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Finding the roots of religious liberty in the "Asian tradition".

More than two millennia before Thomas Jefferson argued against the establishment of any form of religion in the United States on the grounds that "truth can stand by itself" (Notes on Virginia), the Chinese philosopher Kung-fu-tzu, or Confucius, taught his disciples that the virtuous person "is not invariably for or against anything. He is on the side of what is moral."(1) The First Amendment prohibiting the creation of a state church was upstaged by nearly six centuries by the Yasa of Genghis Khan, which mandated that the government could not "prefer one faith to the other or put the ones above the others." It is regrettable that much of the discourse on human fights, especially religious liberty, has been dominated by reference to examples and personages drawn from the Western tradition. This conveys the unfortunate impression that the concept of "universal human rights" is simply a "Euro-American" construction, not applicable to societies in other parts of the world.(2) As the political and cultural hegemony of the West recedes, therefore, it is essential that the foundation for the protection of human fights be truly global in nature.

If John Locke or Thomas Paine had never lived, if the Edict of Milan or the Maryland Act of Toleration had never been promulgated, the philosophical writings of Confucius (551-479 BC) and the legislation of the Mongol khans (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries) would still have left a formidable legacy for the modern defenders of religious liberty. A fuller appreciation of this inheritance not only benefits the entire worldwide discourse, but also answers those who argue that effective human rights regimes in East Asia must have some roots in the region's distinctive historical and cultural traditions in order to be effective.

Confucius is arguably the most important political thinker in the East Asian tradition. His teachings have had a profound impact upon the political and social development not only of China, but also of Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and other Asian lands. Even in the modern era, his works remain influential.(3) As a political philosopher, Confucius maintained a clear separation between matters of faith and politics. "Orthodoxy" (zheng), in the Confucian understanding of the term, focused upon right action and the legitimate use of power; it was not an attempt to provide any coherent explanation of human suffering or what happens to a person after death. Nor did Confucius attempt to use religious elements such as prophecy or miracles, or to make any references to personified powers of good and evil, to validate his teachings about how a society should be structured and governed.(4) It is through self-discipline and education--tools available equally to the person of faith, the agnostic, or the atheist--that political virtue can be discerned. "The superior man extensively studies wen [literature, culture, learning] and restrains himself with the rules of propriety, Thus he will not violate the Way [or, overstep what is right]."(5) Classic Confucian thought, therefore, saw no need for any sort of "religious test" as a prerequisite for education or government service. "Devote yourself earnestly to the duties due to men, and respect spiritual beings, but keep them at a distance," he taught his pupils.(6) By keeping the matters relating to "spiritual beings" at a distance from government administration, the Confucian mindset allowed persons of all faiths to enter "the public square." Thus, the seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci discovered, to his surprise, that Jews and Muslims, along with the more numerous Buddhists and Daoists, were eligible to receive degrees in Confucian learning, take the civil service exams, and seek government positions, in contrast to the prevailing situation in European countries.(7)

Confucius himself was not antireligious, nor was his exclusion of religious matters from his social and political thought a sign of disregard for the realm of faith. "The Master" extolled the benefits of prayer,(8) and he warned his pupils that "when you have offended Heaven, there is nowhere you can turn to in your prayers."(9) Matters of faith, however, lay outside the competence of politics. Confucius consistently refused to discuss theological matters or to speculate on metaphysical questions, The Analects (Lun-yu) of Confucius note that "the gods" was one of the four subjects upon which Confucius declined to comment.(10) One of his disciples noted that "one cannot get to hear his views on human nature and the Way of Heaven."(11) Another wrote that "the Master" seldom spoke about "Destiny [the appointment of Heaven]."(12) Politics and ethics must focus upon conditions in this world, not be concerned with matters of the spirit and theological speculation. When asked to preach on how the gods should be served, Confucius had responded, "You are not able even to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?" Likewise, asked to speculate on the condition of death, he retorted, "You do not understand even life."(13) Writing several generations after Confucius, Hsun Tzu, or Xunzi, (298-238 BC) reiterated, "The classics do not talk about strange phenomenon of the ten thousand things."(14) The Confucian reluctance to mix religious matters with politics was so ingrained that over a thousand years later, when the Neo-Confucian thinker Chu Hsi, or Zhu Xi, (1130-1200) was asked to comment on the existence of spirits, he replied:

Let us attend to things that should be attended to. Those that cannot be attended to let us set aside. By the time we have attended thoroughly to ordinary daily matters, the principles governing spiritual beings will naturally be understood.(15)

Ultimately, religious beliefs depend upon the faith of the individual and cannot be the subject of objective analysis. The nature and the details of "Heaven" remained unknown to Confucius and his disciples. "So, an unknown power which controls the affairs of men is called `Heaven,'" noted Li Fu Chen. "Said Mencius, `... that which is done without man's doing is from Heaven.'"(16) Confucius once rhetorically asked his pupils, "What does Heaven ever say? Yet there are the four seasons going round and there are the hundred things coming into being. What does Heaven ever say?"(17) Whether "Heaven" speaks, and what exactly "Heaven" has said, are precisely the issues that divide believers from non-believers and believers from each other. Confucian scholar Li Fu Chen notes,

Confucius scrupulously avoided speaking about the spiritual world. But since the knowledge of file spiritual world was obscure to him, he did not dare to feel disrespectful, This sums up the attitude of Confucius and his students toward divinity.(18)

Since Confucius did not feel capable of setting down any infallible regulations or dogmas in matters of religion, by extension the state also did not have this competency. Queried about the significance of sacrifice, Confucius replied, "It is not something that I understand."(19) Asked to comment about the different ways in which the altars of the spirits of the land were appointed, he answered, "One does not argue against what is already accomplished, and does not condemn what has already gone by."(20) Confucius preached the virtue of toleration of different points of view; the Analects record that "the Master ... refused to entertain conjectures or to insist on certainty; he refused to be inflexible or to be egotistical."(21) He also said, "What can I find worthy of note in a man who is lacking in toleration when in high position?"(22) Toleration is a necessary virtue in society because behind the different expressions of faith and belief there stands a single "Great Ultimate" which inspires everything and everyone yet may be manifested in diverse forms. As Chu Hsi concluded:

