14. Bronze Age Power vs. Paleolithic Fertility

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In the prior chapter, we saw that there was a differentiation between Government and Clan during the Shang dynasty. In this chapter we will see that the religion of government differentiated itself from the indigenous fertility cults. The religion of government eventually became Confucianism, while the religions of fertility became Taoism. The quest for power separated itself from the quest for fertility.

State Phallus power vs. Taoist Vaginal Fertility

Phallic symbols represent Shang Gods

Traditionally the military cultures based upon the pursuit of power have been male dominated and phallus oriented. This started with the phallic spear of Homo erectus. The Shang culture followed this pattern. Their most important god was Shang Ti, the supreme ancestor. Next in importance was Shê, the god of the earth. The archaic pictogram for both ancestor and Shê is a phallic symbol. These cults have continued down to the present day. 1

This phallic orientation probably was a continuation of the Longshan with its emphasis on warfare. This stratified society with the male on top is certainly reflected in the Confucian hierarchy with the male emperor on top of the father-dominated family. Confucianism has its roots in the Bronze Age military culture.

Vaginal symbols Taoist

Typically power-based cultures are centered on the phallus. In contrast, the fertility cultures have been gynocentric, i.e. focused upon the female vagina. This makes sense as their orientation is upon generation and creativity. Taoism follows this pattern. Taoist symbolism is riddled with references to the mysterious female, pregnancy and birth. Below is just one of the many vaginal references from the Taoist Bible, the Tao Te Ching.

“#10. Can you play the role of the female in the opening and closing of the gates of Heaven.”2

Pregnant Woman, a potent Taoist symbol

The pregnant woman is one of the symbols of both popular and esoteric Taoism. There are myriad references to the pregnancy process in alchemical Taoism. They speak of the ‘opening of the mysterious female’, ‘incubating the embryo’, ‘waiting for 10 lunar months for the embryo to mature’, ‘the infant emerges’, and ‘breast feed for three years’.3 While these references are symbolic, it is obvious that they are referring to pregnancy and the birthing process. The symbolism refers to creativity and self-regeneration. The fertile woman of the Stone Age is a major symbol of Taoism.

Taoists employ the ‘pregnancy’ metaphor as a symbol of giving birth to oneself. Worshipping the fertility of the woman, Taoism has been main force behind Chinese artistic expression.

Taoists also tend to advocate small and decentralized political structures. In contrast, the Shang dynasty established a large centralized empire. Shang ancestor worship was linked with the phallus, the male, the father, and the patriarchy. The philosophy of Confucianism eventually links this hierarchy with the imperial structure. The phallic orientation of the state religion, oriented around Shang Ti, is the polar opposite of the vaginal orientation of Taoism, whose focus is upon vitality and creativity.

Taoism/fertility: Confucianism/power

Behind Confucianism is the warrior ethic, which developed during the Shang. We’ll return to this when we examine Confucianism. We will also see that Tai Chi has its roots in Chinese warrior training of the Shang dynasty. Confucianism, in worshipping the power of man, has been the main force behind Chinese politics. The spilt between Taoism and Confucianism occurred during the Shang, with stratification of society into a military aristocracy, an agri-cultural peasantry, and an artistic class.

Taoist Roots Paleolithic, not Neolithic

Taoism’s focus upon female fertility suggests that its roots are in the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies. Procreation was worshipped both by the Neolithic and Paleolithic cultures, as symbolized by many fertility figurines. The female figures originated deep in the Paleolithic and were continued during the Neolithic. The hunter-gatherers worshipped the fertility of Nature herself. As hunter-gatherers, they were dependent upon the annual rebirth of the natural flora and fauna. In contrast, the Neolithic farmers worshipped the fertility of the soil.

Taoists not to become dependent upon wheat

 The connection between the fertility of Taoism and the hunter-gatherer cultures is further indicated by Taoism’s dietary restriction against wheat and grains. The Taoists felt that a diet based in grain led to a dependency on agriculture. Due to the sedentary and annual nature of agriculture, freedom would be severely limited. Also because of the nature of the military aristocracy, the farmers were and are always prone to domination.

“The peasants depended entirely on agriculture and were forever tied to their land through all kinds of fiscal and administrative measures. As a result, the rural communities became an easy prey to all the ills of sedentary civilization: ever higher taxes, enslavement to the government through corvee labor and military draft, epidemics, periodic shortages and famines, and wars and raids by non-Chinese tribes from across the borders.”4

Cleared ground of farmers allows for chariots

Indeed it has been suggested that the cleared ground of the farmers was a necessary precursor to the development of bronze military technology based upon the Chariot. Chariots were ineffective in forests. Only the cleared ground of the farmers allowed them to be conquered and enslaved by the cultures with bronze military technology. Hence the security of annual crops tilled by human sweat also brought domination.

Unpredictability of Nature brings freedom

While the unpredictability of nature was insecure, it brought freedom. Cultures depending only upon the bounty of Nature were simultaneously the most insecure and most free. This worship of nature is very different from the worship of nature by the agrarian cultures. The agri-cultures worship the rainfall and the ground to bring good crops which they need to feed themselves and their livestock. The agri-cultures have taken matters into their own hands, depending upon their own efforts rather than trusting Heaven’s Will.

Livestock, the original corruption

One Taoist story is of a Taoist going to live in the freedom of a mountain. A friend gives him a goat. Caring for the goat leads the Taoist into the binding agricultural lifestyle, complete with fences and dependency upon the soil5. In this story the livestock led to the inhibited agricultural lifestyle. It seems that the roots of Taoism are probably in the Paleolithic as exhibited by their injunction against dependency upon agriculture. Because of their reliance upon Nature, Taoism is predicated upon a greater trust of the Tao of Heaven.

From hunter gatherer to farmer, Adam’s curse

The theme of ‘the binding nature of agriculture’ is reflected in the first book of the Bible. Adam and Eve are hunter-gatherers who presumably just pick fruit to survive. They survive on the bounty of Nature. Because they eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam is cursed by having to live off the sweat of his brow as a farmer. He has been banished from the innocent hunter/gatherer culture of the Garden of Eden and is relegated to the dependent life of the farmer, working hard to support his family.

“And to Adam, God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit when I told you not to, I have placed a curse upon the soil. All your life you will struggle to extract a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat its grasses. All your life you will sweat to master it, until your dying day.”6

With their emphasis upon personal freedom, Taoists have tended to avoid becoming chained to the soil.


In summary, the ancestor worship of the Longshan clans and Shang government was oriented around power, while the Taoism has always been oriented around fertility. The traditions based around the government and ancestor worship eventually coalesced around Confucianism, while the traditions centered upon cultivating fertility became associated with Taoism. Taoism is based in the freedom and insecurity of the Paleolithic, while Confucianism is based in the military aristocracy of the Bronze Age.


1 A Short History of Chinese Art,  1949, Hugh Munsterberg, Michigan State College Press, p 20

2 Tao Te Ching, Chan, tr., p. 116

3 The Inner Teachings of Taoism, written by Chang Po-Tuan of the 14th century, commentary by Liu I-ming in 1808, translated by Thomas Cleary in 1986. Shambhala Press

4 The Taoist Body, Schiffer, p. 168

5 Schiffer, p. 170

6 The Living Bible, Genesis 3, page 3


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