This book is very much recommended for those who are interested in the spiritual views of China. After reading the Analects and the Tao Te Ching, this book seemed like a good addition to my library. This anthology of religious texts are conveniently laid out chronologically from the ancient period to the modern Mao era with summarizing introductions. Here is a breakdown of the periods for the writings in this anthology:
Shang (1200-1059 BC) and Chou (1059-249 BC) Dynasties Han (202 BC-220 AD) and Wei (220-264 AD) Dynasties Six Dynasties Period (220-589 AD) Sui (581-618) and T'ang (618-917 AD) Dynasties Sung (960-1279 AD) and Yuan (1279-1368 AD) Dynasties Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD) Modern Era (1911-Today AD)
These texts definitely show how not all religions are the same in practice and beliefs. The diversity of cultures are apparent here. One of the notable factors from these texts is that there is almost no mention of gods. In the very few texts gods are even mentioned, they are not described to have the properties Westerners are used to hearing such as omnipotence or even eternal existence and they generally are not the focus nor do they carry much weight. Instead, prevailing concepts like ghosts, spirits, ancestors, ch'i (a vital essence or force in the human body and the rest of the universe), T'ien or "Tian" (meaning "Heaven"), Tao ("the Way") and a few others appear often. Some of these ideas are not supernatural (beyond nature), but simply more-of-nature. Heaven, Earth, and Humanity were often seen the three interrelated parts that make up the universe. Balance of all three was seen as essential to the well being of the universe.
Now, Chinese folk religion was popular in history and contained numerous ancestor-spirits, ghosts, animisms, creature-spirits, etc and some Westerners have even called some of these 'gods', however, since Westerners tend to interpret supernatural beings as 'gods', because of our theistic-centric ways of experiencing religion, I would be cautious since many cultures simply did not categorically divide the natural and the supernatural per se. There may be "quasi" divinities like "Tao" and "Tian" were at some point.
Many of the texts speak of "Heaven" as the ultimate authority with a will in earthly and human affairs and is often the what gives humans their traits, capacities, and moral obligations. Other concepts like the "Mandate of Heaven" are mentioned in some texts which involve a ruler's obligations to the people and the universe. Another interesting thing one will notice is that many of these religious texts do not have an "origins" account or much cosmology and if they do, like the Tao Te Ching, there is no "creator". Other things like "Heaven" and the "Tao" are endowed with creative power. A few texts focus on the roles, virtues, and expectations of men and women; husbands and wives; ghosts and their effects on the living world; sacrifices; spirit world events; rituals; dramas and poems; human nature; balance of opposites; ethics. Furthermore, selections of important texts are available such as some of the earliest texts in China (The Book of History, The Book of Odes, The Book of Rites) which shaped much of the Chinese landscape. Obviously there are selections from Confucius' The Analects (Oxford World's Classics), Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition and Mencius' comments, and Buddhist texts like the Lotus Sutra found here too. The only thing I would have liked was for longer selections since many are a few pages only. But I guess this anthology makes up for it with the fact that it does cover many primary sources which would normally not be easy to find. The bibliography is very helpful for finding many original documents. For those who are interested in other background texts from China you can look at Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 2nd Ed and A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy.
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