Chinese folk religion

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Temple of the Mysterious Origin in Huangling, Yan'an, Shaanxi, dedicated to the worship of Xuanyuan Huangdi.
The Temple of the Town God of Wenao, Magong, Taiwan.
Temple of Hebo, the god of the Yellow River, a prominent form of the Heshen (River God), in Hequ, Xinzhou, Shanxi.
Altar to the Five Officials worshipped inside the Temple of the Five Lords in Haikou, Hainan.

Chinese folk religion (also known as Chinese popular religion) is the religious tradition of the Chinese, in which government officials and common people of China share religious practices and beliefs, including veneration of forces of nature and ancestors, exorcism of harmful forces, and a belief in the rational order of nature which can be influenced by human beings and their rulers.[1] The gods or spirits, called shen[2] (), can be nature deities, city deities or tutelary deities of other human groups, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, ancestors and progenitors, and deities of the kinship. Stories regarding some of these gods are codified into the body of Chinese mythology. By the eleventh century (Song period) these practices had been blended with Buddhist ideas of karma (one's own doing) and rebirth, and Taoist teachings about hierarchies of gods, to form the popular religious system which has lasted in many ways until the present day.[3]

Chinese folk religions have a variety of sources, local forms, founder backgrounds, and ritual and philosophical traditions. Despite this diversity, Chinese folk religions have a common core that can be summarised as four spiritual, cosmological, and moral concepts:[4] Tian (), Heaven, the transcendent source of moral meaning; qi (/), the breath or energy that animates the universe; jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors; and bao ying (報應/报应), moral reciprocity; together with two traditional concepts of fate and meaning:[5] ming yun (命運/命运), the personal destiny or burgeoning; and yuan fen (緣分/缘分), "fateful coincidence",[6] good and bad chances and potential relationships.[6] Yin and yang (陰陽/阴阳) is the polarity that describes the order of the universe,[7] held in balance by the interaction of principles of growth (shen) and principles of waning (gui),[8] with yang (/) "act" usually preferred over yin (/) "receptiveness".[9] Ling (/), "numen" or "sacred", is the "medium" of the bivalency, and the inchoate order of creation.[9]

Both the present day government of China and the imperial dynasties of the Ming and Qing tolerated village popular religious cults if they bolstered social stability but suppressed or persecuted those that they feared would undermine it.[10] After the fall of the empire in 1911, governments and elites opposed or attempted to eradicate folk religion in order to promote "modern" values, and many condemned "feudal superstition." These conceptions of folk religion began to change in Taiwan in the late 20th century and in mainland China in the 21st. Many scholars now view folk religion in a positive light.[11] In recent times Chinese folk religions are experiencing a revival in both mainland China and Taiwan. Some forms have received official understanding or recognition as a preservation of traditional Chinese culture, such as Mazuism and the Sanyi teaching in Fujian,[12] Huangdi worship,[13] and other forms of local worship, for example the Longwang, Pangu or Caishen worship.[14]

Terminology and definition[edit]

Temple of the City God of Dongmen, in Xiangshan, Ningbo, Zhejiang.

While in the English language academic literature Chinese "popular religion" or "folk religion" or "folk belief" have long been used to indicate the local and communal religious life and complex of Han local indigenous cults of China, the Chinese language historically has not had a concept or overarching name for this. In Chinese academic literature and common usage "folk religion" (民间宗教 mínjiān zōngjiào) refers to specific organised folk religious sects.[15] "Folk beliefs" (民间信仰 mínjiān xìnyǎng) is a technical term with little usage outside the academia.[16]

With the rise of the study of traditional cults and the creation of a government agency to give legal status to this religion,[17] intellectuals and philosophers in China have proposed the adoption of a formal name in order to solve the terminological problems of confusion with folk religious sects and conceptualise a definite field for research and administration.[18] The terms that have been proposed include "Chinese native religion" or "Chinese indigenous religion" (民俗宗教 mínsú zōngjiào), "Chinese ethnic religion" (民族宗教 mínzú zōngjiào),[19] or also simply "Chinese religion" (中華教 Zhōnghuájiào) viewed as comparable to the usage of the term "Hinduism" for Indian religion,[20] and "Shenxianism" (神仙教 Shénxiānjiào, "religion of deities and immortals"), partly inspired by the term "Shenism" (神教 Shénjiào) that was used in the 1950s by the anthropologist Allan J. A. Elliott.[21] The Qing dynasty scholars Yao Wendong and Chen Jialin used the term shenjiao not referring to Shinto as a definite religious system, but to local shin beliefs in Japan.[22] Other definitions that have been used are "folk cults" (民间崇拜 mínjiān chóngbài),"spontaneous religion" (自发宗教 zìfā zōngjiào), "lived (or living) religion" (生活宗教 shēnghuó zōngjiào), "local religion" (地方宗教 dìfāng zōngjiào), and "diffused religion" (分散性宗教 fēnsàn xìng zōngjiào).[23]

"Shendao" (神道 Shéndào, the "Way of the Gods") is a term already used in the Yijing referring to the divine order of nature.[24] Around the time of the spread of Buddhism in the Han period (206 BCE–220 CE), it was used to distinguish the indigenous religion from the imported religion. Ge Hong used it in his Baopuzi as a synonym for Taoism.[25] The term was subsequently adopted in Japan in the 6th century as Shindo, later Shinto, with the same purpose of identification of the Japanese indigenous religion.[26][27] In the 14th century, the Hongwu Emperor (Taizu of the Ming dynasty, 1328–1398) used the term "Shendao" clearly identifying the indigenous cults, which he strengthened and systematised.[28]

"Chinese Universism", not in the sense of "universalism", that is a system of universal application, but in the original sense of "uni-verse" which is "towards the One", that is ShangdiTian in Chinese thought, is a coinage of Jan Jakob Maria de Groot that refers to the metaphysical perspective that lies behind the Chinese religious tradition. De Groot calls "Chinese Universism" the ancient metaphysical view that serves as the basis of all classical Chinese thought.... In Universism, the three components of integrated universe — understood epistemologically, "heaven, earth and man", and understood ontologically, "Taiji (the great beginning, the highest ultimate), yin and yang" — are formed."[29]

Contemporary Chinese scholars have also identified what they find to be the essential features of the folk (or indigenous—ethnic) religion of China. According to Chen Xiaoyi 陳曉毅 local indigenous religion is the crucial factor for a harmonious "religious ecology" (zongjiao shengtai 宗教生態), that is the balance of forces in a given community.[30] Professor Han Bingfang 韓秉芳 has called for a rectification of distorted names (zhengming 正名). Distorted names are "superstitious activities" (mixin huodong 迷信活動) or "feudal superstition" (fengjian mixin 封建迷信), that were derogatorily applied to the indigenous religion by leftist policies. Christian missionaries also used the label "feudal superstition" in order to undermine their religious competitor.[31] Han calls for the acknowledgment of folk religion for what it really is, the "core and soul of popular culture" (suwenhua de hexin yu linghun 俗文化的核心與靈魂).[32]

According to Chen Jinguo 陳進國, folk religion is a core element of Chinese cultural and religious self-awareness (wenhua zijue 文化自覺, xinyang zijue 信仰自覺).[31] He has proposed a theoretical definition of Chinese indigenous religion in "three inseparable attributes" (sanwei yiti 三位一體), apparently inspired to Tang Junyi's thought:[33]

  • substance (ti 體): religiousness (zongjiaoxing 宗教性);
  • function (yong 用): folkloricity (minsuxing 民俗性);* quality (xiang 相): Chineseness (zhonghuaxing 中華性).

Overview[edit]

Communal ceremony at the Temple of Shennong-Yandi in Suizhou, Hubei.
Statue of Mazu inside a temple in Chiayi, Taiwan.

Chinese religious practices are diverse, varying from province to province and even from one village to another, for religious behaviour is bound to local communities, kinship, and environments. In each setting, institution and ritual, behaviour assumes highly organised forms. Temples and the gods in them acquire symbolic character and perform specific functions involved in the everyday life of the local community.[34] Local religion preserves aspects of natural beliefs such as totemism,[35] animism and shamanism.[36]

Chinese folk religions pervade all aspects of social life. Many scholars, following the lead of sociologist C. K. Yang, see Chinese religion deeply embedded in family and civic life, rather than expressed in a separate organisational structure like a "church," as in the West.[37]

Deity or temple associations and lineage associations, pilgrimage associations and formalised prayers, rituals and expressions of virtues, are the common forms of organisation of Chinese folk religion on the local level.[34] Neither initiation rituals nor official membership into a church organisation separate from one person's native identity are mandatory in order to be involved in religious activities.[34] Contrary to institutional religions, Chinese indigenous religion does not require "conversion" for participation.[37]

The prime criterion for participation in Chinese folk religion is not "to believe" in an official doctrine or dogma, but "to belong" to the local unit of Chinese religiousness, that is the "association", the "village" or the "kinship", with their gods and rituals.[34] Scholar Richard Madsen describes Chinese religion, adopting the definition of Tu Weiming,[38] as characterised by "immanent transcendence" grounded in a devotion to "concrete humanity", focused on building moral community within concrete humanity.[39]

There are many public-domain folk religion texts such as Journeys to the Underworld, The Peach Blossom Spring, the Shi Yi Ji, the Investiture of the Gods, the Shanhaijing, and notably the Yijing divination book, distributed in temples (often without charge) or sold in religious goods stores.

History[edit]

By the Han dynasty, Chinese religion mostly consisted of people organising into shè 社 ("group", "body", local community altars) who worshipped their godly principle. In many cases the "lord of the she" was the god of the earth, and in others a deified virtuous person (xiān 仙, "immortal"). Some cults such as that of Liu Zhang, a king in what is today Shandong, date back to this period.[40]

From the 3rd century on by the Northern Wei, accompaining the spread of Buddhism in China, strong influences from the Indian subcontinent penetrated the Chinese indigenous religion. A cult of Ganesha (象头神 Xiàngtóushén, "Elephant-Head God") is attested in the year 531.[41] Pollination from Indian religions included processions of carts with images of gods or floats borne on shoulders, with musicians and chanting.[40]

19th–20th century[edit]

Altar inside a Tudigong temple in Quanzhou, Fujian. The back statue represents Tudigong (土地公 "Lord of the Local Land"), the one on the right Kuixing.