Fundamentally there is only one Great Ultimate, yet each of the myriad things has been endowed with it.... This is similar to the fact that there is only one moon in the sky but when its light is scattered upon rivers and lakes, it can be seen everywhere. It cannot be said that the moon has been split.(23)

Confucius placed little faith in force as a way to compel belief and sincere devotion: "This is because the will of even a common man can not be taken from him."(24) Each person is therefore capable of making his or her own decisions in these matters, and no amount of external force can engender a genuine spiritual transformation. Mencius, or Meng-tzu (371-289 BC) the great successor to Confucius, wrote:

When one by force subdues men, they do not submit to him in heart. They submit, because their strength is not adequate to resist. When one subdues men by virtue, in their hearts' core they are pleased, and sincerely submit....(25)

In the Book attributed to Mencius, there is recorded the following dialogue which aptly sums up the Confucian distaste for using force to achieve moral ends:

Kao Tzu said, "Human nature is like the willow tree, and righteousness is like a cup or bowl, To turn human nature into humanity and righteousness is like turning the willow into cups and bowls." Mencius said, "Sir, can you follow the nature of the willow tree and make the cups and bowls, or must you violate the nature of the willow tree before you can make the cups and bowls? If you are going to violate the nature of the willow tree in order to make cups and owls, then must you also violate human nature in order to make it into humanity and righteousness?"(26)

For Confucius, the use of compulsion to regulate the beliefs and actions of others was a sign of weakness. "What the gentleman seeks, he seeks within himself," he taught. "What the small man seeks, he seeks in others."(27) Commenting on this passage, Li Fu Chen noted, "So it is that the superior man imposes requirements on himself, while the mean man imposes requirements on others."(28) It is the individual who must strive for moral self-improvement; this cannot be done by relying on outside force. The Analects record that Chi K'ang Tzu, the senior minister of the state of Lu, once inquired of Confucius whether, "in order to move closer to those who possess the Way, I were to kill those who do not follow the Way?" The Master replied, "In administering your government, what need is there for you to kill? Just desire the good yourself and the common people will be good."(29) Confucius, using word play, told the minister that "to govern is to correct. If you set an example by being correct, who would dare to remain incorrect?"(30) This is why, in the Doctrine of the Mean (written by Confucius's grandson), it is said:

... the way of the superior man is hidden, but becomes more prominent every day.... He does not resort to anger and the people are awed. The Book of Odes says, "He does not display his virtue, and yet all the princes follow him." ... The Book of Odes says, "I cherish your brilliant virtue, which makes no great display in sound or appearance."(31)

Confucius voiced his regret that, in his own day, people sought education with an eye to controlling others rather than improving themselves. He said, "In ancient times, men learned with a view to their own improvement. Nowadays, men learn with a view to the approbation of others."(32) Mencius echoed this view, saying, "The evil of men is that they like to be teachers of others."(33)

Virtue is not compelled, it is imitated. As Mencius wrote, "To take example from others to practice virtue is to help them in the same practice. Therefore there is no attribute of the superior man greater than his helping men to practice virtue."(34) In matters of faith and morality, one leads by personal example, not by relying upon compulsion and the use of state power. The Neo-Confucian philosopher Ch'eng Hao (1032-1085) said, Even for a sage, this is all; there is no other way. To force things and drag things along is naturally not to be in accord with the Way and principle."(35) Not everyone is capable of hearing the "voice" of Heaven; religious belief must be a matter of personal conviction based upon trust in the teaching that is being related. As Mencius concluded:

Heaven's plan in the production of mankind is this: that they who are first informed should instruct those who are later in being informed. And they who first apprehend the Way should instruct those who are slower in doing so.(36)

Confucian political philosophy, therefore, leaves the religious sphere untouched. Providing an overview of Confucian orthodoxy, Erik Zurcher maintained that Confucianism was "most explicit and demanding" when dealing with matters relating to the social and political order. However, in the metaphysical realm, "it leaves much room for varying interpretations and speculations" and "hardly contains any binding rules for private religious experience, like faith, hope for release, prayer, devotion, the awareness of sin, and protection against evil and misfortune."(37)

By rooting his teachings in his observations of interpersonal relationships rather than tying them to a transcendent faith, Confucius laid the basis for a non-sectarian public philosophy which, throughout much of Chinese history, made it possible to avoid serious religious conflicts and to tolerate diverse religious beliefs.(38) "You have come to our China; reverence and preserve the customs of your ancestors," the Jews who settled in Kaifeng were told in 1163.(39) Similarly, soon after the arrival of Nestorian Christian priests from the Middle East in seventh-century China, the Emperor Taizong issued the following proclamation regarding the new faith in 638:

Right principles have no invariable name, holy men have no invariable station; instruction is established in accordance with the locality, with the object of benefiting the people at large. The greatly virtuous Olopun, of the kingdom of Syria, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant part, and has presented them at our chief capital. Having examined the principles of this religion, we find them to be purely excellent and natural; investigating its originating source, we find it has taken its rise from the establishment of important truths.... Let it be published throughout the Empire....(40)

Certainly, the religious diversity that one could find in Chang-an, the capital city chosen by the Tang Dynasty (618-907), with different sects of Buddhists worshipping alongside Daoists, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Manicheans,(41) would not be matched in any Western city until the modern age. The Chinese state, grounded in Confucian thought, rarely interfered in matters of religious dogma and was generally tolerant of diverse creeds and faiths.(42) In his Journals, Ricci noted that the Chinese maintained an attitude "that the more different ways there are of talking about religious questions, the more beneficial it will be for the public good."(43)

How can one reconcile the Confucian tradition of religious toleration, therefore, with the periodic episodes of persecution in Chinese history? Zhang Longxi pointed out:

Of course, there were moments in Chinese history when religions perceived to be "foreign" were turned into scapegoats to solve internal social problems.... Looking at the long history of China as a whole, however, such xenophobic outbursts are rare and far between. When conflicts do occur, they are mostly political in nature rather than religious, and ultimately their influence on the attitude of the Chinese majority toward diverse religious belief is rather negligible.(44)

