Eshmunazar II › Esoteric Buddhism › Daily Life in Ancient China » Origins and History

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Eshmunazar II › Who Was
  • Esoteric Buddhism › Ancient History
  • Daily Life in Ancient China › Antique Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Eshmunazar II › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by carinemahy
published on 28 April 2011
Eshmunazor II Sarcophagus (Eric Chan)
Eshmunazar II (also Eshmunazor II ) was a king of the Phoenician city of Sidon during the Persian period. He was the third king of his family, after his his father and his grand-father. He was the son of Tabnit and Amashtart, and the grand-son of Eshmunazar I, the founder of the dynasty. He only lived 14 years and during his reign, he ruled the kingdom with his mother.Because he had no children, he was succeeded by his cousin Bodashtart. There is no confirmation about the exact dates of his reign, but the most possible date is around 525 BCE. The Persian king of this time was Cambyses, who waged war against Egypt with the help of Phoenician ships.
After Cambyses' victory, Egypt became part of the Persian empire and relations between the Persian king and the king of Sidon were good. The Frensh archaeologist Ernest Renan found Eshmunazor II's coffin in the south-east necropolis of Sidon (Maghart Tabloun necropolis) in 1855. The coffin was made from basalt that had been imported from Egypt (in fact it was taken off a tomb in the Egyptian capital Memphis, during the Persian occupation and shipped to Sidon). The Egyptian text was erased and a Phoenician text was written, which reads:


In the month of Bul, in the fourteenth year of the royalty of King ESHMUNAZAR, King of the Sidonians, son of King TABNIT, King of the Sidonians, King ESHMUNAZAR, King of the Sidonians, said as follows: I am carried away, the time of my non-existence has come, my spirit has disappeared, like the day, from whence I am silent, since which I became mute.
And I am lying in this coffin, and in this tomb, in the place which I have built. O thou (reader) remember this: "May no royal race and no man open my funeral couch, and may they not seek after treasures, for no one has hidden treasures here, nor move the coffin out of my funeral couch, nor molest me in this funeral bed, by puttiiig another tomb over it. Whatever a man may tell thee, do not listen to him: For the punishment (of the violators) shall be : Every royal race and every man, who shall open the covering or this couch, or who shall carry away the coffin where I repose, or who shall molest me in this couch : they shall have no funeral couch with the Rephaïm, nor shall be buried in graves, nor shall there be any son or offspring to succeed to them, and the sacred gods shall inflict extirpation on them.
Thou whoever (thou art who wilt) be King (hereafter), inspire those over whom thou wilt reign, that they may exterminate the members of the royal race (like those men) who will open the covering of this couch, or who will take away this coffin, and (exterminate) also the offspring of this royal race, or of these men of the crowd. There shall be to them no root below, nor fruit above, nor living form under the sun. For graced by the gods, I am carried away, the time of my non-existence has come, my spirit has disappeared, like the day, from whence I am silent, since which I became mute.
Temple of the Obelisks

Temple of the Obelisks

For I, ESHUNAZAR, King of the Sidonians, son of King TABNIT, King of the Sidonians (who was), the grandson of King ESMUNAZAR, King of the Sidonians, And my mother AMASTARTE, the Priestess of ASTARTE, our mistress, the Queen, the daughter of King ESMUNAZAR, King of the Sidonians : It is we who have built the temple of the gods, and the temple of ASTAROTH, on the seaside Sidon, and have placed there the image of the ASTAROTH, as we are sanctifiers (of the gods). And it is we who have built the temple of ESHMUN, and the sanctuary of the purpleshells River on the mountaln, and have placed there his image, as we are sanctifiers (of the gods). And it is we who have built the temples of the gods of the Sidonians, in the seaside Sidon, tile temple of BAAL-SIDON and the temple of ASTARTE who bears the name of this BAAL. May in future the Lords of the Kings give us Dora and Japhia, the fertile corn-lands, which are in tile plain of Saron, and may they annex it to the boundary of the land, that it may belong to the Sidonians for ever.
O thou, remember this: May no royal race and no man open my covering, nor deface (the inscriptions of) my covering, nor molest me in this funeral bed, nor carry away the coffin, where I repose. Otherwise, the sacred gods shall inflict extirpation on them and shall exterminate this royal race and this man of the crowd and their offspring for ever.
The inscription is probably one of the most famous Phoenician texts. Today, the coffin is on display in the Louvre Museum ( Paris ).

