In the view of the Chinese common man, life on earth is but a temporary stop
on his journey to death and other reincarnations. Since death is viewed as
inexorable and inherent in the human condition, the Chinese accepts it with
composure. It was a common custom in China, especially in rural areas, for
people to have a coffin ready in their houses as a preparation for death that
may come ten or twenty years in the future. Well-to-do people used to build
their own tombs long before they felt they were approaching death. This
composure should not be construed as absence of sadness and regret. The Chinese
believe that, in spite of its seamy side, life is still better than death which
is shrouded in mystery. Death, for Chinese, does not mean total disappearance.
Only the corporeal frame is disintegrated, and the spirit survives and
perpetuates itself in a series of reincarnations. The belief of the survival of
the soul forms the spiritual basis for ancestor worship while the feeling of
gratitude ant affection for one\'s ancestors forms its moral foundation. Among
the Chinese, the honest man is born amidst traditions and rites; as an
adolescent, he seeks to improve himself through culture; and in maturity, he
aims at wisdom through following the spiritual path. This pattern is not an
abstract ideal but a way of life, which often leads to an attitude of tolerance
and detachment. The bulk of the Chinese people lived for centuries in this
environment of ancestral beliefs and religious doctrines.

Confucianism is more of a religious and social philosophy than a religion in
the accepted meaning of the word. It has no church, no clergy, and no Bible. It
advocates a code of social behavior that man ought to observe so as to live in
harmony with society and attain happiness in his individual life. There is
little concern about death, the world beyond, and spiritual feelings in this
religion. Confucius, or Kung Fu-tzo (551-479 B.C.), the founder of this
religion, stressed the improvement of the moral self as the basic duty of the
individual as well as the statesman. In order to rule the world, one must rule
one\'s country; in order to rule the country, one must rule one\'s family; and in
order to rule the family, one must have control of oneself. Consequently, the
improvement of the moral self is the cornerstone of Confucianism. Confucius
believed that man is born with an essentially good nature which becomes
corrupted in his contact with society. In order to improve his moral self and
regain that original good nature with which he was born, man must practice the
five cardinal virtues of benevolence, propriety, loyalty, intellect, and
trustworthiness. In order to keep harmony in the nation and happiness in the
family, man must observe the three basic relationships between sovereign and
subject, father and son, and husband and wife. On the national level the basic
virtue is loyalty to the sovereign, and on the family level, the basic virtue is
filial piety. The ritual expression of filial piety is ancestor worship.

Confucius, who is at one and the same time the Socrates, the Solon, and the
Lycurgus of the oriental city, speaks often of the spirits and the souls of the
dead. It is true that in his philosophical conversations with his disciples, he
declines sometimes to give his own views as to their compositions. One knows the
response that he made to one of them who queried him on the subject: "You
do not know how to serve the living, why should I teach you to serve the dead?
You who understand nothings of life, why should I speak to you about
death?" In another connection, that in this matter, the master remained
faithful to the beliefs of ancient China, traces of which are notably kept for
us in The Book of Rites. According to these beliefs, man is made up of the
living soul and the spiritual soul. After death, the living soul turns to dust
with the body. The spiritual soul rises, wanders in space, and leads an
independent, ethereal, airy life. This is the life of the spirits, of the souls,
of the departed ancestors. These then never die completely; they follow a
transcendent, spiritual life. But this life which runs the risk of becoming
ineffectual, of evaporating into nothing, is made more real, more effective, so
to say, by the memory the living keep of the dead, by the cult that it is their
duty to offer. It is thus that the dead may always participate in the lives