The Chinese folk religion was subject to persecution in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many local temples were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion in the late 1800s.[42] After the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 "most temples were turned to other uses or were destroyed, with a few changed into schools".[43] During the Japanese invasion of China between 1937 and 1945 many temples were used as barracks by soldiers and destroyed in warfare.[42][44]

In the past, popular cults were regulated by imperial government policies, promoting certain deities while suppressing other ones.[45] In the 20th century, with the decline of the empire, increasing urbanisation and Western influence, the issue for the new intellectual class was no longer controlling unauthorised worship of unregistered gods, but became the delegitimisation of folk religion as a superstitious obstacle to modernisation.[46]

In 1904 a government regulation of the late empire approved for schools to be built through the confiscation of temple property.[46] Various "anti-superstition" campaigns followed. The Guomindang government of the early republic intensified the suppression of local religion with the 1928 "Standards for retaining or abolishing gods and shrines"; the policy abolished all cults of gods with the exception of human heroes such as Yu the Great, Guan Yu and Confucius.[47]

These policies were the background of those that were implemented in communist China after 1949.[47] The Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 of the Maoist period was the last systematic effort to destroy the folk religion.[42][47]

After 1978 Chinese folk religion started to rapidly revive in China,[48][49] with millions of temples being rebuilt or built from scratch.[49] Since the 1980s the central government moved to a policy of benign neglect or wu wei (无为) in regard to rural community life, and the local government's new regulatory relationship with local society is characterized by practical mutual dependence; these factors have given much space for popular religion to develop.[49] In recent years, in some cases, local governments have taken an even positive and supportive attitude towards indigenous religion in the name of promoting cultural heritage.[49][50]

Instead of signaling the demise of traditional religion, China's economic development has brought a spiritual renewal.[51] As its images and practices integrate the codes of Chinese culture, Chinese folk religion provides the Chinese people a means to face the challenges of modernisation.[51]

Core concepts of theology and cosmology[edit]

All expressions of Chinese folk religion have a common theology and cosmology.[52] Fan and Chen (2013) summarise four spiritual, cosmological, and moral concepts:[4] Tian (), Heaven, the source of moral meaning; qi (), the breath or substance of which all things are made; the practice of jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors; bao ying (报应), moral reciprocity.

Tian, its li and qi[edit]

Tian or Di as the square of the north astral pole.[53]
"Tian is dian 顛 ("top"), the highest and unexceeded. It derives from the characters yi 一, "one", and da 大, "big"."[note 1]
Main articles: Tian and Qi

In Chinese religion, Tian 天 ("Heaven" or "Sky"; translated philologically as "Great One", "Great Whole", "Great All") is the absolute principle that is spring of the universal reality, of moral meaning and of all creativity inherent to the nature.[61] This creativity or virtue (de), in humans is the potentiality to transcend the given conditions and act wisely and morally.[62] Tian is therefore both transcendent and immanent.[62] Various interpretations of the idea of Tian have been elaborated by Confucians, Taoists, and other schools of thought.[63]

Tian is defined in many ways, with many names, the most widely known being Tàidì 太帝 (the "Great Deity") and Shàngdì 上帝 (the "Primordial Deity").[note 2] The concept of Shangdi is especially rooted in the tradition of the Shang dynasty, which gave prominence to the worship of ancestral gods and cultural heroes. The "Primordial Deity" or "Primordial Emperor" was considered to be embodied in the human realm as the lineage of imperial power.[67] Di () is a term meaning "deity" or "emperor" (Latin: imperator, verb im-perare; "making from within"), used either as a name of the primordial god or as a title of natural gods,[68] describing a principle that exerts a fatherly dominance over what it produces.[69] With the Zhou dynasty, that preferred a religion focused on gods of nature, Tian became a more abstract and impersonal idea of God.[67] A popular representation is the Jade Deity (玉帝 Yùdì) or Jade Emperor (玉皇 Yùhuáng)[note 3] originally formulated by Taoists.[73]

The qi 气 is the breath or substance of which all things are made, including inanimate matter, the living beings, thought and gods.[74][52] It is the continuum energy—matter.[75] Teiser (1996) translates it in English as "stuff" of "psychophysical stuff".[52] Neo-Confucian thinkers such as Zhu Xi developed the idea of li 理, the "reason", "order" of Heaven, that is to say the pattern through which the qi develops, that is the polarity of yin and yang.[76][77] In Taoism the Tao 道 ("Way") denotes in one concept both the impersonal absolute Tian and its order of manifestation (li).

Yin and yanggui and shen[edit]

Yin and yang as earth (and the mountain) and heaven-sky (and the seven stars of the north astral pole).[note 4]
Quanjunxi Linggong, the "Numinous Palace (linggong), by the Brook (xi) in the Land of Springs (quanjun)", in Quanzhou, Fujian.[note 5]

Yin 阴 and yang 阳, whose root meanings respectively are "shady" and "sunny", or "dark" and "light", are modes of manifestation of the qi, not material things in themselves. Yin is the qi in its dense, dark, sinking, wet, condensing mode; yang denotes the light, and the bright, rising, dry, expanding modality. Described as Taiji (the "Great Pole"), they represent the polarity and complementarity that enlivens the cosmos.[77] They can also be conceived as "disorder" and "order", "activity" or "passivity", with act (yang) usually preferred over receptiveness (yin).[9]

The concept 神 "shén" (cognate of 申 shēn, "extending, expanding"[79]) is translated as "gods" or "spirits". There are shén of nature; gods who were once people, such as the warrior Guan Gong; household gods, such as the Stove God; as well as ancestral gods (zu or zuxian).[80] In the domain of humanity the shen is the "psyche", or the power or agency within humans.[81] They are intimately involved in the life of this world.[81] As spirits of stars, mountains and streams, shen exert a direct influence on things, making phenomena appear and things grow or extend themselves.[81] An early Chinese dictionary, the Shuowen jiezi by Xu Shen, explains that they "are the spirits of Heaven" and they "draw out the ten thousand things".[81] As forces of growth the gods are regarded as yang, opposed to a yin class of entities called 鬼 "guǐ" (cognate of 归 guī, "return, contraction",[79] chaotic beings.[82] A disciple of Zhu Xi noted that "between Heaven and Earth there is no thing that does not consist of yin and yang, and there is no place where yin and yang are not found. Therefore there is no place where gods and spirits do not exist".[82] The dragon is a symbol of yang, the principle of generation.[67]

In Taoist and Confucian thought, the supreme God and its order and the multiplicity of shen are identified as one and the same.[83] In the Yizhuan, a commentary to the Yijing, it is written that "one yin and one yang are called the Tao [...] the unfathomable change of yin and yang is called shen".[83] In other texts, with a tradition going back to the Han period, the gods and spirits are explained to be names of yin and yang, forces of contraction and forces of growth.[83]

While in popular thought they have conscience and personality,[84] Neo-Confucian scholars tended to rationalise them.[85] Zhu Xi wrote that they act according to the li.[79] Zhang Zai wrote that they are "the inherent potential (liang neng) of the two ways of qi".[86] Cheng Yi said that they are "traces of the creative process".[79] Chen Chun wrote that shen and gui are expansions and contractions, going and coming, of yin and yangqi.[79]

Hun and po, and zu and xian[edit]

Temple of the Filial Blessing (Xiaoyou gong) in Ouhai, Wenzhou, Zhejiang. It is a place for the worship of ancestors.

Like all things in matter, also humans have a soul that is a dialectic of hun and po (魂魄), respectively the yang spirit or mind, and the yin animal soul that is the body.[87] Hun (mind) is the shen (that gives a form to the qi) of humans, and it develops through the po, stretching and moving intelligently in order to grasp things.[88] The po is the "feminine" soul which controls the physiological and psychological activities of man,[89] while the hun, the god attached to the vital breath, is the "masculine" soul that is totally independent of corporeal substance.[89] The hun is virile, independent and perpetual, and as such it never allows itself to be limited in matter.[89][note 6] Otherwise said, the po is the "earthly" (di) soul that goes downward, while the hun is the "heavenly" (tian) soul that moves upward.[81]

To extend life to its full potential the human shen must be cultivated, resulting in ever clearer, more luminous states of being.[8] It can transform in the pure intelligent breath of deities.[89] In man there's no distinction between rationality and intuition, thinking and feeling: the human being is xin (), mind-heart.[75] With death, while the po returns to the earth and disappears, the hun is thought to be pure awareness or qi, and is the shen to whom ancestral sacrifices are dedicated.[90]

The shen of men who are properly cultivated and honoured after their death are upheld ancestors and progenitors (zuxian 祖先 or simply zu ).[80] When ancestries aren't properly cultivated the world falls into disruption, and they become gui.[80] Ancestral worship is intertwined with totemism, as the earliest ancestors of an ethnic lineage are often represented as animals or associated to them.[35][91]

Ancestors are means of connection with the Tian, the primordial god which does not have form.[35] As ancestors have form, they shape the destiny of humans.[35] Ancestors who have had a significant impact in shaping the destiny of large groups of people, creators of genetic lineages or spiritual traditions, and historical leaders who have invented crafts and institutions for the wealth of the Chinese nation (culture heroes), are exalted among the highest divine manifestations or immortal beings (xian 仙).[92]

In fact, in the Chinese tradition there is no distinction between gods (shen) and immortal beings (xian), transcendental principles and their bodily manifestations.[93] Gods can incarnate with a human form and human beings can reach higher spiritual states by the right way of action, that is to say by emulating the order of Heaven.[94] Humans are considered one of the three aspects of a trinity (三才 Sāncái, "Three Powers"),[95] the three foundations of all being; specifically, men are the medium between Heaven that engenders order and forms and Earth which receives and nourishes them.[95] Men are endowed with the role of completing creation.[95][note 7]

Bao ying and ming yun[edit]

Altar to the Stone Generals, protective deities, at the Kantai Tianhou Temple in Anping, Tainan, Taiwan.
Main articles: Bao ying and Ming yun

The Chinese traditional concept of bao ying ("reciprocity", "retribution" or "judgement"), is inscribed in the cosmological view of an ordered world, in which all manifestations of being have an allotted span (shu) and destiny,[97] and are rewarded according to the moral-cosmic quality of their actions.[98] It determines fate, as written in Zhou texts: "on the doer of good, heaven sends down all blessings, and on the doer of evil, he sends down all calamities" (《书经•汤诰》).[99]

The cosmic significance of bao ying is better understood by exploring other two traditional concepts of fate and meaning:[5]