It was when a religious community was seen to pose a threat to the political integrity of the Chinese realm that it fell into disfavor and might then be proscribed, for, as Ricci noted, the end goal of Confucianism was "public peace and order in the kingdom."(45) For some of the later Neo-Confucian scholars, Buddhism and Daoism were dangerous because, as Han Yu (768-824), probably one of the most intolerant of the Confucian literati (ru), wrote: "They destroy the natural principles of human relations ... and the people do not attend to their work. ... they take the ways of barbarism and elevate them above the teachings of our ancient kings."(46) Similarly, Matteo Ricci recorded in his Journals that opponents of Catholicism attempted to ban missionary work on the grounds that it disrupted public order.(47) The four persecutions of Buddhism (in 446, 574, 845, and 955) make this point abundantly clear. Edwin O. Reischauer points out:

It would be a mistake to think of Buddhist persecutions in China in terms of the relentless conflict between Christian and Mohammedan in the West or of the fratricidal strife and inquisitions within Christianity. There, has been very little religious conflict in China, compared with Western Asia or Europe, and what religious persecutions have occurred have been motivated more by secular than by strictly religious reasons. Throughout Chinese history the chief cause for overt opposition to Buddhism has been economic rather than religious.... Chinese administrators deplored the fact that monasteries not only removed good lands from the tax registers, but also sheltered able-bodied monks who otherwise would support the economy of the state by paying taxes and performing other services.(48)

The three great "extirpations" of Christianity from China likewise resulted from political rather than dogmatic factors. The first, in the ninth century, was accidental. Seeking to curb the growing economic and political power of the Buddhist monasteries, which owned a great deal of land and were exempted from state taxes, the Emperor Wu Zong (841-846) issued a decree ordering monasteries closed and monks to return to secular life. This policy disproportionately affected the tiny Nestorian Christian mission, faced with the loss of its own small numbers of monasteries and establishments. This decision was reversed by Xuan Zong in 847, but while the Buddhists recovered, the fledgling Christian community disappeared? Following the expulsion of the Yuan dynasty from China in 1368 by the forces of Zhu Yuanzhang, Christianity, which had been closely identified with the Mongols, died out once again. One might also point the finger of blame at Christian missionaries active in China during the period of Mongol rule, who concentrated their efforts on winning converts among the Mongol court and tended to preach in Mongolian, Persian, or Turkish rather than in Chinese.(50) Nevertheless, it appears that Christianity in China withered away after the accession of the Ming dynasty due to the rupture of contacts with the West, which deprived the tiny Christian communities in China of priests and teachers, rather than being wiped out by a violent persecution, because the Muslim and Jewish communities, who had also received the patronage of the khans, survived the expulsion of the Mongols from China.(51) Finally, in 1724 a general proscription was issued against Christianity, which remained in place until 1858. The Emperor Kangxi and his successors saw in Catholicism a political threat to their sovereign authority, because of the emphasis placed upon papal supremacy. The refusal of the pope to allow any accommodation for traditional Chinese customs (the so-called "Rites Controversy") in the eighteenth century, and the influence of Christian ideas upon the Taiping rebels of the nineteenth century, both convinced the Qing (Manchu) dynasty that Christians should be seen not as "bearers of foreign religious ideals" but instead as "agents of foreign powers" bent on the conquest of the Empire."(52) However, a group of Russian Orthodox Christians who had entered the service of the Chinese Emperors (the so-called "prisoners of Albazin") were permitted to retain their faith. Over time, due to intermarriage, the "descendants of the Albazinians ... lost their Russian features, but remained a special group within the bodyguard of the Imperial palace and kept steadfastly to their Orthodox faith," which they were free to practice. Their profession of Christianity did not bar them from serving in such a sensitive position within the Imperial Guard.(53) That the opposition of Kangxi and his successors to Christianity was primarily political--fear of Western imperialism--rather than religious in nature is reflected in the Fifth Article of the Treaty of Kiakhta (1727) between Russia and China, which provided for the presence of several Russian Orthodox priests in Beijing and said that those attached to the congregation "will not be denied the right to pray and to honor their God in accordance with their faith."(54) Religious toleration, therefore, was the norm rather than the exception throughout most of Chinese history. The written Constitution of the Republic of China (adopted 1923) bore witness to this long-established tradition when it proclaimed that "a citizen of the Republic of China shall be free to honor Confucius and to prefer any religion."(55)

If Confucian precepts furnish an intellectual rationale for religious liberty, Mongol legislation provides a practical guide for policy. The Great Yasa, of Genghis Khan, promulgated at the beginning of the thirteenth century, contained the fundamental law of the Mongol Empire, in the form of instructions given by the Great Khan to his descendants. With regard to religion, future rulers were advised that Genghis was "the adherent of no religion and the follower of no creed, he eschewed bigotry and the preference of one faith to another, and placing of some above others; rather he honored and respected the learned and pious of every sect, recognizing such conduct as the way to the Court of God."(56) The Yasa did not mandate that the khans who followed Genghis must be areligious or agnostic; in fact, as the Persian historian Juvaini noted, Genghis's children and grandchildren all had "chosen a religion according to their inclination" including the Tibetan form of Buddhism, Sunni Islam, and Nestorian Christianity. However, as Juvaini also pointed out, "they still for the most part avoid all show of fanaticism and do not swerve from the Yasa of Genghis Khan, namely, to consider all sects as one and not to distinguish them from one another."(57) The Mongols never enforced any sort of "religious test" as a prerequisite for holding office, nor did profession of Islam, Christianity, or any other creed bar members of the imperial family from power. Yet, in their capacity as rulers of the territories that composed the Mongol state, the descendants of Genghis did not impose their privately-held religious views onto their subjects nor did they show partiality in their administration of justice, favoring their coreligionists and discriminating against those of other faiths. The individual might have his own definite set of beliefs, but in executing the office of khan, or acting as an official of the khan, he was called to model his official, public behavior after the pattern laid down by Genghis and not to prefer one faith to the other. As Marco Polo noted:

These Tartars do not care what god is worshipped in their lands. If only all are faithful to the lord Khan and quite obedient and give therefore the appointed tribute, and justice is well kept, thou mayest do what pleaseth thee with thy soul. They will not that thou speak evil of their souls; nor fail thou to assist at their doings. But do thou what thou wilt with God and thy soul, whether thou art Jew or pagan or Saracen or Christian who dwellest among the Tartars.(58)

This code was enforced not only by the central government but by all vassal rulers and officials of the Mongol state. Juvaini records the following of khan Batu, who ruled over the westernmost possessions of the Mongol Empire:

Batu abode in his own encampment, ... and he built a town there which is called Sarai, and his word was law in every land. He was a king that inclined towards no faith or religion: he recognized only the belief in God and was blindly attached to no sect or creed.(59)

Officials, scholars, and craftsmen of all religious faiths were welcome at the Mongol court, and this diversity enabled the khans to draw upon a wide variety of traditions and points of view in forging a centralized administration for their vast Eurasian empire. As Olschki concluded:

The result of all this was that ... there beat upon the imperial ears, in a contest of sonority and propaganda, the chimes of the Catholics, the reverberation of the Nestorian tablets, the intonation of the muezzin, the raucous sounds of the powerful Lamaistic trumpets, not to mention the drums of the shamans, the gongs of the tuins, and.... even the shofar of the Jews. And each of these sects offered to the sovereign and his government the wealth of culture and experience accumulated in the course of their millenary traditions.(60)

The Mongols believed that freedom of religion was essential for the maintenance of their empire, and did not look kindly upon any form of religious coercion. Juvaini records an incident where a Muslim had become indebted to a nomad chief, who ordered the Muslim to forsake his religion and adopt "paganism" as the price for being released from his debt. The Muslim appealed to Khan Ogodei, the son of Genghis, who ruled in favor of the Muslim and cancelled his debt.(61) In another incident, an apostate from Islam or a Buddhist priest (depending on which version of the event one reads) tried to convince Ogodei to exterminate all Muslims in the Mongol Empire by couching this as a request from his departed father that had been transmitted in a dream. When the fraud was exposed, the imposter was executed.(62) Freedom of religion was a fundamental right recognized by the Mongol Empire because, as Mangu told Brother William: "Just as God gave different fingers to the hand so He has given different ways to men."(63) It was not the purpose of the state to determine the superiority or inferiority of any given faith. Kublai Khan informed the Polo brothers that there were "four great prophets" [Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed] honored by the different nations of mankind, and that it was not his task as khan to determine which of them "was supreme in heaven" but to honor and show respect to all of them.(64)

The impact of Mongol legislation can best be seen in those areas of the empire that were "mixed" in terms of the religious affiliations of the populace. When the Mongols conquered the cities of Central Asia, the restrictions that had been placed on minority groups by the Sunni Muslim rulers were removed. As contemporary chroniclers noted, Shiite Muslim congregations expelled the Sunni mullahs that had been forcibly imposed upon them, Nestorian Christians were once again able to publicly display the cross, Jewish synagogues were reopened, and the Zoroastrians were able to rekindle their sacred fires.(65) In the region of Kashghar and Khotan in eastern Turkestan, the local ruler had begun a campaign to force Muslims to either convert to Christianity or to Buddhism. Juvaini relates that upon the arrival of the Mongols, they

caused a herald to proclaim in the town [of Kashgar] that each should abide by his own religion and follow his own creed. Then we knew the existence of this people to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace.(66)

In much the same way, Christians living in Muslim-dominated Persia and Azerbaijan who had faced persecution also found relief once the Mongols conquered these districts and decreed religious freedom. The Armenian chronicler Kirakos recorded that once Mongol rule was established,

many things became propitious for the Christians, and the killings and captivity ceased.... previously, no one dared utter the name of Christ ... Christians did not dare appear or walk about openly, to say nothing of constructing a church or erecting a cross. Yet [they] erected cross and church, and the sounding board was heard day and night. Christians openly took their dead for burial with hooded crosses, Gospels, and worship, as is the Christian custom, while those opposing them were put to death. No one dared come out against the order.(67)

Religious diversity also marked the Mongol capital itself. In the city of Karakorum, Brother William of Rubruck, a Western emissary and missionary to the court of the khans, recorded that "there are twelve pagan temples belonging to the different nations, two mosques in which the law of Mahomet is proclaimed, and one church for the Christians."(68)

Mongol toleration also allowed people to change their faith regardless of whether the majority approved of that act or not. Marco and Maffeo Polo were instrumental in securing full freedom of religion for a peculiar monotheistic sect in Southern China that they believed to be a form of debased Christianity (modern scholars believe that the Polos encountered a group of Manicheans, a dualistic religion that mixed Christian and Persian elements). For centuries, this group had hidden its existence for fear of persecution and discrimination on the part of the Buddhist majority. Reaching the city of Fu-Chau, the center of this sect, the two Polos met with leaders of the community, and told them:

"We advise you to send to the Great Khan and explain to him how you stand, so that he may grant you recognition and you may be able to keep your faith and our. rule freely." For because of the idolators [here Polo is referring to local Buddhists and Daoists] they did not altogether dare to proclaim or practice their religion openly.(69)

Two emissaries were sent from the community to the Great Khan's court, where they met with the official responsible for the welfare of the Christians of the empire. (Each religious group in the Mongol realm had an official who was responsible for bringing the business and requests of each community before the Great Khan and his court.(70) Juvaini records that "there are one or two persons to deal with the affairs of imams, sayyids, dervishes, Christians, and the holy men [ahbar] of every religious community."(71) However, the Buddhist representative in Khanbalik (Beijing) was not willing to let people who outwardly had been numbered and counted as Buddhists for generations slip away. The Khan settled the issue, when he

summoned the two emissaries before him and asked whether they wished to be Christians or idolators. They answered that, if it pleased him and was not inimical to his sovereignty, they wished to be Christians as their forbears had been. Then the Great Khan ordered that they should be granted privileges whereby they should be acknowledged as Christians and the status accorded to Christians should be applicable to all who professed their rule.(72)

Kirakos also records in his chronicle the conversion of Persian and Turkish Muslims to Christianity,(73) which under Islamic law (sharia) was a death-penalty offense; under Mongol rule, however, this provision could not be enforced because of the right of any person to choose his or her own faith.

