One of my pet peeves happens to be when evangelists get caught up to the point that they latch upon any ‘connection’ to their particular belief system they see - no matter how flimsy it is - and latch upon it. (And very often, they see ‘connection’ all around them.) I specifically have in mind claims like this:
The main gist of their claims is that Chinese characters are actually proof that the Chinese knew and worshipped the Judaeo-Christian God before Buddhism came into China. (“Before Buddha, the Chinese people worshipped the same God described in the Bible,” so the claim goes - never mind that buddhas are not actually ‘worshipped’ as gods per se. Also, whatever happened to the Jade Emperor or the Three Pure Ones? :rolleyes:)
The ancient Chinese sky deity 上帝 (Mandarin: Shàngdì ‘Above Emperor’/‘High Sovereign’, aka Shang-Ti; Cantonese: Seungdai, etc.) is identified with the Christian God with a brief introduction:
“Shang Di was the God of China before Buddha [sic]. He was the creator God and animal sacrifice was offered to Him. During the first three dynasties of China: Hsia 夏, aka Xia, c. 2070-c. 1600 BC], Shang 商, c. 1600 BC–c. 1046 BC], Chou 周, aka Zhou, c. 1046 BC–256 BC], the Chinese people worshipped Shang Di. Worship of Buddha [sic] came to China from India in about 50 BC. The God of the Bible was reintroduced to China when foreigners came from Europe.”
It is true that Shangdi was a very important deity in ancient Chinese religion, and that one might draw (superficial) parallels between certain aspects of his worship and Israelite religion - animal sacrifice (bulls were sacrificed to Shangdi) and aniconism (at least in later ages, Shangdi was not represented with an image, but with a tablet bearing the legend 皇天上帝 ‘Ruler of Heaven, Shangdi’).
Let’s do a little history lesson here. Shangdi was an ultimate spiritual power believed to rule over a hierarchy of other lesser gods controlling nature. Victory in battle, the success of crops, even the fate of the kingdom was attributed to his agency (or rather, through the agency of the lesser gods he is working through). But the clincher is this: Shangdi was too powerful and too distant to be worshipped by ordinary mortals; only the emperor could worship Shangdi directly, with sacrifices being offered to him yearly. In turn, Shangdi made himself accessible via the spirits of the royal ancestors - so there is an intersection between Shangdi worship and ancestor worship. The ancient emperors used the shoulder blades of oxen or tortoise shells for divination, to ascertain the will of Shangdi/the ancestors. These are the so-called ‘oracle bones’.
By the later Shang and the Zhou dynasties, Shangdi became more and more abstract (well, not that he already had a concrete personality to begin with) - he was identified with/replaced by ‘Heaven’ (天). The Zhou dynasty was founded by the Duke of Zhou, who justified his clan’s usurpation of the imperial throne with the concept of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, which proposed that the protection of Shangdi/Heaven was not connected to clan membership but by one’s just governance. It didn’t matter where one came from; Heaven is on the side of a righteous ruler, the ‘Son of Heaven’. By contrast, it is believed that Heaven’s protection will depart from an emperor if he ruled unjustly/ineffectively and transfer itself to a more worthy candidate; future aspiring claimants to the imperial throne of China thus justified their claims to kingship by saying that the Mandate of Heaven had been taken from the incumbent dynasty and transferred to them. By the time Taoism had developed (4th century BC and later) Shangdi/Heaven became conflated further with the supreme deity/deities of Taoist belief: be it the Jade Emperor or the Tao itself (of which the Jade Emperor is a manifestation).