  • Ming yun (命运), the personal destiny or given condition of a being in his world, in which ming is "life" or "right", the given status of life, and yun defines both "circumstance" and "individual choice"; ming is given and influenced by the transcendent force Tian (), that is the same as the "divine right" (tianming) of ancient rulers as identified by Mencius.[5] Personal destiny (ming yun) is thus perceived as both fixed (as life itself) and flexible, open-ended (since the individual can choose how to behave in bao ying).[5]
  • Yuan fen (缘分), "fateful coincidence",[6] describing good and bad chances and potential relationships.[6] Scholars K. S. Yang and D. Ho have analysed the psychological advantages of this belief: assigning causality of both negative and positive events to yuan fen reduces the conflictual potential of guilt and pride, and preserves social harmony.[100]

Ming yun and yuan fen are linked, because what appears on the surface to be chance (either positive or negative), is part of the deeper rhythm that shapes personal life based on how destiny is directed.[98] Recognising this connection has the result of making a person responsible for his or her actions:[99] doing good for others spiritually improves oneself and contributes to the harmony between men and environmental gods and thus to the wealth of a human community.[101]

These three themes of the Chinese tradition—moral reciprocity, personal destiny, fateful coincidence—are completed by a fourth notion:[102]

  • Wu (), "awareness" of bao ying. The awareness of one's own given condition inscribed in the ordered world produces responsibility towards oneself and others; awareness of yuan fen stirs to respond to events rather than resigning.[102] Awareness may arrive as a gift, often unbidden, and then it evolves into a practice that the person intentionally follows.[102]

As part of the trinity of being (the Three Powers), humans are not totally submissive to spiritual force.[96] While under the sway of spiritual forces, humans can actively engage with them, striving to change their own fate to prove the worth of their earthly life.[96] In the Chinese traditional view of human destiny, the dichotomy between "fatalism" and "optimism" is overcome; human beings can shape their personal destiny to grasp their real worth in the transformation of the universe, seeing their place in the alliance with the gods and with Heaven to surpass the constraints of the physical body and mind.[96]

Ling and xianling—holy and numen[edit]

Temple of Brahma, or Simianshen (四面神 "Four-Faced God") in Chinese, in Changhua, Taiwan. The Thai-style worship of Simianshen, from its origins among Thai Chinese, has spread over the latest decades among mainland Chinese and other overseas Chinese populations.
A shrine dedicated to Zhenwu in Wuqi, Taichung, Taiwan.

In Chinese religion the concept of ling () is the equivalent of holy and numen.[103] Shen in the meaning of "spiritual" is a synonym.[82] The Yijing states that "spiritual means not measured by yin and yang".[82] Ling is the state of the "medium" of the bivalency (yin-yang), and thus it is identical with the inchoate order of creation.[9] Things inspiring awe or wonder because they can't be fathomed as either yin or yang, because they cross or disrupt the polarity and therefore can't be conceptualised, are regarded as numinous.[82] Entities possessing unusual spiritual characteristics, such as albino members of a species, beings that are part-animal part-human, or people who die in unusual ways such as suicide or on battlefields, are considered numinous.[82]

The notion of xian ling (显灵), variously translated as "divine efficacy, virtue" or simply the "numen", is important for the relationship between men and gods.[104] It describes the manifestation, activity, of the power of a god (灵气 ling qi, "divine energy" or "effervescence"), the evidence of the holy.[105]

The term xian ling may be interpreted as the god revealing his presence in a particular area and temple,[106] through events that are perceived as extraordinary, miraculous.[107] Divine power usually manifests in the presence of a wide public.[106] The "value" of human deities (xian) is judged according to his or her efficacy.[108] The perceived effectiveness of a deity to protect or bless also determines how much he or she should be worshipped, how big a temple should be built in his or her dedication, and what position in the pantheon he or her would gain.[108]

Zavidovskaya (2012) has studied how the incentive of temples restoration since the 1980s in northern China was triggered by numerous instances of gods becoming "active", "returning", and claiming back their temples and place in society.[106] She brings the example of a Chenghuang Temple in Yulin, in Shaanxi, that during the Cultural Revolution was turned into a granary; in the 1980s the temple was restored to its original function because the seeds kept into the temple always rotted, and this event was recognized as god Chenghuang giving signs to empty his residence of grain and let him back in.[106] The ling qi, divine energy, is believed to accumulate in certain places, temples, making them holy.[106] Temples with a longer history are considered holier than newly built ones, which still need to be filled by divine energy.[106]

Another example of Zavidovskaya is that of the cult of god Zhenwu in Congluo Yu, Shanxi;[109] the god's temples were in ruins and the cult inactive until the mid 1990s, when a man with a serious cancer, in his last hope prayed (bai 拜) Zhenwu. The man began to miraculously recover day after day, and after a year he was completely healed.[109] To thank the god, he organised an opera performance in his honour.[109] A temporary altar with a statue of Zhenwu and a stage for performances was set up in an open space at the foots of a mountain.[109] While the opera was being played, large white snakes appeared, not afraid of people and not attacking them, seemingly watching the opera; the snakes were considered by locals as incarnations of Zhenwu, who came to watch the opera held in his honour.[109]

Within temples, it is common to see banners bearing the phrase "if the heart is sincere, the god will reveal his power" (心诚神灵 xin cheng shen ling).[110] The relationship between men and gods is an exchange of favour.[110] This implies the belief that gods respond to the entreaties of the believer, if his or her religious fervor is sincere (cheng xin 诚心).[110] If a person believes in the god's power with all his heart and expresses piety, the gods are confident in his faith and reveal their efficacious power.[110] At the same time, for faith to strengthen in the devout's heart, the deity has to prove his or her efficacy.[110] In exchange for divine favours, a faithful honours the deity with vows (huan yuan 还愿 or xu yuan 许愿), through individual worship, reverence and respect (jing shen 敬神).[110]

The most common display of divine power is the cure of diseases after a faithful asks for aid.[106] Another manifestation is the fulfillment of a request of children.[106] The deity may also manifest through mediumship, entering the body of a shaman-medium and speaking through his or her lips.[106] There have been cases of people curing illnesses "on behalf of a god" (ti shen zhi bing 替神治病).[109] Gods may also speak to people when they are asleep (tuomeng 托梦).[106]

Sociological typology[edit]

Wu Hsin-Chao (2014) distinguishes four kinds of Chinese traditional religious organisation:[111]ancestry worship; ② deity worship; ③ secret societies; and ④ folk religious sects.

Types of indigenous—ethnic religion[edit]

Worship of local and national deities[edit]

Putou Damiao, the "First Great Temple by the Riverside", in Zhangzhou, Fujian.

Chinese religion in its communal expression involves the worship of gods that are the generative power and tutelary spirit (genius loci) of a locality or a certain aspect of nature (for example water gods, river gods, fire gods, mountain gods), or of gods that are common ancestors of a village, a larger identity, or the Chinese nation (Shennong, Huangdi, Pangu).

The social structure of this religion is the shénshè 神社 (literally "society of a god"), synonymous with shehui 社会, in which shè 社 originally meant the altar of a community's earth god,[112] while 会 huì means "association", "assembly", "church" or "gathering". This type of religious trusts can be dedicated to a god which is bound to a single village or temple or to a god which has a wider following, in multiple villages, provinces or even a national importance. Mao Zedong distinguished "god associations", "village communities" and "temple associations" in his analysis of religious trusts.[113] In his words: "every kind and type of god [shen] can have an association [hui]", for example the Zhaogong Association, the Guanyin Association, the Guangong Association, the Dashen Association, the Bogong Association, the Wenchang Association, and the like.[113] Within the category of hui Mao also distinguished the sacrifice associations (jiàohuì 醮会) which make sacrifices in honour of gods.[113]

These societies organise gatherings and festivals (miaohui 庙会) participated by members of the whole village or larger community on the occasions of what are believed to be the birthdays of the gods or other events,[49] or to seek protection from droughts, epidemics, and other disasters.[49] Such festivals invoke the power of the gods for practical goals to "summon blessings and drive away harm".[49] Special devotional currents within this framework can be identified by specific names such as Mazuism (Mazujiao),[114] Wang Ye worship, or the cult of the Silkworm Mother.[115]

This type of religion is prevalent in north China, where lineage religion is absent, private, or historically present only within families of southern origin, and patrilineal ties are based on seniority,[116][117] and villages are composed of people with different surnames. In this context, the deity societies or temple societies function as poles of the civil organism.[118] Often deity societies incorporate entire villages; this is the reason why in north China can be found many villages which are named after deities and their temples, for example Léishénmiào village (雷神庙 "[Village of the] Temple of the Thunder God") or Mǎshénmiàocūn (马神庙村 "Village of the Temple of the Horse God").

Lineage religion[edit]

Guanji temple (left) and Huang ancestral shrine (right) in Wenzhou, Zhejiang.
People forgather for a worship ceremony at an ancestral shrine in Hong'an, Hubei.

Another dimension of the Chinese folk religion is based on family or genealogical worship of deities and ancestors in family altars or private temples (simiao 私庙 or jiamiao 家庙), or ancestral shrines (citang 祠堂 or zongci 宗祠, or also zumiao 祖庙).[119] Kinship associations or churches (zōngzú xiéhuì 宗族协会), congregating people with the same surname and belonging to the same kin, are the social expression of this religion: these lineage societies build temples where the deified ancestors of a certain group (for example the Chens or the Lins) are enshrined and worshiped.[120] These temples serve as centres of aggregation for people belonging to the same lineage, and the lineage body may provide a context of identification and mutual assistance for individual persons.[120]

The construction of large and elaborate ancestral temples traditionally represents a kin's wealth, influence and achievement.[121] Scholar K. S. Yang has explored the ethno-political dynamism of this form of religion, through which people who become distinguished for their value and virtue are considered immortal and receive posthumous divine titles, and are believed to protect their descendants, inspiring a mythological lore for the collective memory of a family or kin.[122]

If their temples and their deities enshrined acquire popularity they are considered worthy of the virtue of ling, "efficacy".[122] Worship of ancestors (jingzu 敬祖) is observed nationally with large-scale rituals on Qingming Festival and other holidays.