However, freedom of religion was not a license to disrupt public order. The Mongols were interested in "maintaining peace and a balance among religious forces"(74) within their realm, and did not tolerate any violations of the civil peace. Friar William of Rubruck relates an incident where he and another Christian monk were travelling and came upon a group of Muslims. The monk began to argue with them over matters of faith, but when, as William notes, he proved incapable of "defending by reason" his theological assertions, the Muslims mocked him. The monk thereupon threatened them with violence. When word of the incident reached the khan, the monk was sanctioned.(75) When Mangu (Mongke) Khan organized a debate among representatives of the great religions at his court, he ordered that "no one shall dare to speak words of contention or abuse to another, and no one is to cause a disturbance such as would hinder these proceedings, on pain of death."(76) Similarly, Kublai Khan took action against the Daoists "because their violent antagonism to the Buddhists threatened the peace of the realm. Although some Daoist books were ordered burned and worship curtailed to some extent, the head of the Daoist cult was eventually received by the khan and confirmed in his title of "Heavenly Teacher."(77) Polo relates that the khan also took measures against certain Muslim practices and sects (such as that of the Assassins) which Kublai believed "excuses every crime, even murder itself, when committed on such as are not of their religion."(78)

Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Mongol Empire by exempting religious institutions and clergy from taxes. Clergymen of all faiths, as well as certain categories of scholars, such as the Confucian literati (ru) were freed from the requirement to provide labor for the state or to serve in the military; many also enjoyed complete personal tax exemptions on their private agricultural land or were exempted from commercial taxes.(79) In the iarlyk (yarligh), or charter, granted t6 Metropolitan Theognostos of the Russian Orthodox Church by Khan Mengu Timur (1 August 1267), the khan issued instructions to all of his officials, princes, and high ranking military commanders as well as to all tax collectors, that since Genghis Khan had decreed that there should be no collection of tribute or of food provisions from those subjects of the Mongol rule who "pray to God with righteous hearts for us and for our tribe, and give us their blessing," the Russian Orthodox Church would enjoy a protected status. The Russian Orthodox Church, along with all other religious communities in the realm, was exempted from paying postal fees or taxes on trade goods. State officials could not collect taxes, tributes, or levies from clerics who had committed themselves to priesthood, nor could priests or religious employees be eligible for military service. However, once someone left the clergy, he could then be taxed and be subject to the draft. Moreover, the property of any religious community, duly registered in the official records, could not be occupied, expropriated, alienated, or destroyed by anyone acting in an official capacity of the Mongol state. Any official that, in violation of such charters, interfered in the affairs of a religious community, seized its property illegally, or extorted funds from clerics, faced the death penalty.(80) Similarly, Nerses, the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, was given a charter "guaranteeing freedom ... for all his properties and goods, that he be free and untaxed.(81) These privileges were extended to all faiths; at the quraltai (assembly) which met following the death of the Great Khan Guyuk, such decrees were renewed and reconfirmed. Juvaini records the text:

Each [person] should pay [taxes] in proportion to his circumstances and ability the amount due from him according to the assessment except such as were exempt from the inconvenience of contributions by the ordinances of [Genghis] Khan and [Ogodei], i. e. of the Moslems the great sayyids and the excellent imams, of the Christians, whom they call erke'un [the term refers to Christian priests], the monks and scholars (ahbar), and of the idolators, the priests the call toyin, the famous toyins, and of all these classes of people, those who are advanced in years and no longer capable of earning a living.(82)

These provisions were scrupulously observed by the government and by all Mongol officials, regardless of their own personal faith preferences; if they discriminated against any particular faith, they faced sanctions up to and including execution. The Armenian historian Kirakos recorded that, in the western regions of the Mongol realm, Sartach (Sartakh), the son of Batu,

granted many liberties to the Church and to Christians and with the acquiescence of his father he wrote a decree of freedom for the priests and the Church and sent it everywhere threatening death to anyone collecting taxes either from the Church or its servitors, no matter what nationality; this also applied to the ... mosques and their attendants.(83)

The records preserved in the Russian Nikonian Chronicle demonstrates that these articles of legislation were in fact obeyed; when the Mongols undertook the first census of the Russian lands for tax purposes, their

census takers ... having made all the arrangements, returned ... enumerating all except archimandrites, abbots, monks, priests, deacons, church servitors, and the entire church retinue, whosoever ... lives in the house of the Lord and serves the churches of God.(84)

The same thing was noted in the History of the Armenians: "However, the tax collectors took nothing from the clergy as they had no order from the Khan to do so."(85)

The Mongol government chose not to interfere in the internal affairs of the various religious communities, recognizing the right of each faith to set down rules and norms for its own members. The iarlyk of Khan Berdibek to the Orthodox Metropolitan of Russia, Alexis, issued in 1357, reiterates the right of the church to issue regulations regarding tithes and to discipline church members for various transgressions. The Armenian Catholicos-Patriarch, in like manner, also possessed a decree from the khans which enabled him to "freely travel everywhere in the diocese of his authority" and to carry out his ministry, including those touching on administrative and disciplinary matters, without interference on the part of the state.(86) There is also no record or indication that the khans sought the power to make episcopal or other religious appointments. The Mongol state would not interfere in these matters unless they discerned a threat to public order.

