More on ‘天’ (TIAN1)

Ming Dynasty Transcribed Ideogram


The lecturer is correct about the Chinese ideogram ‘天’ (Tian1) but it is not as simple as he suggests. 天 (Tian1) does not equate with the concept of a Judeo-Christian ‘heaven’ and has no historical or philosophical association with the theology of Judeo-Christianity, despite the fact that early Western translators of Chinese texts into English assumed that it did, or that the fact that modern Christians routinely use this term to translate ‘heaven’ into Chinese thought. This is a deceit intended to mislead non-Christians into converting to Christianity whilst falsely assuming it is similar to Chinese philosophical thinking. However, 天 (Tian1) – probably since the Zhou Dynasty – does contain an ‘unseen’ divine element, from which all ‘seen’ life derives, and which communicates with humanity through the Book of Changes (Yijing), etc. In everyday communication, 天 (Tian1) simply refers to ‘sky’ and nothing else, but within cosmological philosophy, 天 (Tian1) not only denotes ‘natural processes’, as the lecturer correctly suggests, but also an assumed ‘non-material’ basis from which they emerge. In the old days, the smoke from the sacrificial fire carried the shamanistic message up into the sky – with the divine-ancestor answering through the cracks formed in the turtle shell or ox scapula on earth, etc.

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