Esoteric Buddhism › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Charley Linden Thorp
published on 30 March 2017
Vairochana (rocor)
Esoteric Buddhism is also known by the terms Mantrayana and Tantra. These teachings are secret and not available to just anyone, whereas Exoteric teachings learned from books are accessible to everyone. The student of Esotericism (Jap: mikkyo ) must have received proper initiation from a master or guru from a valid lineage of masters before him or her. Esoteric teachings have a mystical element, and Exoteric teachings are of a philosophical nature.
In Esotericism, the practitioner creates a special bond with a guardian Buddha, Bodhisattva, or deity during their initiations and eventually becomes spiritually united with that being. In Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana), this strongly characteristic practice is referred to as 'Guru Yoga.' Ritual formulae, such as mantras, mudras, meditation, and mandalas are essential devices enabling a shortcut to enlightenment.


Its roots are in northern India, as are all schools of Buddhism, originating with the enlightenment (Skt: bodhi ; Jap: satori or kensho ) of the Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, present-day Bihar. Buddha deliberately forbade the fashionable magic and overt mystical ritualism of the Brahmins and Hindus of the time to seek benefit in the form of health, wealth, and other basic human needs. In fact, he strove to set new practical goals of spiritual liberation by means of self-awareness for the whole of humanity, insisting that seekers quit their role as householders, take vows, and enter a monastery. However, several hundred years after Shakyamuni's death, people missed the excitement of dramatic rituals and mantras, so priests searched for other routes to enlightenment, and people, in general, were not willing to live apart from their families.
Then, Brahmanism and Hinduism witnessed a revival, and the mystical element of Buddhism again became fashionable. It was Nagarjuna, in the 2nd century CE, the first Indian Buddhist living in southern India, who developed the Buddhist Middle Way which people were searching for. He is known as the probable founder of Esoteric Buddhism which systematised all the different practices uniting them in something more recognisable to us today as Buddhism.
The Esoteric secrets, rituals, and symbols evolved to enable the student to communicate with a spiritual Buddha, the Dharmakaya, the true nature of the Universe and to aspire for rapid enlightenment. In Exoteric practice, the focus remained on the historical or physical body of the Buddha, or Nirmanakaya, and enlightenment lay beyond the horizon in another lifetime.
This shift to the spiritual was achieved by moving outside the intellectual limitations of space and time. The Dharmakaya of Buddha is represented by the great Vairochana Buddha, (also spelt Vairocana, Jap. Dainichi Nyorai ), the Illuminator and embodiment of Awareness of the Continuum of Reality. In Esotericism this became the central Buddha form like the sun whose rays touch everywhere to stimulate growth.


This oral tradition of handing on teachings, along with initiations into certain levels of knowledge made in person by a guru, is perhaps the hallmark of Esotericism. Connection with the Dharma Stream is so crucial to the furthering of faith and to the protection of the teachings in Esotericism, as is the purification of body, speech, and mind in one's daily life.


The notion that all sentient beings possessed Buddha Nature which could be uncovered intensified. This generated more lay orders and eradicated gender discrimination.
The emergence of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan is a vast subject, but briefly, Kukai, (Kobo Daishi) recognised as the 8th Patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism, embraced the richness of ritual and symbolism for his nation. While studying in China, he was recognised and initiated by Huiguo, the sole Chinese master of the teachings given by Amoghavajra, the great Indian mystic, at Qinglong-si temple in Chang'an, in 804. He was conferred with the title of Vairochana, the Great Illuminator (Jpn: Namu Henjo Kongo ). As a consequence, Shingon Buddhism was established by Kukai, Japan's first fully initiated great Master.


Ancient Indians believed wholly in the supernatural and the natural world. They especially envied the characteristics of some animals. The peacock was one such creature they revered and desired to emulate, especially when they realised it could eat poisonous creatures and survive. They were gifted at communicating with the spiritual or invisible world, so they developed mantras (spoken or chanted formulae) which emulated the peacock and brought the animal god closer to the human world.Then the concept of 'poisons' in general came to represent negative aspects of the human mind which required an antidote, mantras and invocations becoming viewed as antidotes.
The Homa (Jpn: Goma ) ritual, Brahmin in origin, is one of the most dramatic of Esoteric rituals and originates with the making of offerings to the heavens and the god of fire, Agni.
Body, Speech, and Mind as represented by the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya and the Dharmakaya are united in a single entity in Esoteric Buddhism represented by mudra, mantra, meditation, and mandala. According to Kukai,
These are symbolised in the elements, the syllables, wisdoms, and so on, in an always fluid whole contained in the Four Mandalas, the three-secrets empowerment, the 5 bodhisattva wisdoms which make a perfect mirror to reflect true enlightenment. (Yamasaki, 106)