The Mongols also extended the right to all groups to freely express their faith in public, and went so far as to provide clerics with state stipends(87) and to extend government funding so that religious communities could repair or construct houses of worship.(88) At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Brother Andrew of Perugia described how he received alafa, a grant from the treasury of the Great Khan, covering all the expenses of the Catholic missionary.(89) Similarly, an Islamic theological college or madrasa was endowed with state funds supplied by the mother of Mangu, Sorqoqtani, herself a Nestorian Christian by profession.(90) William of Rubruck and Marco Polo both have left descriptions of the religious diversity to be found at the court of the khans, and how shamanist, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian ceremonies were performed openly and without interference or disruption. William observed that at any great gathering in the presence of the khan

the Christian priests come first with their paraphernalia, and they pray for him and bless his cup. When they have left the Saracen [Muslim] priests come and do likewise; they are followed by the pagan priests who do the same.... he [the khan] wishes all to come and pray for him.(91)

Polo, during his first visit to the capital, recorded that upon the occasion of any great Christian festival, the Khan would request that all Christians in the court attend him, and bring the Gospel Book for his veneration. "This was his usual practice upon each of the principal Christian festivals ... and he observed the same at the festivals of the Saracens, Jews, and idolaters."(92) Leonard Olschki concluded that the purpose of these ceremonies, these "acts of homage to the cults" of the Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and other faiths on the part of the khan and his officials, was to confirm "the theoretical equivalence of all religions in the public life of the empire."(93)

In Mongol eyes, freedom of religion was not restricted to worship, but included the right to proselytize, as well as the right to reject overtures made by missionaries. William of Rubruck noted that Khan Mongke (Mangu) organized and sponsored an assembly of religions for the court, for, as the khan's servants noted,

Our master sends us to you and he says, "Here you are, Christians, Saracens [Muslims], and tuins [a term used to refer to Buddhist or Daoist monks], and each one of you declares that his law is the best, and his literature, that is his books, the truest." He therefore wishes you all to meet together and hold a conference and each one is to write down what he says so that he can know the truth.(94)

At this assembly, Latin and Nestorian Christians debated the existence and nature of God with representatives of Islam and of various sects of Buddhism. Nearly a century later, John of Marignolli wrote that he had "many glorious disputations with the Jews and other sects" while in residence at the Mongol court.(95)

All faiths were free to search for converts to their particular point of view. The Muslims saw in the creation of the Mongol state the workings of Divine Providence--a new world realm which could facilitate the peaceful spread of Islam through preaching and missionary work among nonbelievers. As Juvaini exulted:

The banners of the ... faith were unfurled in the farthest lands of infidelity and the remotest countries of polytheism, whose nostrils the scent of Islam had not yet reached. And opposite the temples of idols were reared up the shrines of God the Merciful.(96)

Brother Peregrine, the Roman Catholic bishop of Zaytun (Ch'uan-chou-fu), wrote in 1318 to the pope that he was free not only to minister to existing Christians in China, but also to preach to non-Christians in public--the squares, marketplaces, and so on, and that as a result "many come together and wonder greatly and enquire diligently about these things."(97) Likewise, Brother Andrew of Perugia, writing from China in 1326, noted:

In this vast empire there are verily men of every nation under heaven and of every sect, and each and all are allowed to live according to their own sect. For this is their opinion, or I should say their error, that every man is saved in his own sect. And we can preach freely and securely, but of the Jews and the Saracens none is converted. Of the idolators, exceedingly many are baptized; but when they are baptized they do not adhere strictly to Christian ways.(98)

However, as Catholic preachers such as William of Rubruck or the Dominican friar Ascelinus both discovered, quite disconcertingly for them, was that their freedom to preach the doctrines of Christianity among the Mongols was balanced by the freedom of their audience to ignore, reject, or even dispute their claims. As a dejected Friar William wrote after expounding on Christian doctrine for a Mongol audience, "They all listened without a word of contradiction, yet not one of them said, `I believe, I wish to become a Christian.'"(99) Even worse, in his eyes, was the reception his statements received from the vassals and retainers of khan Batu after he had made an appeal for their conversion to Christianity:

I added, "Know for certain that you will not obtain the gifts of heaven unless you are a Christian." ... At this he smiled gently and the other Mongols began to clap their hands in derision.(100)

Ascelinus's arrogant behavior in the camp of the Mongol commander Baiju and his demands that he and all of his men should convert to Christianity and acknowledge the supremacy of the pope met with a hostile response on the part of his audience. One of Baiju's nobles reportedly replied, "You ask us to become Christians and so dogs just like you! Isn't your pope a dog and aren't all you Christians dogs?"(101) Ascelinus had no recourse to an Inquisition to secure compliance with his demands. William of Rubruck was also criticized for his methods of preaching and style of mission work; according to the Armenian king Hethum I, who visited the Mongol capital at Karakorum shortly after the departure of Friar William, the khan chastised the Catholic monk, saying, "You should persuade us, who seem to be totally unacquainted with this doctrine, in a simple and rational manner. Instead you immediately threaten us with punishments."(102) However, the khan's distaste for the missionary's methods did not lead to any restrictions on Brother William's religious activities or his attempts to try and make converts. In fact, as Brother William counseled fellow Christian missionaries, the only way one could hope to make converts was to convince one's audience by superior argument.(103) Moreover, the freedom to preach carried with it the reciprocal obligation to tolerate the preaching and worship of others. Friar William records his own soul-searching when faced with this dilemma, of appearing before the khan where the representatives of other faiths would also be present:

I deliberated a great deal about my own case, what I ought to do, whether to go or not to go [to the court of the Khan].... and fearing lest the good I was hoping to be able to bring about might not be hindered, I decided to go even though it meant that I should witness their acts of sorcery and idolatry.(104)

However, the expectation remained that even if a person rejected the missionary overtures of a member of another faith, the beliefs of others should be respected. Disruption of a worship service, destruction of a temple, or any deliberate violation or profanation of the sacred items or holy books of a religion could carry the sentence of death.(105) Polo records an incident where a Mongol rebel who happened to be Christian (Nayan-Khan) was defeated in battle. Hoping to be another Constantine, Nayan had displayed the image of the cross upon his banners, but failed to overcome his relative and liege lord Kublai. Upon his defeat, Muslims and Jews in the entourage of the khan taunted Christians with the apparent humiliation of their divine symbol, to such a point that "the Christians were compelled to lay their complaints before the Great Khan, who ordered the former to appear before him, and sharply rebuked them."(106) There was to be no toleration for any sort of sacrilege or insult to any of the symbols associated with the various faiths that made up the Mongol realm.

