What is Shangdi in China

Shangdi - Shangdi

For information about Beijing Subway Station, see Shangdi.
The annual heavenly sacrifice (祭天 jìtiān ) in honor of the highest deity, the heavenly ruler (皇天 上帝 Huángtiān Shàngdì ), takes place in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. State pomp and a host of Confucian religious groups helped revive the worship of the Supreme Deity in the 2000s.
Chinese view of a supreme god

Shangdi (Chinese: 上帝; Pinyin: Shàngdì ; Wade-Giles: Shang Ti ), also simply written: "Kaiser" (Chinese: 帝; Pinyin: ), is the Chinese term for "Supreme Deity" or "Supreme Deity" in the theology of the classical texts, which comes in particular from the Shang theology and in later Tian ("Heaven" or "Great Whole") that Zhou theology finds an equivalent.

Although the prevalence of the Chinese religion is the use of "Tian" to refer to the absolute god of the universe, "Shangdi" continues to be used in a variety of traditions, including certain schools of philosophy, certain types of Confucianism, and some Chinese salvation religions (notably Yiguandao) and Chinese Protestant Christianity. In addition, it is common to use this term in contemporary Chinese (both mainland and overseas) and East Asian religious and secular societies, typically for a singular universal deity and a non-religious translation for God in Abrahamic religions.


Shang oracular typefaces for 帝 , the highest god as the pole of heaven.

"Shang Di" is the pinyin romanization of two Chinese characters. The first - 上, Shàng - means "high", "highest", "first", "original"; The second - 帝, - is typically used as an abbreviation for Huangdi (皇帝), the title of emperors of China first instituted by Qin Shi Huang, and is commonly translated as "emperor". The word itself is derived from three "Huang" and five "Di", including the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi 黃帝), the mythological originator of Chinese civilization and the ancestor of the Chinese race. However, 帝 refers to the high god Shang, which means "deity" (manifested god). Hence the name should Shangdi translated as "Supreme Deity", but also has the implicit meaning of "Primordial Deity" or "First Deity" in Classical Chinese. The deity preceded the title and the emperors of China were named in their role Tianzi , the sons of heaven, named after him. In the classical texts, the highest notion of heaven is often identified with Shang Di, which is described somewhat anthropomorphically. It is also associated with the upholstery. The ideas of the Supreme Ruler (Shang Di) and the Supreme Heaven (Huang-t'ien) merge or absorb each other afterwards.


Shang dynasty

The earliest references to Shangdi are found in oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty in the 2nd millennium BC. BC, although the later work Classic of History claims that Emperor Shun made annual sacrifices to him before the Xia dynasty.

Shangdi was considered the ultimate spiritual force by the ruling elite of the Huaxia during the Shang Dynasty: it was believed to be victory in battle, the success or failure of crops, weather conditions such as the floods of the Yellow River and the fate of controlled the kingdom. Shangdi appears to have ruled a hierarchy of other gods who control nature, as well as the spirits of the deceased. These ideas were later mirrored or carried forward by the Taoist Jade Emperor and his heavenly bureaucracy.

Shangdi was probably more transcendent than immanent and only worked through lesser gods. Shangdi was considered too distant to be directly worshiped by common mortals. Instead, the Shang kings proclaimed that Shangdi had made himself accessible through the souls of their royal ancestors, both in the legendary past and in recent generations, when the late Shang kings joined him in the afterlife. The emperors could successfully implore Shangdi directly. Many of the oracle bone inscriptions document these petitions, usually praying for rain, but also seeking approval from Shangdi for government action.

Zhou Dynasty

In the later Shang and Zhou dynasties, Shangdi was associated with the sky (天, Tiān ) merged . The Duke of Zhou justified the usurpation of his clan with the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which suggested that the protection of Shangdi was not linked to their clan membership, but through their fair governance. Shangdi was not just a tribesman but a clearly good moral force who wielded its power by strict standards. It could thus be lost and even "inherited" by a new dynasty, provided they adhere to the right rituals.