Representing the Body, the use of the hands in gassho (Jpn: Skt; anjali, Chi: ho-chang ) palms pressed together and fingers long is a highly significant gesture which aids entering and self-entering between oneself and the Buddha. It is the main mudra known as 'dharmakaya mudra.' Buddha images show a variety of significant hand mudras, for example, the earth-touching mudra fearlessly calling the Earth to witness the Buddha's enlightenment and the Dharmachakra mudra (the wheel of Dharma) in which the first finger and thumb of each hand touch to form a circle, and so on. Mudras are said to be like a seal which leaves an identical impression on clay or paper, imprinting certain qualities which will change the practitioner.
Dharmachakra Mudra

Dharmachakra Mudra


Representing Speech, the recitation or chanting of mantras. Mouths should be kept pure and speech Buddha-centred in order to chant and to reach the spiritual world. In fact, concentrated recitation of mantric syllables, according to Kukai, "employs the sound, the image, and the meaning of the syllable" (Yamasaki, 116). And as he wrote in The Secret Key to the Heart Sutra, "One syllable embraces a thousand truths, manifesting universal reality in this very body."
Originally, in the Indian Buddhist tradition, silent recitation was said to have a thousand times greater effect than the voiced;and in advanced meditation, the practitioner learns to voice the sound within the mind. Kukai taught five methods of mantra recitation. The first involves the visualisation of a conch shell above a lotus within the mind and then the projection of the voice through the imagined conch shell. So the Esoteric practitioner evokes a level of mind in which the practitioner becomes the chant itself, as the deity or guru and the practitioner exist in inseparable unity.


Representing the Mind, the original goal of exoteric meditation was to achieve a state of 'no mind, no thought' (Skt: asphanakaSamadhi; Jap. munen muso ). However, in the Dainichi- kyo, one of the two principal sutras of Esoteric Buddhism, it is stated that visualisation may employ images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities, human beings or non-human beings; in other words, any forms are embodiments of the universal self.
Mahayana Buddhism, in general, developed many practices of meditation focusing on virtues and powers, as well as the appearance of the Buddhas and deities. An early Esoteric sutra, the Kanjizai Bosatsu Tabatari Zuishin Darani- kyo , which focuses on the Bodhisattva Kannon, was the first to systematise so-called 'three secrets' visualisations. The practitioner first forms hand mudras and visualises Kannon as a mantric 'seed-syllable,' then as a symbolic object and finally in human form. In this way, the abstract gradually becomes concrete and the practitioner can relate directly to it.


This is a sacred or circular diagram (occasionally oblong in Japan), also believed to represent the Body, Speech, and Mind of a Buddha (sometimes specifically one of these), usually used during initiations. Mandalas are said to exist in many dimensions as they convey things which cannot be conveyed in writing. The word 'mandala' means 'that which has essence' roughly translated. Buddhguhya, the 8th-century master, wrote that the 'essence' refers to that of the Buddha's enlightenment itself so that the mandala is the realm.
Tibetan Mandala

Tibetan Mandala


The three principal sutras (scriptures) of Esotericism are the Mahavairochana Sutra (Jpn: Dainichikyo ), The Diamond Peak Sutra (Jpn: Kongochokyo ), and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra delivered from the deathbed of the Buddha. These are the core works of the three streams of Esotericism in Japan; the Shingon School, the Tendai School founded by Kukai's peer Saicho, and the Shinnyo School founded by Shinjo Ito more recently. The first two were transmitted from India around the 8th century CE by fearless monks travelling the Silk Roads. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra arrived in China in three different versions: the Hokkien Text in 418 CE, the Northern Text in 421 CE, and the Southern Text in 436 CE.
Chinese Diamond Sutra

Chinese Diamond Sutra

These three sutras hold the secrets of the Universe. The Mahaparinirvana sutra is "like a healer who has a secret cure that contains all possible medical treatments" and "like the most delicious milk having eight different flavours." The Dainichikyo and the Kongochokyo contain the essence of the main Esoteric Mandalas.


