Shenism – A Taste of Life
Fusion Chicken Salad
Confucius: “The strength of a nation lies in the integrity of the home.”
Today the Chinese are a nation of millions with no official religion. In fact, being religious within the People’s Republic of China is not a healthy thing to do. Yet, not only are the Chinese one of the oldest civilizations on earth, Chinese folk religions are also some of the oldest. Today the mixture of Chinese folk religions of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and even anti-Communist religious factions are known as the fusion religion of Shenism.
Respect for the journey of life is a central theme in most religions but it is in burial of the dead that anthropologists find the most evidence of our religious practices. As far back as the Neolithic Age, the Chinese artifacts indicate evidence of religious or divination rituals. Burial practices of 5th millennium BCE China are evident in the consistency and posture of archaeological finds. Remains found in the western part of China were buried facing the west and similarly, those in the east faced eastward. Such findings also indicate the first known groupings of people buried in what seem to be family or kinship groups. Divination specialist or ministers or high priests were evidence in 4th millennium BCE and from the 3rd millennium, elaborate burial chambers and tombs were found. It is during this time that the famous ancestor worship of the Chinese came into being.
The history of China and its religions is a history of its famed dynasties. The first, the Shang Dynasty, gave rise to organized divination practices, built upon the needs of the people for basic living. Things like animal sacrifices, food hunting, the calendar which was comprised of a ten-day week, weather, harvests, sickness, childbirth, etc. became reduced to optimism regarding the hunt, the calendar’s week to come, and the coming night.
China began to form into one civilization during the Ch’ou Dynasty. As the various peoples became integrated into one, the various religious ideas from different regions were assimilated and a general organization came into practice. Each god had a different function but, just as the Chinese empire became one, do sis the different belief systems. It was during this time that the teaching of Confucius and Mo-tzu spoke of virtue, humanity, social relationships and a just government.
During the Ch’in Dynasty China was divided into forty different sections and the Great Wall of China built. It was during this time also that the emperor Shih –huang ti suppressed intellectual thought and many died trying to complete his elaborate and grand projects. Excavations in Sian at the site of his tomb unearthed more than six thousand life-size statues of soldiers thought to date back to his death in 210 BCE erected to protect his grave.
The Han Dynasty saw the national move towards Confucianism. Chinese emperors became viewed as ruling by something called the “Mandate of Heaven”. During this time the emperor became more involved in official worship rituals which were based upon the Five Elements. Rituals of the official Chinese state religion addressed the elements of fire, water, earth, wood, and metal but were soon replaced by cults and the building of altars and evidence of sacrifices. Just as Chih huang-ti had sought immortality, so did the Han emperors. Those claimed the power to make contact with the dead who were thought to live in “the world of the immortals” became popular. Some philosophers attempted to introduce ideas based upon rational explanations for the universe and life but these were not widely accepted.
China entered a period of political upheaval which led to the introduction of other religious ideals. The bloody but brief Three Kingdoms period led to the Tao religion and the influence of Buddhism from India which was adapted to conform to Chinese beliefs of life and traditions of living. IT was also at this time that the population of China rose to over fifty-six million people. New ideas were introduced and during the Tang Dynasty political executions based upon religious beliefs appeared.
A more popular Chinese proverb states: “Aspire to the principle, behave with virtue, abide by benevolence, and immerse yourself in the arts.” The Sung period saw the refinement of previous Chinese developments and beliefs. The Tang ideal man was one who was not only a scholar and poet but also a painter and statesman. Confucius was once again popular and Buddhism declined. The philosopher Zhu Xi combined the thinking of Confucius with Buddhist, Taoist, and other religious ideals into one official creed which remained until the latter part of the nineteenth century. This philosophy emphasized strict obedience and compliance to the ruler, the father, the husband, younger to elder siblings. This strict code of conduct and beliefs led to a stability of sorts but also inhibited the growth of China into developing alongside the rest of the world.
Successive dynasties, great contributions to the world of art, and humiliating defeats helped shaped China into the country we have today. The Republic of China existed in the first half of the twentieth century, the result of a people’s revolution led by Sun Yat-sen. Today it exists on the island of Taiwan and a few smaller Fujian islands. The revolution was based upon a nationalist movement built on the Three Principles – nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood. Travel abroad was encouraged and many Chinese returned home full of worldly thoughts and taste. However, rural China remained largely unchanged and a civil war broke out mid-century resulting in the People’s Republic of China.
For most of the latter part of the twentieth century, the People’s Republic of China or PRC evidenced hostility toward religion which was viewed as symbolic of China’s early unsuccessful history and foreign influence. Ancient temples and worship venues were taken over by the state government and used for secular organizations and uses. Many were simply ravaged and/or destroyed. The late 1970’s saw the 1978 Constitution of the PRC guaranteeing freedom of religion. IT was a freedom only on paper, though. Many were imprisoned and some executed as religion was seen as a threat to the government.
Today there is a tension of sorts between the government which is allowing the rebuilding of some ancient temples and the religious of China. The competition of “worldly interest” such as personal and family health and wealth, conflicts with “other worldly interests” such as the relationship between ancestor and deity.
Known as Shenism, China’s past religions are today a fusion of religions and history that draws on ancient Chinese medicine and popular religious practices. The word itself can mean many things, the most common definition being “spirit”. Much like a famous Chinese proverb, the fusion of beliefs in China exists because China exists. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” The people of China continue to believe in a variety of things because they are, after all, a variety of traditions, dynasties, and origins. China is a glorious contradiction and gathering of life and, even in a country whose official statement condemns religion, a living fusion of ancient religions.
Confucius:” Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Asian Fusion Chicken Salad*
*Grilled eggplant can be substituted in this dish in place of the chicken
4 skinless chicken breast halves or 1 ½ lbs of breast meat 3 limes
10-12 oz shelled edamame beans 1 Tblsp grated ginger
1 lb sliced Napa cabbage 2 Tblsp Asian Sesame Oil
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and sliced (1-1 ½ cups) 1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
Slice two limes into thin slices. Squeeze remaining lime for juice. Heat sliced limes in 1-inch of water over high heat. Add chicken when lime mixture comes to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook the chicken for 12-15 minutes, internal temperature of the check reaching 165-degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chicken and immediately place in a bowl of ice water, chilling for about five minutes. Discard the cooking mixture. Prepare the edamame according to package label and drain. Rinse the beans with cold water. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl combine the reserved lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, cilantro, and sesame oil. Combine the cabbage, chicken, edamame, radishes, and toss with the dressing mixture. Add fruit for a delightfully refreshing meal!