This type of religion prevails in south China, where lineage bonds are stronger and the patrilineal hierarchy is not based upon seniority, and access to corporate resources held by a lineage is based upon the equality of all the lines of descent.[117]

Philosophical and ritual modalities[edit]

Wuism and shamanic traditions[edit]

Main articles: Chinese shamanism and Nuo rituals
Temple of the White Sulde of Genghis Khan in the town of Uxin in Inner Mongolia, in the Mu Us Desert. The worship of Genghis is shared by Chinese and Mongolian folk religion.[note 8]

"The extent to which shamanism pervaded ancient Chinese society", says scholar Paul R. Goldin, "is a matter of scholarly dispute, but there can be no doubt that many communities relied upon the unique talents of shamans for their quotidian spiritual needs".[123] The Chinese usage distinguishes the Chinese wu tradition (巫教 wūjiào; properly shamanic, with control over the gods) from the tongji tradition (童乩; mediumship, without control of the godly movement), and from non-Han Chinese Altaic shamanisms (萨满教 sàmǎnjiào) that are practiced in northern provinces.

According to Andreea Chirita, Confucianism itself, with its emphasis on hierarchy and ancestral rituals, derived from the shamanic discourse of the Shang dynasty. What Confucianism did was to marginalise the "dysfunctional" features of old shamanism. However, shamanic traditions continued uninterrupted within the folk religion and found precise and functional forms within Taoism.[124]

In the Shang and Zhou dynasty, shamans had a role in the political hierarchy, and were represented institutionally by the Ministry of Rites (大宗拍). The emperor was considered the supreme shaman, intermediating between the three realms of heaven, earth and man. The mission of a shaman (巫 wu) is "to repair the dis-functionalities occurred in nature and generated after the sky had been separated from earth":[124]

The female shamans called wu as well as the male shamans called xi represent the voice of spirits, repair the natural dis-functions, foretell the future based on dreams and the art of divination ... "a historical science of the future", whereas shamans are able to observe the yin and the yang ...

Since the 1980s the practice and study of shamanism has undergone a massive revival in Chinese religion as a means to repair the world to a harmonious whole after industrialisation.[124] Shamanism is viewed by many scholars as the foundation for the emergence of civilisation, and the shaman as "teacher and spirit" of peoples. The Chinese Society for Shamanic Studies was founded in Jilin City in 1988.[125]

Nuo traditions are ritual forms of the Chinese folk religion present especially in central-southern China and representing much of the religious life of the Tujia people. Nuo ceremonies revolve around the worship of gods and ancestors represented by characteristic wooden masks and idols. Ritual performances and dramas are carried out by circles of ritual masters wearing masks of the gods. [126]

Confucianism, Taoism and orders of ritual masters[edit]

A fashi-led ceremony.
The Temple of the God of Culture (文庙 wénmiào) of Jiangyin, Wuxi, Jiangsu. In this temple the Wéndì (文帝, "God of Culture") enshrined is Confucius.
Effigy of god Erlang inside the Taoist-managed Erwang Temple in Dujiangyan, Sichuan.

Confucianism and Taoism—which are formalised, ritual, doctrinal or philosophical traditions—can be considered as both embedded within the larger category of Chinese traditional religion, or as separate religions. In fact, one can practice certain folk cults and espouse the tenets of Confucianism as a philosophical framework, Confucian theology instructing to uphold the moral order through the worship of gods and ancestors [127] that is the way of connecting to the Tian and awakening to its harmony (li, "rite").[128] Folk temples and ancestral shrines on special occasions may choose Confucian liturgy (that is called 儒 , or sometimes 正统 zhèngtǒng, meaning "orthoprax" ritual style) led by Confucian ritual masters (礼生 lǐshēng), that in many cases are the elders of a local community. Confucian liturgies are alternated with Taoist liturgies and popular devotion.[129]

There are many organised groups of the folk religion that adopt Confucian liturgy and identity, for example the Way of the Gods according to the Confucian Tradition or phoenix churches, or the Confucian churches, schools and fellowships such as the Yidan xuetang (一耽学堂), a of Beijing,[130] the Mengmutang (孟母堂) of Shanghai,[131] the Confucian Fellowship (儒教道坛 Rújiào Dàotán) in northern Fujian, and ancestral temples of the Kong (Confucius) lineage operating as well as Confucian-teaching churches.[131] In November 2015 a national Holy Confucian Church was established with the contribution of many Confucian leaders.

Scholar and Taoist priest Kristofer Schipper defines Taoism as a "liturgical framework" for the development of local religion.[132] Some currents of Taoism are deeply interwoven with the Chinese folk religion, especially the Zhengyi school, developing aspects of local cults within their doctrines;[132] however Taoists always highlight the distinction between their traditions and those which aren't Taoist. The daoshi (道士, "masters of the Tao") of the Zhengyi school, who are called sanju daoshi (散居道士) or huoju daoshi (火居道士), respectively meaning "scattered daoshi" and "daoshi living at home", because they can get married and perform the profession of priests as a part-time occupation, may perform rituals of offering (jiao), thanks-giving, propitiation, exorcism and rites of passage for local communities' temples and private homes.[133] Local gods of local cultures are often incorporated into their altars.[133] The Zhengyi sanju daoshi are trained by other priests of the same sect, and historically received formal ordination by the Celestial Master,[134] although the 63rd Celestial Master Zhang Enpu fled to Taiwan in the 1940s during the Chinese Civil War.

Lineages of ritual masters (法師 fashi), also referred to as practitioners of "Faism", also called "Folk Taoism" or (in southeast China) "Red Taoism", operate within the Chinese folk religion but outside institutional or official Taoism.[134] The ritual masters, who have the same role of the sanju daoshi within the fabric of society, aren't considered Taoist priests by the daoshi of Taoism who trace their lineage to the Celestial Masters. Fashi are defined as of "kataphatic" (filling) character in opposition to professional Taoists who are "kenotic" (of emptying, or apophatic, character).[135]

Organised folk religious sects[edit]

Tianyuanggong, a temple of Yiguandao in Tamsui, New Taipei, Taiwan.

China has a long history of sect traditions characterised by a soteriological and eschatological character, often called "salvationist religions" (救度宗教 jiùdù zōngjiào),[136] emerged from the traditional folk faith but neither ascribable to the lineage cult of ancestors and progenitors, nor to the communal-liturgical religion of village temples, neighbourhood, corporation, or national temples.[137]

The 20th-century expression of this kind of religions has been studied under Prasenjit Duara's definition of "redemptive societies" (救世团体 jiùshì tuántǐ),[138][139] while modern Chinese scholarship tends to describe them as "folk religious sects" (民間宗教 mínjiān zōngjiào, 民间教门 mínjiān jiàomén or 民间教派 mínjiān jiàopài),[140] abandoning the ancient derogatory definition of xiéjiào (邪教), "evil religion".[141]

They are characterised by egalitarianism; a foundation through a charismatic figure and a direct divine revelation; a millenarian eschatology and a voluntary path of salvation; an embodied experience of the numinous through healing and cultivation; and an expansive orientation through good deeds, evangelism and philanthropy.[136] Their practices are focused on their moral teachings, body cultivation, and recitation of scriptures.[136]

Many of the redemptive religions 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.[142] This group of religions includes[143] Yiguandao and other Xiantiandao (先天道 "Way of the Ancient Heaven") sects, Jiugongdao (九宮道 "Way of the Nine Palaces"), various proliferations of the Luo teaching, the Zaili teaching, and the more recent De teaching, Weixinist, Xuanyuan and Tiandi teachings, the latter two focused respectively on the worship of Huangdi and the Tian. Also, most of the qigong schools are developments of the same religious context.[144] These movements were banned in the early Republican China and later Communist China. Many of them still remain illegal, underground or unrecognised in China, while others—specifically the De teaching, Tiandi teachings, Xuanyuan teaching, Weixinism and Yiguandao—have developed cooperation with mainland China's academic, non-governmental organisations.[12] The Sanyi teaching is an organised folk religion founded in the 16th century, present in the Putian region (Xinghua) of Fujian where it is legally recognised.[12] Some of them began to register as branches of the official Taoist Association since the 1990s.[145]

Another category that has been sometimes confused with that of the sects of salvation by the scholarly narrative, is that of the secret societies (會道門 huìdàomén, 祕密社會 mìmì shèhuì, or 秘密結社 mìmì jiéshè).[146] They are religious communities of initiatory and secretive character, including rural militias such as the Red Spears (紅槍會) and the Big Knives (大刀會), and fraternal organisations such as the Green Gangs (青幫) and the Elders' Societies (哥老會).[147] They became very popular in the early republican period, and often labeled as "heretical doctrines" (宗教異端 zōngjiào yìduān).[147] Recent scholarship has created the label of "secret sects" (祕密教門 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).[147]

A further distinctive type of sects of the folk religion, that are possibly the same with the positive "secret sects", are the martial sects. They combine two aspects: the wenchang (文场 "cultural field"), that is the doctrinal aspect characterised by elborate cosmologies, theologies, initiatory and ritual patterns, and that is usually kept secretive ; and the wuchang (武场 "martial field"), that is the body cultivation practice and that is usually the "public face" of the sect.[148] They were outlawed by Ming imperial edicts that continued until the fall of the Qing dynasty in the 20th century.[148] An example of martial sect is the Meihuaquan (梅花拳 "Plum Flower Boxing"), that has become very popular throughout northern China.[148] In Taiwan, virtually all of the "redemptive societies" operate freely since the late 1980s.

Tiandi teachings[edit]

The Tiandi teachings (Chinese: 天帝教; pinyin: Tiāndìjiào; literally: "teachings of the Heaven God") is a religion that encompasses two branches, Tiandi and Tiande (天德, "Heavenly Virtue"), emerged from the techings of Xiao Changming and Li Yujie, disseminated in the early 20th century.[149] Tiandi is actually a later sprout of Tiande, established in the 1980s.[149]

The religions focus on the worship of Tiandi (天帝), the "Heavely God" or "Heavenly Emperor",[149] on health through the proper cultivation of qi,[149] and teach a style of qigong named Tianren qigong.[150] According to scholars, Tiandi teachings derive from the Taoist tradition of Huashan,[151] where Li Yujie studied for eight years.[152] The Tiandi church is very active both in Taiwan and mainland China, where it has high-level links.[149]

Weixinism[edit]

Weixinism (Chinese: 唯心聖教; pinyin: Wéixīn shèngjiào; literally: "Holy Religion of the Only Heart" or simply 心聖教; Wéixīnjiào) is a religion primarily based on the "orthodox lineages of Yijing and feng shui",[153] the Hundred Schools of Thought,[154] and worship of the "three great ancestors" (Huangdi, Yandi and Chiyou).[155] The movement promotes the restoration of the authentic roots of the Chinese civilization and Chinese reunification.[154]

The Weixinist church, which headquarters are in Taiwan, is also active in Mainland China in the key birthplaces of the Chinese culture. It has a contract with Henan government for building the "City of Eight Trigrams" templar complex on Yunmeng Mountain (of the Yan Mountains),[156] and it has also built temples in Hebei.[157]

Regional differences[edit]

The Temple of the Mother Goddess of the Yellow River (黄河女神 Huánghé Nǚshén), a folk religious focus of a new residential suburb of the city of Qingtongxia, Ningxia, is possibly one of the biggest temples in China.
Altar to Baoshengdadi, whose cult is mostly Fujianese and Taiwanese.

