Religions of Ancient China HTML version

Chapter 4. Materialism
Yang Hsiung.--Yang Hsiung was a philosopher who flourished B.C. 53- A.D. 18.
He taught that the nature of man at birth is neither good nor evil, but a mixture of
both, and that development in either direction depends wholly upon environment.
To one who asked about God, he replied, "What have I to do with God? Watch
how without doing anything He does all things." To another who said, "Surely it is
God who fashions and adorns all earthly forms," he replied, "Not so; if God in an
earthly sense were to fashion and adorn all things, His strength would not be
adequate to the task."
Wang Ch'ung.--Wang Ch'ung, A.D. 27-97, denies that men after death live again
as spiritual beings on earth. "Animals," he argues, "do not become spirits after
death; why should man alone undergo this change? . . . That which informs man
at birth is vitality, and at death this vitality is extinguished. Vitality is produced by
the pulsations of the blood; when these cease, vitality is extinguished, the body
decays, and becomes dust. How can it become a spirit? . . . When a man dies,
his soul ascends to heaven, and his bones return (/kuei/) to earth; therefore he is
spoken of as a disembodied spirit (/kuei/), the latter word really meaning that
which has returned. . . . Vitality becomes humanity, just as water becomes ice.
The ice melts and is water again; man dies and reverts to spirituality. . . . The
spirits which people see are invariably in the form of human beings, and that very
fact is enough of itself to prove that these apparitions cannot be the souls of dead
men. If a sack is filled with grain, it will stand up, and is obviously a sack of grain;
but if the sack is burst and the grain falls out, then it collapses and disappears
from view. Now, man's soul is enfolded in his body as grain in a sack. When he
dies his body decays and his vitality is dissipated; and if when the grain is taken
away the sack loses its form, why, when the vitality is gone, should the body
obtain a new shape in which to appear again in the world? . . . The number of
persons who have died since the world began, old, middle-aged, and young,
must run into thousands of millions, far exceeding the number of persons alive at
the present day. If every one of these has become a disembodied spirit, there
must be at least one to every yard as we walk along the road; and those who die
must now suddenly find themselves face to face with vast crowds of spirits, filling
every house and street. . . . People say that spirits are the souls of dead men.
That being the case, spirits should always appear naked, for surely it is not
contended that clothes have souls as well as men. . . . It can further be shown
not only that dead men never become spirits, but also that they are without
consciousness, by the fact that before birth they are without consciousness.
Before birth man rests in the First Cause; when he dies he goes back to the First
Cause. The First Cause is vague and without form, and man's soul is there in a
state of unconsciousness. At death the soul reverts to its original state: how then
can it possess consciousness? . . . As a matter of fact, the universe is full of
disembodied spirits, but these are not the souls of dead men. They are beings