Note: This is a three- part article submitted by Hieromonk Damascene. Fr. Damascene, from the St.
Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, California, recently completed a trip to China. (Please see “OMHKSEA News” later in the June 2004 issue.)
In looking at the Chinese history in light of the Book of Genesis, it will be helpful to look first at the earliest known religion in China. Later, we will see how this ancient religion fits in with the Biblical account of ancient history.
The earliest account of religious worship in China is found in the Shu Jing (Book of History of Book of Documents), the oldest Chinese historical source. This book records that in the year 2230 B.C., the Emperor Shun “sacrificed to Shangdi.” That is, he sacrificed to the supreme God of the ancient Chinese, Shangdi meaning Supreme Ruler. This ceremony came to be known as the “Border Sacrifice,” because at the summer solstice the Emperor took part in ceremonies to the earth on the northern border of the country, and at the winter solstice he offered a sacrifice to heaven on the southern border.
The Chinese have been called one of the most history-conscious and tradition-conscious peoples of the world. This is seen in many aspects of Chinese culture. Perhaps it is seen most of all in this very Border Sacrifice which the Emperor performed twice a year. This ceremony, which goes back at least to 2230 B.C. was continued in China for over four thousand years, up until the fall of the Manchus in A. D. 1911. Even though the people gradually lost an understanding of what the ceremony was all about, and Shangdi was obscured behind all kinds of pagan deities in China, nevertheless the worship of the one God, Shangdi, was continued faithfully by the Emperor up into modern times.
The oldest text of the Border Sacrifice that we have dates from the Ming Dynasty. It is the exact text of the ceremony that was performed in A. D. 1538, which was based on the existing ancient records of the original rituals. Let us look at portions of the recitation script that the Emperor used
Above: The Circular Mound Altar of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, built in A. D. 1420, where the Emperor would offer sacrifice. Temple of Heaven Photo and caption courtesy of Hieromonk Damascene
The Emperor, as the high priest, was the only one to participate in the service. The ceremony began: “Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos, without form and dark. The five elements [planets] had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and the moon to shine. In the midst thereof there existed neither forms for sound. Thou, O spiritual Sovereign, camest forth in Thy presidency, and first didst divide the grosser parts from the purer. Thou madest heaven; Thou madest earth; Thou madest man. All things with their reproductive power got their being.” This recitation praising Shangdi as Creator of heaven and earth sounds surprisingly like the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1: 1- 2).
So, in the earliest records of Chinese religion, we see that the people worshiped One God, Who was Creator of all. We also see that the original people of China looked at Shangdi with a sense of love and a filial feeling. The Emperor continued his prayer: “Thou hast vouchsafed, O Di, to hear us, for Thou regardest us as a Father. I, Thy child, dull and unenlightened, am unable to show forth my dutiful feelings.”
As the ceremony concludes, Shangdi is praised for His loving kindness: “Thy sovereign goodness is infinite. As a potter, Thou hast made all living things. Thy sovereign goodness is infinite. Great and small are sheltered [by Thee]. As engraven on the heart of Thy poor servant is the sense of Thy goodness, so that my feeling cannot be fully displayed. With great kindness Thou dost bear us, and not withstanding our shortcomings, dost grant us life and prosperity.”
These last two recitations, taken together, bear the same simile as found in the Prophecy of Isaiah in the Bible: “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our Potter and we all are the work of Thy hand” (Isaiah 64: 8).
In general, reading the text of the Border Sacrifice reminds one strongly of the prayers of the ancient Hebrews as found in the Old Testament: the same reverent awe before God, the same selfabasement, humility and gratitude before His greatness. For us Christians, these most ancient of Chinese prayers to God are strangely familiar. Why is this? It seems that the most ancient Chinese religion and the ancient Hebrew religion are drawn from the same source. And that is indeed the case, as we will see.
Let us begin at the beginning. Adam and Eve, as we know from the book of Genesis, were cast out of Paradise, and Cherubim with flaming swords guarded the East Gate of Eden so that Adam and Eve could not return to it. Paradise, according to tradition, was on a high place, like a mountain. Adam and Eve remained near to Paradise, “over against” it according to the Greek (Septuagint) version. They remained on a high place, viewed Paradise from afar, and lamented what they had lost.
