Chinese salvationist religions or Chinese folk religious sects are a Chinese religious tradition characterised by a concern for salvation (moral fulfillment) of the person and the society. They are distinguished by egalitarianism, a founding charismatic person often informed by a divine revelation, a specific theology written in holy texts, a millenarian eschatology and a voluntary path of salvation, an embodied experience of the numinous through healing and self-cultivation, and an expansive orientation through evangelism and philanthropy.
Some scholars consider these religions a single phenomenon, and others consider them the fourth great Chinese religious category alongside the well-established Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Generally these religions focus on the worship of the universal God, represented as either male, female, or genderless, and regard their holy patriarchs as embodiments of God.
"Chinese salvationist religions" (救度宗教 jiùdù zōngjiào) is a contemporary neologism coined as a sociological category and gives prominence to folk religious sects' central pursuit that is the salvation of the individual and the society, in other words the moral fulfillment of individuals in reconstructed communities of sense. Chinese scholars traditionally describe them as "folk religious sects" (民间宗教 mínjiān zōngjiào, 民间教门 mínjiān jiàomén or 民间教派 mínjiān jiàopài) or "folk beliefs" (民间信仰 mínjiān xìnyǎng).
They are distinct from the common indigenous religion of the Han Chinese consisting in the worship of gods and ancestors, although in English language there is a terminological confusion between the two. The 20th-century expression of these folk religious movements has been studied under the definition of "redemptive societies" (救世团体 jiùshì tuántǐ), coined by scholar Prasenjit Duara.
A collective name that has been in use possibly since the late Qing dynasty is huìdàomén (会道门 "churches, ways and gates"), as their names interchangeably use the terms huì (会 "church", "society", "association", "congregation"; when referring to their corporate form), dào (道 "way") or mén (门 "gate[way]", "door").
A category overlapping with that of the movements of salvation is that of the "secret societies" (秘密社会 mìmì shèhuì, or 秘密结社 mìmì jiéshè), religious communities of initiatory and secretive character, including rural militias and fraternal organisations which became very popular in the early republican period, and often labeled as "heretical doctrines" (宗教异端 zōngjiào yìduān).
Recent scholarship has begun to use the label "secret sects" (秘密教门 mìmì jiàomén) to distinguish the peasant "secret societies" with a positive dimension of the Yuan, Ming and Qing periods, from the negatively viewed "secret societies" of the early republic that became instruments of anti-revolutionary forces (the Guomindang or Japan).
Many of these religions are traced to the White Lotus tradition ("Chinese Maternism", as mentioned by Philip Clart) that was already active in the Song dynasty; others claim a Taoist legacy and are based on the recovery of ancient scriptures attributed to important immortals such as Lü Dongbin and Zhang Sanfeng, and have contributed to the popularisation of neidan; other ones are distinctively Confucian and advocate the realisation of a "great commonwealth" (datong 大同) on a world scale, as dreamt of in the Book of Rites. Some scholars even find influences from Manichaeism, Mohism and shamanic traditions.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties many folk religious movements were outlawed by the imperial authorities as "evil religions" (邪教 xiéjiào). With the collapse of the Qing state in 1911 the sects enjoyed an unprecedented period of freedom and thrived, and many of them were officially recognised as religious groups by the early republican government.
The founding of the People's Republic in 1949 saw them suppressed once again, although since the 1990s and 2000s the climate was relaxed and some of them have received some form of official recognition. In Taiwan all the still existing restrictions were rescinded in the 1980s.
Folk religious movements began to rapidly revive in mainland China in the 1980s, and now if conceptualised as a single group they are said to have the same number of followers of the five state-sanctioned religions of China taken together. Scholars and government officials have been discussing to systematise and unify this large base of religious organisations; in 2004 the State Administration of Religious Affairs created a department for the management of folk religions. In the late 2015 a step was made at least for those of them with a Confucian identity, with the foundation of the Holy Confucian Church of China which aims to unite in a single body all Confucian religious groups.
Many of the movements of salvation of the 20th and 21st century aspire to become the repository of the entirety of the Chinese tradition in the face of Western modernism and materialism, advocating an "Eastern solution to the problems of the modern world", or even interacting with the modern discourse of an Asian-centered universal civilisation.
The Chinese folk religious movements of salvation are mostly concentrated in northern and northeastern China, although with a significant influence reaching the Yangtze River Delta since the 16th century. The northern provinces have been a fertile ground for the movements of salvation because of a number of reasons: ① firstly, popular religious movements were active in the region already in the Han dynasty, and they deeply penetrated local society; ② secondly, northern provinces are characterised by social mobility around the capital and weak traditional social structure, thus folk religious movements of salvation fulfill the demand of individual searching for new forms of community and social network.
