The Religion of Taoism in Chinese Culture

What is Taoism or Daoism Religion

The Religion of Taoism or Daoism is a Chinese religion that evolved out of the Taoism Philosophy and ancient Chinese Mythology.


It respected Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) as the saint and deity, his masterpiece Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching) as an essential classic.

It consists of a complete system of magical forces and deities, as well as a series of outstanding scientific achievements.

Taoism Religion is the most mysterious and secular religion in Chinese culture. It sounds far away but has indeed integrated into Chinese people’s daily lives for thousands of years. 

Three Most Supreme Immortals of the Taoism Religion — San Qing


Ultimate Purpose of Taoism Religion — Pursuing the Dao

Taoism or Daoism Religion apotheosized the Taoism Philosophy and constructed an entire immortal system, based on ancient Chinese Mythology.

The most important purpose of every Taoist priest is pursuing and trying to understand the Dao or Tao, the law of nature, and the rule of the universe, by all means. 

Most importantly, unlike other religions, Taoism Religion allows human beings to become immortals equally, man or woman, noble or humble.

Taoist priests pay more attention to the present, cultivate themselves, and pursue the Dao in the current world, and hopefully could become immortal in the end.

Chinese Character "Dao" Written by Emperor Li Longji (685 — 762)


Scientific Contributions of the Taoism Religion 

Not everyone could succeed during the process of pursuing the Dao in thousands of years, however, many Taoists made great contributions in Chinese medication, chemistry, alchemy, astronomy, geology, math, science, botany, astrology, numerology, literature, etc.

For instance, gunpowder and Tofu were the results of alchemy activities, the compass was used in detecting the Fengshui, acupuncture, and moxibustion and Tai Ji were important ways to keep healthy, authors of the most extraordinary medical masterpieces in China believed in Taoism Religion, and many types of equipment were designed to try and fly.

These achievements integrated into and benefited the civilians’ daily lives extensively, which made the mysterious Taoism Religion secular and popular. 

Those skills and knowledge are only meant for pursuing the Dao, however, the final results varied for each person.

Magic Power of the Taoism Religion 

In the process of pursuing the Dao or being immortal, besides those scientific contributions, Taoists also made use of some magic power, which made them quite mysterious.

The magic arts, which only secretly and strictly pass on within certain factions, include Fengshui, fortune-telling, alchemy, dispelling of evils, praying, divination, means of communicating with deities and ghosts, etc.  


Golden Dragons (Zou Long) that used as Ritual Implements of Taoism Religion Ceremony in the Tang Dynasty — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Practicing Places of Taoism Religion 

Since the means of pursuing the Dao vary throughout history, the practice places differ as well.

In ancient China, emperors and officials would practice Taoism in their secular worlds, while visit Taoism temples from time to time. 

Some other professional Taoists would practice in magnificent Mountains in China, such as Mount Tai, Mount Hua, Mount Huang, and Mount Wudang, where are believed closer to nature and heaven.


Ancient Taoist Temples in Mount Wudang


Rise of the Taoism Religion in the History of China

After Emperor Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty in the year 202 BC, the Taoism Philosophy was respected as the dominant ideology. The Doctrine of Inaction was adhered to by the ruling class, which flourished the Han Empire. 

After the year 134 BC when Emperor Liu Che respected Confucianism as the dominant philosophy, Taoism gradually came into the civilians’ world, and combined with ancient Chinese mythology, alchemy, astrology, Yin-Yang, and Five Elements theory, etc.; the apotheosized Taoism became more and more popular. 

Until the late Han Dynasty, Zhang Daoling (34 — 156), also respected as Zhang Tianshi, established the first Taoism Religion group in China.

Part of Painting "Ge Zhi Chuan Yi Ju Tu" that Describes Ge Hong (283 - 343), An Exceptional Taoist, Chemist, and Doctor, Moving to A mountain to Practice Taoism - By Artist Wang Meng (1308-1385)

The Prosperity of the Taoism Religion

Soon, more Taoism religious organizations appeared. 

They all respected Yellow Emperor (Huang Di), Lao Zi, and Zhuang Zi’s ideologies, as well as the polytheistic system. But they were also classified into many schools, because of their different means of pursuing the Dao. 

Emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) respected Lao Zi as their ancestor, therefore, Taoism Religion was respected as the Tang Empire’s state religion and was well developed; it further flourished in the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644).

During these eras, Influential emperors that believe in Taoism Religion include Li Shimin (598 — 649), Li Longji (685 — 762), Zhao Heng (968 — 1022), Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135), Zhu Yuanzhang (1328 — 1398), Zhu Di (1360 — 1424), Zhu Youcheng (1470 — 1505), Zhu Houcong (1522 — 1566), and so on. 

From emperors to civilians, Taoism Religion was widely believed and practiced; its related departments, such as medicine, science, botany, Fengshui, astrology, and literature, were all well developed. 

Part of Murals of Taoism Deities on Walls inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province

Decline and Recovery of Taoism Religion

When the nomadic Manchurian established the Qing Dynasty in the year 1636, they respected Buddhism and strictly suppressed the Taoism Religion, except during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng (1678 — 1735).

Afterward, Taoism Religion gradually declined in the history of China.

In the year 1957, the Chinese Taoist Association was established to communicate and discuss the Taoism Religion.   

Today, celebration activities in Tradition Chinese Festivals and many other customs are closely connected to the Taoism Religion.

As it always suggested, the best practice of Taoism, for most people, is to be a good person and to do a good job in the secular world.

Ancient Taoist Temples on the Mount Hua of the Shaanxi Province


Main Characteristics of the Taoism Religion 

  • Everyone is possible to become immortal, hence the polytheistic system.

Everyone can choose their own favorite deity to believe; there are no absolute rules or regulations or ceremonies.  

  • The best means to pursue the Dao, for most people, is to practice in the secular world. 

To be a good daughter or son, a lovely partner, a responsible employee, etc. 

Finding and completing oneself is the foremost thing to do.

  • Everyone could have their own understandings of the Dao. 

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