China. One of the Holy Fathers of the Church, St. John Damascene (A. D. 674- 750), wrote of dragons as actual creatures that still existed in his time in small numbers. When people with an evolutionary frame of mind read of such things, they automatically think of them as legends. But it is very hard to explain why peoples from all over the world have spoken of dragons as real, living creatures. From these accounts from all over the world, we know that some dinosaurs went onto the Ark with Noah (probably as babies). There is much evidence that, after the Flood, the climate and conditions of the earth became harsher; and thus the dinosaurs had a more difficult time surviving (hence Alexander the Great’s army saw one living in a cave). They did spread all over the earth, since people from China to South America tell of seeing them. But they were much more rare than other creatures, and they eventually died out due to the new conditions of earth and also, undoubtedly, to the fact that people killed them because they saw them as a threat.

To the ancient Chinese, dinosaurs or dragons were a symbol of power. It was natural that they would be fascinated with them and make them such a frequent subject of their art, because of all the land creatures that ever lived, what was greater and more powerful than a dinosaur?

In the book of Job, chapter 40, God calls Job’s attention to his greatness by reminding him that He created the great and powerful creatures of the earth. And the land creature that God mentions is the behemoth, which has a tail like a cedar tree. The Biblical description of the behemoth matches no other creature than a sauropod dinosaur. Not only Chinese history, but even Chinese sayings and the Chinese lunar calendar, make it clear that the Chinese have traditionally regarded dragons as real creatures.

Here’s an interesting story, which indicates that a few winged dinosaurs may have survived in China into relatively recent times. At the end of the 19th century, a Russian Orthodox saint named St. Barsanuphius was stationed in Manchuria to pastor the Russian soldiers during the Russian-Japanese War. From there he wrote in his journal: “I happened to hear from soldiers that stand at the posts at the Hantaza station, forty miles from Mullin, that two years ago they often saw an enormous winged dragon creep out from one of the mountain caves. It terrified them, and would again conceal itself in the depths of the cave. They have not seen it since that time, but this proves that the tales of the Chinese and Japanese about the existence of dragons are not at all fantasies or fables, although the learned European naturalists, and ours along with them, deny the existence of these monsters. But after all, anything can be denied, simply because it does not measure up to our understanding.”

As mentioned earlier, the Chinese people are one of the most tradition- conscious and history- conscious peoples. So it should not be surprising that they, of all peoples, should be the ones to have retained such a strong cultural memory of dinosaurs. Their records showing that dinosaurs lived alongside man, and not in an “age of dinosaurs” ending 70 million years earlier, further supports the Biblical account of the world’s history.

When the world was inhabited by people groups coming out of Babel, some groups retained more awareness of the original religion Adam and Noah, and some retained less awareness. The Chinese, as we have seen, retained more than most other cultures. They have retained it up until modern times in the Imperial Border Sacrifice. Also, with the great value they place on history, they have preserved a knowledge of their own past which matches in its essentials the history of the world which is given in the Holy Bible.

28 September 2010

The Lunar New Year and the Traditions It Represents

There are many interesting, and frequently overlooked, similarities between the civilisations of the Chinese and Roman Empires. To the extent that the Orthodox Church is the heritor and protector of the civilisation of the Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, Empire, the similarities are of particular interest to Orthodox Christians.

The Chinese Emperor unified in one person two lines of authoriity: he was the embodiment of fatong (de jure authority to rule); he was also the living symbol of daotong (moral or religious correctness). Under the Mandate of Heaven, he ruled what was for his peoples the known civilized world, and was regarded as no mere mortal. For him there was no equal in the world.

The Caesars saw themselves in a similar light. They titled themselves imperator of the world. When they became Christian they quickly embraced the caesaropapist approach to governance, becoming the final authority in matters secular as well as ecclesiastical.

One natural outcome of this common approach to governance was control of the calendar. The Chinese Emperors, as well as their imperial kindred spirits in Rome and Byzantium, reserved for themselves - and nobody else - the authority to define the calendar, to spell out the days, months and years of their subjects. In a sense, controlling the definition of the calendar meant controlling the lifestyles, livelihoods and lives of their subjects.

In successive Chinese dynasties the Calendrist was always one of the more important imperial ministers. In the Christian world, in the course of the ebb and flow of imperial influence, the authority to define the calendar rested in the hands of the claimants to the succession of the Caesars - be they emperors residing in Byzantium or Moscow, or bishops in Rome.

This last is a particularly poignant point for some Orthodox people, because the recognition of differing calendar-issuing authorities continues to be a divisive issue for the church, and affects our lives to this very day.

