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Nature & Ancestor Worship

Since ancient times, China has been a multiethnic country, with a multitude of religions. According to archaeological evidence, it is believed that ancestors of the Chinese people first became conscious of religion between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. It was discovered that bodies were buried with their heads in an aligned formation at the site of the "Upper Caveman” unearthed in a mountaintop cave overlooking Zhoukoudian, on the outskirts of Beijing. The bodies were also buried with spindles, arrowheads and finely made decorations. Hematite powder is also scattered around them, which raised eyebrows as it wasn't produced in the local area, with the closest source a few hundred kilometres away. Based on the archaeological evidence, it appears the cavemen considered burials to be extremely important as well as archaeologists concluding that the cavemen believed in the concept of an afterlife or even perhaps the concept of a soul. This is the earliest evidence of a religious belief found in China.

Early society was largely an agrarian culture and great importance was put in agricultural production and animal husbandry. Since most agrarian cultures are strongly affected by changes in nature, early species of humans prayed to and worshipped nature.

In this worship of nature, "Heaven" was considered more important than "Earth", as natural phenomena such as the mountains and rivers, wind, rain and thunders and others were believed to be created by heaven and had a direct relationship with agricultural production. An abundance of vessels painted with the hosts of heaven have been found in archaeological excavations in recent years. "God", as a word representing "Heaven," has often been found in the remains of ancient books, showing the prevalence of worshipping to nature.

The noble actions of ancient historical figures often involved “battles” with natural disasters and led people to worship their ancestors for protection. Nature and ancestor worship became a primitive form of religion for the early Chinese.

Ancestor worship reached a peak during the Shang dynasty, from 1384 to 1111 BC. The excavation of substantial inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells from the Shang dynasty provides evidence and support for this. The Shang society was very superstitious and frequently asked the gods for advice on issues such as memorial ceremonies, wars and diseases; the Shang beseeched their gods to guide their actions. Such soothsaying rituals were rigidly controlled by the state up until the Zhou dynasty, which ruled from 1027 to 777 BC. The timing, style and scale of soothsaying rituals were all regulated. The most important rituals were presided over by the emperor and junior officials could only preside over less important rituals.

Ancient Chinese religious beliefs such as the worshipping of Heaven and Earth and ancestors have continued to this day, influencing Confucianism and all other Chinese religious beliefs.