It is almost impossible to assess how many people practice Esoteric Buddhism worldwide, but it is certain that the main schools are all in the Mahayana tradition, ie. from the 2nd century CE onwards. Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana or Tantra) is found in Tibet, Bhutan, northern India, Nepal, southwestern China, Mongolia, Russia, and a variety of western countries and has existed since the 8th century CE. In China, three Indian teachers, Subhakarasimha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra brought it to great popularity in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and today many schools there share the same doctrines as Japanese Shingon. In Japan, Shingon Buddhism is exclusively esoteric, and Tendai Buddhism uses many esoteric practices. Shugendo, mountain asceticism in which practitioners rid themselves of their human ego by exposing themselves to the elements with waterfall training and hot candle skin burning, was founded in 7th-century CE Japan and survives today as a combination of Esoteric Buddhism, Shinto (the national religion ), and Taoist influences.

Daily Life in Ancient China › Antique Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Emily Mark
published on 27 April 2016
Chinese culture is one of the oldest in the world today. Over 6,000 years ago this culture began to develop in the Yellow River Valley and many of those ancient practices are still observed in the present. The Chinese developed a society based on respect for the spirits of the earth, one's ancestors, the gods, and other people. It was believed that the world was governed by spirits and deities and so people should behave as though they were in the presence of these spirits at all times.
Daily life in ancient China changed through the centuries but reflected these values of the presence of the gods and one's ancestors in almost every time period. In the prehistoric age (c. 5000 BCE) people lived in small villages in the Yellow River Valley. Villages like Banpo show evidence of a matriarchal society, where there was a priestly class dominated by women who governed and were the religious authorities. The people lived in small, round homes built into the ground, wore the skins of animals, and practiced an animistic form of religion. Small villages like Banpo grew into larger communities and then into cities. The Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE) is the first form of government in China which established large cities. It was thought to be mostly mythological until archaeological evidence was discovered which, according to some scholars, proves its existence (although this evidence continues to be debated). After the Xia came the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE), when writing was developed and the first written evidence appears of what life was like for people in ancient China.
Banpo Village, Xi'an, China

Banpo Village, Xi'an, China


Silk is thought to have been invented c. 2696 BCE, when the goddess Leizu, wife of the supreme god Shangti, was having tea and a cocoon fell into her cup. As the cocoon unraveled, she saw it was all one thread and so planted mulberry trees for silkworms to spin their webs in to make silk. The nobles and royalty were the only people who could wear silk. Those who processed the silk into clothing, and even the merchants who sold it, were not allowed to wear it. Most of the population of China wore clothing made of hemp. Women wore long tunics which went to their ankles with a tie around their waists; men's tunics were shorter, only to their knees, and sometimes they wore pants with cloth boots or sandals. In the colder seasons they would wear a thick jacket made of hemp, which was padded for additional warmth. Chinese women would sew an image of a tiger onto the clothing of their children as a sign of protection. The tiger was thought to be the king of the beasts and its image would ward off evil. Sometimes mothers sewed images of toads or snakes onto clothing along with the tiger to add more protection against danger. This practice spread to the upper classes where dragons and tigers were embroidered on silk gowns for the same purpose. In the Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE), the emperor decreed that there was too much similarity between what the peasants and the upper classes wore (even though the wealthy nobles were still the only ones who could wear silk) and passed a law that all peasants had to wear either blue or black clothing; only the wealthy were allowed to wear colors.
One's social class was determined, more or less, by birth. If one's father was a peasant, one would also be a peasant. The social division between a ruling class, nobles, merchants (business owners), and the working class peasants deepened further with the invention of writing; people became divided between an upper class who could read and an illiterate peasant population. From the Shang Dynasty on, though, a person could improve their station in life by passing the Imperial Examinations and working for the government. These exams were very hard to pass. Not only did one need to be literate but one had to almost memorize nine books (known as The Five Classics and The Four Books) to be able to answer questions concerning them. The wealthy and middle class were either nobility, merchants, politicians, or civil servants while the poor were the peasant farmers and laborers. Taverns and pubs were popular gathering places for men of all classes, but they each had their own type of tavern, the upper classes would not go to lower class pubs, and the lower class was not allowed into the higher class ones. Scholar Charles Benn writes:
In Changan westerners operated taverns favored by poets, in the wards along the southeast wall of the city.They employed white-skinned, green-eyed, blond women from Central Asia to sing and dance so that patrons would spend more money on ale. Aside from the taverns inside Changan's walls, there were pubs where villagers living along some nineteen miles of the eastern road outside the city sold ale to travelers (57).
The urban taverns catered to the middle class and the rural to the lower. In the city of Changan during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) there was an area in the district of North Hamlet known as The Gay Quarters, which catered to the wealthy. The word 'gay' should be understood as "light of heart", and the quarters were staffed by high-class and very expensive courtesans.Benn writes, "Prized more, or at least as much as, for their talents as entertainers at feasts than for their sexual services, they resembled Japanese geishas" (64). None of the lower class could enter The Gay Quarters, and if they did, they would not have been able to afford to visit any of the houses. Taverns were often operated by women but The Gay Quarters were run by men accountable to the mayor of the city. This was the standard arrangement throughout China where courtesans were strictly under the control of the government.
Distinctions between the classes in ancient times were also seen in hair styles and other personal choices. Men and women of all classes wore their hair long because it was thought that one's hair came from one's ancestors and it was disrespectful to cut it. In daily life, one would put one's hair up in a bun, but it was never supposed to be cut. Wealthy women wore their hair up with elaborate pins made of ivory, gold, or silver while poorer women kept theirs up by knotting it or binding the bun with a piece of twine. Just like the hair, the body was thought to be a gift from one's ancestors and should not be abused. One's body was not one's own to do with as one liked; it had to be treated with respect. For this reason, most people looked down on those with tattoos and also because marking the body with ink was associated with barbarian customs. Tattoos were used as a brand for criminals, though, and those branded had to carry the mark with them for the rest of their lives. Even if they had the actual brand burned off, the scar would remain.
Chinese Hairpins

