Hou T'u

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East Asia

The agricultural character of Chinese civilization is mirrored in the worship accorded to Hou T'u, or She, ‘prince of the earth’. Every village possessed a shrine, usually a mound of earth symbolizing the fertility of the soil, and in important towns there were larger mounds for the public celebration of the cult. In Peking, near the Yung Ting Men or South Gate, stands the Altar of Agriculture, on whose terraces the emperor used to conduct the sacrifices associated with the spring ploughing, the keng chi. This annual rite of Confucian orthodoxy, when the emperor with his own hands turned the first furrow, exercised a strange fascination on the eighteenth-century philosophes of Europe, to whom it appeared a perfect token of the solicitude of the ruler for his people; a paternal benevolence. So much so that in 1756, Louis XV, at the suggestion of the encyclopaedist Quesnay made through Madame de Pompadour, followed the example of the Chinese emperors, and incidentally honoured Hou T'u.

Subjects: Religion.

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