The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy 073911719X, 9780739117194

The most influential sect in the Chinese mainland in the 1940s, Yiguan Dao was largely destroyed in mainland China in 19

390 56 11MB

English Pages 214 [215] Year 2008

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy
 073911719X, 9780739117194

Table of contents :
The Transformation Of Yiguan Dao In Taiwan
1 Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1930–1953
2 Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1949–1987
3 Helping People to Fulfill Vows: Religious Commitment in Yiguan Dao
4 Market Forces and Religious Experiences
5 Deregulation and Organizational Transformation
6 Doctrinal Transformation within Yiguan Dao
Appendix 1 A List of Yiguan Dao Divisions in Taiwan
Appendix 2 Functional Teams of Meal Groups
Appendix 3 Dharma Assemblies Conducted by the Fayi Lingyin Division in 1992
Appendix 4 The Purpose of Dao (Dao Zhi Zong Zhi)

Citation preview

The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan

The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy YUNFENG Lu

LEXINGTON BOOKS ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC. Lanham • Boulder • New York • Toronto • Plymouth, UK

LEXINGTON BOOKS A division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. A wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200 Lanham, MD 20706 Estover Road Plymouth PL6 7PY United Kingdom Copyright © 2008 by Lexington Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lu, Yunfeng, 1975The transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan : adapting to a changing religious economy / Yunfeng Lu. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-7391-1719-4 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-7391-1719-X (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Yi guan dao (Cult) 2. Taiwan-Religion. 1. Title. BL1943.I35L75 2008 299.5'10951249-dc22 200704351 5 Printed in the United States of America

(§JIM The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI / NISO Z39.48-1992.





Introduction 1

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1930-1953



Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1949-1987



Helping People to Fulfill Vows: Religious Commitment in Yiguan Dao



Market Forces and Religious Experiences



Deregulation and Organizational Transformation



Doctrinal Transformation within Yiguan Dao




Appendix 1

A List of Yiguan Dao Divisions in Taiwan


Appendix 2

Functional Teams of Meal Groups

1 71

Appendix 3

Dharma Assemblies Conducted by the Fayi Lingyin Division in 1992

1 73

The Purpose of Dao (Dao Zhi Zong Zhi)

1 75

Appendix 4 Glossary

1 77




195 v

List of Tables

Table 1.1

Temples Visited During Fieldwork


Table 1.1

A Partial List of Sects and Their Followers in the 1940s in China


Table 3 . 1

Number o f Religious Switching o n Taiwan i n 1994


Table 3.2

Components of Yiguan Dao Converts


Table 3.3

Research Courses in Fayi Lingyin


Table 4.1

A Partial List of "Heterodox" Groups of Yiguan Dao


Table 5.1

Temples and Churches in Taiwan, 1990-2004



List of Figures

Figure 2.1

Reports on Repressing Yiguan Dao, 1959-1982


Figure 2.2

The Organizational Structure of Yiguan Dao when under Suppression


A Model of Unintended Consequences of Religious Suppression


Figure 2.3 Figure 5.1

Religious Organizations in Taiwan, 1988-2004


Figure 5.2

The Organizational Structure of Fayi Chongde




I have been helped and encouraged by many people when writing this book. The first and most recognition must go to Dr. Graeme Lang, for his guidance, patience, and encouragement. He has sustained my interest in sociology of religion and has enhanced my academic insights over the years of my apprenticeship in Hong Kong. This book's intellectual debt to him is self-evident. When I stayed in Taiwan in 2002, I had the good fortune to meet and consult many knowledgeable and generous scholars, including Dr. Yang Hongren, Dr. Wang Jianchuan, Prof. Chen Zhirou, Prof. Song Guangyu, Prof. Qu Haiyuan, Prof. Lin Meirong, Prof. Lin Benxuan, Prof. Ding Ren­ jie, and Prof. Zhang Xun. I am also indebted to the Yiguan Dao believers whose cooperation and help make this book possible. This book was pre­ pared when I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Stud­ ies on Religion at Baylor University. I would also like to thank Professor Rodney Stark and Professor Byron Johnson. Without their help, this book would not be completed. Some of the material presented in this manuscript has been or will be soon published in the following articles: "Helping People to Fulfill Vows: Commitment Mechanisms in a Chi­ nese Sect." Pp. 183-202 in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, edited by Fenggang Yang and Joseph Tamney. Boston: Brill, 2005. "Impact of the State on the Evolution of a Sect." 2006. Sociology of Reli­ gion: A Quarterly Review, 249-70. "Deregulation and the Religious Market in Taiwan." 2007, forthcoming.

The Sociological Quarterly.



"Develops Seditious Organization; Dreams of being Emperor! " China Times, February 9, 1977 The police had captured and sued Wang Shou and his assistant Xiao Jians­ hui for a crime of developing rebellious organizations. Viewing himself as the incarnation of Lu Zhongyi, the seventeenth patriarch of Yiguan Dao, the sectarian leader Wang Shou had a dream of being emperor. Mr. Wang and Xiao, purporting themselves as the incarnation of Buddha, had been cheating money from the public in name of gods. When they were taken into custody, they showed repentance for what they had done. In or­ der to prevent Yiguan Dao doing further harm to societies, they decided to disband this evil religion. In doing so, they solicited a light sentence from the government so that they could begin a new life.

"Yiguan Dao holding the autumn blessing ritual; three presidential candidates com­ peting with each other for Yiguan Dao's support" China Times, November 15, 1999 Three presidential candidates attended the autumn blessing ritual yester­ day held by the Baoguang division of Yiguan Dao in Nanhua village, Tainan County. Lian Zhan came to the Scared Temple of Baoguang first, followed by Song Chuyu and Chen Shuibian . . . . It is not common for the three presi­ dential candidates to appear in the same activity. They competed with each other to gain the support from Yiguan Dao believers. The event indicates that Yiguan Dao is very influential in Taiwan. Lian Zhan, the current Vice-president, arrived at the temple in the morn­ ing. Accompanied with Wang Shou, the senior master of Baoguang division, Lian Zhan attended the ritual, expressing that he was quite impressed by religious groups including Yiguan Dao that helped the victims in the great 9 / 21 earthquake. The earthquake had brought out serious damages, 1


Introduction Lian said, but religious groups played a great role in rebuilding the home, especially comforting the victims' mind. After the ritual, previous Taiwan province governor Song Chuyu and the Democratic Progressive Party presi­ dential candidate Chen Shuibian arrived at the temple in sequence. Both of them interacted with the Yiguan Dao believers in the temple building and tried to gain their support. . . . Chen Shuibian said that, both the Yiguan Dao believers and those engaged in democratic movements were once suppressed by the authoritarian state. The senior master Wang Shou is a good example. In pursuing his religious faith, he had been wrongly imprisoned for three years just because of using the term " changing dynasties."

The above two pieces of news are related to Wang Shou, a senior master (Qianren) of Yiguan Dao.1 In 1977, China Times, one of the most influential state-controlled newspapers in Taiwan, portrayed Mr. Wang as an ambitious leader of evil religion (xiejiao) who dreamed of being an emperor and as a cheater making use of religion to earn money. Due to these charges, Mr. Wang was put into prison for three years. At the time, no one imagined that two decades later Wang could become an important figure with whom top officials in Taiwan would want to make friends. But it happened. In 1 999, China Times reported on Mr. Wang again. This time he was described as a respectable religious leader who could exert influence on the presidential election in the island. The change of Wang Shou's images in the mass media is a reflection of Yiguan Dao's transformation from a persecuted and stigmatized sect to an increasingly respected religion in the past decades. This is a story of dramatic movement from the margin toward the mainstream, a theme that will be discussed in this book.


To describe the development of Yiguan Dao, it is useful to start with an overview of Chinese sectarian movements. The origin of Chinese sects can be traced back to Taiping Dao, a Daoist sect involved in the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans in the late Han Dynasty (200 B.C.E-220 C.E.). In a sense, Chinese sects were partly products of state repression. In history, Confucian officials were active in defining and suppressing unsanctioned religious groups whose leaders and organizations fell out of the official framework. Among those state-defined "heterodox" religious move­ ments, the White Lotus Sect (Bailian Jiao) is well known. Originating from a completely orthodox Buddhist tradition, the White Lotus Sect was finally labeled heterodox in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). From then on,



the term Bailian Jiao was generally used by imperial officials to refer to all so-called "heterodox" movements.2 A full-fledged Chinese sectarian tradition emerged in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when hundreds of sects were active. Luo Qing (1442-1527) exerted great influence on the formation of a literary sectarian tradition by publishing "Five Books in Six Volumes" (Wubu Liuce) in 1509. Though Luo regarded himself as totally loyal to Buddhism, he was not recognized by Buddhism, although he was widely welcomed by the masses remain­ ing outside the Buddhist clerical establishments. Luo's ideas were inher­ ited and developed by later sectarian writers through producing their own "precious volumes" (Baojuan), a kind of popular scriptures. Based on these teachings, the Luo Sect (Luojiao) came into being in the Ming dy­ nasty. With the print and wide distribution of various Baojuan, and with the emergences of various new sectarian groups by means of schisms and the homogenization of beliefs as a result of mutual influence, a common sectarian milieu came into being in the late Ming dynasty. The sectarian movements became more numerous and widespread in the Qing Dynasty even though the officials adopted stricter policies to persecute those who were involved in sectarian movements.3 Most of these sects worshiped the Eternal Venerable Mother (Wusheng Laomu), produced popular scriptures, emphasized eschatology, personal salva­ tion, and individual involvement, and had a hierarchical structure headed by their respective patriarchs (Zushi). As a modern successor of Chinese sectarian tradition, Yiguan Dao can doctrinally trace its origin to Luo Sect. Organizationally, Yiguan Dao is a branch of the "Prior-to-heaven Dao" (Xiantian Dao) founded in the eighteenth century. Xiantian Dao was suppressed in the early nineteenth century; some core leaders were killed and others were exiled to Gui­ zhou, a province in southwest China. But those exiled sectarians held on to their religious faith and actively recruited followers in the exile area. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Xiantian Dao spread all over the country again. State suppression failed to eradicate Xiantian Dao, but it indeed led to the sect's schisms. In the 1 870s, Xiantian Dao was divided into several independent sections. One branch led by Wang Jueyi later developed into Yiguan Dao.4 In 1877, according to Yiguan Dao's account, "the Venerable Mother reached the spirit writing altar and designated Wang Jueyi as the fifteenth Patriarch." s From then on, Wang Jueyi purported himself to be the fifteenth patriarch of Xiantian Dao and later renamed his sect as "the religion for final salvation" (Mohou Yizhujiao). As an outstanding sectarian theorist, Wang reformed Xiantian Dao's theologies and rituals. Due to his important contribution, Wang is regarded as the real founder of modern Yiguan Dao by the sectarians.6 Under Wang's leadership, the



sect successfully became a countrywide sect in a few years. However, the rapid expansion made the Qing government suspect that the sect in­ tended to rebel. In 1883, the Qing state suppressed Wang's sect and killed many believers, including Wang's elder son. The suppression struck Wang heavily. Wang was forced to live secretly until his death, leaving behind a broken and shattered sect. After Wang died, Liu Qingxu succeeded the leadership and became the sect's sixteenth patriarch. In 1905, by borrowing Confucius's saying that "the Dao that I follow is the one that unifies all" (Wudao Yiyiguanzhi), Liu gave the sect a new name: Yiguan Dao, which literally means "the Dao of Unity." The sect remained a very small scale during the following years, with no more than two hundred followers. The situation changed a little after Lu Zhongyi became the seventeenth patriarch of Yiguan Dao in 1919. Claiming to be the incarnation of the Maitreya Buddha, Lu Zhongyi recruited thousands of believers in Shandong province. When Lu died in 1925, the small local sect split into several sections, one of which was led by Zhang Tianran.7 In 1930, Zhang Tianran formally established himself as the new pa­ triarch of Yiguan Dao, namely, the eighteenth patriarch . As a shrewd religious entrepreneur, Zhang Tianran reformed the sect's organiza­ tional structure, put much emphasis on missionary activities, utilized the technique of spirit writing to train missionaries, and produced sev­ eral spirit writings to popularize the Yiguan Dao doctrines and rituals. These efforts finally paid off. In the following two decades, Yiguan Dao developed into the biggest sect of China in the 1940s, recruiting millions of followers and spreading to 81 percent of the counties in China.8 With the death of Zhang Tianran in 1947, however, a serious schism took place again and the sect broke into two main sections: the Great Mistress Section (Shimu pai) and the Committee of Righteousness (Zhengyi Fud­ aohui), or the Senior Disciple Section (Shixiong pai). The former section acknowledges the leadership of Sun Suzhen, the second wife of Zhang Tianran, while the latter does not acknowledge her leadership and re­ gards Zhang Tianran's first wife and her eldest son as leaders.9 It seems that, in the later development of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan, the Mistress Section has become the orthodox of Yiguan Dao by defeating the Senior Disciple section. When the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1949, the sect suffered a ruthless suppression. Being viewed as the biggest reaction­ ary organization (Fandong Huidaomen), Yiguan Dao became the target of repression: millions of ordinary Yiguan Dao sectarians were forced to dis­ card their faith; those who were reluctant to do so were put into jail; and many Yiguan Dao sectarian leaders were executed. The sect was nearly destroyed. It could not publicly operate in mainland China after 1953.



A small number of Yiguan Dao leaders, including Sun Suzhen, fled to Hong Kong and Taiwan, which were beyond the control of Communist regime. But the sect was soon regarded as "rebellious organization" (pan­ luan zuzhi) and outlawed by the authoritarian Kuomintang state in Taiwan in the early 1950s. In the following three decades, Yiguan Dao had been the main victim of religious persecution in Taiwan. The police frequently raided the sect's congregations and took sectarians into custody. Persecu­ tion, however, did not prevent the sect's development in Taiwan. During the period of suppression, Yiguan Dao successfully developed from a small immigrant sect into one of the most influential religious groups in the island. In 1987, through constant efforts, the sect finally gained legal status in Taiwan. Now Yiguan Dao has at least nineteen divisions, with tens of thousands of Buddha halls (see Appendix 1). In addition, when mainland China adopted a moderate religious policy in 1980s, Yiguan Dao came back to mainland China again although it was still illegal there. Today, as a result of immigration and missionary activity, Yiguan Dao is a worldwide religion that has spread to more than sixty countries.lO In his classic, Folk Buddhist Religion, Overmyer concludes with the fol­ lowing suggestions: Much work needs to be done before our understanding of Chinese folk Buddhist sects is complete. We need intensive studies of particular groups, studies sensitive to every dimension of the phenomenon, rooted in local history. . . . In the meantime we can further explore connections between contemporary groups, such as various Eternal Mother sects on Taiwan, and earlier manifestations of this type . . . . Beyond the sects themselves there is the problem of their relationship to the history of orthodox Buddhism and Taoism. 11

Yiguan Dao furnishes a good case to respond to these suggestions. The sect is something of a laboratory for sociologists to investigate the opera­ tion of religious movements against the background of suppression, the process of conversion to unorthodox and deviant beliefs and practices, and the maintenance of such deviance under the pressure of the wider society. What's more, since Yiguan Dao finally got its legal status in 1987, it is a good case to examine the impact of state regulation upon the evolu­ tion of sects.


Althouth Yiguan Dao is a very important religious group in modern China, it is understudied. One reason is political persecution. Since both the Chi­ nese Communist Party (CCP) and Kuomintang (KMT) regarded Yiguan



Dao as a rebellious group, the sect was not allowed be to objectively stud­ ied by scholars. From their perspective, Yiguan Dao should be criticized or ignored. Indeed, from 1950 to 1980, Yiguan Dao had been totally forgotten by Chinese scholars. Nearly no academic research on Yiguan Dao was published in mainland China and Taiwan in that period. Suppression made Yiguan Dao believers operate secretly and thus they were very sensitive to any investigation. For this reason, researchers could hardly find an access to collect data related to sectarian movements in China. Official documents and the depositions of imprisoned sectar­ ians became the main sources for people to understand the sect. In tradi­ tional China, officials have made use of these materials to produce books. One instance is Huang and his book, Detailed Refutation of Heterodox Teach­ ings (Poxie xiangbian). As a magistrate of Qing Dynasty in Hebei, Yubian Huang had a hobby of collecting precious volumes (Baojuan), a kind of popular sectarian scripture. Based on these scriptures, Huang produced his book in 1 834, refuting the heterodox teachings of these texts from the perspective of the state. A recent book of this category is The Inner Stories of Yiguan Dao (Yiguan Dao Neimu), which is authored by Zhongwei Lu. When Yiguan Dao was outlawed by the Chinese Communist Party, many important leaders were arrested and forced to confess what they had done in detail. As a result, a large number of confessional records were made. As a policeman who studies traditional popular religious groups and then makes some sug­ gestions to some policymakers, Lu Zhongwei has access to these official materials and authors the book. Although his work is of great value to reveal the sect development from the 1930s to the 1940s, it is political in tone and denies the religious validity of sects. In short, the book is full of official prejudices, portraying sectarians as criminal, ignorant, and dangerous. In addition to official documents, fieldwork provides another source of information on Chinese sects. Li Shiyu is a pioneer who builds his research on fieldwork data. In his classic, Secret Religions in Current North China, Li investigates several secret sects, including Yiguan Dao.12 Li Shiyu gave a detailed introduction to the sects' origin, doctrines, rituals, religious books, and missionary activities. In 1983, Song Guangyu pub­ lished An Investigation of the Celestial Way (Tiandao Gouchen).13 Since Song had developed a good relationship with the sectarians, he had access to get a large number of inner stories when the sect was still under suppres­ sion. His book later contributed to the legalization of Yiguan Dao. Unfor­ tunately, Song attaches too much emphasis on the peaceful nature of sect and finally it hampers the academic understanding. The most important scholarship on Yiguan Dao is done by Jordan and Overmyer, who present some of the developments of Yiguan Dao up to



the late 1970s or early 1980s before the sect was legalized.14 However, there are few studies on the sect's development after it was legalized in 1987. As a theory-driven research, this book will not only tell a story of Yiguan Dao but also try to apply and develop sociological theories, espe­ cially the religious economy model.


The sociology of religion has been undergoing "a paradigm shift" since the 1980s, in which the religious economy model has challenged the secularization theory. As a "new paradigm,"lS the religious economy model offers integrated and animated theoretical discussions of religions, ranging from the religiousness of individuals to the dynamics of religious groups, and then to the religious market. At the individual level, the new paradigm hypothesizes that people seek to gain rewards and otherworldly rewards from the deities. Accord­ ing to Stark and his colleagues, the exchange relationship between gods and humankind evolves toward an exclusive one.16 With these ideas, Stark and his colleagues concentrate attention on the exclusive religions. At the group level, the new paradigm expands the sect-to-church theory and explains the long-term evolutions of religious institutions, arguing that religious organizations tend to choose an optimal degree of tension with the surrounding society and thus move along the continuum from rejection to acceptance of the environment. And finally, at the macro level, the new paradigm views religion as an economy with the same phenom­ ena found in other economies: a "market" of consumers, a number of products and services provided by religious "firms," a set of one or more religious firms seeking to attract or maintain adherents, and a certain de­ gree of competition and state regulation.I7 Empirically, the religious economy model is derived from the obser­ vations of America, where exclusive religion is dominant and the state acts as the role of guaranteeing religious freedom and an open market is available. Its applicability to other societies is still under debate. While some scholars suggest that the model should confine its ambition within the American limits,18 others apply the new paradigm to explain religious phenomena in South America,19 Western Europe,2o and Eastern Europe.2l In the past decades, many studies have also extended the new model to analyzing Chinese religions.22 Considering the controversial nature of this topic, it may be helpful for us to clarify some important concepts before we extend the model to Chinese societies.



This study is primarily concerned with "sect, state regulation and reli­ gious market." The use of these concepts has come under considerable criticism. Let's have a look at the applicability of the term "sect" to Chi­ nese religion. As a sociological term, "sect" was first used by Troeltsch to refer to an otherworldly-oriented religious community that is "not a general, all-inclusive institution."23 On the basis of Troeltsch's work, Ben­ ton Johnson defines the sect as "a religious group that rejects the social environment in which it exists."24 Since the term "sect" in Western society contains notions of rejection, protest, and resistance, some students sug­ gest that it may be misleading in the Chinese context. For instance, Ter Haar argues that "the term 'sect' in the corresponding field of Chinese religion is commonly used for any group to which 'heterodox' beliefs are ascribed, with complete disregard for its degree of institutionalization or its religious contents."25 For this reason, they discard the term and use al­ ternative ones such as "religious group," "teachings," or "branch," which they think are more value-free.26 Those who incline toward using the term sect to describe certain Chi­ nese religious groups are also very cautious about the notion of rejection. In order to reform the term to be a universal one, Overmyer purposely ignores some factors of the term sect, such as "exclusiveness and detach­ ment," which he thinks are an echo of Western dualism and thus inappli­ cable to Chinese society. He redefines the term sect to refer to "a founded voluntary association, oriented toward personal salvation, which arises in reaction to a larger, founded religious system, which though it is estab­ lished, was itself voluntary in origin."27 In this study, the term "sect" refers to "religious bodies in relatively higher tension with their surroundings," a definition adopted by Stark and Finke.28 According to them, "tension refers to the degree of distinc­ tiveness, separation, and antagonism between a religious group and the 'outside' world."29 Undoubtedly, those so-called "heterodoxies" in China were in high tension with their surrounding: they were a distinct part in the Chinese religious market; suppression forced them to operate secretly and separated them from the main society; and, in many cases, repression resulted in these religious groups' resistance, a kind of antagonism. Per­ haps some Chinese sectarians subjectively preferred a low tension with the state, but state repression objectively put them in a high tension with the outside society. Considering these facts, it is quite suitable to use the word "sect" to label these Chinese heterodoxies such as Yiguan Dao.3D State regulation is another important term that needs clarification. There are many descriptions of regulation. Finke identifies two kinds of regulation: subsidy and repression.31 Both of them are related to the en-



forcement of a religious monopoly: subsidizing the favored religion and suppressing others, as evidenced by what happened in medieval Europe. But the state may influence a religious market in more ways than just enforcing a monopoly. Lang and Chen suggest that the possible regula­ tory states are a continuum ranging from an absence of any controls over religion to the enforcement of monopoly in which only religious or ideo­ logical agency is allowed to operate.32 In a recent study, Yang distinguishes a broad and a narrow definition of the term. Narrowly speaking, state regulation means restriction, which has been implied by the rational choice theorists of religion. Specifically, Yang identifies four forms of restrictive regulation: an eradication of all re­ ligion (e.g., Albania and China under the radical Communists), religious monopoly (e.g., medieval Europe), religious oligopoly in which several religions are sanctioned whereas others are suppressed, and a free market in which "no religious group is singled out, although minimal adminis­ trative restriction is imposed on all religious groups."33 In this study, I also adopt a narrow definition, using the term "state regulation" to refer to the sanctions or restrictions imposed on specific religious bodies by the state. China had a long history of state regulation of religion. Unlike medi­ eval Europe pursuing monopoly, medieval China regulated religion for political consideration and tried to keep a balanced religious oligopoly. Chinese imperial regimes were careful to ensure that no religious orga­ nization became sufficiently well-organized and powerful to produce political challenges. From the ninth century on, the officials had requested that all priesthood should regularly register in order to receive, upon due examination, their official ordination certificates.34 The policy of licensing priesthood by the state continued and became stricter in the following centuries. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) regulated that each temple should have less than forty clergies; men were not permitted to enter the priesthood until they were forty years of age and women until they were fifty; and the state held the examination for the clergy every three years and only those passing the examination could get the official license. In Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), each ordained priest could train only one neo­ phyte. When a priest died, the ordination certificate was surrendered to the government. Those who surreptitiously received ordination without an official ordination certificate would be punished.35 The Confucian officials not only tried to restrict the size of Buddhism and Daoism but also suppressed sectarian movements that were viewed as "heterodoxies" (Xiejiao). Since most of sects were well-organized, im­ perial officials regarded them as political threats and brutally persecuted them. Confucian officials executed chief sectarian leaders, exiled activists, and punished ordinary believers.36 Because temples could serve as places



for the congregations of sectarian movements, the Ming and Qing states also proscribed the private construction of temples. These policies are in­ herited by the Kuomintang state and the Communist regime later. State regulation has exerted great influence on Chinese religious mar­ ket. Stark and his collaborators assume that there is a "religious market" in which religious suppliers compete with each other to attract religious consumers. Also, it is controversial with regard to , the applicability of the religious market analogy to traditional Chinese society. Tamney and Chiang argue that "the market analogy assumes the existence of distinc­ tive (bounded) religions in the same sOciety,"37 so the analogy is not use­ ful in premodern China where the boundaries of religions were blurred. Indeed, the syncretic tendency made religions in traditional China not so distinctive and exclusive as those in Western societies. But there were independent religious suppliers that competed for the allegiance of re­ ligious consumers. For this reason, I hold that there existed a religious market in imperial China. Since the term "religious market" is vital to this study, I'd like to use a few paragraphs to discuss it in detail. As for the religious suppliers of traditional China, Erik Zurcher sug­ gests a metaphor that pictures Chinese three religions (Sanjiao )-namely, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism-as three pyramid-shaped peaks sharing a common mountain base: popular religion.38 Due to state regula­ tion, both Buddhism and Daoism never developed elaborate bureaucratic structures comparable to those of the medieval Catholic Church. In prac­ tice, they exerted the influences on their adherents through the extensive pilgrimage networks. Most Chinese gods, either Buddhist or Daoist, expanded their influ­ ences by means of "efficacy division" (Fenling) or "incense division" (Fenxiang). Both concepts refer to "the practice by which new temples are chartered by the division of incense representing a god's efficacy from a source temple."39 These branch temples could themselves spawn newer temples as well. This institutional division was the main way in which Buddhist or Daoist gods spread their influences. The branch temples nor­ mally continued to retain a relationship with the source temple. Competi­ tion existed in these branch temples and "status within the system is won by competitive gift-giving" and donations which " are carefully recorded and carved on steles lining the walls of the founding temples."40 In order to increase the efficaciousness of gods, the branch temples made a yearly pilgrimage to the mother temple, usually at the "birth­ day" of the god they worshiped. Thus, extensive pilgrimage networks, which operated with flexible and nonhierarchical principles, existed in traditional China: the source temple occupied the precedent status of the incense-division network, and various branch temples shared the effica­ ciousness of the gods and made pilgrimages to the founding temple.



In the past two thousand years, both Buddhism and Daoism developed their own complex pilgrimage networks surrounding the various pil­ grimage centers. "Four famous Buddhist mountains" (sida fojiao mingshan) are the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centers, each of which is as­ sociated with a particular bodhisattva (or pusa in Chinese)Y Equally im­ portant to four famous Buddhist mountains are the "five famous Daoist mountains" (wuyue). In addition to these five famous mountains, Daoism also has ten "Fascinating Places" (Dong tian) and seventy-two "Happy Lands" (Fudi).42 Daoism also adopts some gods who emerged as popular religious deities and accordingly the original place of the god tends to become a new center for pilgrimages. For example, Meizhou, where the belief of Mazu originated, is the most important pilgrimage center for the devotees of Mazu. These pilgrimage centers competed with each other to attract believers. Most of, if not all, important pilgrimage centers in China were located in peripheries and far from economic central regions.43 Participants of pil­ grimages were either organized by local territorial-cult temples or moti­ vated by the promise to thank a deity for help rendered. To make pilgrim­ ages, the devotees must pass through many areas and visit many temples, including those located at important sacred sites and those along the major pilgrimage routes as well. Since these temples " derived significant portions of their income from providing food and lodging for pilgrims,"44 these temples tried their best to absorb pilgrims. They manufactured a large number of itineraries or guidebooks to introduce pilgrimage desti­ nations, the routes, lodgings, local customs, and so on.4S Besides Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and popular religion, China also has a long sectarian tradition. Chinese sects constituted a distinct part of Chinese religious market. While Chinese popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism lacked strong organizations and depended on the loose incense-division networks, Chinese sects were equipped with strong and highly bureaucratic organizations. While pilgrimages were the main form of popular religious practice, congregation was adopted and highlighted by the sectarians. While other religious traditions did not stress mem­ bership or were inactive in recruiting members, partly due to the state regulation, Chinese sects paid more attention to missionary work and membership. All of the above shows that Chinese sects were quite differ­ ent from other religious traditions. Keep in mind that Chinese sects were not an isolated tradition. By fusing popular religion and the three religions, Chinese sects offered a highly syncretic belief system that bridged popular religion and the three religions, namely, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. On one hand, most of Chinese sectarian leaders and adherents were from popular reli­ gion and thus sects kept many elements of popular religion, such as the



polytheism, ancestor worship, and syncretism. On the other hand, Chi­ nese sects were influenced by three conventional faiths, usually basing their salvation theory on the basis of Buddhism, drawing their magical rituals from Daoism, and borrowing their ethical systems from Confu­ cianism. To summarize, there was a religious market in traditional China, where various temples and religious groups competed with each other. The im­ perial regimes tried to regulate the religious market by means of banning sects and restricting the size of legal Buddhism and Daoism.