The Confucianist calendar, predicated on the movements of the moon rather than the sun, comprises 12 months. In a leap year there are 13 months. The first day of the first month of the year usually falls in late January or in February. The coming lunar New Year's Day will fall on 28th January, 1998.

It is important to remember that the lunar calendar is prevalent in most parts of the Confucianist family of nations, so it would be technically wrong to call it Chinese New Year. Historians and veterans of the Vietnam War will recall that it is called "Tet" in Vietnam (as in the "Tet Offensive"). It is also widely celebrated in Korea. The notable exception is Japan, where the lunar calendar remains part of the cultural pattern but is not observed. About 100 years ago, during the Meiji Restoration in Japan, the entire Japanese nation consciously switched over to following the Gregorian calendar. The traditional celebrations of the lunar new year became attached to the new year by the Gregorian calendar; hence Japanese ladies today will put on their kimonos and go to temples for prayers on 1st January, while in other Confucianist countries, including Hong Kong, people continue to observe the traditional ceremonies on lunar New Year's Day, sometime in February or late January.

It is a commonplace in the Western world that Chinese years have animal names (Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, Hog), just as Chinese restaurants serve fortune cookies. This is a facile understanding. The 12-animal cycle of years is a folkloric tradition. What is not widely known in the West is that lunar years do have proper names. The names are generated by the sequential juxtaposition of two groups of Han characters . The Han-character writing system bound together the Confucianist world in the same way Latin bound together Christendom in the West, so the proper name of each year is the same in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. There is a total of 60 names. The current year is known as Dingqiu (Cantonese Ting Chau), and the year coming in on 28th January is Wuyin (Cantonese Mo Yan).

The first day of the lunar new year is a day of religious rituals and abstinence. It is interesting to note that in popular religion in China the pantheon is a combination of Buddhist, Taoist and traditional deities and powers, which means it is appropriate to make meat offerings to some deities but not to others. Meat offerings such as suckling pig, chicken and barbecued pork may be made to ancestors and certain deities, but never to the Buddha, boddhisattvas, arhats and other Buddhist powers, who are strictly vegetarian. As a matter of general practice, most Chinese abstain from meat on the first day of the lunar year, a sign of deference to spiritual values. The second day, kai nian day (day of commencement of the year) is the day of feasting, the real beginning of the year, when people put behind them the religious observations of the first day and end their abstinence.

It is customary for Chinese people to visit their relatives and friends, particuarly those senior to them, during the lunar new year period, within the first ten days of the new year. Hongbao, or red packets containing money for goodwill and good luck, are given to one's juniors. The seventh day of the lunar new year, ren ri or All Man's Day (or, to be politically correct, All Humans Day) is regarded to be of particular importance, because legend has it that man was born, or made, on that day - everybody's birthday. Lunar new year celebrations generally end after the Yuanxiao, literally "first evening", festival, which falls on the 15th day of the lunar new year. The "first evening" festival is called such because it is the first evening of the full moon in the year, and is celebrated traditionally by a display of numerous Chinese lanterns in various styles.

27 September 2010

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum

"I will go to China to translate the Bible!"
With this firm resolve, a young franciscan friar called Gabriele Allegra set out to do what no one had yet succeeded in accomplishing. Born on 26th December 1907 in Sicily, Gabriele entered the Franciscan Order in 1923. While studying in Rome for the priesthood, he was inspired by the example of the 1st catholic missionary to China, the franciscan John of Montecorvino who in 1295 translated the Psalms and the New Testament into the Mongolian language. Since then, many attempts were made to translate the Scriptures into chinese but only parts of it were successfully completed. Fr Allegra was determined to give the entire Word of God to this great nation, hence in 1931 he left Italy for China at the age of 24, with nothing more than an ardent love for the Word of God and the chinese people, and confidence in the Virgin Mary.

Blessed with a photographic memory and a gift for languages, he mastered enough of the chinese language in 3 months to hear confessions in his mission in HengYang (Hunan Province). While studying the hebrew language on his own, he began translating the Old Testament in 1935.

In 1944, after much fatigue, Fr Allegra completed the translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew and Aramaic languages. However the Japanese occupation of China forced Fr Allegra to leave his mission in HengYang for the safety of Beijing. Due to the ensuing chaos, Fr Allegra lost half of his precious manuscripts along the way. The following year he began to gather a handful of chinese friars to further assist him. Frs Solanus Lee ofm and Antonius Lee ofm were the first to be recruited. They were later followed by Frs Bernardinus Lee ofm and Ludovicus Liu ofm. These friars set about translating the Old Testament as well as correcting and revising the surviving texts of Fr Allegra. Commentaries on the Old Testament were also being written simultaneously. Fr Allegra himself taught them hebrew and greek.

