Amidst the New Year’s celebrations around the world, China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) achieved a historic lunar milestone on Jan. 3, 2019, by landing a probe on the dark side of the moon, that is, the side of the moon that we denizens of earth cannot view.
Few Westerners, nonetheless, might have paid much attention to the name of this mission’s spacecraft, Chang’e-4 and that of the landed rover, Yutu-2. Both, however, are legendary and household names in China.
While Western global companies seem to enjoy drawing some ethereal inspiration from ancient Greek mythology by choosing names like Nike, Oracle, Amazon, Pandora, and Alphabet, the Chinese communist regime, despite its atheist underpinnings, turns to China’s spiritual roots and mythology to name its space probes.
The names from China’s glorious past are not some fad or nostalgia; the Party uses the ancient names because they subtly suggest that China started its space exploration much earlier than its Western competitors.
In Chinese mythology, Chang’e, the goddess of the Moon, is married to Houyi, a fabled archer who shot down nine of the 10 flaming suns in the sky to spare humans on earth from death due to the heat. Yutu (the Jade Rabbit) is an immortal pet that keeps company with the beautiful Chang’e, the goddess of the Moon.
In addition to these, CNSA’s other space exploration projects and probes have, thus far, all been given otherworldly names, such as Tianzhou (Heavenly Ship 1-11), Shenzhou (Divine Ship), and Tiangong 1 & 2 (Heavenly Palace Skylab 1 & 2), to name but a few.
Unfortunately, that is just about as far as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will go these days, in terms of referencing China’s deistic past.
The Divinely Inspired ‘Middle Kingdom’
China’s 5,000-year civilization shares much in common with Greek civilization.
Both Chinese and Greek mythologies assert that the universe was created out of the great chaos, each civilization beginning with timeless myths of immortals, demigods, and humans with supernatural powers, who later evolve into the mortal beings that we have become today.
The Yellow Emperor (2698-2598 BCE), widely regarded as the first Chinese ruler, was able to use supernatural powers to fight off enemies. Inspired by the heavens, the Yellow Emperor created the first calendar and the book, “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon,” which revealed the theoretical basis of Chinese medicine.
The Yellow Emperor’s reign was known for “rule by virtue.” According to the text of The Zhuangzi (ancient Chinese text dating from the late Warring States period (446-221 BC)), the Yellow Emperor became a Taoist deity later in life.
As a native Chinese spiritual denomination, Taoism is virtually as ancient as Chinese civilization. It wasn’t until Lao Tzu (601 BC–?), who wrote the text of “Tao Te Ching,” that Taoism became an established mind-body belief system.
Lao Tzu (“Old Master” in Chinese) is widely regarded as the founder of Taoism and one of the “Three Pure Deities” of the Taoist School. Lao Tzu’s teachings include the ideas of Yin and Yang, living in harmony with the Way (nature), nothingness, cultivation of mind and body for the truth, and ultimately returning to one’s original “true soul.”
Such timeless Chinese cosmogony, over the centuries, has helped shape and influence Chinese culture and way of life. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Taoism became officially the imperial orthodoxy for the state.
Despite its enormous influence, Buddhism came to China in the East Han Dynasty as an imported foreign religion. Legend has it that one day in 67 A.D., Emperor Ming dreamt of a golden person flying into his palace, and so he asked his ministers for an explanation.
A minister named Fu Yi responded, “Your Majesty, you might have dreamt of the great Western sage called Buddha.” Accordingly, Emperor Ming sent Cai Yin, a military official, as his envoy to the West in search of Buddhism.
Cai Yin and his entourage met two Buddhists, Dharmaratna and Kāśyapa Mātaṇga, on the way and brought them back, along with Buddhist scriptures on a white horse’s back, to Luo Yang, capital of the East Han Dynasty.
Emperor Ming was delighted and built the well-known White Horse Temple for these two visitors, where they translated “42 Scriptures” into the Chinese language, the first ever Buddhist scriptures in Chinese.
Over the centuries, Buddhism has been held in high esteem in China and revered as the official imperial religion by emperors of many different dynasties.
Its ideas of karmic retribution, reincarnation, compassion, and salvation for all predestined sentient beings have not only been applied to many aspects of society, but have also been profoundly reflected in fine art, music, and literature.
The famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West” (1592), is based on a legendary pilgrimage by the monk Xuanzang to Central Asia, with the assistance of the Monkey King, in a quest for Buddhist sutras.
“A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms” alone has collected nearly thirty thousand Buddhist vocabulary entries that were created by Buddhist monks within some eight hundred years between the Han and the Tang dynasties—these terms include words commonly used to this day, such as “now,” “past,” “world,” “future,” and so on.
Confucius as a Spiritual Teacher
Confucius (551–479 BC) is perhaps among the most misunderstood sages in today’s China and abroad. Widely considered one of the greatest Chinese philosophers, Confucius was largely ignored for his role in teaching his followers to obey the will or mandate of Heaven.
