TAO – Bedrock of Chinese Culture

· Chinese Culture, Religion, Taoism

TAO – Bedrock of Chinese Culture

The Chinese are unfathomable, as is often claimed. They are not. Chinese history exposes the total composition of her culture if we join the dots from the very beginning of time, all becomes crystal clear. But China’s religious, moral, ethical, political and social philosophies are so fragmented and intermingled that even philosophers are muddled. This article attempts to unravel some of the confusion about Religious and non-religious beliefs or philosophies to see the elements that are significant and are predominant in Chinese religions and its impact on Chinese psyche.



Tao – The Way


[Author’s highlights or views are shown in “Italics or Bold-Italics.” All quoted material is linked to source.]

To most people outside of Asia the Chinese people are unfathomable, and that is so because they have not taken the trouble to learn about the history and culture of the Chinese people. This article will attempt to look at the factors that are responsible for the basic culture of the Chinese people, and will attempt to look into the history and culture of these early isolated peoples going beyond recorded history to find the source of their soul. Only with an understanding of their history can we understand how their unchanging culture developed and has been sustained because it has not change that much in the thousands of years.

People have a tendency to ridicule or denigrate other people or their cultures that  they are not familiar with, some out of spite and intolerance, and others out of ignorance. Where possible this paper will examine and discuss some of these differences from an impartial point of view.




The Temple of Heaven

In Beijing there is a 450 year old “Temple of Heaven” complex that used to celebrate, “The Border Sacrifice” up to the year 1911 when the last Emperor was deposed. This annual sacrificial that goes back more than 4000 years, was conducted by the Emperors when a Bull was sacrificed on the great marble alter of the temple.
Confucius, recorded in his book of history, Shu Jing, that Emperor Shun (who reigned 2256 BC to 2205 BC when the first dynastic records began) made this sacrifice to the god Shang-Di.


Another Image of Shang-Di
means, “The Heavenly Ruler.” Records in the Statutes of the Ming Dynasty (1368AD) show the sentiments of the people for Shang-Di through their incantations.

“To Thee, O mysteriously-working Maker, I look up in thought.… With the great ceremonies I reverently honor Thee. Thy servant, I am but a reed or willow; my heart is but that of an ant; yet have I received Thy favouring decree, appointing me to the government of the empire. I deeply cherish a sense of my ignorance and blindness, and am afraid, lest I prove unworthy of Thy great favours. Therefore will I observe all the rules and statutes, striving, insignificant as I am, to discharge my loyal duty. Far distant here, I look up to Thy heavenly palace. Come in Thy precious chariot to the altar. Thy servant, I bow my head to the earth reverently, expecting Thine abundant grace. … O that Thou wouldest vouchsafe to accept our offerings, and regard us, while thus we worship Thee, whose goodness is inexhaustible!”

During the ceremony the Emperor would say this:

“Of old in the beginning, there was the great chaos, without form and dark. The five elements [planets] had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and the moon to shine. You, O Spiritual Sovereign, first divided the grosser parts from the purer. You made heaven. You made earth. You made man. All things with their reproducing power got their being.”

This was uttered long before Genesis was written. [1]

Another recitation from the ancient “Border Sacrifice” rite:

“When Te (Shang-Di), the Lord, had so decreed, He called into existence (originated) heaven, earth, and man. Between heaven and earth He separately placed in order men and things, all overspread by the heavens.”

Note that Shang-Di, “He called into existence” or commanded heaven and earth into existence and placed men and things therein.

The worship of Shang-Di, however, was gradually replaced by the worship of other gods that appealed to the fickle peasantry of China, as listed below, growing out of the many forms of shamanism, animism, divination, and geomancy, until the worship of Shang-Di deteriorated to the sacrificial ritual of, “The Border Sacrifice.”

The Major Gods of China

CHENG-HUANG – God of moats and walls. Every village and town had its own Ch’eng-Huang, most often a local dignitary or important person who had died and been promoted to godhood. His divine status was revealed in dreams, though the gods made the actual decision. Cheng-Huang not only “protects the community (village)” from attack but sees to it that the “King of the Dead Ones” does not take any soul from his jurisdiction without proper authority. Cheng-Huang also exposes evil-doers in the community itself, usually through dreams. His assistants are Mr. Ba Lao-ye and Mr. Hei Lao-ye — (Mr. Daywatchman and Mr. Nightwatchman.)CHU JUNGGod of fire. Chu Jung punishes those who break the laws of heaven. (What are these Laws?)


God of war. The Great Judge who “protects the people from injustice and evil spirits.” A red-faced god dressed always in green. An oracle. Kuan Ti was an actual historical figure, a general of the Han dynasty renowned for his skills as a a warrior and his justness as a ruler. (He was immortalised as a God-like deity.) There were more than 1600 temples dedicated to Kuan Ti. (**This indicates the priority and importance given to security, protection, justice, and evil spirits.)


Goddess of “Mercy and Compassion.” A lady dressed in white seated on a lotus and holding an infant. Murdered by her father, she recited the holy books when she arrived in Hell, and the ruler of the underworld could not make the dead souls suffer. The disgruntled god sent her back to the world of the living, where Kwan Yin attained great spiritual insight and was rewarded with immortality “by the Buddha.” A popular goddess, Kwan Yin’s temple at the Mount of the Wondrous Peak was ever filled with a throng of pilgrims shaking rattles and setting off firecrackers to get her attention.


God of Thunder. Lei Kung has the head of a bird, wings, claws and blue skin, and his chariot is drawn by six boys. Lei Kung makes thunder with his hammer, and his wife makes lightning with her mirrors. Lei Kung “chases away evil spirits and punishes criminals whose crimes have gone undetected.” (What are these crimes?)


The Eight Immortals of the Taoist Tradition. Ordinary mortals who, through good works and good lives, were rewarded by the Queen Mother Wang by giving them the peaches of everlasting life to eat. They are:

1. TIEH-KUAI LI – of the Iron Crutch. “A healer.” Li sits as a beggar in the market place selling wondrous drugs, some of which can revive the dead.

2. CHUNG-LI CH’UAN – A smiling old man always beaming with joy, he was rewarded with immortality for his “ascetic life” in the mountains.

3. LAN TS’AI-HO – a young flute-player and wandering minstrel who carries a basket laden with fruit. His soul-searching songs caused a stork to snatch him away to the heavens.

4. LU TUNG-PIN – A hero of early Chinese literature. Renouncing riches and the world, “he punished the wicked and rewarded the good, and slew dragons with a magic sword.”

5. CHANG-KUO LAO – An aged hermit with miraculous abilities. (What abilities?) Chang owned a donkey that could travel at incredible speed. The personification of the primordial vapor that is the source of all life.

6. HAN HSIANG-TZU – A scholar who chose to study magic rather than prepare for the civil service. When his uncle chastised him for studying magic, Han Hsiang-Tzu materialized two flowers with poems written on the leaves.

7. TS’AO KUO-CHIU – “tried to reform his brother, a corrupt emperor,” by reminding him that the laws of heaven are inescapable. (Laws of Heaven?)

8. HO HSIEN-KU – Immortal Maiden –  A Cantonese girl who dreamed that she could become immortal by eating a powder made of mother-of-pearl. “She appears only to men of great virtue. “

P’AN-CHIN-LIEN – Goddess of prostitutes. As a mortal, she was a widow who was much too liberal and inventive with her favours, and her father-in-law killed her.. “In death her more professional associates honored her” and eventually became the goddess of whores.SHI-TIEN YEN-WANG“The Lords of Death, the ten rulers of the underworld.” They dress alike in royal robes and only the wisest can tell them apart. Each ruler presides over one court of law. In the first court a soul is judged according to his sins in life and sentenced to one of the eight courts of punishment. Punishment is fitted to the offense.