God placed it into the minds of Adam’s sons Cain and Abel (and, we assume, Adam himself) to offer sacrifice. They would have done this near to the border of Eden. The sacrifice, of course, was not enough to save mankind, or open to him the Paradise and the access to heaven which he lost. However, God placed in man the idea of sacrifice in order to prepare man to understand the Sacrifice that would save man: the Sacrifice of the Son of God on the Cross. Adam lived to be 930 years old. According to the Hebrew genealogy, Adam lived at the same time as Noah’s father Lamech: Lamech was 56 years old when Adam died. Noah would have heard about the creation and the Fall from his father Lamech. This gives us an idea of how direct the knowledge was that Noah had.
The Great Flood occurred, according to the Biblical reckoning, in approximately 2348 B.C. It was a global Flood which wiped out the entire earth and all human beings except for Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives (8 people in all).
The Bible says that, when Noah got off the Ark after the Flood, the first thing he did was to offer sacrifice to God, just as his forefather Adam had once done. In fact, before the Flood Noah had brought on the Ark with him some animals which were specifically meant to be offered in sacrifice, in addition to all the other animals that were on the Ark. So, the religion of Noah, which he had received from his forefather Adam, included the sacrifice of animals.
Only 101 years after the Flood, evil abounded again; and therefore, as the Bible tells us, “the earth was divided.” This occurred at the Tower of Babel, when God confounded the languages, and people began to be scattered about the earth. The Tower of Babel incident occurred at about 2247 B. C . And it is soon after this point that Chinese history begins.
The original people of China were undoubtedly a group of people (of unknown number) who traveled to China from Babel. It is probable that most of the people living in China today have descended from this original group.
Many Christians who have looked into this question have suggested that, in the Genesis “table of nations” chronicling the language groups migrating from Babel, the “Sinite people” (Genesis 10: 17) could refer to the group that became the Asian peoples.
Whether or not this is the case, here is a very interesting fact to consider: According to the Chinese records, the establishment of China’s first dynasty, the Hsia (Xia) dynasty, occurred in 2205 B.C. Modern scholars ascribe a somewhat later date of between 2100 and 2000 B.C. Therefore, depending on which reckoning one accepts, the establishment of China’s first dynasty occurred anywhere from 42 to 205 years after the approximate date of the Tower of Babel incident. That was the time it took for the protoChinese to migrate to China from present- day Iraq (the site of the Tower of Babel) and already begin their dynastic civilization.
From the Bible we know that Noah lived 350 years after the Flood. So the founding of China’s first dynasty occurred while Noah was still alive.
The first people of China could have heard about the creation, the Fall, and life before the Flood from Noah himself. And Noah, as we have said, could have learned about these things, through one or at most two intermediaries, from Adam himself. This gives us an idea of how close were the first Chinese people to the first man, Adam.
We know that when the original settlers of China came to their new land, they brought the religion of Noah with them. We know this from the Border Sacrifice of which we spoke earlier. The Border Sacrifice was like the sacrifices of Noah, which were like the sacrifices of Adam. And, as we have seen, the God that was invoked at the Border Sacrifices was the One God, the Creator of universe, that both Noah and Adam worshiped. The prayers that were at the Chinese Border Sacrifice bear remarkable similarity to the prayers of the ancient Hebrews because both come from the same source: the religion of Noah.
An interesting point to ponder is why the Chinese called their sacrifices “Border Sacrifices,” and why the Emperor traditionally performed them at the border of the Empire. We know that Adam would have performed his sacrifices outside the borders of Paradise, probably as close as possible to Paradise, outside the Gate that was guarded by the Cherubim. It is possible that the Chinese Border Sacrifice were based on the tradition of a “border sacrifice” from the time of Adam.
As we have said, the Sacrifices— whether of Adam, Noah, or the Chinese Emperors— could not save mankind from the consequences of the Fall: death, and eternal separation from God. They could not get man back into Paradise. For this, a totally pure and unblemished sacrifice had to be offered, by a totally pure and sinless human being: one who would be the Second Adam and set aright what Adam had ruined. This sacrifice was offered for all time by Jesus Christ, the “Second Adam.” And another interesting point: Just as the first Adam had offered his sacrifice outside the Gates of Eden, the Second Adam offered His Sacrifice outside the Gates of the Holy City of Jerusalem, when He was taken outside the city to be crucified.
