Daoism and Cct

History and Sources

In brief, what is the history of religious Daoism?

Religious Daoism emerged as a recognizable tradition in its own right during the latter decades of the Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-221 C.E.). Confucianism enjoyed imperial favor as the official creed of the state. But when the Han dynasty disintegrated, both Daoism and Buddhism found room to grow. The early Celestial Masters school dominated the Daoist scene for the most part. Various schools teaching forms of alchemical Daoism developed early on and have continued throughout the past two thousand years. In addition, new revelations claimed by various teachers gave rise to several new schools between the third and sixth centuries, times of political fragmentation (see below for discussion of individual schools and denominations).

With political reunification during the Sui (581—618) dynasty, Daoism’s various schools managed to survive in spite of meager imperial support. Many monasteries flourished but remained apart from the general populace. Things improved under the Tang dynasty (618—906), when Daoists once again had friends in high places. Under the Song dynasty (960—1279), Neo-Confucianism proved a powerful rival for Daoists at court. But Daoists fared well anyway, since many Neo-Confucians gladly exchanged ideas with Daoism’s leading lights. During the Southern Song dynasty (1127—1279), in spite of an almost complete lack of public imperial patronage, several new Daoist schools sprang up. Things took a turn for the worse under the Yuan dynasty (1260—1368). Daoists invited to participate in court debates suffered serious setbacks and paid dearly with the loss of monasteries and precious libraries. During the late medieval Ming dynasty (1368—1644), Daoist fortunes improved again dramatically and many Daoist masters enjoyed prominent official positions. But under the last of the imperial regimes, the Ching (or Manchu) dynasty (1644—1911), the pendulum swung the other way and religious Daoism struggled to survive the early modern period.

Through the periods of the first Chinese Republic (1912—1949) and the People’s Republic (1949—present), Daoism has held on largely thanks to the establishment of several organizations designed to provide a public presence for the various orders and schools. After disastrous losses as a result of the Cultural Revolution (1966—1976), Daoist religious groups are again struggling to pull themselves back together.

Date Event
2697-2597 B.C.E. Huang Di, Yellow Emperor, one of the “culture heroes” in Chinese lore; was patron of ancient fang shi or shamans
2637 B.C.E. Reckoning of Chinese lunar calendar of twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days
604 B.C.E. Traditional date of Lao Zi’s birth
389-286 B.C.E. Zhuang Zi, Daoist philosopher
c. 350-300 B.C.E. Dao De Jing composed
34-156 C.E. Zhang Dao Ling, cited as the founder of the first Daoist religious movement, the Celestial Masters school
166 C.E. Han Chinese Emperor sacrifices to Lao Zi and Buddha
184 C.E. Rebellion of Yellow Turbans behind a military force
202-220 C.E. Religious Daoism emerges
220-280 C.E. Three Kingdoms period: Wei (220-266); Shu Han (221-263); Wu (222-280)
251-334 C.E. Wei Huacun, famous woman Libationer
c. 300 C.E. Lie Zi composes The True Classic of Expanding Emptiness
c. 300 C.E. Daoist sect Sacred Jewel introduces influential rituals
364-370 C.E. Highest Purity (Mao Shan) sect emphasizes meditation
c. 406-477 C.E. Li Xiujing compiles earliest Doaist canon
618-906 C.E. Tang dynasty; Daoism enjoys favor in high places
650-750 C.E. Life of Zhang Guolao, patron of pharmacists
666 C.E. Lao Zi is officially declared a god in the Daoist pantheon
675 C.E. Religious Daoism makes significant impact on imperial Chinese court
700 C.E. He Xian’gu, patron of musicians, is noted for her asceticism and kindness
739 C.E. Monastic Daoism flourishes during the Tang period
748 C.E. Celestial Master recognized
c. 1000-1200 C.E. Five enormous collections of the Daoist canon appear
c. 1016 C.E. Initial printing of Daoist Canon
1119-1182 C.E. Sun Buer, female ritualist in the Perfect Realization order
1123-1170 C.E. Life of Wang Zhe, founded the “Perfect Realization School,” or Chuan Zhen
1281 C.E. Emperor Kublai Khan burns Daoist Canon
1368-1644 C.E. Ming dynasty; late Medieval Daoism gains strength; Roman Catholic missionaries in China
1444 C.E. Anthology of separate Five Daoist texts published
1594 C.E. General Guandi/Wudi is deified by imperial decree
1644-1912 C.E. Ching (Manchu) dynasty in China; religious Daoism struggles to survive
1850-1864 C.E. Tai Ping “Highest Peace” rebellion
1948 C.E. Maoist Revolution; Daoism wanes
1966-1976 C.E. Chinese Cultural Revolution; disastrous losses for Daoism
1976 C.E. Chairman Mao Zedong dies, Daoist fortunes in China begin to improve
1980s C.E. Daoism doing better in China, monasteries reopen


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