(1) Misers are made to drink molten gold, 
(2) Liar’s tongues are cut out. 
(3) In the second court are incompetent doctors and 
(4) dishonest agents; in the third, 
(5) forgers, 
(6) Liars, 
(7) gossips, and 
(7) corrupt government officials; in the fifth, 
(8) Murderers, 
(9) sex offenders and 
(10)atheists; in the sixth, 
(11) the sacrilegious, and 
(12) blasphemers; in the eighth, 
(13) those guilty of filial disrespect; in the  ninth, 
(14) arsonists, and 
(15) accident victims. 
In the tenth is the Wheel of Transmigration where souls are released to be reincarnated again after their punishment is completed. Before souls are released, they are given a brew of oblivion, which makes them forget their former lives. 
***(The above (15) categories of crime clearly illustrate what was considered anti-social for the ancient religions of China.)

TI-TSANG WANG“God of mercy.”  Wandering in the caverns of Hell, a lost soul might encounter a smiling monk whose path is illuminated by a shining pearl and whose staff is decorated with metal rings that chime like bells. This is Ti-Tsang Wang, who will do all he can to help the soul escape hell and even to put an end to his eternal round of death and rebirth (Buddhist re-incarnation.) Long ago, Ti-Tsang Wang renounced Nirvana so that he could search the dark regions of Hell for souls to save from the kings of the ten hells.Once a priest of Brahma, he converted to Buddhism and himself became a Buddha with special authority over the souls of the dead. (This is another Chinese Buddhist god.)T’SHAI-SHEN“God of wealth” who presides over a vast bureaucracy with many minor deities under his authority. A majestic figure robed in exquisite silks. T’shai-Shen is quite a popular god; even atheists worship him.


God of the hearth. Every househgold has its own Tsao Wang. Every year the hearth god reports on the family to the Jade Emperor, and “the family has good or bad luck during the coming year according to his report.” The hearth god’s wife records every word spoken by every member of the family. A paper image represents the hearth god and his wife, and incense is burned to them daily. When the time came to make his report to the Jade Emperor, sweetmeats were placed in his mouth, the paper was burned, and firecrackers were lit to speed him on his way.


Local gods. Minor gods of towns villages and even streets and households.Though far from the most important gods in the divine scheme, they were quite popular. Usually portrayed as kindly, respectable old men, they see to it that the domains under their protection run smoothly.


Lord Yama King – Greatest of the Lords of Death. “Yeng-Wang-Yeh judges all souls newly arrived to the land of the dead” and decides whether to send them to a special court for punishment or put them back on the Wheel of Transmigration.


“Father Heaven – the August Supreme Emperor of Jade, whose court is the highest level of heaven, originally a sky god. ” The Jade Emperor made men, fashioning them from clay. His heavenly court resembles the earthly court in all ways, having an army, a bureaucracy, a royal family and parasitical courtiers. The Jade Emperor’s rule is orderly and without caprice. The seasons come and go as they should, yin is balanced with yang, good is rewarded and evil is punished. As time went on, the Jade Emperor became more and more remote to men, and it became customary to approach him through his doorkeeper, the Transcendental Dignitary. “The Jade Emperor sees and hears everything;” even the softest whisper is as loud as thunder to the Jade Emperor. [3]



Description:  The 4 dragon kings named Ao Ch’in, Ao Kuang, Ao Jun and Ao Shun.  Each was responsible for a part of Earth and an area of sea.  During droughts, the dragon kings were worshipped with noisy parades of music and dance which followed a cloth effigy of a dragon.  Every stream and river had its own Ao.


Other Names:  Heng-o.

Description:  Goddess of the Moon and wife of I.


Description:  God of walls and ditches.  Each town/village had its own local Ch’eng-Huang.

Rules Over:  Protection and Justice.


Other Names:  Chih Nu

Description:  Goddess of spinners, weavers and clouds.

Rules Over:  Handcrafts, rain.


Description:  Guardian God.  T’ang dynasty military hero elevated to the job of guarding doors.

Rules Over:  Protection, privacy.


Description:  Goddess of the bedroom and sexual delights.

Rules Over:  Sex.


Description:  God of fire and executions.

Rules Over:  Justice, revenge, death.


Description:  God who chases away evil spirits and shape-shifter who had up to 72 different bodily forms.  Widely worshipped.

Rules Over:  Protection from evil.


Description:  Goddess of winds.

Rules Over:  Storms, moisture.


Other Names:  Fu-Hsing.

Description:  God of happiness, symbolized by the bat.

Rules Over:  Destiny, love, success.


Description:  Ancient harvest God.  Depicted as a kindly old man with millet stalks growing on his head.

Rules Over:  Harvest, crops.

Hsi Wang Mu

Other Names:  Wang-Mu Niang-Niang, Weiwobo.

Description:  Highest Goddess of ancient China.  Her palace iss in the Khun-lun mountain where she protects the herb of immortality.

Rules Over:  Curing Disease.


Description:  Ruler of Water, God who removes evil spirits and demons.

Rules Over:  Exorcism.


Other Names:  Hou-T’u

Description:  Female deity Earth.  The Emperor offered sacrifices to her on a square marble altar in the Forbidden City each summer solstice.

Rules Over:  Earth magic, fertility.


Description:  God of wine who invented winemaking.

Rules Over:  Wine.

Kuan Ti

Description:  God of war and fortunetelling.  Shown dressed in green and had a red face.

Rules Over:  Protection, valour, justice, divination, revenge, death, dark magic, prophecy.

Kuan Yin

Other Names:  Kwan Yin, Kwannon.

Description:  Great Mother, patroness of priestesses.  Sometime depicted holding a child.  It is thought this Goddess sits on her paradise island of P’u T’o and answers every prayer to her.

Rules Over:  Success, mercy, purification, fertility, children, motherhood, childbirth, healing, enlightenment.


Other Names:  Chung-Kuei.

Description:  Protector of travelers.  God of tests and examinations, literature and students.

Rules Over:  Protection during travel, tests, literature, 

Description:  One of the 8 Immortals of ancient China, this Goddess dressed as a woman but had a male voice.  Carried a flute and basket of fruit.

Rules Over:  Music, fertility.


Description:  The Jade Emp[eror. “Father heaven.”


Other Names:  Lei-Kung.

Description:  God of thunder and retribution, he had few shrines.  Shown as an ugly man with blue skin, wings and claws, clad in a loincloth.  He punished the guilty that human law did not touch.

Rules Over:  Justice, punishment.

Lo Shen

Description:  Goddess of rivers.

Rules Over:  Water magic.


Description:  God of pay and employees.  Symbol was a deer which he rode on.

Rules Over:  Prosperity, success, law, employment.


Other Names:  Lupan.

Description:  God of carpenters and masons.

Rules Over:  Artistic abilities, fame.


Description:  Goddess of springtime.

Rules Over:  Spring rites.

Men Shen

Description:  Two deities who warded the door against evil spirits and hostile influences.  One had a red or black face, the other a white face.  They both wore military dress, holding a long-handled mace.

Rules Over:  Protection.

Meng-Po Niang Niang

Description:  Goddess who lived just inside the door to hell where those reincarnating would depart.  Her sacred potion, of which she gave a few drops to each departing person, made all humans forget previous lives.

Rules Over: Passing over rites, past-lives.

Nu Kua

Description:  Creator Goddess who made humankind.

Rules Over:  Creation.


Description:  Goddess of droughts.

Rules Over:  Droughts.


Description:  Goddess of prostitutes.

Rules Over:  Prostitution.

Pi-Hsia Yuan Chin

Description:  Goddess of childbirth and labor, she brings health and good fortune to the newborn and protection to the mother.

Rules Over:  Protection, good fortune, health, childbirth, labour.

Sao-Ts’ing Niang

Description:  Goddess of the clouds.

Rules Over:  Ending droughts.


Other Names:  Sakyamuni.

Description:  Historical Buddha.

Rules Over:  Virtue, enlightenment, self-realization.


Description:  THE SUPREME GOD.

Shen Nung

Description:  God of medicine, pharmacy, agriculture.

Rules Over:  Medicine, pharmacy, agriculture.


Other Names:  Shou, Lao.

