Daoist priests


Daoist priests
(Daoshi)
Since 1980 and the partial relaxation of the government regulation of local religion, Daoist priests in contemporary China have performed communal rituals in tens of thousands of village temples, especially in south China. They have also performed rites of passage, exorcisms and minor rites for individuals in private homes. Nevertheless, severe and often arbitrary restrictions are still frequently imposed on their ritual practices. Daoist priests can be divided into two principal types—celibate monastic Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) initiates and ‘hearth-dwelling’ married Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity) priests, working out of their homes (primarily in south China) (see Daoism (Quanzhen order) and Daoism (Zhengyi tradition)). The former predominate in the north of China, and can be found in such famous historic Daoist monastic centres as the White Cloud Temple (Baiyunguan) in Beijing and in Shanghai, or in famous mountain monastic establishments such as Wudangshan, Louguanshan, Qingchengshan (Sichuan), Huashan and Laoshan (Qingdao). Some major Quanzhen monasteries can also be found in the south, such as the Luofushan in Guangdong and others in the New Territories of Hong Kong. Daily routines include meditation and recitation of scriptures. In addition to self-cultivation, Quanzhen Daoist priests perform a range of rituals for communities and individuals. A recent study by Li Yangzhen (2000) estimates the number of Quanzhen Daoist priests at over 7,000. Ordinations resumed in 1989. Four hundred Quanzhen monks and nuns were ordained at Qingchengshan in November 1995 (Lai 2003).
The second category of Daoist priests mostly claim some connection with the Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity) school, founded by the descendants of Zhang Daoling (now in their sixty-fourth generation), and based on the Longhushan (Dragon Tiger Mountain) temple complex in Shangqing, Jiangxi. Li Yangzhen (2000) estimates the number of Zhengyi priests at 20,000. Other sources claim that 4,000 Zhengyi Daoist priests are active in the Fujian areas of Putian, Quanzhou and Jinjiang alone. These numbers are only estimates, as many Daoist priests have not joined the official Daoist Association. Many have practiced unofficial ordinations of family members and acolytes for generations. A great many localized ritual traditions of Daoism have developed in south China. A major school of contemporary Daoist priests in south China are practitioners of forms of localized Lüshan (or Meishan) Daoism, building on the cult of the goddess Chen Jinggu, the ‘Woman by the Side of the Waters’ (see Lüshan jiao (Sannai jiao)).
Daoist priests can also be found performing rituals among many of the national minorities of southwest China. Many work closely with spirit-mediums.
Most of the Zhengyi or Lüshan Daoist priests perform rituals in community temples or private homes for a fee. Their rituals are based on liturgical manuscripts and scriptures passed down within families or from master to disciple. They can perform a range of rituals of offering (Jiao), thanks-giving, propitiation, exorcism and rites of passage. These rites can vary in complexity from a few hours to several days or weeks, and can involve a single priest or a troupe of several priests and multiple acolytes. The priests usually construct a portable altar of the highest emanations of the Dao, the Three Pure Ones, and other representations of the gods of the Daoist heavens. Local gods from the vast localized pantheons of the hundreds of different local cultures of south China are sometimes incorporated into the altar in an apotheosized form. Daoist ritual remains central to most communal ritual in the tens of thousands of villages across south China. Training for priests in these local ritual traditions has been severely affected by the destruction of the Cultural Revolution, when many priests were imprisoned and vast quantities of scriptures and liturgical manuscripts were destroyed. Courageously, Daoist priests across China are reassembling their ritual repertoires, and attempting to reinvent their traditions in an ongoing negotiation with the forces of modernity.
Dean, Kenneth (1993). Taoist Ritual and Popular Cults in Southeast China. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Lai, Chi-tim (2003). ‘Daoism in China Today, 1980–2000’. In Daniel Overmyer (ed), Religion in China Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 107–21.
Li, Yangzheng (2000). Dangdai daojiao [Contemporary Daoism]. Beijing: Dongfang chubanshe.
Kohn, Livia (ed.) (2000). Handbook of Daoism. Leiden: E.J.Brill.
Overmyer, Daniel (ed.) (2002). Ethnography in China Today. Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing.
Schipper, Kristofer (1994). The Taoist Body. Berkeley: University of California Press.
KENNETH DEAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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