This study is based primarily on the analysis of field data I collected dur­ ing a three-month period of field research in Taiwan between September and December 2002. Before going to the field, I had collected a large number of materials on Yiguan Dao available on the Internet, including spirit writings produced by the sect, the information of Yiguan Dao activi­ ties, and online discussions of the sectarians. From these materials, I not only got a primary image of the sect but also outlined the items I should observe in future fieldwork. With the help of the World I-Kuan-Tao Headquarters, I finally ar­ ranged an academic trip in Taiwan. In the early September 2002, I went to Taiwan and lived in academia Sinica, where I spent the first week in visiting and interviewing a couple of senior scholars who once studied Yiguan Dao, such as Song Guanyu and Qu Haiyuan. One day, I received a message from the Headquarters that Mr. Bawa Jain was visiting Yiguan Dao and it was a good opportunity for me to know some main lead­ ers of Yiguan Dao divisions. From Yiguan Dao, I learned that Bawa Jain was a big figure who once worked with the office of the United Na­ tions Secretary-General to organize the Millennium World Peace Sum­ mit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. When the summit opened at the United Nations in August 2000, Mr. Bawa Jain served as its secretary­ general. The sect attached much importance to his visit and arranged a spe­ cial trip for him. Fortunately, I was invited to be a member of the group. This trip was to prove the best opportunity for me to access chief lead­ ers of Yiguan Dao divisions. As we will see later, Yiguan Dao is actually a collection of dozens of independent divisions. They rarely interact with each other. Since Mr. Bawa Jain was an important guest invited by the World I-Kuan-Tao Headquarters, many Yiguan Dao senior leaders hosted him. As a member of the visiting group, I took the opportunity to intro­ duce myself to them, telling them that I wanted to do research on Yiguan Dao. Since many senior leaders, such as Zhang Peicheng and Chen



Hongzhen, are from mainland China, and since I am a PhD student from the Chinese mainland, they showed much interest in me, promising to assist my research immediately. In addition, they arranged special persons to contact with me. It was beyond my expectations. With the assistance of Yiguan Dao, I interviewed forty-two believers. Most of these interviewees were randomly selected. But I also purposely interviewed two female celibates and two divisions' chief leaders. In de­ tail, I interviewed thirty-one sectarians who converted to the sect before 1987 when it was still illegal and eleven young sectarians who inherited their religious identity from their parents. Among these interviewees, twenty persons are male and twenty-two are female. Thus, the interviews are helpful for me to compare both the older generation and the younger generation, and the male and the female. These interviews were usually conducted in a quiet room, recorded by the electronic recording pen, and then input into my personal computer. Most interviews lasted between one and three hours. I also met the believers in vegetarian restaurants, having an informal chat with them. When staying in Taiwan, I was also engaged in "participant observa­ tion." From September 21-27, 2002, I had lived in Shenwei Tian taishan, a huge Yiguan Dao temple, which was still under construction at the time. There, I worked as a volunteer and lived together with the sectar­ ians, participating in and observing the sectarians' activities. During the daytime, I worked with other volunteers and had chats with the poten­ tial interviewees. At night, I attended the Yiguan Dao congregation and interviewed the sectarians after that. In the following two months, I also attended some seminars and research courses, which were respectively designed for children, young college students, and veteran Yiguan Dao sectarians. I also attended some important congregations conducted by different divisions of Yiguan Dao, such as the Fayi Chongde's "progressing assembly" (Can-en Jingjin Dahui), which was held in September 28, 2002. During participant observation, I also did informal interviews through ca­ sual conversation. Participation not only enabled me to gain some kinds of empathic understanding of the sectarians' ideas and practices, but also offered me opportunities to ask some awkward or naive questions that I was reluctant to voice on other occasions. During the fieldwork, I visited a couple of important Yiguan Dao pub­ lic Buddha halls (temples) from the north to the south, as indicated in Table 1 . 1 . One main task of my research trip in Taiwan was to collect the materials produced by Yiguan Dao. Four kinds of written materials were gathered. The first is important Yiguan Dao books or scriptures, such as An Exploration of Three in One (Sanyi tanyuan) by Wang Jueyi and Answers to Doubts and Questions Concerning Yi-guan Dao (Yiguan Dao Yiwen Jieda) by Zhang Tianran. The second is spirit writings that were manufactured by

14 Table 1.1 :

Introduction Temples Visited During Fieldwork

Tem p l e name

Locati o n

D i v i s ion

Zhongs h u Daoyuan

Taoyu a n Cou nty

J i c h u Zhongs h u Fayi Chongde

Guangh u i Foyuan

N a ntou Cou nty

Chongde Wenji ao guan

Ta i pei Cou nty

Fayi Chongde

C h u nya n g Daoyuan

Gaoxiong Cou nty

X i ngyi N a n x i n g

Y i h e Shengta ng

Ta i na n Cou nty

X i ngyi Y i h e

Ti a n h ua n g Gong

Ta izhong Cou nty

Baoguang Jia nde

Ti a nta i Shenggong

Gaoxiong C ity

Baogu ang J i a nde

Shengwei Ti a nta i s h a n

Gaoxi o n g Cou nty

Baoguang J i a nde

the sect in the past few decades in Taiwan. The third is popular books and pamphlets recognized by the sectarians, such as books written by Guo Mingyi, an important Yiguan Dao theorist. Finally, I collected periodical magazines issued by Yiguan Dao divisions that documented the sect's activities and important news. I also collected tapes that record Yiguan Dao lectures. All of these materials helped me to understand the sect's beliefs and practices. When I did fieldwork in Taiwan, I also wrote diaries to document fac­ tual information and my personal reactions and comments to what was happening. There is no doubt that the diary was useful for recording fac­ tual data. But its advantages are more than that. The process of writing diaries was also a process of understanding what was happening from a reflective perspective. The diary served to record what I had taken to be strange or exotic at the start of the study, and it also documented the pro­ cess of clarifying these puzzles. The diary also drove me to reflect on what should be probed in the next step and which issues 1- should pay more attention to in future studies. In a sense, the diary guided my research. Yiguan Dao includes dozens of divisions (see Appendix 1 ). I would have liked to get a better or more detailed understanding of all Yiguan Dao divisions; however, my access to data or to those kinds of people was limited, mainly confined to the Baoguang Jiande division, the Jichu Zhongshu branch, the Fayi Chongde division, the Fayi Lingyin division, the Xingyi Nanxing division, and the Huiguang division. Because the time was limited, I cannot provide an entire investigation of all Yiguan Dao divisions. The situation becomes more complex due to the fact that some Yiguan Dao divisions do not have a membership in the World I-Kuan-Tao Headquarters and some self-defined Yiguan Dao branches are regarded as heterodoxies by the Yiguan Dao Headquarters. I had no access to these divisions, so I do not claim that I have offered a complete analysis of Yiguan Dao. Actually, this will have to wait for some future researches.




This book consists of six substantive chapters, an introduction part and a conclusion part. The substantive chapters are organized into three parts. Part I (chapters 1 and 2) presents the historical and environmental back­ ground of the rise of Yiguan Dao in Chinese societies; part II (chapters 3 and 4) explores the individualistic-level issues such as religious commit­ ment and religious experiences from the supply-side perspective; and, at the group level, part III (chapters 5 and 6) attends to the ongoing organi­ zational and doctrinal transformations in Yiguan Dao. The first chapter delineates a historical picture of the movement in mainland China, focusing on the factors accounting for the rapid growth of Yiguan Dao in the 1930s and 1940s, and its fate after the Chinese Com­ munist Party came into power. Chapter 2 reveals the operation of Yiguan Dao under suppression in Taiwan before 1987. The sect adopted doctrinal and institutional innova­ tions to deal with persecution. These innovations were not only helpful in keeping up the followers' morale and avoid detection, but also in sus­ taining the sectarian networks that facilitated the massive recruitment. In addition, suppression is useful for reducing the risk of religious goods and to mitigate free-riding as well. These unanticipated consequences of religious suppression ironically contributed to the growth of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan. Chapter 3 examines the mechanisms employed by the sect to recruit neophytes and increase their commitment. Yiguan Dao generates the sectarians' commitment through conducting intensive research courses and dharma assemblies. Associated with these activities, the sect employs the mechanism of vows to influence the sectarians' ideas and behaviors. Guided by the vows they made, new recruits could choose to become core members step-by-step. The analysis shows that the progressive strictness practiced by Yiguan Dao is helpful in gaining commitment in a polythe­ istic surrounding. Chapter 4 offers a supply-side explanation of the fluctuation of reli­ gious experiences. Before the 1980s, Yiguan Dao encouraged spirit posses­ sion and officially prohibited meditation. Now the situation is reversed: spirit possession is largely forbidden, and meditation has become popular in the sect. The ethnographic data tell us that competition drives religious suppliers to provide "religious experiences" which maximize their appeal to members and potential adherents. At the same time, suppliers try to control these experiences so that they can only be properly pursued with­ out threatening the group's leadership and structure. The analysis of the sect's evolving positions on spirit writing and meditation provides a very good illustration of those processes.



Chapter 5 documents how the sect reorganizes itself in a changing society. When the sect was suppressed, it developed an organizational structure helpful in sustaining its vitality. But such a structure became a roadblock to the implementation of religious innovations in a deregulated religious market. In the past two decades, some divisions of Yiguan Dao began to restructure themselves to compete with other religions, cen­ tralizing the administration and strengthening horizontal coordination. With the establishment of a sustainable structure, Yiguan Dao is trying to increase organizational openness, religiously socialize their children, formalize the leadership succession, and professionalize the clergy. Chapter 6 focuses on the ongoing reinterpretation of doctrines trig­ gered by internal or external pressure. To avoid schisms, the sect adopted a new interpretation of the patriarch's Mandate of Heaven (Tianming). To attract and sustain young educated believers, Yiguan Dao gave up some out-of-date doctrines. Also, in order to establish a positive image, the sect discarded some controversial theories. Finally, the sect tried to become more syncretic through absorbing Christian doctrines. The conclusion summarizes the findings of this manuscript. It analyzes competition within the Yiguan Dao divisions and that between Yiguan Dao and its rivals. It also probes the impact of state regulation on the evolution of Yiguan Dao. As a theory-driven study, this book not only provides a detailed and complete picture of Yiguan Dao over the past twenty years, but also tries to develop the religious economy model by extending it to Chinese societies.


1. When Yiguan Dao was suppressed in Taiwan before the 1980s, this religion called itself alternatively the "Way of Unity" ( Yiguan Dao) or the "Way of Heaven" ( Tian Dao). In doing so, the sectarians tried to protect themselves. Today, both terms are used by the sect. Since both the scholarly literatures and official docu­ ments tend to use the term Yiguan Dao, I follow them in using the name Yiguan Dao. 2. Daniel L. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist religion: Dissenting sects in late traditional China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), 73-108. Also see Susan Naquin, "The Transmission of White Lotus Sectarianism in Late Imperial China," in Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, edited by Davis G. Johnson, Andrew J. Nathan, and Evelyn S. Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 255-91 . For an extensive study on this religion, please refer to B. J. Ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992). 3. Hubert Michael Seiwert, Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2003), 445.



4. Xisha Ma and Bingfang Han, Minjian Zongjiao Shi [A History of Chinese Sects] (Shanghai: Shanghai People Press, 1992). 5. Wanchuan Lin, Xiantiandao Yanjiu [A Study of Prior-to-heaven Dao] (Tainan: Tianju Shuju, 1986), 188. 6. Yunyin Zhong, Wang Jueyi Shengping jiqi "lishu hejie" litian zhi yanjiu [A Biog­ raphy of Wang Jueyi], Master's Degree Thesis (Taipei: Zhengzhi University, 1995). 7. Mr. Zhang's secular name is Zhang Guangbi. Since he gave himself a reli­ gious name "Tianranzi," he was later mentioned as Zhang Tianran by his follow­ ers. So in this study, I follow the sectarians' tradition and use the name "Zhang Tianran." 8. Zhong Fu, Yiguan Dao Fazhan Shi [A History of Yiguan Dao's Development] (Taipei: Zhengyi shanshu chubanshe, 1999), preface. 9. Zhongwei Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu [The Inner Story of Yiguan Dao] (Nanjing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1998). 10. Guangyu Song, Tiandao Chuandeng: Yiguan Dao yu Xiandai Shehui [The de­ velopment of the Celestial Way: Yiguan Dao and modern society] (Taipei: Chengtong Chubanshe, 1996). 11. Daniel L. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1976), 203. 12. Shiyu Li, Xianzai Huabei Mimi Zongjiao [Secret Religions in Current North China] (Taipei: Guting shuju, 1975). 13. Guangyu Song, Tiandao Goucheng [An Investigation of the Celestial Way] (Tai­ pei: Yuanyou Chubanshe, 1983). 14. David K. Jordan, and Daniel L. Overmyer. The Flying Phoenix: Aspects ofChi­ nese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986). 15. Steven Warner, "Work in Progress toward a New Paradigm for the Socio­ logical Study of Religion in the United States," American Journal of Sociology 98, no. 5 (March 1993): 1044. 16. See Rodney Stark and Williams Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1987). When we use Chinese religions to test these arguments, we can find that the exchange relationship between humans and divinities can be per­ fectly verified by China's religions. Most of Chinese religious practices can be viewed in terms of various forms of exchange between people and three categories of spirits: gods, ghosts, and ancestors. The tendency of monotheism, however, does not occur in Chinese religions. Nonexclusive religions dominated China's religious popula­ tion, though China has one of the oldest and most complex cultures in the world. The reasons beneath this phenomenon should be probed by future research. 17. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press 2000), 193-217. 18. See Warner, "Work in Progress." See also Stephen Sharot, "Beyond Chris­ tianity: A Critique of Rational Choice Theory of Religion from a Weberian and Comparative Religions Perspective," Sociology of Religion 63 (2003): 427-54. 19. Anthony J. Gill, Rendering unto Caesar: The Roman Catholic Church and the State in Latin America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 20. Laurence R. Iannaccone, "The consequences of religious market regula­ tion: Adam Smith and the economics of religion," Rationality and Society 3 (1991): 156-77.



21. See Paul Froese and Steven Pfaff, "Replete and Desolate Market: Poland, East Germany, and the New Religious Paradigm," Social Forces 80, no. 2 (December 2001): 481-507; Paul Froese, "Forced Secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an Athe­ istic Monopoly Failed," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43 (2004): 35-50; and Paul Froses, "After Atheism: An Analysis of Religious Monopolies in the Post­ Communist world," Sociology of Religion 65 (2004): 57-75. See also Rodney Stark and Laurence R. Iannaccone, "A Supply-side Reinterpretation of the "Secularization of Europe." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 230-52. 22. Lang and Ragvald explore the great success of the god Wong Tai Sin in Hong Kong from the perspective of the religious economy model; see Graeme Lang and Lars Ragvald, The rise of a refugee god: Hong Kong's Wong Tai Sin (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993). In their recent research, Graeme Lang and his coauthors develop the religious economy model by examining the rebuilding movement of Wong Tai Sin temples in mainland China beginning at the 1980s; see Graeme Lang, Selina Ching Chan, and Lars Ragvald, "Temples and the Religious Economy," in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, edited by Fenggang Yang and Joseph Tamney, 149-80 (Leiden, Netherlands / Boston, Mass. : Brill Aca­ demic Publishers, 2005). Seiwert employs the religious economy model to explain the sectarian movements in imperial China (Seiwert, Popular Religious Movements). In 2006, an international conference focusing on the religious economy model and Chinese religions was held in Beijing. It shows that the model become more at­ tractive to Chinese scholars. 23. Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1931), 325. 24. Benton Johnson, "On Church and Sect," American Sociological Review 28 (1963): 544. 25. Ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings, 12. 26. Kenneth Dean, Lord of the Three in One: The Spread of a Cult in Southeast China (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 11-12. 27. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion, 62. 28. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press 2000), 144. 29. Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith, 143. 30. For research on Chinese heterodoxies, please refer to Kwang-Ching Liu and Richard Hon-Chun Shek, eds., Heterodoxy in Late Imperial China (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2004). 3 1 . Roger Finke, "The Consequence of Religious Competition," in Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment, ed. Lawrence A. Young (New York: Routledge, 1997), 47. 32. Graeme Lang, Selina Ching Chan, and Lars Ragvald, The Return of the Refu­ gee God: Wong Tai Sin in China (Hong Kong: Man's Book Company Ltd, 2002). 33. Fenggang Yang, "Religions in Communist China: The Open, Black, and Gray Markets." The Sociological Quarterly 47, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 93-122. 34. Zheng Lu, "Tangdai Fojiao" [Buddhism in Tang Dynasty], in Chinese Bud­ dhism [Zhongguo Fojiao] (Beijing: Zhishi Chubanshe, 1980), 62-73. 35. C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), 1 89.



36. See, J. J. M. de Groot, Sectarianism and religious persecution in China (Amster­ dam: Johannes Muller, 1903). See also Graeme Lang, "Religions and Regimes in China," in Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology, ed. Mede­ leine Cousineau (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998), 153-61. 37. Joseph Tamney and Linda Hsueh-Ling Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002), 157. 38. Erik Zurcher, "Buddhist Influence on Early Taoism: A Survey of Scriptural Evidence," T'oung Pao 66, no. 1 (Spring 1980): 84-147. 39. Steven P. Sangren, Chinese Sociologics: An Anthropological Account of the Role of Alienation in Social Reproduction (London, N.J. : Athlone, 2000), 99. 40. Dean, Lord of the Three in One, 54. 41. Putuo Shan, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, is related with Guanyin Pusa (Avalokitesvara), who represents mercy; Wutai Shan, in the northern of Shanxi, is associated with Wenshu Pusa (Manjusri) representing wisdom; E-mei Shan, located in the western province of Sichuan, is associated with Puxian Pusa (Samantab­ hadra), who represents happiness; and Jiuhua Shan, in the central province of Anhui, is associated with Dizhang Pusa (Ksitigarbha), who represents filial piety. 42. Among these Daoist sacred places, which are believed to be dwelled in by Daoist gods, the following are most famous: Wudang Shan in Hubei, Longhu Shan in Jiangxi, Qiyun Shan in Anhui, and Qingcheng Shan in Sichuan. 43. C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society, 87. 44. Steven Sangren, Histo ry and Magical Power in a Chinese Community (Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University, 1987), 122. 45. Timothy Brook, Geographical Sources of Ming-Qing History (Ann Arbor: Uni­ versity of Michigan Press, 1988).

Chap ter 1

Yiguan D ao in Mainland China : 1 930-1 953 The Dao I follow is the one that unifies all. Confucius

The rise of Yiguan Dao in the 1930s is one of the greatest sectarian suc­ cess stories in China's history. When the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911, sectarian movements thrived in China. Thousands of religious groups emerged and actively spread their teachings. Yiguan Dao, led by Zhang Tianran, was one of them. When Mr. Zhang established himself as the eighteenth partriarch of Yiguan Dao and missionized it in 1930, the sect was a small local religious group in the rural Shandong province with thousands of believers. Under Zhang Tianran's leadership, Yiguan Dao developed into the biggest sect in China in the 1940s, with millions of followers.1 The rapid growth of Yiguan Dao in mainland China permits sociologists to probe a movement from obscurity to success. Why did Yiguan Dao finally win the competition? In the following pages, we will use sociological insights to understand the astonishing expansion of Yiguan Dao within a generation. Let's begin with a model of success for religious movements.


Stark presents a theoretical model examining the success of religious movements, according to which a religious movement is likely to succeed if it fulfills the following eight criteria: retaining cultural continuity with the conventional faiths of the society in which it appears or originates; 21


Chapter 1

maintaining a medium level of tension with its surrounding environment; achieving effective mobilization with strong governance and a high level of individual commitment; attracting and maintaining a normal age and sex structure; occurring within a favorable ecology which exists as a rela­ tively unregulated religious economy and weakened conventional faiths; maintaining dense internal network relations without becoming isolated; resisting secularization; and, finally, socializing the young to limit defec­ tion.2 Yiguan Dao fulfilled all of these criteria, except for resisting secular­ ization and socializing the young.


In order to have the greatest market appeal, successful new religious movements usually maintain continuity with their surrounding religious culture because the continuity is helpful to keep converts' religious capi­ tal.3 For instance, Christian missionaries do not ask Jews to discard their religious heritage and adopt a new one. Rather, they ask Jews to add a New Testament. Similarly, Yiguan Dao does not ask followers to discard their former faith. On the contrary, the sect provides the followers ways to participate in big three religions in China: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. While syncretism and sectarianism are not compatible with each other in Christian societies, they are commonly united in China.4 Chinese sec­ tarians always tried to create a new religious system out of materials from separate religious traditions. Yiguan Dao is not exceptional. "Incorporat­ ing three religions in one system" (Sanjiaa Heyi) is one of core teachings of Yiguan Dao. In practice, Yiguan Dao grafts Confucian rituals and ethics, Daoist cultivation ways, and Buddhist commandments. Yiguan Dao's rituals inherit the basic elements of ancestor worship practiced by Confucianism: kowtowing and burning incenses. Since Confucianism attaches much importance to family, Yiguan Dao does not remove converts from the normal secular world. The sect encourages its followers to do missionary work as much as possible, but it never requires its followers to discard their ordinary social and economic lives. As a matter of fact, the missionaries of Yiguan Dao make a living through their secular businesses. This is called "the simultaneous cultivation of the sacred and the secular" (Shengfan Jianxiu) by the sect. The slogan indicates that Yiguan Dao sectarians attach much importance to the value of this world, as Confucianism emphasizes. Since Daoism was believed to be expert at cultivating inner alchemy through meditation, Yiguan Dao "adopts Daoist cultivation ways" ( Yang Oaajiaa zhi Gangfu). Influenced by Buddhism, the sectarians also follow

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


Buddhist commandments to avoid killing, stealing, improper sexual behaviors, eating meats, and telling lies. In this way, Yiguan Dao suppos­ edly possessed all the advantages of three religions. Furthermore, the sect regards itself as the sole group dominating salvation and thus superior to any religion. From the sect's perspective, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism were originally born from Dao. Unfortunately, they lost their nature and it is the time to unite three religions into Yiguan Dao, which dominates the salvation from the Eternal Venerable Mother. As we will see soon, the mother per se is also a product of syncreticism. The main deity of Yiguan Dao is the Eternal Venerable Mother (Wush­ eng Laomu). Although the deity is called "Mother," it does not have a concrete image or gender. Yiguan Dao represents the god with the symbol $ ,5 or fire. The sect writes: Because the Dao is the ultimate force or principle rather than a father-figure supreme being, Yiguan Dao represents it with fire instead of some human visage. No human likeness or material symbol can capture the essence of the Tao. Fire, the ethereal manifestation of energy, is a far better symbol than anything human beings can craft.6

For this reason, the Mother Light (mu deng)-the flame representing the Mother-is the central focus of Yiguan Dao shrine. As the personified deity of the primordial force of the cosmos, the Eternal Venerable Mother was given its prototype by Five Books in Six Volumes, the precious volumes written by Luo Qing. Luo used the Daoist term "the Great Void" (Wu ji) to refer to the origin of the cosmos, arguing that Wu ji gives birth to heaven and earth and supports all beings. Later, Luo created a new personified deity-"the Holy Patriarch of the Great Void" (wuji shengzu)-who supposedly dominates the world. At the same time, Luo repeatedly emphasizes that the deity is without a gender? So, we can refer to the deity as "the Mother of the Great Void" (Wuji Mu), a name currently used by Yiguan Dao. In the sixteenth century, the term "Eternal Venerable Mother" (Wusheng Laomu) began to take the place of the "Holy Patriarch." A set of mythol­ ogy centering on the Mother worship gradually came into being through integrating the Maitreya belief, which had been widespread since Yuan Dynasty (1264-1368). The Maitreya belief claimed that the world would come to the end soon and Maitreya would incarnate himself in this world to save humankind. In the late sixteenth century, this theme became a part of Eternal Venerable Mother belief, according to which the Mother was the creator and savior of the world and the Maitreya was one of three Buddhas sent by the Mother to save people. Since the Eternal Ven­ erable Mother is associated with universal salvation, Yu holds that the Mother theology absorbed and strengthened the image of Avalokitesvara


Chapter 1

Bodhisattva (Guanyin pusa), the goddess who is believed to offer "univer­ sal salvation."8 More contents were added into the story of Venerable Mother creating the cosmos in the seventeenth century. In a popular sectarian scripture ti­ tled "Dragon Flower Precious Scripture" (Longhua Baojuan), we are told: The Eternal Venerable Mother gave birth to Yin and Yang, and to two chil­ dren, male and female. She named the male child Fuxi and the girl Niiwa . . . . They were the original ancestors of man . . . . They married . . . . After the end of primeval chaos, they gave birth to 9.6 billion of sons and daughters from the imperial womb (Huang Tai), and also numberless auspicious stars . . . . The Eternal Mother sent her children to the Eastern Land (Dong Tu) to live in the world. Here their heads were surrounded with light, on their bodies they wore clothes of five colors, and with their feet they rode on two magic wheels . . . . But after they reached the Eastern Land they all became lost in the red dust world . . . and the Mother sent a letter summoning them to meet together again in the Dragon-flower assembly.9

Niiwa and Fuxi are primogenitors of the human being in Chinese or­ thodox mythology. Manifestly, the sectarians integrated this myth into the Mother belief by regarding Niiwa and Fuxi as the Venerable Mother's son and daughter. The belief of Eternal Venerable Mother also draws some elements from the cult of Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu), which has a long his­ tory in China. According to Cahill, "the earliest mention of the Queen Mother of the West occurs in oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dy­ nasty (traditional dates 1 766-1122 B.C.)." l0 By the fifth or sixth century C.E., the Queen Mother reached her mature form as a divine matriarch and teacher, the most honored goddess of Daoism. In the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the Queen Mother of the West was described as the greatest Daoist goddess and the wife of Jade Emperor in Chinese oral literatures. With the rise of Eternal Venerable Mother belief, however, the Venerable Mother took the place of Queen Mother as the greatest goddess. Today, when studying phoenix halls in contemporary Taiwan, Clart observes that "the Jade Thearch plays a role similar to the earthly emperor of traditional China, while the venerable Mother may be compared to the Empress Dowager."11 Obviously, the adherents of phoenix halls confuse the images of Queen Mother and Venerable Mother. In other words, the Venerable Mother absorbed the image of Queen Mother. Here is a brief overview of the Eternal Venerable Mother belief. Emerg­ ing in the late fifteenth century as a mystical symbol, the term Wusheng Fumu (Eternal Parent) gradually developed into Wusheng Laomu (Eter­ nal Venerable Mother); a set of mythology was gradually established surrounding the Eternal Venerable Mother; and the Mother eventually

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


became a personified deity, replaced the role of Limitless Sacred Patri­ arch, and acted as the chief deity of all the gods and Buddhas as well as the cosmic parent of humankind. Though the Eternal Venerable Mother is omnipotent, Chinese sectarians described her as a merciful deity and an amiable mother being worried about her sons and daughters who lose their true nature and who tries all means to bring them back to the heaven. In the later development, the Venerable Mother gradually had the qualities of the following female deities simultaneously: the Queen Mother (the greatest Daoist goddess), Niiwa (Chinese fertility deity who created the mankind), and Guanyin (the goddess offering universal sal­ vation). Since the Venerable Mother absorbs the images of earlier god­ desses, and has both concrete images and an abstract expression, she is attractive to peasants and literates. As a synthesis, the Venerable Mother had gained a mass popularity since the seventeenth century, especially among sectarians. We can see the syncretic tendency of Yiguan Dao from its lineage, too. According to the sect's lineage, there were supposedly eighteen Eastern Patriarchs, which range from Pangu, Fuxi, Shennong, and Huangdi to Laozi, Confucius, and Mencius. Then the Dao shifted to India where twenty-eight Western Patriarchs (Xifang ershiba zu) inherited the Celestial Mandate. These Indian Patriarchs are recognized by Chan Buddhism, beginning with Mahakasyapa and ending with Bodhidharma. The Dao shifted to China again when Bodhidharma came to China, according to the sect. After Bodhidharma went to China, there were eighteen sub­ sequent Eastern Patriarchs (Dongtu shiba ZU).12 The first six patriarchs were identical with Chan Buddhist patriarchs, from Bodhidharma to Hui Neng. After Hui Neng, the sectarians held that the Mandate of Heaven was secretly transmitted among non-monastic believers (Anchuan Huo­ zhai). In this lineage, Yiguan Dao "portrays itself as the chief hope for the restoration of Chinese culture itself." 13 By bringing the main figures of three religions in China (e.g., Laozi, Confucius, and Bodhidharma) into the sect's lineage, Yiguan Dao tried to incorporate orthodox Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism into a single belief system. The pantheon of Yiguan Dao is syncretic in nature, too. In a typical Yiguan Dao shrine, there are several figurines arrayed in front of the Mother Light. The Maitreya Buddha is always in the center position. He may be accompanied by Jigong, Guanyin, and Guangong. In addition to these main deities, Yiguan Dao worships various deities such as Laozi, Confucius, Sakyamuni, Jesus, Mahomet, and the stove god. In fact, all gods available in Chinese popular religion hold positions in the pantheon of Yiguan Dao, and the sectarians call them "all celestial deities and saints" (Zhutian Shensheng).14 Apparently, the Yiguan Dao pantheon is a supermarket of deities.



