Spiritual life in China 2: Dàojiào 道教 Daoism

“The doctrine of the way”

If you’d like to read the whole article with references to sources click here: Daoism article .

The word 道 dào is usually translated as the “way“ or “path“, sometimes also “principle”. The concept itself is beyond description.

“The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.”

In the Daoist theory “dao” is understood as the origin of the universe and the basis of all existing things. It is the law governing their development and change. It is also described as the way of the nature, the way of social order and change, the way of self-cultivation and the way of governing a country as well as managing family life.

A yin yang emblemwell-known Daoist symbol is the “ying-yang” emblem that symbolises the duality of all things.

阳 yáng: bright, active masculine.

阴 yīn: dark, quiet, feminine.

Just as there can’t be light without darkness, hot does not exist without its counterpart cold. “Yin” and “yang” are not opposites. They always complement each as parts of a whole.

 

Daoism is the oldest indigenous Chinese spiritual belief system or wisdom tradition that has been institutionalized. It is based on many practices from ancient shamanistic and other folk religious systems. Daoist rituals have traditionally mostly been conducted by so called 散居 道士 sǎnjū dàoshi, spiritual specialists living in their own homes instead of monasteries.

Daoism is one of the 5 officially sanctioned religions or belief systems in the People’s Republic of China today.

Many, but not all, scholars make a difference between Philosophical Daoism and Religious Daoism.

Philosophical Daoism

Philosophical Daoism emphasizes the way of the nature as the ideal way for a human society as well. The concept of wú wéi 无为 “non-action” or “do nothing and all is done” is essential in Daoist thinking. One could say that it is the only dogma in Philosophical Daoism.

As the nature functions best, if not manipulated by the human hand so society also functions best, if a ruler does not interfere in its workings. A good ruler should forget about his own desires, lean back and let things take their course. Just as a river finds its way back to the river bed after a flood so does a society find its way back to the state of balance after political turbulences.

Philosophical Daoists believed in observing the ways of the nature like a child: learning from them and living according to them. Theoretical thinking and formal learning areactually considered harmful as they divert a person’s attention away from the real world. The general opinion seems to be that too much thinking leads to greed, which is the root of all evil.

Furthermore, philosophical Daoists basically accepts death as part of life. Striving for longevity and the wish to defeat death have always been present especially in the southern traditions. However, such wishes became central only with the development of Religious Daoism.

 

Religious or Institutionalized Daoism

Daoism began to develop institutional structures during the 6. – 5. centuries BC when China was going through huge social changes and was in a constant state of war. There was a need for clear instructions on how to regain social order. Various social and political thinkers began to offer their services as counselors to rulers and to write down their insights.

These thinkers put together all they knew about the central ideas of good governance that had been handed down orally or found in written records from earlier times. The result was a large treasure of philosophical and pragmatically oriented text collections.

Put in a written form, certain practices with the aim of influencing things on earth by trying to influence the divine beings in heaven, who were held responsible for everything that happened on earth, became ritualized. This gave rise to a class of ritual specialists, who explained the meanings of the rituals to groups of disciples that began to gather around them. With time a class of spiritual specialists or priests developed. These acted as mediators between the living and the spirit world. In this way Daoism (as well as other belief systems) became institutionalized.

The early philosophical works were compiled by many different authors and only later credited to real or legendary personalities such as 老子 Lǎozǐ and 空子 Kǒngzǐ (Confucius). There is no historical evidence that a person fitting any of the descriptions of an ancient sage known as Laotzi actually existed. Legends make him a contemporary of Confucius (around 600 BC). The Daoist teachings, however, were probably put in written form during the 4. and 3. century BC in books like the 道德经 Dào Dé Jīng, the 庄子Zhuāngzǐ and the 易经 I Ching or Yì Jīng, the “Book of Changes

Dao De Jing           Zhuangzi

The Dào Dé Jīng is a collection of aphorisms about all aspects of life. The 庄子Zhuāngzǐ contains long philosophical essays rather than short aphorisms.