Chinese Hairpins

There are records, though, of quite a few who chose to tattoo themselves as an artistic expression. Charles Benn writes about one man who "spent 5,000 cash to have an artist prick his chest and stomach so that he could sport a landscape replete with gazebos nestled in the mountains, pavillions soaring over rivers, trees, birds, and animals" and another who "had a snake tattooed all over his body in his youth. The image of the serpent began in his right hand, where the jaws of the beast drawn on his thumb and index finger gaped. The body of the snake wound around his wrist, arm, and neck. Then it slithered down his chest, stomach, thigh, and shin, where it terminated with a tail" (112-113). For the most part, though, tattoos were only worn by convicts or gang members. Benn cites an example of a street gang, who had shaved heads and tattoos, who would beat and rob people in the marketplace of Changan. After they were arrested, the mayor had them publicly beaten to death in the town square, and afterwards, many people in the city with tattoos had them burned off so as not to be associated with the gang.
Along with tattoos, body odor was also associated with barbarians and criminals, and the Chinese were very meticulous about perfuming themselves thoroughly. Benn writes, "Women and men perfumed themselves. Palace ladies applied scents so lavishly that when they went out on an excursion, the redolence of their cortege permeated the air for miles" (113). They also wore deodorant made of lime, frankincense, cloves, sweet gum, and birthwort. Benn writes, "The compound was packed into small bags that were slung under the armpits. The authorities also recommended washing the armpits with urine on New Year's Day" (114). Bathing every day was thought to invite sickness, and the custom was to bathe only once every five days.For bad breath, the Chinese sucked on cloves, and it was mandated that anyone appearing in the emperor's presence had to do so before speaking to him. Foot odor was another concern, which was controlled through perfumes or camphor.
The shoes of the wealthy were soft and made of silk, with upturned toes, while those of the peasant class were coarse boots or sandals made of straw, hemp, or wood. Inside the home, everyone wore slippers made either of straw, hemp thread, or silk.Both men and women of the upper classes grew their fingernails long to show that they did not have to work. They had servants do everything for them, even feed them, so they would not damage their nails. Rich women wore jewelry like earrings, bracelets, necklaces, amulets, and rings. Some women pinned the wings of a green beetle to their clothes to make them more attractive to men.
Textile Shoe from China

Textile Shoe from China

During the period known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960 CE) the practice of foot binding began. It probably started earlier but became a custom after the reign of the emperor Li Yu (937-978 CE) who had his consort Yia Niang bind her feet to resemble a crescent moon and perform a special dance for guests at one of his parties. Li Yu had erected a large golden statue of a lotus flower in his garden, and Yia Niang's dance was to honor its unveiling. Her dance was so beautiful it made the other women there want feet as tiny and graceful as Yia Niang's were, and soon the idea developed that a beautiful woman should have tiny feet.
Girls as young as toddlers would have their feet wrapped in bandages so tightly it broke their toes and curled them under the foot. Girls had to walk around stepping on their own toes and were in constant pain for years until they grew used to it.Although this practice started among the upper classes, it soon became common for all women in China. This made working in the rice fields or doing any kind of manual labor, very difficult. Women are shown in ancient paintings crawling in the rice paddies because they could not walk. Foot binding continued for centuries until it was outlawed in 1911 CE. Many women were interviewed in the late 19th early 20th centuries CE on footbinding and talked about crying from the pain for years and how it never made them feel any more beautiful.