The successful religious movements must maintain significant differences from the conventional faith and considerable tension with the environ­ ment. In this section, we will see that although Yiguan Dao is syncretic in nature, it is a distinct religion with a theological system peculiar to itself. Especially, the sect held that the apocalypse was coming and only those who joined the sect would escape the disaster. These teachings were at­ tractive for the suffering Chinese people in the turmoil of the 1930s. At the same time, the apocalyptic teachings put Yiguan Dao in tension with the surrounding society. Some Buddhists published pamphlets to criticize Yiguan Dao, claiming that the lineage of Yiguan Dao was totally wrong and the sect's theories were ridiculous. I S The predictions of the coming destruction, from the perspective of secular regimes, were rumors that could result in mass panic. Partly for this reason, Yiguan Dao was banned by the Kuomintang government in 1946. When Chinese Communist Party seized power in 1949, the Communist regime also suppressed Yiguan Dao for the reason that the sect supposedly spread rumors.16 The Yiguan Dao apocalyptic theory provoked the regimes to anger. What are the contents of it? Let us have a look at it. According to Yiguan Dao, the Venerable Mother altogether created 9.6 billion primordial chil­ dren ( Yuanzi) who were later sent down to earth. Being tempted by the world's material splendor, however, these original spirits gradually lost their primary spirituality and purity. Grieving over the loss of her chil­ dren, the Mother sent down three Buddhas to save these lost children. Accordingly, the human history is divided into three stages: the Green Sun period (Qingyang qi), the Red Sun period (Hongyang qi), and the White Sun period (Baiyang qi). Randeng Buddha presided over the salva­ tion business of the Green Sun period, then Sakyamuni Buddha in the Red Sun period, and in total four hundred million primordial spirits had been saved. The remaining 9.2 billion primordial spirits would be saved by the Maitreya Buddha, the messiah of the White Sun Period, which began in 1912, corresponding with the founding of the Republic of China. Since those primordial spirits have lost their true nature for a long time, "human being's ruthlessness and craftiness have achieved the extreme point and also have brought upon themselves an unprecedented disaster. This is what is meant by 'the last disaster at the end of the third period' (Sanqi mojie)."17 Catastrophes will be associated with the final salvation. The sect states: The end of the White Sun stage marks the beginning of the earth's doomsday. There shall be widespread disasters, darkness shall prevail and the whole world would be in chaos. Hell's gate shall be open and all devils shall come

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953


out to take revenge on those who are indebted to them. Only those who are good and have cultivated Dao earnestly would be spared. Maitreya Buddha would come down and lead those spiritually good beings up to Heaven to enjoy eternity bliss there.I8

These descriptions reveal the intensely eschatological orientation of Yiguan Dao. Frequently, they are utilized to support the urgent task of entering and cultivating the Dao, as the passage continues: Our merciful Mother has specially given the order for Dao to be spread to all people so that everybody shall have the opportunity to repent and purify themselves during this White Sun stage. Those who practiced Dao will lead a quiescent and everlasting life. Those who have devoted in their efforts to Dao will be paid for their merits, regardless of their society status; or of gods, hu­ mans, animals or ghosts. It is a golden opportunity for people to be saved.I9

Yiguan Dao conceives of the cosmos as tripartite, consisting of the Heavenly World (Litian), the Spiritual World (Qitian), and the Material World (Xiangtian).20 Litian (the Heavenly World) is the paradise of the Eternal Venerable Mother; living in Litian means that one breaks out of samsara and gains salvation. Apparently, Yiguan Dao adopts a Buddhist way to build its salvation theory, emphasizing the extrication from the circle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. Qitian, according to the sect, is inhabited by the deities of the popular pantheon. The adherents of Chi­ nese popular religion hold that loyal imperial officials, filial persons, and dutiful women would become gods after they die. Yiguan Dao inherits this idea, emphasizing that these gods still face the danger of samsara although they enjoy a longer life and are more powerful than mankind. With regard to Xiangtian, namely, the Material World, it "includes all vis­ ible things with colors and shapes: sun, moon and all stars in the heaven; mountains, rivers, plants and animals on the earth" and "all substances with concrete forms belong to Xiangtian."21 Both Xiangtian and Qitian, according to Yiguan Dao, will be destroyed; and only Litian is eternal. Therefore, the salvation of human beings in the Xiangtian realm and gods in the Qitian realm becomes urgent. From the perspective of Yiguan Dao, the following three categories of beings are the targets of salvation: hu­ man beings, ghosts, and gods. This is called "universally saving three beings" (Sancao pudu) by the sect. Saving human is achieved by means of "offering three treasures" (Ch­ uan Sanbao). The term "three treasures" comes from Buddhism, referring to Buddha, dharma, monk (Fo, Fa, Seng). Yiguan Dao uses it to indicate "mystic portal" (Xuanguan), "pithy formula" (Koujue), and "hand seal" (Hetong). Since the sectarians regard the detailed contents of these three issues as the highest secret from the Mother and strongly prohibit


Chapter 1

making them known to the outsiders, I do not intend to explain them in detai1.22 The mysterious gate is the point rightly between two eyebrows, which is believed to be where the soul lives in the body. It is believed that the Master opens this Gate, allowing one's soul to transcend to Heaven when he dies. The pithy formula is a five-word mantra that praises Maitreya Buddha, also known as "the incantation of five words" (Wuzi Zhenyan) or "the real sutra without words" (Wuzi Zhenjing). It is believed that the formula can serve as a secret code to enter the Heaven and can call upon the deities in times of trouble. The hand sign requires the left hand to put under the right hand and two thumbs press on the special part of right hand. The gesture symbolizes that the follower has become the child of God. The three treasures are supposed to be a special saving grace offered by the Venerable Mother to the Yiguan Dao sectarians. They enable the Yiguan Dao followers to transcend the circle of birth and death and directly ascend to the Heavenly World after they die. The sectarian call this "registering in the Heaven and removing one's name from the list of Hades" (Tiantang Guahao, Difu Chouding). For this reason, Yiguan Dao regards the initiation ceremony as the most important ritual in which the initiator offers the three treasures to neophytes. Without having obtained the way in form of the three treasures, according to the sect, it is impos­ sible to get the final salvation. The sect says: No religious individual except the Yiguan Dao followers can achieve the Dao or get the fruits of Nirvana within his lifetime, even if he devotes himself to studying and practicing a particular religion. He can only become a good spirit who dwelled blissfully in the Spiritual World for some few hundred years in his next rebirths.23

When discussing the salvation of ghosts, the sectarians argue that the Mother once regulated that only human beings could learn the Dao, whereas the deceased people could not. Through accumulating and trans­ ferring merits to ancestors, however, people can help their ancestors to break out of samsara and get salvation. To achieve that purpose, people must convert to the sect, donate money, and actively propagate the Dao. But the easiest way is to sponsor the ritual of saving ancestors provided by the sect. Yiguan Dao holds that gods in the Spiritual World can enjoy a longer and happier life than mankind. But they need salvation, too. An English spirit writing by Yiguan Dao totally presents the content of saving gods, according to which the American general Douglas MacArthur was en­ titled as the Noble Guard of the East (Zhengdong Dadi) and lived in the Spiritual World when he died. Unfortunately, the claimed spirit of Doug­ las MacArthur says,

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


I didn't have the affinity to attain Dao in my lifetime. Since I was born in the West where Dao had not been propagated yet, there was hardly any chance to learn about it. All of you present are fortunate to have the affinity to be born in China, as Dao was disseminated in Asia first. Though I was granted (the status of) a celestial being after death, I still couldn't return back to heaven without attaining Dao. Thanks to my benefactor, Great Master Wang. With his referral, I was able to attain Dao and to have an audience with God . . . . My benefactor, if you are in need of help in the future, I would like to offer my services to repay your kindness. From now on, you can just call my name three times whenever you are in trouble, I will serve you promptly.24

In addition, the spirit reveals: "All celestial beings (which) haven't at­ tained Dao are anxiously longing for it. Their anxiety is beyond descrip­ tion."2s When doing missionary work in the 1930s and 1940s, Yiguan Dao missionaries repeatedly emphasized the coming apocalypse. They painted vivid pictures of the destruction, trying to convince people that those who joined would be spared the coming disaster. The missionaries also stressed the miraculous efficacy of the three treasures when encoun­ tering danger. One widely-cited story is that Li Lijiu, a top official of the Japanese puppet government in N anjing as well as an Yiguan Dao sectar­ ian, survived an aviation incident by means of invoking the help of three treasures.26 These endeavors paid off. An investigation conducted in 1947 in a village in Shanxi shows that among 502 villagers who joined Yiguan Dao, 231 people joined Yiguan Dao to escape disasters (duozai taonan).27 Indeed, "joining the sect to escape the disaster" (rujiao bijie) was a strong selling point of Yiguan Dao in the turmoil of the 1940s. As we will see soon, it was natural for Chinese people to accept apocalyptic belief and seek spiritual assistance after they witnessed years of brutal wars and famine in the 1930s and 1940s.


In the first half of the twentieth century China was in crisis. The Qing Imperial Court tried to respond to civil unrests and foreign invasions, but failed. The Wuchang uprising of 1911 preluded the end of Qing Dynasty. The early days of the Republic, however, were marked by tribulations and frequent civil wars. The country was fragmented by foreign powers, and a large number of warlords were fighting each other to seize power and wealth. In 1928, China was nominally unified under the Kuomintang government, but large areas of China remained under the semiautono­ mous rule of local warlords or warlord coalitions. Numerous civil wars occurred between the Nationalist and the Communist groups, and among regional warlords.


Chapter 1

The 1930s also witnessed the Japanese invasion into China. In 1932, Japan seized three provinces of northeast China and established ex-Qing emperor Puyi as head of the puppet regime. Step-by-step, the Japa­ nese pushed from northeast China into northern China and the coastal provinces. In 1937, Beijing and Shanghai fell. The capital Nanjing fell in December 1937. It was followed by a series of mass killings and rape of civilians in the Nanjing Massacre. The Nationalist government had to retreat to Chongqing, a city in the southwest China, until Japan was de­ feated in 1945. Failing to deal with these catastrophes, Confucianism, the conven­ tional faith of imperial China, gradually lost its influence. Chosen by Emperor Wu of Han (Han Wudi, 156 B.C.E-87 B .C.E.) as a political sys­ tem to govern the state, Confucianism remained a mainstream Chinese orthodoxy in the past two thousand years and exerted tremendous influence on Chinese civilization. From the Sui Dyansty (605 C.E.) to its abolition in 1 905, Confucian doctrines had been the main content of the imperial examination (Keju), a system of recruiting officials based on education. The examination system strengthened the status of Confu­ cianism as a kind of "state religion" which served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values in imperial China. Due to the failure of coping with crisis, however, Confuciansim declined qui ckly in the early twentieth century. In 1 905, the imperial civil service exami­ nation system was abolished. Together with the end of Qing Dynasty, gone was the ideology of Confucianism. The May Fourth Movement in 1 9 1 9 challenged and criticized Confucianism and many elite intel­ lectuals regarded it as a negative force blocking China's development. Confucianism as a conventional faith was weakened to a large degree in the Republic era. The religious economy in the Republic period was relatively unregu­ lated. On the one hand, article 13 of the constitution of the Republic of China claimed a right to "freedom of religious belief." On the other hand, the lack of a central power made state regulation less effective because where there were competitive regimes or political jurisdictions, a sect sup­ pressed in one secular jurisdiction might find refuge in another regime. The social turmoil and the divided political situation in the Republic era thus provided a favorable ecology for the development of new reli­ gions. Not surprisingly, religious movements mushroomed in the post­ Qing decades. Some of them rose with a rapid growth. For example, the Red Swastika Society (Hong Shizi hui), a syncretic sect marked by philan­ thropy and moral education that was founded in 1922, had approximately seven to ten million followers in 1937 by means of providing charitable services such as running poorhouses and modern hospitals and other relief works.

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953



Stark and Bainbridge point out that religious entrepreneurs usually begin their religious career by participating in an existing religious group. After gaining necessary skills, they tend to establish and run new religions.28 Zhang Tiaman was a typical religious entrepreneur. Zhang was born in 1889 in Jining, Shandong province, with the secular name Zhang Guangbi. Zhang Tianran was his official religious name. In 1908, Zhang married a woman of the surname Zhu, but Zhu died a year later. Two years later, Zhang married a woman named Liu. After serving as a low-ranking mili­ tary officer, Zhang returned to his hometown and ran a grocery store. At that time, many religious firms and entrepreneurs competed with each other to attract followers in Shandong province. Zhang was initiated into Yiguan Dao in 1915. As a talented young man, he soon became one of the core disciples of Lu Zhongyi, the seventeenth patriarch of Yiguan Dao. Lu died in 1925, succeeded by his younger sister Lu Zhongjie, who claimed to be the incarnation of Bodhisattva Guanyin. But Lu Zhongjie's leader­ ship was challenged by the Yiguan Dao followers. The next few years saw power struggles between Lu Zhongjie and her brother's disciples. The sect finally split into several sections, one of which was led by Zhang Tiaman. In 1930, Zhang Tiaman took Sun Suzhen as his concubine. Born in 1895, Sun was introduced into Yiguan Dao in 1908. She was also one of Lu Zhongui's core disciples, with hundreds of followers. Zhang Tiaman described this marriage as a result of a "divine message" from the Eter­ nal Venerable Mother. According the revelation, the Mother transferred the eighteenth patriarch to Zhang, who was the incarnation of Jigong, a Buddhist miracle-worker; Sun was considered the incarnation of the Bod­ dhisattva of Moon Wisdom (Yuehui pusa), Jigong's wife. She shouldered the task of assisting Zhang to do the last salvation in the White Sun Era. As a result, the marriage was regarded as a symbol of the leadership suc­ cession, indicating that Zhang established himself as the new patriarch. But other major Zhongyi disciples refused this claim. Worse still, many followers of Zhang challenged the validity of the revelation and left him. Only a small number of core disciples kept following them. Zhang and Sun were utterly isolated.29 The failure forced Zhang and Sun to move out of Jining. In 1931, Zhang Tiaman left his hometown and traveled to Ji'nan, the capital of Shangdong province. As a newcomer to this big city, Zhang Tiaman and his group were little-known in Ji'nan, where various religious groups and practi­ tioners competed with each other. In order to attract attention, Zhang Tian­ ran sent his disciples to offer public lectures and "set up eye-catching dis­ plays of statues and religious paraphernalia."30 These outreach activities


Chapter 1

successfully enhanced its membership. After recruiting hundreds of fol­ lowers, Zhang organized them into the Hall of Lofty Splendor (Chonghua Tang). Many followers initiated in Ji'nan later became important apostles of Yiguan Dao. Ji'nan became a firm base for further expansion. Zhang happily found that dwellers in big cities were interested in his teachings. The success in Ji'nan encouraged Zhang to spread his faith to other big cities. From 1934 on, Yiguan Dao missionaries were sent to Tianjin and Qingdao. To facilitate the rapid expansion, Zhang restructured Yiguan Dao. Previously, Yiguan Dao had inherited Xiantian Dao's organizational system with nine levels (Jiupin Liantai) ranging from the lowest level of ordinary sectarians to the patriarch. With the growth of Yiguan Dao, Zhang reorganized the sect and canceled the in-between levels. Zhang himself occupied the position of patriarch. Below Zhang came a strict hierarchy of leaders, including Dao seniors (Daozhang), initiators (Dianchuan shi), and masters of altars (Tanzhu). Zhang was in charge of all the Yiguan Dao busi­ ness, including appointing the senior Dao seniors and initiators. In order to reward those who were very successful in recruiting mem­ bers, Zhang promoted them to be Dao seniors (Daozhang). There were eight Dao seniors under the leadership of Zhang Tiaran. These seniors were the highest circle of leaders, managing their own branches independently. Initiators received the Celestial Mandate (Tianming) from Zhang and thus acted as the representatives of Zhang to recruit neophytes. Since initiators were appointed by Zhang, it was helpful to Zhang Tianran in controlling the middle-level leaders and centralizing the authority of the patriarch. Un­ der the level of initiators, there were altar masters responsible for managing the business of altars (Tan). An altar of Yiguan Dao was an administrative unit composed of multiple congregations. Usually, these altar masters were assisted by Yiguan Dao specialists, including three talents of spirit writing, lecturers, and the like. Thus, Yiguan Dao maintained a dense network in local communities. When discussing the operation of Yiguan Dao in Cang­ zhou, a prefecture in Hebei province, DuBois comments: The number of leaders is especially striking when compared to the total number of faithful. In each of the counties, there was one leader or specialist of the Way of Penetrating Unity [i.e., Yiguan Dao] for every ten to twenty members and for every one to three villages. The presence of specialists in such numbers further suggests that the Way of Penetrating Unity repre­ sented an impendent and discrete force within the village. With a devoted leader and a core of believers, a single village or a cluster of neighboring vil­ lages could operate as an independent religious community, performing its own religious rituals and meeting for group prayer.31

The reformed structure benefited the sect's operation by means of en­ hancing the autonomy of local leadership, but it also tended to disperse

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


charisma to lower echelons and therefore suffered from schism. The leader­ ship may be challenged by "aspiring practitioners who believe themselves able to advance the doctrine beyond the pioneer work of the founder," or by those "who feel that their own following is sufficient to permit them to challenge the leader's decisions on questions of policy."32 Successful reli­ gious movements usually adopted a variety of mechanisms to centralize the leader's authority and constrain the authority of local teachers. Yiguan Dao is not exceptional. Facing the potential challenges, Zhang Tianran at­ tempted to strengthen his leadership by deifying himself. Zhang established himself as a messiah figure, claiming that he was the incarnation of the living Buddha "Jigong." Jigong was a late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Buddhist monk who was famous for his miracles as well as crazy behaviors transgressing monastic regulations. His contem­ poraries gave him a nickname "Crazy Ji" (Jidian). Though his eccentricity estranged him from the Buddhist establishment, the crazy god was vener­ ated by his lay contemporaries as a miracle-worker; and shortly after his death in 1209 he became the object of a local cult, primarily in Zhejiang. In the early twentieth centur� Jigong became one of the most popular deities of Chinese popular religion. He was also active in spirit writing, partly as a consequence of oral literature on this eccentric saint .33 When the Jigong belief was underway in the 1930s, Zhang Tianran brought this popular god into the pantheon of Yiguan Dao. In Answers

to Doubts and Questions Concerning Yi-guan Dao (Yiguan Dao Yiwen Jieda), a spirit writing was supposedly written by Jigong himself; Jigong was assigned the fourth-ranking position in Yiguan Dao's hierarchy of divini­ ties, preceded only by the Eternal Mother, the Buddha Maitreya, and the Bodhisattva Guanyin. It says: At the time of doomsday, the Mother specially mandates the Maitreya Bud­ dha, the Guanyin Bodhisattva and the Jigong living Buddha to save the world and do the great salvational work altogether. Maitreya Buddha is in charge of the business in the heaven, while the Jigong living Buddha is in charge of missionary work. . . . Specially, we should worship the Jigong liv­ ing Buddha.34

The Jigong living Buddha became one of the most active deities invoked by the Yiguan Dao sectarians to produce spirit writings. During Zhang Tianran's lifetime, about 80 percent of the Yiguan Dao's divine revelations were signed by the crazy god: "Indeed, Zhang Guangbi may have chosen Jigong to deliver the Unity Sect's message of salvation precisely because of this crazy god's popularity in fiction, drama, and oral literature." 35 Furthermore, Zhang publicly portrayed himself as the incarnation of Jigong, arguing that Jigong and Zhang himself were one and the same. To­ da� the Yiguan Dao sectarians address both figures as "the living Buddha


Chapter 1

and venerable teacher" (Huofo Shizun) or the living Buddha Jigong. For this reason, Jigong is more significant than that suggested by his fourth ranking. In fact, "Jigong's prestige in Yiguan Dao is almost equal to that of the Eternal Mother. So much so that in most believers' eyes his position is even higher than hers."36 With the rapid growth of Yiguan Dao, the deification of Zhang Tianran continued to grow. A large number of pamphlets were produced to justify the divinity of Zhang. The following account is an example: When our great teacher was born, his eyes and eyebrows were perfectly shaped, and there was depth and wisdom in his eyes . . . . On his forehead, he had a third eye. His nose was straight like that of a dragon, and his head was like that of a god. His mouth was perfect and he already had a long beard. His earlobes touched his shoulders and his arms were very long (all signs of great wisdom and ability). He walked beautifully and perfectly, with long strides, and was obviously not of the mortal world. On his left hand, he had a red birthmark shaped like the sun and on his right one like the moon; they were so red that they would leave a mark when he touched his hand to paper. On his left foot, he had the seven stars of the Big Dipper, and on his right foot, the six stars of the Southern Dipper. Because of this, although he had been born into the mortal world, everyone knew that he was one with the Universe-the living Buddha Jigong, who was sent by heaven to save humanity.37

In doing so, Zhang not only became the undisputed and increasingly deified patriarch (shizun) of Yiguan Dao until his death, but also suc­ cessfully established a well-organized religious group centering on his authority.


The combination of a very strong system of central authority and high levels of rank-and-file participation gave Yiguan Dao an extraordinary power of mobilization. Also, the use of spirit writing accounted for the sect's amazing power of mobilization. Spirit writing, known in Chinese as Fuji, is a practice directly receiving revelation from a spirit. Spirit writing activity was closely linked with the Chinese intellectual tradition. As a divinatory way of gaining some foreknowledge of examination questions, spirit writing had been widely practiced by the educated, especially ex­ amination candidates, since the Song Dynasty.38 In the second half of the nineteenth century, spirit writing was used by religious groups to receive divine messages, including stories illustrating the workings of karmic ret­ ribution, descriptions of spirit journeys to otherworldly realms, and moral

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


exhortations. These messages were often published as "morality books" (Shanshu) and distributed to the general public for the moral edification of society at large. As De Groot observed, "exhortations and threats for centuries been received by means of it [spirit writing] throughout China in very large numbers; many are, by the care of virtuous men of erudition, printed to this day for circulation by thousands, reprinted over and over, and bound up into books for gratuitous distribution."39 Spirit writing was also utilized for offering oracles for everyday problems, such as remedies for illness, searching for the lost, resolving family troubles, and consulta­ tion of the lucky and unlucky: "Such client-oriented spirit-writing seems to have sometimes been practiced by professionals."4o When spirit writing was well under its way in the 1930s, Zhang Tian­ ran introduced this practice to Yiguan Dao. Previously, Wang Jueyi, the fifteenth patriarch of Yiguan Dao, discouraged the sectarians to do spirit writing, for he thought that it was difficult to tell whether the god was good or evil. But the high popularity of spirit writing in the 1930s drove Zhang Tiaman to break the sect's tradition. He drew "innate spirit writ­ ing" into practices. According to Zhang, "the innate spirit writing" (Xi­ antian Ji) received by juvenile spirit mediums is superior to the "acquired spirit writing" (Houtian ji) in which spirit writers are adults, because children's purity was more conducive to divine revelation. Zhang also emphasized that only Yiguan Dao's spirit writing was "innate spirit writ­ ing," which was more credible than others. The innate spirit writing of Yiguan Dao includes two forms: "spirit writ­ ing on sands" (Kaisha) and ''borrowing spirit medium's body" (Jieqiao). In practice, Yiguan Dao trained many spirit writer teams; each team usually included three talents (Sancai): Tiancai, Rencai, and Dicai. During the ritual of spirit writing on sand, Tiancai used a Y-shaped stick to write characters on a table or tray that was usually covered with a layer of sand; Rencai iden­ tified the characters, read them loudly, and then scraped the tray; and Dicai recorded the contents. But the mediums did not interact with the attendees of a seance. When holding the seance of "borrowing spirit mediums' body," the attendees were supposedly able to contact with gods directly. The practice of spirit writing and spirit possession offered Yiguan Dao a powerful tool to reach out and propagandize its teaching. When the sectarians did missionary work in a new place, they would first make use of a spirit writing seance to gather the potential followers. Though Zhang Tiaman officially stressed that spirit writing could not be used to resolve "trivial things" such as fortune telling, in practice the spirit writing seances provided such services. Attracted by the mystery of spirit writing, people would travel for miles to visit a seance and wait in line for hours to pose their personal questions to the spirits. Spirit writing usually left ordinary believers in awe of the teaching and then they converted to the sect.


Chapter 1

The skillful use of spirit writing also enabled Yiguan Dao to get finan­ cial support from the followers. When joining in the sect, people would pay a sum of money named a "merit fee" (Gongde fei). The sectarians were also encouraged to buy religious items, such as statues, from Yiguan Dao. But the main revenue of Yiguan Dao came from holding the ritual of sav­ ing gods and ancestors. "In order to remove from samsara," we are told by the sectarian, "gods in the Spiritual World (Qi Tian) often come to spirit altars together with Buddhas, borrowing a spirit medium's body, looking for an appropriate person to act as their introducer to gain the Dao."41 Those who patronized the ritual of saving gods, according to the sect, would be protected and helped by the gods. People could also sponsor the ritual of saving their ancestors. Since Chinese people attach much im­ portance to ancestor worship, they would spend a large amount of money to save their ancestors. As a result, Yiguan Dao quickly accumulated a large amount of wealth. By means of spirit writing, Zhang also produced two important pam­ phlets in 1937: Answers to Doubts and Questions Concerning Yiguan Dao (Yiguan Dao Yiwen Jieda) and The Temporary Buddhist Regulations (Zanding Fogui). The former is the bible of Yiguan Dao, providing a set of single systematic doctrines. It is an endeavor of rationalizing and popularizing the sect's doctrines in a lucid way, and "a self-conscious defense of the faith, a moral philosophy in popular form."42 The latter mainly presents the rituals of Yiguan Dao. 1930s China witnessed frequent wars and mate­ rial shortages, so Zhang paid special attention to the spirit of "flexibility" when performing rituals. We are told: These rituals must be adapted according to the different people or places . . . . I hope everyone could study these rules carefully, perform them consid­ erately and lively, and realize their inner sincerities. Through experiencing these rituals, one can correct his mind and shape his behavior.43

After listing the detailed rules of rituals, Zhang always emphasizes that these rules are just a principle and the sectarians should make use of these rules flexibly. For example, after discussing the ritual of presenting daily incense offering, he comments: According to the regulations one should offer incense three times a day in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. However, if this schedule would be interrupted because one is busy with religious affairs, there is no fault. If one extremely fulfills wishes to follow the rules but simply has no time to do so, then to offer incense only once or twice a day will be all right. If in special circumstances one is unable to bum incense at all, it is quite permissible to offer prostrations in the darkness. In sum, people should not be bound by physical forms; what is important is ceaseless sincerity within, which can never be forgotten for a moment.44

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1 953


In a section on ritual of bowing, Zhang reminds that "although the above ritual regulations are firmly established, some are busier than oth­ ers, so people should apply them in a flexible way; the regulations should not be rigid."45 In the section on ritual of offerings, he stresses that "don't be restricted by these rules, just show your sincerity and perform these rules lively" and that "in sum, what's important to a cultivator is the sin­ cerity rather than the offerings."46 Undoubtedly, such flexibility benefited the sect's operation in a turbulent era. Indeed, the Yiguan Dao sectarians have remarked that in times of war, chaos, or strife, when it is not pos­ sible to create the shrine completely, a single lit candle with nothing else is entirely sufficient to serve as the representation of Mother and hold all kinds of Yiguan Dao rituals. By manufacturing the foresaid two texts, Zhang provided a set of single systematic doctrines and rituals that later facilitated Yiguan Dao's missionary work. Unlike traditional Buddhists and Daoists, who were reluctant to reach out, Yiguan Dao was very aggressive in spreading its vision. Especially, Zhang attached much importance to missionary work. In 1938, he held missionary workshops named "stove meeting" (Lu hui) to train missionaries in Tianjin. In Chinese religious culture, the stove is a utensil used by alchemists to make pills of immortality. The sect named its training course a "stove meeting" to indicate the training is very strict and that the trainees will be powerful if they pass the training course. Indeed, the contents of such training courses were very strict, and sometimes they seemed strange for outsiders. The trainers, who were performed by spirit mediums, would ask the trainees to pass a series of tests, such as long-time kneeling with little clothes in severe winter and suffering seri­ ous beatings.47 Hundreds of devout missionaries were trained in these workshops. Later, these missionaries were sent all over the country. Many of them later became influential Yiguan Dao leaders.