Christ fulfilled what was prefigured by the sacrifices of Adam and Noah, and by the Border Sacrifices that were offered by the Chinese from the very beginning of their history.
Let us go back now and look at the recorded history of China in light of what we’ve just been talking about, that is, in light of the Biblical history of the world.
We’ve already mentioned the oldest book of Chinese recorded history: the Shu Jing, or Book of Documents. This book was written in about 1000 B.C. and was based on material from the Shang Dynasty, which began in 1700 B.C. (1700 B.C., by the way, is 200 years before the time of Moses, who wrote the book of Genesis.) Even if we assume that the original materials for the Shu Jing came from the beginning of the Shang Dynasty in 1700 B.C., this means that at least 500 years would have passed from the beginning of China to the first written record of its history.
The first thing that students of Chinese history learn is that Chinese history began with a Flood. This is not surprising, since we know that ancient peoples from all the continents of the world have a story of a Great Flood which covered all the earth as a judgment on man’s sin. In many cases, the details are remarkably like the details recorded in the book of Genesis. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia, for example, speak of a global flood and how only eight people escaped it in a canoe.
Above: Noah with his family, having come out of the Ark, offer a sacrifice upon an altar. 16th- century Russian icon. Icon image and caption courtesy of Hieromonk Damascene
The flood story was the most pervasive of all the other legends in ancient China. The Shu Jing records: “The flood waters are everywhere, destroying everything as they rise above the hills and swell up to heaven.”
Since the Shu Jing only begins with Chinese history, however, this statement does not refer to the global Flood, but rather to the local flooding that was caused in China by the remnants of the Great Flood. The Shu Jing speaks of how, after the Great Flood, some of the land was not yet habitable because the flood waters were still inundating the land. This was certainly possible. The time between the Flood and the founding of the first Chinese dynasty was as little as 143 years, and we would expect that huge pockets of water would have been on the land at that time, which are not there today. This phenomenon of post- Flood water- pockets is described in the book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by a geologist, Steven Austin. Dr. Austin is a believer in the Biblical account of the Flood, and in this book he posits that Grand Canyon was formed by a huge pocket of water that was left over from the Flood, and which broke loose over the land. Since the layers of sediments had recently formed during the Flood and the land was still soft, the leftover Flood waters were able to carve out the magnificent Grand Canyon.
Going back to ancient China: These leftover Flood waters made parts of the land uninhabitable. At that time, according to Chinese history, there were the first righteous Chinese Emperors, Yao and Shun: the first emperors to offer the Border Sacrifices to Shangdi. To a man named Kun given the task of ridding the land of the flood waters, but he was not able to do so. It was not until Kun’s son, Yu, devised a new technique to channel the waters out to sea that the land was eventually made habitable.
Yu the Great
It took nine years for Yu to channel the waters out to sea. He became a hero because of this amazing feat. As a result, Shun turned the rulership over to Yu. Yu became emperor, thus beginning China’s first dynasty, the Xia. After that, China’s dynastic culture lasted almost another four thousand years.
There do exist legends about dynasties in China before the Xia dynasty, but these dynasties are of a different sort, with questionable details attributed to them and very long lives ascribed to their people. The Xia dynasty is the first precisely documented dynasty. Christian geologist Dr. John Morris suggests that the welldocumented dynasties date to dispersion from Babel, “while the prior dynasties were faded memories of pre- Flood patriarchs, preserved as legends.” Emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty “evidently gained prominence when he engineered the draining of swampy land left saturated by leftover flood waters. His following dynasty commenced about the time of Abraham or so, and the memories of long- lived patriarchs of pre- Flood days became legends of early dynasties.”
So, now we have looked at Chinese history in relation to the Bible. If we start with the most ancient record of Chinese history, the Shu Jing, we find that the history of ancient China matches very well with the history of mankind as recorded in the Bible. (The Shu Jing, by the way, was the source of Chinese history used by Confucius, considered by him to be the most authentic source of Chinese history.)