Description:  God of longevity and old people, keeper of the book of the life-span of men.  Shown with a prominent bald head with white eyebrows and whiskers.  A stag beside him, he leaned on a staff and carried a peach, symbol of immortality.

Rules Over:  Life plan, date of death, reincarnation. (Buddhism)


Description:  God who defends men against all evil and forgives sins.

Rules Over:  Averting Evil.


Other Names:  Tung-Yueh-Ta-Ti.

Description:  God of the affairs of men, protector of men and animals.

Rules Over:  Children, fortune, honours, fate, animals, payment of good and bad karma, prosperity, success.


Other Names:  Tien Fei.

Description:  Protectress of sailors and others in time of danger.

Rules Over:  Protection.


Description:  God who bestows happiness.

Rules Over:  Happiness.


Description:  Goddess of lightning.

Rules Over:  Lightning.


Description:  God who grants remission of sins.


Description:  God of mercy, he visited those in Hell and tried to arrange for a good reincarnation.  Depicted as a smiling robed monk with a halo around his body and carried a pearl that gave off light.

Rules Over:  Knowledge for reincarnation.


Description:  Goddess of the polestar and record-keeper; scribe of the Immortals.  Judge of all peoples.

Rules Over:  Stars, records, writing, judgement.

Tsai Shen

Other Names:  Ts’ai-Shen

Description: God of wealth, most popular chinese god.  Shown dressed in exquisite silks.

Rules Over: Abundance, success.


Other Names:  Tsao-Chun.

Description:  Kitchen god, and god of the hearth. Protector of families and recorder of the actions and words of each family.  His wife recorded the behavior of women in particular.  He gave his report to the Jade Emperor who then determined the family’s coming fortunes.


Other Names:  Tsi Ku Niang.

Description:  Goddess of the outhouse.  It is said that when a woman wanted to know the future, she went to the outhouse and asked Tsi-Ku.

Rules Over:  Outhouses, divination.


Other Names:  Wen-Chang-Ta-Ti.

Description:  God of literature and poetry.

Rules Over:  Writing, publishing, artistic fame.


Description:  “Master of healing.”

Rules Over:  Psychic abilities, healing powers.


Description:  Foremost of the ten Yama Kings of Lords of Death.  Ruler of hell.  He decided the fate of all new arrivals, determining if they went to a special court for trial, were punished or sent straight back to the Wheel of Life.

Rules Over:  Judgment, punishment, karmic justice. [4] [5]


It becomes clear that the above gods were born out of the “folk Religion” of the Chinese peasantry, and closely associated with shamanism and animism long before the before the appearances of the philosophies of Confucius, or Lao Tzu or other early philosophers. Because much of these folk beliefs, mythologies, old wives tales, folk worship and religion, pre-dates written history most scholars tend to overlook this period in their researches because they are unable to substantiate their findings with tangible evidence. Yet these folk beliefs, folk traditions and rituals passed down over the generations by word of mouth and family traditions is clear evidence of the basic religious beliefs and traditions dating back into Shamanistic and even into the Neolithic era. It is this ancient culture, Shamanistic – neolithic culture, that has been passed down the generations, some mostly intact, that form the culture of the Chinese people,  past and present. Evidence is sprinkled throughout Chinese history to prove this point.

There is no evidence in ancient Chinese thought that ever entertained the concept of  “A CREATOR OF THE COSMOS,” even if the concept of a Shang-Di, a Heavenly Ruler was conceived and given form. Yet the Chinese thinkers did believe that the world existed as an integrated  organic system in an ordered system. What was above Man was Heaven, “tian,” and what was below Man was Earth, “di.” To the ancient Chinese the Universe is the totality of Heaven above, and Earth below and everything else in between.  The ancient Chinese believed that, “The Universe” was always there – a part of the Cosmos: It simply Existed. (Modern cosmology proves this makes a lot of sense.) [6]

However, ancient Chinese believed that as the world was an organic natural system with phenomena beyond their control, that only recourse was to pray to the gods responsible to mitigate the events of nature on their behalf. The Ancients believed that there was a spiritual intervention available to the world of  man with the world of nature. So a form of worshipping the gods of nature to mitigate its anger and ferocity against man  was a natural evolution. They assigned different gods for the different phenomena of natural disasters. Thus if we study the different gods, listed above, a clear picture evolves showing the fears and anxieties of ancient Chinese people, which is no different from the fears of all men of today. Broadly listing the numbers of deities/gods to cover the different aspects of fears and anxieties of ancient man, we see a clear pattern; from the short list analysed above:

Anxieties of “Folk Religion”

Deities relating to Protection/Security/Punishment/Laws…………………………………………21 deities

Deities relating to Sex/Illness/famines/exorcism/death……………………………………………15 deities

Deities relating to Wealth/Success/Happiness/Compassion/happiness/virtue………..11 deities

Deities relating to creation and Heavenly Laws and gods…………………………………………5 deities

Deities relating to Prostitution……………………………………………………………………………………3 deities

Origins of Taoism – A PEOPLE’S RELIGION – Shaman roots

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flying in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder, am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu.

The above clearly shows the common social and security concerns for any community to have, considering the state of law and order that existed in those early days. Such community concerns would have applied to any early ancient Jewish, or Roman, or Christian, or to the ancient Greek or ancient Egyptian or Aztec communities. It shows that the culture and ethics of ancient Chinese animist or shamanistic culture was already rather sophisticated and discerning. The creation and characterisation of these different deities showed that those ancient peoples had already developed their own codes of ethics based on the common needs of their community and on their relationships with nature and the environment. It is this basic fundamental ethical and moral values that have been passed down the generations that comprises the fundamental characteristics of the natural goodness in man. This is the framework of the ancient Chinese ethics that created the foundations of the Chinese culture to which   later was added to by the more modern philosophies of Confucius,  et all.

The Chinese culture of today has had its roots deeply imbeded in the spiritual relationship of the ancient peoples with their surroundings, with nature, and with the deities that they had assigned to represent these relationships. Their sense of virtue, ethics, and decorum was based on the fundamental instincts of man. There is no doubt that Taoist origins stemmed from animism, natural phenomena, and spiritualism which  predates shamanism.  “Wu” first recorded word to describe Shamans only appeared during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), but these spiritual traditions date back much further into unrecorded history.


Legend believes that it was “Fu Hsi” who was the mythological founder of Chinese civilisation (approximately 5000 years ago) and was attributed as the creator of the Yi Jing (I Ching) or “Book of Changes,” the fundamental basis of all Chinese philosophy. But here the confusion of philosophical thought with that of spiritual or religious philosophy becomes totally confused and muddled. In the West, there is no such confusion of what is in the realms of the spiritual and godliness, but in the East this demarkation fuses into one another.  So “I Ching” (Book of Changes) are philosophical thoughts, and although its ideas and philosophies may influence the culture of a people and its religion, it is a “non-religious philosophy.” The basic fundamental religion of Taoism, and her gods/deities/shamanistic roots should be separated from personal or political philosophies in order to separate Chinese Religion from Chinese Philosophy in assessing how each has influenced Chinese culture. This vague interweaving of the different philosophies, has not only been confusing to the Chinese people themselves but also to the Western mind. [7]

ORIGINS OF TAOISM: Foundations of the Chinese Culture


With the passage of time, the true influence of shamanism and animism on the culture of “modern China” has often been overlooked. In fact, with the rise in the popularity of the philosophies of Confucius, Lao Tzu, et all, and including Buddhism, shamanism was looked upon as a primitive and uncivilised sorcery and even persecuted and their practice banned. But this “Folk (Peoples) Religion” continued to be secretly practiced in the remoter villages and isolated communities. Shamans continued to practice as magicians, clairvoyants, fortune-tellers, healers, exorcists, wizards, sorcerers, even as fiddlers and sweet-sellers (children used to refer to these men as “the lang-ting-tang men,” [9] [10],) some still exist today and are called upon by those who believe in ancient Chinese divination.