Since 1938, Zhang Tianran sent well-trained missionaries all over the country to "open wilderness" (Kai huang), namely, doing missionary work in new places. These missionaries were equipped with the updated technique of spirit writing and a set of single systematic doctrines and rituals. By holding the spirit writing seance to attract people's attention, the Yiguan Dao missionaries would then preach to the attendees. They "could easily speak for more than three hours on end and employed a well-polished routine that could both captivate an audience and respond to even the most hostile skeptics."48 The political chaos and social crisis


Chapter 1

caused by the Japanese invasion made the sect's apocalyptic belief more appealing to the mass. The rapid expansion of Yiguan Dao was also fa­ cilitated by its ability to replicate its elaborate hierarchy leadership at the local level. While social turmoil in the 1940s disrupted conventional so­ cial ties, the sect provided ways for people to organize themselves again. Thus, social crisis increased the people's involvement in Yiguan Dao. Under the Japanese occupation, Yiguan Dao spread rapidly all over the country, attracting millions of followers as well as a number of top offi­ cials of the Japanese puppet government of Wang Jingwei. After studying 545 counties' gazetteers, Fu found that Yiguan Dao had activities in 441 counties and the average number of followers of each county was 6525. Since there were about 2,300 counties in China, Fu estimated that Yiguan Dao recruited more than ten million believers and was undoubtedly the biggest sect in the 1940s in China (see Table 1 . 1). With the death of Zhang Tianran in 1947, however, a serious schism took place and the sect broke into two main sections: the Mistress Section (Shimu Table 1 . 1 : A Partial List of Sects and Their Followers in the 1 940s in China Sect

C h i nese n a me

The n u mber

The average

The esti mation

of cou nties

n u mber of

of fol l owers a l l

where the

fo l l owers i n

over the cou nty

sect spread

each cou nty

The Dao of U n ity

Yiguan Dao

44 1 /5 4 5


1 2 , 1 5 0, 000

The Society

Tongshan She

2 1 7/5 4 5

1 75 1

1 , 600, 000

X i a nt i a n Dao

1 1 0/5 4 5


2 00, 000

J i ugong Dao

9 1 /5 4 5

1 480

5 80, 000

The Sa i nt Dao

Shengx i a n Dao

86/5 4 5

3 6 72

1 , 3 00, 000

The Dao of

Gu igen Dao

78/5 4 5


2 00, 000

X i h ua Ta ng

5 5/5 4 5


1 00,000

Yaoch i Dao

4 7/5 4 5

71 1

1 3 0, 000

W u j i Dao

3 3/5 4 5

93 1 9

of Com m o n Mora l ity The Prior-toheaven Dao The Dao of N i nePa l ace

Retu rn-to-root The Ha l l of West China The Dao of Jasper Pool The Dao of

1 , 3 00, 000

L i m itless Source: Zhong F u . Yiguan Dao fazhan shi [A h istory of Yiguan Dao's developmentl . (Taipei : Zheng yi shanshu chubanshe, 1 999), 47-49.

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953


Pai) and the Committee of Righteousness (Zhengyi Fudao hui). The former

section acknowledges the leadership of Sun Suzhen, regarding her as the Great Mistress (Shi Mu) who shares the Mandate of Heaven with Zhang Tianran. The latter section is also called the Senior Disciple Section (Shixiong Pai). But the followers of this section itself do not like this title, which they think stigmatizes them. They do not recognize the leadership of Madam Sun and recognized Zhang Tianran's eldest son as the new leader.


When the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1 949, the sect suffered a ruthless suppression.49 Being viewed as the biggest "Reaction­ ary Society, Dao Organization and Community" (Fandong Huidaomen) by the Party, Yiguan Dao became the target of repression. In December 20, 1950, The People's Daily published an editorial titled "Firmly Banning Yiguan Dao" (Jianjue Qudi Yiguan Dao). It claims: Yiguan Dao is a counterrevolutionary tool which is utilized by the bandit gangs of imperialism and Kuomintang. It is a retroactive, feudalistic and superstitious organization, deceiving the masses who do not know the truth. Most of Yiguan Dao core members are traitors collaborating with Japanese invaders, Kuomintang spies and officials, and counter-revolutionary land­ lords. They made use of Yiguan Dao organizations to cheat for money from the believers for their own dissipation. Some Yiguan Dao leaders raped the female members, making many ordinary believers bankrupt and die. Worse still, they hold counterrevolutionary activities, motivating or even forcing the ignorant masses to participate in armed insurgences. The government has implemented the strict policy of banning Yiguan Dao for a long time, so as to suppress a handful of chief criminals and save the deceived believers. This policy, supported by all circles, has been widely put in practice and has got some favorable results.

The editorial continues to explain why the newly-established Commu­ nist government decides to keep banning Yiguan Dao: During the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance, Yiguan Dao was the tool uti­ lized by Japanese invaders to spread the nonresistance idea and the mood of failure, befool the mass to be docile. Furthermore, Yiguan Dao collected military information for the organizations of Japanese secret agents, becom­ ing Japanese secret agents' right hand. Zhang Guangbi, the national leader of Yiguan Dao, was the consultant of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, work­ ing for the traitor Wang Jingwei. Chu Minyi, the Executive Yuan director was also a chief member of Yiguan Dao. After the victory of Anti-Japanese


Chapter 1 War of Resistance, Kuomintang commanded Yiguan Dao to reorganize as "Chinese Moral Charity." Hence, Yiguan Dao was completely controlled and manipulated by Kuomintang secret agents. They spread rumors around, disturbed the Chinese Revolutionary Civil War, destroyed the Land Reform, and instigated the armed insurgence in Northeast region and Kaifeng. The riot in Changchun, led by Jiang Pengfei, was one example. After the break­ out of the Korean War, they began their conspiratorial activities again, such as spreading rumors. Particularly, Yiguan Dao has collaborated with other counterrevolutionary religious groups in recent years. They collude with each and extend their counterrevolutionary activities.5o

The editorial of The People's Daily marked the beginning of the country­ wide campaign of eradicating Yiguan Dao. The main target of the cam­ paign was to destroy the sect's organizational and leadership structure. For that purpose, the Party adopted a strategy called "beheading the head, cutting off the waist, and uprooting the root" (Datou, Lanyao, Wagen). The focus of anti-Yiguan Dao campaign was to "behead the head," which meant decapitating the high-level Yiguan Dao leaders, such as initiators. After thoroughly investigating the number of members, im­ portant congregational sites and the leaders, the Party captured nearly all important Yiguan Dao leaders, including Zhang Tianran's elder son and a couple of Dao seniors. In Beijing, for instance, the police captured 381 Yiguan Dao leaders; among them, forty-two were collectively shot to death and the others were put into prison. "Cutting off the waist" was forcing the middle-level leaders to re­ nounce Yiguan Dao.51 In order to make these sectarians give up their faith, the Party forced them to undergo a period of intense political education, usually lasting twenty to thirty days. Then the Party punished them ac­ cording to the degree of their willingness to cooperate. Those who held on to their faith were executed or imprisoned, while those who would give up the sect willingly were released. But the renounced followers were still under close surveillance of the police for at least one year. They had to "register themselves to formally renounce the sect" (Dengji tuidao); they had to go to the police station to report their activities every week; they could not travel around without the police's permission; they had to submit written materials to report their ideas; and finally, they were re­ quired to reveal the "criminal activities" of Yiguan Dao. In Beijing, a total of 720 initiators, 4,775 altar masters, and 663 spirit mediums registered to quit the sect. "Uprooting roots" was aimed at ordinary believers. The Party cad­ res employed a variety of methods to persuade the ordinary followers to drop out of the sect. For that purpose, the reformed initiators and spirit mediums were motivated to publicly expose the tricky activities of Yiguan Dao, such as spirit writing and spirit possession. They also

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953


revealed the means by which to collect money from the followers. These materials were later exhibited publicly and the Party organized people to visit the exhibition. An exhibition denouncing Yiguan Dao was held in Beijing in January 1951, attracting more than two hundred sixty thousand visitors. In 1952, the Party released a movie titled The Dao of Consistently Harming People (Yiguan Hairen Dao) to reveal the "evils" of Yiguan Dao. As a part of the propaganda condemning Yiguan Dao, mass meetings were conducted, in which some ordinary believers were arranged to unpack their grievances against Yiguan Dao. Through such propaganda, many ordinary believers officially registered to discard the sect. The number in Bejing was 178,074.52 The anti-Yiguan Dao campaign destroyed the sect's organizational structure in mainland China to a large degree. The propaganda against Yiguan Dao also forced the great majority of ordinary followers to for­ mally quit the sect.53 Although a few faithful followers privately and secretly held on their belief, Yiguan Dao could not publicly exist in main­ land China. However, a number of Yiguan Dao believers, including Sun Suzhen, fled to Hong Kong and later to Taiwan, where the sect currently survives and thrives.


Yiguan Dao fulfilled almost all the criteria of the model of success for religious movements identified by Rodney Stark. As a syncretic sect, Yiguan Dao was deeply rooted in Chinese culture and retained continu­ ity with the conventional faiths, grafting elements of popular religion, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. But the sect redefined these ele­ ments and gave them a salvation-orientation. The sect's stress on apoca­ lypse not only accounted for the medium tension with the surrounding society, but also was appealing to the suffering mass during the turbulent 1930s and 1940s. Also, at the time, conventional faiths were weakened by social crisis and the lack of a central government made the religious economy relatively unregulated. The situation enabled Yiguan Dao to operate in a favorable ecology. Endogenously, Yiguan Dao established a dense network, organizing those who lost their social ties in wartime. As a shrewd religious entrepreneur, Zhang Tianran established an elaborate rank-and-file structure that centered on his authority, enabling Yiguan Dao to have an extraordinary power of mobilization. The rapid expan­ sion was also facilitated by the active missionary work, the adoption of spirit writing, and the manufacture of standard preaching texts. All of these factors accounted for the success of Yiguan Dao in mainland China in the Republic era.


Chapter 1 NOTES

1. Zhongwei Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu [The inner story of Yiguan Dao]. (Nanjing: Renmin Press, 1998), preface. 2. Rodney Stark, "How New Religions Succeed: A Theoretical Model," in The Future of New Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley and Philip E. Hammond (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987), 11-29. 3. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 121. 4. Judith Berling, The Syncretic Religion of Lin Chao-en (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 1-26. 5. This is a new Chinese character that was especially created by the sectarian to refer to the Mother. Its pronunciation is same as the pronunciation of the Chi­ nese character "£t" (mu), which means "mother." The sectarians want to empha­ size that the god is sexless through the creation of $. The full name of this deity is "The Clear Brilliant God, Beyond Measure, The Void, Most Revered Ultimate Divinity, True Ruler of The Universe and All Living Beings" (Mingming-shangdi Wuliang-qingxu Zhizun-zhisheng Sanjie-shifang Wanling-zhenzhai). 6. From . which was retrieved on Sep­ tember 10, 2006. 7. Xisha Ma and Bingfang Han, Minjian Zongjiao Shi [A History of Chinese Sects] (Shanghai: Shanghai People Press, 1992). 8. Guanyin had several images in traditional China: the fertility goddess, the goddess resisting marriages and valuing celibacy, and, first of all, the goddess of­ fering universal salvation. For a detailed discussion on the relationship between the Eternal Venerable Mother and Guanyin, please refer to Yu Chun-fang, Kuan­ yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 449-86. 9. Recite from Daniel L . Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976),

135. 10. Suzanne E. Cahill, Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China (Palo Alto, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1993), 12. 11. Philip Clart, The Ritual Context of Morality Books: A Case-study of a Taiwan­ ese Spirit-writing Cult, PhD. Thesis (Canada: the University of British Columbia, 1996), 353. 12. The next patriarchs after Hui Neng are of academic significance since it reflects the succession of leadership and schism within the sect. From the sev­ enth patriarch Bai Yuchan to the thirteenth patriarch Xu Jinan, both Xiantian Dao and Yiguan Dao regard them as their patriarchs. Yiguan Dao did not repeat the Xiantian Dao's lineage since the fourteenth patriarch, Yao Hetian, the teacher of Wang Jueyi. This also indicates that Yiguan Dao is a result of religious schism from Xiantian Dao. For an English-language introduction to the succession of Yiguan Dao's patriarchs, see David K. Jordan and Daniel L. Overmyer. The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), 258-62 and 289-92. 13. Jordan and Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix, 258.

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953


14. Many studies point out that there is an "imperial metaphor" in the pan­ theon of Chinese popular religion that is organized as a bureaucracy; most of gods are male, serious, and bureaucrat-like (see Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors," in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society (Palo Alto, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1974), 131-82, and Stephan Feuchtwang, The Imperial Metaphor: Popular Religion in China (London: Routledge, 1992)). However, this metaphor is not applicable to the Yiguan Dao pantheon, because female deities play important roles in or even dominate the sectarian pantheon, and because the main deities of the sect are equipped with good-tempered, affable and humorous images. As we know, the Mother is like an old graceful lady, with a kind heart to welcome all of her children. Another female deity, Guanyin Bodhisattva, has had a peaceful, kindly, and merciful image for a long time. With regard to male deities, the Maitreya Buddha is a happy Buddha, not only with a smile at all times but also a big stomach, which suggests that he can bear all unbearable things. The Jigong Buddha is so lively and humorous that he is crazy-like, always dressing in simple, shabby, or even dirty clothes, wearing a beat-up cap, taking a ragged fan, and making facetious remarks. Manifestly, these deities popular in Yiguan Dao are not like divine bureaucrats but like con­ siderate and dependable friends. 15. Miao Hong, Tiandao Zhenchuan [The Chronicle of the Celestial Way] (Taipei: Buddhist Publishing Company, 1975). 16. Thomas David DuBois, The Sacred Village: Social Change and Religious Life in Rural North China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press Dubois, 2005), 147. 17. Tianran Zhang, Yiguan Dao yiwen jieda [Answers to Doubts and Questions Con­ cerning Yi-guan Dao] (Taizhong: Guosheng Chubanshe, 1995), 53. 18. No author, Realization of the Truth (Taipei: Zhengyi Shanshu Chubanshe, 1992), 24. 19. No author, Realization of the Truth, 25. 20. These are the translations offered by the sectarians. Clart (1996) translates Litian as Principle Realm, Qitian as the Ethereal Realm, and Xiangtian as the Phe­ nomenal Realm. For the adherents of Chinese popular religion, cosmology con­ ceives of three realms of existence: Heaven (Tian), Earth (Di), and the underworld (Ming). Heaven is in the sky, Earth is on the ground, and the underworld is below the ground. Cross-cutting this tripartite scheme is a two-zone division: the zone of light (Yangjian) and the zone of darkness (yinjian). Heaven belongs to the zone of light and the underworld belongs to the zone of darkness. Earth, however, is split into two dimensions: the yang (day) and the yin (night). Chinese people believe that ghosts usually occur at night, especially midnight, the yin dimension of earth. It seems that Yiguan Dao rationalizes the above cosmology and gives it salvation significances, linking the salvation with the Heaven. 21. Zhang, Yiwen Jieda, 87. 22. For an English-language introduction to the Three Treasures by Yiguan Dao, please refer to . which was retrieved on June

20, 2006. 23. Realization of the Truth, 9. 24. The Revelation of General Douglas MacArthur, 16-18. 25. The Revelation of General Douglas MacArthur, 22.


Chapter 1

26. Zhongwei Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu [The inner story of Yiguan Dao]. (Nanjing: Renmin Press, 1998), 203. 27. DuBois, The Sacred Village, 146. 28. Rodney Stark and W. Bainbridge, "Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation," Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion, 4: 85-199. Also see Rodney Stark and W. Bainbridge, "Secularization and Cult Formation in the Jazz Age, " Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 20, no. 4 (December 1981): 360-73. 29. Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu, 35. 30. DuBois, The Sacred Village, 129. 31. DuBois, The Sacred Village, 140. 32. Roy Wallis, Salvation and Protest: Studies of Social and Religious Movement. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 35. 33. Jigong may have figured in spirit-possession cults prior to twentieth century. The tendency of official sources to ignore this form of religious activ­ ity might account for our ignorance of Jigong's early role in it. In any event, the earliest extant record of a mediumistic cult involving Jigong dates from 1900, and it concerns the Boxer uprising. The Boxers believed that they went into battle possessed by deities who guaranteed them invulnerability. One frequently invoked deity was the eccentric Jigong. See Meir Shahar, Crazy Ji: Chinese religion and popular literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University,

1998) . 34. Zhang, Yiwen Jieda, 34 35. Shahar, Crazy Ji, 205. 36. Shiyu Li, Xianzai Huabei mlmlzongjiao [Secret Religions in Current North China] (Taipei: Guting shuju, 1975), 50. 37. Li, Xianzai Huabei, 34. 38. Clart, The Ritual Context, 8. 39. J. J. M. de Groot, Sectarianism and Religious Persecution in China (Amsterdam: Johannes Muller, 1903), 1309. 40. de Groot, Sectarianism, 17. 41. Yu Mu, Yiguan Dao Gaiyao [An introduction to Yiguan Dao] (Tainan: Qingju Press, 2005), 25. 42. Jordan and Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix, 264. 43. Tianran Zhang, Zanding Fogui [The Temporary Buddhist Regulations] (Taibei: Zhengyi Shanshu chubanshe, 1992), 2. 44. Zhang, Zanding fogui, 2. 45. Zhang, Zanding fogui, 3. 46. Zhang, Zanding fogui, 6. 47. Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu, 137-52. 48. DuBois, The Sacred Village, 131. 49. For an English language introduction to the anti-Yiguan Dao movement, please see Lev Deliusin, "The I-Kuan Tao Society," in Popular Movements and Secret Societies in China 1 840-1950, ed. Jean Chesneaux (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford Uni­ versity Press, 1972), 225-33. DuBois also introduces the campaign against Yiguan Dao in Cangzhou, see DuBois, The Sacred Village, 147-49. 50. Editorial, The People's Daily, December 20, 1950.

Yiguan Dao in Mainland China: 1 930-1953


51. "Outlawing Yiguan Dao," a TV program made by CCTV on December 30, 2005. From , which was retrieved on June 20, 2006. 52. CCTY, "Outlawing Yiguan Dao." 53. DuBois, The Sacred Village, 145.

Chap ter 2

Yiguan D ao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987 We hardly ever produce in social life precisely the effect that we wish to pro­ duce, and we usually get things that we do not wan t into the bargain . . . . The characteristic problems of the social sciences arise only out of our wish to know the unintended consequences, and more especially the unwanted consequences which may arise if we do certain things. Popper, Karl R . l

Yiguan Dao began to spread in Taiwan in the mid-1940s. When Kuomintang lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and retreated to Taiwan, some Yiguan Dao sectarians fled to the island together with the defeated government. But the sect was soon outlawed and suppressed by the authoritarian state in 1952. Government campaigns against Yiguan Dao in Taiwan forced the sect to run secretly or disband temporarily, but persecution did not cut the throat of Yiguan Dao. On the contrary, the sect grew steadily and quickly during the period of suppression. After three decades of suppression, Yiguan Dao successfully developed from a small immigrant sect into one of the most influential religious groups in the island. The growth of Yiguan Dao under persecution is not an isolated case. A recent case is the rise of Christianity in contemporary China. When the Marxists seized power in 1949 and expelled all foreign missionaries, it was estimated that there were perhaps two million Christians in China. Now, after decades of repression, a renewed Chinese Christianity has burst forth and their numbers are estimated at 50-120 million.2 History has shown that the policy of suppression always failed to eliminate reli­ gions.3 Many of today's dominant majorities originated from yesterday's suppressed minorities. How can a religion maintain its vitality in a hostile 47


Chapter 2

surrounding? By examining the regulatory influence of religious sup­ pression, this chapter argues that religious persecution can result in some unexpected consequences and thus ironically contributes to the success of suppressed religion. This chapter includes five parts. Part 1 outlines a theoretical framework for the discussion of religious vitality. Part 2 presents the suppression Yiguan Dao suffered on Taiwan. As the main body of this chapter, part 3 probes the unintended consequences of religious suppression, which ironically contributed to the growth of Yiguan Dao. Part 4 briefly intro­ duces the growth of Yiguan Dao under suppression and delineates that how the sect's growth led to its legalization against the background of democratization in Taiwan. In the final part, I offer some theoretical dis­ cussion on the unintended consequences of religious suppression contrib­ uting to the success of suppressed religions.


The religious economy model includes a complex theory concerning reli­ gious vitality. At the macro level, the model probes how state regulation influences the vitality of religious economies. The theory's central argu­ ment is that state regulation can decrease the vigor of religious markets by restricting competition, while a free market can generate higher religios­ ity.4 Two forms of regulation have been discussed: suppression and sub­ sidy. Subsidy, which is usually adopted by the state to enforce a monopoly religious economy, tends to produce a lazy clergy and consequently a less religiously socialized population. Suppression not only prevents the for­ mation of new religions, which are a source of innovation and growth, but also makes dominant religions become inefficient. In short, "regulation restricts competition by changing the incentives and opportunities for religious producers (churches, preachers, revivalists, etc.) and the viable options for religious consumer (church members)." s At the micro level of religious congregations, the model examines the role of religious entrepreneurs and organizational strictness in maintain­ ing religious vitality. In a free market, according to the model, competition drives religious entrepreneurs to create aggressive religions. In order to absorb new followers and sustain old ones, skilled religious entrepre­ neurs tend to provide attractive products and services. But the religious firms' abilities to provide efficient services are also constrained by the degree of organizational strictness. It has been argued that strict religions are stronger than lenient religions in offering attractive religious products because organizational strictness can not only screen out members who lack commitment but also stimulate participation among those who re-

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


main.6 Thus, an optimal level of organizational strictness can sustain the vitality of religious groups by means of solving the free-rider problem. If competition, religious entrepreneurs, and institutional strictness ac­ count for the vitality of religious groups in a free market, what are the factors maintaining religious organizations' vitality in a highly restricted market? Unfortunately, up until now, there are few studies revealing the operation of repressed religion in a regulated market; and even less research probes the vitality of suppressed religions. One exception is Rod­ ney Stark's research on the rise of Christianity in a hostile surrounding? He finds that social stigma and sacrifice accompanied with persecution were helpful for repressed Christians to maintain their commitment; at the same time, the strong social network of Christianity facilitated its mass recruitment in crisis. On the basis of these analyses, this chapter tries to develop a model explaining the growth of Yiguan Dao under sup­ pression.


When the Kuomintang state retreated to Taiwan in 1949, it applied martial law, which restricted free speech, free assembly, and religious freedom. For political consideration, Western missionaries of Christian­ ity were welcomed and supported, not only because these missionaries were politically conservative and anticommunist, but also because the Kuomintang government tried to "please America," which provided military and economic aids to Taiwan.8 At the same time, the Nationalist regime restricted indigenous religions to ensure that no religious organi­ zation became sufficiently well-organized and powerful to produce politi­ cal challenges. Buddhism and Daoism were strictly regulated through the state-sponsored organizations, such as the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (Zhongguo fojiao xiehui).9 The popular religion became the target of reformation and restriction,lO and sectarians were still under suppression. Yiguan Dao became the main victim of sectarian persecution. The police began to investigate the sect's activities in 1950. The investiga­ tion drew the conclusion that Yiguan Dao violated morality, threatened public security, intervened in politics, and cooperated with the Commu­ nist "bandits." Two years later, the Nationalist state in Taiwan outlawed Yiguan Dao. In the following three decades, Yiguan Dao was criticized by Buddhism, stigmatized by the state-controlled press, and repressed by the authoritarian state. Religious economy theorists say that dominating religions tend to use political power to restrict competition.l1 It is true in the case of Yiguan


Chapter 2

Dao. The state-sponsored Buddhist monks played an active role in lob­ bying the state to suppress the sect. From the perspective of official Bud­ dhists, Yiguan Dao was not a religion at all because the sect did not have scriptures of its own and because it promoted superstition by means of Fuji seance. The Buddhists published many pamphlets to attack Yiguan Dao.12 They claimed that Yiguan Dao was an offspring of the White Lotus Sect, which was supposedly dangerous and rebellious, so Yiguan Dao was evil in nature. They also charged that Yiguan Dao terrorized those who wanted to break away from the sect, since Yiguan Dao's initiation oath threatens that apostates should be struck by lightening. As we will see, these charges were readily accepted by the authoritarian state. Even when the authoritarian state considered lifting the suppression of Yiguan Dao in 1981, the monks controlling the Buddhist Association of the Re­ public of China still opposed the sect's legitimatization. They cooperated with other "orthodox" religions to urge the state to insist on the continued suppression.13 The state-controlled press also stigmatized Yiguan Dao. Since the sect was first prohibited in the early 1950s in Taiwan, it had to operate un­ derground. As Jordan and Overmyer point out, "underground sects are subject to extravagant suspicions, and hence to unrealistic legal charges, which are easily believed by a populace that lacks firsthand knowledge of them." 14 Social stigmas were associated with Yiguan Dao after it became secret. Because the sectarians only ate vegetarian foods and eggs, some people called Yiguan Dao "the sect of duck eggs" (Yadan Jiao). This dis­ paraging nickname soon became popular together with the rumors that the followers of "duck egg sect" held naked congregations and the sectar­ ian leaders raped the female believers in name of religion. These rumors were echoed and exaggerated by newspapers run by the state. On March 8, 1963, New Life News (Xin Shenhuo Bao) reported that one Yiguan Dao leader committed adultery with female believers; five days later, Minzu Evening News (Minzu Wanbao) claimed that Yiguan Dao, namely, the duck egg sect, congregated nakedly and that the female believers were raped in the congregations. These untrue reports irritated Yiguan Dao. In order to clarify the truth, three Yiguan Dao leaders published an announcement in New Life News on March 13, 1963, which was titled "A Serious Announcement by the Repre­ sentatives of Yiguan Dao." Under the title are the following contents: Recently, some newspapers in Taipei published such news that "the sect of duck eggs" (Yadan Jiao) is a branch of Yiguan Dao whose members worship gods nakedly, rape the female believers, and force the female to smuggle or prostitute themselves to support the sect. These reports are not in accordance with facts and are full of misunderstandings, so we publicly claim that (1) the

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


Yiguan Dao has nothing to do with the so called "the sect of duck eggs," and we also know nothing about the situation of "duck eggs sect"; (2) To stabilize the society and achieve the grand purpose of Three Principles of the People (Sanmin zhuyi), we [Yiguan Dao followers] emphasize correcting the mind and cultivating the body, propagandize Confucian ethic, practice the tradi­ tional moral requirements and stress being filial to parents and harmonious with neighbors. As for the name of our society, it comes from the Confucius saying that "the Dao that I follow is the one that unifies all." It is without any heterodox meanings. However, some newspapers purposely confuse "the duck eggs sect" with Yiguan Dao and make use of the above slanders to attack our group. These behaviors should be criticized by the wise people. Actually, Yiguan Dao strictly follows Confucius' teachings to motivate the good nature of humans, cultivates mind and seeks to achieve the unity of man and nature. In fact, Yiguan Dao is not only one of the most progressive religions of our country, but also an important force opposing the Chinese Communist Party and Communist Russia (Fangong Kang-e). Yiguan Dao also criticizes the so-called "the duck eggs sect" and its behaviors which are revealed by the newspaper. (3) All of the Yiguan Dao believers obey the law, fulfill their social responsibility and spontaneously change their minds to correct the social atmosphere and benefit the country. However, we are stig­ matized by the above rumors published in these newspapers. Our country is in the important period of opposing the Chinese Communist Party and the Communist Russia. If we keep silence, such wicked slanders would violate the social morality and weaken the forces against the Chinese Communist Party. Considering these facts, we deliberately publish this announcement to clarify some facts. IS

The announcement concludes with information on announcers' names and their addresses. This is the first time that Chinese sectarians used the mass media to argue for their belief. As we can see, they were very care­ ful to stress the following themes: morally, Yiguan Dao follows Confucian ethic and has nothing to do with naked congregations; politicall� Yiguan Dao is a force loyal to Kuomintang and it is in opposition to Chinese Communist Party. However, the announcement per se was audacious and violated the authority of the state from the point of view of Kuomintang, although the sect clearly showed its loyalty to the authoritarian state. It is not a surprise that the Kuomintang state responded to the announcement with a stricter repression, and declared: The police had strictly prohibited the heterodox sect Yiguan Dao according to the law. . . . However, the heterodox sect still holds illegal congregations and even publishes an advertisement on newspapers to praise itself. It treats the rules and laws with contempt. According to the information we get, the sectarians hold naked congregations which violate the social morality; they also cheat money from the mass, rape female believers and terrify believers in the name of religion; worse still, they spread rumors which are helpful to


Chapter 2 the Communist bandits. They not only threaten the public security but also violate the current policies. In addition, the sect can be easily utilized by the bandit. To protect the national security and public security, the police decide to strictly prohibit Yiguan Dao, a heterodox sect.16

Triggered by the announcement incident, a high wave of persecu­ tion occurred in 1 963. In this year, under the great pressure of the Kuomintang state, the three announcers mentioned above had to ad­ vertise again that Yiguan Dao decided to disband itself because it did not gain recognition from the state. Still in 1963, thirteen high-level sectarian leaders were regarded as "rogues" and were arrested by the authoritarian state. Some of them were abused by the police during the custodies. Since then, persecution had become more severe: the police frequently swept down Yiguan Dao's congregations and took sectari­ ans into custody; especially, the sectarian leaders became "ready targets for blackmail and charges of fraud. " 17 Song points out that there were at least 1 1 8 crackdowns on Yiguan Dao from 1959 to 1 982, as Figure 2 . 1 shows.18 This figure, however, i s not a perfect measurement, since i t includes only those crackdowns that had been reported i n newspapers from 1 959 to 1 982. The official press did not reveal some persecution cases; in addition, there were many sectarian repression cases that oc­ curred before 1 959. These suppression cases are not reflected in Song's figures. Anyway, the figure provided by Song gives a general impres­ sion of the suppression. Could the state successfully prevent the existence of Yiguan Dao? How much can the state control religion through suppression? In the following sections, I will try to probe these questions from the perspective of ratio­ nal choice theory. My answer is that suppression cannot destroy the vital20


18 1 6 +-------�--�--�+-1 4 +-----�H_--_+r_--_+�1 2 +-----�_r----_r�1 0 +------+_r--�+_--�_r8 +------+-+--�--��-�_+6 4 +-----���--_rr__+----��_r--_7--�r__ 2 +---��--���-.�---�-++---�� o

C\� C\'l;) C\� C\'\ C\OJ R>� OJ bOJ �� �'l;) �� � "" � � � � � � � � � � � � _

Figure 2 . 1 .


