DAOJIA道家(Philosophy) ECLIPSES DAOJIAO道敎(Religion)

· Chinese Culture, Eclectic religion

An Analysis of Taoist Non-Religious Philosophies and Taoist Religious Practices

Discussions about Chinese religions is often fraught with frustrations because unlike the Abrahamic faiths, the Chinese religions do not have “Sacred Books ” (I consider Dao Te Ching and Confucius’ Analects as natural, social or moral philosophies, not as religious philosophy.) Whereas, religious doctrines in Abrahamic faiths can be confined to their Holy Books. Chinese religions can either be seen as very simple ancient folk (shaman) religion mostly pre-history, or it can be complicated with the addition of much more modern (relative) non-religious moral, ethical or social philosophies accepted by the population as a part of their combined religion. This articles attempts to discuss these anomalies. 01.12.11 (30p.10,569Wds)


    The Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC)
    The non-religious, but moral, familial, social, political philosophies
    Lao Zi (604-531BC)
    Kong Zi, Kong Fu Zi (551-479 BC)
    HAN FEIZI (280-233BC) – Legalism
    MO ZI (479 – 381 BC) – Mohism
    SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA (560-478 BC) – Buddhism
    (1) The Ancient Shaman Gods of Nature:
    (2) Ancient Shaman Animism – Veneration of the Dead Ancestors – “ANCESTOR WORSHIP”
    (3) Ancient Shaman Medicinal Practices
    (4) Ancient Shaman Divination
    (6) Shaman Qi Gong
    2. CHINESE GODS SERVE THE PEOPLE: People Worship Gods
    (1) RELIGION
    Providing time perspective
    A brief historical timeline of some Philosophers and history
    Lao-Tzu (604-531 BCE) wrote the “Tao de Ching.”
    (5) MORE DETAILS OF CHINESE PHILOSOPHERS pre-Christian era(The Contention of) The Hundred Schools of Thought (simplified Chinese: 诸子百家; traditional…
    Ancient Chinese philosophers
    Before 256 BCE (until the end of the Zhou Dynasty)
    475–221 BCE (Warring States Period)
    221BCE–220 CE (Qin, Han and Xin Dynasties)


    The perception of what religion means to someone brought up in the Abrahamic faiths is something that people take for granted by Westerners. Equally the perception of what religion means to someone brought up in the Taoist-Buddhist culture is equally taken for granted by Easterners even though their individual perceptions of what it really means to them may be entirely different, and hence the misunderstandings in communications. Thus we will examine some of these differences in concepts in order that we can have a better understanding of one another.
    In the Western culture the ethereal or spiritual world of God is distinct from that of man and earthly matters. It is as distinct as man is from his soul, or God from man. A Western man’s faith and loyalty to his God is uncompromising, unconditional and inflexible. He shows his loyalty by adhering to some very uncompromising Biblical commandments like,
    (1) “Thou shall have no other gods before me.
    (2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”
    (3) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,”
    (4) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
    (5) “Honour your father and your mother,”
    (6) “You shall not murder.”
    (7) “You shall not commit adultery.”
    (8) “You shall not steal.”
    (9) “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
    (10) “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
    ”Among the Chinese religions there is:


    The Abrahamic faiths were born in the harsh, dry and barren deserts of nomadic tribal peoples who were often persecuted by hostile pagan rulers and foreign conquerors. Thus exclusivity was a way to protect and propagate and ensure the growth of their faith. There was great competition for grazing pastures, and for tribal lands, and often conflicts and wars were common in these regions. The Abrahamic faiths with their “exclusive” and ruthless ideologies reflect the troubled conditions of the tribal animosities and the harsh justice of the rulers on that land at that time.


    The early Taoist religion, on the other hand, was born among rural peasants attempting to make a living along the rich river basins of their network of rivers, struggling mostly against the elements of nature, and living in small communities lorded over by a local chief who was under the control of an Emperor of the region. So the greatest concern of the ancient Chinese people were the elements, their health, and fertility, and thus their early gods reflected this. Their greatest enemy was the unpredictable forces of Nature controlled undoubtedly by some god above.
    The Sun would therefore be the central object of worship for these rural ancient farmers, and the Emperor was considered as “the son” of the Sun. In early China, most of the people were farming peasants, with agriculture as the only primary source of life support, all gods associated with agriculture were easily accepted and united the whole populace with a common worship and common gods. But with time more and more gods were added to the pantheon as immortals were added to their list of deities to be venerated. We should be able to differentiate between the gods worshipped before the Shang Dynasty (1766BC-1027BC) and then again after the Fall of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD.)


Thus, it was a natural evolution among those ancient peasants to consider that the various forces of nature were under the jurisdiction of a god of that particular discipline. Being people of the soil and pragmatic, the peasants created a legendary figure of “PAN GU” a human giant who emerged out of the chaos of the Heavens and with the different parts of his body created the universe. But those ancients peoples accepted the mortal Emperor“SHANG DI”as their supreme ruler and “immortalised him as their god (Sainthood).”