In contrast with the folk religion of southern and southeastern provinces—which fabric is constituted fundamentally by the lineages and their churches (zongzu xiehui 宗族协会) focusing on ancestral gods—the folk religion of central-northern China (North China Plain) predominantly hinges on the communal worship of tutelary deities of creation and nature as identity symbols by villages populated by families of different surnames,[118] structured into "communities of the god(s)" (shenshe 神社, or hui 会, "association"),[112] which organise temple ceremonies (miaohui 庙会), involving processions and pilgrimages,[158] and led by indigenous ritual masters (fashi) who are often hereditary and linked to secular authority.[note 9]

Northern and southern folk religions also have a different pantheon, of which the northern one is composed of more ancient gods of Chinese mythology.[159] Furthermore, folk religious sects have historically been more successful in the central plains and in the northeastern provinces than in southern China, and central-northern folk religion shares characteristics of some of the sects, such as the heavy importance of mother goddess worship and shamanism.[160] Confucian churches as well have historically found much resonance among the population of the northeast; in the 1930s the Universal Church of the Way and its Virtue alone aggregated at least 25% of the population of the state of Manchuria[161] and contemporary Shandong has been analysed as an area of rapid growth of folk Confucian groups.[162]

The folk religion of northeastern China (Dongbei) has unique characteristics deriving from the interaction of Han folk faiths with Tungus and Manchu shamanisms; these include chuma xian (出馬仙 "riding (for the) the immortal gods") shamanism, the worship of foxes and other animal deities, and the Fox Gods (狐神 Húshén)—Great Lord of the Three Foxes (胡三太爷 Húsān Tàiyé) and the Great Lady of the Three Foxes (胡三太奶 Húsān Tàinǎi)—at the head of pantheons.[163] Otherwise, in the religious context of Inner Mongolia there has been a significant integration of Han Chinese into the traditional folk religion of the region.

In recent years there has also been an assimilation of deities from Tibetan folk religion, especially wealth gods.[164] In Tibet, across broader western China, and in Inner Mongolia, there has been a growth of the cult of Gesar with the explicit support of the Chinese government, a cross-ethnic Han-Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu deity (the Han identify him as an aspect of the god of war analogically with Guandi) and culture hero whose mythology is embodied as a culturally important epic poem.[165]

Along the southeastern coast, ritual functions of the folk religion are reportedly dominated by Taoism, both in registered and unregistered forms (Zhengyi Taoism and unrecognised fashi orders), which since the 1990s has developed quickly in the area.[166][167]

Features[edit]

Kui Xing, the god of exams, made up of the characters describing the four Confucian virtues (Sìde 四德), standing on the head of the ao (鰲) turtle (an expression for coming first in the examinations), and pointing at the Dipper (斗)".[note 10]

Hierarchy of Tian, human divinity and polytheism[edit]

Further information: Chinese gods and immortals

Chinese religions are polytheistic, meaning that many deities are worshipped as part of what has been defined as yǔzhòu shénlùn (宇宙神论), loosely translated as "cosmotheism", a worldview in which divinity is inherent to the world itself.[73] The gods (shen 神; "growth", "beings that give birth"[169]) are interwoven energies or principles that generate phenomena which reveal or reproduce the way of Heaven, that is to say the order (li) of the Great One (Tian).[note 2]

In Chinese tradition, there is not a clear distinction between the gods and their physical body or bodies (from stars to trees and animals);[170] the qualitative difference between the two seems not to have ever been emphasised.[170] Rather, the disparity is said to be more quantitative than qualitative.[170] In doctrinal terms, the Chinese view of gods is related to the understanding of qi, the life force,[170] as the gods and their phenomenal productions are manifestations of it.[170] In this way, all natural bodies are believed to be able to attain supernatural attributes by acting according to the universal oneness.[170] Meanwhile, acting wickedly (that is to say against the Tian and its order) brings to disgrace and disaster.[171]

In folk religions, gods (shen) and immortals (xian 仙) are not specifically distinguished from each other.[172] Gods can incarnate in human form and human beings can reach immortality, which means to attain higher spirituality, since all the spiritual principles (gods) are begotten of the primordial qi before any physical manifestation.[94]

In the Doctrine of the Mean, one of the Confucian four books, the zhenren (wise) is the man who has achieved a spiritual status developing his true sincere nature.[173] This status, in turn, enables him to fully develop the true nature of others and of all things.[173] The sage is able to "assist the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth", forming a trinity (三才 Sāncái, the "Three Powers") with them.[173] In other words, in the Chinese tradition humans are or can be the medium between Heaven and Earth, and have the role of completing what had been initiated.[note 7]

Taoist schools in particular espouse an explicit spiritual pathway which pushes the earthly beings to the edge of eternity.[96] Since the human body is a microcosm, enlivened by the universal order of yin and yang like the whole cosmos, the means of immortality can be found within oneself.[96]

Among those worshipped as immortal heroes (xian, exalted beings) are historical individuals distinguished for their worth or bravery, those who taught crafts to others and formed societies establishing the order of Heaven, ancestors or progenitors (zu 祖), and the creators of a spiritual tradition.[92][174] The concept of "human divinity" is not self-contradictory, as there is no unbridgeable gap between the two realms; rather, the divine and the human are mutually contained.[173]

In comparison with gods of an environmental nature, who tend to remain stable throughout human experience and history, individual human deities change in time. Some endure for centuries, while others remain localised cults, or vanish after a short time.[170] Immortal beings are conceived as "constellations of qi", which is so vibrant in certain historical individuals that, upon the person's death, this qi nexus does not dissipate but persists, and is reinforced by living people's worship.[175] The energetic power of a god is thought to redound on the worshipers influencing their fortune.[175]

Deities and immortals[edit]

Main altar and statue of Doumu inside the Temple of Doumu in Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia.
Statue and ceremonial complex of the Yellow and Red Gods, from whom the Han Chinese are said to be the descendants, in Zhengzhou, Henan.

Gods and immortals (collectively 神仙 shénxiān) in the Chinese cultural tradition reflect a hierarchical, multiperspective experience of divinity.[169] In Chinese language there is a terminological distinction between 神 shén, 帝 and 仙 xiān. Although the usage of the former two is sometimes blurred, it corresponds to the distinction in Western cultures between "god" and "deity", Latin genius (meaning a generative principle, "spirit") and deus or divus; , sometimes translated as "thearch", implies a manifested or incarnate "godly" power.[note 11] The latter term 仙 xiān unambiguously means a man who has reached immortality, similarly to the Western idea of "hero".

Many classical books have lists and hierarchies of gods and immortals, among which the Completed Record of Immortals (神仙通鉴 Shenxian tongjian) of the Ming dynasty,[94] and the Biographies of Immortals (神仙传 Shenxian zhuan) by Ge Hong (284-343).[172]

There are the great cosmic gods representing the first principle in its unmanifested state or its creative order—Yudi (玉帝 "Jade Deity")[note 3] and Doumu (斗母 "Mother of the Meaning" or "Great Chariot"), Pangu (盘古, the macranthropic metaphor of the cosmos), Xiwangmu (西王母 "Queen Mother of the West") and Dongwanggong (东王公 "King Duke of the East") who personificate respectively the yin and the yang,[177] as well as the dimensional Three Patrons and the Five Deities; then there are the sky and weather gods, the scenery gods, the vegetal and animal gods, and gods of human virtues and crafts.[73] These are interpreted in different ways in Taoism and folk sects, the former conferring them long kataphatic names.[73] Below the great deities, there is the unquantifiable number of gods of nature, as every phenomena have or are gods.

The Three Patrons (三皇 Sānhuáng)—Fuxi, Nüwa and Shennong—are the "vertical" manifestation of the primordial God corresponding to the Three Realms (三界 Sānjiè), representing the yin and yang and the medium between them, that is the human being.[178]

The Five Deities (五帝 Wǔdì) or Five Forms of the Highest Deity (五方天神 Wufang Shangdi)—the Yellow, Green or Blue, Black, Red and White Deities—are the five "horizontal" manifestations of the primordial God and according with the Three Realms they have a celestial, a terrestrial and a chthonic form.[note 12] They correspond to the five phases of creation, the five constellations rotating around the celestial pole, the five sacred mountains and the five directions of space (the four cardinal directions and the centre), and the five Dragon Gods (龙神 Lóngshén) which represent their mounts, that is to say the chthonic forces they preside over.[180][181]

The Yellow God (黄神 Huángshén) is of peculiar importance, as he represents the man aligned with the axis mundi, or the intersection between the Three Patrons and the Five Deities that is the center of the cosmos. He is therefore described in the Shizi as the "Yellow Emperor with Four Faces" (黄帝四面 Huángdì Sìmiàn)[182] and is identified with Shangdi (the "Highest Deity") himself.[183] His human form, the Yellow Emperor of the Mysterious Origin (轩辕黄帝 Xuānyuán Huángdì) is said to be the creator of Huaxia, the epicentre of Chinese culture, was the fruit of virginal birth after his mother Fubao was aroused by the sight of the Big Dipper.[184]

Mother goddess worship[edit]

Shrine of Bixia at Mount Tai, Shandong.

The worship of mother goddesses for the cultivation of offspring is present all over China, but predominantly in northern provinces. There are nine main goddesses, and all of them tend to be considered as manifestations or attendant forces of a singular goddess identified variously as Bixia (碧霞 "Blue Dawn"), the daughter or female consort of the Green God of Mount Tai, or Houtu (后土 the "Queen of the Earth").[185] Bixia herself is identified by Taoists as the more ancient goddess Xiwangmu,[186] Goddesses are commonly entitled (母 "mother"), lǎomǔ (老母 "old mother"), shèngmǔ (圣母 "holy mother"), niángniáng (娘娘 "lady"), nǎinai (奶奶 "granny").