That same year in 1945, the Studium Biblicum was officially inaugurated in Beijing at 6 Ly Kwang Kiao (a former imperial palace near the Forbidden City). In 1946 the translation and commentary on the Psalms were published. The Wisdom Books were then published in 1947 and the following year, the Pentateuch. Diocesan priests Frs Victor Tso and Marcus Chen joined the Studium that year.

Due to the impending civil war in 1948, the friars were forced to move the Studium Biblicum to a safer haven in Hong Kong. The Guardian of the Franciscan House at 133 Waterloo Road (Kowloon), Fr Seraphim Priestly, welcomed the Studium members and sheltered them there. The Studium continued its work there despite the turmoil around them. Refugee missionaries from every conceivable Order were welcomed at the Franciscan House, from Marists brothers to Trappist monks. During this time, franciscan friars seeking refuge from the Mainland also came into Hong Kong. Fr Allegra took advantage of this opportunity to gather the best scholars from among them to work with the Studium. Among this group was Fr Tarcisius Benvegnu ofm, a greek specialist. Under very trying circumstances, the friars succeeded in publishing the 1st volume of the Historical books.

As more refugees were being received at the Franciscan House at Waterloo Road, the work of the Studium was constantly disrupted. Consequently a new location was found to house the Studium Biblicum in 1950. This was to be at 70 Kennedy Road, a house built into a mountainside on Hong Kong island. New collaborators were added to the community: Fr Vianney Chang ofm, Bro Agnellus Van der Wiede ofm, Fr Conrad Ly and Fr Accursius Yang ofm. That same year, the 2nd volume of the Historical books was published. In 1953 the community welcomed Fr Theobald Diederich ofm as its latest member.

In 1951, the Book of Isaiah was published, followed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel in 1952; and lastly Daniel and the 12 minor prophets in 1954. In exactly 20 years the entire Old Testament was translated and commented upon, thanks to the untiring efforts and sacrifices of the friars under the direction of Fr Allegra .

After fulfilling their monumental task of the publishing the Old Testament, the friars of the Studium took a sabbatical year to visit the Holyland in order to further their biblical studies at the Studium Biblicum Jerusalem. There in Jerusalem in 1954, strong links were forged between the two franciscan bible institutes. Fr Allegra himself preached a retreat at the Jerusalem Studium and also taught the Gospel of John.

Re-invigorated both in spirit and knowledge, the friars returned to Hong Kong in 1955 to begin translating the New Testament from greek into chinese. They succeeded in publishing the gospels with commentary within 2 years of labour (1957), and saw the completion of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline letters in 1959. The final phase was crowned by the publication of the Catholic letters and the Apocalypse in 1961. The dream of Fr Allegra was at last fulfilled. The Chinese Church has at her disposal the Word of God in her own tongue!

In 1968 the New and Old Testaments were published for the 1st time in a single volume.

But the work of the Studium Biblicum was far from over. Joined by Fr Benjamin Leong ofm in 1963 and Fr Gaspar Han ofm in 1967, the Studium undertook to compile a dictionary of the Bible in chinese. Entries were divided among the friars who had to research and write a concise article on each. The articles were collected, edited and published in 1975.

With the major task of bible translation completed, most of the friars were transferred unilaterally by the Franciscan Province to Taiwan to work as curates of parishes or principals in schools. Only a third of the friars remained in Hong Kong to work on the Dictionary project. With fewer friars living in the Studium, it was decided that the community move to a smaller house. The transfer was made in 1972 to 6 Henderson Road at Jardines Lookout (Hong Kong island).

Since then, new members were added to the Studium: Fr Placid Wong ofm in 1993 and Fr Lionel ofm in 1995. The spirit of bringing the Word of God to the chinese people lives on in the Studium Biblicum. A bi-monthly Bible magazine was published in 1977 which in 1999 was re-formatted as the Biblical Quarterly. In 1969 Fr Marcus Chen initiated the setting up of the Catholic Biblical Association in Hong Kong by presenting the proposal and statutes (written by Fr Allegra) to Bishop Hsu. In 1973 the Hong Kong Biblical Association was officially established. Further impetus resulted in the founding of a similar association in Taiwan and Singapore-Malaysia. In 1987 the Federation of Chinese Biblical Associations was founded which include Macau and Mauritius just to name a few of the new members.