 

 

 

 

 

I Ching

trigram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I Ching is a book about an ancient divination method. It is a collection of linear signs, so called trigrams, consisting of three either whole or broken linear lines. It includes 64 possible pairs of trigrams, called hexagrams, and a commentary on them. If you want to know, how to use the I Ching just watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMj-wgSrJAY .

The I Ching is not only part of the Daoist Canon. It is also one of the Confucian Classics.

The four most important schools of Religious Daoism

1. The 天师道 Tiān Shī Dào, “Way of the Celestial Masters“ actually began as a political movement. It was the first really organized group of Daoists believers. The group was structured and governed like an ideal state. In politically rough times the Celestial Masters offered people a safe haven with support for the weakest. The school still exists in small groups today.

The Celestial Masters lived in the present day province of Sichuan. They did not form an elite group, but welcomed women as well as ethnic minorities.

An important aspect of the Celestial Masters was anew understanding of the causes of illness. Illness was considered to be a punishment for wrongful behavior causing the life energy 气 qì to leave the body.

 

2. The 茅山 Máoshān also called the上清 Shàngqīng, the “Utmost Purity School of Daoism developed in southern China. It was a combination of local cults as well as certain aspects from  Celestial Masters. It was also somewhat influenced by Buddhist ideas.

The Maoshan introduced new deities and new holy mountains, where spirits and gods dwelled. Ancestor spirits played a very important role as they were believed to actively interfere in the daily life of the living on earth.

In pursue of immortality the Maoshan made use of alchemy and drugs. They contributed much to the development of the science of chemistry. Intensive meditation and visualizations formed an important part of the individual practice.

3. The 灵宝 Língbǎo, “School of Numinous Treasure” was influenced by the Celestial Masters and the Maoshan school as well as Confucianism and Buddhism.

In this school common rituals were generally considered more important than individual meditation. Those seeking to gain enlightenment individually lived in monasteries, where they practiced intensive meditation.

The Lingbao School introduced the concepts of hell and rebirth based on Buddhist texts. These were translated and reinterpreted to fit the Chinese context.

Many present day Daoist rituals are based on Lingbao rituals.

4. The 全真 Quánzhēn, “Complete Truth” was founded in the 12th century AD. Today Quanzhen is the main official branch of Daoism in the PRC. The Quanzhen beliefs and practices do not radically differ from those of other Daoist Schools.

Quanzhen has always enjoyed official protection, because its celibate and communal mode of life has been fairly easy to control. In this position Quanzhen has played an important role in transmitting Daoist texts and practices, especially through the persecutions of the twentieth century.

The Daoist pantheon

The Daoist heaven is inhabited by ancestors, immortals and various kinds of deities. By the 3. century BC there were already many quite differentiated images of immortals.

the eight immortals

Immortals are thought to be human beings, who became immortal through self-cultivation. Their place is between human beings and deities and their task is to act as mediators between the earth and the heaven. The so called Eight Immortals serve as models for achieving immortality through leading a morally faultless life.

In some old texts Laotzi is presented as an immortal. In later texts he is often regarded as a Messiah figure, who in troubled times appears on earth to help the living. Many daoist schools worship Laotzi as a god.

the three pure ones

The highest ranking deities, beside Laozi himself, are (from the left) the Supreme Way Heavenly Worthy, the Primordial Heavenly Worthy and the Spiritual Treasure Heavenly Worthy. These three are regarded as emanations of “dao”, omnipotent and supreme.

One of the oldest known deities of China is 西王母 Xīwángmǔ, the Queen Mother of the Western Mountains. The first mentions of the Queen Mother date back to oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC). She is believed to live in the Kunlun Mountains in the far west at the margin of heaven and earth. Her magic peach tree is a cosmic axis that connects heaven and earth.

Xiwangmu

An 18th-century woodcut depicts the goddess in her old shamanic form, with tiger’s teeth and bamboo staff, sitting on a mountaintop with various chimeric animals.[1]


[1] http://www.suppressedhistories.net/goddess/xiwangmu.html.

