Yiguan Dao


Yiguan Dao
Sectarian religion
The Yiguan Dao (Way of Unity) is a popular sect, which was founded in Shandong province in the 1920s by Zhang Tianran (Zhang Guangbi, 1889–1947). While Zhang gave it a new shape and organizational structure, the Yiguan Dao is rooted in an older sectarian tradition, active throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Its key teachings include the belief in an imminent apocalypse and the advent of a saviour who would open up a path of salvation in this final world period. Zhang Tianran was believed to be an incarnation of the Living Buddha Jigong, who had been dispatched by the cosmic goddess (the Eternal Mother—Wuji Laomu) to transmit the Dao to human beings, who are none other than her lost and confused children. All who received the Dao in the Yiguan Dao initiation ritual would count among the saved and be assured to return to the Mother’s paradise, from which they had once fallen due to their attachments to the illusory world of samsara.
In the midst of the political unrest and military conflict of the Republican period, this eschatology found an echo in the religious needs of many. As a result, the sect spread rapidly across China after it had moved its centre of activity to Tianjin in 1935. Several officials of the Japanese-controlled Northern puppet government joined the sect and it thus came to flourish in particular in regions of China that were under Japanese control. These political ties caused problems for the movement after 1945, as it came under pressure from both the Nationalists and the Communists. After Zhang’s death in 1947, the sect effectively split up into a number of separate branches (conventionally said to be eighteen) that continued to develop more or less independently. Thus, there exists today no central leadership for the sect, which has become a ‘family’ of closely related yet autonomous branch associations. This decentralized structure gave it a certain amount of protection under adverse political conditions, but ultimately could not shield it against the PRC government’s determined opposition. In 1951 a bloody campaign was conducted against the sect, in the course of which many of its leading functionaries were executed. By the end of the decade, the Yiguan Dao had ceased to exist on the Chinese mainland.
Some leaders had fled the mainland and established new bases in Hong Kong and Taiwan. While the sect was allowed to operate without much government interference in the British colony, it suffered persecution in KMT-controlled Taiwan, until its proscription was formally lifted in 1987. In 1988 an umbrella organization was established in Taipei (Zhonghua minguo Yiguan Dao zonghui), which consists of representatives of the major branches. In addition, the sect continues to maintain a strong presence in Hong Kong even after the colony’s return to China, and it is proselytizing actively and successfully among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. In the PRC the Yiguan Dao remains illegal, but since the 1980s it has gradually been re-establishing itself as an underground movement through the efforts of missionaries from outside the mainland and in particular from Taiwan. In the face of widespread government crackdowns on unauthorized religious activities, these missionary endeavours are conducted in great secrecy and it is not clear how large a following the sect has regained in the PRC.
Bosco, Joseph (1994). ‘Yiguan Dao: “Heterodoxy” and Popular Religion in Taiwan’. In Murray A.Rubinstein (ed), The Other Taiwan: 1945 to the Present. Armonk, New York: M.E.Sharpe, 423–44.
Clart, Philip (2000). ‘Opening the Wilderness for the Way of Heaven: A Chinese New Religion in the Greater Vancouver Area’. Journal of Chinese Religions 28:127–44.
DuBois, Thomas (2001). The Sacred World of Cang County: Religious Belief, Organization and Practice in Rural North China During the Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, ch. 8.
Jordan, David K. and Overmyer, Daniel L. (1986). The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Skoggard, Ian A. (1996). ‘Inscribing Capitalism. Belief and Ritual in a New Taiwanese Religion’. In Gösta Arvastson and Mats Lindqvist (eds), The Story of Progress. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. (Studia Ethnologica Upsaliensia 17), 13–26.
Soo, Khin Wah (1997). ‘A Study of the Yiguan Dao (Unity Sect) and Its Development in Peninsular Malaysia’. PhD dissertation, University of British Columbia.
PHILIP CLART

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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