Daoism among minority nationalities

Daoism among minority nationalities
Almost all of the various ethnic groups at the margins of the Chinese ecumene have had some contact with Daoism, and the cultures of some of them have been profoundly transformed by it. Generally, at present, Daoist influence is most profound and pervasive among the non-Han peoples of the south and southwest, while Tibetan Buddhist practices are widely influential among the peoples of the west and north. In their present form, Daoist teachings are thought to have been spread among the highland non-Han peoples of the south during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), following the rise of new Taoist movements such as Tianxin zhengfa, Shenxiao, Qingwei and Jingming, most of which originated in south China.
Today, a particularly remarkable form of Daoism is found among the Mian-speaking Yao peoples of Guangxi and contiguous provinces. Mian-Yao have also migrated in recent centuries southwards into mainland Southeast Asia, and communities are found in northern Vietnam and northern Thailand. There, every male member of the community is ordained, at least ideally. Group ordinations are held, often for all the young men in the lineage. At the first level of ordination, called ‘Hanging the Lamps’ (kwa-tang), young men are given basic religious instruction, introduced to the gods of the pantheon, and are taught how to walk on the Bridge of the Seven Stars (of the Northern Dipper). They are given a religious name, provided with booklets for basic liturgy, and are subsequently entitled to perform some rituals.
There is a second degree of ordination. The ordination ceremony, called ‘Ordination of the Master’ (tou-sai), involves preparatory fasting and ordeals, such as climbing a sword ladder. Visits in a trance-like state to Plum Mountain (Meishan), the abode of the ancestors, and to the gate of the High Pavilion of Middle Heaven are followed by fire-walking and, finally, carrying a red-hot plough-share back to the house altar. Ordinates are given a seal and ordination certificate, and are henceforth qualified to perform a wide range of rituals. There are two additional levels of ordination available, ‘Adding Duties’ (chia-tse) and ‘Enfeoffing Liturgies’ (pwang-ko).
Women also participate. They attend ordinations in full ceremonial dress, and are granted seals, patents and religious names corresponding to those of their husbands. Both men and women receive command over spirit soldiers (peng-ma), the number of which depends on the degree of ordination.
Daoism among the Yao has been seen as representing a very conservative form of religious practice, exhibiting parallels with the communitarian Daoism that flourished in the earliest known Taoist communities and the collective fasts of medieval times. It may also be seen, however, as a response to the pressure of Han Chinese persecution of the Yao in recent centuries. The Yao themselves refer to their religion as the ‘Plum Mountain Teaching’ (Meishanjiao). Their liturgical texts, which also mention Lüshan, are all in Chinese, as are their ritual documents and charms (fu).
A more indigenized form of the Plum Mountain Teaching is found among the Zhuang in Guangxi, where Zhuang ‘ritual masters’ (bouxsae) combine the recitation of Chinese-language texts with those in ‘old Zhuang script’. The Chinese-language texts are similar to those of the Yao but the texts in Zhuang often incorporate a great deal of pre-Daoist material, such as local legends and hagiographies of local saints. In the performance of rituals, song-forms and dance styles typical of the Tai-speaking south are encapsulated within a Chinese-style liturgical framework. Similar combinations of Chinese Daoist and indigenous elements are found in the religious practices of many non-Han peoples of southern China, such as among the Tibeto-Burman speaking Tujia in western Hunan and southern Sichuan. Given the intensification of assimilation pressures in recent centuries, Daoism often served as a form of protective colouring, allowing people to perpetuate the customs and the words of their ancestors under an acceptably Chinese guise.
Holm, David (1994). ‘The Redemption of Vows in Shanglin’. Min-su ch’ü-i [Folklore and Performance] 92:853–909.
Lemoine, Jacques (1982). Yao Ceremonial Paintings. Bangkok: White Lotus.
Yoshiro, Shiratori (1975). Yonin bunsho [Yao documents]. Tokyo: Kodansha.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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