Among the representatives of the various faiths, the Mongols encouraged the development of an attitude, as expressed by the Chinese Buddhist Yeh-lu Chutsai, that the different religions reflected different "ways" or "paths" towards the Divine.(107) In discussing why people choose different faiths, the Buddhist monk Chung-feng Ming-pen (1263-1323) said,

The mind is, of course, the same. But the sudden approach is surely different from the gradual approach.... When a person does not understand the great skill-in-means a sage employs in establishing his teachings, he will argue senselessly and merely add confusion.(108)

This is why, as Brother William discovered, clerics from different religions could engage in heated debate over theological principles and yet coexist peacefully and even share one another's company.(109) The different faiths, in essence, agreed to disagree and not to try and create a single, overarching, syncretic faith that could encompass every member of the empire. Instead, a type of "civil religion" was created, based upon events such as New Year's Day or the Great Khan's birthday, which bound together the diverse subjects of the Empire. Polo, observing such celebrations, noted:

On the occasion of this festival of the Great Khan's birthday, all his ... subjects and likewise the people of every kingdom and province throughout his dominions send him valuable presents.... Upon this day likewise all the Christians, Idolaters, and Saracens, together with every other description of people, offer up devout prayers to their respective Gods and Idols, that they may bless and preserve the sovereign and bestow upon him long life, health, and prosperity. Such, and so extensive, are the rejoicings on the return of his Majesty's birthday.(110)

What is striking is the degree to which the Mongol state anticipated many of the key precedents that were laid down in American jurisprudence regarding religious liberty. Genghis, Mangu, and Kublai Khan would all have been in agreement with decisions that "uniformity of faith is not practicable nor desirable" (Muzzy v. Wilkins, 1803), that the state has no power to declare any particular faith to be good or correct at the expense of others (Humphreys v. Little Sisters of the Poor, 1876), and that it is the duty of the state to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship (State v. Scheve, 1903).

The writings of Confucius and his disciples and the pronouncement of the Mongol khans, when combined, envision a society where the state imposes no particular form of religion, leaving that choice to the hands of each individual, who must decide if he or she has indeed, heard the voice of Heaven, and then find that particular path or way which is best suited to being obedient to that call. The Confucian stress on self-improvement, and the Mongol insistence that the state respect all religions equally, are both important contributions of the Asian tradition to the worldwide dialogue about human rights. Religious liberty, the famed "first freedom" from which all other social and political rights are subsequently derived, is not exclusively a "Western" concept. It is high time that Confucius and the khans take their rightful place, alongside Jefferson, Madison, and the Founding Fathers, in the pantheon dedicated to the honorable forebears of religious liberty.

(1.) Confucius, The Analects, Book 4, Chapter 10, trans. D. C. Lau (London: Penguin, 1979), 73.

(2.) In Africa, for example, the writings of the seventeenth-century Ethiopian philosopher Zara Yakob contain within them a strong case for religious freedom. Considering the various faiths in the world and their claims to truth, he declared, "Who can be the judge in such a dispute? None of the children of men can be the judge, for all have been engaged in accusing each other. Where can we find an impartial judge? Just as my religion seems to me the true one, so does the religion of another seem to him.... God did not create one nation for life and another for death, one for salvation and another for condemnation.... Man is therefore master of his own destiny; he may do what he freely wills." Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethiopia: A Cultural History (Essex: Lalibela House, 1955), 362.

(3.) Wenxue Li, "Maoism in Chinese Civil Religion: Apotheosized Mao Zedong in China since 1935" (master's thesis, Baylor University, 1999), 17.

(4.) Erik Zurcher, "Confucian and Christian Religiosity in Late Ming China," The Catholic Historical Review, vol. LXXXIII, no. 4 (October 1997): 615, 619.

(5.) Analects 6: 25. Translation as provided in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, trans. and comp. Wing-Tsit Chan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963), 30.

(6.) Analects 6: 20, Chan, A Source Book, 30.

(7.) Louis Gallagher, S.J., trans., China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci (New York: Random House, 1953), 107-09; see also Zhang Longxi, "Toleration, Accommodation, and the East-West Dialogue," in Religious Toleration: The Variety of Rites from Cyrus to Defoe, ed. John Christian Laursen (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 46.

(8.) Analects 7: 35, 91.

(9.) Ibid., 3: 13, 69.

(10.) Ibid., 7: 21, 88.

(11.) Ibid., 5: 13, 78.

(12.) Ibid., 9: 1, 96.

(13.) Ibid., 11:12, 107.

(14.) Cited in Chan, A Source Book, 121.

(15.) Ibid., 644.

(16.) Ibid., 59.

(17.) Analects 17:19, 146.

(18.) Li Fu Chen, The Confucian Way: A New and Systematic Study of the "Four Books," trans. Shih Shun Liu (Republic of China: Commercial Press, Ltd., 1972), 585-86.

(19.) Analects 3:11, 69.

(20.) Ibid., 3: 21, 70.

(21.) Ibid., 9:4, 96.

(22.) Ibid., 3:26, 71.

(23.) Cited in Chen, The Confucian Way, 638.

(24.) Li Fu Chen's translation of Analects 9: 26, 268.

(25.) Cited in Chen, The Confucian Way, 347.

(26.) Book Six, Part I. Cited in Chan, A Source Book, 51.

(27.) Analects 15: 21, 35.

(28.) Chen, The Confucian Way, 275.

(29.) Analects 12: 19, 115.

(30.) Ibid., 12: 17, 115. The Chinese words "to govern" and "to correct" are homophones and derived from the same cognate "cheng."

(31.) Cited in Chan, The Source Book, 112-13.

(32.) Analects 14: 25, cited in Li Fu Chen, The Confucian Way, 273.

(33.) Cited in ibid., 347.

(34.) Mencius, Book II. Cited in Chen, The Confucian Way, 283.

(35.) Cited in Chan, The Source Book, 532.

(36.) Cited in Chen, The Confucian Way, 63.

(37.) Zurcher, "Confucian and Christian Religiosity," 620.

