Religion in Ancient China - Gods, Dragons, Monsters, Superstitions, the Three Teachings, and Parties for Ghosts! Illustration

Ancient China for Kids

The ancient Chinese honored their many gods and personal ancestors every day. They believed in magical dragons and monsters. They had many superstitions and held many festivals to honor their beliefs. They even held an annual birthday party for ghosts, so ghosts would be honored and remembered too.

Ancient Chinese Gods & Goddesses:  For thousands of years, the ancient Chinese believed in many gods and goddesses. They had important gods and little tiny gods. Gods had personalities. For example, the ancient Chinese kitchen god was a tattletale. Each year, right before the new year, the kitchen god reported all behavior of the household to his boss, the Jade Emperor. The ancient Chinese believed if you left sweets as offerings for the kitchen god on the kitchen hearth right before he gave his report, his report would be glowing! The Jade Emperor would reward the family's good behavior with good luck. Since the kitchen god could not eat these treats, the family could eat them after they were offered to the kitchen god.

Ancestor Worship: The ancient Chinese believed their ancestors watched over them, and would protect them, provided they prayed in the right way. Kings and queens used oracle bones to allow their ancestors to answer their questions.

Ancient Chinese Festivals: They held many festivals to honor their gods and ancestors. Chinese New Year started many thousands of years ago. It was a festival for remembering ancestors, for feasting, and for giving gifts of "red envelopes" of lucky money. Another popular festival was the lantern festival. (Both of these festivals are still observed and enjoyed today!) 

Good Dragons:  The ancient Chinese believed in magical dragons. They believed dragons were caring and looked after things provided they received proper attention, prayer, and thanks. There were different dragons to guard the wind, the rain, the rivers, and precious metals. That is why dragons were so often painted on pottery. The ancient Chinese wanted to give the pot good luck, but they also wanted to honor their dragons.

Bad Monsters: The Legend of Nian. The ancient Chinese also believed in monsters. Sometimes they prayed that the monster would go away, but that rarely worked. Ancient Chinese monsters were notorious for ignoring prayers. But the villagers had to do something. You could not let a monster hang around causing trouble. To solve this problem and others, people would visit the village wise woman for advice.

Loawna, the Wise Woman: Long ago, in Xia times, each village had a "wise woman". You could go to the village wise woman with your questions and problems, and she could possibly get an answer for you. Sometimes, she knew the answer already because village wise women were very, well, wise.

Ancient Chinese Superstitions: The ancient Chinese did many things to protect themselves from evil and to make sure they would have a happy life. They believed in the power of prayer, but they also believed in the power of placement. For example, they believed their front door had to face south if they wanted a happy life.

Both Confucianism and Taoism are very old ancient Chinese beliefs. They are not religions but are instead ways of behaving and ways of thinking about things.

It was not until T'ang times, during the Imperial Age of China, that Buddhism was added to the mix. Buddhism is a religion. Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism became known as the Three Doctrines or the "Three Teachings". In Tang times, a man might honor his ancestors by following the rigid rules of social behavior as dictated by Confucianism, attend a Buddhist pageant, and practice Taoist breathing exercises, all in the same day. These three doctrines were an important part of daily life.

But religion, during the Ancient Age of China, was focused every day on honoring the many gods and goddesses of ancient China combined with ancestor worship.