Daoism today

It is very difficult to find any reliable statistics about Daoism in China today. The “White Paper – Freedom of Religious Belief in China 1997” gives the following figures: China now has over 1,500 Taoist temples and more than 25,000 Taoist priests and nuns. As for practicing believers it is simply impossible to give any reliable figures at all for the very simple reason that most Chinese people do not adhere to only one spiritual belief system, but often practice different ones at the same time.

Today the 北京白云观 Běijīng Báiyún Guàn or “The White Cloud Tempel” in Beijing houses the offices of the Daoist Association of China. It represents the Quanzhen School, which is the main official branch of Daoism in the PRC today. It is also the home of the Chinese Daoist Academy, the first national institution that acts as the highest authority in Daoist learning.

Lai Chi-Tim provides the following information: By 1999, 133 regional Daoist Associations had been established at a nation-wide level. They are responsible for the management of temples, training of monks, priests and nuns as well as negotiating with the government. Furthermore he tells about the ordination held at the Baiyun Guan in 1989, the first one since 1949. At the ceremony 75 ordinands, 30 of whom were women, were ordinated. A further ordination ceremony for some 400 monks and nuns took place in 1995.[1]


[1] Lai Chi-Tim (2003). Daoism in China Today, 1980–2002. The China Quarterly, 174, pp 413-427 doi:10.1017/ S0009443903000251.

I was visiting the White Cloud Temple with a local friend when we saw two women burning joss sticks and bowing their heads in front of statues representing the pantheon of Daoist Gods. My friends asked them what they were praying for. The younger woman told us that she was about to take an entrance exam to a university. Together with her mother she had been going thru all the spiritual institutions of Beijing to ask for support. Just to make sure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Q4mkyaWXk presents a video film about the temple.

The Daoist Tempel in Dong Bei Yang and the holy 泰山Tài Shān mountain

Dong Bei Yang is the home village of my dear friend Zhao Xiao Yan. It is situated about 400 km southwest of Beijing in the Hebei Provinz. Xiao Yan took me home for an autumn temple fair a few years ago. In addition to being a religious affair, the temple fair also functions as a market.

It was a great time to “go home” as everyone else was there as well. As my friend and I took a stroll in the village we were greeted every few minutes by a relative or a friend. So in addition to visiting the temple, we had tea and watermelon seeds in many houses along the way and heard the latest news.

The temple in the village has a long, rich history. It was used as a school during the Cultural Revolution, but today it is again an important spiritual center of the Tai Shan School of Daoism. They worship the third daughter of the legendary Jade Emperor as a High Goddess.

The priests welcomed Xiao Yan as a daughter of the village and me as her good friend. They patiently answered my many questions about the history of the Temple and its social significance. Very obviously the Temple is an important place for people to consult with the priests about their daily concerns. It is also a spiritual refuge for quiet meditation.

I was taken into the holiest of the holy to see ancient paintings of the highest Gods. This was an honor indeed, as my friend said: “Only priests can go in there !”.

A couple of years later I went up to Tai Shan, one of the five holy Daoist Mountains, together with Xiao Yan. A bus took us to the starting point of the stone stairway to the mountain top. It has about 7000 steps altogether. But we got into a modern gondola and hiked up only the last part of the way, which was heavy enough in the hot, foggy weather.

Stairway to Tai ShanThe area around the mountain top has grown into a small village with souvenir shops and restaurants. Numerous little shrines and kiosks are scattered along the stairway.

A trip up to Tai Shan can probably not be compared with a trip to Mecca. However, it seems to have a certain spiritual meaning for at least some of the visitors. They probably gain quite a lot of merit points by doing the hard climb up and down the “stairway to heaven”.

