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Cultural Perception of Ancient Chinese as Reflected on Chinese Characters Related with Ancestral Rites Accompanying ‘示’ — Focused on ‘神’ ‘祇’ ‘社’ ‘祖’ Representing the Gods of Heaven, Earth, People —

  • The Journal of Chinese Cultural Studies
  • 2017, (38), pp.123-154
  • DOI : 10.18212/cccs.2017..38.006
  • Publisher : The Society For Chinese Cultural Studies
  • Research Area : Humanities > Chinese Language and Literature > Chinese Literature > Chinese Culture
  • Received : October 8, 2017
  • Accepted : November 15, 2017
  • Published : November 30, 2017

Lee In Kyung 1

1단국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study examined ancestral rite culture of ancient China, and ‘示’ as the root of Chinese characters accompanying ‘示’ as well as ‘祭’, ‘祀’ and conducted analysis of Chinese characters that could be main objective of ancestral rites: ‘神’, ‘祇’ gods of heaven and earth symbolic of nature; ‘社’ god of earth; ‘祖’ representing god of humans. By doing so, the study sought to understand ancestral rite culture of the ancient Chinese and their cultural way of thinking. Worship and respect of heaven and earth, god of nature among the ancient humans was materialized by ancestral rites for heaven and earth in the mainly agricultural ancient Chinese society. Wishes of the ancient people for prosperity and peace of their tribes were connected to worship for their family ancestors and for the progenitor and a number of other ancestors. Therefore, we can say that ancestral rite culture of ancient China, centered on heaven and earth, and ancestral god, affected structure and formation of Chinese characters. ‘示’, figuratively expressing a stone embedded with spirits of god in the ancient characters, was a symbolic sign representing gods and could be an ancestral tablet, giving birth to 神. Heaven that governs all the astronomical phenomena, and earth that embraces all the things were worshipped as gods governing all the things in the universe and continued to become the main object of ancestral rites from the ancient time. Cultural way of thinking of the ancient Chinese as such was reflected on ‘神’ and ‘祇’. ‘社’, a compound of ‘土 and ‘示’, symbolizes god of earth as well as ancestral rite for the same god. Ancestral rites for god of earth - god governing natural products in the vast span of earth - found its expression by ‘社’ that added 示 on 土. This might be the result of reflection of cultural way of thinking among the ancient Chinese who expressed gratitude for natural products and wished for the abundance. Culture in worship for raising of patriarchal line - derived from phallic worship for survival and prosperity of the family - shifted to worship for prosperity of descendants and worship for ancestors. This cognitive change might be reflected on ‘祖’, which has the meaning of ancestors or ancestral rites for them as a result.

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