Reports on Repressing Yiguan Dao, 1 959-1 982

I -----+-

Series 1


Yiguan DaD on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


ity of religious firms because it tends to breed unintended consequences that contribute to the growth of suppressed religion UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE S OF RELIGIOUS SUPPRESSION Suppression, Doctrinal Innovations, and Otherworldly Rewards

The religious economy model holds that the resource distinguishing religion from secular firms is "otherworldly rewards," namely, expla­ nations for obtaining rewards in the distant future or in some other non-verifiable context.19 Competition in unregulated markets drives religious entrepreneurs to manufacture new explanations to attract fol­ lowers. In a regulated market, we find that suppression always induces religions to produce adaptive doctrines that are helpful to increase oth­ erworldly rewards. In the case of Yiguan Dao, the sect developed a set of theories on "test" (Kao) to cope with the persecution. From the perspective of sectarian, one must experience various kinds of tests in the process of cultivation. One of tests is the "test from the state" (guankao), which refers to "suppression and violence from government officials."20 Ac­ cording to the Yiguan Dao theory, suppression can benefit the sectar­ ians at least from the following aspects. First, since repression is a test arranged by the Eternal Venerable Mother to select genuine believers, those who pass the exam will be rewarded after they enter the Heaven. Specially, their heavenly statuses (Guowei) are based on the sufferings they experienced during the suppression. The more they suffer, the higher the heavenly status they will gain after death. Second, sup­ pression helps "remove bad habits and refine bad temper" (Qumaobin gaipiqi) . The sect holds that those primordial spirits sent by the Mother were pure, but they gradually lost their true nature and became ruth­ less and crafty. Suppression can make people reflect on themselves and discard bad habits and temper, such as impatience and pride. Finally, bearing persecution is a way to reduce the karmas ( Yezhang), which are accumulated because of a person's wrong actions during the successive phases of the person's existence. Through confronting and enduring suppression, believers can gain merits (gongde), which can help them get rid of the circle of birth, death, and rebirth. In short, the more the sectarians suffer, the more karma they will reduce; the more merits they accumulate by enduring distress, the higher the heavenly status they will achieve.21 It is not uncommon that repressed sects would develop a set of explana­ tions in response to religious persecution. An imperial official of the Qing Dynasty once gave the following comments:


Chapter 2

The current heterodoxies (Xiejiao) hold that "if one is punished but without execution, he will be free of falling hell but can not go directly to the heaven; if one is sent to the gallows, he will go to heaven without red robes; if one is decapitated, he will ascend to heaven with red robes; if one is put to death by dismembering the body, he will directly ascend to the heaven with a big red robe." Now I have read more than forty heterodox scriptures produced in the Ming Dynasty, but I fail to find such ideas in these scriptures. Follow­ ers of heterodoxies in the Ming Dynasty were not executed, so they did not need to produce these ideas. However, from the establishment of the Qing Dynasty on, heterodoxies have been strictly prohibited. The followers of evil religions are bastinadoed, exiled, garroted, beheaded or executed by dismembering the body, according to the degree of their crimes. Though the followers of evil religions are stupid, they also fear death. To conquer the fear of death, the current evil religions manufacture such ideas as "the sectarians being executed can directly ascend to the heaven." As a result, the current sectarians regard execution as a valuable opportunity to ascend to heaven and thus punishments cannot forbid the activities of evil religions. However, the stupid followers of evil religions do not know that there were no such ideas as "one being executed can directly ascend to heaven" in the past evil religions. These ideas are added by the current evil religions recently.22

The above quotation suggests that heavy suppression cannot decrease the sectarians' enthusiasm of spreading their faith; rather, it induces the suppressed sects to manufacture innovative teachings to transform sufferings into religious rewards. With regard to this point, Falun Gong provides us a recent case. After this group was outlawed by the Chinese state in 1999, Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, kept producing new explanations to encourage the practitioners to confront the Chinese Com­ munist Party, arguing that such resistance can increase the practitioners' merits.23 Investigation shows that these explanations were helpful to strengthen the believers' faith. A female sectarian in her early sixties recalled: I had been taken into custody several times in the past. Each time after I was released by the police, I would immediately go to the Buddha hall, burn a big bundle of incenses, kowtow to the Eternal Venerable Mother, and thank the Mother for offering me a great chance to get rid of the karma I accumulated in my past lives. Many Yiguan Dao sectarians shared these ideas.24 Here we see the strength of doctrines. Due to these innovative explanations, sufferings related to suppression become rewards rather than costs due to the in­ novative explanations. Equipped with these innovative explanations, repressed sectarians believe that it is worth running the risk of confronta­ tion with the authoritarian state to insist on their faith. For the sectarians, punishments are the very way to gain religious rewards: traditional sec-

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


tarians "call death 'Recovering the Origin' (shou-yuan,) and believed they ascended straight to heaven"25; the believers regard imprisonment as a good opportunity to reduce karma and gain merits; and today Falun Gong practitioners view resistance as a way towards "Spiritual Accomplish­ ment" (Yuanman). Due to the innovative theories invoked by persecution, sufferings in this world can be imaginatively transformed into benefits and rewards in other world. Undoubtedly, these innovative explanations could increase the commitment of sectarians. For this reason, the Yiguan Dao sectarians regard suppression as "the most favorably unfavorable factor" for the growth of Yiguan Dao.26 Many senior sectarians even miss the days during suppression. A male sectarian commented: Three decades ago, there were many tests from the state. When we recruited neophytes, cultivated Dao, and held congregations, we had to do these things secretly and carefully. In attempt to avoid attention from neighbors who were potential to inform the police, we had to go to family Buddha halls (Jiating Fotang) one by one rather than many attendees arrived simultane­ ously. It usually spent a few hours to hold a congregation. At that time, it was really difficult to cultivate Dao, but people were very committed because we believed that those prohibited were valuable. Now there are no official tests, but people are less committed. If something is easy to gain, it will become useless. People always believe that those things which are prohibited are valuable. Organizational Innovations and Massive Recruitment

Facing with persecution and grave risks from defection or discovery, religions in a highly restricted market typically divide themselves into numerous small cells and emphasize vertical integration. When Yiguan Dao was under suppression, it employed a particular organizational structure in order to avoid capture and imprisonment, as Figure 2.2 in­ dicates. Eighteen divisions carried out their missionary works indepen­ dently in Taiwan since the early 1950s. Each division, which was led by a senior master (Qianren), included many independent units managed by "initiators" (dianchuan shi). Initiators were actually independent religious entrepreneurs responsible for managing their own local followers. Thus, Yiguan Dao was actually a gathering of thousands of small initiator­ disciple cliques respectively managed by individual initiators.27 We must note that this organizational structure is not an innovation by Yiguan Dao. The same organizational structure had existed in Chinese sects since the sixteenth century.28 Developed against the background of religious suppression, this organizational structure was helpful for the suppressed religious firms in avoiding persecution, sustaining the sectarians' morale and motivation, and keeping the sectarian networks.


Chapter 2

Other initiators

Figure 2 . 2 .

The Organizational Structure of Yiguan Dao when under Suppression.

The above structure that stressed "the single-line leadership" (Danx­ ian Lingdao) is helpful in avoiding detection. Principally, an ordinary sectarian could only interact with the sectarians who belong to the same Buddha hall; and he had no access to know other sectarian leaders ex­ cept the Buddha hall master who presided over the congregation. Simi­ larly, a Buddha hall master could only access the specific initiator who served as the supervisor; and initiators were respectively supervised by a senior master, the chief leader of a division. Due to "the single-line leadership," the vertical relationship within the sect was particularly strengthened. Meanwhile, horizontal interactions within the sect were largely reduced. The absence of horizontal communication was helpful to keep the sect in a secret status. Secret police in a Buddha hall knew little about the information of other Buddha halls, even if the same initiator led these halls. In fact, in order to avoid possible persecution, such divisions as Xingyi deliberately reduced the horizontal interactions between Buddha halls. At the same time, due to the existence of Buddha halls, two or three people could gather together and form a small religious group. Families or groups of neighbors could meet in secrecy in a Buddha hall; itinerant "initiators" could address congregations or they could be self-supervis­ ing; and various religious activities-such as everyday rituals, spirit writ­ ing, and research courses-could be held in Buddha halls. In short, the

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


organizational structure not only made the sect very flexible in providing services but also reduced persecution to a large degree.29 The organizational structure was also helpful to sustain the sectarians' morale and motivation to do missionary work in a hostile surrounding. One important principle employed by Yiguan Dao is that "those scat­ tering seeds harvest the crops" (shuizhong shuide). Under this principle, the sectarians hold good chances to establish their own initiator-disciple groups by means of missionary efforts. There was a hierarchy of leaders in Yiguan Dao, ranging from ordinary sectarians, Dao helpers, Buddha hall masters, lecturers, and initiators to senior masters. One could get promoted by recruiting neophytes. As mentioned before, initiators were actually independent religious entrepreneurs. When one was appointed as an initiator, it meant that a new initiator-disciple clique came into be­ ing by fission from the mother branch, although the new group was still supervised by its mother branch. The fission-production enabled Yiguan Dao to spread quickly. Encouraged by the mechanism of "those scattering seeds harvest the crops," the sectarians were very aggressive in doing missionary work. Usually, an active sectarian can build a big group. For instance, He Zong­ hao, the previous chief leader of Xingyi division, established the biggest division of Yiguan Dao, which includes thirty-one units and hundreds of thousands of believers.3o Chen Hongzhen, the senior master of Fayi Chongde division who came from mainland China to Taiwan in 1948, built a Yiguan Dao group that now has more than ten thousand Buddha halls.31 Almost all senior masters today can tell their story about efforts and suc­ cesses in building up the membership of their divisions. Since the organizational structure resulted in the proliferation of subunits that can function independently and efficiently, it contributed to the maintenance of sectarian networks. Secular regimes can disin­ tegrate sects by means of executing sectarian leaders, but it is difficult to destroy the sectarian networks totally. Rather, suppressing one sect usually led to the emergence of various smaller sects.32 In the case of Yiguan Dao, its networks functioned very well even under the strict suppression. The sect extended to potential recruits through personal networks. When the sectarians did missionary work, they followed the principle of converting relatives and friends first" (Qin chuan qin, you chuan you). Usually the Yiguan Dao sectarians established an initial con­ tact by inviting their relatives and friends to "worship gods" (Bai Bai) at their home. Next the potential converts would be persuaded to attend a family gathering in which the sectarians would share some religious stories or witnesses with the guest. Those who showed their interest in the sect would be initiated as a Yiguan Dao sectarian, or a "Dao relative" (Daoqin) called by the sect. II


Chapter 2

When observing the operation of religions under conditions of repres­ sion in pre-Soviet times, Sawatsky finds that religion developed tactics to recruit and retain members: Substitution Sunday schools were achieved by carefully planned birthday parties. The choir practice, with a protracted meditation in the middle, be­ came a de facto youth meeting. A Christian wedding meant that unbelieving friends and relatives would be present and would hear a Gospel invitation, and would see how the celebration was enjoyable without getting drunk. And at funerals, churches still make sure that their best preachers and an adequate choir are on hand-here, too, the focus is often more on the liv­ ing-than the dead.33

The Yiguan Dao sectarians adopted similar strategies to operate under conditions of repression. Since they could not congregate publicly, the sec­ tarians held congregations in name of birthday parties. Zheng Peicheng, the senior master of fichu division, comments that he even celebrated his "birthday" dozens of times in one year when the state strictly repressed Yiguan Dao. When the suppression became stricter and birthday parties could not operate, the sectarians organized themselves into touring par­ ties. In the tourist buses, they would share their faith with each other. The main purpose of such activities was not for the tourism, but for the con­ gregation.34 Through these ways, Yiguan Dao kept functioning well and absorbing followers even during the most severe period of suppression. The well-functioned sectarian networks of Yiguan Dao became the ba­ sis of massive recruitment in 1960s and 1970s. Lofland and Stark discover that social networks lie at the heart of conversion and conversion tends to proceed along social networks.35 When interpersonal attachments were largely destroyed by natural and social disasters, social networks of sec­ tarian movements would provide people who lost their attachments with alternative networks, as happened in the rise of Christiani ty.36 The great epidemic of the second century made very substantial numbers of pagans shift from mainly pagan to Christian social networks. Taiwan had experienced a high rate of economic growth beginning in 1960 and industrial development produced an urban revolution. In the 1970s, Taipei and Gaoxiong became world-class cities, boasting com­ mercial centers and industrial facilities. Smaller cities, such as Tainan, also moved out of a preindustrial rural economy and into manufactur­ ing industry. As a large number of factories were built around the cities, many people moved to the suburbs and to the cities, making their livings as workers. At the same time, the economic development increased the number of colleges and universities. With the development of higher edu­ cation in Taiwan, more and more college students left their hometowns to study in cities. The social transition of Taiwan in the 1960s and 1970s

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


made a large number of people lose the interpersonal attachments that previously bound them to the conventional moral order. Most of them were immigrant workers and college students. Unlike Buddhism and Taoism, which were reluctant to recruit members, Yiguan Dao aggres­ sively extended its networks to those potential converts. The sect exerted its influences on the work forces by means of "com­ bining missionary work and business activities" (Sangjiao heyi).37 Many sectarians became big capitalists with the economic development. For example, Yao Wunian, a leading initiator of Baoguang Jiande division, pri­ marily began his business career as a repairman and later became one of the richest men in Taiwan, managing a big steel factory. Zhang Rongfa is the founder and president of Evergreen Marine Corporation (Changrong gongsi) as well as a chief initiator of a Yiguan Dao subdivision; his com­ pany also developed from a small enterprise to one of the most influen­ tial companies on Taiwan in the past decades. Besides these influential sectarian capitalists, more sectarians managed small- or middle-scale en­ terprises; about 21 percent of Yiguan Dao initiators were entrepreneurs.38 These sectarian leaders made use of their entrepreneur identity to recruit new sectarians from their employees. Usually, they added some religious contents into the training courses, promoted the trainees' reli­ gious interests, and then encouraged workers to be initiated. Since most of management staffs in these enterprises were Yiguan Dao followers, employees could easily be converted to the sect. For example, 99.8 per­ cent of managers in the Evergreen Marine Corporation were Yiguan Dao sectarians in 1990.39 These sectarian entrepreneurs also built big Buddha halls in their factories and held religious meetings in the name of training workers. Accordingly, these sectarian congregations could successfully avoid the government's attention. Finally, the sectarian enterprises could give financial support to the missionary work. For example, in 1974, the Baoguang Jiande branch of Yiguan Dao utilized believers' donations to build the Tianran Chemical Plant (Tianran huagongchang), a factory manufacturing corn mint in Singapore. Within a few years, this factory became one of the top five mint factories of the world. With its business success, this sectarian company routinely invested a part of its profits to support the sect's missionary work in retum.40 In sum, by combining missionary work and business activities, the sect could operate secretly and efficiently in a strictly regulated religious market.41 Since the 1980s, many Yiguan Dao believers and companies have spread in the Chinese mainland by means of investment. The model of "combining missionary work and business activities" facilitates the development of Yiguan Dao in mainland China. The sect also extended its networks to colleges through establishing "meal groups" (huoshi tuan). With the development of education in Taiwan,


Chapter 2

more and more poor students from the rural areas could get higher educa­ tion. To save expenses, in 1968, a couple of college students in the Fengjia University who were members of the Fayi division decided to organize a meal group, living and eating together. In the following years, the group gradually developed more functions. In addition to providing vegetarian diets, the meal group of Yiguan Dao also held such activities as congrega­ tions and hiking. The meal group eventually became a basic missionary unit in charge of recruiting new members from colleges. The detailed func­ tions are presented in Appendix 2. The innovation of meal groups soon extended from the Fengjia University to other colleges. In the early 1980s, Yiguan Dao established hundreds of meal groups in various universities and colleges in Taiwan. The establishment of meal groups made Yiguan Dao one of the most active religious firms in universities. More than sixty thousand college students had converted to Yiguan Dao from 1967 to 1979 even though the authoritarian state took several measures (e.g., dismissing the sectarian students) to prevent college students from joining the sect.42 By extending its networks to factories and colleges, Yiguan Dao generated an effective vehicle to recruit coverts on a large scale. To summarize, suppression tends to drive repressed religious groups to adopt institutional innovations. In the case of Yiguan Dao, the sect employed an organizational structure that can avoid detection and keep the morale of sectarians. By stressing vertical integration and by reducing horizontal interactions within the sect, the structure led to the prolifera­ tion of subunits. It made it impossible for the state to destroy sectarian networks completely. The sustained sectarian networks became the key of massive recruitment and religious growth. Reducing Free-Riding

Iannacone's excellent analysis has demonstrated that religion, like other collective activities, is susceptible to the free-rider problem.43 The free­ rider problem is a dilemma for religious groups. On one hand, in order to recruit member in a large scale, religious institutions must tolerate free riders who are potential consumers, sometimes "inviting them to enjoy the benefits of the church as 'quasi-public goods' -to experience the benefits of the church as 'free samples' with the promise of even better things to come (after a free rider becomes 'serious')."44 On the other hand, religious groups must reduce the number of free riders either through screening out halfhearted members or through turning free riders into serious believers. Otherwise, the large scale of free riders would wreck religious firms. Suppression can mitigate the free-rider problem by creating a social barrier that filters out halfhearted members. Iannacone has demonstrated

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


that religions may benefit from stigma, self-sacrifice, and bizarre behav­ ioral restrictions, which can overcome free-rider problems.45 Stark also argues that sacrifice and stigma made early Christianity immune to free­ rider problems by creating a barrier to group entry and increasing par­ ticipation.46 These arguments are applicable to explain the case of Yiguan Dao. As mentioned before, social stigma, such as "naked congregation" and the nickname of "duck egg sect," was attached to Yiguan Dao when it was suppressed by the Kuomintang state. Under such a situation, few people, if any, would try to free ride in an illegal and infamous sect which could provide few practical supports to believers. Accordingly, both sup­ pression and social stigma directly helped Yiguan Dao to overcome the free-rider problem. Social Stigma, Sacrifice, and the Risk of Religious Commodities

The religious economy model regards religious commodities as highly risky otherworldly rewards that lie beyond the range of empirical proof. Due to the risk and uncertainty of religious rewards, "religious consum­ ers are tempted to backslide, thereby reducing their levels of participation and commitment."47 Therefore, religious firms must take measures to reduce the risk of religious commodities to maintain commitment. Sup­ pression can decrease the risk of religious commodities. Rational choice theorists hold that the less the clergies benefit materi­ ally from their followers' faith, the more persuasive the clergy are.48 As I have stated, Yiguan Dao provided no salaries to the missionaries who made their livings through their secular businesses. Moreover, suppres­ sion made these missionaries lose rather than gain from their religious services. They encountered ridicules from the society and persecution from the state. How could one doubt the credibility of the sectarians' faith if they would like to sacrifice time, money, and even freedom to insist on their faith? Indeed, " [b]y voluntarily accepting torture and death rather than defecting, a person sets the highest imaginable value upon a religion and communicates that value to others."49 Thus, sacrifice is helpful to reduce the risk of religious commodities and strengthen the believers' confidence, as Stark reveals in The Rise of Christianity.5o Proponents of the religious economy model also point out that mem­ bers in higher-tension religious groups are active in missionizing.51 So did Yiguan Dao. As a suppressed sect that was in a high tension with the authoritarian state, Yiguan Dao actively encouraged its followers to do missionary work, arguing that the more neophytes one recruits the more merits he will gain. As mentioned above, in order to keep secret and avoid persecution, Yiguan Dao used to stress that the sectarians should obey the rule that "relatives convert relatives and friends convert friends" when


Chapter 2

they do missionary work. Undoubtedly, this strategy helped the sect to reduce the uncertainty of religious commodities because "friends and fel­ low congregants have fewer incentives to overstate the benefits of religion than do clergy."52 The differences between the social stigma and the reality the believ­ ers experienced made Yiguan Dao become more believable and reliable. When recalling the process of becoming a sectarian, an informant who joined Yiguan Dao in 1974 told me: One of my cousins first joined in Yiguan Dao. Then her parents followed her. They told me that Yiguan Dao was very good. "Is it really good? You close the door when you are congregating. How do I know what you are doing?" I laughed at them . . . . However, I was a little curious to see what Yiguan Dao on earth was, so I followed them to the Buddha hall of Yiguan Dao. The Buddha hall and the rituals were very sacred and impressive. I had visited a large number of temples before. Although those temples were also sacred, people in temples were not serious and they usually walked disorderly and talked loudly. The Buddha hall of Yiguan Dao was quite different. People in Yiguan Dao's Buddha hall would never speak loudly. They just stood there quietly and smilingly, with the male on one side and the female on other side. They were also very polite. They would say hello to you after you entered the Buddha hall and then politely gave you a clean wet towel to clean hands. In short, the situation was quite different from what the rumors described. I realized that Yiguan Dao was good. From then on, I not only kept on going to the Buddha hall but also introduced the Dao to others.

A female informant who joined Yiguan Dao in 1971 stated: Before receiving the Dao, I had heard libels that Yiguan Dao was the duck egg sect and that Yiguan Dao held naked congregations. But after I received the Dao, it was amazing that the real situation was extremely different from what the hearsays described. Why was there such a big difference? So after receiving the Dao, I was not influenced by the libel. On the contrary, the libel increased my faith in the Dao because the reality was in tremendous contra­ dict with the rumors.

Such statements are typical of converts. In order to justify its religious persecution policy, the state purposely declared that Yiguan Dao violated the social morality through holding naked congregations. The sect was described as an immoral group full of rogues, cheats, lecherous male lead­ ers, and ignorant female believers. These negative images were exagger­ ated and widely spread by the state-controlled press. However, the sectar­ ians' experience contradicted the widespread hearsays. The Buddha halls of Yiguan Dao were very clean, tidy, and quiet; the sectarians in Buddha halls were neat and formally dressed, modest and pious; they were di­ vided into two parts when performing rituals, with the males on one side

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


and the females on the other side; and they greeted visitors with smile and bows. All of these facts convinced potential Yiguan Dao sectarians that the Kuomintang state and the press were liars, while Yiguan Dao was believable and dependable. Accordingly, the negative hearsays contrarily strengthened the sectarians' faith and increased their commitments. When examining the regulatory influences of suppression, previous studies holds that suppression tends to increase the cost of membership, such as "the additional costs of concealing their membership or facing public harassment."53 Undoubtedly, this observation is still valid. But this is just one side of the coin; the other side is that suppression also results in unintended consequences that are helpful reducing the risk of religious commodities offered by the pressed religious firms, as this sec­ tion reveals.


Government campaigns against Yiguan Dao in Taiwan forced the sect to operate secretly or even disband temporarily, but persecution did not cut the throat of Yiguan Dao. On the contrary, the sect grew steadily and quickly during the period of suppression. Although we cannot get the sect's exact membership before 1987 due to its underground nature, we may get a sense of its development in Taiwan from the following estima­ tions. The statistics issued by the police department reported that the sect had about fifty thousand followers in 1963.54 Its membership since then has skyrocketed, surpassing three hundred twenty-four thousand in 1984, according to the data by the Taiwan social change survey. 55 In 1989, two years after the sect gained its legal status, the Taiwan social change sur­ vey shows that 2.2 percent respondents, namely, more than four hundred forty-three thousand, were Yiguan Dao believers. Though these numbers are not quite precise, they indeed indicate that Yiguan Dao successfully developed from a small immigrant sect into one of the most influential religious groups in Taiwan. Since the 1960s, competitive local elections existed on Taiwan. With Yiguan Dao becoming more and more powerful, Kuomintang realized that it could utilize the sectarians to win elections. According to the bi­ ography of Zhang Peicheng, the senior of fichu division, the Kuomintang officials began to ask him to motivate the followers to help the party win elections in 1971 .56 As a result, an ironic phenomenon emerged. On one hand, the Kuomintang state publicly charged that the sect manipulated local elections; on the other hand, the officials privately utilized the sect to gain votes. Anyway, the institution of elections provided the sect an opportunity to build a patron-client relationship with the authoritarian


Chapter 2

officials. Many officials who once received help from the sectarians were reluctant to repress the sect strictly. In the mid-1980s, Yiguan Dao established a good relationship with the state. Many high-level officials, such as Vice-president Li Denghui, established a good relationship with Yiguan Dao and they visited Yiguan Dao temples frequently. But the Kuomintang state was not active in legalizing Yiguan Dao, since the sect's illegal status was helpful for the Kuomintang state in controlling it for the benefit of election. In 1986, however, the situation began to change. That year saw the formation of the first opposition party, Democratic Progressive Party, in Taiwan. It indicated that Taiwan could change from an authoritarian system into a more democratic system. The formation of Democratic Progressive Party also gave Yiguan Dao more channels to seek help. The sectarians began to contact with the newly­ established opposition party. In order to retain the support of Yiguan Dao, Kuomintang had to facilitate the process of legalizing Yiguan Dao. In January 9, 1987, forty legislators appealed the Department of Civil Affairs (Neizheng Bu) to give a legal status to Yiguan Dao, stating: Tian Dao is one of Chinese traditional religions. It focuses on the practice of traditional values, such as loyalty, filial piety and morality. Although it was banned due to the misunderstanding, Tian Dao became more and more popular among the mass, with more than one million believers now. The government should attach importance to this issue, permitting Tian Dao to register and spread legally. In order to stabilize the society and protect the freedom of religious faith, we officially suggest the Executive Yuan (Xing­ zheng Yuan) to legalize Tian Dao. Tian Dao, namely Yiguan Dao, has expanded quickly during the several decades in spite of the government's severe banning. Currently, it owns more than one million believers . . . . Many of them are influential figures in the political and economic circles. Many tremendous temples which cost more than one billion dollars are owned by Tian Dao. In addition, many corpora­ tions belong to Tian Dao. Under this condition, is it possible for Tian Dao to be prohibited propagandizing or to be banned?

The statement contributed to the final legalization of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan. In January 13, 1987, the Kuomintang government officially gave Yiguan Dao legal status. Yiguan Dao became the first religion that transformed from a suppressed sect to a legal religious group in modern Chinese societies.