According to the Chinese General Social Survey of 2012, approximately 2.2% of the population of China, which is around 30 million people, claim to be members of folk religious sects. The actual number of followers may be higher, about the same as the number of members of the five state-sanctioned religions of China if counted together. In Taiwan, recognised folk religious movements of salvation gather approximately 10% of the population as of the mid-2000s.
The Chinese religions of fasting (simplified Chinese: 斋教; traditional Chinese: 齋教; pinyin: zhāijiāo; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: chai-kàu) are a subgroup of the Chinese salvationist religions. Their name refers to the strict vegetarian fasting diet that believers follow. This subgroup originated as the Lǎoguān zhāijiào (老官齋教 "Venerable Officials' teaching of fasting") sect that departed from the eastern "Great Vehicle" proliferation of Luoism in the 16th century and adopted features of the White Lotus tradition.The Chinese religions of fasting are the following three:
the Longhua sect (龙花教 "Dragon Flower");
the Jintong sect (金幢教 "Golden Flag"); and
the Xiantiandao (先天道 "Way of Former Heaven") tradition.In the 1890s, a zhaijiao group assumed the functions of government in Gutian County, leading to the Kucheng Massacre.Dacheng teaching of Mount Jizu
Dacheng teaching of Mount Jizu (鸡足山大乘教 Jīzú shān dàchéng jiào, "Great Vehicle teaching of Mount Jizu"), is a Chinese folk religious sect, a branch of Luoism in western China established by Zhang Baotai (張保太) in the late 17th century, during the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty.
The sect originated in Mount Jizu, Yunnan, near Qing's border with the Burmese Taungoo dynasty. Many in the sect also advocated for the restoration of the Chinese-ruled Ming dynasty in China. It grew quickly in many southern Chinese regions and was behind a few rebellions in the 1730s and 1740s which were ruthlessly suppressed.
In 1746 the Qianlong Emperor officially banned the Dacheng religions, a year after Zhang died in prison. Many followers from Yunnan fled to Burma.De teaching
The De teaching (Chinese: 德教 Dejiao, "teaching of virtue", the concept of De), whose corporate name is the Church of Virtue (德教会 Déjiàohuì), is a sect rooted in Taoism, that was founded in 1945 in Chaozhou, Guangdong. It is popular both in China and amongst expatriate Chinese populations.Huangjidao
Huangjidao (皇极道 "Way of the Imperial Pole" or "Imperial Ultimate") or Huangjiism (皇极教 Huáng jí jiào) is a Chinese folk religious sect that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China as testified by the arrest of various leaders and members in those years.Huangtiandao
Huangtiandao (黃天道 "Way of the Yellow Sky / Heaven", also written with the homophonous characters 皇天道 "Way of the Kingly Sky"), also known as Huangtianism (黄天教 Huángtiān jiào) or Xuanguism (悬鼓教 Xuángǔ jiào, "Dark Drum teaching"), is a Chinese folk religious sect of northern China. It was founded by Li Bin (李賓), a former soldier who retired after losing an eye, in 1553 in Xuanhua, Hebei.Jiugongdao
Jiugongdao (九宫道 "Way of the Nine Palaces") is a Chinese folk religious sect centered in the Wutai County of the province of Shanxi. The name of the sect is based on the jiugong diagram of esoteric cosmology.
