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.[1][2] 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.[3][4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

Sects that are or have been considered as part of the Xiantiandao stream are:[2]

  • 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")


The sect can be traced back to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). It has been associated to the White Lotus tradition, a rebellious sect of that time, especially by anti-sect political centers and religious antagonists.

The differentiation of the Xiantiandao subtradition out of the general field of Chinese popular sects is commonly attributed to the so-called ninth patriarch Huang Dehui (1684-1750). The Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe sects legitimize themselves by tracing their patriarchal lines through Huang Dehui to the mythical patriarchs of early Chinese history.

The patriarchal lines of these two sects are largely identical down to the thirteenth patriarch Yang Shouyi (1796-1828), after whom the lines split and ultimately lead to the development of the Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe as separate sects. The other groups maintain a different model of linear patriarchal succession.[7]

Tian Yuan Gong
Tianyuangong, a temple of Yiguandao in Tamsui District, New Taipei City, Taiwan.

Common themes

Xiantiandao doctrine holds that the origin of the universe is Wusheng Laomu (Chinese: 無生老母; pinyin: Wúshēng Lǎomǔ; literally: 'Unborn Ancient Mother'), creatrix of all living beings. These children went astray and ended up in the earthly world where they forgot their divine origin. The wheel of reincarnation started and the return to Heaven was no longer possible.

For this reason, the Mother sent a range of enlightened beings to bring Her children back to Heaven. The Dīpankara Buddha (燃燈佛 Rándēng Fó) was the first salvage. Gautama Buddha afterwards was the second enlightened. The remaining beings will be saved by the Buddha of the future, Maitreya.

The individual Xiantiandao sects all see themselves as carrying out the Mother's intentions by converting people and guiding them on a path of cultivation and reform that will ultimately lead them back to Heaven. The cultivation urged on members is divided into "inner" and "outer" work (nèigōng, wàigōng), that is, meditation and good deeds, so as to accumulate merits and purify the mind.

As the focus is on a primordial deity superior to all other gods, Xiantiandao sects claim to represent a Way (Dào) that transcends, comes before, and thus overcomes all existing religions. Consequently, a syncretism of features is noticeable in some groups. Most Xiantiandao groups rely heavily on automatic writing as a means of communicating with the Mother and lower-ranking deities.

Theological and practical differences

Along with the written works of the founding patriarchs, spirit-writing provides a distinct corpus of scriptures for each individual sect, that develops the shared themes in different directions and serves to differentiate the individual group from related sects. The variations on the central theme are many: for example, different sects use different names for the supreme deity, the Yiguandao and the Tongshanshe calling her "Venerable Mother of Limitless Pole" (Wuji Laomu) and the Yaochidao the "Mother of the Jasper Lake" (Yaochimu).

The Daoyuan diverges from the common maternal pattern by describing the supreme deity as male, naming him "Holiest Venerable Patriarch of the Primordial Heaven" (Zhisheng Xiantian Laozu). Despite these and many other differences in liturgy, organization, and doctrine, ultimately each Xiantiandao sect represents a variation on a central theme. Other movements have significantly departed: the Tiandi teachings movements have shifted to a focus on the Tian, while Caodaism gives centrality to the Cao Đài ("Highest Power").

See also


  1. ^ Ma (2011), p. 173-175.
  2. ^ a b Palmer (2011), p. 4.
  3. ^ Topley, 2011. p. 211
  4. ^ Ter Harr, 1999. pp. 16-59
  5. ^ Tendo official website
  6. ^ Goossaert, Palmer, 2011. pp. 100-102
  7. ^ Tiandi official website - 天德教前期歷史探討


  • Ma, Xisha; Huiying Meng (2011). Popular Religion and Shamanism. Brill. ISBN 9004174559.
  • Palmer, David (2011). "Redemptive Societies in Cultural and Historical Context". Journal of Chinese Theatre, Ritual and Folklore / Minsu Quyi (173): 1–12.
  • B. J. ter Harr. The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History. University of Hawaii Press, 1999. ISBN 0824822188
  • David A. Palmer. Les mutations du discours sur les sectes en Chine moderne, in Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 2008. Online
  • Marjorie Topley. Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore: Gender, Religion, Medicine and Money. Hong Kong University Press, 2011. ISBN 9888028146
  • Vincent Goossaert, David A. Palmer. The Religious Question in Modern China. University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 022600533X

External links


Baojuan (宝卷 bǎojuǎn), literally precious scrolls, are a genre of prosimetric texts (texts written in an alternation of prose and verse) of a religious or mystical nature, produced within the context of Chinese folk religion and individual Chinese folk religious sects. They are often written in vernacular Chinese and recount the mythology surrounding a deity or a hero, or constitute the theological and philosophical scriptures of organised folk sects.