No matter how Modern China attempts to dismiss earthy shamanism and replace it with the more sophisticated philosophies of Confucius and Lao Tzu, the indelible finger-prints of shamanism and the “folk religion” has persisted for 6000 or more years, and it leaves its indelible traditions, ethics and other cultural Hall Marks on the Chinese people and her culture.

Shamanic Gods Uniquely Introduced into Chinese Buddhism [8]

Go to any Taoist or Buddhist Temple today, and you will immediately observe the pantheon of ancient gods of shamanism all over the temples. None of those ancient gods have been removed, altered or deleted. In fact, where Buddhism is, in reality, a personal philosophy for achieving perfection, nirvana, it is not a religion (Buddhism does not worship any god,) but Chinese Buddhist’s have introduced a pantheon of gods and goddesses” into Chinese Buddhism, to fulfil their psychological need for associating with recognisable deities/gods in their worship. The Chinese Buddhists have filled this gap by introducing gods  from ancient shamanistic practices into the godless Buddhist philosophy and Chinese Buddhist Temples. (See Appendix 1 below. [8]) 

Fu Hsi and Confucius Philosophies Added to Shamanistic Taoism 

It is clear that the gods and religious practices and ideologies of Shamanism were the basis of Chinese “Folk Religion” and formed the bedrock of the Chinese culture, in spite of the persecution and banning of Shamanism and the introduction of non-religious philosophies of Fu Hsi, Confucius, Lao Tsu and others, like Buddhism, into Chinese religious beliefs. It can be seen that the philosophies and rituals, and traditions of Taoism have continued to persist throughout Chinese culture, even through the persecution and cleansing of the Maoist Cultural Revolution. This shows the depth to which the culture of Taoism has been etched into the framework of the Chinese Peoples and the culture of China. 

The following highlights some of the Taoist Shamanistic practices that are still much alive and practiced  today.

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.

“ANCESTOR WORSHIP” is a term usually used to mock and ridicule the Chinese cultural practices. Yet veneration of our dead is respected and practiced by all faiths and all peoples. Let me quote:

“Veneration of the dead is based on the belief that the deceased, often family members, have a continued existence and/or possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. Some groups venerate their ancestors; some faith communities, in particular the Catholic Church, venerate Saints as intercessors with God.

In some Eastern cultures, and in Native American traditions, the goal of ancestor veneration is to ensure the ancestors’ continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living and sometimes to ask for special favours or assistance. The social or non-religious function of ancestor veneration is to cultivate kinship values, such as filial peity, family loyalty, and continuity of the family lineage. While far from universal, ancestor veneration occurs in societies with every degree of social, political, and technological complexity, and it remains an important component of various religious practices in modern times.” [19]

Catholicism and Anglicanism’s attitudes to veneration of Saints

“The Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Anglican communion, Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches venerate saints who are in Heaven. Although not necessarily ancestors, the saints are considered departed from Earthly life. They are honored through prayers and feast days. Such holidays to honor the dead in Christianity include All Saints’ Day, Souls’ Day, and Day of the Dead.” [19]


On closer examination, it seems that all religions have their mortal beings they have venerated and idolised them as saints, and prayed to them as God-like icons, or even venerated them as “prophets.” Yet everyone takes them for granted and never question its authenticity. It is accepted on “blind faith” as perhaps the gods of Taoism have been accepted. The equivalence of reverence to the departed is similar in most faiths, pagan or Christian or Islamic. It will surprise most Christians to learn of the number of Saints that they venerate, outnumber that of Taoist gods. Unbelievable when we look at the acts. See [20]

Shaman Medicinal Practices

Shamanist Medical practices such as herbal remedies, exorcism, and acupuncture are widely observed and practiced today.

Exorcism, acupuncture, herbal medicine, still unproven with modern medical science, has managed to keep 1.5 billion people alive and increasing. Granted some of the remedies may be rather dicey, but with modern technology even western medicine admits it can learn a lot from Chinese herbalism and remedies. Chinese herbal medicine is still widely practiced throughout China today and probably continue for many more generations.

Shaman Qi Gong (Tai-Chi)

Shamanic practices like “qi gong (chi gung, or energy exercises, Tai-Chi,) are designed to enable the practitioner to live in harmony with nature has a massive following in the East and has even caught on in the West.

Shaman Divination, Geomancy, Feng Shui, Astrology, Spirit Travel, Talisman

Divination(omens, prophecy), Geomancy(divination by geographic features), Feng Shui (wind and water), Astrology,Spirit Travel, and the Use of Talismans (charms), are all shamanic practices that have survived the ages and still observed by a large percentage of the people of modern China as they have in past centuries.

Alchemy (black-magic), Sexual Yoga, Dream Yoga

Alchemy (sorcery, witch-craft, black-magic,) Sexual Yoga,  and Dream Yoga are some esoteric practices that are also practiced and continue to this day.

Thus we can see that Shamanist Practices far from being considered primitive and dead are in fact thriving and practiced in so many forms by so many people in modern Chinese culture. What effect does shaman practice and rituals have on the psyche of the Chinese population, subconsciously or consciously, today? So the direct influence of shamanist beliefs and the influence of all those ancient Chinese gods, must play a great part in the  subconscious of the Chinese thought process, because the symbols and icons of that ancient culture is a part of the modern Chinese culture existing in Taoist and Buddhist Temples and home alters. Pictures of the various Chinese gods and goddesses can be found everywhere from a tiny village prayer hovel to the decor of an expensive multi-million dollar home in Paris, London, or New York in the likes of statues of Buddha, Kuan Yin, Confucius or LaoTzu. So to dismiss the influence of ancient Chinese gods on modern Chinese culture is like saying, there is no influence of culture on current thought processes.[7]


Long before the Shang era, rulers used shaman priests and their divinations to predict their fortunes and their future, using tortoise shells and oracle bones to read their prognostications. The inscriptions and crack formations gradually assumed greater and greater importance in the readings for these Shaman priests. Gradually these inscriptions and patterns became standardised and formed an ideographic pictorial message that made sense. This led to the pictorial calligraphy and the eventually of the full Chinese Hieroglyphics and language. The significance of this Shamanic heritage cannot be overlooked in the development and shaping of the culture of the peoples. [18]


(1) 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. 

(2)Shaman Medicinal Practices

Shamanist Medical practices such as herbal remedies, exorcism, and acupuncture are widely observed and practiced today.

(3) Shaman Qi Gong (Tai-Chi)

Shamanic practices like “qi gong (chi gung, or energy exercises, Tai-Chi,) 

(4) Shaman Divination, Geomancy, Feng Shui, Astrology, Spirit Travel, Talisman

Divination(omens, prophecy), Geomancy(divination by geographic features), Feng Shui (wind and water), Astrology,Spirit Travel, and the Use of Talismans (charms), are all shamanic practices.

(5) Alchemy (black-magic), Sexual Yoga, Dream Yoga

Alchemy (sorcery, witch-craft, black-magic,) Sexual Yoga,  and Dream Yoga are some esoteric practices

(6) The survival of the numerous Temples and ancient shaman deities still worshipped today.

The above clearly shows the continuing influence of ancient shamanistic Taoism on the culture of China. The significance of the about 6 items is this, remove it altogether, and it will no longer represent the Chinese culture. It is part and parcel of the Chinese culture.



Chinese Philosophy

Philosophy has had a tremendous effect on the Chinese civilisation, and throughout East Asia. The majority of Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era,  during a period known as the “Hundred Schools of Thought,” which was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments. It was during this era that the major philosophies of China, Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, and Taoism arose, along with philosophies that later fell into obscurity, like Agriculturalism, Chinese Naturalism and the Logicians. Of the many philosophical schools of China, only Confucianism and Taoism survived after the Qin Dynasty suppressed and Chinese philosophy that was opposed to Legalism.

Confucianism is “humanistic philosophy,” 

a philosophy that believes that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of “virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are renyi, and liRen is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community.

