Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History (China Studies, 3)

Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History (China Studies, 3)
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What once had been orthodox was later considered heterodox. Another point to be noted here concerns the issues eliminated from the new Confucian orthodoxy: the prophecies and prognostications of the Chenwei texts and the messianic expectations of a sage-ruler who would bring about peace and prosperity and inaugurate a new era. These were the same issues that were characteristic of many popular religious movements that became the objects of repression and persecution.

And the same elements can be found also in the Daoist and Buddhist traditions where they suffered a similar fate of being eliminated when it came to the definition of the respective orthodoxies. From the Han dynasty, Confucianism was the tradition that most clearly represented the fundamental political and social values on which the Chinese political order was built. The officially accepted forms of Confucianism, its regulations of the state sacrifices and its moral principles were the ideological foundations of all dynasties after the Han.

Confucianism was supported by the state, and insofar it can be regarded as orthodox. It defined the fundamental norms of behaviour sanctioned by the political authorities. Only within this normative frame could religions such as Daoism and Buddhism unfold as orthodox teachings. In the middle of the first millennium both religions had succeeded in gaining official recognition by eliminating or controlling those elements of their traditions that were not in accord with the officially sanctioned norms.

Thus, they became orthodox traditions, too. Roots of the Daoist Tradition In some respects the formation of Daoism as an orthodox religion is comparable to the development of Confucianism during the Han. It included the integration and systematization of various traditions culminating in the definition of a corpus of canonical texts recognized by the emperor.

During this process many elements that originally were part of the Daoist traditions were eliminated. These early Daoist traditions derived from many sources.

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Although the name Daoist school daojia i was already in use during the Han dynasty, it was only centuries later that Daoism became a clearly defined religious tradition. The various streams that contributed to this movement were only slowly integrated.

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During the Han dynasty many of them still flowed separately. Looking back from what was later regarded as Daoism, we can discern some elements that reach back to pre-Han times. These include the name of Laozi j] as the paragon of the Daoist tradition,. Laozi, the legendary author of the Daode jing k Classic of the Dao and De , was during the Han dynasty transformed into a divine being.

Veneration of Laozi seems to have been widespread as early as the second century BCE. At the court of emperor Jingdi lA r. During that time the book of Laozi received the name Daode jing and was thus honoured as a canonical scripture jing.

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Huangdi, the mythical first emperor who was said to have followed the teachings of Laozi, was the paradigm of the ideal ruler. Under his government the world experienced peace and prosperity and for himself he had reached immortality. Small wonder, therefore, that emperor Wudi r. Although in the political realm he promoted Confucianism, his search for immortality brought him under the influence of several fangshi masters of recipes , who prompted him to perform the famous fengshan op sacrifices as Huangdi had supposedly done.

Thus, the Huang-Lao teaching, which was the most important stream of Daoism during the Former Han, contained from the beginning a political as well as an individual orientation. Politically it stimulated the hope for an ideal government while individually it promised personal well-being and immortality.

Both elements had lasting influence on the Daoist tradition. During the Han dynasty, however, the Huang-Lao teaching was not yet an organized religious movement comparable to the later Daoist communities.

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It was rather a diffused religious tradition that permeated the society on various levels. When in CE emperor Huandi qA inaugurated state sacrifices for Laozi and thus officially recognized him as a deity, the cult of Laozi had already a long history among the populace.

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Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History. Series: China Studies, Volume: 3 This groundbreaking book surveys the entire history of popular religious sects in Chinese history. “Publish this Book!. Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History " Popular religious movements in historical and contemporary China.

Seidel, La divinisation de Lao Tseu, pp. In most Western works the pronunciation Jue meaning a note in traditional Chinese music is preferred to the more common reading Jiao meaning horn.

The Three Teachings - Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism l HISTORY OF CHINA

Veneration of Laozi and his exaltation as a deity were not confined to particular social circles. They were popular in the upper strata of society as well as in lower class milieus. There was no coherent Huang-Lao teaching but rather a set of religious motifs and ideas used in different contexts. Still less was there a single organization of the Huang-Lao tradition.