Tai Shan

Tai Shan was taken to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1987.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/437

 

Websites:
Dao De Jing: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html
I Ching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMj-wgSrJAY
Deities: http://www.taoistsecret.com/taoistgod.html
Xi Wang Mu: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/goddess/xiwangmu.html
The White Cloud Temple in Beijing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Q4mkyaWXk

Sources for further reading:
Isabelle Robinet and Livia Kahn’s books on the subject
“Spiritual Traditions of China” Internet Resources Site, compiled by Prof. Ron Epstein http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/China/spiritualchina.html

Verein Freundschaft mit China Bern

Ich möchte hier den Verein “Freundschaft mit China Bern” kurz vorstellen. Dieses Jahr (2013) konnte er das 40-Jahre Jubiläum feiern.

freundschaftmitchinabern.com

Freundschaft mit China Bern ist ein unpolitischer Verein.

Unser Ziel ist es, freundschaftliche Beziehungen zwischen China und der Schweiz zu fördern. Unsere Anlässe haben kulturellen, sportlichen oder unterhaltsamen Charakter. Sie bieten Menschen aus der Schweiz und China Gelegenheit zum Gedankenaustausch oder auch einfach nur für ein gemütliches Beisammensein.

Wir heissen alle herzlich willkommen, die sich für China und die Aktivitäten unseres Vereins interessieren.

瑞中友好协会 是一个不带政治色彩的民间组织

该组织旨在促进人民间的友谊。通过举办文化,体育和娱乐活动,为瑞士人和旅居瑞士的华人提供相互认识和了解的机会和场所。

我们欢迎所有的对中国文化和对我们的活动有兴趣的人参加我们的协会。

Xinjiang / 新疆

A friend of mine, Madlen Kobi, is doing research work for her dissertation in Xinjiang. In April 2013 she presented a very interesting overall review of Xinjiang in a public talk. One of her focus points was the various forms of cohabitation of the two main ethnic groups, the Uyghurs (45%) and the Han-Chinese (45%), living in Xinjiang. Other ethnic groups living in this area are Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Russians und Hui.

This is a short summary of the main points of her talk. If you’d like to read the whole article, click here Article about Xinjiang . The pictures in this article are Madlen’s unless otherwise indicated.

Xinjiang

(Source: http://china.notspecial.org/albums/maps/map_xinjiang.jpg 7.5.2013)

The area serves as a buffer zone between East-China and Central Asia.

Economy
Xinjiangs is economically and geopolitically very important for China. The area has many natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, all kinds of minerals as well as water. The fruit from Xinjiang are exported all over China. The sweetest grapes and the most delicious mangos I’ve ever eaten had been grown there!

The cohabitation of different ethnic groups
The government propagates the advantages of mingling of the various ethnic groups with posters like the one below. Such posters can be seen at every street corner in Xinjiang today.

Poster Xinjiang

 民族 团结 是 福. 分裂 动乱 是 祸. Minzu tuanjie shi fu. Fenlie dongluan shi huo. “Ethnic unity means happiness.  Segregation and unrest mean disaster.”

The cohabitation between ethnic groups takes place mainly in the cities. These have grown enormously due to immigration from the countryside of Xinjiang and from other parts of China, where land is becoming scarce. The people are looking for new living space as well as better work chances.

In the 1980’s and the 1990’s there were quite a number of bilingual schools in Xinjiang. Today Mandarin Chinese is the main language used for teaching. The Uighur language is used only in classes about the Uighur history and culture. Anyway, it is easier to find a job for those who master Chinese.

Shopping malls are meeting places for all!

Shopping Mall Xinjiang

Innovative Chinese engineers looking for solutions in mass transport

The Straddling Bus, 立体快巴;Lìtǐ Kuǎi Bā.

The video speaks for itself. However, the Beijing traffic commission is not interested in the idea of the three-dimensional bus, because “the designer is not selling himself well” that is he has not been able to convince them.