Since the Shu Jing begins with specifically with Chinese history, however, it does not refer to Noah, or to what occurred before the Great Flood. Is there anything in ancient Chinese history that refers to the Great Flood or to what occurred before it? Yes, there is, but unfortunately it was written much later than the Shu Jing, and thus filled with legendary material. In the Huainan- tzu, written in the 2nd century B.C., we read the story of Nu- wa (also pronounced Nu- kua), whose name sounds a lot like “Noah.” The story says that, in very ancient times, the habitable world was split apart, waters inundated the earth without being stopped, and fires flamed without being extinguished. “Therefore,” the text reads, “Nu- kua fused together stones of the five colors with which to patch together the azure heaven.” This is perhaps a distorted retelling of the Flood story, over 2,000 years after it happened. The stones of Five Colors by which Nukua patched the heavens may be a legendary retelling of the rainbow that Noah saw in the sky after the Flood, which was to be a covenant between God and the earth that God would never again destroy the earth by water.
Whether or not the Nu- kua legend was based on actual history of the Noahic Flood, we know that the original people of China knew the basic facts concerning the creation of the world. We know this because these facts are laid out in the text of the Border Sacrifice which we have quoted earlier. As we have shown, the Border Sacrifice describes the creation in a way remarkably similar to the book of Genesis.
Dr. John Morris points out that many of the language groups migrating from Babel “took with them technological knowledge which they put to use in their new homelands. History documents the fact that several major cultures sprang into existence seemingly from nowhere at about the same time— the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Phoenicians, the Indians, as well as the Chinese— and each possessed a curious mixture of truth and pagan thought, as would be expected from peoples only briefly separated from Noah and his teachings as well as the star- worshipping, pyramid- building heresy of Nimrod at Babel.”
Now that we have gone this far in our examination of Chinese history in the light of Genesis, a few questions may remain. First of all, it may be objected that, according to secular scientists, the first inhabitants of China were actually hominid ancestors of man. About thirty years ago, it was generally believed by evolutionists that the hominid ancestor of Chinese man was the Asian Homo erectus, otherwise known as “Peking Man” or Sinanthropus (meaning China Man). Sinanthropus was supposed to have lived from a million or two million years ago in China. Today, however, some scientists disagree that this Sinanthropus is really an evolutionary ancestor of today’s Chinese people. In fact, the whole field of paleoanthropology is becoming more and more confused as time goes on. The paleoanthropologists can’t agree on the evolutionary tree of man, and different parties among them have heated fights over this question. Now it is generally thought that there is not an evolutionary tree at all in relation to man, but rather a confused “bush.”
If we look at the so- called ancestors of man, we can see that, in some cases they are extinct apes, and in some cases they are human beings. Sinanthropus, whose skulls have been found in China, is a case in point. What is this Sinanthropus? Clearly, he is a human being, probably one of the early settlers in China after the dispersion at Babel. He did not live two million years ago, which is an inconceivable amount of time. All over the world, recorded human history begins no earlier than about 2,400 B.C., which is the approximate date of the Flood. The radiometric dating methods that are used to get ages of a million or a billion years are based on untestable and unprovable assumptions, as the scientists who believe in them will admit themselves. (As an indication of hypothetical nature of these methods, rocks known to have been formed in volcanic eruptions within the last 200 years have yielded radiometric dates of up to 3.5 billion years.)
Many secular and even evolutionist scientists today say that the distinction between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens (human beings) is an artificial one: Homo erectus, including Sinanthropus, is nothing else than a human being. This claim has been made by paleoanthropologists both in the West and in China (such as Wu Xin Zhi at the Institute of Paleoanthropology in Beijing).
Professor William S. Laughlin (University of Connecticut), in studying the Eskimos and the Aleuts, noted many similarities between these peoples and the Asian Homo erectus people, specifically Sinanthropus (Peking Man). He concludes his study with a very logical statement:
“When we find that significant differences have developed, over a short time span, between closely related and contiguous peoples, as in Alaska and Greenland, and when we consider the vast differences that exist between remote groups such as Eskimos and Bushmen, who are known to belong within the single species of Homo sapiens, it seems justifiable to conclude that Sinanthropus belongs within this same diverse species.”
Another question arises: If, as we believe from the Biblical account, Adam lived only two or three thousand years before the first Chinese dynasty, then how do we account for the dinosaurs, which supposedly became extinct seventy million years before the first man appeared on earth?