However, the association of many rituals with the Shang clan resulted in Shang nobles (despite their rebellions) continuing to rule several places and serving as court advisers and priests. The Duke of Zhou even created an entire ceremonial city on strict cosmological principles to house the Shang aristocracy and the nine tripods that represent the sovereignty of Huaxia. The Shang were then tasked with that Zhou rites maintain. The smaller houses of the Shang, the Shi- Knight class, directly to the learned Confucian nobles and scholars who advised the Zhou rulers on courtly etiquette and ceremony. The Confucian classics continued and commanded the earlier traditions, including the worship of Shangdi. All of them contain references:

The four books also mention Shangdi, but since this is a later compilation, the references are much more sparse and abstract. Shangdi appears most often in previous work: this pattern may reflect the increasing rationalization of Shangdi over time, the transition from a known and arbitrary tribal god to a more abstract and philosophical concept, or its amalgamation and absorption by other deities.

Han dynasty

During the Han Dynasty, the influential Confucian scholar Zheng Xuan glossed over: " Shangdi is another name for heaven. "Dong Zhongshu said," Heaven is the ultimate authority, the king of gods, who should be admired by the king. "

In later epochs he was commonly known as the "Heavenly Ruling Supreme Deity" (皇天 上帝, Huángtiān Shàngdì ) and is particularly associated with the Taoist jade emperor in this usage.


The Shang ancestor

In Shang sources, Di is already described as the chief commander of events that occur in nature such as wind, lightning and thunder, and in human affairs and politics. All gods of nature are intended as his messengers or manifestations. Shang sources also confirm his five cosmological ministries. Di or Tian, ​​as later texts explain, did not receive a cult because they were too far away for living people to directly sacrifice. Instead, it took a mediator like an ancestor to convey the offerings of the living to Di.

According to some prominent scholars, including Guo Moruo, Shangdi was originally identical to Ku (or Kui) or Diku (" Divus Ku "), the ancestor (first ancestor) of the Zi (子) lineage, the founders of the Shang dynasty. In the Shiji and other texts attested. According to this interpretation, this identification had profound political implications, as it meant that the earthly Shang kings were themselves birth aspects of divinity.

Further evidence from Shang sources suggests that there was no complete identification between the two, as Di controls the spirits of nature while Kui does not. Di is often shown sending "permits" down, while Kui has never been shown like this. and Kui received cult, Di did not. In addition, Kui is often addressed in a "horizontal" relationship with other powers, undermining any portrait of him as the top of the pantheon.

Shangdi as the celestial pole

David Pankenier has examined the astral connections of Shangdi and has taken the view that the interest in heaven was a central character of the religious practices of the Shang, but also of the earlier Xia and Erlitou cultures. Particularly fascinating is the fact that the palatial and ceremonial structures of these cultures have been carefully aligned with the celestial pole and the procession of the cushions. Pankenier notes that the true celestial pole lies in a celestial template that is devoid of significant stars, and that the various cushion stars are the ones closest to that free point, which is critically important.

He shows how the Shang oracle script for Di can be projected onto the north pole template of the old sky in such a way that its end points correspond to the visible star, while the intersection of the linear axes in the middle is assigned to the free celestial pole. Pankenier argues that the highest Di was identified with the celestial pole, an idea that was known in later stages of the Chinese religion and with the Tàiyī 太 一 ("Great") is connected, who was already in the 4th century BC. Was fully documented.

The interpretation of Shangdi as celestial pole, Taiyi and as Ku, the ancestor of the Shang, is not contradictory. Feng Shi argues that Ku and Di are actually identical. The Shang likely deliberately identified their ancestors with a universal god recognized in various regions and local cultures to legitimize their power.

Contemporary Confucianism

Contemporary Confucian theologians have fully emphasized differences between the Confucian idea of ​​Shangdi, conceived as both transcendent and immanent and functioning only as governor of the world, and the Christian idea of ​​God, which they understood as a deity in contrast to the Christian one otherworldly (transcendent) and is only a creator of the world.


As mentioned above, offerings offered by King Shangdi are identified by traditional Chinese history as being older than the Xia dynasty. The archaeological records that survive indicate that the Shang used the shoulder blades of the sacrificed ox to send questions or communication through fire and smoke to the divine realm, a practice known as scapulimanty. The heat would cause the bones to crack and royal fortune tellers would interpret the signs as Shanghai's answer to the king. Inscriptions used for divination were buried in specially ordered pits, while inscriptions intended for practice or record keeping were buried in common centers after use.