Some scholars believe that this god’s name,Shang Di signified “a sacrifice placed above the other sacrifices”, while others believe that Shang Di was the founder of the Shang dynasty (c.1600-1046 BCE). Shang Di, who received sacrifices only from rulers, is especially associated with wars and crops. Confucius defined him as the force that controls nature and determines the fate of human beings (god-Saint). During the Shang dynasty the ruler was perceived to be under the mandate of Shang Di, the Heaven God 皇(huáng)天(tiān)上(shàng)帝(dì).

The Chinese believed in harmony uniting Heaven, earth and man.The prevailing belief was that the emperor, in having high moral standards, would cause the Barbarians to kneel before him and bring him offerings. This belief explains why, throughout history, the Chinese tended to place their faith in religion rather than in an army ready for battle.Beside Shang Di, the Chinese worshipped the hundred spirits (“hundred” to indicate multiplicity) or “the hundred gods” – a collective name for all the divine spirits. The people believed that important events depended on cooperation among the gods. Most of the gods were gods of the natural elements, such as the sun, the moon, thunder etc.As early as in the Shang dynasty (c.1600 – 1046 BC) the Chinese believed that the dead helped (spirits of the dead watched over) the living, especially their relatives.

In the beginning only the nobles of this dynasty worshipped their ancestors; however, during the Zhou dynasty ancestor worship (veneration) spread among the common people as well. Ancestor worship (veneration) is still very prevalent in present-day China.[Veneration of the dead is also practised in the Western Christian societies under the description of “Remembrance Day, All Souls Day, All Saint’s Day (over 10,000 Christian Saints are venerated.) Many modern Christians also believe that the spirits of their parents or other loved one’s look down upon them and protect and guide them. This shows that perception of the spirit world is not so different in the different cultures over even over aeons of time.]

Chinese people believe that their ancestors remain with their kin. A death does not mean separation between the dead and the living. Every Chinese Taoist/Buddhist house features a small shrine. The objects of worship in this shrine are not images but wooden tablets inscribed with the names of the deceased family members and the dates of their birth and death. The spirits of the dead are believed to reside in these tablets. The deceased ancestor’s spirit supervise the activities of their living descendants and the descendants must honour them and give them the love and respect they deserve. In order to ensure the ancestors’ “happiness” in the other world, their descendants bring offerings, food and wine, to the temples and ancestor worship sites. The purpose of such worship is to maintain the continuity of the family ties and hierarchy for generations. [See Appendix 6: Home Altars, below.]

Immediately after the death of a family member, the death is reported to the God of Earth 土(tǔ)地(dì) or to the God of the Five Ways 五(wǔ)道(dào)神(shén) who, as the guardian of the entrance to the underworld, eases the passage of the deceased soul into the world of the spirits. [In the Christian faith, such ceremonies are undertaken in a Church service and services of remembrance.]Ceremonies following the death of a family member take place during a 49-day period of mourning. There are still ceremonies today in which the deceased is dressed in his most beautiful clothes. Money, clothing, a house, furniture and even servants – all made of paper, are burnt in order to serve him in the underworld. Until recently, it was customary to burn bundles of 10,000 yuan – paper money for the underworld (not real money) – to provide enough money for all the needs of the deceased.


Chinese gods were conceived by the ancient peasants , assisted by their shamans, in China long before the recorded history of the Shang Dynasty (1766BC-1027BC) and in every probability long before the Neolithic period (c10,000BC-2000BC). But Chinese religions had no Holy Books or other forms to codify their practice or stating their ideologies or their doctrines like that of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Their traditions were handed down from generation to generation. But Chinese religions were no less religious nor less meaningful. But the relationship of the people to their early gods was simple and uncomplicated and undemanding, like the relationship of a innocent grandson with his wise grandfather. Each did not make any onerous demands or make unreasonable requests of the other. In The Chinese Religion there were no such demands like,(1) You shall have no other gods before Me. or (2) You shall not bow down to any carved images or serve them, or (3) Thou shall not take the name of God in vain.

There were no demands or conditions in the Chinese religions.

The Chinese ancient religions were transmitted through
rituals, traditions, beliefs, acts, and custom, passed down over the generations changing little. However, with the passage of time (hundreds of years) many new customs, and many deities (saints) were added to their pantheon of deities, and many new non-religious philosophies were even included into their original traditions and beliefs in order to enhance and enrich their earlier simply traditions. These variations will be touched upon below.

The ancient Chinese religion, Taoism, has a pantheon of gods and immortals (Saints) but the earliest of the gods were spirit gods associated with life and nature and fertility. The importance of fertility and survival of man and crops was essential to the survival of man on earth. So gods relating to this aspect of life was a priority and a study of Chinese gods proves this to be so. Other gods responsible for life and death and health, or droughts, or floods, or pestilence, or earth-quakes, or wars, or misery or happiness were equally as important. The ancient peoples needed these gods to pray to so that they can be protected from some of nature’s disasters, because it was beyond the powers of man or Emperors. These gods became the basic and fundamental gods that were created by ancient man and has continued to exist throughout the ages. This was the foundation of the gods of the Folk peoples who made the Folk Religion of ancient China known as Taoism. But with the passage of thousands of years new non-religious concepts, and non-religious philosophies were introduced into their religion that makes for today’s Chinese religions. Few consider the religious aspects different from the non-religious aspects of the Chinese religion, which makes for confusion in discussing Chinese religions.

