Daoism (Daojiao), recent history of


Daoism (Daojiao), recent history of
Daoism is among five religions, including Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism, recognized by the PRC (what might be called ‘Chinese religion’ is condemned as ‘superstition’). And like the other four recognized religions, Daoist activities must be organized by a National Association. The various Daoist associations created during the Republican period were disbanded at the creation of the PRC, although one continued on Taiwan. A new Daoist Association was created in Beijing in 1957, ceased all activities in 1966, and was reactivated in 1980. The Association is headquartered in Beijing’s White Cloud Abbey (Baiyunguan), a monastery of the Quanzhen order (see Daoism (Quanzhen order)). Most of the Association’s dignitaries are Quanzhen Daoists, but it also includes Zhengyi clerics and laymen (see Daoism (Zhengyi tradition)) The Association runs a periodical, Chinese Daoism (Zhongguo daojiao, from 1987), and since 1982 has managed a school at the White Cloud Abbey that enrols novices for a two-year apprenticeship. Branches of the Association are being created in provinces and districts in ever greater numbers.
The relationship of the Association with the renewal of Daoist practice is ambiguous. On the one hand, the Association applies the official policy whereby the religion is a distinct sphere of activity within society: clerics should live in monasteries, supported by the income derived from entrance fees, cultural activities, rituals, shops and handicrafts, along with stipends official clerics receive from the state. The government does not approve of the traditional place of Daoism within society, i.e. a class of priests serving temple communities and families, paid for by performing Jiao (‘offering’) rituals in popular community temples, and funerals. The Association has to support the official policy whereby certain rituals performed within the monastery are permitted, while ‘superstitious activities’, such as practising divination and fortune-telling or burning paper money, are forbidden. Policies on certain sensitive questions such as the practice of death rituals at the deceased’s home vary according to texts and to local implementation.
On the other hand, the Association provides status and protection to its members and plays a positive role in allowing old Daoists to resurface and practise anew. It is only through the Association, moreover, that Daoists may regain control of their former temples and monasteries. The Daoist Association, like its Buddhist counterpart, has been in competition to regain control of temples that were managed before 1949 by clerics and then appropriated by the various Heritage Bureaux (Wenwuju) or other government outfits afterwards. During the 1980s, it has managed to recover most of the large Quanzhen monasteries, but so far very few temples, which have often been turned over to museums or to other tourism outfits.
The renewal of Daoist practice during the 1980s and 1990s has been strong but unequal. It is largely hampered by the absence of an institutional basis for Chinese religion, i.e. the temples and their lay cult communities which were the major venue for the grand Jiao (‘offering’) rituals. In some parts of the country (notably in the southern coastal provinces), temples are tolerated, and temple fairs and pilgrimages are organized once again. Elsewhere, especially in many (but not all) districts of the Yellow River basin, almost no temple is active, and few if any Daoist priests (Daoshi) can be found. As a result, this field has been taken over by sectarian religions and Qigong (see Qigong (masters)).
The Association and the institutional development of Daoism are of course affected by the religious policies of the state. During the last twenty years, the trend has been towards more tolerance, but the evolution is far from steady. Periodically, the room for manoeuvre by Daoists is reduced by a general anti-religious backlash, such as the Falun gong affair. One of the main assets of the Daoist Association is its strong links to Daoist milieux in Taiwan and Hong Kong; formal ties with Daoist organizations in the West also exist, but are not significant. The prestige of the White Cloud Abbey and of its court music and liturgy have caused the Daoists there to be invited regularly to perform in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Money for the restoration of monasteries and the organization of rituals flows in the reverse direction. Although the solicitation of subscriptions is not permitted, the Daoist Association also raises considerable finance through festivals: it has the resources to restore and run many more monasteries and temples than is allowed.
Unofficial, grassroots Daoism is tentatively supported by the official, monastic structure, which in turn receives some legitimization from scholarly circles, Chinese as well as foreign. Daoist studies is growing very fast in China. After 1980, it began modestly at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and then developed in the institutes or departments of religious studies at several universities (notably Peking University and Sichuan University) and in various provincial academies of social sciences. Major dictionaries and encyclopedias of Daoism were edited in the mid 1990s, and quite a lot of material published (especially rare editions or manuscripts of spiritual and liturgical practice). Daoist clerics themselves still play only a minor part in Daoist studies, although some eminent clerics have played a crucial role in the contemporary transmission and diffusion of the Daoist spiritual tradition, notably inner alchemy (neidan), which is only recently being recognized as one of the jewels of the Chinese intellectual heritage. Daoists and scholars of Daoism want to distinguish Daoism from sectarian groups (a vital necessity), and from ‘superstition’—the intellectuals of the Qing and Republican periods mostly identified Daoism with ‘superstition’, hence the particularly harsh treatment Daoism received from the state over the last century. Daoists are presently working at defining a place for Daoism in China’s future, but to do so they focus almost exclusively on its speculative, intellectual aspects. More generally, Daoism has caught the attention of many Chinese intellectuals in their nationalist quest for a superior socialist spiritual civilization However, these non-specialists tend to focus on their modern interpretation of texts such as the Book of the Way and Its Power (Daodejing). The real role and ritual practice of Daoism in Chinese society before 1949 is not a question that elicits much interest beyond a few specialists. The fateful notion that ‘philosophical Daoism’ (daojia) is different from ‘religious Daoism’ (daojiao) still prevents many intellectuals from reappraising Daoism seriously.
Ding, H. (2000). ‘The Study of Daoism in China Today’. In Livia Kohn (ed.), Handbook of Daoism. Leiden: Brill, 765–91.
Lagerwey, John (1997). ‘A propos de la situation actuelle des pratiques religieuses traditionnelles en Chine’. In C.Clémentin-Ojha (ed.), Renouveau religieux en Asie. Paris: EFEO, 3–16.
Lai, Chi-Tim (2003). ‘Daoism in China Today, 1980–2002’. In Daniel Overmyer (ed), Religion in China Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 107–21.
Li, Y. (1993/2000). Dangdai daojiao. Beijing: Dongfang chubanshe.
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Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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