From the Great Wall to the Pyramids
The Great Wall of China and the Egyptian Pyramids are both Manmade Wonders of the World and belong to two of the oldest civilizations. Ancient Egypt and ancient China both have history that date back over 4,000 years ago, and though the two civilizations co-existed simultaneously with one another, there were little contact between the two. Yet apart from some underlying differences, there are many similarities between the two cultures as is highlighted when examining the Analects and The Book of the Dead.
On the surface, the social behavior and values emphasized in the Analects and The Book of the Dead resemble one another; however, upon closer examination it becomes apparent that the origin and purpose behind the actions different greatly. The purpose of the two literatures contrast due to the lifestyles and beliefs that were held during each of the corresponding civilizations. Though the texts preach similar values and achieve similar results in terms of human behavior, the factor that ignited the creation of these two historical pieces differ tremendously.
The Analects was written by Confucius, also known as Kong Zi, who resided during the Era of Warring State, which was a sub-period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. This was a time of disunity and power struggle where the empire was divided into areas controlled feudal lords who desired to expand their land by conquering weaker neighboring states. In the midst of this, philosophies of humanity and order began to blossom, as people began to grow tiresome of the constant wars and chaos. Confucius emphasizes that, “If they [riches and honor] cannot be obtained in the proper way, they should not be held”(p. ). These philosophies flourished as people began wanting reforms towards a harmonious life. Confucianism contributed to the downfall of the Zhou Dynasty, bringing in new values and social behaviors to the civilization. The Book of the Dead, on the other hand, formed due to the Egyptians emphasis of the afterlife. The Ancient Egyptian society was centered on the Nile River that provided fertile soil for the Egyptians to be able to survive. They believed that this “gift” from the Nile was from the gods when the people found favor with them.
To maintain the positive relationship with the Gods, and to insure a favorable afterlife, The Book of the Dead was created as a guide for the dead to pass over to the next life. A contrast can be drawn in what stemmed the creation for each of these texts. The Analects was created to bring about change in the Chinese Civilization while the Book of the Dead was designed to further the positive relationship Egyptian people had with the Gods. . Though the two texts have varying origins, similar values are emphasized throughout the two historical texts and the civilization as a whole.
The Egyptian word “maat” is an important term in the Egyptian society and is seen throughout the Book of the Dead. It signifies not just truth, but also balance, justice, and order. The people are required “live on maat, and feed on maat” (p. 3), which further reveals that the people’s life revolve around order and truth. In a similar fashion, Confucius also emphasizes the revolving order of truth, education, and justice. In the Analects, Confucius instructs man to “recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness”, an obvious dedication to not only justice and equality, but also sympathy.
Further, Confucius reinforces that “the object of the superior man is truth, not food. ” Similarly, the same parallel exists between the justice and equality aspect of the Analects and the “maat”, the order and truth, found in the Book of the Dead. Thus, the values conveyed in the Book of the Dead, for motivational purposes for a “good” afterlife, mirror the ones found in the Analects, as the common Chinese civilization also take to heart said values for the benefit of society overall and to improve their current circumstances.
Therefore, although there is a difference in origin and intention abiding by such values, it is hard to avoid the fact that the common values and social rules revolving around both civilizations’ societies closely resemble one another. Though the messages revealed in the two historical texts are similar, how the same objective is delivered differs, which in turn also affects the people’s lifestyle. The Book of the Dead provides of list of actions that must and must not be done, as it serves as a checklist of things the Egyptians must do before death such as, “I have not caused pain, I have cause no man to hunger, I have made no one weep.. (p. 1). The Analects instead provides words of wisdom and guidance for the people when making the decision like, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not to do others” (p. 1). This empowers the people to make the decision and to find what it right and wrong. Another factor that further emphasis the difference in what motivates the people to conduct good behavior is education. Confucianism seeks to emphasize the importance of education and provide the genesis of the concept of morality.
In other words, the priority and heavy emphasis given to education by Confucianism exists to enable the education of right from wrong, and it is their belief that only through such truth and knowledge can one be conscious of choosing right over wrong. As an extension of that philosophy, Confucianism also argues that to know the ethics between right and wrong is essentially useless without applying and acting upon it. In contrast, the Book of the Dead doesn’t emphasize such an innate and acute developed sense of morality and ethics, and instead, dictates several rules of what to do and what not to do.
The mystery or education needed to identify right from wrong is not necessary, and practically doesn’t exist, and instead a simple adherence to discipline and obedience is the true test of their morality. In other words, the Egyptians did not place an emphasis of conscience or the development of ethics and morality, but instead places a greater emphasis on structured obedience, abiding by the rules stated in the Book of the Dead. All in all, it is no surprise that the two ancient civilizations live completely dissimilar lifestyles with contrasting beliefs, as they were isolated from one another.
As the two began developing their culture, it is interesting to point out that their values and favored social conduct behavior ultimately became quite parallel. The emphasis in harmony, truth, and social order would not be prevalent in other societies, yet are in both the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Chinese civilizations. And yet, it is no doubt that their beliefs of the afterlife and motivation for following such conduct differs tremendously and is what gives each civilization their unique culture.