After the CCP came to power in 1949, Confucius was denounced, particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Despite Confucianism making a comeback in society today, Confucius is largely seen as a humanist and philosopher, and not the spiritual teacher that he actually was.
Dr. Fasheng Zhao, a researcher at the China Academy of Social Sciences, took note of this obvious omission in his article, “On Confucius’ Belief.” Dr. Zhao pointed out that for most of the 20th century, religious beliefs were seen as being “backward” and “ignorant” in atheist China.
Radical revolutionaries regard Confucius as one who wished to turn the wheel of history back to the slavery system, while conservative scholars, out of the desire to protect Confucianism, have eagerly tried to highlight Confucius’ humanist side so as to prove that Confucianism is progressive and relevant in today’s China.
Dr. Zhao argues, “The religious aspect has an important role in Confucianism, short of which we won’t be able to comprehend the true spirit of Confucianism, nor would we be able to sort out the sources and characteristics of Confucius’ humanism. We would then have a flawed and incomplete picture of Confucius.”
Dr. Zhao further points out, “Confucianism is known as the scholarship of Heavenly beings.” In “Analects” alone, Dr. Zhao observes that Confucius mentions Heaven or Will of Heaven 19 times. Dr. Zhao holds that the Heaven that Confucius spoke of refers to a supernatural divine ruler, not an abstract concept.
Confucius is also known for advocating the Golden Mean in life as he equals excess to deficiency. Such idea echoes those held by ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in particular.
China’s CultureTwo-year-old toddler Yue Yue is seen just before she is hit by a white van seen in the background, in Foshan in southern China’s Guangdong Province, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/TVS via APTN) is Divinely Inspired
Confucius once said, “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Today’s Chinese culture under communist rule, however, is missing the divine soul and spiritual traditions.
Government officials and employees, members of the armed forces, including the state-sanctioned Taoist and Buddhist associations, must pledge allegiance to the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As widely reported by the international press and human rights groups, underground Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners experience many forms of ill-treatment, some of them have even become victims of state-sponsored organ harvesting.
Given that communist ideology is a Western import, the CCP sees the revival of traditional religious practices as well as China’s true cultural heritage as a threat to its ideological foundation and its legitimacy.
Today, not only religious practices are tightly regulated by the CCP, even traditional art forms and stage productions involving China’s history are heavily censored.
On Jan. 25, 2019, the Beijing Daily reversed its previous praise for five popular TV drama series: Empresses in the Palace, The Legend of Miyue, Scarlet Heart, Story of Yanxi Palace, and Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, by condemning them for focusing on internal power struggles in the imperial palace, thereby, implying that similar situations are going on inside the CCP’s top bureaucracy today.
These five TV dramas are now off the air, despite four based on Qing Dynasty story settings of more than a hundred years ago and one from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
When the acclaimed New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts produces a dance program that features traditional Chinese dance, music, and costume, Beijing, again, feels threatened.
The CCP’s diplomats abroad are now charged with an unusual diplomatic mission: coercing the hosting theaters to reject or cancel Shen Yun performances. While most theaters embrace Shen Yun performances, a few have surrendered to Beijing’s roguish demands. Teatro Real de Madrid, for example, caved in and cancelled shows scheduled between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 2019, despite hundreds of tickets already sold in advance.
As Socrates observed, “All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.” In this digital age, people around the world are still able to find inspiration through some form of spirituality or from their divine cultural heritage.
In an increasingly more materialistic China, the spiritual void is quickly eroding the foundations of Chinese society and her timeless, divinely inspired culture. It is, however, encouraging to note that there are still tens of millions Chinese denizens seeking China’s spiritual traditions or joining underground religions and practices.
The most harmful sin the CCP has committed is, arguably, decades of its relentless effort to disconnect 1.3 billion people from their spiritual traditions and cultural heritage. The breakdown of trust between people and between the people and the state that is often mentioned by outside observers is a direct consequence of the Party’s atheist, anti-tradition policies.
A two-year-old girl, Wang Yue (known as “Yue Yue”), in Foshan, Guangdong, was run over by two vehicles on Oct. 13, 2011, and for seven minutes, 18 passersby made no effort to help the bleeding victim who died. Good Samaritans don’t appear often in China out of apathy, or fear of being sued. This case, unfortunately, is not rare in today’s communist China. In a normal society, such callous indifference could hardly occur.
When its moral compass is missing, a nation without a spiritual soul and divine past is doomed to oppose humanity. Even the cartoon character Bart Simpson, in one episode, appears to be perplexed, “What happened to you, China? You used to be cool.”
Peter Zhang focuses his research on political economy in China and East Asia. He is a graduate of Beijing International Studies University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and of Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.