In 1986 the Studium gathered in its premises catholic bible scholars from Hong Kong and proposed the setting up of a biblical institute which would form laity and religious alike in the biblical sciences. Graduates would receive a Diploma from the Studium Biblicum Jerusalem. The Catholic Biblical Institute was thus founded in 1987 through the co-operation of the Hong Kong Diocese and various religious congregations.

22 September 2010

Concubines, Courtesans, and Mistresses

A concubine is generally a woman in an ongoing, matrimonial-like relationship with a man, whom she cannot marry for a specific reason. The reason may be because she is of lower social rank than the man or because the man is already married. Generally, only men of high economic and social status have concubines. Many historical rulers maintained concubines as well as wives.

Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary (by the woman and/or her family's arrangement), as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.

Under ancient Rome, Roman culture under the Empire came to tolerate concubinage so long as the relation was durable and exclusive; for the jurists concubinage was an honourable de facto situation. When having no legal status but being recognized, or defined in law, as in ancient China, concubinage is akin, although inferior, to marriage. The children of a concubine are recognized as legal offspring; their inheritance rights may be inferior to even younger children of a marriage, or they may receive a smaller inheritance, but concubines have been frequently used to produce heirs when a wife could not bear them.

In opposition to those laws, traditional Western laws do not acknowledge the legal status of concubines, rather only admitting monogamous marriages. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection, making the woman essentially a mistress.

Among the Israelites, it was common for men to acknowledge their concubines, and such women enjoyed the same rights in the house as legitimate wives. The principal difference in the Bible between a wife and a concubine is that wives had dowries, while concubines did not.

The concubine commanded the same respect and inviolability as the wife, and it was regarded as the deepest dishonour, for the man to whom she belonged, if other hands were laid upon her[2]; David is portrayed as having become greatly dishonoured when his concubines had a sexual relationship with his son Absalom.

Since it was regarded as the highest blessing to have many children, while the greatest curse was childlessness, legitimate wives often gave their maids to their husbands to atone, at least in part, for their own barrenness, as in the cases of Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah. The children of the concubine had equal rights with those of the legitimate wife; for example, King Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine. Later biblical figures such as Gideon, David, and Solomon had concubines in addition to many childbearing wives. For example, the Book of Kings claims that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

In Judaism, concubines are referred to by the Hebrew term pilegesh. This is etymologically related to the Aramaic phrase palga isha, meaning half-wife. A cognate term later appeared in Greek as the loan word pallax/pallakis.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, the difference between a concubine and a full wife was that the latter received a marriage contract (Hebrew:ketubah) and her marriage (nissu'in) was preceded by a formal betrothal (erusin), neither being the case for a concubine. However, one opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud argues that the concubine should also receive a marriage contract, but without including a clause specifying a divorce settlement.

Certain Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, believe that concubines are strictly reserved for kings, and thus that a commoner may not have a concubine; indeed, such thinkers argue that commoners may not engage in any type of sexual relations outside of a marriage. Shortly before Maimonides had reached this view, Sunni Muslims officially prohibited mutah relationships (which are similar to concubinage relationships); some therefore suggest that Maimonides view was in response to this, in a similar way to Gershom ben Judah's ban on polygamy only being made after Christians had prohibited it.

Maimonides was not the first Jewish thinker to criticise concubinage; for example, it is severely condemned in Leviticus Rabbah. Other Jewish thinkers, such as Nahmanides, Samuel ben Uri, Shraga Phoebus, and Jacob Emden, strongly object to the idea that concubines should be forbidden.

In the Hebrew of the contemporary State of Israel, the word pilegesh is often used as the equivalent of the English word mistress - i.e. the female partner in extramarital relations, even when these relations have no legal recognition. There are attempts there to popularise pilegesh as a form of premarital, non-marital and extramarital relationships which (in their view) would be permitted by Jewish religious law.

A courtesan was originally a woman courtier, which means a person who attends the court of a monarch or other powerful person. In feudal society, the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together. In Renaissance Europe, courtiers played an extremely important role in upper-class society. As it was customary during this time for royal couples to lead separate lives — commonly marrying simply to preserve bloodlines and to secure political alliances — men and women would often seek gratification and companionship from people living at court. In fact, the verb "to court" originally meant "to be or reside at court", and later came to mean "to behave as a courtier" and then "to pay amorous attention to somebody". The most intimate companion of a ruler was called the favourite.

A Yiji (Chinese: 艺妓) was a high-class Courtesan in ancient China. Yiji were rarely involved in direct sex trade but rather performed music and arts such as poetry to please dignitaries and intellectuals.