It was recognised by those primitive peoples that the forces of Heaven was above and beyond the control of man or Emperors, and that these forces were in the realms of the gods in Heaven.Peasants though they might have been but totally pragmatic, they recognised that some forces were supernatural, the forces of Heaven, the cosmos, the forces of the gods, and accepted it. Thus the object of worship in the Shang Dynasty (and before) was Heaven天(tiān.)The Heaven that was almighty and supernatural. Thus for Shang Di, the wise and superior Emperor to rule successfully, he must receive his mandate from Heaven. But even so, should the Emperor’s rule or conduct was immoral (in the eyes of his subjects,) he could be forced to abdicate. [An early indication of the sense of democratic fairness and sense of the respect of human rights shown in the 17th or 18h Century BC.] This democratic judgement by the citizens did in deed bring down the last of the Shang Emperors.

The Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC)

with all its brutality and wars and deaths gave birth to the “Contention of the Hundred Schools of Thought,” (百家爭鳴/百家争鸣;bǎijiā zhēngmíng;pai-chia cheng-ming; “hundred schools contend”). The thoughts and ideas discussed and refined during this period have profoundly influenced ethics, morality, lifestyles and social consciousness of the people in East Asian countries even to today.Rather mysteriously, after the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) hundreds of gods were added to the Chinese pantheon, all of them immortals – humans who became gods (Saints) after their death.The most likely cause for this was because of the need to fill the gaps of deities after the evolution of “The Hundred Schools of Thought.”Some of these immortals there were Buddhists, Daoists, and many gods of local sects. They were organized in a hierarchy, parallel to the human hierarchy on earth.As gods, they were more powerful than mortals, but less powerful than the Emperor who had the mandate of Heaven.It was possible to direct their deeds and even to bribe them, just as it had been customary to bribe government officials. (A very interesting observation.)

Many of the Daoist gods are presented in paintings and sculptures as grotesque creatures in order to ward off evil spirits. In the literature they sometimes appear as satirical characters. Some of the Daoist gods are identified with a variety of Buddhist gods; others derive from Chinese folkloreor from ancient shamanistic gods and their traditions. Among the latter are the gods who protect houses and city gates, the Kitchen God, and many other godsof the natural world.An especially popular group of ancient Daoist gods is that of the Eight Immortals八(bā)仙(xiān). These gods are supposed to bring luck and longevity. Each of them has magical powers and represents one of the different conditions in life –poverty, wealth, nobility, simplicity, old age, youth, masculinity and femininity.Another group of popular gods is that of the family gods, who are believed to be the household guardians. These gods are numerous and among them are ancient sages, great poets, war heroes, Buddhist saint monks, earth gods and protective gods. All of them are worshipped in temples.

The Buddhist gods, when translated to the Chinese context, went through some transformation. For example, Guan Yin 观(guān)音(yīn)(literally: who discerns voices), the Goddess of Mercy, had been a masculine god before arriving in China. This god, the sacred Buddhist Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (literally from Sanskrit: Bodhisattva – he who will become Buddha; Avalokitesvara – he who hears the voices of the world), is the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism, and incarnated in the Dalai Lama. The goddess Guan Yin hears good and bad voices and helps people in need. She is usually presented in art as a beautiful young woman. Legend has it that Guan Yin was born as the youngest daughter to a king. She had been an obedient daughter but when she came of age to marry, her father found her a husband whom she refused to wed. The angry father sent her to a monastery where she was supposed to be taught to obey him. The nuns in the monastery failed to accomplish the task given them by the father, as a reaction to which he burnt down their monastery. All the nuns died, but the daughter, who had read the scriptures, survived. The father ordered her decapitation, but when the sword touched her throat it shattered. A tiger then suddenly appeared and bore Guan Yin off to the forest, where she remained unconscious for a long time before descending to the underworld.From the Ming 明(míng) dynasty (1368-1644 AD) on a new type of god was added to the pantheon – the city god. It had been customary for every city to have a patron god- 城(chéng)皇(huáng)神(shén). Sometimes the city’s governor was himself considered such a god. It was the emperor who decided whether a city deserved having a patron god, and only he had the authority to promote or demote a certain god.[1]


The non-religious, but moral, familial, social, political philosophies

A brief timeline of history and list of philosophers is provided in Appendix (4) to provide readers with a time perspective.Although the early shamanistic Chinese peasant found their gods and developed their rituals and prayers to appease their gods, they discovered that there was misery, brutality and death, brought upon man by man. The brutality and savagery that accompanied the wars of supremacy between different rulers, during the period of the Warring States (475 – 221 BC) stimulated the wise men of the time to attempt to find a solution to this needless barbarity. They saw states annihilating states and their citizens, destroying property and farmlands, and everyone suffering and getting poorer for it. Banditry took advantage of the chaos to loot and kill, and sons fought their brothers and even their fathers for their entitlements to inheritance. The society and the family life was in total shambles. Something had to be done to restore order and harmony in society. Thus sages appeared to attempt to resolved this state of chaos and anarchy.