Altars of goddess worship are usually arranged with Bixia at the center and two goddesses at her sides, most frequently the Lady of Eyesight and the Lady of Offspring.[187] A different figure but with the same astral connections as Bixia is the Qixing Niangniang (七星娘娘 "Goddess of the Seven Stars"). There is also the cluster of the Holy Mothers of the Three Skies (三霄聖母 Sanxiao Shengmu; or "Ladies of the Three Skies", 三霄娘娘 Sanxiao Niangniang), composed of Yunxiao Guniang, Qiongxiao Guniang and Bixiao Guniang.[188] In southeastern provinces the cult of Chen Jinggu (陳靖姑) is identified by some scholars as an emanation of the northern cult of Bixia.[189]

There are other local goddesses with motherly features, including the northern Canmu (蚕母 "Silkworm Mother") and Mazu (妈祖 "Ancestral Mother"), popular in provinces along the eastern coast and in Taiwan. The title of "Queen of Heaven" (天后 Tiānhòu) is most frequently attributed to Mazu and Doumu (the cosmic goddess).

Worship and modalities of religious practice[edit]

Procession with a traveling image of a god (xíngshén 行神) in central Taiwan.
People reciting scriptures and other worshipers at the Mengjia Longshan Temple in Taipei.
A Taoist rite for ancestor worship at the Xiao ancestral temple of Chaoyang, Shantou, Guangdong.

Adam Yuet Chau identifies five styles or modalities of "doing" Chinese religion:[190]

  • Discursive-scriptural: involving the composition, preaching, and recitation of texts (classics, Taoist scriptures and morality books);
  • Personal cultivation mode, involving a long-term cultivation and transformation of oneself with the goal of becoming a xian 仙 (immortal), zhenren 真人 ("true person"), or shengren (wise), through the practice of different "technologies of the self" (qigong 气功, Taoist inner and outer alchemy, charitable acts for merit, memorisation and recitation of texts);
  • Liturgical: involving elaborate ritual procedures conducted by specialists of rites (Taoist rites, Confucian rites, Nuo rites, fengshui 风水);
  • Immediate practical: aiming at quick efficacious (ling 灵) results through simple ritual and magical techniques (divination, talismans, divine medicine, consulting media and shamans);
  • Relational: emphasising the devotional relationship between men and deities and among men themselves (organising elaborate sacrifices, making vows, organising temple festivals, pilgrimages, processions, and religious communities) in "social comings and goings" (laiwang 來往) and "interconnectedness" (guanxi 关系).

Generally speaking, the Chinese believe that spiritual and material well-being ensues from the harmony of humanity and gods in their participation in the same cosmic power, and also believe that by taking the right path and practice anybody is able to reach the absolute reality.[191] Religious practice is therefore regarded as the bridge to link the human world to the spiritual source,[191] maintaining the harmony of the micro and macrocosmos, protecting the individual and the world from disruption.[110] In this sense, the Chinese view of human life is not deterministic, but one is a master of his own life and can choose to collaborate with the deities for a harmonious world.[110] Chinese culture being a holistic system, in which every aspect is a part of a whole, Chinese folk religious practice is often intermingled with political, educational and economic concerns.[192] A gathering or event may be encompassed with all of these aspects; in general, the commitment (belief) and the process or rite (practice) together form the internal and external dimensions of Chinese religious life.[192] In village communities, religious services are often organised and led by local people themselves.[42] Leaders are usually selected among male heads of families or lineages, or village heads.[42]

A simple form of individual practice is to show respect for the gods (jing shen 敬神) through jingxiang (incense offering), and the exchange of vows (huan yuan 还愿).[110] Sacrifice can consist of incense, oil, and candles, as well as money.[193] Religious devotion may also express in the form of performance troupes (huahui), involving many types of professionals such as stilt walkers, lion dancers, musicians, martial arts masters, yangge dancers, and story-tellers.[193]

Deities can also be respected through moral deeds in their name (shanshi 善事), and self-cultivation (xiuxing 修行).[194] Some forms of folk religion develop clear prescriptions for believers, such as detailed lists of meritorious and sinful deeds in the form of "morality books" (shanshu 善书) and ledgers of merit and demerit.[195] Involvement in the affairs of communal or intra-village temples are perceived by believers as ways for accumulating merit (gongde 功德).[195] Virtue is believed to accumulate in one's heart, which is seen as energetic centre of the human body (zai jun xin zuo tian fu 在君心作福田).[196] Practices of communication with the gods comprehend different forms of Chinese shamanism, such as wu shamanism and tongji mediumship, or fuji practice.

Sacrifices[edit]

Animal sacrifice held for a miaohui (temple gathering) at the Temple of Earth, one of the major imperial ceremonial centers of Beijing dedicated to gods of nature.

Classical Chinese has characters for different types of sacrifice, probably the oldest way to communicate with divine forces, today generally encompassed by the definition jìsì 祭祀.[191] However different in scale and quantity, all types of sacrifice would normally involve food, wine, meat and later incense.[197]

Sacrifices usually differ according to the kind of deity they are devoted to.[197] Traditionally, cosmic and nature gods are offered uncooked (or whole) food, while ancestors are offered cooked food.[197] Moreover, sacrifices for gods are made inside the temples that enshrine them, while sacrifices for ancestors are made outside temples.[197] Yearly sacrifices (ji) are made to Confucius, the Red and Yellow Emperors, and other cultural heroes and ancestors.[197]

Both in past history and at the present, all sacrifices are assigned with both religious and political purposes.[198] Some gods are considered carnivorous, for example the River God (河神 Héshén) and Dragon Gods, and offering to them requires animal sacrifice.[199]

Thanksgiving and redeeming[edit]

The aims of rituals and sacrifices may be of thanksgiving and redeeming, usually involving both.[198] Various sacrifices are intended to express gratitude toward the gods in the hope that spiritual blessing and protection will continue.[198] The jiào 醮, an elaborate Taoist sacrifice or "rite of universal salvation", is intended to be a cosmic community renewal, that is to say a reconciliation of a community around its spiritual centre.[200] The jiao ritual usually starts with zhai, "fasting and purification", that is meant as an atonement for evil-doing, then followed by sacrificial offerings.[200]

This rite, of great political importance, can be intended for the whole nation.[200] In fact, as early as the Song dynasty, emperors asked renowned Taoists to perform such rituals on their behalf or for the entire nation.[200] The modern Chinese republic has given approval for Taoists to conduct such rituals since the 1990s, with the aim of protecting the country and the nation.[200]

Rites of passage[edit]

Guan Li, Confucian coming of age ceremony.

A variety of practices are concerned with personal well-being and spiritual growth.[201] Rites of passage are intended to narrate the holy significance of each crucial change throughout a life course.[201] These changes, which are biological and physical and at the same time also social and spiritual, are marked by elaborate social customs and religious rituals.[201]

In the holistic view about nature and the human body and life, as macro and microcosmos, the life process of a human being is equated with the rhythm of seasons and cosmic changes.[201] Hence, birth is likened to spring, youth to summer, maturity to autumn and old age to winter.[201]

Places of worship[edit]

Temple of the Highest Goddess (Taimu dian) in Fuding, Ningde, Fujian. The compound has a small ancient pavilion and a larger modern one behind of it.
See also: Chinese temple

Temples of the Chinese folk religion can be distinguished into miao () or dian (殿), meaning "temple"; private temples (simiao 私庙 or jiamiao 家庙), or ancestral shrines or temples (citang 祠堂, zongci 宗祠 or zumiao 祖庙; dedicated to ancestry gods and heroes, deified virtuous men). The terms have often been used interchangeably. However miao is the general Chinese term for "temple" understood as "sacred precinct". In Chinese folk religion this term is mostly associated to temples which enshrine nature gods and patron gods, especially when these temples are focal points of a deity's cult. The term 祠, literally "shrine", or shéncí (神祠 "shrine of a god"), besides referring to the ancestral shrines, also refers to lesser, informal, places for the worship of a god. Another term of common usage is gong ("palace"), referring to a temple complex of multiple buildings. The jing is a broader "territory of a god" that is constituted by multiple temples or complexes of temples and delineated by the processions.

Folk religious temples are distinct from Taoist temples in that they are established and administered by local managers, village communities, lineage congregations and worship associations, and don't have professional priests, although Taoist daoshi, fashi, Confucian lisheng, and also wu and tongji shamans, may perform services within these temples. Folk temples are often decorated with traditional figures on their roofs (dragons and deities).

Ancestral shrines are sacred places in which lineages of related families, identified by shared surnames, worship their common progenitors. These temples are the "collective representation" of a group, and function as centers where religious, social and economic activities intersect.[202]

Symbolism[edit]

Detail of the Nine Dragons scroll painting by Chen Rong, 1244, Song dynasty.

Chinese folk religion followers and temples make use of different symbols, from symbols with cosmological or generative significance to symbols peculiar of specific deities, lineages or areas.

As in Taoism, also in the Chinese folk religion the yin and yang concept can be represented through the taijitu symbol, but also in pairs of complementary figures such as the dragon and the phoenix, heaven and earth, or water and fire. The taijitu is often represented in the hands of creator deities such as Pangu, who represent the originating principle separating into heaven and earth. The bagua of I Ching is also a symbol used in Chinese folk religion.

The Chinese dragon (long ) is a very important symbol in Chinese indigenous tradition: it is a positive creature representing yang, and thus the life-giving creative force, the universal generating power (Tian-Shangdi) and qi,[67] from which also the kin lineage.[203][204]

Demographics[edit]

The Kanteibyo (Temple of Guandi) in Kobe, Japan.

Mainland China and Taiwan[edit]

The Pew Research Center has collected statistics saying that in China 22%[205] of the population practices the Chinese indigenous religion. Another estimate puts it at over 30% of the total population.[206] Kenneth Dean estimates a higher proportion.[note 13]

A 2010 survey has found the following numbers: 754 million (56.2%) people practice Chinese ancestral religion, but only 216 million people (16%) believe in the existence of ancestral shen (spirits).[note 14] The same survey says 173 million (13%) adopt Taoist practices on a level which is indistinguishable from the Chinese folk religion.[208]

In Taiwan, Chinese folk religions are mostly subsumed under the label and the institutions of "Taoism", which is the religion of 33% of the population.[209]

Ritual economy[edit]

Folk temple on the rooftop of a commercial building in the city of Wenzhou.

