Later Chinese Civilization
While the red man suffered from too much warfare, it is not altogether amiss to say that the development of statehood among the Chinese was delayed by the thoroughness of their conquest of Asia. They had a great potential of racial solidarity, but it failed properly to develop because the continuous driving stimulus of the ever-present danger of external aggression was lacking.
With the completion of the conquest of eastern Asia the ancient military state gradually disintegrated — past wars were forgotten. Of the epic struggle with the red race there persisted only the hazy tradition of an ancient contest with the archer peoples. The Chinese early turned to agriculture pursuits, which contributed further to their pacific tendencies, while a population well below the land-man ratio for agriculture still further contributed to the growing peacefulness of the country.
Consciousness of past achievements (somewhat diminished in the present), the conservatism of an overwhelmingly agriculture people, and a well-developed family life equaled the birth of ancestor veneration, culminating in the custom of so honoring the men of the past as to border on worship. A very similar attitude prevailed among the white races in Europe for some five hundred years following the disruption of Greco-Roman civilization.
The belief in, and worship of, the “One Truth” as taught by Singlangton never entirely died out; but as time passed, the search for new and higher truth became overshadowed by a growing tendency to venerate that which was already established. Slowly the genius of the yellow race became diverted from the pursuit of the unknown to the preservation of the known. And this is the reason for the stagnation of what had been the world’s most rapidly progressing civilization.
Between 4,000 and 500 B.C. the political reunification of the yellow race was consummated, but the cultural union of the Yangtze and Yellow river centers had already been effected. This political reunification of the later tribal groups was not without conflict, but the societal opinion of war remained low; ancestor worship, increasing dialects, and no call for military action for thousands upon thousands of years had rendered this people ultra-peaceful.
Despite failure to fulfill the promise of an early development of advanced statehood, the yellow race did progressively move forward in the realization of the arts of civilization, especially in the realms of agriculture and horticulture. The hydraulic problems faced by the agriculturists in Shensi and Honan demanded group cooperation for solution. Such irrigation and soil-conservation difficulties contributed in no small measure to the development of interdependence with the consequent promotion of peace among farming groups. Soon developments in writing, together with the establishment of schools, contributed to the dissemination of knowledge on a previously unequaled scale. But the cumbersome nature of the ideographic writing system placed a numerical limit upon the learned classes despite the early appearance of printing. And above all else, the process of social standardization and religio-philosophic dogmatization continued apace. The religious development of ancestor veneration became further complicated by a flood of superstitions involving nature worship, but lingering vestiges of a real concept of God remained preserved in the imperial worship of Shangti.
The great weakness of ancestor veneration is that it promotes a backward-looking philosophy. However wise it may be to glean wisdom from the past, it is folly to regard the past as the exclusive source of truth. Truth is relative and expanding; it lives always in the present, achieving new expression in each generation of men — even in each human life.
The great strength in a veneration of ancestry is the value that such an attitude places upon the family. The amazing stability and persistence of Chinese culture is a consequence of the paramount position accorded the family, for civilization is directly dependent on the effective functioning of the family; and in China the family attained a social importance, even a religious significance, approached by few other peoples.
The filial devotion and family loyalty exacted by the growing cult of ancestor worship insured the building up of superior family relationships and of enduring family groups, all of which facilitated the following factors in the preservation of civilization:
- Conservation of property and wealth.
- Pooling of the experience of more than one generation.
- Efficient education of children in the arts and sciences of the past.
- Development of a strong sense of duty, the enhancement of morality, and the augmentation of ethical sensitivity.
The formative period of Chinese civilization, opening with the coming of the Andites, continues on down to the great ethical, moral, and semireligious awakening of the sixth century before Christ. And Chinese tradition preserves the hazy record of the evolutionary past; the transition from mother-to father-family, the establishment of agriculture, the development of architecture, the initiation of industry — all these are successively narrated. And this story presents, with greater accuracy than any other similar account, the picture of the magnificent ascent of a superior people from the levels of barbarism. During this time, they passed from a primitive agricultural society to a higher social organization embracing cities, manufacture, metalworking, commercial exchange, government, writing, mathematics, art, science, and printing.
And so, the ancient civilization of the yellow race has persisted down through the centuries. It is almost forty thousand years since the first important advances were made in Chinese culture, and though there have been many retrogressions, the civilization of the sons of Han comes the nearest of all to presenting an unbroken picture of continual progression right on down to the times of the twenty-first century. The mechanical and religious developments of the white races have been of a high order, but they have never excelled the Chinese in family loyalty, group ethics, or personal morality.
The ancient culture has contributed much to human happiness; millions of human beings have lived and died, blessed by its achievements. For centuries, this great civilization has rested upon the laurels of the past, but it is even now reawakening to envision anew the transcendent goals of mortal existence, once again to take up the unremitting struggle for never-ending progress.
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