This is a very fascinating subject to discuss, especially in relation to China. What about dinosaurs? Were there dinosaurs in China? The Censer Dragons, of course, are depicted everywhere in Chinese culture. But these are only legendary creatures, some will say. No, not at all. Later depictions of dragons, to be sure, contained fanciful elements, because they were drawn by people who did not see dragons themselves but had only heard about them from others or from historical sources. But dragons did live contemporaneously with humans in the history of ancient China. Dragons are written about in ancient Chinese annals, and not as imaginary creatures, but as real live animals. It is known from Chinese history that certain parts and fluids of dragons were used for medicines. And one historical account even mentions a Chinese family that bred dragons to be used to pull the Royal Chariot during Imperial processions!
What the ancient Chinese wrote about dragons fits in with what ancient people all over the world had to say about them. In all the ancient cultures of the world, people wrote about seeing dragons or killing dragons. They painted pictures of them or, in the case of some Central American cultures, made statues of them. Many of the historical descriptions and depictions of dragons match precisely with the physical features of known dinosaurs such as Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were not called dinosaurs then, because the word “dinosaur” was not invented until 1841 (by the way, it was invented by a Christian scientist who believed the Biblical account of origins).
When the army of Alexander the Great (356- 323 B.C.) went through India, they went to see a dragon living in a cave, which the Indians worshiped as a god, bringing it sacrificial food. This is only one of many historical accounts of dragons from places in the world other than China. One of the Holy Fathers of the Church, St. John Damascene (A. D. 674- 750), wrote of dragons as actual creatures that still existed in his time in small numbers. When people with an evolutionary frame of mind read of such things, they automatically think of them as legends. But it is very hard to explain why peoples from all over the world have spoken of dragons as real, living creatures. From these accounts from all over the world, we know that some dinosaurs went onto the Ark with Noah (probably as babies). There is much evidence that, after the Flood, the climate and conditions of the earth became harsher; and thus the dinosaurs had a more difficult time surviving (hence Alexander the Great’s army saw one living in a cave). They did spread all over the earth, since people from China to South America tell of seeing them. But they were much more rare than other creatures, and they eventually died out due to the new conditions of earth and also, undoubtedly, to the fact that people killed them because they saw them as a threat.
To the ancient Chinese, dinosaurs or dragons were a symbol of power. It was natural that they would be fascinated with them and make them such a frequent subject of their art, because of all the land creatures that ever lived, what was greater and more powerful than a dinosaur?
In the book of Job, chapter 40, God calls Job’s attention to his greatness by reminding him that He created the great and powerful creatures of the earth. And the land creature that God mentions is the behemoth, which has a tail like a cedar tree. The Biblical description of the behemoth matches no other creature than a sauropod dinosaur. Not only Chinese history, but even Chinese sayings and the Chinese lunar calendar, make it clear that the Chinese have traditionally regarded dragons as real creatures.
Here’s an interesting story, which indicates that a few winged dinosaurs may have survived in China into relatively recent times. At the end of the 19th century, a Russian Orthodox saint named St. Barsanuphius was stationed in Manchuria to pastor the Russian soldiers during the RussianJapanese War. From there he wrote in his journal: “I happened to hear from soldiers that stand at the posts at the Hantaza station, forty miles from Mullin, that two years ago they often saw an enormous winged dragon creep out from one of the mountain caves. It terrified them, and would again conceal itself in the depths of the cave. They have not seen it since that time, but this proves that the tales of the Chinese and Japanese about the existence of dragons are not at all fantasies or fables, although the learned European naturalists, and ours along with them, deny the existence of these monsters. But after all, anything can be denied, simply because it does not measure up to our understanding.”
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese people are one of the most tradition- conscious and history- conscious peoples. So it should not be surprising that they, of all peoples, should be the ones to have retained such a strong cultural memory of dinosaurs. Their records showing that dinosaurs lived alongside man, and not in an “age of dinosaurs” ending 70 million years earlier, further supports the Biblical account of the world’s history.
When the world was inhabited by people groups coming out of Babel, some groups retained more awareness of the original religion of Adam and Noah, and some retained less awareness. The Chinese, as we have seen, retained more than most other cultures. They have retained it up until modern times in the Imperial Border Sacrifice. Also, with the great value they place on history, they have preserved a knowledge of their own past which matches in its essentials the history of the world which is given in the Holy Bible.