Scholars have studied the economic dimension of Chinese folk religion,[210] with its ritual and templar economy that constitutes a form of grassroots capitalism, that produces well-being among local communities through the circulation of wealth and its investment in the "sacred capital" of temples, gods and ancestors.[211]

This groundwork, which was already there in imperial China and plays an important role in modern Taiwan,[212] is seen as the driving force in the rapid economic development in parts of rural China, especially the southern and eastern coasts.[213][214] It is an "embedded capitalism", which preserves local identity and autonomy.[215] The drive for individual accumulation of money is tempered by the religious and kinship ethics of generosity in sharing wealth for devotion, ritual, and the construction of the civil society.[215]

Southeast Asia[edit]

The overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia have maintained Chinese folk religions, often adapting to the new environment by developing new cults and incorporating elements of local traditions. Some of the organised folk religions, such as Yiguandao and Deism, have also succeeded in spreading among Southeast Asian Chinese communities.[citation needed]

In Singapore about 11% of the total population is Taoist, composed by a 14.4% of the Chinese Singaporeans identifying as Taoists.[216] In Malaysia, around 3% of Chinese Malaysians practice Chinese folk religions, corresponding to around 1% of the whole country population.[217] In Indonesia, Taosu Agung Kusumo, leader of the Majelis Agama Tao Indonesia, claims there are 5 million Taoist followers in the country as of 2009.[218]

Chinese temples in Indonesia and Malaysia are called kelenteng or klenteng in local Malay languages, or alternatively bio, the southern Chinese pronunciation of Mandarin miao ().

Indonesia[edit]

Confucian temple in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The religion of the Chinese Indonesians is officially recognised by the government as Agama Khonghucu or religion of Confucius, which was chosen because of political conditions in before the end of Suharto rule in 1998, which saw Chinese religions forbidden and the Chinese forced to convert to Buddhism or Christianity. The Chinese Indonesians had their culture and religious rights restored only after the fourth president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, issued a regulation that recognised "Confucianism" among the legal religions of the country. He said that:

All religions insist on peace. From this we might think that the religious struggle for peace is simple... but it is not. The deep problem is that people use religion wrongly in pursuit of victory and triumph. This sad fact then leads to conflict with people who have different beliefs.[219]

The first precept of Pancasila (the Five Basic Principles of the Indonesian state) stipulates belief in the one and only God. The Confucian philosophy is able to fulfill this, for Confucius mentioned only one God in his teaching, the Heaven or Shangdi.[220]

Another movement in Indonesia is the Tridharma (Sanskrit: "religion of the Three"), syncretising the Chinese three teachings. After the fall of Suharto rule it underwent a process of systematisation of doctrines and rituals.[221]

Malaysia[edit]

The Snake Temple in Penang, Malaysia, hosting a Chinese sect of the snake that is unique to the area.

In Malaysia the Malaysian Chinese, a substantial minority of the population, are mostly adherents of Mahayana Buddhism. Chinese traditional practices have a significant following in the states of Sarawak (6%) and Penang (5%). One prominent sect is that of Tua Pek Kong (大伯公 Dabo Gong), and it has incorporated the sect of the Na Tuk Kong (拿督公 Nadu Gong) of local Malay origin.[citation needed]

Thailand[edit]

The Tao Kong Pa Temple in Sukhothai Thani, Thailand.

Thailand has a large population of Thai Chinese, people of Chinese or partial Chinese origin. Most of those who follow Buddhism have been integrated into the Theravada Buddhist tradition of the country, with only a negligible minority having retained Chinese Buddhism. However, many others have retained Chinese folk religions and Taoism.[222] Despite the large number of followers and temples, and although they are practiced freely, these religions have no state recognition, their temples are not counted as places of worship, and their followers are counted as "Theravada Buddhists" in official figures.[222] In Thailand, Chinese temples are called sanchao (Thai: ศาลเจ้า).[222]

Chinese folk practices of Thailand have developed local features, including the worship of local gods.[222] Major Chinese festivals such as the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival and Qingming are widely celebrated especially in Bangkok, Phuket, and other parts of Thailand where there are large Chinese populations.[223]

The Chinese in the city of Phuket are noted for their nine-day vegetarian festival between September and October. During the festive season, devotees abstain from meat, and mortification of the flesh by Chinese mediums is also common, along with rites devoted to the worship of Tua Pek Kong. Such traditions were developed during the 19th century in Phuket by the local Chinese with influences from Thai culture.[224]

India[edit]

