The Boxer Uprising: A Background Study

By Victor Purcell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
SECTS AND REBELLIONS

It is a commonplace that in matters of religion the Chinese have shown themselves more tolerant than any other great people in the world. S. Wells Williams (a pioneer American missionary who first went to China in 1833) said:

The complete separation of the state religion from the worship of the common people accounts for the remarkable freedom of belief on religious topics. Mohammedanism and Buddhism, Taoist ceremonies and Lama Temples, are all tolerated in a certain way, but none of them have in the least interfered with the state religion, or the autocracy of the monarch as the Son of Heaven.'

The Buddhist 'demonology' ( Wells Williams continued) allows the incorporation of the deities and spirits of the other religions, and goes even further in permitting its priests to worship the gods of other pantheons. Thus they could engraft all the native and foreign divinities into their calendar as they saw fit. But although the emperors had at various times shown great devotion to the ceremonies and doctrines of Buddhism, building Buddhist temples at great expense, the teachings of Confucius and Mencius were too well understood among the people to be uprooted or overridden. As regards Taoism, however, the Confucians had reservations, and they felt that the worst crime of the Taoist pontiff was his claim to be the Heavenly Teacher. Since in Confucian eyes no one was greater than the Son of Heaven or emperor, this Taoist assertion must have seemed an insolent affront.2

But the Imperial tolerance did not extend to what were called the 'heretical sects' (hsieh chiao), the secret associations which had been common among the people from an early time, even though these claimed to adhere to Buddhist or Taoist doctrines, for the simple reason that they were associated in the Imperial mind with turbulence and rebellion.3

The reigning dynasty feared these sects. The rebellions which had overthrown each successive dynasty had invariably followed the same pattern—discontent from economic or political causes centring round a secret sect, the rise of a new leader, and the creation of a new dynasty

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