What emerged is most telling. The people, and the sages did not turn to their gods to undo human failings (although some must have), but they sought the solution by developing a code of ethics or moral conduct, a philosophy that could resolve their man made tragedies permanently and effectively. Thus during this period, the birth of a spate Chinese philosophers was born. These philosophers were wise thinking men of their time. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, these men did not receive Heavenly or Angelic or the sublime intervention of gods as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad did. These men evolved philosophies by observing and understanding the problem and using their own logic and expectations of decent human behaviour, evolved philosophies that would improve the living conditions for all peoples of the community. Non of these ancient Chinese philosophers involved Chinese gods to resolve earthly human problems. A close examination of the philosophies of Lao Zi, Confucius, Buddha, and others, that have been incorporated to the Chinese religious ideology, were all non-religious philosophies, but have been accepted as a part of their beliefs since they had moral and ethical values in their philosophies.

Lao Zi (604-531BC)

Lao Zi,老(lǎo)子(zǐ) (literally: the old master) (604-531 BCE), founder of Daoism, preached an (atheistic) philosophy invoking thatone should walk in the right way, return to nature, merge with the (naqtural) world, unite with the infinite and thus become limitless.” Daoism is characterized by passivity and retreat to nature. it expresses an aspiration for “inner peace and harmony and for a harmonious merging with the environment.”The term “Dao” 道(dào)(literally: way), when the character 道(dào)is used as a verb, its significance includes “to lead forward”,” to speak”, “to say” or “to guide”. Since ancient times, the word “dao” has signified appropriate behaviour leading to peace.It is a non-religious philosophy of ethics, creating a peaceful harmony with nature.

Kong Zi, Kong Fu Zi (551-479 BC)

The title Kong Zi 孔(kǒng)子(zǐ) (literally: Master Kong) or Kong Fu Zi 孔(kǒng)夫(fū)子(zǐ) was attributed to the great philosopher.

Confucius set out an (atheistic social moral) philosophy that, in his opinion, would bring about stability, justice and harmony to Chinese society.The social framework to which he referred encompassed relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, the oldest brother and his younger siblings, and between a ruler and his subjects. In each of these relationships Confucius emphasized the necessity for obedience by the lower individual to the higher one. Likewise, he demanded generosity from the higher individual toward the lower one. Every individual thus knew his place within the social fabric. By revealing the golden mean, and love of humanity as a basis for morality, Confucius moulded the Chinese philosophy and culture. He believed that the practice of rites would inculcate culture in the people. In ancestor worship (veneration), funeral ceremonies and sacrificial rites, he saw a means for strengthening formal relationships among people. Confucianism influenced all aspects of life – government, education, personal behaviour and the obligations of the individual to society. It determined social norms and values, and placed scholars in the bureaucracy. The ideas of Confucius taught the Chinese to manage a balanced and stable life, offering them a broad rational interpretation for state and family values and for their own position as central components in the social order.Confucian philosophy was not a religious philosophy but one that involved ethics and social harmony, but found great acceptance among the people of China because before Confucius this obvious hierarchy was never established in primitive society. It is one of the key philosophies that has shaped Chinese social hierarchy and maintained respect and social harmony. The concept of this hierarchy was not present in the Chinese religion. This aspect of social hierarchy is no so prevalent in other societies.

HAN FEIZI (280-233BC) – Legalism

Han Feizi 韩(hán)非(fēi)子(zǐ) (280-233 BCE), who emphasized the idea that laws have to be homogeneous and known to all.LEGALISM法(fǎ)家(jiā)(literally: school of law)is an (atheistic) school of philosophy for which the essential principle is the rule of law as the foundation of government.The Legalists perceived man as selfish, greedy and fearful by nature; and that reason depends on the rational application of laws that will lead to moral development.Such a vision of “The Rule of Law as the foundation of Government” was already a concept in the culture of ancient China before 230 BC is almost unbelievable.

MO ZI (479 – 381 BC) – Mohism

Mo Zi墨(mò)子(zǐ) (479-381 BCE) orMocius’ atheist philosophy believed in a “Universal Love,” Mocius thought that one should love not only one’s family members and relatives, and not only be loyal to one’s feudal society, but one should also love other people from other families and countries as much as one’s own family.

(It is truly incredible, a vision of “Universal Love, i.e., Love they neighbour as thyself,” incorporating the concepts of Multiculturalism, Human Rights Principles, perceived before 380 BC without intervention from gods, shows the depth of thinking so many thousands of years ago. Yet not many have even heard of this philosopher or his visions. PS: Surely this points to the possibility that the wisdom and foresight of Moses was human and not from god.) Mocius believed that man’s nature is basically good. Being practical, he thought that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome; in other words – the ends justify the means. The importance of Mocius’ philosophy lies in his idea of universalism and rationality.

SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA (560-478 BC) – Buddhism

– the Buddha (literally: the enlightened one or the awakened one.)Buddhism is an” alien” (non-indigenious) atheist philosophy of Hindu roots, (hence the similar beliefs in “reincarnation”) introduced to China through the trading routes between India and China. Gautama’s philosophy aspired“to bring relief to human suffering through self control by rejecting human desires (wants.)He taught that desires are a source of pain, and that overcoming these desires will lead to the disappearance of pain. The necessary steps to stopping suffering involve holding the right views and intentions, correct speech, behaviour, lifestyle, and effort, awareness and concentration.His aim was to achieve NIRVANA(literally in Sanskrit: extinguish [of desires], the blowing out of a candle) –a condition of peace of the soul (inner spirit) and a merging with eternal harmony.[1]Buddhism is clearly a non-religious philosophy of ethics, meditation, and self discipline.


Whenever there is a discussion about Chinese religions with someone from China, invariably it ends in frustrations and massive quotes from Dao I-Ching or the Analects of Confucius or they will Cut and Paste articles in hieroglyphics. That is because most people have not analysed the religious aspects of their religion in detail. Or they will suggest that those who are not Taoists/Buddhists could never understand those religions. There may be some truth in that statement but I also believe that there is a lot of self-delusion in it, covering up their own lack of knowledge of ancient cultural history. The truth is that both sides do not understand the other side because of the gap in perception and the gap in the use of diction.

To begin with, there is a difference in the use of diction and differences in the precise definition of words used. The definition of “Religion” can conjure different visions in our minds because the concept of Religion in China is quite different from the concept of Religion in the Western hemisphere. It is not only the definition of “Religion” that could be different, but the different understanding of the definition of “Religious Philosophy” with the definition of “Non-Religious Philosophy.”

To replicate the dictionary definition of words, I have defined some of these words in the appendix below and included some examples. Unless we use the same definitions, or appreciate what they other means, I can see confusion arising in the discussions, particularly of Chinese religions because it is not a precise or orthodox ideology. The main reason for this difference in perception is because most Chinese people have intertwined and accepted non-religious morals, ethics, politics, social or metaphysical philosophies with their religion until they are unable to distinguish the differences between religious and non-religious philosophies. The ordinary Chinese persons have been so accepting in this intertwined concept and loose interpretation of religion that they cannot distinguish the differences in their thoughts when discussing with someone who clearly sees the differences.

Most Chinese will say that they are not very religious people but would agree that they believe in or observe Taoism, or Confucianism, or Buddhism religions without really understand clearly in their minds what that means everyone around them is similarly like minded. Thus it is all taken for granted. Most of the Taoists or Buddhists do not really know the real philosophies of Dao as written in Dai I-Ching or Confucianism or Buddhism, but have a general idea of what it means, not realising that the philosophies they have accepted are not religious philosophies but ethical, moral or social philosophies. (see appendix 2 & 3 below)

Most modern Taoists probably see that the origins of Taoism began with the Dao I-Ching philosophy, or Confucian adherents will believe that Confucianism began with the teachings of Kong Fu Zi. Not many would have second thoughts that the Deities/gods they worship and offering prayers to or offerings to are the gods that belong to an era that existed long before the appearances of these philosophers who appeared during of after the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). The worshippers are not really worshipping Lao Zi, or Kong Fu Zi because they are not gods, nor their philosophies because they are not religious philosophies. The worshippers are praying for blessings or ask for forgiveness from the ancient gods that were already in existence thousands of years before the Warring States Period and from the shaman past in pre-neolithic times. They could not have been praying to Lao Zi or Kong Fu Zi as they were mere mortals and have never been immortalised. The people, as they pray, have in mind gods who had the powers to meet their request for good health, or happiness, or good fortune, or the birth of a son, or gods who could assure them a good harvest or business success. They cannot be praying to or for a non-religious philosophy or idea.

I hope I have been able to illustrate the separation of the religious aspects of religion from the moral, ethical or social aspects of non-religious philosophies. Perhaps some of the rituals of ancient shaman religious are seen as primitive and passé by the young modern generations, and they wish to distance themselves from what they consider archaic superstitious practices. Such misconceptions must lie with the Chinese educational system as they have not made any serious attempts at clarification and classification of the different aspects of religious and non-religious philosophies and they must have neglected to cover such basic aspects of their religious beliefs. Perhaps no one saw a need to teach and discuss religion in schools as it was all taken for granted as a Chinese way of life and was something that is learned in the home environment.


The significance of the role ancient Chinese religion has influenced the Chinese culture has been much overlooked and taken for granted. Many of the superstitions, folk tales, religious customs and religious rituals have survived through the Chinese civilisation from before the Shang and Xia Dynasties, even from before the Neolithic, the Mesolithic, and the Paleolithic Ages (3 million to 10,000 years ago) (Stone Age.)