The principal crop of China was rice. Rice grew best in the southern part of China in flooded fields, and so canals were dug to flood more fields throughout the country. Rice was so important that it was used to pay one's tax. Rice was eaten at every meal in some form and was even brewed to make wine. Wheat and other grains were also grown but were never as important as rice. The Chinese diet was (and still is) mostly vegetarian. The Chinese temples and monasteries taught people that a healthy diet led to a long life and emphasized vegetarianism as a humane and healthy way of eating. The Chinese did eat meat but it was rare, and one would never kill a chicken which was still laying eggs. Fish was the most popular dish served with rice and vegetables.


Food was cooked over a low fire in the home in a three-legged pot called a ding. The ding could be placed directly over the fire and ingredients added to slow cook all day so the family would have their dinner ready when they came in from the fields.The wealthy people had servants cook for them who also used the ding but might also use pans and cook with ovens. The most important drink was tea which was first brewed c. 100 BCE from powdered leaves. Different leaves were blended for different tastes or to produce different effects. Tea was considered a powerful medicine but was also just a popular drink people enjoyed and relaxed with. The popularity of tea gave rise to the Tea Culture in China which is best known through the Tea Ceremony.
Chinese Tea Ceremony

Chinese Tea Ceremony

A legend claims that an ancient ruler named Yan Di would go out searching for medicinal herbs to help his people. One day he tasted a herb which poisoned him but, as he was dying, water from a tea tree dripped onto his tongue and cured him. He began planting tea trees after that and gave tea to his people. People would eat tea leaves with their meals as a vegetable, and tea was considered an acceptable religious offering at temples. Tea gardens became popular among the wealthy, and the Tea Ceremony developed, which is an elaborate ritual of respect in which people take tea together. The person who prepares the tea honors her guests through her preparations and presentation, and the guests pay her respect by participating properly.


The Tea Ceremony was performed in one's home or garden where one would welcome guests. The home, just like today, was the center of the family's life. Women took care of the home while men worked outside of the house. Women, men, and children of the peasant classes all worked in the fields. Chinese homes differed, like anything else, depending on one's social class and how much money one had. Peasants lived in huts while merchants and other middle-class people lived in houses made of wood, which were built around a rectangular courtyard where a garden would be planted. The garden was usually a border around a patio which had trees and bushes in it.
There were sleeping quarters inside the home, a kitchen, and a hall (sometimes very large) which was a dining room and entertainment area. Families would eat in the hall and talk and listen to music or read in the company of their pet cat. Cats were the most popular pet in ancient China, and almost every home had one. Dogs were kept more for security and as a source of food, although there is some evidence that the ancient Chinese played with their dogs as pets. They would also play games like mahjongg, go (a kind of Chinese Chess) or checkers. The Chinese also enjoyed playing kickball, football (as defined everywhere in the world except America), wrestling, and archery. Swimming was not a popular sport in China because of the belief in the type of ghost known as the Shui Gui, the spirit of a person who had drowned who waited in the water to drown someone else in order to be set free. The Chinese did practice swimming but it was not a popular past-time.
Chinese Board Game

Chinese Board Game

In every home, there was a shrine to the ancestors of the family, the local Tudi Gong, and the gods the family followed. In the kitchen, there was always the paper image of the kitchen god known as Zao Shen. Zao Shen was probably the most important god of the home because his job was to keep watch over the family, keep them safe, but also report on their daily conduct to the other gods. He was like a little spy for the gods in the home, who also protected those he spied on. Once a month, Zao Shen would leave the house to report to the local gods on how the people were doing, and during this time the family was very careful not to do anything to invite evil spirits into the house because they had no protection. Once a year, on New Year's Eve, Zao Shen left to make his full report to Shangti and the other gods in heaven. His image would be offered food and drink, and then his mouth would be smeared with honey so only a good report would come out when he reached the heavens. The paper image would then be burned to send him on his way, and firecrackers would be lit to make him go faster and give only the best report of how the family was conducting themselves. The next morning, on New Year's Day, the eldest and most honored woman of the house would make a new image of Zao Shen to place over the stove and keep watch over the family for the next year.