立体巴士遭北京交通委否决 称未曾与设计方联系. 针对“立体快巴”专利方所提“碰 会”一事,交通委宣传部门一名工作人员表示,“没有这事,设计者是在推销自己”,交通委目前没有在快速公交线上试行“立体快巴”的想法。(http://tech.kexue.com/2010/0829/8797.html)

Peking Opera, a gem of Chinese culture

I shall let the speaker of the Liyuan Theater of the Jianguo Qianmen Hotel in Beijing ( http://www.qianmenhotel.com/en/liyuan.html ) welcome you to an evening show of Peking Opera:

“Welcome to China and the Liyuan Theater to enjoy Peking Opera. It includes music, dancing, recitation, fine arts and martial skills. One of the major features of Peking Opera is symbolism. While the stage is bare of decorations you can understand a lot through the body language of the actors. That is: a long journey is symbolized by going around the stage once, a horse whip means riding a horse. A paddle means going on a boat. […] Well, dear friends, we believe that even though we speak different languages it doesn’t matter at all. You’ll be able to feel this very special performance here. You’ll all be captivated by the artistic charm of the performers.”

Li Yuan Theater in Jianguo Qianmen Hotel Beijing

Li Yuan Theater in Jianguo Qianmen Hotel Beijing

Actress at Li Yuan

Peking Opera is not “opera” in the sense that most westerners understand opera. It was just called so by western people, who got in touch with the art in China and simply couldn’t think of a better name for it.

Peking Opera is a colorful mixture of acrobatics, dance, pantomime, singing and dialog as well as background music. Symbolic and magic contents play a central role in a Peking Opera performance. The speaker makes the point that even though the performers and the spectators “speak different languages”, he believes that the spectators can “feel” the performance thus implicating that there is a transfer of emotions from the stage to the audience. Although Peking Opera is highly conventionalized, it is essentially realistic as the stories are based on people’s “hopes and strivings”. As such hopes and strivings are basically human they can be understood by spectators with different cultural backgrounds.

Sū Sān 苏三at court

Sū Sān 苏三at court

Peking Opera began to develop in the end of 18th century from various folk theater traditions, mainly those from the provinces Ānhuī 安徽 and Húběi 湖北, to eventually become an independent art form. It developed in two main streams; one at the imperial court and the other at the marketplaces and teahouse-theaters of old Beijing.

Méi Lánfāng梅兰芳Theater Beijing

The Méi Lánfāng 梅兰芳Theater Beijing

The Peking Opera plays performed at the imperial court were mainly dramas based on the early history of China. They often had, and still have, a very long duration (up to 8 hours) and strong nationalistic contents. In this type of Peking Opera singing and dialog are the most important means of expression. Such plays are today performed in big theaters built especially for Peking Opera in the bigger cities of the PRC and Taiwan.

Teahouse theater

Teahouse theater

The plays performed at the marketplaces and teahouses, on the other hand, had a lighter character with lots of acrobatics and humorous contents telling stories from the everyday life of the common people. They are never as long as the dramas. Such plays are performed today in small teahouse-theaters and some ancient palaces for visitors. However, serious Peking Opera enthusiasts do not consider the lighter kind of plays as Peking Opera as I have been often told. Only the dramas are considered to be deserving of the name.

Both types of Peking Opera, however, contain folklore and have all kinds of magic contents. The stories of most plays are part of the Chinese cultural heritage. People know the stories; they understand what happens on the stage and they understand the moral messages of the plays.

At the beginning of 20th century Peking Opera was not very popular in China. But as Méi Lánfāng 梅兰芳, the probably best-known Peking Opera performer and theorist at that time, brought the art first to Japan in 1919, then to the United States of America in 1930 and to Europe in 1935, the art became more popular also at home.

Revolution opera

Revolution opera

After the revolution of 1949 Peking Opera was not completely banned by the new government as many western sources put it. The government regarded it as an important part of the traditional culture and invested funds in developing the art in a new direction. This was part of the comprehensive strategy of the government to classify and save certain contents of the “old culture” and then model them to suit the new state ideology. State-owned opera companies were founded and actors and actresses became state employees. A total of 37 new “revolutionary model plays” were written in assignment of the government and strongly propagated by it. However, these works never became really popular and are seldom performed today.