Chinese religions of fasting

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.

Chinese salvationist religions

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.

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.

Dragon Flower Church of the Heart-bound Heavenly Way

The Holy Dragon Flower Church of the Heart-bound Heavenly Way (一心天道龙华圣教会 Yīxīn tiāndào lónghuá shèng jiàohuì), also known simply as Yixin Tiandao (一心天道 "Heart-bound Heavenly Way"), Yizhendao (一真道 "Way of the One Truth") or the Holy Church of the One Truth (一真圣教会 Yīzhēn shèng jiàohuì), or Changmaodao (长毛道 "Way of the Long Hair"), is a Chinese folk religious sect part of the Xiantiandao tradition.The first hall of the religion (一心堂 yīxīn táng, "one-heart hall") was founded in 1913 by Ma Shiwei (马士伟) in the Zouping County of Shandong.In 1917 the One-Heart movement expanded opening a branch in Shanxi, and in 1922 it started a branch in Hebei. Its headquarters were located in Wutai County (Shanxi) and Jinan (Shandong). In 1937 the first congregation was established in Shanghai.


Fenxiang (分香), literally the incense division, is a term that defines both hierarchical networks of temples dedicated to a god in Chinese folk religion, and the ritual process by which these networks form.


Guiyidao (皈依道, "Way of the Return to the One"), better known as Precosmic Salvationism (先天救教 Xiāntiān jiùjiào; or "Former Heaven Salvationism") in contemporary Taiwan, and historically also known by the name of its institutions as Daodeshe (道德社), Guiyi Daoyuan (皈依道院) or later Daoyuan (道院) — respectively "Community of the Way and its Virtue", "School of the Way of the Return to the One" or simply "School of the Way" — is a Chinese folk religious movement of salvation belonging to the Xiantiandao ("Way of Former Heaven") tradition.

Similarly to other Xiantiandao sects, Guiyidao is focused on the worship of the universal God (Tian), which it defines as the Holiest Venerable Patriarch of the Primordial Heaven (Zhisheng Xiantian Laozu), as the source of salvation.

Guiyidao is related to the Japanese Shinto sect of Omoto (大本 "Great Source") and is a proscribed religion in the People's Republic of China, thereafter being active as an underground church. The charitable branch of Daoyuan is known as the Red Swastika Society (世界红卍字会 Hóngwànzìhuì).

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.

Ming yun

Ming yun (Chinese: 命運; pinyin: mìng yùn) is a concept of the personal life and destiny in the Chinese folk religion. Ming is "life" or "right", the given status of life, and yùn defines "circumstance" and "individual choice"; mìng is given and influenced by the transcendent force Tiān (天), that is the same as the "divine right" (tiān mìng) of ancient rulers as identified by Mencius. Personal destiny (mìng yùn) is thus perceived as both fixed (the status of life) and flexible, open-ended (the individual choice in matters of bào yìng).


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.

Taigu school

The Taigu school (太谷学派 Tàigǔ xuépài), also Great Perfection (大成教 Dàchéng jiào) or Yellow Cliff teaching (黄崖教 Huángyá jiào), is a mystical folk religious sect of Confucianism spread especially in Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong. It was founded by Zhou Xingyuan, a man with shamanic skills entitled Taigu (太谷 "Great Valley") by followers.The purpose of the school is to help those who practice it to develop a clear and enlightened state of mind, in which man apprehends his true nature and recovers original simplicity.

Three Suns (eschatology)

The doctrine of the Three Suns (Chinese: 三阳; pinyin: sānyáng) or three stages of the end-time (Chinese: 三期末劫; pinyin: sānqímòjié), or Three Ages, is a teleological and eschatological doctrine found in some Chinese salvationist religions and schools of Confucianism.According to the doctrine, the absolute principle, in many salvationist sects represented as the Wusheng Laomu, divides the end time into three stages, each of which is governed by a different Buddha sent by the Mother to save humanity: the "Green Sun" (qingyang) governed by Dīpankara Buddha, the "Red Sun" (hongyang) by Gautama Buddha, and the current "White Sun" (baiyang) by Maitreya. In different sects the three periods are known by slightly different names, variations originated by oral transmission of the teaching. The doctrine is especially important in the Xiantiandao group of sects, the most notable one being Yiguandao.