The sources of religious vitality have been fully explored by sociologists.57 Both contextual factors and institutional factors contribute to the religious

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


vitality. In the study of growth and decline of denominations in Western societies, students find that contextual factors, such as competition, plu­ ralism and state deregulation, can account for the religious vitality. 58 They also pointed out that institutional factors, such as efficient clergy and policy, attractive theology and practices, aggressive mission programs, and institutional strictness, can also account for religious vitality. 59 Previous studies have thoroughly probed the source of religious vital­ ity in a free market. Unfortunately, up until now there are few studies revealing the operation of repressed religion in a regulated market, and even less research probes the vitality of suppressed religions. This chap­ ter offers a modest contribution to this agenda. By extending the model to Chinese societies, this chapter reveals how Yiguan Dao operated in a restricted market and responded to the persecution. Specifically, a couple of unintended consequences of religious suppression are discussed. Restrictive regulation cannot muffle suppressed religions; instead, sup­ pression tends to drive repressed religions to be innovative, adaptive, and aggressive. Yiguan Dao was a good example. The sect was virtually the most innovative religious group on Taiwan during the period when it was suppressed.60 In a restricted religious economy, unlike the dominating religions, which could utilize political power to strike rivals, Yiguan Dao had to actively update its services and develop innovations to attract and retain members. "Innovate or die" -this is the situation that the Yiguan Dao sectarians faced. In order to survive, the sect had no choice but to innovate, both doctrinally and organizationally. Doctrinal innovations not only increased the otherworldly rewards but also created commit­ ted members. Organizational innovations were especially vital for the survival of suppressed religions. The organizational structure made the sect avoid detection, sustain morale, and protect the existence of sectarian networks. The sustained sectarian networks later served as the vehicle of massive recruitment. This study also reveals that state suppression can not only increase the otherworldly rewards provided by the oppressed religions but also reduce the risk of such rewards. These unintended consequences make the conver­ sion to suppressed sects become a reasonable choice: though the suppressed sectarians have to pay more costs and sacrifice more, they can gain more otherworldly rewards and more credible religious products. This finding is helpful to understand the long-standing puzzle that why people would like to contribute their time, enthusiasm, money, and even lives to a suppressed and stigmatized religious group. When addressing why people join sects, Chinese imperial officials always thought that the mass of sectarians were stupid, ignorant, and gullible. Officials used to call sectarians "stupid people" (Yumin) and they put "the constant emphasis on the ' ignorance' and 'confusion' of the people."61 By contrast, this chapter shows that people


Chapter 2

Increasing other­ worldly rewards Promoting doctrinal







organizational Suppression

The vitality of

innovations Sustaining __,...__, . sectarian

suppressed ,________,_ religions



Reducing the risk of religious commodities

Mitigating free riding

Figure 2.3.

A Model of Unintended Consequences of Religious Suppression.

convert to repressed sects at least partly because the suppression uninten­ tionally increases both the otherworldly rewards and the certainty of such rewards by suppressed religious firms. In other words, state suppression makes the religious rewards more profitable and more dependable, so it is reasonable for people to convert to the suppressed religions. This finding sharply contrasts with the official view that conversion to suppressed sects is a consequence of ignorance and irrationality. Finally, this chapter proposes that suppression can mitigate the free­ riding. Suppression, along with sacrifice and social stigma, may act to filter out half-hearted members. Therefore suppression was helpful for the sect to overcome the free-rider problem. Let us return to the core question of this chapter: How can Yiguan Dao thrive even under persecution? Undoubtedly, suppression is not a favor­ able or desirable factor per se, but it can result in many unintended con­ sequences facilitating the making of a strong religion. Repression can act as the energizing force that drives the sect to be innovative, adaptive, and aggressive; suppression was also helpful to increase the religious rewards and the certainty of such rewards; and finally, suppression can mitigate the free-rider problem. All of these unexpected consequences benefit the survival and growth of Yiguan Dao, as Figure 2.3 shows. But this analysis does not imply that repressed religion always benefits from suppression, no matter how extreme the suppression. This analy ­ sis, instead, applies mainly to the religious economy where a moderate

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1 987


religious suppression exists. Though the Kuomintang state regarded Yiguan Dao as a political threat and tried to restrict the sect's activities, Yiguan Dao could try to operate secretly in local communities. Indeed, the Kuomintang state was more moderate in the process of suppressing Yiguan Dao than the Communist government in mainland China. The former did not kill a sectarian because of their faith even during the most severe period of suppression, while the latter executed most of important sectarian leaders on mainland China in the early 1950s. Whereas moder­ ate suppression may be salutary, the regulatory influences of more ex­ treme persecution are still to be investigated in future research. NOTES

1. Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (New York: Basic Books, 1962), 124. 2. Daniel H. Bays, "Chinese Protestant Christianity Today," The China Quar­ terly 174 (2003): 488-504. 3. Paul Froese, "Forced Secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an Atheistic Monopoly Failed," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 35-50. 4. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). 5. Roger Finke, "The Consequence of Religious Competition," in Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment, ed. Lawrence A. Young (New York: Routledge, 1997), 46-65. 6. Laurence R. Iannaccone, "Why Strict Churches are Strong?" American Jour­ nal of Sociology 99, no. 4 (December 1994): 1180-1211 . 7. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princ­ eton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996). 8. Murray A. Rubinstein, The Protestan t Community on Modern Taiwan: Mission Seminary and Church (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), 34. 9. Charles B. Jones, Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 1 660-1990 (Ho­ nolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999). 10. Stephan Feuchtwang, "City Temples under Three Regimes," in The Chinese City between Two Worlds, ed. Arthur P. Wolf (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977), 284-93. 11 . Finke, Religious Competition, 48. 12. Hong Miao, Tiandao Zhenchuan [The Chronicle of the Celestial Way] (Taipei: Buddhist Publishing Company, 1975). Also see Shi Wentu, Wo Zengyang Tuoli Yiguan Dao [How I Escaped from the Unity Sect] (Taipei: Buddhist Publishing Com­ pany, 1976). 13. Song Guangyu, Tiandao Goucheng [An Investigation of the Celestial Way] (Tai­ pei: Yuanyou Press, 1983). 14. David K. Jordan, and Daniel L. Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chi­ nese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), 246.


Chapter 2

15. New Life News (Xinsheng Bao), March 13, 1963. 16. United Daily News (Lianhe Wanbao), May 6, 1963. 1 7. Jordan and Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix, 241 . 1 8 . Song, Tiandao Goucheng, 186. 19. Rodney Stark and Williams Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1987). 20. Wuwang Guo, Yiguan Dao Dagang [An outline of Yiguan Dao] (Taiwan: Shangsheng Hang Chubanshe, 1985), 120. 21. Guo, Yiguan Dao Dagang, 118-20. 22. Sawada Mizuho, Kochu Haja Shoben [A Detailed Refutation of Heresies, with Corrections and Commentary] (Tokyo, 1972), 113. 23. For theories newly developed by Li Hongzhi, one can download them from . For cases about resistance of Falun Gong believ­ ers to the regime in China, please refer to (September 10, 2006) . 24. Hongren Yang, Linglei Shehuiyundong: Yiguandao de Shengfanjianxiu yu Du­

ren Chengquan [An Alternative Social Movement: Cultivation and Missionary work of Yiguan Dao], Master's Degree Thesis (Taiwan: Qinghua University, 1997). 25. Kuan Yang, "Shilun Bailianjiao de Tedian" [A Tentative Discussion of the White Lotus Sect's Characteristic], Guangming Ribao (Bright Light Daily), March 15, 1961. 26. Guangyu Song, Ten Years Works on Chinese Religion and Culture (Yinan: Fo­ guang University Press, 2002), 15. 27. David K. Jordan, "The Recent History of Celestial Way: A Chinese Pietistic Association," Modern China 8, no. 4, (October 1982): 435-62. 28. Guangyu Song, "Shiliu Shiji Yilai Zhongguo Minjian Mimijiaopai de Jiben Jiegou" [Chinese Secret Sects' Organizational Structure since the Sixteenth Cen­ tury], in Renleixue Yanjiu [Anthropological Researches] (Taipei: Nantian shuju, 1990), 154-78. 29. In order to avoid detection, Protestantism in contemporary China also adopts a flexible organizational structure similar to that of Yiguan Dao. For de­ tails, see Alan Hunter and Chan Kim-Kwong, Protestantism in Contempora ry China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 71 . 30. Song, Ten Years Works, 372. 31. Yu Mu, Yiguan Dao Gaiyao [An Introduction to Yiguan Dao] (Tainan: Qingju Press, 2002), 110. 32. Hubert Michael Seiwert, Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2003). 33. Walter W. Sawatsky, "Soviet Evangelicals Today," Occasional Papers on Reli­ gion in Eastern Europe 4, no. 1 (March 1984): 1-20. 34. Guangyu Song, Yiguan Zhenchuan: fichu chuancheng [A History of fichu Divi­ sion of Yiguan Dao] (Taiwan: Sanyang Chubanshe, 1998), 138-46. 35. John Lofland and Rodney Stark, "Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective," American Sociological Review 30 (1965): 862-75. 36. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Yiguan Dao on Taiwan: 1 949-1987


37. Guangyu Song, Zongjiao yu Shehui [Religion and Society] (Taipei: Dongda Press, 1995), 204. 38. Yidao Li, Dian-chuan-shi yu Zi-ben-jiao [Initiators and Capitalists], Master's Degree Thesis (Taipei: Zhengzhi University, 2000), 75. 39. Dawei Guo, "Qiye ruhe wending junxin [How to Stabilize the Spirit of En­ terprise]," Tianxia zazhi [The Magazine of World], March 1990. 40. Song, Ten Years Works, 367-70. 41 . It is interesting to note that Falun Gong also tried to spread their faith by establishing business or industry companies (Shiye hongfa) after it was illegalized in China. See, "Jin Zhanyi deng liyong xiejiao zhuzhi pohuai falv shishi bei panx­ ing" [Jin Zhanyi Was Sent to Prison for Making Use of Evil Religion to Violating Laws], Hebei Daily, November 6, 2003. 42. Guangyu Song, Tiandao Goucheng [An investigation of the Celestial Way] (Tai­ pei: Yuanyou Press, 1983). 43. Iannaccone, "Why Strict Churches are Strong," 1180-121 1 . 44. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, "Response t o Iannacone: I s There a Method to This Madness?" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 35, no. 2 (Sum­ mer 1996): 217-23. 45. Laurence R. Iannacone, "Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives," Journal of Political Economy 100, no. 2 (April 1992): 271-91. 46. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 1 74-84. 47. Rodney Stark and Laurence R. Iannaccone, "Recent Religious Declines in Quebec, Poland, and the Netherlands: A Theory Vindicated," Journal for the Scien­ tific Study of Religion 35, no. 3 (Fall 1996): 266. 48. Laurence R. Iannacone, "Rational Choice: Framework for the Scientific Study of Religion," in Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment, ed. Lawrence A. Young (New York: Routledge, 1997), 46-65. 49. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 174. 50. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 163-91. 51 . Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith, 218-20. 52. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 174. 53. Finke, Religious Competition, 50. 54. Song, Tiandao Goucheng, 27. 55. The survey indicates that 1 .7 percent of respondents worshiped the Eternal Venerable Mother. Although the Mother was commonly worshiped by many Chi­ nese sects in history, the deity was mainly worshiped by the Yiguan Dao sectar­ ians in the 1980s in Taiwan. Considering the fact that the sect was still "illegal" in 1984 and thus many sectarians did not want to reveal their religious identity, the virtual number of Yiguan Dao believers should be more than 324,000. 56. Song, Yiguan Zhenchuan, 240. 57. Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen, "Some Sociological Conclusions about Church Trends," in Understanding Church Growth and Decline: 1 950-1978, ed. Dean Hoge and David A. Roozen (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979), 315-33. 58. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, "Religious economies and sacred canopies: Religious mobilization in American cities, 1906," American Sociological Review 53, no. 1 (Spring, 1988): 41-49. Also see Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching


Chapter 2

of America, 1 776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Bruns­ wick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992). 59. Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in the Sociol­ ogy of Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). 60. Benxuan Lin, Taiwan de Zhengjiao Chongtu [The State-religion Conflict on Tai­ wan] (Taipei: Daoxiang Chubanshe, 1990). 61. Daniel L. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), 38.

Chap ter 3

Help ing People to Fulfill Vows: Religious Commitment in Yiguan D ao First the Bodhisattva catches people with the hook of desire, and then leads them into Buddhist way. The Vimalakirti Sutral

When studying religious commitment, the new paradigm mainly fo­ cuses on exclusive religions in Western societies, stressing membership, exclusivity, and institutional strictness.2 The religious commitment in a polytheistic setting has been rarely studied. This chapter tries to examine how Yiguan Dao could increase the commitment of members in Chinese societies where religions were not mutually exclusive and thus people attached little importance to religious commitment. Because most of new recruits of Yiguan Dao are adherents of Chinese popular religion who di­ rect much of their attention to efficacy, it is especially difficult for Yiguan Dao to keep its believers. Focusing on the mechanisms adopted by the sect to increase its members' commitment, this chapter will study the process of neophytes eventually becoming veteran members. Five parts compose this chapter. Part 1 reveals the fact that most of Yiguan Dao believers come from the popular religion and presents research questions. The following two parts examine certain types of educational activities employed by Yiguan Dao to gain commitment, fo­ cusing on the research courses and dharma assemblies respectively. Part 4 discusses the mechanism of vows practiced by the sect. The final part offers a theoretical discussion of religious commitment, arguing that the sect adopts a progressive way to make committed members by means of accommodating Chinese traditional culture in the design of its activities and incorporating elements of three religions into the sectarian practices. 71



Yiguan Dao mainly recruits its members from the popular religion. This state­ ment is more than an impression I gained during the fieldwork; it also can be supported by quantitative researches. An island-wide survey on Taiwan in 1994 indicated that among 1,682 respondents, there were forty-nine Yiguan Dao believers. Among these forty-nine believers, there were forty-three per­ sons who came from other traditions (see Table 3.1). In detail, among these forty-three sectarians, twelve previously belonged to the Buddhism, thirteen came from popular religion, and thirteen had no previous religious belief (see Table 3.2). Furthermore, none of the twelve persons who said they were Bud­ dhists had held a ritual of conversion to Buddhism. This suggests that most of these people are actually participants in popular religion. We must note that there is no clear distinction among self-defined pop­ ular religion believers, Buddhists, and atheists in China. A sampling in­ vestigation of Taiwan showed that 87 percent of Taiwanese who claimed to have no religious belief actually believed in or worship gods; only 6.3 percent of the population really had no religious belief and did not believe in or worship gods.3 Qu Haiyuan also pointed out that about 70 percent of those who claimed to be Buddhists were actually practitioners of folk religion, since they did not perform a ritual of conversion.4 Those studies show that most of those self-defined Buddhists or atheists actually are adherents of popular religion. For this reason, I hold that Yiguan Dao believers mainly come from popular religion. Many ethnographers find that in China the consumers of popular re­ ligion put the primary and explicit consideration to deities' reputation for efficacy (ling or lingyan).5 They usually ask for divine help from a god when personal crises or desires emerge. If the god satisfies their wish, they will reward the god with incenses, delicious foods, beautiful images, new temples, spectacular plays, or adulatory inscriptions. If the god fails to perform miracles, however, they will not feel obligated to make offer­ ings to the god and they usually turn to another deity who is believed to be more responsive and efficacious. In short, these efficacy-oriented popular religionists tend to establish a temporary exchange relationship with specific spirits when they want to achieve practical ends. Since Chinese folk religionists have been relatively indifferent to religious identities, it is not difficult for the Yiguan Dao sectarians to recruit them. These folk religionists, however, are also easy for others sects to attract. As Susan Naquin has noted, switching one's religious affiliation was common within China's sectarian tradition: " [T]here were some people who went from sect to sect, joining first one and then another, always searching for the 'best' system."6 So, the question arises: How can Yiguan Dao sustain these efficacy-oriented new recruits and increase their commitment?


Helping People to Fulfill Vows Table 3 . 1 :

Number of Religious Switching on Taiwan in 1 994 N u m ber of Converts

N u mber of Bel ievers

Rel igions

1 64

Budd h ism

71 7


1 69


Fo l k Re l igion



Yiguan Dao






Ch ristian ity



No bel i ef






Tota l

1 862

3 60

Source: Taiwan Social Change Su rvey, 1 994 ( I I ) .

Table 3 . 2 :

Components o f Yiguan Dao Converts

The Current be l ief Yiguan

The Previous Bel ief Buddh ism Taoism



Fol k


Rel igion




Christian ity



Tota l

bel i ef 3



Dao Source: Taiwan Social Change Survey, 1 994.

Yiguan Dao sectarians themselves use the term Chengquan to summarize the process of making committed members. Literally, the word Chengquan means "helping people to fulfill their wishes," but the sect prefers the translation of "supporting and encouraging people to cultivate Dao." In­ deed, Chengquan involves tremendous organizational endeavors and a long period of training and education that encourage the sectarians to increase their commitment step by step. Two forms of educational activities are practiced by the sect: the research courses (Yanjiu ban) and the dharma as­ semblies (Fahui). Together with the two educational activities, there is also a mechanism of vows employed by Yiguan Dao. In the following, I will ex­ amine these activities by analyzing data collected from the Fayi Lingyin di­ vision of Yiguan Dao. Although there are minor differences among Yiguan Dao divisions with regard to the educational activities/ we can get a basic understanding of their educational efforts from the case of Fayi Lingyin.


In her classic The Making of a Moonie Barker finds that there are "several stages through which the potential recruit normally has to pass as part of the conversion process."B This is also true for Yiguan Dao. Usually, the


Chapter 3

missionaries establish an initial contact by inviting the potential converts to "worship gods" (Bai Bai) at their home. The potential sectarians will next be persuaded to attend a family gathering or "ordinary research courses" (Putong ban), which are held in family Buddha halls (jiating Fotang). In the family gathering, the lecturer would share some religious stories or witnesses with the guest and persuade him to be initiated into the sect. After the ritual of initiation, or "pointing out Dao" (Diandao), people formally become Dao relatives (Daoqin), and they will be invited to attend the Ming-de course, a regular and formal workshop that is held once a week and lasts five months. If the initiates survive the Ming-de course, they will be encouraged to progress to the Xinmin course, and then to the Zhishan course, and finally to the Jingdian course, the highest level (see Table 3.3). Table 3.3:

Research Courses in Fayi Li ngyin

Cou rse N a me

Ti me

N u m ber o f Pa rti c i pa nts

1 . Ord i na ry research

N o l i m itat i o n

u n c l ea r

cou rse 2 . M i ngde Cou rse 3. X i n m i n Cou rse 4. Z h i s h a n Cou rse

Five months; o n c e a week;

About 3 000, d i v i ded i nto

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m .

42 groups

Five months; once a week;

About 2 000, d i v i ded i nto

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m .

40 groups

Five months; once a week;

No data

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m . 5 . X u a nde cou rse

Five months; o n c e a week;

N o data

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m . 6. The cou rse for study i ng c l ass ics I 7. The cou rse for study i n g c l assics I I

One year; o n c e a week;

About 1 2 00, d i v i ded i nto

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m .

1 2 groups

Two years; once a week;

About 800, d i v i ded i nto

7 : 3 0 p . m .-9 : 3 0 p . m .

7 groups

Source: L i n 1 992 : 1 62 .

Like the Moonies' workshops, in which the theology is the central focus, the research courses by Yiguan Dao are also devoted to teaching its theology and dogma. The Ming-de course introduces the basic doctrines of Yiguan Dao, including an introduction to the Venerable Mother, the Yiguan Dao's history, the Yiguan Dao's cosmos theory, and the theory of three in one. The Xinmin course mainly focuses on regulations, rituals, missionary skills, tes­ timonies, and spirit writings. The Zhishan course and Xuande course further probe Yiguan Dao's doctrines and try to improve the attendees' ability of speech. The purpose of the course for studying classics is to train potential lecturers. Their content involves twenty books of five religions, namely, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Christianity.

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


When probing the sect's educational activities, Jordan and Overmyer conclude: Within the idiosyncratic limitations of its system of exposition, the Unity Sect [as they refer to Yiguan Dao] is perhaps second only to the public school system in its pursuit of education for its members, and the bulk of almost every Unity meeting is in fact devoted, not to worship, but to the study of and commentary on moral books.9

This observation is still valid. Especially, Yiguan Dao provides oppor­ tunities for working-class and less-educated sectarians to access a range of Chinese heritage. During the fieldwork, I once spent several days in a huge temple building together with sectarian workers. My job was to plant trees and my partner was Mr. Zheng, a forty-seven-year-old believer who was initiated into Yiguan Dao in 1976 in the Philippines, where he worked as a foreign worker. Mr. Zheng had the typical appearance of peasants: a sun-darkened face, deep wrinkles, and coarse hands. But when Mr. Zheng tried to convert me during the work, he told me many interesting stories, which are available in Chinese classics such as The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. Sometimes he could even recite some classic sentences. It seems that Mr. Zheng indeed knew something about traditional culture although he had only a primary education. He said that all of this knowledge was learned from the research course held by the Baoguang Jiande division. When answering why he took part in the courses, Mr. Zheng told me that he had liked to listen to stories since he was young, and thus he liked at­ tending the courses held by Yiguan Dao. Before he attended a course, he would first read the materials offered by the lecturer with the help of dic­ tionary. At the same time, as a master of Buddha hall, Zheng would also act as a lecturer when he paid family visits to neophytes. Therefore, after each course, he had to spend some time preparing for the conversations through reading more related materials. Otherwise, he could not be a good lecturer. Obviously, such training helped Mr. Zheng grasp Yiguan Dao's doctrines as well as parts of Chinese traditional culture. Another person who impressed me during the fieldwork was Mr. Jian. According to his description, he was a little intellectually disabled in his childhood. "When I was a kid, my peers always played tricks on me," he said. "They would tease me to throw big stones into cesspits. When I was dabbled with mud, they ran away, leaving me crying alone." Not only did his peer group always make fun of him but his family also regarded him as a fool. After attending three years of elementary school, Jian gave up going to school. In 1971, when he was nineteen years old, his elder sister introduced him to the Dao. From then on, he became interested in courses held by the Jichu division of Yiguan Dao, although he could not understand the contents. Gradually, his wisdom grew and his family


Chapter 3

found that he was smarter. Now he is a successful manager as well as an excellent lecturer of the Jichu division, especially expert at Daode Jing. When describing his transformation, Mr. Jian especially stressed the func­ tion of research courses. He said: Yiguan Dao is without any constraints and very open. It is fit for every one to cultivate, no matter whether you are an intellectual or an idiot like me. You know, research courses held by the Dao play an important role. These courses are helpful to activate wisdom. They are divided into different levels and the attendees in a course are usually in the same level of understanding the Dao teaching; through discussing with each other, they can enlighten each other and bring out inner wisdoms. In addition, the attendees often develop a close relationship with each other after attending the courses.

The above two cases can support the view that the study of the Chinese traditional culture not only attracts many working-class and uneducated people to enter Yiguan Dao but also changes their lives by bringing their minds to a traditional and spiritual world. But the functions of research courses are more than these; the activities also bring the individual into continual and intensive contact with other members and the group as a whole. These regularized group contacts facilitate the intensive in­ teraction, which is essential to cementing the conversion process.IO The contacts and interaction help to serve a communion function, which can bring out higher commitment "because they bring together the entire collectivity and reinforce its existence and meeting, regardless of the pur­ pose of the gathering." n Frequent attendance at research courses makes sectarians more involved in the group and gives them a stronger sense of belonging and "we-feeling." In short, by conducting research courses to promote its ideology, Yiguan Dao has generated a successful and lucrative recruitment and education vehicle.


As mentioned above, the research courses usually last a long period and the attendees must be present regularly. Some sectarians, however, are quite busy and cannot take part in such courses. For these people, "dharma assemblies" (Fahui) are good choices. Dharma assemblies are irregularly conducted in a big temple where a large space is available; and the activities usually last one to three days. Thus, those who do not have time to attend the research courses can spend a weekend taking part in the dharma assemblies held by Yiguan Dao. According to the types of attendees, dharma assemblies can be classified into different categories. Although there are minor differences in different divisions, we can get a

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


sense of Yiguan Dao dharma assemblies from the data of Fayi Lingyin (see Appendix 3). The dharma assemblies of Yiguan Dao can trace their origins to the "stove meeting" (Lu hui), which was held in the 1930s. The stove meeting was very strict in training missionaries. The spirit mediums, who were regarded as the spokesmen of gods, acted as the trainers, and they usu­ ally utilized dilemmas to test the trainees. For example, they asked the trainees to drink alcohol. If the trainees obeyed, they would violate the Buddha regulation, which requires the sectarian not to drink; but if the trainees refused to drink, they would be regarded as disrespecting gods. In any case, the trainees would be beatenP2 Through stove meetings, a lot of pious missionaries were trained, and this partly accounted for in the 1940s in mainland China. Today, most of dharma assemblies of Yiguan Dao have given up using spirit mediums.13 But some dharma assemblies are still very strict; "the training course for young cadres" (qingnian ganbu xunlianban) is a typical one. The following analyses are based on the data on the training course conducted by the Jichu Zhongshu division. According to the informants' descriptions, they did not know the de­ tailed contents of training course before attending it. After reaching the remote temple where the course was held, they found that the trainers became very strict, although they were very kind previously. The main trainer, who was called as "administrant" (Zhixing guan), would ask people to obey him unconditionally. The trainees could not speak, laugh, or even wash their hands without his permission. One part of training content was about some details of Yiguan Dao rituals, such as how to place the shoes, how to wash and place fruits offered to gods, and such. Though the trainees would conduct rituals properly, the "administrant" would find some minor mistakes, scold the trainees, and ask them to re­ peat the same action until it was perfectly conducted. Usually, the trainees would spend an hour learning how to place shoes. Another important part of such a training course is to simulate the situations that one may encounter when doing missionary work. I was told: The trainer would ask you to do some ridiculous things. For example, he asked me to find ten ants, five male and other five female. How could I do that? It is impossible. The trainer just created difficulties for us purposely. He also asked us to put dust on our faces. I would not do such things usually. But at that time, I had to do it. The trainer was very strict and seemed terrible. I was scared of him. Many trainees cried, so did 1. We wanted to, but dared not, leave the temple because the temple was so remote. These things were of no significance to me at that time, but now I know that it is to remove our self-centered orien­ tation and educate us to be humble when doing missionary work.


Chapter 3 In addition, the trainers would ask you to buy an egg, with a dirty face and bizarre dress. It is really a test. Many people would look at you strangely, and no one will sell an egg to you because eggs were sold in terms of kilograms. This suggests that, if you do missionary work overseas, maybe foreigners will regard you as a weird person. So, you should learn to deal with such awkwardness. I think that the training course strengthened my character. In addition, I made many good friends.

The training is related to the idea of tests, which is emphasized by the sect. According to Yiguan Dao, in the process of " cultivating the Dao" (Xi­ udao), one must experience tests: no tests, no improvement. Yiguan Dao identifies several kinds of tests, such as the inner test (neikao - afflictions such as illness, pain, fire, flood, and robbery), the outer test (waikao - ridi­ cule from relatives, friends, and neighbors, and oppression and violence from government officials), the test of anger (qikao), the unusual test (qi­ kao), the test of success (shunkao), the test of adversity (nikao), the test of confusion (diandao kao), and the test of Dao (Daokao). In training courses, the trainers simulate tests and then make use of these simulated tests to train the sectarians. This is quite helpful to strengthen the trainees' faith. When discussing the training course, a young female believer told me: After attending the training course, my younger brother changed a lot. I formerly did not like him because he was spoiled by my parents. At that time, from my perspective, he knew nothing and was lazy, never doing housework, such as washing bowls and sweeping the floor. He would not do anything expect play electronic games. After attending the training course, I felt that he was changed in many aspects. He is humble now. What is most important, he becomes more responsible than ever before. In short, he im­ proved a lot due to the training courses.

Kanter finds that those nineteenth-century communes exacting sacrifices survive longer because sacrifice is functional for their maintenance. "Once members have agreed to make the 'sacrifice,'" she argues, "their motivation to remain participants increases." The tests emphasized by Yiguan Dao can serve a "sacrifice" function. For example, the training courses ask attendees to give up self-esteem and bear the simulated abuses and tribulations. Since these sacrifices can increase "their motivation to remain participants" and "keep commitment strong,"14 it does not surprise us that so many attendees become the core members of Yiguan Dao. THE MECHANISM OF VOWS

In addition to the research courses and dharma assemblies, another dynamic mechanism is tightly integrated with the above educational

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


activities: to make vows (Xuyuan) and fulfill vows (Huanyuan). As the basic behavior forms of adherents of Chinese popular religion, Xuyuan and Huanyuan play important roles in Chinese religious life. C. K. Yang writes: Xuyuan was the making of a wish before the god with the vow that, if the wish should come true, one would come again to worship and offer sacrifice.