Before the Ming Dynasty, Yiji were performers who also offered spiritual interaction to their clients. Sexual activity between them and their clients was rare and when it existed, it was usually based on affectionate affairs rather than money.

After the Ming Dynasty, merchants started to patronize Yiji and compensated sex became more common. Many lived in houses called flower houses and men went there to have company. Although sexual activity was not always expected, they often engaged in it to earn more money.

Prior to the founding of modern China in 1911, concubinage was legal. Since the males always carry on the family name (and the family's heritage) after marriage in Chinese custom. To ensure male heirs are produced, it was a common practice that an upper class married male to have one or more concubines provided they could afford to support them.

The custom could be invoked without the wife's consent: the husband's actions were protected by law. Basically it was not considered adultery as long as it was for the purpose of perpetuating the family name. Essentially both wives would co-exist in the same family. A man might choose a courtesan to be his concubine. Many of these courtesans would sing songs to attract potential husbands, hoping to become secondary wives.

Many of the Westerners in China at the time saw these girls sing, but had no idea of what to call them since they were not classified as prostitutes. Thus the term "Sing-Song Girls" came about.

There is another version of the source of the term. According to the 1892 fictional masterpiece by Han Bangqing called Sing-song girls of Shanghai, also known as Flowers of Shanghai, people in Shanghai called the girls who performed in sing-song houses as "xi sang" (Chinese: 喜丧) in Wu language. It was pronounced like "sing-song" and the girls always sang to entertain the customers, thus the Westerners called them Sing-Song girls. The word xi sang in this case is a polite term used to refer to an entertainer.

Sing-song girls were trained from childhood to entertain wealthy male clients through companionship, singing and dancing in special sing-song houses. They might or might not provide sexual services, but many did. They generally saw themselves as lovers and not prostitutes. Sing-song girls did not have distinctive costumes or make-up. Often they wore Shanghai cheongsam as upper-class Chinese women did.Small "cheongsam" asian purse with long shoulder strap, assorted colors - sest of 4 Sing-song girls often did amateur Chinese opera performance for clients. They sometimes wore the traditional Chinese opera costume for small group performance. Sing-song girls had one or several male sponsors who might or might not be married, and relied on these sponsors to pay off family or personal debts. Sometimes, even to sustain their high standard of living. Many sing-song girls ended up marrying their sponsors to start a free life.

The concept has been around for 2000 years as recorded by emperors of the Han Dynasty who needed to provide female entertainment for troop amusement.In ancient China, many different terms given to these female entertainers, such as "gē jì" (Chinese:歌妓, literally "singing female entertainer" or "singing courtesan"), "gē jī" (Chinese:歌姬, literally "singing beauty"), "ōu zhě" (Chinese:謳者, literally "singing person"), etc. The Japanese Geisha concept came from these entertainers.

During the 1930s, Li Jinhui started the Chinese popular music industry with a number of musical troupes. The groups were mostly girls performing and singing. The term Sing-Song-Girls stuck with the singers, since the Communist Party of China associated pop music as Yellow Music or pornography in the 1940s.

A mistress is a man's long-term female lover and companion who is not married to him, especially used when the man is married to another woman. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually, but not always, secret. And there is the implication that a mistress may be "kept"—i.e., that the man is paying for some of the woman's living expenses.

Historically, the term has denoted a kept woman, who was maintained in a comfortable (or even lavish) lifestyle by a wealthy man so that she will be available for his sexual pleasure. Such a woman could move between the roles of a mistress and a courtesan depending on her situation and environment. Today, however, the word mistress is used primarily to refer to the female lover of a man who is married to another woman; in the case of an unmarried man it is usual to speak of a "girlfriend" or "partner." Historically a man "kept" a mistress. As the term implies, he was responsible for her debts and provided for her in much the same way as he did his wife, although not legally bound to do so. In more recent and emancipated times, it is more likely that the mistress has a job of her own, and is less, if at all, financially dependent on the man.

A mistress is not a prostitute. While a mistress, if "kept", may essentially be exchanging sex for money, the principal difference is that a mistress keeps herself exclusively reserved for one man, in much the same way as a wife, and there is not so much of a direct quid pro quo between the money and the sex act. There is also usually an emotional and possibly social relationship between a man and his mistress, whereas the relationship to a prostitute is predominantly sexual. It is also important that the "kept" status follows the establishment of a relationship of indefinite term as opposed to the agreement on price and terms established prior to any activity with a prostitute.
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