The Paleolithic Age was characterized by the use of some simple tools. It is said that Yuanmou Man lived 1,700,000 years ago and was the earliest man known in China. He was found in Yunnan Province. Lantian Man and Peking Man also lived during the Paleolithic Age. Mainly inhabiting caves, humans at that time were gregarious. In addition to the use of some simple tools, they first discovered fire and used it often in their daily lives.

Neolithic Age (10,000 BC-2,000BC)

The Neolithic Age, the last period of the Stone Age is a new starting point in China’s ancient economy and culture. Marked by the emergence of farming and stock breeding, humanity graduated from depending on nature to transforming nature. People began to live a settled life and use grinding stone tools. Meanwhile, the skills of making pottery and spinning were developed, and paintings, characters, sculptures, music and dances all began to appear. Relics of the Neolithic Age are found throughout China, some of which are still intact in villages in places such as “Yangshao” and “Longshan Cultural Areas” of Yellow River watershed and the “Hemudu Cultural Area” of the Yangtze River watershed.

The Chief was chosen according to one’s ability in a system that was called the Abdication System. Shun was recommended by the previous chief, Yao, and became his successor. Later, Yu became the chief because of his contribution to controlling floodwaters. This system continued until 2070 BC when Boyi was recommended by Yu and Qi. Yu’s son killed Boyi and made himself the king. Thus the Abdication System ended. The first dynasty – Xia hereafter came the forth ruling family in Chinese history. As this was pre-history, much is dependent on folklore and archaeological evidence coupled with an insight into the Chinese culture and the traditions of their religions that has survived the test of time. [5]


The above provides ample proof that early neolithic people of China had a culture, and the means to make tools, to fire pottery, to select leaders, and must have also been able to create gods to worship. There would have been shamans to help heal the sick or say prayers for the dead, or for blessing the new born. From baseless superstitions, more sophisticated arts like fortune telling, geomancy, and divination developed. These arts had its origins with early Chinese shamanism and spiritualism and their ancient religions. It is these ancient shamanistic religious traditions and rituals that originated from Paleolithic and Neolithic Chinese culture that has been passed down the generations even to the 21st century that has formed the Chinese culture. Some of these ancient gods, rituals and traditions modern Chinese still cling on to and observe are briefly listed here.

(1) The Ancient Shaman Gods of Nature:

(1.1) YU-HUANG-SHANG-TI: “Father Heaven – the August Supreme Emperor of Jade;originally the sky god.

(1.2) KWAN YIN: Goddess of “Mercy and Compassion.” (A Buddhist derivation.)

(1.3) TI-TSANG WANG: “God of mercy.”

(1.4) T’SHAI-SHEN: “God of wealth”

(1.5) LEI KUN : God of Thunder.

(1.6) CHU JUNG: God of fire.

(1.7) KUAN TI : God of war.

(1.8) PA HSIEN: The Eight Immortals of the Taoist Tradition

(1.8a)TIEH-KUAI LI – of the Iron Crutch. “A healer.”

(1.9b)CHUNG-LI CH’UAN – A smiling old man always beaming with joy

(1.10c)LAN TS’AI-HO – a young flute-player and wandering minstrel

(1.11d)LU TUNG-PIN – A hero of early Chinese literature. Renouncing riches

(1.12e) CHANG-KUO LAO – An aged hermit with miraculous abilities.

(1.13f) HAN HSIANG-TZU – A scholar who chose to study magic

(1.14g) TS’AO KUO-CHIU – “tried to reform his brother, a corrupt emperor,”

(1.15h) HO HSIEN-KU – Immortal Maiden

(1.16) P’AN-CHIN-LIEN:Goddess of prostitutes. An immortal.

(1.17) SHI-TIEN YEN-WANG:“The Lords of Death, the ten rulers of the underworld.”

(1.18) TSAO WANG:God of the hearth. Every household has one.

(1.19) TU-TI: Local gods. Minor gods of towns villages

(1.20) YENG-WANG-YEH:Lord Yama King – Greatest of the Lords of Death.“Yeng-Wang-Yeh judges all souls.

Additional Gods and Goddesses are given in the following links: [6] [7] The early gods and goddesses clearly show the earthy requirements of those early Chinese civilisations. The people were seeking gods to pacify or satisfy their earthy basic fears and needs of man, and these same gods, with no alterations have been continuously venerated and worshipped over the generations from pre-neolithic man down to 21st century man in China. There are many of these basic shamanistic rituals and traditions that have also been handed down over the ages.

(2) Ancient Shaman Animism – Veneration of the Dead Ancestors – “ANCESTOR WORSHIP”

Chinese Animism is a strong part of shaman beliefs which includes, veneration of dead ancestors (“ancestor worship.”) The concept is still venerated today with no less enthusiasm. The Chinese veneration of their parents and grand parents is a custom that is as strong today as it was in pre-historic times because it is a deep personal emotion, but it is not unlike the Western veneration of their dead on “All Souls Day,” or “All Saints Day,” or “Memorial day.”