Flourishing in the Qing dynasty, but rooted in earlier times, the Jiugongdao developed greatly on Mount Wutai thanks to the efforts of Li Xiangshan, also known as Puji, his name as a Buddhist monk who was close to the Manchu court. With his contribution, Jiugongdao took over more than twenty run down former Buddhist monasteries on Mount Wutai and rebuilt them thanks to the donations of its strong following, especially concentrated in northeast China. The monasteries were reformed into Chinese temples dedicated to indigenous deities and the cosmological Lords of the Five Peaks. The sect also gathered a following among Khorchin Mongols.The Jiugongdao declined on Mount Wutai in the 1940s, as a Han Chinese-acquired tradition of Tibetan Buddhism took power. With the campaigns against religion in the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, Jiugongdao and other folk religious sects focused on Mount Wutai, Huanxiangdao and Houtiandao, were persecuted and went underground. They have revived since the 1980s.Lishan Laomu
Líshān Lǎomǔ (Chinese: 驪山老母; literally: 'The old mother of Mount Li') is a goddess in Chinese religion and Taoism. She is a high-ranking female immortal and the goddess of Mount Li.Luo teaching
Luodao (罗道 "Way of Luo") or Luoism (罗教), originally Wuweiism (无为教), refers to a Chinese folk religious tradition, a wide range of sect organisations flourishing over the last five hundred years, which trace their origins back to the mystic and preacher Luo Menghong (1443-1527), the Patriarch Luo (罗祖 Luōzǔ) and the revelation contained in his major scripture, the Wǔbùliùcè (五部六册 "Five Instructions in Six Books"), which official title is The Scroll of Apprehending the Way through Hard Work and that marked the beginning of the precious scrolls' tradition.Luo and the movement he started is considered the most important influence within the Chinese salvationist tradition. A wide range of religious groups can be traced to Luo's teachings, their names are numerous and have changed over the centuries. Some of them have remained close to original Wuweiism as transmitted in Luo's scriptures, while other ones have developed other beliefs only preserving the name of the founding master.Types of Luodao, together with other folk religions, have revived rapidly in China since the 1980s, and if conceptualised as a single group today they are said to have more followers than the five state-sanctioned religions counted together.Maitreya teachings
The Maitreya teachings or Maitreyanism (Chinese: 弥勒教; pinyin: Mílèjiào; literally: 'Maitreya teachings'), also called Mile teachings, refers to the beliefs related to Maitreya (彌勒 Mílè in Chinese) that penetrated China together with Buddhism and Manichaeism, and were developed in different ways both in the Chinese Buddhist schools and in the sect salvationist traditions of the Chinese folk religion.
Maitreya was the central deity worshipped by the first folk salvation religions, but in later developments of the sects he was gradually replaced by the Limitless Ancient Mother (無生老母 Wúshēng Lǎomǔ), although Maitreyan eschatology continued to have a place in their doctrines.
Folk Buddhist movements that worshipped and awaited Maitreya are recorded at least back to the years between 509 and 515 (6th century). A notorious event was the rebellion led by monk Faqing from Jizhou City, then Northern Wei, in the name of a "new Buddha". Later, Maitreyan beliefs developed conspicuously outside the boundaries of Buddhism. By 715, as testified by an edict, wearing white clothes, that was originally a practice common to lay Buddhist congregations, had become a distinctive feature of Maitreyan sects.Pilanpo
Pílánpó (Chinese: 毗蓝婆菩萨) is a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism and mother of the Sun Deity of Mao (昴日星官) in Chinese religion and Taoism.Sanyi teaching
The Harmonious Church of the Three-in-One (三一教协会), or Sanyiism (三一教) and Xiaism (夏教), is a Chinese folk religious sect of Confucian character founded in the 16th century by Lin Zhao'en, in Putian. In 2011 it was officially recognised by the government of Fujian.The religion is based on Confucian moral ideas and ancestral worship, and includes meditation techniques modeled after neidan and pursuit of enlightenment. Differently from other Chinese folk religious sects, the Sanyi philosophy is not expounded in the sentimental vernacular language but in the elaborate language of the Confucian literary tradition. The "Three in One" is a philosophical concept expressing the original trinity proceeding from the Tao, the two principles, yin and yang, of the Great Pole. The Great Pole is the One that contains yin and yang, the Two, in the Three.Shengdao
Shengdao (圣道 "Holy Way" or "Way of the Hallows"), best known by its corporate name Tongshanshe (Chinese: 同善社; pinyin: Tóngshàn Shè; Wade–Giles: T'ung-shan She; literally: 'Society of the Goodness') is a Confucian salvation sect part of the Xiantiandao ("Way of Former Heaven") lineage.Amongst the Way of Former Heaven sects, the Tongshanshe has been one of the most widespread and influential. Yanshengdao (言圣道 "Way of the Holy Word") is a branch of Shengdao.Tianguangdao
Tianguangdao (天光道 "Way of the Heavenly Light") is a Chinese folk religious sect that as of the 1980s was a proscribed religion in China. Particularly active in Heilongjiang and Anhui, there are records of detentions of leaders and members easpecially from the former province.Tianxian miaodao
The Tianxian miaodao (天仙庙道 "Way of the Temple of the Heavenly Immortals"), incorporated as the Church of the Way of the Temple of the Heavenly Immortals (天仙庙道会 Tiānxiān miàodào huì) is a Chinese salvationist religious sect centered in Henan. It was founded in the mid-19th century and flourished in the early republic and was known for its rebellious aptitude towards the state. Despite systematic efforts of the later communist republic to suppress it in the 1950s and 1960s, it has persisted to the present day.Wusheng Laomu
Wusheng Laomu (無生老母 "Eternal Venerable Mother"), also called Wujimu (無極母 "Infinite Mother"), is a goddess in Chinese religion, an epithet of Xiwangmu ("Queen Mother of the West"), the ancient mother goddess of China associated to the mythical Kunlun, the axis mundi. She is also frequently called upon as Yaochi Jinmi (瑶池金母 "Golden Mother of the Nacre Lake").