Taoism focuses on establishing (social) harmony with the Tao,

which is origin of and the totality of everything that exists. The word “Tao” (or “Dao”, depending on the romanization scheme) is usually translated as “way”, “path” or “principle”. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility,  while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos (天人相应); health and longevity; and “wu wei,” action through inaction. Harmony with the Universe, or the origin of it through the Tao, is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices.

Chinese Mythology on Creation -Pan Ku

Pangu (simplified Chinese: 盘古; traditional Chinese: 盤古; pinyin: Pángǔ; Wade–Giles: P’an-ku) is the first living being and the creator of all in some versions of Chinese mythology.

Pangu legend

The first writer to record the myth of Pangu was Xu Zheng during the Three Kingdoms period. Recently his name was found in a tomb dated 194 AD.

In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos. This chaos coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced, and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant who has horns on his head and wears furs. Pangu began creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. With each day the sky grew ten feet (3 meters) higher, the Earth ten feet thicker, and Pangu ten feet taller. In some versions of the story, Pangu is aided in this task by the four most prominent beasts, namely the Turtle, the Qilin, the Phoenix, and the Dragon.

After the 18,000 years had elapsed, Pangu died. His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the sun; his right eye, the moon; his head, the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood, rivers; his muscles, fertile land; his facial hair, the stars and Milky Way; his fur, bushes and forests; his bones, valuable minerals; his bone marrow, sacred diamonds; his sweat, rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became animals.

The goddess Nüwa then used yellow clay to form humans. These humans were very smart since they were individually crafted. Nüwa then became tired of individually making every human, so she dipped a rope in mud and the blobs that fell from it became new humans. These new humans were not as smart as the original ones.

Origin of Pangu

Three main views describe the origin of the Pangu myth. The first is that the story is indigenous and was developed or transmitted through time to Xu Zheng. Senior Scholar Wei Juxian states that the Pangu story is derived from stories during the Western Zhou Dynasty. He cites the story of Zhong (重) and Li (黎) in the “Chuyu” section of the ancient classics Guoyu. In it, King Zhao of Chu asked Guanshefu (觀射父) a question: “What did the ancient classic “Zhou Shu” mean by the sentence that Zhong and Li caused the heaven and earth to disconnect from each other?” The “Zhou Shu” sentence he refers to is about an earlier person, Luu Xing, who converses with King Mu of Zhou. King Mu’s reign is much earlier and dates to about 1001 to 946 BC. In their conversation, they discuss a “disconnection” between heaven and earth.

Derk Bodde linked the myth to the ancestral mythologies of the Miao people and Yao people in southern China.

This is Professor Qin’s reconstruction of the true creation myth preceding the myth of Pangu. Note that it is not actually a creation myth:

A brother and his sister became the only survivors of the prehistoric Deluge by crouching in a gourd that floated on water. The two got married afterwards, and a mass of flesh in the shape of a whetstone was born. They chopped it and the pieces turned into large crowds of people, who began to reproduce again. The couple were named ‘Pan’ and ‘Gou’ in the Zhuang ethnic language, which stand for whetstone and gourd respectively.

Paul Carus writes this:

P’an-Ku: The basic idea of the yih philosophy was so convincing that it almost obliterated the Taoist cosmology of P’an-Ku who is said to have chiseled the world out of the rocks of eternity. Though the legend is not held in high honor by the literati, it contains some features of interest which have not as yet been pointed out and deserve at least an incidental comment.

P’an-Ku is written in two ways: one means in literal translations, “basin ancient”, the other “basin solid”. Both are homophones, i.e., they are pronounced the same way; and the former may be preferred as the original and correct spelling. Obviously the name means “aboriginal abyss,” or in the terser German, Urgrund, and we have reason to believe it to be a translation of the Babylonian Tiamat, “the Deep.”

The Chinese legend tells us that P’an-Ku’s bones changed to rocks; his flesh to earth; his marrow, teeth and nails to metals; his hair to herbs and trees; his veins to rivers; his breath to wind; and his four limbs became pillars marking the four corners of the world, — which is a Chinese version not only of the Norse myth of the Giant Ymir, but also of the Babylonian story of Tiamat.

Illustrations of P’an-Ku represent him in the company of supernatural animals that symbolize old age or immortality, viz., the tortoise and the crane; sometimes also the dragon, the emblem of power, and the phoenix, the emblem of bliss.

When the earth had thus been shaped from the body of P’an-Ku, we are told that three great rivers successively governed the world: first the celestial, then the terrestrial, and finally the human sovereign. They were followed by Yung-Ch’eng and Sui-Jen (i.e., fire-man) the later being the ChinesePrometheus, who brought the fire down from heaven and taught man its various uses.

The Prometheus myth is not indigenous to Greece, where it received the artistically classical form under which it is best known to us. The name, which by an ingenious afterthought is explained as “the fore thinker,” is originally the Sanskrit pramantha and means “twirler” or “fire-stick,” being the rod of hard wood which produced fire by rapid rotation in a piece of soft wood.

We cannot deny that the myth must have been known also in Mesopotamia, the main center of civilization between India and Greece, and it becomes probable that the figure Sui-Jen has been derived from the same prototype as the Greek Prometheus.

The missionary and translator James Legge criticized Pangu.

P’an-ku is spoken of by the common people as “the first man, who opened up heaven and earth.” It has been said to me in “pidgin” English that “he is all the same your Adam”; and in Taoist picture books I have seen him as a shaggy, dwarfish, Hercules, developing from a bear rather than an ape, and wielding an immense hammer and chisel with which he is breaking the chaotic rocks. [22]


Schools of Philosophical Thought


Confucianism is a philosophical school of thought developed from the teachings of the sage collected in the Analects of Confucius. It is a system of “moral,” “social,” “political,” and “religious?” thought that has had a tremendous influence on Chinese history thought, and culture down to the 21st century. Some Westerners have considered it to have been the “state religion?” of Imperial China. Its influence also spread to Korea and Japan.

The major Confucian concepts include rén (humanity or humaneness),zhèngmíng (rectification of names; e.g. a ruler who rules unjustly is no longer a ruler and may be dethroned), zhōng (loyalty), xiào (filial peity), and  (ritual). Confucius taught both positive and negative versions of the Golden Rule. The concepts Yin and Yang represent two opposing forces that are permanently in conflict with each other, leading to perpetual contradiction and change. The Confucian idea of “Rid of the two ends, take the middle” is a Chinese equivalent of Hegel’s idea of “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis”, which is a way of reconciling opposites, arriving at some middle ground combining the best of both.

Chinese glazed stoneware statue of a Taoist deity, from the Ming Dynasty, 16th century.


(Daoism) is a (social philosophy) and later also (introduced into Taoism as part of Taoist ideals)  and developed into a religion based on the texts the Tao Te Ching  (Dào Dé Jīng; ascribed to Laozi) and the Zhuangzi (partly ascribed to Zhuangzi). The character Tao 道 (Dao) literally means “path” or “way”. However in Daoism it refers more often to a meta-physical term that describes a force that encompasses the entire universe but which cannot be described nor felt. All major Chinese philosophical schools have investigated the correct Way to go about a moral life, but in Taoism it takes on the most abstract meanings, leading this school to be named after it. It advocated nonaction (wu wei,)  the strength of softness, spontaneity, and relativism. Although it serves as a rival to Confucianism, a school of active morality, this rivalry is compromised and given perspective by the idiom “practise Confucianism on the outside, Taoism on the inside.” But its main motto is: “If one must rule, rule young” Most of Taoism’s focus is on what is perceived to be the undeniable fact that human attempts to make the world better actually make the world worse. Therefore it is better to strive for harmony, minimising potentialy harmful interference with nature or in human affairs.


Legalism is a pragmatic political philosophy synthesised by Shang Yang and Han Fei. With an essential principle like “when the epoch changed, the ways changed”, it upholds the rule of law and is thus a theory of jurisprudence.

A ruler should govern his subjects by the following trinity:

  1. Fa (法 fa3): law or principle.
  2. Shu (術 shù): method, tactic, art, or statecraft.
  3. Shi (勢 shì): legitimacy, power, or charisma.