Chinese religion began in the prehistoric age when people practiced a form of animism. This practice evolved into ancestor worship and the development of gods and goddesses who personified natural forces. The Tudi Gong were earth spirits one needed to respect and honor at all times. They were the spirits of a certain place, sometimes the spirit of a great person who had once lived there, who blessed those who honored them and cursed those who did not. Veneration of the earth spirits was probably the oldest form of religion but ancestor worship began shortly after or maybe even before it.
People who died were thought to live with the gods and had powerful influence in the world of the living. The practice of divination became popular during the Shang Dynasty where people would go to mystics who could tell the future through oracle bones. The belief that those who died lived on also gave rise to a belief in ghosts. Ghosts were (and still are) a very important concept in Chinese culture. The Ghost Festival is still observed each year in China during which people prepare special meals for the departed, burn incense to please the ghosts or drive away evil spirits, and even close their shops so that the ghosts can browse in peace without being disturbed by the living. Tomb Sweeping Day is observed during the Festival of Qingming, (held 4 or 5 April), and is a very old practice. During Qingming, one visits the graves of one's relatives and shows them proper respect by caring for the grave and leaving gifts including food. If one neglects the graves of one's ancestors, one risks being haunted by them.
Oracle bone

Oracle bone

The land of the afterlife which souls went to (or, as ghosts, were prevented from reaching) and the heavens and the earth were presided over by gods and goddesses the people worshipped. A very popular goddess was Xi Wang Mu, The Queen Mother of the West, goddess of immortality who lived in a great golden palace in the Kunlun Mountains and had a peach orchard of immortality she walked in. People would wear amulets and build shrines to the Queen Mother to be considered worthy of her protection and the long life she rewarded followers with. Shangti was the supreme god of creation, law, and justice. He was also known as the Yellow Emperor and was thought to have given the people culture and language. Cai Shen was the god of wealth who rewarded those who behaved with a happy life and the Menshen were gods of peaceful sleep who watched over people and warded off evil spirits and bad dreams.
Some of these gods and goddesses were worshipped in shrines and temples and others were acknowledged only through charms and bracelets or statues and wall paintings. The Menshen, for example, are still painted on either side of doorways to protect against ghosts and evil spirits. Lei Shen, god of thunder, and Dian Mu, goddess of lightning, were feared while Zhong Kui, the god of healing, was regularly prayed to and worshipped probably as much as Cai Shen. Among the most popular deities were Guanyin, goddess of mercy and compassion who helped everyone and became the patron goddess of sailors, and Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, god and goddess of love who inspired one of the most popular festivals in China, The Seventh Night of the Seventh Moon (also, the Double Seventh Festival), where women would pray for skill in weaving and sewing officially but unofficially was a romantic night for lovers. People would gaze at the stars and tell the story of Niu Lang (the star Altair) and Zhi Nu (the star Vega) who were separated by the Milky Way all year long except on that one night. Astronomers and astrologers both regarded the stars as expressions of embodiments of deities. Astonomers were always male while astrologers could be male or female.


Only males received an education in ancient China; which is why astronomers, who were highly educated, were always men.Girls were expected to stay home and learn how to be housewives and mothers. In the early days, young boys stayed home as well and helped with outdoor work, and only young men in their teens attended school and only those of the upper classes.Confucius began teaching young men the principles of how to be the best person they could be, and this set the standard for the basics of Chinese education. Everyone was expected to know the Five Virtues of Confucius by heart. These were Li(manners) considered the most important; Ren (kindness); Xin (loyalty); Yi (honesty) and Zhi (knowing the difference between right and wrong, moral knowledge). In the early days of schools, the students would write on wooden sticks and then on wood scrolls bound together. In 105 BCE paper was invented, and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) the process of woodblock printing made it possible to mass-produce books of paper, which were then used in schools. The books which were required reading were the texts known as The Five Classics and The Four Books: The I-Ching, The Classics of Poetry, The Classics of Rites, The Classics of History, The Spring and Autumn Annals, The Analects of Confucius, The Works of Mencius, The Doctrine of the Mean, and The Great Book of Learning, most of which were based on the writings of Confucius.


