I first heard of this possibility in the mid-90’s, as the Internet was coming of age. I had always been fascinated with the story of the Tower of Babel and wondered about the languages that came from the incident. Could some of them survived? What new forms and derivations did they take over the years? As I researched, I ran across the idea of Shangdi, the Chinese creator God. The literal translation of Shangdi is “the heavenly ruler.”
I am not a scholar and won’t pretend to be. Still, I’d like to share some of the things that I’ve found and that are easily discoverable all over the Internet. Shangdi (sometimes interchangeable with Tian, or Heaven) was the single deity that the Chinese emperor worshipped from as long as 4000 years ago. Documentation has been discovered that shows the Chinese royalty offered sacrifices (called the Border Sacrifice) to Shangdi once a year. This practice continued until as recent as 1911.
The Border Sacrifice
As the emperor would begin the sacrifice, costumed singers would lift their voices in song, reciting the following lyrics (translated into a somewhat King James style):
“To Thee, O mysteriously-working Maker, I look up in thought. . . . With the great ceremonies I reverently honor Thee. Thy servant, I am but a reed or willow; my heart is but that of an ant; yet have I received Thy favoring decree, appointing me to the government of the empire. I deeply cherish a sense of my ignorance and blindness, and am afraid, lest I prove unworthy of Thy great favors. Therefore will I observe all the rules and statutes, striving, insignificant as I am, to discharge my loyal duty. Far distant here, I look up to Thy heavenly palace. Come in Thy precious chariot to the altar. Thy servant, I bow my head to the earth reverently, expecting Thine abundant grace. . . . O that Thou wouldest vouchsafe to accept our offerings, and regard us, while thus we worship Thee, whose goodness is inexhaustible!”
As the emperor continued the ceremony, he would recite the following words:
“Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos, without form and dark. The five elements [planets] had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and moon to shine. You, O Spiritual Sovereign, first divided the grosser parts from the purer. You made heaven. You made earth. You made man. All things with their reproducing power got their being.”
All this sounds very biblical to me. The emperor’s words very clearly echo verses from the first chapter of Genesis.
This, by itself, is fascinating and could prove that the ancient Chinese were knowledgeable of God, El Shaddai, and worshipped him. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Chinese is a language of Babel. If you take a look at the structure of the Chinese pictography, a different picture takes shape (excuse the pun).
Chinese as a Written Language
The written Chinese language is based on a series of representational pictures. Each picture has a certain meaning. When you combine two pictures, they take on a new meaning. For instance, if you drew a picture of a hand and a picture of a spear, you could assume the combination of the two would mean hunting. This is the essence of the Chinese written language, which is generally agreed to be somewhere between 4000 to 4500 years old.
Looking at the Chinese language itself, you can clearly see that not only were they aware of the biblical story of creation and the flood, they also had a grasp of sin, salvation and redemption. All of this is pictured in the written Chinese language and it is still in use today!
For instance, the Chinese symbol for the word garden, as seen here, is a combination of the symbols for dust, breath, two people and enclosure. The simple word “garden” is a beautiful picture of the formation of man, the breath of God which gives life, and the placement of Adam and Eve into the garden of Eden.
Likewise, the symbol for “to create”, as seen here, is a combination of speak, dust (or mud), life and walk. Again, it is the imagery of God speaking life in to the dust and man arises to walk.
The symbol for forbidden, or “to warn”, as seen here, is a combination of two trees and the abbreviated form of God.
As the story progresses, the symbol for covet, or desire, as seen here, is a combination of two trees and women. And the imagery behind the word tempter is amazing. Take a look.
Here’s a fun one. moving forward in time a bit to the flood of Genesis, the word boat, as seen here, is comprised of three symbols: vessel, eight and people (count them – Noah, his wife, three sons and three wives).
So, is Chinese a language of Babel? You tell me. It’s old enough. Its earliest speakers conducted rituals that mirror the Bible. Its written form tells the story of creation and the flood. It seems a likely candidate to me.
Should a Chinese person tell you that Christianity is a foreigner’s religion, you can reply that quite likely the Chinese in antiquity worshipped the same God as Christians do today. Pretty cool, huh?