With this title, Xiwangmu is the central figure of many Chinese salvationist religions (the "Maternist" ones), representing the absolute principle of reality, or the creative origin of all things. One of her symbols is the Big Dipper. As early as the Han dynasty, 3 year BCE, there were millenarian movements worshipping Xiwangmu.Xiantiandao
The Xiantiandao (Chinese: 先天道; pinyin: Xiāntiān Dào; literally: 'Way of Former Heaven', or "Way of the Primordial"; Vietnamese: Tiên Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Sentendō), also simply Tiandao (Chinese: 天道; pinyin: Tiāndào; literally: 'Way of Heaven'; Vietnamese: Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Tendō) is one of the most productive currents of Chinese folk religious sects such as the White Lotus Sect, characterised by representing the principle of divinity as feminine and by a concern for salvation (moral completion) of mankind.
Xiantiandao was founded in Jiangxi in the 17th century Qing dynasty as an offshoot of the Venerable Officials' teaching of fasting (老官齋教 Lǎoguān zhāijiào), a branch of the Dacheng (大乘 "Great Vehicle") or Yuandun (圆顿 "Sudden Stillness") eastern proliferation of Luoism. It has also been traced to the earlier Wugongdao (五公道 "Way of the Five Lords"), a Yuan dynasty offshoot of the White Lotus tradition.The Xiantiandao religions were considered heterodox and suppressed throughout the history of China; they are still mostly forbidden in Mainland China, yet they thrive in Taiwan where at least 7% of the population adheres to some sect derived from the Xiantiandao.
The Xiantiandao movement is not limited only to Chinese-speaking countries, with at least one sect, the Tendō (天道, "Way of Heaven"), active in Japan. In Vietnam, "Tiên Thiên Đạo" doctrines ultimately influenced the rise of the Minh Đạo sects since the 17th century and subsequently of Caodaism in the 20th century.Sects that are or have been considered as part of the Xiantiandao stream are:
Guigendao (归根道 "Way of the Return to the Root")
Guiyidao (皈依道, "Way of the Return to the One"), best known by its corporate name of School of the Way of the Return to the One or simply School of the Way (道院 Dàoyuàn)
Shengdao (圣道 "Holy Way"), best known by its incorporate name of Tongshanshe (同善社 "Community of the Goodness")
Tiandi teachings (天帝教 "Heavenly Deity")
Yaochidao (瑤池道 "Way of the Jasper Lake")
Yiguandao (一貫道 "Complete Way")
Haizidao (亥子道 "Way of the Children")
Miledadao (弥勒大道 "Great Way of Maitreya")
Yixin Tiandao Longhua Hui (一心天道龙华会 "Dragon Flower Church of the Heart-bound Heavenly Way")
Yuanmingdao (圆明道 "Way of the Bright Circle")Xuanyuan teaching
Xuanyuandao (軒轅道 "Way of Xuanyuan"), also known as Xuanyuanism (軒轅教) or Huangdiism (黄帝教), is a Confucian folk religion of China which was founded in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1952. The founder was Wang Hansheng (王寒生) (1899–1989), a legislator. The Church of Xuanyuan aims to restore the "national religion" of archaic (pre-Han dynasty) China, with Huangdi as the universal God.Yaochidao
Yaochidao (瑤池道 "Way of the Mother-of-Pearl Lake"), also known by the name of its corporate form the Holy Church of the Mother-of-Pearl Lake, or by the older name of Cihuitang (慈惠堂 "Church of the Loving Favour"), is a Chinese folk religious sect related to the Xiantiandao lineage, with a strong following in Taiwan and active as an underground church in the People's Republic of China, where it is theoretically a proscribed sect.It existed before the 20th century and it is focused on the worship of Xiwangmu (the "Queen Mother of the West").Zaili teaching
Zailiism (在理教, the "Way of the Abiding Principle") or Liism (理教), also known as the Baiyidao (白衣道 "White-Clad Way") or Bafangdao (八方道 "Octagonal Way"), is a Chinese folk religious sect of north China, founded in the 17th century by Yang Zai. It claims a Taoist identity and is centered on the worship of Guanyin as the incarnation of the principle of the universe, the "Only God of the Unlimited" (无极只神 Wújí Zhīshén).
|Major religions in China|