Legalism was the chosen philosophy of the Qin Dynasty. It was blamed for creating a totalitarian society and thereby experienced decline. Its main motto is: “Set clear strict laws, or deliver harsh punishment”. Both Shang Yang and Han Fei promoted the absolute adherence to the rule of law, regardless of the circumstances or the person. The ruler, alone, would possess the authority to dispense with rewards and punishments. Ministers were only to be rewarded if their words matched the results of their proposals, and punished if it did not; regardless if the results were worse or better than the claims. Legalism, in accordance with Han Fei’s interpretation, could encouraged the state to be a militaristic autarky. The philosophy was highly progressive, and extremely critical of the Confucian and Mohist schools. This would be used to justify Li Si’s large scale persecutions of the other schools of thought during the Qin dynasty, and the invariable denunciation by Confucian scholars from the Han Dynasty and onwards. (Astounding to note that strict adherence to, “the rule of law” was tried and rejected hundreds of years ago, in China.)

School of Naturalists

The School of Naturalists or the School of Yin-yang (陰陽家/阴阳家; YīnyángjiāYin-yang-chia; “School of Yin-Yang”) was a Warring States era philosophy that synthesized the concepts of yin-yang and the Five Elements; Zou Yan is considered the founder of this school. His theory attempted to explain the universe in terms of basic forces in nature: the complementary agents of yin (dark, cold, female, negative) and yang (light, hot, male, positive) and the Five Elements or Five Phases (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). In its early days, this theory was most strongly associated with the states of Yan and Qi. In later periods, these epistemological theories came to hold significance in both philosophy and popular belief. This school was absorbed into Taoism’s alchemic and magical dimensions as well as into the Chinese medical framework. The earliest surviving recordings of this are in the Ma Wang Dui texts and Huang Di Nei Jing.


Mohism (Moism), founded by Mozi (墨子), promotes universal love with the aim of mutual benefit. Everyone must love each other equally and impartially to avoid conflict and war. Mozi was strongly against Confucian ritual, instead emphasising pragmatic survival through farming, fortification, and statecraft.  Tradition is inconsistent, and human beings need an extra-traditional guide to identify which traditions are acceptable. The moral guide must then promote and encourage social behaviors that maximize general benefit. As motivation for his theory, Mozi brought in the “Will of Heaven,”  but rather than being religious his philosophy parallels utilitarianism.


School of Names

The logicians (School of Names) were concerned with logic, paradoxes, names and actuality (similar to Confucian rectification of names). The logician Hui Shi was a friendly rival to Zhuangzi, arguing against Taoism in a light-hearted and humorous manner. Another logician, Gongsun Long, told the famous “When a White Horse is not a Horse”  dialogue. This school did not thrive because the Chinese regarded sophistry and dialectic as impractical.


Agriculturalism was “an early agrarian social and political philosophy that advocated peasant utopian communalism and egalitarianism.” The philosophy is founded on the notion that human society originates with the development of agriculture, and societies are based upon “people’s natural prospensity to farm.”

The Agriculturalists believed that the ideal government, modeled after the semi-mythical governance of Shennong,  is led by a benevolent king, one who works alongside the people in tilling the fields. The Agriculturalist king is not paid by the government through its treasuries; his livelihood is derived from the profits he earns working in the fields, not his leadership.[11] Unlike the Confucians, the Agriculturalists did not believe in the division of labour, arguing instead that the economic policies of a country need to be based upon an egalitarian self sufficiency. The Agriculturalists supported the fixing of prices, in which all similar goods, regardless of differences in quality and demand, are set at exactly the same, unchanging price. [14]


Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science. It is an ancient discipline, being found in the earliest known manuscripts concerning philosophy, and relates to many other branches of philosophy and general thought, including metaphysics, logic, and history.

The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believers or non-believers.
Philosophy of religion has classically been regarded as a part of metaphysics. In the historical relationship between metaphysics and philosophy of religion, the traditional objects of religious discussion have been very special sorts of entities (such as gods, angels, supernatural forces, and the like) and events, abilities, or processes (the creation of the universe, the ability to do or know anything, interaction between humans and gods, and so forth). Metaphysicians (and ontologists in particular) are focused on understanding what it is for something to exist — what it is for something to be an entity, event, ability, or process. Because many members of religious traditions believe in things that exist in profoundly different ways from more everyday things, objects of religious belief both create particular philosophical problems and define central metaphysical concepts. [13]

Ancient Chinese Religious Philosophies Are Blurred from Moral or Social Philosophies – 21st Century Revival

It becomes clear that Chinese beliefs merge with much later moral and social philosophies that followed later. The separation of Religious philosophies, even between different religions such as Taoism and Buddhism become vague and unclear. The separation of the basic Chinese Religion from the fundamental Chinese culture is impossible as shown in Appendix 3 below [15]. Yet the piety of the people is not in doubt when one observes their devotion at the temples and at funerals or All Souls Day, “Qing Ming.” The separation of religious philosophies and moral or social philosophies is all merged into one activity, piety to the gods.

But what becomes apparent is the unmistakable influence of Shamanistic rituals and beliefs in their religious observances. Thus the people have clung on to religious customs and rituals that were created even before the advent of recorded history. The culture of the Chinese people were formed from these basic ancient shamanistic customs, and beliefs and could not be displaced by the brutal suppression of Mao or any other beliefs because it is the nature of the people. [15] [16] [17] [21]


(1) Chinese Buddhist Pantheon [8]

The Chinese Pantheon
Popular Deities of Chinese Buddhism

(2) Timeline Perspective of Ancient Chinese Civilisation [11]

Shamanism in the Neolithic Period, (12,000-9500 year BC) pre-dates all organised religions, going back to the Neolithic period (12,000- 9500 years BC) and strong evidence that it goes back into the Palaeolithic period (300,000 to 10,000 years ago). Shamanism provided the answers for man and was the unifying force of early man. That shamanism has had an influence on the culture or man and subsequent religions is without a doubt.
Shamanism in The Xia Dynasty (2207BC to 1766 BC) and earlier can be referred to as pre-history and there are no written records or many myths prior to that dynasty.
Shamanism in The Shang Dynasty (1765 BC to 1122 BC) with the discovery of oracle bones and archeological evidence of early civilisation.
Shamanism in The Shou Dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC): The Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy.

Kong Fuzi (551BC-479BC) (Latinised: Confucius), who laid down the basis for the followers of Confucianism.
Laozi (Lao Tsu) (circa:145BC-86BC) Founder of Daoism (Taoism)
Mozi (Latin: Micius),Mo Tzu, Alicius, (ca.470BC-391 BC) founder of Mohism,
Mengzi (Latin:Mencius) Meng Tzu,(ca.372-289 BC) a Confician who expanded upon Kong Fuzi’s legacy.
Shang Yang (ca.390-338 BC) and Han Feizi (ca 280-233 BC), responsible for the development of Ancient Chinese Legalism which was the core of the Qin Dynasty.

Xunzi (ca. 312-230 BC) who was at the center of ancient Chinese intellectual academia, even more iconic than Mencius. [11]


” Communism denounced organized religion. Marx called religion the “opiate of the people” and promoted a belief in dialectical materialism over God. Communist countries have traditionally been atheist states, with the Communists attempting to substitute the study of Marxism for religion. Children are encouraged to take part in antireligious activities and schools emphasize antireligious aspects of science. The belief has been that if succeeding generations were taught to reject religion, religion would eventually die out.

 Under the Communists many temples, churches and monasteries have been converted into archives of the state, museums, hospitals, schools, and insane asylums. Building a new temple, monastery or church under the Communists was a problem, not so much because of money, but because is was difficult to secure the necessary building permits. Religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, have traditionally been seen as vehicles for foreign ideas and misguided loyalties to find their way into Chinese society.

 In the early years of Communist rule, organized religion was ruthlessly oppressed and infiltrated by informers. Strict limits were placed on what was allowed and what wasn’t. Priests were arrested, exiled, killed or forced to renounce their profession. Monks were expelled from their monasteries.

