A Chinese Moses?

Chinese history is full of myths that are difficult to disentangle, and often Buddhist myths that are intertwined with Taoism so much that you don’t know where one influence ends and the other begins. Fortunately there was a host of skeptics, such as this Hu Yin of the Sun dynasty, which following the very superstitious Tang dynasty was an era of snake worship and all kinds of other magical practices. Hu Yin was angry that the priests of Canton were urging the worship of a serpent to avert calamities (and probably reaping nice payments for such worship) so he challenged the serpent to turn into a spirit. It didn’t, so he killed the serpent and punished the priests. He’s kind of like a Chinese Moses!

In general, Confucians didn’t tolerate Taoist or Buddhist myths, not necessarily because they were simply skeptical, but because Confucians claimed to have the Mandate of Heaven, a Taoist concept in origin, and that only by having monopoly over sacrifices could they maintain the Mandate. So “unauthorized” spiritual matters were taken seriously since they were unauthorized competition against the government, kind of like a spiritual militia. If a local wizard conjured a dragon and a plague happened to end, the people might thank the wizard instead of the emperor, and they couldn’t have this. So I’m less convinced that Confucians were “skeptics”, more that they were concerned with keeping ceremonies minimal and contained to the throne in order to legitimize their power.

So while Hu Yin sounds like a Chinese Moses, he was likely just an advocate for Confucian monopolization on spiritual matters.

From John C. Ferguson’s The Mythology of All Races of the World Vol. 8 (China section), 1928.