Huanyuan was worship and sacrifice to the god as an expression of gratitude after the wish had come true, whether it was recovery from sickness, the bringing of prosperity, or the begetting of a male heir. One might thank the god for the fulfillment of a wish during the past year, and then make a new wish for the coming year. IS

Yiguan Dao borrows the practice of establishing vows and fulfilling vows from the popular religion. When discussing why vows should be made, the sectarians explain: As we strengthen the faith in ourselves and in Dao, we should all make a life­ long plan for ourselves, which is our holy mission in this world. And what can we do to accomplish this mission? As the saying goes, "Without making vows, one sails without guide." So only when one makes the great vows can he or she get more driving force from the bottom of the heart.16

The ritual of making vows is usually held when a research course or a dharma assembly is over. A big bundle of incense is burned in the ritual; the attendees will receive a form which lists the vows, including "remov­ ing bad habits and refining bad temper" (gai piqi qu maobing), "prioritiz­ ing holy affairs over worldly matter" (Zhongsheng qingfan), "contributing material wealth and spreading Dao" (caifa shuangshi), "leading people to receive the Dao" (duren qiudao), "becoming a vegetarian" (qingkou rusu), "establishing a Buddha hall" (sheli fotang), and "doing missionary work overseas" (Haiwai Kaihuang); the attendees are required to choose a vow to fulfill and sign on the form, then the form recording the vow will be burned. In the following, I will selectively analyze the significance and practice of these vows. Removing Bad Habits and Refining Bad Tempers

It is a basic requirement for the sectarians to "remove bad habits and refine bad temper." This vow involves abstinence from bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, eating areca nuts, and speaking dirty words; it also asks to correct bad tempers such as impatience and pride. These moral requirements are quite in accordance with Chinese traditional values, but the sect reinterprets these issues from the perspective of Mother theol-


Chapter 3

ogy. The theology holds that those primordial spirits sent by the Mother were pure; but they gradually lost their true nature and became ruthless and crafty, full of bad habits and tempers; so, in order to return to the true nature, the sectarians must get rid of such bad things. Through the reinterpretation, "removing bad habits and refine bad temper" is more than a moral requirement people are familiar with; it becomes salvation­ oriented. How do the sectarians remove bad habits and tempers? From the sect's perspective, one cannot expect to remove bad habits in the short term. It is a long process to get rid of bad habits that were formed over a long time. The sectarians should learn to reflect on their inner world accord­ ing to Yiguan Dao's doctrines and engage in constant self-criticism; then they should try to alter the bad habits with the help of the sect's rituals, especially the ritual of kowtow. In his excellent thesis, Yang tells us a story about this issue. Yang's father was formerly a very bad-tempered person, but he changed a lot after joining Yiguan Dao. Influenced by his father's dramatic transformation, Yang became a Yiguan Dao sectarian and at­ tended the courses by the sect. He continues: At that time, I could not fully remove my bad habits and temper according to the doctrines I learned in the research courses. One day, after completely reading The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, I proudly made use of the "superior" theories of this book to test my father and other Dao relatives to show off. Later, I disputed with my father on some issues and my father left angrily. After a while, I realized how ridiculous it was for me to cite The Platform Sutra angrily arguing with others who have better religious practices than me. After criticizing myself, I decided to make an apology to my father. However, when I caught my father, he apologized to me before I opened my mouth, telling me that he was very angry after the disputation and so he went to the Buddha hall, knelt before the Mother, told her about his complaints, and kowtowed. During the process of kowtow, he gradually realized that he also should be responsible for the disputation since he was impatient and bad-tempered. Thus, complaints became self-confession. After hundreds of kowtow, he was not angry any longer and decided to make an apology to me.17

Kowtow is the core practice of ancestor worship in China. But with the trend of democracy in Taiwan, kowtow is associated with authoritarian­ ism by young people in current Taiwan, who would reluctantly perform such a ritual. Facing this situation, the sect reinterprets the significance of kowtow, arguing that kowtow is not to worship authority but to show respect to saints and gods who are examples. These saints and gods also encountered many difficulties, but they conquered these difficulties and finally achieved a high moral and spiritual status. So they are worthy of

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


respect. In addition, kowtow is the best way to conquer pride. IS Due to these reinterpretations, those who were formerly reluctant to kowtow would likely accept the ritual. As we see in the above story, kowtowing and confessing to the Mother actually becomes a powerful tool for the sectarians to reflect on themselves and shape new behavioral models. A spirit writing supposedly instructed by Zhang Tiaman states: If you encounter any difficulties beyond your ability, please ask for help from the Mother by means of Kowtow. If you are sincere enough, you can under­ stand the usefulness of Kowtow and finally get the answer. Usually, the first idea you get during the ritual of Kowtow is the revelation from the Mother. I used to do so (i.e., Kowtow) when I did the salvation work.19

Yiguan Dao also ritualizes the practice of "burning incense." Though burning incenses is widely practiced by adherents of popular religion, it is unsystematic and seems chaotic, without any guidance. Most of people unconcernedly burn incense and then throw the incense into the stove in a disorderly manner. The Yiguan Dao ritual of burning incense is quite different from the way it is performed by adherents of popular religion. First, the ritual is performed communally rather than individually; and the number of incense to each deity is strictly defined. Second, the ritual of offering incense is presided by two persons who are seniors; if one says "offering three bundles of incenses," the other people would follow: "first offering," "second offering," "third offering." Finally, when the sectarians offer incense, they should rise up the incense to the level of eyebrows to show their respect and piety, then use the left hand, which represents "goodness," to put the incense into the stove orderly and vertically. The location of incense also has its special meaning. Worshiping gods, kowtowing, and burning incense are main elements of Chinese popular religion. Such traditional practices exert great influ­ ences on Chinese people although these practices seem to be unsystem­ atic. For example, the adherents of popular religion on Taiwan always use the term of "those who do not take incenses" to refer to Christians. Taking incenses or not becomes a criterion that distinguishes "us" from "the other." Unlike Christianity, Yiguan Dao welcomes these traditional symbols and practices with which Chinese people are familiar. At the same time, the sect redefines and rearranges these old elements in a new ritual system in which new religious meanings are added. Through such creative transformation, the ritualized old practices are not only helpful in keeping the sectarians' religious capital and creating a holy space, but they also become a powerful tool for the sectarians in removing their bad habits and temper. Every time the sectarians meet problems in life, they kowtow, burn incense, and confess to the Mother, as Yang describes. Through such practices, the sectarians gradually learn to deal with prob-


Chapter 3

lems through self-reflection and self-criticism, rather than by expecting the gods to give immediate resolutions. By exerting influence on people's thoughts, feelings, and their way of viewing the world, the practice of "removing bad habits and refining bad temper" conforms the sectarian's inner feelings and evaluations to the group's norms and beliefs. Aside from the self-criticism emphasized by the practice of "removing bad habits and refining bad temper," there are confession courses con­ ducted by the sect. In such courses, the attendees are required to admit their shortcoming, failings, faults, and imperfections: "Religious groups often attempt to erase the sin of pride,' the fault of being too indepen­ dent or self-sufficient, substituting instead a self that identifies with the influence of the collectivity."2o So does Yiguan Dao. Both the confession courses and self-criticism, emphasized by the vow of "removing bad hab­ its," contribute to mortification, which "facilitates a moral commitment on the part of the person to accept the control of the group."21 I

Prioritizing Holy Affairs over Worldly Matter

Yiguan Dao makes a distinction between the sacred and the secular. But Yiguan Dao does not implement the mechanism of renunciation. Renuncia­ tion requires people to abandon relationships that are potentially disruptive to group cohesion. Successful nineteenth-century communes placed clear­ cut barriers and boundaries between the member and the outside; they also tried to weaken the exclusive relationships in couples and families. The sect, however, attaches much importance to family and secular life by emphasiz­ ing "the simultaneous cultivation of the sacred and the secular" (Sheng/an Jianxiu). Yiguan Dao rarely used professional clergies; both ordinary mem­ bers and leaders were lay, thus they had to work in secular businesses. At the same time, all sectarians should work as missionaries; the priesthood returned to the people. So how to balance the sacred and the secular in prac­ tice is difficult. We can get a sense from the following words. The cultivation of Dao is after all half-sacred and half-secular (Bansheng Ban­ fan). Every sectarian has to deal with their secular affairs, so the cultivation can not be too rigid. Cultivating Dao should not become a burden. We should know how many times each sectarian attends Dao activities every week. If a person just stays home and watches TV rather than attends Dao activities, it is not good, and we should have a family visit [to encourage people to attend the activities]. But if a member's economic situation is not good, then we should let the person earn money. The stomach is of primary importance, the Buddha is second. If we urge him to spend much time in attending activities of Yiguan Dao; it must influence his life and later his children cannot cultivate Dao. In short, if you cannot support your self and your family, people will laugh at you and distrust you when you say the cultivation of Dao is good.22

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


These words show that the sect is very considerate and flexible in dealing with the relationship between the secular and the sacred. One principle which is always emphasized by the sect is that in different life stages, people should put different ratio of energy to sacred affairs and secular maters; the sectarians should gradually shift their life focus from the secular to the sacred as they are growing older. When their children are young, parents should put more emphasis on secular life; when the children grow up and can support themselves, people should devote themselves to the religious life. In any case, the sect does not ask followers to give up secular life exclusively, although it encourages people to attend the activities as much as possible. Thus Yiguan Dao does not implement the mechanism of renunciation. Leading People to Receive the Dao

The idea of merit is popular in Chinese society due to the influence of Buddhism. Many Chinese people in Taiwan believe that karma results in illness and suffering; and the merit is useful to reduce karma, hence to cure illness. Yiguan Dao accepts these ideas and further argues that, with enough merits, one not only can be free of the circle of birth and rebirth, but also can gain a high status in the Heaven. In addition, merits can also be transferred to others such as the sectarians' ancestors. So, people can save their ancestors' spirits through accumulating merits. This interpreta­ tion is in accordance with Chinese people's ancestor worship and can be easily accepted by them. Yiguan Dao utilizes the idea of merit to encourage people to do mis­ sionary work, arguing that the more members one recruits, the more merits one can accumulate. Encouraged by this argument, the sectar­ ians are very active in "recruiting neophytes" (duren-literally, "saving people"). Especially when one's relatives are suffering illness, they would try their best to persuade people to receive Dao. A young female sectarian leader told me that "sometimes they knocked at the door one-by-one to propagate Dao, just like Mormons, and then they transferred the merits they gained from the missionary work to the sectarian who were ill."23 Encouraged by the idea that doing missionary work can accumulate mer­ its, even new sectarians would devote themselves to doing missionary work immediately. This enabled the sect to constantly recruit neophytes in a large scale. When studying conversion in Chinese society, David Jordan points out three features of Chinese conversion: conditionality of belief on other be­ liefs, the additive character of conversion, and the pantheon interchange­ ability, namely, the tendency to equate new beliefs with earlier ones.24 These observations are applicable to Yiguan Dao. Chinese people tend


Chapter 3

to evaluate a new religious belief against old beliefs. They would reject the new one if it is regarded as incompatible with previous beliefs. In the fieldwork, many Yiguan Dao sectarians tried to persuade me to "seek the Dao" (Qiu Dao). They told me that I could keep my oid beliefs even after I was initiated into Yiguan Dao. "Dao does not intend to replace your old religious belief," they told me, "It just gives you a key to ascend to the Heaven. After all, Dao is not a religion (Dao bushi jiao ) ." With regard to the differences between Dao and religion (Jiao), we are told: What are the differences between the Dao and religion (Jiao)? Dao can tran­ scend the circle of life and death, break away from the samsara, ascend to the paradise, avoid the disaster, reduce the karma, change the fate and save people from the abyss of misery. Its usefulness is beyond our standing, so we hold that "in both the Heaven and this world, Dao is the most treasureable"

(Tianshang Tianxia, Weidao Duzun). Jiao is to teach people the principals of living, the model of being a good person, and the way of spiritual cultivation. It focuses on this world, creating useful member of the society, improving the morality of this world, teaching people to be good and to follow the law. These good behaviors will finally help people escape this world and enter the world of Dao. Considering that religion (Jiao) is a step toward salvation, religion is also important. But there exists a fundamental difference. You can freely choose one of them.25

It is true that Yiguan Dao encourages its followers to prefer the sect's teaching to other religions. But it does not prohibit them from participat­ ing in other religions' activities. In the field, I learned that many Yiguan Dao believers were members of Ciji and regularly donated money to Ciji for charitable activities. According to them, doing good deeds were help­ ful to accumulate merit, so it was not in conflict with Yiguan Dao teach­ ings. In this way, Yiguan Dao sectarians have always tended to regard it as additive rather than substitutive. In addition to encouraging people to spend time in recruiting neo­ phytes, the sect also encourages its believers to make financial contri­ butions to the group or work as volunteers. This is what " contributing material wealth and spreading Dao" means. As a rule, one must submit a number of money, usually 100 NT$ (about 3 US$) to the sect as the "merit fee" (Gongde fei) when he joining the sect. The process of becoming core members includes more investments to the sect, requiring the sectarians to patronize such activities as publishing morality books, building tem­ ples, and even making business investments. When I did my fieldwork in a temple in building, I found that dozens of volunteer workers worked there every day and hundreds of volunteers on the weekend. A sectarian provides the land for free, and the sectarians donate most of building ma­ terials. Donation is regular and popular for the sectarians. Commitment

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


is further promoted by the mechanism of investment because it makes individuals integrated with the group, and because it ensures that the sectarians' time and resources have become part of the sect's economy. But "recruiting neophytes" is more than a missionary task; it provides ways by which the sectarians can exhibit and build commitment. To act as a missionary, one must firstly study the theologies. In the process of converting other people, missionaries tend to reflect on and change themselves constantly. Accordingly, many bad habits and tempers are discarded and the life is newly-oriented in this process. Nothing will so build one's faith as going out and spending months bringing that faith to others. In this sense, the sectarians hold that " saving others is just saving selves" (duren jiushi duji). Becoming a Vegetarian

Abstinence from meat is highly stressed and justified by Yiguan Dao's theology. From the point of view of Yiguan Dao, a genuine sectarian should be a vegetarian.26 Influenced by Buddhism, the sect believes that killing and eating animals is immoral and harmful because it not only builds a bad relationship with all beings (yu zhongsheng jie e yuan) but also accumulates karma. To get salvation, according to the sect, one should not eat meat. In practice, Yiguan Dao follows a flexible way to persuade people to become a vegetarian. For example, if a student sectarian wants to get a good mark in exams, he is encouraged to make a vow to the Mother, promising to eat no meat in a certain period, or be a vegetarian forever when having breakfast. Becoming a vegetarian is helpful to promote the commitment in two ways. On the one hand, it can function as a sacrifice mechanism, which can generate commitment. On the other hand, abstinence from meat is helpful to weaken extra-cult affective bonds, because it is quite inconve­ nient for vegetarians to intensively interact with non-vegetarians.27 Sec­ tarians usually develop a new lifestyle and new social networks as well. After they become vegetarians, most of their close friends are Yiguan Dao vegetarians, too. Thus, becoming a vegetarian is helpful to weaken extra­ cult affective bonds and facilitate interaction among members. Since indi­ viduals with weak extra-group affective bonds could engage in continued involvements with the ideological organization, abstinence from meat is useful to promote commitment by weakening extra-sect bonds. Establishing Buddha Halls

A Buddha hall (Fotang) is a building or part of a building where the Eternal Venerable Mother and other Yiguan Dao deities are worshiped.


Chapter 3

Yiguan Dao's Buddha hall has two forms: the family Buddha hall and the public Buddha hall. While the former is often operated by a local fam­ ily, and caters mainly to other families in the same district for worship, classes, and other Yiguan Dao activities, the latter usually serves as a cen­ ter for holding the large-scale activities, such as sports meetings, dharma assemblies, and public congregations. When Yiguan Dao encourages people to "establish Buddha halls," it mainly refers to building family Buddha halls. The sectarians hold that in the White Sun period the Dao spreads among the "hearth-dwelling" fol­ lowers (Daojiang Huozai) rather than monastic believers, so it is important to build a Buddha hall in their residence. A Buddha hall, from the per­ spective of Yiguan Dao, is a "celestial ladder" which leads to the paradise, or a "dharma ship" (Fa Chuan) taking the believers to the heaven; Buddha halls can help believers to spread and cultivate the Dao and to practice the Yiguan Dao teachings; therefore, establishing a Buddha hall can accu­ mulate a large number of merits, equal to doing one thousand and three hundred good deeds. Becoming a Buddha hall master means that the believer must obey the stricter rules. A master of Buddha halls must not only be a vegetarian but also regularly perform Yiguan Dao rituals everyday. He must burn incense and kowtow in the morning and evening. Before one enters the Buddha hall, he must first wash his hands and face, remove his hat and shoes and keep them in order, arrange his hair and clothes, put his mind at peace and calm his energy, and then go into the Buddha hall with light steps and a slow gait. When one takes leave of the Buddha hall, he must kneel before the altar, performing a series of kowtows. In addition, the Buddha hall master must present offerings (e.g., tea and fruit) to the dei­ ties for most days. All of these activities can contribute to the believer's commitment.


When discussing the religious commitment, the religious economy model enlightens me to pay attention to some interesting aspects of this issue, such as organizational factors, social networks, and individual choices. However, the model also falls into several dichotomies: members vs. non­ members, strictness vs. liberality, and organizational efforts vs. personal choices. This study shows that these dichotomies do not exist in Yiguan Dao. As for members vs. nonmembers, we can make a sense out of Iannac­ cone's argument that "the sect naturally creates two classes: the members (or 'true believers'), who fully embrace the sect norms while rejecting the

Helping People to Fulfill Vows


society's, and the nonmembers (both 'heathen' and 'heretics'), who reject the sect and are in turn rejected by it."28 These observations may be histor­ ically true, but they are not applicable here. Miller finds that some "new paradigm" churches in contemporary, such as the Calvary movement, do not draw "a hard line on who is 'in' and who is 'out"'29; membership in these movements is instead a matter of whether or not one is in regular communication with the movements. Yiguan Dao resembles those "new paradigm" churches studied by Miller. Membership in Yiguan Dao is a continuum, falling outside the "in-or-out" model. According to the data offered by the Tianhe unit of Bao­ guang Jiande from 1953 to 1999, 146,411 people were recruited by the unit, and 3,367 people became vegetarians.3D This means that about one out of forty-four new recruits became a vegetarian believer. Table 3.3 shows that there are three thousand Fayi Lingyin attendees in the Ming-de course while the number of the Jingdian course attendees is reduced to eight hundred. Since graduates of the Jingdian course will normally be invited to become vegetarian members, we can imprecisely estimate that among those involved in the primary workshop, 29 percent of attendees will survive the workshop system and finally become vegetarians. Consider­ ing Tianhe's data and Fayi Lingyin's data simultaneously, we can approxi­ mately guess that about 8.6 percent of neophytes would get involved in Yiguan Dao's workshop system, namely, attending the Ming-de course; 5.7 percent remains the Xinmin course at the price of following the vow of "removing bad habits and bad temper"; less than 2.3 percent of recruits would like to become vegetarians. Although these estimations are very imprecise, they indicate that the commitment in Yiguan Dao is a spectrum ranging from doubtfulness to devoutness rather than a dichotomy of members and nonmembers.31 Iannaccone also makes a distinction between strict churches and liberal churches, holding that strictness increases commitment through reducing free-rider problems.32 But Yiguan Dao is both liberal and strict, permitting a range of commitment. New recruits are rarely restricted, while the vet­ eran sectarians are expected to conform completely to established rules, such as abstinence from cigarettes, alcohol, meat, and even sex. Both lib­ erality and strictness exist in Yiguan Dao simultaneously. But the sect is not unique in this respect. Barker reveals that there is a type of stratifica­ tion system in the Unification Church and potential recruits should pass several "hurdles" before becoming full-time Moonies.33 "New paradigm" churches adopt flexible ways to approach potential converts, allowing them to participate in many activities but restricting membership to those who pass various tests. Those churches cannot be easily classified into "traditional categories" such as "liberal church" or "strict church"; they are both.34 It seems that a progressive strictness is available in Yiguan Dao.


Chapter 3

I refer to this model as "a progressive strictness," because the require­ ments are considerate, patient, and flexible. Driven by the mechanism of vows, Yiguan Dao newcomers can eventually become core members step-by-step. Of course, such gradual strictness is helpful to increase the level of commitment though mitigating the free-rider problem: only those willing to make a vow remain. When discussing conversion, the religious economy model places more emphasis on individuals' choices than organizational influences. In order to refute such claims as "brainwashing," "thought reform," and "mind control," which suggest that converts are more or less passive victims of organizational manipulations, Stark and Finke emphasize that converts are active in choosing and evaluating their religious beliefs.35 They are certainly right and we can see that Yiguan Dao believers can freely decide which levels of involvement they will accept. Actually, only a small part of recruits become core members and about one out of forty-four people being initiated becomes a vegetarian believer. Nevertheless, exclusive em­ phasis on individual rationality would be insufficient because it neglects the role of missionary efforts. As we can see in the case, Yiguan Dao tries its best to increase the level of commitment through holding research courses and dharma assemblies, and utilizing vows to guide the sectar­ ians' cultivation. These organizational endeavors indeed play an impor­ tant role in the process of commitment. Both personal and organizational factors simultaneously influence the commitment. In the design of its activities, Yiguan Dao pays close attention to Chinese traditional culture. Unlike Christianity, which stresses mono­ theism and asks its followers to give up previous beliefs immediately, Yiguan Dao has a very open attitude when it recruits neophytes. Since its potential recruits are adherents of Chinese popular religion, the sect keeps, ritualizes, and utilizes many elements of popular religion, such as burning incense, kowtow, worshiping gods, spirits, and ancestors, and establishing and fulfilling vows. These efforts are helpful to keep the believers' religious capital. After recruiting new members, the sect devotes itself to generating and sustaining the commitment of sectar­ ians through holding research courses and dharma assemblies. These practices, together with the mechanism of vows, guide the new recruits to becoming core members step-by-step. In this process, the sectarians fulfill more and more strict requirements, if they are willing to. This means that a progressive strictness exists in Yiguan Dao. When discuss­ ing the way of converting people into Buddhism, The Vimalakirti Su tra says that "First he [the Bodhisattva] catches people with the hook of desire, and then leads them into Buddhist way" (xian yiyu gouqian, hou lingru Jozhi).36 This verse is quite applicable to the process of religious commitment in Yiguan Dao.

Helping People to Fulfill Vows



1. Kumarajiva, The Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Burton Watson from the Chinese version by Kumarajiva (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 102. 2. Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, "Toward a Theory of Religion: Religious Commitment," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 19, no. 2 (June 1980): 114-28. Also see Rodney Stark and James C. McCann, "Market Forces and Catholic Commitment: Exploring the New Paradigm," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 32, no. 1 (March 1993): 111-23. 3. Maogui Zhang and Benxuan Lin, "The Social Imaginations of Religion: A Research Question for Sociology of Knowledge," Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnol­ ogy Academia Sinica 74 (1992): 102. 4. Haiyuan Qu, Taiwan zongjiao bianqian de shehui zhengzhi fenxi [A Social-po­ litical Analysis on Religious Transformation in Taiwan] (Taipei: Guiguan Chubanshe, 1997), 241 . 5. David K . Jordan, Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: the Folk Religion of a Taiwanese Village (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972). 6. Susan Naquin, Millenarian Rebellion in China: The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1 81 3 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976), 37. 7. For example, the names of research courses are different in different di­ visions. The courses conducted by the Baoguang Jiande division are Xinjin Lijie course, Jichu course, etc. See Yang Hongren, Linglei shehuiyundong: Yiguandao de

shengfanjianxiu yu duren chengquan [An alternative social movement: cultivation and missionary work of Yiguan Dao], Master 's Degree Thesis (Taiwan: Qinghua Univer­ sity, 1997), 69. 8. Eileen Barker, The Making of a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 94. 9. David K. Jordan, and Daniel L. Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), 237. 10. John Lofland and Rodney Stark, "Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective," American Sociological Review 3D, no. 4 (Au­ gust 1965): 862-75. 1 1 . Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), 99. 12. Zhongwei Lu, Yiguan Dao Neimu [The inner story of Yiguan Dao] (Nanjing: Renmin Press, 1998), 137-52. 13. As I will analyze later, the Fayi Chongde division still keeps the practice of spirit writing. But except this division, other divisions I have visited, such as Bao­ guang, Jichu, and Xingyi, have given up spirit writing. 14. Kanter, Commitment and Community, 78. 15. C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), 87. 16. Fayi Chongde, English Reference Manual for Tao Propagation (Taipei: Guang­ hui Wenhua Shuju, 1999), 76. 17. Yang, Linglei shehuiyundong, 98.


Chapter 3

18. Mingyi Guo, Xiudao Baiwen [One hundred questions about Yiguan Dao] (Tai­ wan: Ciding press, 1997), 35. 19. From "101 Pieces of Revelations from The Great Teacher, Number 76," , September 10, 2006. 20. Kanter, Commitment and Community, 103 21. Kanter, Commitment and Community, 105. 22. Yang, Linglei Shehui yundong, 80. 23. Here, the informants use the term "they" to refer to the sectarians in Tian­ hui unit which is one part of the Jichu division. I do not know whether the same situation occurs in other divisions or not. But I am sure that "transferring merits" (Gongde Huixiang) is widely accepted by various Yiguan Dao divisions. 24. David K. Jordan, "The Glyphomancy Factor: Observation on Chinese Con­ version," in Conversion to Christianity: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on a Great Transformation, ed. Robert W. Hefner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 285-302. 25. "The Difference between Dao and Religion" (Dao yu Jiao shi Zengyang Cha­ bie) . September 10, 2006. 26. Mingyi Guo, Yiguan Xiuchi [The Cultivation of Yiguan Dao] (Taiwan: Ciding Press, 1996). 27. Guangyu Song, Ten Years Works on Chinese Religion and Culture (Yinan: Fo­ guang University Press, 2002). 28. Laurence R. Iannaccone, "A Formal Model of Church and Sect," American Journal of Sociology 94 (Supplement 1988): S257. 29. Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestan tism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Palo Alto, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997), 36. 30. From . September 10, 2006. 3 1 . This can partly account for the difficulty of making clear of the exact mem­ bership of a Chinese sect. Many people were "initiated" into Yiguan Dao; but most of them do not attend the further services offered by the sect. As this chapter points out, about one out of forty-four neophytes could finally accept the core be­ lief of Yiguan Dao and become a vegetarian. If we regard people being initiated as the members of Yiguan Dao, the sect's size will be exaggerated since most of them never show up after the ritual of initiation. The sect tends to regard the vegetarian sectarians as "genuine" Yiguan Dao believers. So the definition of membership plays an important role in defining the group scale of Chinese sects. 32. Laurence R. Iannaccone, "Why Strict Churches are Strong?" American Journal of Sociology 99, no. 4 (December 1994): 1180-1211 . 33. Barker, The Making of a Moonie, 94. 34. Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism, 36. 35. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press 2000), 123-25. 36. Kumarajiva, The Vimalakirti Sutra, 102.

Chap ter 4

Market Forees and Religious Ex p eriences Some people might think that sociologists are afraid to deal with mysticism. Andrew Greeley l

Any meaningful discussion of religion must not ignore religious experi­ ence, which "exists at the core of all religions."2 Though religious experi­ ence is an important aspect of religion, psychologists mainly dominate studies on religious experience. For this reason, Andrew Greeley com­ ments that "some people might think that sociologists are afraid to deal with mysticism." This chapter discusses the flourish and decline of two types of religious experience: spirit possession and meditation. Before the 1980s, spirit possession was widely practiced by Yiguan Dao while meditation was prohibited. Today, the situation is reversed: the sect has abolished the practice of spirit possession whereas meditation is becoming more and more popular among the sectarians. Why would such a dramatic transi­ tion occur? Let's begin with an overview of previous sociological research on religious experience.