 Religious worship retreated into the homes, family groups and small communities. Rituals and ceremonies were performed in secret in back rooms or outdoors on makeshift altars. Religious activists traveling as tourists quietly set up prayer circles in other communities and countries.

Religion and the Chinese Government

 Until Communism came along religion and the state were often closely linked. In the imperial era, the emperor was regarded as divine; political institutions were believed to be part of the cosmic order; and Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism were incorporated in different ways into political systems and social organizations.

 These days religion is something the officially atheist Communist government tolerates but insists on having control over. The Chinese constitution promises religious freedom but requires that “religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination” and insists that no religious leader have more authority than the Communist party. These views partly explain why the Communists take a such dim view of Chinese Catholics and Tibetan Buddhist holding the Pope and the Dalai Lama in such high esteem.

Religious matters are overseen by the Office of Nationalities, Religion and Overseas Chinese Affairs.

When making decisions that seem wrong, repressive or unfair to the West on human rights issues China in many ways is acting on lessons it has learned from its long history. It is reluctant to grant too much religious freedom and cracks down on Christians and groups like Falun Gong because of the trouble caused by religion-based rebellions, cults and quasi-religions in the past like the Taipeng Rebellion. See Taiping Rebellion, 19th Century History.

Patriotic Religions and Atheism

 Religious institutions in China are required to operate under the control of official “patriotic” religious organizations. There are five officially-recognized “patriotic” religions in China: Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism. Judaism isn’t recognized.

 Religious activity must be registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the State Council and the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. Religions associated with China such as Buddhism and Taoism tend to be tolerated more than Islam and Christianity because they do not have an independent hierarchy or follow a foreign spiritual leader.

 Officially Communist China is an atheist country, God does not exist, there is nothing after death and only atheists are allowed to be members of the Communist Party. Mao said that religion is a “base superstition” and a “counter-revolutionary” relic of old China that kept the ruling classes in power. In 1949, after the Communist take over of China, all religions were banned and the Chinese were officially forbidden from talking about ghosts. As late as the early 2000s, the Chinese leader Jiang Zemin expressed his puzzlement that so many Western scientists believe in God.

 In many ways Communism replaced religion. Some have even argued that Communism is a religion. The director of the State Council’s Religious Affair Bureau told Time, “The sincere advocacy of freedom of religion belief is based on our understanding of the dialectical materialistic theory. It is our concept of God.”

 As an alternative to religion, the government has launched the God-free jingshen wenming (“spiritual civilization”) program, which teaches values such as family, loyalty and diligence. The atheist party line continues to be promoted by the Research Institute of Marxism-Leninism at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, which continues to give out an annual Hero of Atheism award (the winner in 1999 was a television personality who exposed quack shaman).

Early Communist Persecution of Buddhists in China

 Master Deng Kuan, abbot of the Gu Temple in Sichuan Province, was 103 when the writer Liao Yiwu met him in 2003. “Over the centuries, as olddynasties collapsed and new ones came into being, the temple remained relatively intact,” Deng told Lao, “This is because changes of dynasty or government were considered secular affairs. Monks like me didn’t get involved. But the Communist revolution in 1949 was a turning point for me and the temple.”[Source: The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu, from book review by Howard W. French in The Nation, August 4, 2008]

 “Soon after Mao’s victory, Deng was dragged out of his temple and stood up before a crowd, accused of accumulating wealth without engaging in physical labor, and spreading ‘feudalistic and religious ideas that poisoned people’s minds.’ People stepped forward to denounce him, and the crowd that gathered responded on cue, howling slogans like ‘Down with the evil landlord’ and ‘Religion is spiritual poison.’ Some spat on him. Others punched and kicked. ‘No matter which temple you go to, you will find the same rule: monks pass on the Buddhist treasures from one generation to the next,’ Deng says. ‘Since ancient times, no abbot, monk, or nun has ever claimed the properties of the temple as his or her own. Who would have thought that overnight all of us would be classified as rich landowners! None of us has ever lived the life of a rich landowner, but we certainly suffered the retribution accorded one.’” [Ibid]

 By Master Deng’s reckoning, between 1952 and 1961 this meant he endured more than 300 ‘struggle sessions,’ as these organized hazings were known in the revolution’s euphemistic terminology. In his area of Sichuan Province, he tells Liao, by 1961 ‘half of the people labeled as members of the bad elements had starved to death.’

 In the Mao era Buddhist temples become schools and warehouses.

Crackdown on Religion in the Cultural Revolution

 During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards did not discriminate against particular religions, they were against them all. They ripped crosses from church steeples, forced Catholic priests into labor camps, tortured Buddhist monks in Tibet and turned Muslim schools into pig slaughterhouses. Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians were singled out as vestiges of the Old China that need to be changed.

 One Chinese man told Theroux about an effort by the Red Guard to tear down a cross from the largest church in Qindao: “The Red Guards held a meeting, and then they passed a motion to destroy the crosses. They marched to the church and climbed up to the roof. They pulled up bamboos and tied them into a scaffold. It took a few days —naturally they worked at night and they sang the Mao songs. When the crowd gathered they put up ladders and they climbed up and threw a rope around the Christian crosses and they pulled them down. It was very exciting!”

 In Tibet the Red Guard turned thousand-year-old monasteries into factories and pigsties. “When the order went out, Smash the feudalistic nests of monks!,” Paul Theroux wrote, “the soldiers, Red Guards and assorted vandals made chalk marks all over the monasteries—save these timbers, stack these beams, pike the bricks, and so forth. Brick by brick, timber by timber, the monasteries were taken down. The frugal, strong-saving, clothes-patching, shoe-mending Chinese saved each reusable brick. In this way the monasteries were made into barns and barracks.”

Religion in the Deng Era in China

 “In 1978, a ban on religious teaching that dated from early in the revolution was lifted, and a few years later the rebuilding of the Gu Temple, and hundreds of others around China, got under way in earnest, aided by donations from people who had kept their faith in secret. No longer the target of punishing political campaigns, Master Deng has other worries: the designs of predatory local officials who see temples like his as cash cows or comfortable digs for their gambling parties. ‘A couple of months ago, some officials showed up and set up their mah-jongg tables right inside the temple,’ he says.” [Source: The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu, from book review by Howard W. French in The Nation, August 4, 2008]

 They played that gambling game all day. Some ended up losing money. They walked into my room and wanted to get a loan from me. I did ‘lend’ some to them. You know they will never pay back…. The officials are so powerful, and can destroy you at a whim. The chief of the Religious Affairs Bureau shamelessly calls himself the parent of all gods.

Religion and the Chinese Government in Recent Years

 In December 2004, the Chinese government announced new rules that guaranteed religious beliefs as a human right. According to an article in The People’s Daily: “As China has more than 100 million people believing in religion, so the protection of religious freedom is important in safeguarding people’s interests and respecting and protecting human rights.” Some have their doubts as to whether this announcement means anything. A Finnish evangelist who has worked in China for a long time told Time, “There are two words that define China’s attitude towards religious freedom: control and stability.”

 Land reform laws permit monasteries and temple to keep much of their land. Traditionally city monasteries and temples were required to engage in light industry and monks were required to produce a certain amount of crops on the land. If they didn’t they risked losing the land. Some of these rules have been relaxed.

 In March 2005, religion was enshrined in China as a basic right of all citizens. Even so worship outside designated religion remains forbidden. The Chinese government has been criticized by the U.S. State Department for suppressing and denying religious freedom to Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighurs and members of Falun Gong.

 In April 2006, a leader of China’s state-backed Christian church—the Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council—said that believers were free to worship within limits, namely that they worship in private and “don’t have religious activities in public places because we don’t want to cause religious disharmony.”

 Chinese President Hu Jintao seem to have given a tacit endorsement to religion by hosting a politburo study session on the expanded role of religion in December 2007, and allowing religion to be discuused at the 17th Party Congress in October the same year. In January 2008, a photograph of Hu shaking hands with one of China’s main Christian leaders was featured prominently on the front page of the People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper. .