The traditional kind of Peking Opera lived on even if it was not performed openly. During the Cultural Revolution 1966 -1967 Peking Opera in the traditional form was banned to some degree once more. A friend of mine, who was a school girl at that time, told me that the children had to learn parts of the revolutionary plays by heart and perform them at public places such as railway stations.

Today, however, Peking Opera in the traditional form is acknowledged and propagated by the government as a “gem of the Chinese culture” and an important part of the Chinese national identity. But for the younger generations in China Peking Opera is difficult to understand. The common attitude is “I don’t understand Peking Opera and I don’t like to watch it”.

The latest development of Peking Opera is represented, among others, by Lǐ Yù Gāng 李玉刚, the winner of a TV talent show. He is an autodidact, who combines traditional Peking Opera with modern pop music. Depending on what he performs he wears a modified modern costume or a traditional one. Lǐ Yù Gāng is a dàn 旦 actor. It means that he plays women’s roles.

Lǐ Yù Gāng 李玉刚

Lǐ Yù Gāng 李玉刚

Lǐ Yù Gāng 李玉刚

Lǐ Yù Gāng 李玉刚

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today Peking Opera is shown in various theaters and on TV. Early in the morning one can see and hear Peking Opera in many parks of Beijing and other towns, where amateur groups meet to practice and to perform for each other.

How is Peking Opera presented to foreign audiences? As mentioned before, the first artist to introduce Peking Opera abroad was Méi Lánfāng. Fully understanding that the art has many aspects that are difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with the Chinese culture he took 183 painted scrolls as well as 1987 drawings with pictures and explanations with him when he made his first tour in the United States.

Books about Peking Opera

Books about Peking Opera

There are numerous older books and shortly before the Olympic Games of 2008 many new books on the topic written by western and Chinese authors were published in the PRC in English, French and German. This picture shows part of my “collection” in the Jianguo Qianmen Hotel, where I spent nearly a month collecting empirical material for my Master’s paper on the topic in 2009.

 

If you’d like to read more about theater buildings, stage props, music and the various role types in Peking Opera, here is a link to the “Introduction of Peking Opera” of my paper with information on the sources of pictures of  Peking Opera, a gem of Chinese culture .

To my Swiss readers: Ich halte Vorträge über Peking Oper auch in Deutsch. Wenn Sie mich einladen möchten, schreiben Sie bitte eine unverbindliche Anfrage an: katri.naef[at]gmx.ch.

Grabbing chances where one can

supermarket

A Chinese friend and I were doing food shopping in a supermarket in Beijing. We chatted in English as we walked around the shop. Then I went to get something by myself. A Chinese man approached my friend and asked her, who I was and why my English was so good.  It turned out that he owned a little company that provided communication services to foreigners in China. The man was always looking for language teachers; at that time actually for a German teacher. Well, no problem, I can also teach German. To make a long story short, I soon had my first student. The fact that I was going to leave Beijing in a couple of weeks was no problem. “You teach as long as you are here!”

nap2

nap1

I believe that many Chinese people have a very pragmatic world view. When they see a chance to do something that might prove to be rewarding they grab it. Whether it’s employing a language teacher when they happen to meet one, a chance to make some extra money or have a nap in the noon time (or any other time of the day actually) they just go ahead and do it. In this respect Chinese people seem to be basically more flexible than their western sisters and brothers. The other side of the coin is that they sometimes act on the spur of the moment.  This can be difficult for a westerner, who is rather used to long term planning.

The world economic crisis of the 1990’s hit China as well as the other parts of the world. The western world worried about millions of Chinese migrant workers getting unemployed. Would they cause a lot social unrest and would such unrest affect the rest of the world? They didn’t and it didn’t happen. They went back to their home villages and built the house they had been planning on building some time anyway. And after that they helped their neighbor build his house.