Since only men were taught to read and write, and one needed to be literate to read medical texts, doctors were also all males by the time of the Tang Dynasty. Herbalists in rural areas could be women but the medical profession was dominated by men.Most doctors were priests or had a background in religious practices. Prior to the Tang Dynasty, doctors were essentially shamans who cured the sick through herbal remedies and exorcisms. They believed illness was caused by evil spirits or ghosts. After Buddhism arrived in China, Buddhist priests presided over establishments known as Fields of Compassion which were hospitals, clinics, orphanages, retirement homes, and counseling centers all at the same time. These were usually operated out of or adjoining a monastery. The second emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Taizong (626-649 CE) established medical schools and added the medical profession to the list of occupations one needed to pass the Imperial Examinations for.These doctors were more secular than the earlier shamans and were held to a high standard of conduct.
A long and healthy life was greatly valued by the Chinese. Priests, monks, shamans, and secular doctors all emphasized diet as the most important factor in a person's health. A vegetarian diet was considered the most healthy and also the most humane in that one was not killing animals to sustain one's self. People did eat meat and often sacrificed animals to the gods and spirits, but doctors, especially secular physicians, discouraged this. The prevailing belief in the Tang Dynasty was that a long and harmonious life of balance could only be achieved by refraining from meat dishes and living off the gifts of agriculture which the gods had given to people. In gratitude for these gifts and all the others the Chinese honored their gods, and to celebrate life they held a number of festivals throughout the year.


There were national festivals, which everyone observed, regional festivals, and local festivals. A local festival might be a celebration of the birthday of some famous citizen who had done good works for the town or a poet or artist. Regional and local festivals could also be held to honor the Tudi Gong. Taoist festivals were observed to cleanse a village, town, or city of evil spirits, to appease the restless dead, or honor the ancestors and invite their blessings.
The most important national festival was New Year's Day, which was observed between the 1st and the 15th days of the first lunar month. Firecrackers and fireworks were set off to welcome the new year and to speed Zao Shen on his journey to the heavens. These fireworks also served to drive away evil spirits. The firecrackers were dried bamboo, which were thrown into fires early in the morning and popped loudly when they burned. Every home would set off firecrackers and, if they could afford them, fireworks but each municipality had some kind of public fireworks display. New Year's Day allowed for people to slaughter chickens and sheep on a large scale to ensure fertility of the land for the coming year. Government officials were given a seven-day vacation, and shops closed or operated on limited hours. The focus of the festival was to give thanks for the past year and make provision for the new one. This provision emphasized protection against evil spirits and ghosts.Slaughtered chicken and sheep skins were hung up outside of homes as offerings, incense was burned, and a special ale was brewed called Killing Ghosts and Reviving Souls. Drinking this ale in large amounts was thought to protect one from illness caused by evil spirits or restless ghosts.
The Lantern Festival was held on the 15th day of the first lunar month to conclude the New Year's celebration. This was a festival of light honoring the full moon when people would float lighted lanterns on ponds, lakes, or streams, watch the full moon, play games, dance, and hold feasts. According to their status and wealth, some people would erect huge displays for the celebration. Charles Benn writes:
Patricians sought to outdo each other in providing the grandest lamps. An aristocratic lady of the mid-eighth century had a lamp tree with several hundred branches that was eighty feet tall. When she lit it on Lantern Festival, its light was visible for miles. It could not compare, however, with that of Emperor Ruizong. He had a lantern wheel 200 feet tall erected outside a gate of Changan in 713 CE. The apparatus was clothed in brocades and silk gauze, and adorned with gold and jade. When he had its 50,000 oil cups lit, the radiance burst forth like the blooms on a flowering tree (151).
If one could afford it, no expense was spared in celebrating the Lantern Festival. A good festival would mean prosperity for the coming year.
Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival

There was also the Lustration Festival which took place on the third day of the third moon when the people drove away evil spirits by drinking enormous quantities of ale. The entire day was devoted to feasting and drinking to excess. The Qingming Festival was observed in April honoring the ancestors, and the Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon Festival (Dragon Boat Festival) was held in July to honor a respectable statesman who chose a dignified death over a life of dishonor. The Hungry Ghosts Festival, in August, recognizes the spiritual dimension of life and honors those who have passed on.
The Seventh Night of the Seventh Moon Festival honored the god and goddess of love, and the Mid-Autumn Festival paid tribute to the moon. The Last Day of the Twelfth Moon Festival was the ritual of sending Zao Shen on his way to the gods on New Year's Eve and corresponds to many New Year's Eve parties in the present day. People began drinking the Killing Ghosts and Reviving Souls Ale, had feasts, and lit off fireworks. Festivals kept the people in touch with their past, grounded them in their cultural values, and were a very important aspect of the lives of those in ancient China. In the present day, many of these same celebrations are observed every year. The rituals involved go back hundreds or even thousands of years and continue to be performed in very similar, or exactly the same, ways.


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