 In a speech at the study session Hu said, “We must strive to closely unite religious figures and believers among the masses around the party and government and struggle together with them to build an all-around moderately prosperous society while quickening the pace towards the modernization of socialism.” The overall message seemed to be that religion is something that can be harnessed for economic and social progress but are not necessarily things that should be pursed in themselves.

 The phrase “parent of all gods” entered the news during the crisis in Tibet, when the ‘autonomous region’s’ party secretary declared that the Communist Party was the “real Buddha” for Tibetans.

Religious Revival in China

 After Mao died, the government loosened up on religion. It stated it made a mistake persecuting monks and nuns during the Cultural Revolution and quietly abandoned many of its atheist positions. Under these circumstances, religion has experienced a rebirth. Buddhist, Taoism, and Muslim religious centers have reopened; lots of time and money has gone into building temples; and superstition and folk religion have crept back in people’s lives.

 In Yulin, a city of about 1 million people in northern Shaanxi, 50 major temples, 500 medium-size temples and thousands of smaller temples have been built or repaired since Mao’s death in 1976. A school teacher there took it upon himself to rebuild a temple honoring a maiden who got pregnant by eating a peach and gave birth to five dragons—black, red, white, green and yellow—through her nostrils, mouth and ears.

 Ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity and devotion to local gods has returned in a big way in southern Chinese. Ancestor worship halls have sprung up in Guandong; Buddhist monks advertise on television in Fujian; shaman and yingyang masters have set up enterprises in rural communities; and Bibles are being printed up by the millions.

 On his experiences entering houses in Shanghai’s oldest neighborhoods, Howard French wrote: “I had not expected to find so much evidence of China’s thriving quasi-underground religious culture here. In house after house, I found people worshiping privately as Christians or Buddhists. Asked how she had come to the church, a woman who had been sent to the countryside as a youth in the Cultural Revolution told me she had been converted by her neighbors. Everyone in this building believes in Christ, she said.” [Source: Howard W. French, New York Times, August 28, 2009]

 A poll by a Shanghai university in 2007 found that 31 percent of Chinese 16 or older are religious. Among those most interested in religion are China’s wealthier classes. Members of the Communist Party are still banned from belonging to a formal religion.

 As the interest in religion has grown a multitude of quack healers, self-proclaimed prophets and spiritual masters have appeared. Scholars have compared the Chinese to passengers on a rudderless boat drifting a sea. Every time the wind shifts they look for new direction and easily manipulated because they feel have nothing to lose.

 In many cases the government views the revival as a threat but can do little to stop it because the movement is so widespread. One Chinese sociologist told Newsday, “The resurgence of folk religions reflects the pursuit of folk symbols of authority and new ways of communicating. It represents the rise of a new kind of rural power and authority.” Perhaps the biggest obstacle that religion has to overcome is money as it battles materialism for attention and the hearts and souls of many Chinese.

Reasons for Religious Revival in China

 Religion addresses many questions that Communism doesn’t answer and there sometimes seem to be a need in China to address these questions. American sociologist William T. Liu told Time, “Chinese communism is a system of economic development, but there is no theology to explain what people should believe in.” Chinese that once believed in the Communist Party with religious zeal have lost faith partly as result of its widespread corruption and are looking to fill the void.

 Many feel that China is experiencing a spiritual vacuum. Li Baiguang, a prominent lawyer and Chinese activist, told the Times of London, “Rising wealth means that more and more people have been able to meet their material needs, the need for food and clothing. Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul. In addition, they are seeing a breakdown on the moral order as money tales over.”

Buddhism and Christianity have become especially popular with new believers who come from all segments of society, rich and poor, urban and rural. On religion and materialism, Aloysius Jin Luxian, Shanghai’s 92-year-old bishop who spent 27 years in labor camps and prison, said, “Souls become ever more empty, which affords religion room to expand.”

 Chinese President Hu Jintao has repeatedly said there is place for spirituality religion in modern Chinese society, in part to fill the void left by the collapse of Communist ideology. But rather than being more accepting of existing religions he has attempted to steer Chinese towards traditional Marxist values and traditionally Confucian beliefs about society.” [15]


1. A brief timeline of some Philosophers

This time period can be illustrated in part by noting a few dates of influential philosophers and thinkers.  For example:  

Neolithic China ca. 10,000 – 2000 BC
HUANG DI (2697-2597 BC  or 2674 – 2575 BC)
Shang Dynasty 1766 BC to 1027 BC

            Zarathustra (627-585 BCE) promulgated the Dualism of Good and Evil,

            Lao-Tzu  (604-531 BCE) wrote the “Tao de Ching.”

Confucius (580?-479 BCE) “flaunted his agnosticism”,

Buddha (565-483 BCE) taught a “godless wisdom”,

Xenophanes (550 BCE) criticized Greek polytheism,

Pythagoras (550 BCE) taught sacred geometry and mathematically based science,

Moses (1393-1272 BC):Burning Bush 1314BC (3324 years ago)

Isaiah (550 BCE) taught “the first true monotheism in history”,

Theagenes (525 BCE) “rationalized Homer”, and

Hecataeus (500 BCE) “mocked the Greek myths”.


[1] Shang-Di: The Border Sacrifices:


[2] The Border Sacrifices: http://www.edholroyd.info/Beginning/BorderSacrifice.htm

[3] The Major Gods of China: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060831050459AA78EWi

[4] Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China:  http://www.scns.com/earthen/other/seanachaidh/godchina.html

[5] 154Deities: http://www.godchecker.com/pantheon/chinese-mythology.php?_gods-list

[6] Pre-History Chinese Philosophies:


[7] Taoist Shamanism: http://www.realitysandwich.com/taoist_shamanism_and_dream_yoga

[8] Chinese Buddhist Pantheon: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/chin_deities.htm

[9] Lang ting Tang Man: http://peteformation.blogspot.com/2008/12/lang-ting-tang-man-chinese-story-teller.html

[10] Lang Ting Tan Man: http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2010/9/15/north/7033034&sec=north

[11] Timeline: Perspective of Ancient Chinese Civilisation: http://knol.google.com/k/taoism#view

[12] Chinese Philosophy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

[13] Philosophy of Religion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_religion

[14] Philosophical Schools of Thought (Chinese): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_philosophy

[15] Chinese Religion under Communism: http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=86&catid=3

[16] The revival of Taoism in 21st C: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/magazine/07religion-t.html?pagewanted=all

[17] Religious Revival in China:  http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:vTaOUFlRnB4J:rauli.cbs.dk/index.php/cjas/article/download/19/18+Revival+of+Religion+in+China+today&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShrxpnzKZnpjpia-v0ih0yMWWUau40yEt8fynZSOtMlnogIMDfYKkvpR1TfiHkAsIqLG2w_Y6fsD9PAbsw4Vj5RxmoRmJTitktbJBuhFwlb7Bt6yKMzkV81FTj5J09LzdyTq6fv&sig=AHIEtbRyL3hLegmvJqetallVWzh_QqGtbg

[18] Origins of Chinese Hieroglyphics: http://history-world.org/Beginnings%20Of%20China.htm

[19] Ancestor Worship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestor_worship

[20] List of Saints: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_saints

[21] Pre-History Chinese Cultures: http://www.chinapage.com/archeology/neolithic.html

[22] Chinese Legends on Creation-Pan Ku: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangu


[1a] Philosophy and Religion: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/chinrelg.html

[2a] Comparing Taoism and Confucianism: http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw06taoism-confucian.htm

[3a] Chinese Folk Religion: http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=85&catid=3&subcatid=8

[4a] A brief History of Taoism: http://www.taoism.net/supplement/history.htm

[5a} I-Ching Philosophy of Change: http://www.taoism.net/supplement/history.htm

[6a] The I-Ching: http://www.way-of-tao.com/pages/oracle-i-ching/the-i-ching.php

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