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Daoism was at that time far from being a clearly defined religious movement. The search for immortality did not belong to the original teachings of Laozi as we know them from the Daode jing. It sprang from a different source that can be traced back to religious traditions prevalent in the northern coastal regions. As early as the fourth century BCE the kings of Qi s and Yan t had sent expeditions in search of the islands of the immortals.

The teachings and practices of the fangshi from Yan and Qi contained many elements that later became essential parts of the Daoist tradition.

Among them is the idea of leaving the corpse and attaining a transformed immortal body xing jie vw. By the time of Han Wudi the belief in the possibility of becoming an immortal had already been combined with the veneration of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ascended to heaven riding could not find any reason for this. I did, however, find evidence that at least during the Song dynasty the name was pronounced Jiao. There are accounts about a certain religious sect that avoided pronouncing the word jiao referring to the horn of an ox because of a taboo on Zhang Jiaos personal name see below p.


The propagators of these teachings at the court of Wudi were fangshi from Qi. The fangshi were skilled in many arts that later became characteristic for the daoshi, the masters of the Dao. These include the practice of alchemy, which is reported of the fangshi Li Shaojun at the court of Han Wudi. Emperor Wudi was much impressed by his art and honoured him with an official title. The revelation of scriptures later became an important feature in the Daoist tradition.

In many respects the fangshi can be regarded as the forerunners of the daoshi, the Daoist priests. Beginning in the Later Han dynasty, the two terms were occasionally used interchangeably. Their occult arts were sharply opposed by Confucian scholars at the court of Han Wudi. The fangshi had their roots in the popular religious traditions where practices such as calling spirits and exorcising demons were common.

Even the later Daoists sharply criticized these practices and regarded them as heterodox. The Confucian scholars objected to the fangshi, not only because they were competitors for imperial favour, but certainly also because they were able to attract many followers by their arts. Thus, they represented a latent threat to political stability. Sometimes they acted as soothsayers, giving prophecies that could encourage political revolts.

Shiji, j. Kenneth J.

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Hou Hanshu, j. In 26 CE a daoshi prophesied that the 7. When the emerging Daoist religion took over the tradition of the fangshi, it had to be purged from many elements considered heterodox before it could attain recognition as an orthodox religion. New Developments during the Han Dynasty So far we have considered the continuity between the evolving Daoist tradition and ancient beliefs and practices of pre-Han times.

However, during the Han dynasty there were some important new developments that affected the formation of the Daoist religion. The latter part of the Han dynasty saw the emergence of a new type of religion characterized by a novel perception of human existence. This new type became most obvious with the arrival of Buddhism.

Although the full reach of the Buddhist teaching was understood in China only in the course of time, its promise of salvation fell on the fertile soil of a widespread longing for relief from the present state of existence. The development of Daoism in some respect parallels that of Buddhism. Both religions mutually influenced each other, by borrowing ideas, ritual practices, and literary styles, by sharpening the distinctive features to define their respective identity. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the appearance of salvationist elements in Daoism could alone be attributed to the influence of Buddhism.

The idea of salvation from the present conditions could gain prominence only in a climate where these conditions were felt to be in some way deficient. This religious climate did not arise suddenly but developed during the Han dynasty, and it was not confined to Daoist circles. There is some evidence that at the beginning of the Han dynasty many contemporaries perceived the state of society as being in need of reform.

The collapse of the Qin dynasty had nourished the consciousness of a break in history and the urgency of a new beginning. Teachers of various backgrounds offered their advice on how the state should be ordered. The repeated attempts to reorganize the state cult during the Former Han attest to the feeling that the order of things needed some readjustment.

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They thus reflect this quest for a new beginning. Zhang Feng then started a rebellion. However, the expected signs of a golden age did not appear and the Confucian scholars concluded that the time was not yet ripe for the advent of a sage-ruler. Expectations of this kind were, however, by no means confined to the Confucians. In his endeavour to restitute the ideal government of the Yellow Emperor, Han Wudi was prompted as much by the ideas of the fangshi as by those of the Confucians. The demand for a change in the actual conditions reflected an awareness of disorder that must have been widespread during the Han dynasty.

Towards the end of the first century BCE a revealed scripture was circulated saying that the mandate of the Han dynasty had declined and needed restoration. The ill-fated emperor Aidi A r. And the title the emperor assumed shows what kind of change was hoped for: He Hanshu, j.