(3) Ancient Shaman Medicinal Practices

(3.1) Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine used by Shamans is still practised in the 21st Century with great success over the centuries. It is even studied, synthesised and used in the West.

(3.2) Ancient Chinese Acupuncture also has served the people will and is now used as alternative medicine in the West with acceptance.

(3.3) When all else fails, spiritual exorcism is practised by Taoist shamans, even today. There are many in the West who also believe in exorcism to resolves some problems.

(4) Ancient Shaman Divination

(4.1) Divination from the ancient practice of Oracle Bone or Tortoise Shell readings from neolithic times is still practised today in different forms. Superstitious modern Chinese people in all walks of life, still seek Taoist shamans to foretell their future or how to avoid bad fortune. The reading of omens, and prediction of the future is a practice not only practised within Chinese culture but with many other cultures as well. In the West, by labelling it “predictions” seem to remove the mysticism and honour it with sophistication.

(4.2) Divination using the ancient shaman art of geomancy is openly practised by the Head of every Chinese Cooperation before he even sets the foundations of his empire. Geomancy is the art of harmonising the architectural features with its natural geographical or physical surroundings so that it does not offend/block the flow of good fortune to the company. This is often combined with Feng Shui.

(4.3) Feng Shui (Wind and Water), another ancient shamanistic art of divination takes into consideration of the effects of the elements of nature upon on how to site a building or enterprise so as not to offend nature. This too is never overlooked by most Chinese families and businessmen. The success or failure of a business venture could depend on observing or not observing the appropriate Feng Shui.

(4.4) Ancient Chinese Astrology is often used in the divination of auspicious days for certain occasions and is adhered to by most people without fail. Particularly obvious on selecting the “right” Wedding day.

(4.5) The use of talismans is a very common practice with the Chinese especially for occasions like weddings, births, or deaths.

(4.6) The belief of “Spirit Travel” is another ancient Shamanistic belief observed by most Chinese people.


(5.1) Ancient practice like “Black Magic” is often used with dire consequences. Often practised in seduction of the opposite sex.

(5.2) Ancient Witch-craft is still practised by some shamans. Like placing or removing curses.

(5.3) Ancient sorcery is another practice used by some people. (Similar to 5.1)

(5.4) Ancient Sex Yoga is used in some circles.

(5.5) Dream Yoga is another esoteric shaman practice.

(6) Shaman Qi Gong

(6.1) Shamanistic practices like “qi gong” (chi gung, or energy exercises, Tai-Chi.) is practised seriously especially the elderly.


The survival of the numerous Temples and ancient shaman deities/gods worshipped today despite the persecution by the Chinese Communist Party shows that the will and culture of the people defied any attempts to destroy it. It is clear that the roots of the Chinese culture is clearly based on the seven points made here.

These ancient shamanistic traditions, rituals and beliefs has survived from before the pre-Neolithic age and determines the character and culture of the Chinese peoples more than most people appreciate.



Many Sinologists (mainly Western Christian scholars and missionaries) often pronounce that the Chinese have no religion because of what they have observed in their rituals at the temples and the lack of Holy scriptures. That the Chinese largely believe in superstitions, magical practices and beliefs and believe in spirits. The Christian observers are right are right but they are ignorant as well. The Chinese concept of religion is different from that of the Christian concept of religion. Quite different. While Jews, Christians and Muslims accept their God as omnipotent, and to be obeyed and feared, the Taoists see their gods as patriarchate, protective and benevolent and undemanding. This certainly alters the attitudes in the worshippers.


There is no question that the Chinese beliefs in gods are different from that in Abrahamic religions. While the Abrahamic god made His presence known through visions or through an Angel and through a “prophet” and who was “an exclusive god” with many “commands,” the ancient Chinese gods were selected or elected by the peasant people according to their needs/fears and were related to the vagaries of nature and their gods made no commands or demands on their worshippers. Whilst the Chinese gods were there to serve and protect the fears of the people, the Abrahamic god was there to make certain the people served him only and obeyed his commands or they would go to the burning fires of Hell. The concept of the perpetual fires of Hell never arose in the Taoist or other Eastern religions.


One significant difference between the Abrahamic faiths and the Chinese Taoist-Shaman Religion is this:

Abrahamic religions Demand:

(1) “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”(2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”(3) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,”

The ancient Taoist-shaman religion is “eclectic” (freedom of selection) and makes no such demands. Each person is “free to choose how he wishes to worship.” This “democratic” religious concept is not found elsewhere and explains why ancient Taoism has survived the centuries. And never has a war ever resulted from the non-acceptance of Taoism or caused by the Taoist religion in its name.


Because ancient Taoism is a “folk religion” with gods chosen according to the needs of the peasants, it was not rigid but flexible and “eclectic.” Each to his needs. And because the Chinese community was so geographically isolated and self contained, there was no need to compete with any other ideologies, hence there was no need for proselytising, conversion or exclusions. There was no need to defend their beliefs because these were no challenges to it. So it did not need defensive or offensive doctrines like other religions needed to (Abrahamic). There were no wars in the name of Taoism. There was no need for it, it grew and developed in peace without competition.