Under Shangdi or his later name, the deity received annual sacrifices from the Chinese ruler in every Chinese dynasty in a large temple of heaven in the imperial capital. According to the principles of Chinese geomancy, this would always be in the southern quarter of the city. During the ritual, a perfectly healthy bull was slaughtered and offered to Shangdi as an animal sacrifice. The Book of Rites states that the sacrifice should take place on the "longest day" on a round hill altar. The altar would have three levels: the highest for Shangdi and the Son of Heaven; the second highest for the sun and moon; and the lowest for the natural gods like stars, clouds, rain, wind and thunder.

It is important to note that Shangdi is not portrayed with pictures or idols. Instead, a "ghost tablet" (神位, shénwèi) with the name Shangdi is placed on the throne in a building called the "Imperial Vault of Heaven" in the central building of the Temple of Heaven Huangtian Shangdi (皇天 上帝). During an annual sacrifice, the emperor carried these tablets to the northern part of the Temple of Heaven, a place called "Prayer Hall for Good Harvests", and placed them on this throne.

Conflict with the concept of the singular universal God

It was during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, when Roman Catholicism was introduced by Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, that the idea of ​​"Shangdi" began to be applied to the Christian notion of God.

While he initially used the term Tianzhu (天主; Tiānzhǔ ) used, lit. "The Lord of Heaven", Ricci gradually changed the translation to "Shangdi" instead. Its use of shangdi has been contested by Confucians as they believed the concept of Tian and "Shangdi" differs from that of Christian's God: Zhōng Shǐ-shēng explained in his books that Shangdi only rules while Christian's God is a creator and therefore different. Ricci's translation also invited the displeasure of the Dominicans and the Roman Curia; On March 19, 1715, Pope Clement XI published The edict Ex Illa Die according to which Catholics must use "Tianzhu" instead of "Shangdi" for the god of Christianity.

When Protestantism came to China in the mid-19th century, Protestant missionaries encountered a similar problem. Some preferred the term "Shangdi" while others preferred the term Shen (God) preferred. A conference held in Shanghai in 1877 on the subject of translation also believed that "Shangdi" of Confucianism and the Christian concept of God are different in nature.

By the 20th century, however, most British missionaries, some Catholics, Chinese Orthodox Christians, and evangelicals preferred Shangdi as a link to Chinese native monotheism, with some further linking the argument by associating it with the unknown god, as in the Bible passage from Acts 17: 23–31. Catholics preferred to avoid this as they had compromised with the local authority in order to carry out their missions and feared that such a translation might relate Christian God to Chinese polytheism.

Today, through the secular Chinese-language media, the Chinese word "Shangdi" and "Tian" are widely used as a translation for the unique universal deity with minimal religious attachment to the Christian idea of ​​God, while Confucians and intellectuals in the present time are trying mainland China and Taiwan to bring the term back to its original meaning. The Catholics officially use the term Tianzhu , while evangelicals are typically Shangdi and / or Shen Use (神, "God").

See also

In other cultures and beliefs





  • Chang, Ruth H. (2000). "Understanding Di and Tian: Deity and Heaven from Shang to Tang Dynasty" (PDF). Chinese Platonic Papers . Victor H. Mair (108). ISSN 2157-9679.
  • Eno, Robert (2008), "Shang State Religion and the Pantheon of Oracle Texts," in Lagerwey, John; Kalinowski, Marc (Ed.), Early Chinese Religion: First Part: Shang Through Han (1250 BC - 220 AD) , Early Chinese Religion, Brill, pp. 41-102, ISBN
  • Huang, Yong (2007). "Confucian Theology: Three Models". Religion compass . Blackwell. 1 (4): 455-478. doi: 10.1111 / j.1749-8171.2007.00032.x. ISSN 2157-9679.
  • Creel, Herrlee G., The Origins of Statecraft in China. ISBN 0-226-12043-0
  • Wu, KC (1982). The Chinese heritage . New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-54475X.

External links

  • The dictionary definition of 上帝 at Wiktionary