I believe that there is this very fundamental difference in thinking between the Chinese and western cultures: the Chinese can be rather inclined to short term planning – which does not mean that they don’t do longterm planning as well – and simply grabbing changes where they see them without necessarily thinking of the long term effects of their actions. I’m sure that understanding this would make life easier for westerners doing business in the PRC.

Vortrag über Peking Oper

Wann: 15.00 – 17.00 Uhr, Sonntag, den 07. April 2013
Wo: Weibian Restaurant & Take-Away, Weststrasse 146, 8003 Zürich
Sprache: Chinesisch/Deutsch

Referentin: Man Cao, Pekingoper-Schauspielerin

Bemerkung:
Kosten: CHF 10.- ‚ inkl. Tee und speziellen Imbiss (Teigtasche, knackige Knödel, Lotussamen
& Lilie-Suppe etc.) vom Restaurant Weibian.
Anmeldung per E-mail: sprachklub.cuz@gmail.com
Bitte melden Sie sich bis 5. April 2013 an.

Link zur Einladung: Vortrag_Pekingoper

Spiritual life in China 1 Introduction

General Introduction

Spiritual aspects of life are ever present in the daily life of many Chinese people. The relatively short period of communist atheism could not change the age old practices. Today so called “normal religious activity” is tolerated, even protected, by the government. Article 36 of the Constitution of 1982 declares that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief”.

There are 5 officially sanctioned religions or belief systems in the PRC: Daoism, Buddhism,  the Catholic and the Protestant Church as well as Islam. Confucianism is not officially regarded as a spiritual practice as such, although many people feel differently about it. Not officially sanctioned are the various “folk religions”.

yin yang emblem       Buddhist monkBaoding Church

Muslim woman  Confucius

I shall be writing separate articles about the above mentioned belief systems.  In this first article I will just try to give a short impression of what spiritual life in the PRC looks like today. This short introduction can only be of a very general nature as spiritual practices vary between regions, ethnic groups, villages, towns and cities.

If you ask a Chinese person “What is your religion?” he will give you a somewhat puzzled look: “What do you mean?”. This is because Chinese people live – and have always lived – in a culture of multiple belief systems that do not exclude one another, but are rather intertwined in the daily reality of the people (this, of course, applies to other Asian cultures as well).

Sure, people make a difference between a Daoist temple where they go when they need guidance concerning health matters and a Confucian temple where they may seek help when they have family problems. They also know that the Christian churches differ from the above mentioned not only thru the different building style and the way religious service is conducted. They are also known to be places where at Christmas time everyone gets little presents and something to eat and where western style Christmas decorations are never taken down. Furthermore, spiritual specialists e.g. “shamans” act as healers, soothsayers and priests not only in the far away countryside villages but also in big cities all over the country.

There is a lovely Daoist temple called the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. It has been carefully restored and is a peaceful oasis in the buzzing city. Tourists go there to marvel about the beautiful buildings and the exotic looking monks who go about their daily business of sweeping the ground and talking to visitors. Local people go there to worship and, as mentioned before, to discuss their health problems with the monks.

White Cloud Tempel

I was visiting the White Cloud Temple with a local friend when we saw two women burning joss sticks and bowing their heads in front of statues representing the pantheon of Taoist Gods. My friends asked them what they praying for. The younger woman told us that she was about to take an entrance exam to a university. Together with her mother she had been going thru all the spiritual institutions of Beijing to ask for spiritual support.  Just to make sure.

This is how many Chinese people feel about spiritualism. Each spiritual belief system represented by a temple, a church or a soothsayer’s room with the corresponding personnel has something different to offer to help them manage their daily life. Why not take advantage of  all of them?

Here is a link to a Zeit Online-article in German ReligionChinas Sinn fürs Unendliche

Sourses of pictures: www.buddhanetz.org ; http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Eclipse/Baoding/Baoding-Church-10-big.html ; http://www.flickriver.com/photos/mytripsmypics/8093027319/ ; http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/china/philosophy/confucius.htm   ; http://www.sacred-destinations.com/china/beijing-baiyun-guan-white-cloud-temple.htm )