Thus, the ancient religious Taoism was handed down the generations from before Neolithic times, through the rule of Emperor Dynasties, through the introduction and corruption by non-religious philosophies (Dao I-Ching and Confucius and Buddha, and even Islam and Christianity,) through the collapse of the Ching Dynasty, through the Communist regime, through the persecution of the Cultural revolution, through the 20th century economic revolution, and into the 21st century. The essence and traditions of the original ancient shaman religion is still there, all the gods, all the shamanistic rituals and practices described above.

The basic religion, i.e., the worship of the original gods/deities has not changed much over the thousands of years. Let not the corruption of the religious aspects of Taoism by non-religious philosophies introduced or adopted by the modernists lead you to believe that there is no religious beliefs behind all that. That is what I mean when Tao Te Ching, and Analects of Confucius, the non-religious aspects of Tao, Daojia, eclipses the religious aspects of Tao, Daojiao, we may have lost our perspective on the real religion of Taoism.


What do people pray for when they go to the temples to pray? To have some ideas let us look at a survey in the following table:

Distribution of requests from Temple Prayer Slips submitted:

Functions Number of prayer slips containing each function Percentage of prayer slips based on 500 slips
Healing of illnesses 484 96.8%
Marriage problems 459 90.2%
Travel Blessings and Protection 440 88.0%
Wealth Blessings and Protection 424 85.0%
Lawsuits Blessings and Favours 391 78.2%
Progeny Healthy Birth and Sons 348 70.0%
Family Disputes 348 70.0%
Lost Possessions 346 69.2%
Moving Houses Blessings 308 60.2%
Business Affairs Blessings. Luck 290 58.0%
Crops, Good harvest 270 54.6%
Domestic Animals, welfare, sickness 266 53.2%
Official Position, Job security,promotion 246 50.0%


The fears, anxieties, and needs or ordinary Chinese peoples, in normal times is no different from that of other communities as illustrated from the table above. And the Chinese ancients have gods to meet each of those needs.

Naturally in times of disaster like, floods, droughts, famine, earth-quakes, pandemics, wars or nuclear disaster, the priorities above would change drastically. But this must be common with any other community of the world. The ancient shamanistic religion has a god to meet all these contingencies. The Christians, Muslims too would pray to their God with equal fervency under such circumstances. All people turn to their god in times of danger and need.


Most ancient man evolved with the concept of polytheism like Taoism, Hinduism, Egyptian religions, because that was how they saw the world around them, but several thousand years later a man, Moses, comes along and declares that he has received a message from god that there is only ONE GOD and that all others who worshipped multi-gods were sinners. Was he right and all the others totally misguided? What gave Moses such powers to declare that all others were wrong? I have yet to find scientific or religious evidence that Moses was correct and that all the polytheists would now be condemned to Hell.

Yet, because of the eclectic nature of Taoism, the Taoist do not seem terribly concerned whether Jews, Christians, or Islamist end up in Heaven or Hell. The concept of Heaven and Hell does not appear in Taoist ideology perhaps because they could not visualise such a cruel “Father in Heaven” who would condemn all his other creations to Hell. Perhaps to Taoists there is no Heaven or Hell but only spiritual contentment. To debate who is right or who is mistaken has been going on ever since Moses conceived of his god.


To ancient Taoist, there was heaven and there was earth and man in between. As far as a Taoist is concerned, the Universe was always there. And to me, as far as man is concerned, that sounds as sensible as trying to prove that god created the Cosmos in 7 days, or that man was formed from clay and in the image of god and god breathed life into man. Yet the science of physics and the science of cosmology has made myths of Biblical narratives in recent years. So if the fundamental premises of the Torah, and the Bible , and the Quran have been rendered myths by scientific discoveries, can we still accept the authenticity of the rest? But man can, by nature accept eclecticism and tolerance and live in peace or insist in exclusivity and supremacy and eliminate the opposition.




Comments RSS
  1. wblakesx

    Very good. Thanks. Christianity has some very bad ideologies locked in it: there are some powerful adherents who see suffering, slavery etc as Good since ‘they drive people to ‘faith’ and humility. Good for the ‘sheep’ to be shorn too, which benefits the powerful. This is a very deep element/repercussion of the fundamental teachings. One god and other features undergirds totalitarianism and leads to exaggerated ideas of freedom to the point where the ‘humble’ loose much of their sense of responsibility and need dictatorship which sells itself as ‘freedom’.

    As yin meets yang etc western relig has developed some sweetness but
    the west has been in running ‘religious’ wars and devastations for thousands of years now and they continue to war against all others and pillage wantonly.

    • ellex0

      wblakesx, thank you for you comments. People are often so misinformed about their religion, or are so bigoted that they sometimes loose sight of the fundamental roots of the religion. Sometimes a different perspective can let others see a different side of a belief system.

  2. wblakesx

    Any comments on Japanese religion? It often seems to me that the Chinese are much more life affirming etc.

    • ellex0

      I have not particular interest in delving into the Japanese religion at this time. I have too many other projects in hand.

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