Some within the Chinese community in India practice Chinese folk religion. The community of Kolkata has built some "churches" to the Chinese gods.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The graphical etymology of Tian 天 as "Great One" (Dà yī 大一), and the phonetical etymology as diān 颠, were first recorded by Xu Shen.[54] John C. Didier in In and Outside the Square (2009) for the Sino-Platonic Papers discusses different etymologies which trace the character Tian 天 to the astral square or its ellipted forms, dīng 口, representing the northern celestial pole (pole star and Big Dipper revolving around it; historically a symbol of the absolute source of the universal reality in many cultures), which is the archaic (Shang) form of dīng 丁 ("square").[55] Gao Hongjin and other scholars trace the modern word Tian to the Shang pronunciation of 口 dīng (that is *teeŋ).[55] This was also the origin of Shang's 帝 ("Deity"), and later words meaning something "on high" or "top", including 顶 dǐng.[55] The modern graph for Tian 天 would derive from a Zhou version of the Shang archaic form of 帝 (from Shang oracle bone script[56]Shang archaic form of Di.svg, which represents a fish entering the astral square); this Zhou version represents a being with a human-like body and a head-mind informed by the astral pole (→ Zhou archaic form of Tian.svg).[55] Didier furtherly links the Chinese astral square and Tian or Di characters to other well-known symbols of God or divinity as the northern pole in key ancient cultural centres: the Harappan and Vedic-Aryan spoked wheels,[57] crosses and hooked crosses (Chinese wàn 卍/卐),[58] and the Mesopotamian Dingir Cuneiform sumer dingir.svg.[59] Jixu Zhou (2005), also in the Sino-Platonic Papers, connects the etymology of 帝, Old Chinese *Tees, to the Indo-European Deus, God.[60]
  2. ^ a b Tian, besides Taidi ("Great God") and Shangdi ("Primordial Deity"), Yudi ("Jade Deity"), simply Shen 神 ("God"), and Taiyi ("Great Oneness") as identified as the ladle of the Tiānmén 天门 ("Gate of Heaven", the Big Dipper),[64] is defined by many other names attested in the Chinese literary, philosophical and religious tradition:[65]
    • Tiānshén 天神, the "God of Heaven", interpreted in the Shuowen jiezi (說文解字) as "the being that gives birth to all things";
    • Shénhuáng 神皇, "God the King", attested in Taihong ("The Origin of Vital Breath");
    • Tiāndì 天帝, the "Deity of Heaven" or "Emperor of Heaven".
    • A slang Chinese term is Lǎotiānyé (老天爷), "Old Heavenly Father".
    Tian is both transcendent and immanent, manifesting in the three forms of dominance, destiny and nature. In the Wujing yiyi (五經異義, "Different Meanings in the Five Classics"), Xu Shen explains that the designation of Heaven is quintuple:[66]
    • Huáng Tiān 皇天 —"Yellow Heaven" or "Shining Heaven", when it is venerated as the lord of creation;
    • Hào Tiān 昊天—"Vast Heaven", with regard to the vastness of its vital breath (qi);
    • Mín Tiān 旻天—"Compassionate Heaven" for it hears and corresponds with justice to the all-under-heaven;
    • Shàng Tiān 上天—"Highest Heaven" or "First Heaven", for it is the primordial being supervising all-under-heaven;
    • Cāng Tiān 苍天—"Deep-Green Heaven", for it being unfathomably deep.
  3. ^ a b The characters yu (jade), huang (emperor, sovereign, august), wang (king), as well as others pertaining to the same semantic field, have a common denominator in the concept of gong (work, art, craft, artisan, bladed weapon, square and compass; gnomon, "interpreter") and wu 巫 (shaman, medium)[70] in its archaic form 巫-bronze.svg, with the same meaning of wan (swastika, ten thousand things, all being, universe).[71] The character 帝 is rendered as "deity" or "emperor" and describes a divine principle that exerts a fatherly dominance over what it produces.[69] A king is a man or an entity who is able to merge himself with the axis mundi, the centre of the universe, bringing its order into reality. The ancient kings or emperors of the Chinese civilisation were shamans or priests, that is to say mediators of the divine rule.[72] The same Western terms "king" and "emperor" traditionally meant an entity capable to embody the divine rule: king etymologically means "gnomon", "generator", while emperor means "interpreter", "one who makes from within".
  4. ^ In Chinese cosmology, the world isn't created ex nihilo from an external god, but evolves from the primordial chaos (Hundun). One way this has been commonly expressed is in terms of the Taiji symbol of yin and yang. The outer circle represents the primordial chaos out of which spontaneously emerges the fundamental polarity of yin (dark) and yang (light), which then produce the "myriad things" or "ten thousand things" (wàn 卍) by combination and recombination."[78]
  5. ^ Temples are usually built in accordance with feng shui methods, which hold that any thing needs to be arranged in equilibrium with the surrounding world in order to thrive. Names of holy spaces often describe, poetically, their collocation within the world.
  6. ^ The po can be compared with the psyche or thymos of the Greek philosophy and tradition, while the hun with the pneuma or "immortal soul".[89]
  7. ^ a b By the words of the Han dynasty scholar Dong Zhongshu: "Heaven, Earth and humankind are the foundations of all living things. Heaven engenders all living things, Earth nourishes them, and humankind completes them." In the Daodejing: "Tao is great. Heaven is great. Earth is great. And the king [humankind] is also great." The concept of the Three Powers / Agents / Ultimates is furtherly discussed in Confucian commentaries of the Yijing.[96]
  8. ^ The White Sulde (White Spirit) is one of the two spirits of Genghis Khan (the other being the Black Sulde), represented either as his white or yellow horse or as a fierce warrior riding this horse. In its interior, the temple enshrines a statue of Genghis Khan (at the center) and four of his men on each side (the total making nine, a symbolic number in Mongolian culture), there is an altar where offerings to the godly men are made, and three white suldes made with white horse hair. From the central sulde there are strings which hold tied light blue pieces of cloth with a few white ones. The wall is covered with all the names of the Mongol kins. The Chinese worship Genghis as the ancestral god of the Yuan dynasty.
  9. ^ Overmyer (2009, p. 73), says that from the late 19th to the 20th century few professional priests (i.e. licensed Taoists) were involved in local religion in the central and northern provinces of China, and discusses various types of folk ritual specialists including: the yuehu 樂戶, the zhuli 主禮 (p. 74), the shenjia 神家 ("godly families", hereditary specialists of gods and their rites; p. 77), then (p. 179) the yinyang or fengshui masters (as "[...] folk Zhengyi Daoists of the Lingbao scriptural tradition, living as ordinary peasants. They earn their living both as a group from performing public rituals, and individually [...] by doing geomancy and calendrical consultations for fengshui and auspicious days"; quoting: S. Jones (2007), Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi). He also describes shamans or media known by different names: mapi 馬裨, wupo 巫婆, shen momo 神嬤嬤 or shen han 神漢 (p. 87); xingdao de 香道的 ("practitioners of the incense way"; p. 85); village xiangtou 香頭 ("incense heads"; p. 86); matong 馬童 (the same as southern jitong), either wushen 巫神 (possessed by gods) or shenguan 神官 (possessed by immortals; pp. 88-89); or "godly sages" (shensheng 神聖; p. 91). Further (p. 76), he discusses for example the sai 賽, ceremonies of thanksgiving to the gods in Shanxi with roots in the Song era, which leaders very often corresponded to local political authorities. This pattern continues today with former village Communist Party secretaries elected as temple association bosses (p. 83). He concludes (p. 92): "In sum, since at least the early twentieth century the majority of local ritual leaders in north China have been products of their own or nearby communities. They have special skills in organization, ritual performance or interaction with the gods, but none are full-time ritual specialists; they have all ‘kept their day jobs’! As such they are exemplars of ordinary people organizing and carrying out their own cultural traditions, persistent traditions with their own structure, functions and logic that deserve to be understood as such."
  10. ^ The image is a good synthesis of the basic virtues of Chinese religion and Confucian ethics, that is to say "to move and act according to the harmony of Heaven". The Big Dipper or Great Chariot in Chinese culture (as well as in other traditional cultures) is a symbol of the axis mundi, the source of the universe (God, Tian) in its way of manifestation, order of creation (li or Tao). The symbol, also called the Gate of Heaven (天门 Tiānmén), is widely used in esoteric and mystical literature. For example, an excerpt from Shangqing Taoism's texts:
    "Life and death, separation and convergence, all derive from the seven stars. Thus when the Big Dipper impinges on someone, he dies, and when it moves, he lives. That is why the seven stars are Heaven's chancellor, the yamen where the gate is opened to give life."[168]
  11. ^ The term "thearch" is from Greek theos ("deity"), with arche ("principle", "origin"), thus meaning "divine principle", "divine origin". In sinology is has been used to designate the incarnated gods who, according to Chinese tradition, sustain the world order and originated China. It is one of the alternating translations of 帝 , together with "emperor" and "god".[176]
  12. ^ The natural order emanating from the primordial God (Tian-Shangdi) inscribing and designing worlds as tán 壇, "altar", the Chinese concept equivalent of the Indian mandala.
    Shangdi-Huangdi religious cosmology.png
    The traditional Chinese religious cosmology shows Huangdi, embodiment of Shangdi, as the hub of the universe and the Wudi (four gods of the directions and the seasons) as his emanations. The diagram illustrated above is based on the Huainanzi.[179]
  13. ^ Scholar Kenneth Dean estimates 680 million people involved in folk temples and rituals. Quote: "According to Dean, "in the rural sector... if one takes a rough figure of 1000 people per village living in 680,000 administrative villages and assume an average of two or three temples per village, one arrives at a figure of over 680 million villagers involved in some way with well over a million temples and their rituals"."[207]
  14. ^ However, that the nature of Chinese folk religion requires a "belief" in addition to a "practice" is controversial. The Chinese folk religion is often considered one of "belonging" rather than "believing" (see: Fan, Chen 2013. p. 5.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Teiser (1995), p. 378.
  2. ^ Teiser (1996), p. 31.
  3. ^ Overmyer (1986), p. 51.
  4. ^ a b Fan, Chen 2013. p. 5-6
  5. ^ a b c d Fan, Chen 2013. p. 21
  6. ^ a b c d Fan, Chen 2013. p. 23
  7. ^ Adler (2011), p. 13.
  8. ^ a b Teiser, 1996.
  9. ^ a b c d Thien Do, 2003, pp. 10-11
  10. ^ Richard Madsen. The Upsurge of Religion in China. Journal of Democracy, Volume 21, Number 4. October 2010. p. 64-65
  11. ^ Gaenssbauer (2015), p. 28-37.
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  114. ^ Fujian Government's website: Fujian's General Information. Quote: "At present, major religions practiced in Fujian include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. In addition, Fujian has its folk belief with deeply local characteristic, such as Mazuism, the belief in Mazu, (which) is very influential".
  115. ^ Fan Lizhu. The Cult of the Silkworm Mother as a Core of a Local Community Religion in a North China Village: Field Study in Zhiwuying, Baoding, Hebei. The China Quarterly No. 174 (Jun. 2003), 360.
  116. ^ Chau (2005), p. 50. Discussing folk religion in Shanbei: «There were very few ancestral halls in the past in Shaanbei and none have been revived in the reform era, although there are isolated instances of the rewriting of lineage genealogies. Shaanbei people have never had domestic ancestral altars (except perhaps a few gentry families who might have brought this tradition from the South), even though in the past, as was common in North China, they kept collective ancestral tablets (shenzhu) or large cloth scrolls with drawings of ancestral tablets that they used during special occasions such as during the Lunar New Year's ancestral worship ceremony. There are visits to the graves of the immediate ancestors a few times a year on prescribed occasions such as the Cold Food (hanshi) / Clear and Bright (qingming) (Third Month Ninth) but Shaanbei people do not believe that their ancestors' souls are active forces capable of protecting, benefiting or troubling the living.»
  117. ^ a b Wu (2014), p. 20. Quote: «[...] southern China refers to Fujian and Guangdong province and in some cases is expanded to include Guangxi, Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces. Historically speaking, these areas had the strong lineage organizations and the territorial cult, compared to the rest of China in the late imperial period. These areas not only were the first to revive lineage and the territorial cult in the reform era, but also have the intensity and scale of revivals that cannot be matched by the other part of China. This phenomena is furthered referred as the southern model, based on the south-vs.-north model. The north model refers to the absence of landholding cooperative lineages that exist in the south.» Note 16: The south-vs.-north model comparison has been the thrust of historical and anthropological research. Cohen’s article on “Lineage organization in North China (1990)” offers the best summary on the contrast between the north model and the south model. He calls the north China model “the fixed genealogical mode of agnatic kinship.” By which, he means “patrilineal ties are figured on the basis of the relative seniority of descent lines so that the unity of the lineage as a whole is based upon a ritual focus on the senior descent line trace back to the founding ancestor, his eldest son, and the succession of eldest sons.” (ibid: 510) In contrast, the south China model is called “the associational mode of patrilineal kinship.” In this mode, all lines of descent are equal. “Access to corporate resources held by a lineage or lineage segment is based upon the equality of kinship ties asserted in the associational mode.” However, the distinction between the north and the south model is somewhat arbitrary. Some practices of the south model are found in north China. Meanwhile, the so-call north model is not exclusive to north China. The set of characteristics of the north model (a distinctive arrangement of cemeteries, graves, ancestral scrolls, ancestral tablets, and corporate groups linked to a characteristic annual ritual cycle) is not a system. In reality, lineage organizations display a mixture between the south and the north model.»
  118. ^ a b Overmyer, 2009. pp. 12-13: "As for the physical and social structure of villages on this vast flat expanse; they consist of close groups of houses built on a raised area, surrounded by their fields, with a multi-surnamed population of families who own and cultivate their own land, though usually not much more than twenty mou or about three acres. [...] Families of different surnames living in one small community meant that lineages were not strong enough to maintain lineage shrines and cross-village organizations, so, at best, they owned small burial plots and took part only in intra-village activities. The old imperial government encouraged villages to manage themselves and collect and hand over their own taxes. [...] leaders were responsible for settling disputes, dealing with local government, organizing crop protection and planning for collective ceremonies. All these factors tended to strengthen the local protective deities and their temples as focal points of village identity and activity. This social context defines North China local religion, and keeps us from wandering off into vague discussions of ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ and relationships with Daoism and Buddhism."
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  159. ^ Overmyer, 2009. p. 3: "[...] there are significant differences between aspects of local religion in the south and north, one of which is the gods who are worshiped."; p. 33: "[...] the veneration in the north of ancient deities attested to in pre-Han sources, deities such as Nüwa, Fuxi and Shennong, the legendary founder of agriculture and herbal medicine. In some instances these gods were worshiped at places believed to be where they originated, with indications of grottoes, temples and festivals for them, some of which continue to exist or have been revived. Of course, these gods were worshiped elsewhere in China as well, though perhaps not with the same sense of original geographical location."
  160. ^ Overmyer, 2009. p. 15: «[...] Popular religious sects with their own forms of organization, leaders, deities, rituals, beliefs and scripture texts were active throughout the Ming and Qing periods, particularly in north China. Individuals and families who joined them were promised special divine protection in this life and the next by leaders who functioned both as ritual masters and missionaries. These sects were more active in some communities than in others, but in principle were open to all who responded to these leaders and believed in their efficacy and teachings, so some of these groups spread to wide areas of the country. [...] significant for us here though is evidence for the residual influence of sectarian beliefs and practices on non-sectarian community religion where the sects no longer exist, particularly the feminization of deities by adding to their names the characters mu or Laomu, Mother or Venerable Mother, as in Guanyin Laomu, Puxianmu, Dizangmu, etc., based on the name of the chief sectarian deity, Wusheng Laomu, the Eternal Venerable Mother. Puxian and Dizang are bodhisattvas normally considered ‘male’, though in Buddhist theory such gender categories don’t really apply. This practice of adding mu to the names of deities, found already in Ming period sectarian scriptures called baojuan ‘precious volumes’ from the north, does not occur in the names of southern deities.»
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Sources[edit]

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External links[edit]

Media related to Chinese folk religion at Wikimedia Commons