China reconnects with the religion of Daoism, under the watchful eye of the Communist Party

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In China, amid a backlash against the increasing wealth and rampant consumerism of the past several decades, people are turning to religion to find deeper meaning.

Key points:

  • Daoism takes in elements of calligraphy, medicine and Feng Shui
  • The faith is 2,000 years old
  • Its revival is being tolerated by the Communist Party, for now

Christians are said to number 100 million in China but the biggest growth has been in traditional religions like Daoism.

One key Daoist temple, the Central Peak in Beijing, has been restored, with a parade of Chinese martial artists, bands of symbol players and drummers celebrating the occasion.

The 2,000-year-old Chinese faith of Daoism is a force once more. It’s a celebration of harmony, a blending of opposites.

The Communist Party tried to crush Daoism but now it’s encouraged by the Government.

Daoist elder Zhao Baoqi says Daoism is the first religion of China.

“In civil society traditional Chinese culture is Daoism, the people are now back to Daoist culture, we have restored it,” he said.

Author and journalist Ian Johnson has been investigating the revival of Chinese folk religions like Daoism for the past two decades, and he says to understand Daoism is fundamental to understanding China.

“It’s the DNA of Chinese culture, it includes the ideas like calligraphy, Chinese medicine, things like Feng Shui — all of these things come out of Daoist ideas,” he said.

Younger people rediscovering Daoist faith

Central Peak Temple is the home of the fertility goddess Guanyin, and hundreds of people like Wang Qun turned up for the opening to pray and make offerings.

“When I was pregnant I came to pray for a healthy baby, so now it’s open I’ve come to offer my gratitude,” she said.

The younger generation are rediscovering the faith.

Lei Peng, a bus driver, has found no comfort in China’s new wealth and rampant consumerism, but says he has found a deeper meaning in Daoism.

“People are lacking in faith, they’ve lost their cultural base, lost it all,” he said.

“Daoism gives it back, we are reconnecting to our cultural inheritance.”

Government watching rise of Daoism carefully

For the moment, the Government is supporting the rise of Daoism.

They see it as a part of Chinese culture, and a much better alternative than the foreign religion of Christianity, which is also growing rapidly.

Mr Johnson says there is much more suspicion of Western religions.

“Religions can grow as long as they walk lock and step with the Government,” he said.

“You can provide values, an escape for people, or turn inward to piety, but you cannot challenge the Government. You can’t be an alternative source of values or the Government will turn against you.”

The Government is watching the growth of Daoism carefully.

It wants to ensure it does not turn into another Falun Gong type movement that could threaten the Government and lead to another brutal crackdown like that which happened two decades ago.

By Matthew Carney
ABC News

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