(38.) Zhang, "Accommodation," 42.

(39.) Ibid., 44.

(40.) Adapted by Jerome S. Arkenberg from Charles F. Home, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East (New York: Parke, Austin, and Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. XII, Medieval China, 381-92, at the Internet East Asia Sourcebook, ed. Paul Halsall, Fordham University, http:/

(41.) Jian Bozan, Shao Xunzheng, and Hu Hua, A Concise History of China (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981), 54-55.

(42.) Li, "Maoism in Chinese Civil Religion," 10-13.

(43.) Ricci, 105.

(44.) Zhang, "Accommodation," 42.

(45.) Ricci, 97.

(46.) From "An Inquiry on the Way (Tao)," as cited in Chan, A Source Book, 455.

(47.) Ricci, 455.

(48.) Edwin O. Reischauer, Ennin's Travels in T'ang China (New York: Ronald Press, 1955), 218.

(49.) Jian et al, A Concise History of China, 55.

(50.) I. de Rachewiltz, Papal Envoys to the Great Khans (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1971), 166, 168, 202.

(51.) Ibid., 202-03.

(52.) "Orthodoxy in China," Orthodoxy 1964 (Athens: ZOE Press, 1964), 283; also Zhang, "Accommodation," 42.

(53.) Ibid., 282.

(54.) Cited in Russian Penetration of the North Pacific Ocean: A Documentary Record, Volume II, 1700-1797, eds. Basil Dmytryshyn, E. A. P. Crownhart-Vaughan, and Thomas Vaughan (Portland, Oreg.: Historical Society Press, 1988), 73.

(55.) Li, "Maoism in Chinese Civil Religion," 17.

(56.) `Ala-ad-Din `Ata-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World-Conqueror, 2 vols., trans. John Andrew Boyle (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), 1: 26.

(57.) Ibid., 26.

(58.) Cited in Leonard Olschki, Marco Polo's Asia, trans. John A. Scott (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1960), 179.

(59.) Juvaini, The History of the World Conqueror, 267.

(60.) Ibid., 197.

(61.) Ibid., 223.

(62.) Ibid., 225.

(63.) Christopher Dawson, ed., The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, trans. by a Nun of Stanbrook Abbey (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 184, 195.

(64.) Travels of Marco Polo, 161-62.

(65.) Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1961), 182.

(66.) Juvaini I, 67.

(67.) Kirakos Gandzaketsi, History of the Armenians, critical edition, ed. K. A. Melik-Ohanjanyan (Erevan: University of Erevan, 1961), 238-39, trans./re-edited Robert Bedrosian at

(68.) Dawson, ed., The Mongol Mission, 184.

(69.) Marco Polo, The Travels, trans, and ed. Ronald Latham (London: Penguin, 1958, 1982), 236. This is the so-called "Z" reading of the works of Polo.

(70.) Olschki, Marco Polo's Asia, 198.

(71.) Juvaini II, 606.

(72.) Polo, The Travels, 236.

(73.) Kirakos, History of the Armenians, 287, 291, at http://www.virtualscape.coin/rbedro sian/kg11.htm.

(74.) Wm. Theodore de Bary, "Introduction," Yuan Thought: Chinese Thought and Religion Under the Mongols, eds. Hok-lam Chart and Wm. Theodore de Bary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 16.

(75.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 186,

(76.) As recorded by Rubruck, in ibid., 191.

(77.) Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 213-14.

(78.) The Travels of Marco Polo, rev. and ed. Manuel Komroff (New York: Heritage Press, 1934), 212.

(79.) Thomas T. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism: The Policies of The Grand Qan Mongke in China, Russia, and the Islamic Lands, 1251-1259 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1987), 121.

(80.) Recorded in A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times To 1917, Volume I, Early Times to the Late Seventeenth Century, ed. George Vernadsky (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), 49.

(81.) Kirakos, History of the Armenians, 296, at kg11.htm,

(82.) Juvaini II, 599.

(83.) Kirakos, History of the Armenians, 296, at kg11.htm.

(84.) Cited in Vernadsky, Early Times, 48.

(85.) Kirakos, History of the Armenians, 300, at kg11.htm.

(86.) Ibid., 296,

(87.) As attested to by William of Rubruck. Cf. Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 160.

(88.) See, for example, the letter of Eljigidei to King Louis in 1247, cited in de Rachewitz, 120; William of Rubruck also records the petition of an Armenian priest for funds for the reconstruction of a church in Jerusalem; Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 166.

(89.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 235.

(90.) Juvaini I, xxxiii.

(91.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 160.

(92.) Komroff, ed., Travels of Marco Polo, 161.

(93.) Olschki, Marco Polo's Asia, 198.

(94.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 189.

(95.) de Rachewitz, Papal Envoys, 195.

(96.) Juvaini I, 201.

(97.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 233.

(98.) Ibid., 237.

(99.) Ibid., 194.

(100.) Ibid., 128.

(101.) de Rachewitz, Papal Envoys, 116.

(102.) Ibid., 137.

(103.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 191.

(104.) Ibid., 178.

(105.) Cf. the charter given to Metropolitan Alexis, in Vernadsky, Early Times, 49.

(106.) Komroff, rev. and ed., Travels of Marco Polo, 160.

(107.) de Bary, "Introduction," 18.

(108.) Ibid., 19.

(109.) Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 194. Toleration would also have to be the norm because the Mongols tended to house all clerics together in the same area or district in their cities and camps. Cf. William's observation of this in Dawson, ed., Mongol Mission, 161.

(110.) Komroff, rev. and ed., Travels of Marco Polo, 187-88.

* NIKOLAS K. GVOSDEV (B.S.F.S., M.S.F.S., Georgetown University; M.Phil., D.Phil., Oxford University) is associate director, J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Baylor University. He is author of Imperial Policies and Perspective Towards Georgia, 1763-1819 (2000). His articles have appeared in East European Quarterly, St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Journal of Church and State, and Central Asian Survey. Special interests, include the history of Russian and Eastern Europe and the relationship between religion and democratization.
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Date:Jun 22, 2000
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