Tiandao (disambiguation)

Tiandao (Chinese: 天道; pinyin: Tiāndào; literally: 'Way of Heaven'; Vietnamese: Thiên Đạo, Japanese: Tendō) is a Chinese word used in many philosophical and religious contexts in China and the Sinosphere. It can also refer specifically to:

Xiantiandao, a group of Chinese religions

Yiguandao, a particular religion in this group

Tendo (religion), a Japanese sect of this religionOther uses include:

Mou Zongsan (1909–1995), New Confucian philosopher

A Manifesto for a Re-appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture (1958), group work

Huang-Lao 2nd-century BCE Chinese school of philosophy

Tiandi teachings

Tiandiism is a group of Chinese folk religious sects, namely the Holy Church of the Heavenly Virtue and the Lord of Universe Church, which emerged respectively from the teachings of Xiao Changming and Li Yujie, disseminated in the early 20th century. The Lord of Universe Church is actually a later development of the former, established in the 1980s.These religions focus on the worship of the "Heavenly Deity" or "Heavenly Emperor" (Tiāndì 天帝), on health through the proper cultivation of qi, and teach a style of qigong named Tianren qigong. According to scholars, the doctrines of Li Yujie are traceable to the Taoist tradition of Huashan, where he studied for eight years. The Lord of Universe Church is active both in Taiwan and mainland China, where it has high-level links.

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.

Way of the Gods according to the Confucian Tradition

The Way of the Gods according to the Confucian Tradition (Chinese: 儒宗神教 Rúzōng Shénjiào), also called the Luandao (鸾道 "Phoenix Way" or 鸾门 Luánmén, "Phoenix Gate") or Luanism (鸾教 Luánjiào) or—from the name of its cell congregations—the phoenix halls or phoenix churches (鸾堂 luántáng), is a Confucian congregational religious movement of the Chinese traditional beliefs.The first phoenix hall was established in Magong, the capital of the Penghu Islands, in 1853, and from there the movement spread throughout mainland China and Taiwan. Other names of the movement are Rumen (儒门 "Confucian Gate[way]) or Holy Church of the Confucian Tradition (儒宗圣教 Rúzōng Shèngjiào).The aim of the phoenix halls is to honour the gods through Confucian orthopraxy (rú 儒 style), spreading morality through public lectures and divinely-inspired books (善书 shànshū). The Confucian Way of the Gods is defined as Houtiandao (后天道 "Way of Later Heaven" or "Way of the Manifested") by the antagonistic Xiantiandao (先天道 "Way of Former Heaven" or "Way of the Primordial") traditions, which claim to be closer to the God of the universe.


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").


Yiguandao (simplified Chinese: 一贯道; traditional Chinese: 一貫道; pinyin: Yīguàn Dào; Wade–Giles: I-Kuan Tao), meaning the Consistent Way or Persistent Way, is a Chinese salvationist religious sect that emerged from the Xiantiandao ("Way of Former Heaven") tradition in the late 19th century, in Shandong, to become China's most important redemptive society in the 1930s and 1940s, especially during the Japanese invasion. In the 1930s Yiguandao spread rapidly throughout China led by Zhang Tianran, who is the eighteenth patriarch of the Xiantiandao lineage, among thousands of other movements that thrived since the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911.In the 1930s Yiguandao was a local religion of Shandong with a few thousand followers, but under Zhang Tianran's leadership and with missionary work the group grew to become the biggest movement in China in the 1940s with millions of followers. After 1949, Xiantiandao sects were proscribed as illegal secret societies and heretical cults. While still banned in China, Yiguandao was legally recognised in Taiwan in 1987 and has flourished since then. In the years 2000–2005 the ban on Yiguandao was lifted in China too, and branches of the movement were tacitly allowed to return to the mainland.Yiguandao is characterised by an eschatological and soteriological doctrine, presenting itself as the only way to salvation. It also encourages adherents to engage in missionary activity. Yiguandao is the worship of the source of the universal reality personified as the Eternal Venerable Mother, or the Splendid Highest Deity (Chinese: 明明上帝; pinyin: Míngmíng Shàngdì) as in other folk religions. The highest deity is the primordial energy of the universe, identified in Yiguandao thought with the Tao in the wuji or "unlimited" state and with fire. The name used in contemporary Yiguandao scriptures is the "Infinite Mother" (Chinese: 无极母; pinyin: Wújímǔ) and the "lantern of the Mother" (Chinese: 母灯; pinyin: mǔdēng)—a flame representing the Mother—is the central focus of Yiguandao shrines.

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