Harmonizing Truths: Exploring the Alignment of Chinese Belief Systems with Biblical Principles
Not that long ago, I really hated Christians. The 20-year-old me genuinely thought that Christianity was a force that intended to culturally genocide China and erase the Chinese traditional values.
Christianity was brought to China under the guns of Western Imperialism, and Western Missionaries began to arrive in the Chinese World in large numbers following the unequal treaties of the 20th century. Furthermore, some Western Christians have also participated in the Opium trade, spied for imperialist powers, and extorted Chinese civilians for money. The extortion of Chinese civilians by certain American missionaries was noted by the American writer Mark Twain and was the cause of a bitter feud between the two parties. Even today, certain Americans and Western political forces are using Christianity as a tool for political purposes. These events were all unjust and incorrect representations of Christianity, which left a very bitter taste in my mouth from a very young age.
What really began to change my attitude towards Christianity was a chain of events. After graduating college, I became acquainted with some Non-denominational Chinese Christians in California purely by chance while jogging in the park, who introduced me to Christianity. I was impressed by their decency and began attending their church to learn the basic doctrine of the Bible. Then, I began independently studying the works of Orthodox Christianity and the history of the interactions between the Orthodox and the Chinese civilization, as I have always had a personal affinity for Eastern European culture.
Eastern Christianity’s Attitude Towards China
The Orthodox perspective has often highlighted potential intersections between Chinese traditions and Christian belief systems, suggesting they can complement each other. Despite enduring atrocities during the Boxer Rebellion, the Orthodox community criticized European imperialism in China, attributing the Boxer Rebellion to the “crimes of Europeans in China.” The Orthodox also condemned the German Kaiser for perpetuating the Yellow Peril myth. Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, a Serbian Orthodox leader, expressed, “Europe succumbed to arrogance and fell! She fell into the dust, soaked with the blood of all other peoples of God…”
In 1998, following a commemoration ceremony for the Orthodox martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion, the Orthodox leader Averginos criticized certain Christians who held views antagonistic to the Chinese traditional values stating, “To assume an attitude so antagonistic to the teachings of Confucius and of the Buddha is to willfully blind oneself to features of those faith traditions which are positive and to show an amazing insensitivity to the feelings of Chinese in general...Confucianism and Sinitic Buddhism have become part of the fabric of Chinese civilization. Bringing the Gospel to a missionary land does not entail ‘bombing the country back to the Stone Age’ in a spiritual sense and then imposing a carbon copy of Byzantium or Kievan Rus on the devastated new land…Much of the ethical and social content of Confucianism is compatible with Christian teaching and may be incorporated into a Chinese Christian culture. The spiritual and compassionate qualities of proper Buddhist practice may also enrich the experience of Christians.”
In 1999, a Serbian Orthodox Leader from Alaska, Hieromonk Damascene, wrote a book: Christ the Eternal Tao. This book argued that the ancient Chinese concepts of Daoism which were written by Lao Tsu, might actually bear the same truths and may also have anticipated the arrival of Jesus.
Similarities Between Chinese Ancient Beliefs and Christianity
It is interesting to note that within some aspects of the ancient Chinese beliefs and the Christian culture, there are similar teachings, despite the two sides not having constant and direct communication with each other during its development.
Take for example, in the Bible, it is said — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:1–5)
In the 42nd verse of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu, it is said that:
“Tao gives birth to One, One gives birth to Two, The Two gives birth to Three, The Three gives birth to all universal things. All universal things shoulder the Yin and embrace the Yang. The Yin and Yang mingle and mix with each other to beget harmony.”
Lao Tsu also wrote in Tao Te Ching:
“There is something formlessly created Born before Heaven and Earth So silent! So ethereal! Independent and changeless Circulating and ceaseless. It can be regarded as the mother of the world. I do not know its name Identifying it, I call it “Tao”
Furthermore, in Daoism, Daoism also has three deities known as the “Three Pure Ones” or the “lords of the three Qi”
Could all of these Daoist concepts actually have been a Chinese interpretation of their experiences with God and the Holy Trinity? I speculate that “Dao” in “Daoism” translated as “the way” may actually be interpreted the same as “The Word” in the Bible, but the Chinese may have interpreted it differently.
Similarities Between the Ethics of Confucianism and the Bible
Then there are parallels in the moral precepts of Chinese Confucianism and Christianity. The Chinese thinker Confucius (551–479 BC) lived almost 500 years before Christ appeared on Earth but we can see a similar wisdom between the Confucian literature and the Bible.
Confucius wrote: “The object of the gentleman is truth”
Jesus Christ later said: “The truth will set you free”
Confucius wrote: What you do not want done to yourself do not do to others.
Jesus said: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Confucius wrote: “A young man should serve his parents at home and be respectful to elders outside his home.”
Jesus said: “Honor your father and your mother”
Confucius wrote: “Poverty and lowliness are what people dislike, but one should not avoid them if it cannot be done in accordance with the Way. If the noble person rejects humaneness, how can he fulfill that name? The noble person does not abandon humaneness for so much as the space of a meal.”
Proverbs reads: “Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich.”
In the 20th Century, Saint Nicholas Of Serbia respected Confucius and placed him as one of the great ancient sages. When questioned, Nicholas of Serbia referred to a quote from St. Justin who stated in the 2nd century — “Christ involves the entire human race. Those who lived in accordance with God are Christians even if they were non-Christians — such as Socrates, Heraclitus…” So maybe perhaps, God was working in China through Lao Tsu and Confucius also.
Did Han Dynasty Records Record the Crucifixion of Jesus? This one, Maybe Not, Approach with Caution.
Another intriguing historical claim that has captured the attention of scholars was a solar eclipse recorded in the Han Dynasty at around the possible time of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
According to the “History of the Later Han Dynasty, Volume 1, Chronicles of Emperor Guang Wu, 7th Year,” an ancient Chinese historical text, a solar eclipse occurred in 33 AD, during the Jiashen year. This alignment holds significance due to its correspondence with the date traditionally associated with Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as the timing of the Jewish Passover. The “Han Shu” account reflects the astute observational capabilities of Chinese astronomers during the Han Dynasty and their meticulous recording of celestial phenomena.
However, it’s important to approach this connection with caution; while it presents a remarkable historical convergence, definitive conclusions remain challenging due to the limited availability of records from both the Han Dynasty and the time of Jesus, along with the historical context, cultural intrigues, and language barriers present. Nonetheless, the suggestion of an alignment of a reported solar eclipse recorded during the Han Dynasty with the possible date of Jesus’ crucifixion serves as a thought-provoking intersection of two ancient historical narratives.
From a theological perspective, the Christian God is an all-powerful God and must have also inspired the development of Chinese spirituality. This proposition may offer an explanation as to why many basic Chinese morals, ethics, and values are similar to Christian morals, ethics, and values as they may have derived from the same universal source, but expressed differently through a different cultural lens and historical circumstance. Perhaps the arrival of Jesus can be seen as a great reconciliation of this difference between China and the truth, as Jesus is the Dao manifested in human flesh, and therefore is the way, the truth, and the life.