There are two main competitive views to explaining religious experience: the experiential-expressive and cultural-linguistic views.3 The experi­ ential expressive theories treat experience as an independent variable, which not only exists relatively independent of its interpretation and social forces but also affects individuals and culture. This approach holds 91


Chapter 4

that the subjective aspect of individual experience is essential to religion; religion is the outward manifestation of inner experiences and the inner experience of ultimate reality or supernatural agency as the transcultural "core" of religion.4 In the past decades, the experiential source theory has been challenged by the cultural source perspective, which argues that all experience is socially and culturally constructed. It regards religious experience as a dependent variable affected by sociocultural forces, such as communi� culture, and social stratification. In the following, I will focus on the second approach and summarize how social forces influence religious experience. The deprivation theory posits that paranormal experiences are re­ sponses of social deprivation; religious experiences provide people with the means to cope with the psychological and physical strain of disadvan­ taged social and economic status.s According to this theory, belief in the paranormal should be higher among marginal social groups, such as mi­ norities and the poor.6 Some scholars have suggested that blacks are more likely than whites to report having paranormal experiences because they have historically been in the midst of deprivation.7 Sometimes the disad­ vantaged status of women may partially explain why they are more likely than men to report paranormal experiences.8 Persons with lower incomes may rely on paranormal experiences as ways of coping with the structural strain associated with their economic conditions.9 But the relationship between the deprivation and religious experience is controversial. Recent research finds that people who are routinely marginalized, such as Afri­ can Americans, the poor, and the less educated, are often no more likely than other people to believe in classic paranormal phenomena.1o Religious experience can also be culturally constructed. Yamane and Polzer find that the more immersed people are in their religion, the more likely they would be to have ecstatic experiences; the most frequent at­ tendees and prayers (i.e., those most involved in their religious traditions) have much higher probabilities of ever having had ecstatic experiences.ll Spikla and his collaborators also claim that culture exerts influence on religious experience.12 This argument is empirically supported by Lazer, who investigates cultural influences on measures of religious experience by comparing persons belonging to the same religious belief but coming from different ethnic backgrounds.13 Religious groups can exert influence on religious experience too. No pure experience can be separable from communities or belief. By ethno­ graphically studying a charismatic Catholic prayer group, Mary Jo Neitz has shown that "having" such an experience involves knowing what a prayer request is, knowing when such a request is appropriate, having ideas about the kinds of ways in which God might answer such a request, and being able to recognize otherwise ordinary events as the answer one

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


seeks.14 These are all matters of belief on which the experience depends. One can "have" such experiences only after one has accepted the ideas that make these experiences possible. A similar opinion is that people can learn to have religious experiences. I S They can learn to produce certain brain-states (e.g., Zen), which then interact with labels to make experi­ ences they call religious. It suggests that religious experiences are social products and could be influenced by religious groups. Religious rituals and music also function to facilitate ecstatic experi­ ences because they "manipulate sensory stimuli to focus their participants' concentration."16 People practice their religions together, side-by-side as it were, in shared time. By structuring inner time, both rituals and music unite people, living and dead, in a common experience. Ritual forms community and keeps it alive; the shared experience of ritual is at the center of religious life. In addition to rituals and music, it seems that organizational structure can also influence the frequency of religious experience. Miller finds that in all three groups he studied individuals report powerful, life-changing experiences of the sacred because "their organizational form enables people to experience the sacred more directly than is possible through the more pyramidal and reified forms of the mainline churches."17 The above studies indicate that religious experiences are socially con­ structed more or less, but they rarely examine the fluctuations of religious experiences over time. While most of previous studies understand the relationship between religious experience and social-demographic factors statically, the religious economy model is useful in articulating the condi­ tions under which certain kinds of religious experience are most likely to flourish or decline.18 We must note that the religious economy model is not an "experience-centered" theory.19 But the model has potential to generate some hypotheses to further the study on religious experience. As a supply­ side theory, the model predicts that the fluctuation of religious experience is related to religious suppliers. Guided by this perspective, I paid much attention to religious groups' attitudes toward religious experience when I did my fieldwork in Taiwan. This chapter will show that the religious market theory can be extended to religious experiences, which seem to be the most personal phenomenon. We will see that religious experience, like other religious services, is also influenced by market competition.


In chapter 1 we have seen that spirit writing is widely practiced by Chi­ nese people as a ritual directly receiving revelation from a spirit. The


Chapter 4

practice of spirit writing also spread to Taiwan in the early eighteenth cen­ tury and became popular in the late nineteenth century.20 Patronized by local elites, many "phoenix halls" (luan tang) were built "to admonish to transformation by transmitting the teachings of the gods."21 Phoenix halls are voluntary religious associations whose adherents often congregate to receive and study messages by means of spirit writing. Cult membership confers a status of discipleship under the gods. Through their written revelations, the gods guide these "phoenix disciples" (luan sheng) through a long-term process of religious cultivation centering upon moral conduct and the accumulation of merit. The phoenix disciples hope to thus create a surplus of merit for themselves and their ancestors, which will allow them to be reborn among the gods in the heavens. In the early twentieth century, a denominational consciousness among phoenix halls was developed through the efforts of Yang Mingji, a highly influential phoenix hall leader and planchette medium of the Japanese era. In 1919, Yang introduced the term "Confucian Divine Religion" (Ru­ zong Shenjiao) into the spirit writing circle and later this term became the general name for the common religious system shared by a large number of Taiwanese phoenix halls. Though the Confucian Divine Religion was just a diffuse assemblage of individual religious associations and was lack of a central and powerful organization, it developed quickly after 1945. In 1978 the number of phoenix halls in Taiwan was over five hundred; about four hundred morality books were manufactured by these phoenix halls; and dozens of spirit-written magazines were regularly published to spread " divine teachings."22 In addition to a variety of independent phoenix halls, the Compas­ sion society (Cihui Tang) has been the main group devoted to spirit writ­ ing in Taiwan since 1 949. As a spirit medium coming from mainland China, Su Liedong was believed to be efficacious in seeking the lost and offering magical therapy. Thus, a religious group gradually came into being through adopting "sons" or "daughters" of the "Golden Mother" (Jinmu Niangniang), the deity supposedly possessing Su Lie­ dong. This group experienced a schism in 1950 and divided into two main systems: Sheng-an Gong and the Compassion Society (Cihui Tang) . The number of "branch halls" of Sheng-an Gong was over one hundred until 1988.23 Compared with Sheng-an Gong, the Compassion Society was more successful in developing a full-scale religious system, own­ ing a number of scriptures, a set of rituals peculiar to itself, a collection of cultivation way, and an articulated organization centered on the founding temple in Hualian. Hundreds of organized "branch halls" or affiliated congregations of the Compassion Society dotted the island in 1986. These branch halls came into existence by fission and each of them was run by a group of believers, varying from a handful to a

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


couple of hundred, who engaged in spirit writing activities, divination, meditation, and liturgy.24 Spirit writing was also practiced by other religious firms besides phoe­ nix halls. As a popular way of communicating with the supernatural realm, spirit writing also became popular in local temples of popular re­ ligion. Many local temples accepted the worship of benefactor lords and became phoenix halls during Japanese era.25 After 1950s, most of newly­ built temples worshiping Guan-gong actively involved in spirit writing activities; these temples usually built a special "phoenix hall" for spirit writing.26 The temples of Jigong on Taiwan also provided the service of spirit writing in the past decades.27 In addition to the aforesaid religious firms, "sects such as Shijie Honghua Yuan, Tongshan She, Xuanyuan Jiao, Tiande Jiao, and Tiandi Jiao also had made use of spirit writings to spread their doctrines from 1945 to 1987."28 There is no doubt that before the 1980s spirit writing was widely prac­ ticed as the main way of communicating with the other realms by many religious firms: phoenix halls, local temples of popular religion, and sec­ tarian groups. In addition, believers of spirit writing activity were drawn from a wide range of societal categories, cross-cutting status, educational, and socioeconomic distinctions. Spirit Writing and Yiguan Dao Missionary Work

When Yiguan Dao sectarians fled to Taiwan, they found many religious groups-phoenix halls, the Compassion Society, and vegetarian sects-al­ ready in place which practiced spirit writing and shared some features with their faith. The practice of spirit writing provided Yiguan Dao a close relationship with these religions. The missionaries of Yiguan Dao shrewdly made use of such relations of religious kinship to convert the followers of these religious groups. Yiguan Dao missionaries particularly targeted the leaders of phoenix halls, since the conversion of its chairman would often lead to the wholesale transformation of a phoenix hall into a Yiguan Dao Buddha hall (Fotang). An example is Lin Shuzhao and his phoenix hall Chongxiu Tang in Douliu. Attracted by Yiguan Dao's doc­ trine, Lin led his followers converted to the Fayi division of Yiguan Dao in 195 1 . In a long period, this hall was the most important missionary foundation of Fayi division. Chongxiu Tang was not an isolated case; many phoenix halls were "swallowed" by Yiguan Dao.29 When doing missionary work in a new place, Yiguan Dao recruiters relied upon the spirit possession seance as the main means to attract strangers and get financial support. In the seance, a god was claimed to possess the body of Tiancai, having a talk with the attendees and then writing some verses to encourage the sectarians. Then the sectarians


Chapter 4

would record the god's activities, words, writings, and the attendees' responses as well. The recorded contents would thus consist of a morality book. In addition to gods, ghosts could play some roles in spirit posses­ sion occasionally. We can get a basic understanding of Yiguan Dao's spirit possession seance from the following story recorded in a morality book titled An Account of Ghosts ' Presences. At 7:15 p.m., all people were ready for the revelation. The male sectarians and female sectarians stood separately and quietly. At 8:10 p.m., the Teacher [namely Zhang Tianran, or the Living Buddha of Jigong] possessed the body of Tiancai and said : "Now it is the End of the Third Era (Sanqi mojie) and all must be responsible for their wrongs done in their prelives. Without the mercy of the Mother who descends the Great Dao for you to cultivate, no one can avoid the retaliation of ghosts. Today, I fol­ low the Mother 's decree to bring the ghost who was murdered by Miss Li's prelife here. You must be careful." Then the Teacher turned to the manager of the Buddha hall: "Do you mind if I bring the ghost to the Buddha hall?" The manager bowed and answered: "Merciful Teacher, it is my pleasure to witness such a miracle." The Teacher said : "OK, I will order the ghost to enter the Buddha hall immediately. The female helpers please get hold of Tiancai after she is possessed by the ghost." Then he told Yunmei Li: "Don't worry! Calm down and face the ghost with a confessional heart." At 8:20 p.m., the Teacher threw the fan, face upward and then pushed for­ ward. It indicated that the ghost had possessed the Tiancai's body. The ghost [actually the spirit medium] opened his eyes widely and angrily, cried out sadly and shook his body so violently that more than ten female Dao rela­ tives could hardly get hold of him. The manager: "Please calm down. This is the Buddha hall where you can­ not make any noise. If you have any grievances, please express them. The living Buddha of Jigong will give you a fair judgment." . . . The ghost said to Miss Li who had knelt down: "I hate you! Your prelife treated me so ruthlessly. I must take your life to answer for the wrongs your prelife had done on me. Don't take hold of me. I must take her life./1 Yunmei Li: "Please forgive me. It is my fault that my prelife murdered you. Now I have sought the Dao. I promise to transmit the merits to you if you forgive me./1 The ghost: "How could it be so easy to forgive you? I must take your life. Don't take hold of me! Let me out!/1 The ghost kept on crying and struggling. The female believers had to force the medium to sit on a chair. The manager: "Don't make noise any more. Your experiences are pitiful and we all want to help you today. Since the Living Buddha of Jigong has led you to the Buddha hall, you should take hold of this chance to get a favor­ able solution./130

After struggling, the ghost told the story eventually. It was said that the ghost's prelife was Deguang Song, a sinister merchant who dealt with drugs

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


in Taiwan. In 1946, Song and all of his family members were murdered by Xianxin He, supposedly the prelife of Yunmei Li, a person who once gained help from Song. Because Song was a viper, he was sent to the hell after death where he suffered a lot. Specially, the ghost described the sufferings in hell in detail, a common theme of morality books. After hearing the ghost's story, the manager asked it to forgive Yunmei Li, who wanted to transmit merits. Let's continue to have a look at what happened later. The manager: "What kind of merit do you want Miss Li to transfer?" The ghost: "In addition to recruiting neophytes (duren), she must donate three hundred morality books and afford the expenses of the following Bud­ dha halls: Renyi, Qianhua, Dade and Zongxin." The manager: "Well, we will try our best to fulfill your requirements." The ghost: "300 morality books to each Buddha hall, understand?" The manager: "Do you know that Senior Qi owns twenty-four Buddha halls in Malaysia? How could Li Yunmei afford to print 7,200 morality books? She is just a middle school student. Could you reduce the number of morality books donated by her?" . . . The ghost: "Then she must print 600 morality books totally and afford the four Buddha halls' expenses. Also, she must record what happens today through manufacturing a morality book. My story must be spread widely, warning people not to follow me." The manager: "OK, we promise to produce a morality book to record this story and publicly lecture it. You would have merits because the book could motivate people to seek Dao. You should not bother Li Yunmei any more and you should help her to recruit members, OK?" The ghost agreed and turned to the Dao relatives who were present at that time and said: "How fortunate you are! You could receive the Dao. Now the time is urgent and the Dao will be ceased soon. Is there anybody who still does not believe this? Do you think Tiancai is acting to cheat you? Tiancai is a very quiet girl. How would she like to be in such a shameful shape with hair disheveled? You must know that I am following the Mother's decree to ask for fairness. Without the help of Teacher, I cannot gain this opportunity. Please help me to say thanks to Tiancai. It really brings trouble to her."31

Whether the spirit medium was acting to cheat the attendees or not goes out of the purpose of this chapter. The point here is the meaning of such experience to the attendees. I must acknowledge that nearly all sec­ tarians I met during my fieldwork believe that there indeed exist ghosts and gods. Quite a number of Yiguan Dao sectarians sincerely told me how they dealt with the evil ghosts or interacted with other spirits ordinarily and lively. Actually, I heard so many " ghost stories" during my fieldwork that my mind was also deeply influenced. I was an agnostic when I en­ tered the field, but a strange experience occurred after I immersed myself too much into the sect's spirit world. The following is the field note I made in the November 3, 2003:


Chapter 4 A strange thing occurred last night. I dreamed that I returned to my home­ town at night. It was so dark that I asked my mother to turn on the light, but she did not respond to me. So I tried to turn it on by myself. Suddenly, I touched a brushy stuff which felt like a boy's head. The strange thing soon seized my left hand. I thought I must dream of a ghost and should wake up. But I failed. Maybe people experiencing nightmares can understand the situation. The ghost pressed my left hand and I caught it by my right hand . I was even curious about it. At the same time, I tried to make use of Yiguan Dao's "three treasures" to deal with the ghost, but I forgot the pithy formu­ las (Koujue). Since I once studied Christianity, I knew something about how Christians using prayers to fight with ghosts. Then I prayed: "God, let it go, please." Gradually, I waked up. Turning the light on, I found that the time is 8:40 a.m. I lay in the bed, recalling what just happened. It was so real that I could recall every detail. The more I thought about, the more fearful I was. I know how to explain religious experience scientifically, but now I really feel scared.

The strange paranormal experience bothered me so much that I im­ mediately asked for help from other scholars who study religion. They suggested that I change my apartment. Then I lived in a hotel in the fol­ lowing two days before I rented another apartment. Although the former landlord refused to return the rest of the rent to me, I would rather lose about $1,000 to avoid being bothered by the ghost again. At the time, I indeed believed that I was bothered by a ghost. Such explanations domi­ nated my mind and I nearly gave up doing the fieldwork. Now it seems ridiculous and irrational for me to spend so much money to avoid the so-called ghost's disturbance. With such an "irrational" expe­ rience, however, I can definitely understand why Yiguan Dao sectarians would like to invest time, money, and energy to their belief. The paranor­ mal experiences, or, more exactly, the explanations of these experiences, can exert great influence on people's mind and behavior. Religious zest can be easily motivated through such "mystical" experiences. As the above quotations of An Account of Ghosts ' Presences indicate, Yiguan Dao usually utilized spirit possession to persuade the followers to recruit neo­ phytes and financially support the sect. The Yiguan Dao missionaries can easily make use of such mystery to motivate resources that were vital to the survival of any groups. Partly for this reason, spirit possession was a rountinized content of the sectarians' congregation and a large number of spirit writings were produced by the sect.32 Spirit writing was also used by some Yiguan Dao leaders to create committed members. Here is an example. Fayi Chongde, one of the larg­ est Yiguan Dao division led by Chen Hongzhen, manufactured a variety of spirit writings to encourage the young sectarians to "be celibates" (qingxiu) in the 1970s. Since "being a celibate" was in conflict with the

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


requirement of "simultaneously cultivating the sacred and the secular," messages from the gods became an appropriate way to propagate such ideas. These revelations usually emphasize the shortcomings of marriage and the significance of being single. A message supposedly received from Guanyin Bodhisattva claims that: Today I (namely, the old Buddha) bring the following messages to encourage the Dao relatives who are celibates. Celibates can get rid of the karma of fam­ ily, being free of disturbance of marriage. No children would bother you dur­ ing your cultivation and it is comfortable without the burden of family. It is good to make a vow and promise to be single forever. Procreating children is really painful and dealing with complicated relationship among the families is intractable. Parents-in-law would not concern about you if you were lazy. Being celibates is helpful to spread the great Dao and it would facilitate the missionary work. If one decides to be celibate, his / her ancestors will benefit a lot. If people do not fulfill the vow of being celibates, their ancestors will also be punished.33

In a spirit writing, the male sectarians were told that: You should not be enchanted by the beauties. Even though she is nice, she also brings you countless afflictions. Once you are entwined by her, there is no way to get rid of that bondage. You'd better not be affiliated with her so that you could live freely, being away from affection and desire. Once there is happiness, surely there will be sadness; once there is sweetness, surely there will be distress. The secular happiness cannot last long. In order to cultivate their spirituality, many ancient cultivators chose to leave their wives and children or to be celibates.

Supported by the above theories, the Fayi Chongde division actively utilized spirit possession to encourage its young followers to make "a vow of being a celibate" (Qingxiu Yuan). A spirit writing titled The Record of Gods and Buddhas ' Words (Xianfo Yuiu) well documents the situation. It happened on May 16, 1976, when a religious meeting was held by the sec­ tarians, most of whom were college students promising to be graduates. In this congregation, the Jigong Buddha was believed to possess a spirit medium's body and gave the following speech: Although you want to spread Dao, you still cannot give up secular love and emotions. . . . If the God tests you and a beautiful girl strongly shows love to you, can you still insist on cultivating Dao and refuse her? To tell the truth, few people could pass the test. According to my observation, the test of sex is difficult to pass . . . . Disciples, I tell you frankly, the sacred task cannot be finished if you still treasure the secular love. You can understand this point if you study the experiences of the sacred and saints in history. Most of them had given up secular love . . . .


Chapter 4

You should make a decision to sacrifice yourself to helping more people. -Are you ready for sacrifice? The attendees: Yes. The god: OK, then you should make a vow and I will report these vows to the Mother. Considering that some of graduates are newcomers who did not know the importance of making vows, Aunt Chen said to the Jigong living Buddha that: "They are neophytes and in a low level of spirituality. Could you merci­ fully permit them to make the vow later?" The god: "It is time to make a vow. You should not regard them as neo­ phytes any longer." Then the god turned to the attendees: "What do you want to express now?"34

What happened next is that many attendees made the vow of giving up marriage. Being affected by "the miracles" of spirit possession, many young Yiguan Dao sectarians in the 1970s became celibates, most of whom were college students. These celibates were taught to abstain from secular entertainments (e.g., watching movies and reading novels), devot­ ing themselves to studying Yiguan Dao doctrines and doing missionary work. Undoubtedly, professional religious staffs are vital to the develop­ ment of religions. Today, most of these celibates have been promoted as initiators, occupying most of the important positions of Fayi Chongde and making a living by managing the religious business. Discarding Spirit Writing

The practice of spirit possession facilitated the sect's missionary work and strengthened the sectarians' faith before the 1980s. Today, however, nearly all Yiguan Dao divisions discard the practice of spirit writing. Many fac­ tors contribute to the decline of spirit writing in Yiguan Dao. One is that the validity of spirit-written messages was questioned by both the sectar­ ians and outsiders. Many people think that spirit writers can control the messages. In the fieldwork, I was once told: Every time when I attend the seance of spirit possession, I feel it is very funny. In such congregations, gods are believed to reach the altar, possess the medium and talk something in general. Sometimes they would have a talk with somebody particularly. Such arrangements are effective to some at­ tendees who are so moved that they could not keep crying. However, many people do not believe the spirit possession. They usually ask: "Where do you find a little girl to cheat us?" In short, though a lot of things must be prepared to hold a seance of spirit possession, the effect is not so good.

The critics towards the validity of spirit writing achieved the acme in 1980 when a spirit medium of Fayi Chongde publicly revealed how

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


Senior Master (qianren) Chen Hongzhen taught her to purposely manu­ facture the messages wanted. Some core sectarians of Fayi Chongde held a meeting to criticize the Senior Aunt Chen, who cheated them through manipulating the spirit writings. A female spirit medium claimed that Aunt Chen gave her the messages first; after remembering the contents, she would write the revelation in the spirit writing seance. In order to confirm the accusation, the medium demonstrated her skill as a cheating spirit writer by means of producing a paragraph of revelation deliber­ ately in that meeting. The attendees asked Aunt Chen to explain the medium's charge but Aunt Chen did nothing except cry. Furthermore, the organizers recorded the meeting and then mailed the tapes to other Yiguan Dao divisions to reveal the "truth." The validity of spirit writ­ ing was seriously questioned and many Fayi Chongde followers left the division. This event was believed to contribute to the sect's rejection of spirit writing. The most important factor leading to the decline of spirit writing in Yiguan Dao is that new revelations can easily cause religious schisms. In history, it is a common practice within Yiguan Dao that new patriarchs made use of spirit writing to legitimize their leadership. But such revela­ tions are inherently threatening to existing structures of authority. After Sun Suzhen died in 1974, many people claimed to be the new patriarch of Yiguan Dao (see Table 4.1).35 These self-claimed patriarchs produced a large number of spirit writ­ ings to legitimate their leadership. Not surprisingly, the mainstream of Yiguan Dao36 views these people and their followers as "sinister schools" (Zuo Dao). Since the activity of spirit writing was highly possible to re­ ceive new revelations that threaten the existing order, nearly all Yiguan Dao divisions officially discarded the practice of spirit writing. Interest­ ingly, the sect used spirit writing to explain why spirit writing must be thrown away: Table 4 . 1 :

A Partial List of "Heterodox" Groups of Yiguan Dao


Fou nder

Fou nding year


M i le Dadao

Wang Haode

1 982

Haizi Dao

L i n J i x iong

1 984


Zhonghua Shengj iao

Ma Yongchang

1 980

Not ava i lable

G uany i n Dadao

Chen H uoguo

1 984

Not ava i lable

Yuande Shentan

Wu Rui-yuan


Not ava i lable

J i u l i an Shengdao

L i n Zhen-he

1 992 n i


Chapter 4

A long time before, the Mother has pointed out that there would be thirty­ six false Maitreya Buddhas and seventy-two false Patriarchies when the world came to the end. With regard to this issue, I [Jigong Buddha] have also warned you in advance. These false Patriarchies would be equipped with huge theurgy. They cannot only produce wonderful spirit writings, but also have super power, such as curing the illness with a touch and making the dead alive again. In addition, he would act as the genuine Jigong Buddha and say: "Oh, my poor disciples, why don't you believe the genuine Teacher? Why do you still believe the agent Teacher? You are really poor! Now I come here by myself. If you have any problems, I will help you to solve them. You are my disciples, how can I leave you aside?" Then what will you do? Do you believe it or not? It's really dangerous. Considering these facts, the Mother has arranged a meeting which all gods attended and decided that the spirit possession would not be allowed when the last salvation is coming. It will be helpful to prevent the emergence of false patriarchs.37

A spirit writing in name of the Venerable Mother also indicates: I [namely, the Eternal Venerable Mother] tell you that spirit writing will be put aside soon. In order to help you to understand the truth, I established the teachings by means of spirit writing. But spirit writing cannot be practiced forever and I will not send gods to do spirit writings any more. Later, there will be heterodoxies which still make use of spirit possession. They will be equipped with great theurgy and can produce wonderful spirit writings; they will claim that they have the celestial mandate and hold the Mother's decree to offer the last salvation. Various heterodoxies will emerge and many mysti­ cal phenomena will occur. My children, you must be careful to avoid being tempted by these false patriarchs. You should reflect yourselves and improve the level of spirituality. That is the right way to accumulate merits.38

As the above spirit writing shows, Yiguan Dao believes that spirit writings tend to produce new revelations that threaten the administra­ tive order. In order to establish a stable structure, all of the Yiguan Dao divisions except Fayi Chongde have given up the practice of spirit writing, and even in Fayi Chongde it plays a much reduced role in the affairs of the division.

YIGUAN DAO AND MEDITATION The Rise of Meditation in Taiwan

Since the 1980s, meditation has become more and more popular in Taiwan. In history, meditation was widely practiced by various religious groups in China. When the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1949,

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


meditation and other religious activities were regarded as feudal supersti­ tion and banned. But it was revived strongly in the 1980s in the modern name of qigong in mainland China. The popularity of meditation achieved its high point in the early 1990s when hundreds of millions of people practiced qigong and numerous qigong groups emerged. These highly bureaucratic and commercial qigong groups competed with each other to attract potential customers, providing various products from qigong books to qigong videotapes and VCDs. Many of them spread to Taiwan, among which Xiang Gong, Zhong Gong, and Falun Gong are the most famous. In­ fluenced by the qigong fad of mainland China, hundreds of thousands of native qigong organizations emerged in Taiwan. A "qigong fad" (qigong re) also soon swept across Taiwan in the late twentieth century. The rise of Buddhist sects also plays an important role in increasing the popularity of meditation in Taiwan. In 1987, the Kuomintang govern­ ment deregulated religion by lifting the martial law. In 1989, the state implemented the Law on Civic Organization (renmin tuanti fa), according to which all religious groups were permitted to exist legally and the gov­ ernment would not impose prohibitions on the establishment of religious groups. After deregulation, new religions mushroomed in the 1990s. Among these newly-established religious groups, the reformed Buddhist organizations, including Ciji, Foguang Shan, Zhongtai Shan, and Fagu Shan, are the most influential. These Buddhist groups, which regard the medita­ tion of Zen as the first step of cultivation, are active in holding workshops to teach meditation of Zen.39 Since the 1980s, a large number of new religions have emerged in Tai­ wan religious market. Many of them focus on the immediate communica­ tion with the spiritual realms by means of meditation. Take the "Research Association of Zen Meditation of Republic China" (zhonghua minguo chanding xuehui) as an example.40 It is led by Qinghai, a female leader. In practicing "the Dharma Way of Guanyin" (guanyin famen), practitioners are asked to spend at least two and a half hours in meditating every day. During the meditation, practitioners should watch inner lights and listen to inner voices. The possible inner lights include blue lights, red lights, yellow lights, etc.; the potential inner voices include the sound of wind, the sound of rain, the sound of train, the sound of bell, etc. The light and sound that the practitioners experience during the meditation represent the level of their cultivation. People should try their best to meditate and improve their spirituality. Apparently, meditation is the core of cultivation of the Qinghai group. When the meditation fad was well under way in the 1980s, many phoe­ nix halls also became more meditation-centered. This transition is related to the competition in Taiwan religious market. Philip Clart has pointed out that "relations between phoenix halls and the Yiguan Dao were not


Chapter 4

free of conflict . . . that arose from competition for members and different views on the status and legitimacy of phoenix halls."41 Other scholars share the same ideas with Clart: During the fieldwork, we were impressed by a phoenix hall master who complained that the sectarians of Yiguan Dao repeatedly "invaded" (qinru) in phoenix halls and they had to try their best to "kick out" (zhuchu) them. When describing these cases, he used the terms of "invade" and "kick out" repeatedly. Exactly, a high tension, which derives from the "survival compe­ tition," exits between Yiguan Dao and phoenix halls.42

In order to differentiate themselves from Yiguan Dao, phoenix halls purposely introduced mythological and institutional innovations into practice (Clart 1996). One measure is to reduce the activities similar to Yiguan Dao's, such as the publication of morality books related to the Venerable Mother. On the other hand, phoenix halls gradually shifted their cultivation activities to meditation through which the practitioners could gain some kinds of "theurgy" or "supernatural ability" (Shen tong). Both meditation and seeking theurgy are regarded as heterodoxy and prohibited by Yiguan Dao. Followers of phoenix halls self-consciously changed the way of communicating with the other realm to differentiate themselves from Yiguan Dao. We are told: In the process of interview, several masters of phoenix hall repeatedly stressed that they were not Yiguan Dao. While Yiguan Dao permitted to do something, they would not do that purposely; when Yiguan Dao prohibited the way of meditation, they would choose to do so. In short, they deliberately discarded some activities and adopted some new activities to differentiate themselves from Yiguan Dao.43

Ethnographic research shows that the keen competition in Taiwan religious market drove phoenix halls to become more meditation-cen­ tered since the mid-1980s. We can see this tendency from the transition of the "sacred virtue hall" (Shengde Tang). The hall was established in 1981 by Yang Zanru, perhaps one of the most influential spirit writers in Taiwan, who manufactured a large number of morality books. Since 1986, however, Yang had gradually shifted his attention from the prac­ tice of spirit writing to Buddhist meditation. He emphaSized that the meditation of Chan was vital to cultivation because it can reduce com­ plaints, cultivate patience, improve mind, and enlighten self-reflection. After spending half a year in meditating and reading Buddhist sutras in 1988, Yang introduced more Buddhist theories and practices into the loose association he led. Over time, Yang's group developed toward a Buddhist sect. In 1998, Yang eventually converted to Buddhism, to­ gether with his followers. All spirit writing activities were discarded

Market Forces and Religious Experiences

1 05

and meditation became the main means of receiving messages from the other realm.44 The above data show that meditation has become an important way through which people communicate with the other realm in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Meditation is practiced by different reli­ gious firms: phoenix halls, qigong organizations, meditation-centered new religions and Buddhist sects. In the past, professionals such as spirit medi­ ums dominated religious experiences. Now the popularity of meditation enables more people to own such mystical experiences. People realize that they can learn to own spiritual experiences if they would like to. Challenges to Yiguan Dao

The popularity of meditation puts Yiguan Dao in a dilemma. On the one hand, Yiguan Dao had prohibited the practice of meditation since the Wang Jueyi period. The sect used to hold that the doomsday was coming, and thus believers must spend the limited time on saving people rather than meditating. On the other hand, such a prohibition could easily push the sectarians to other meditation-centered groups. The fieldwork told me that many Yiguan Dao sectarians tried to seek such mythical experience in other groups. This impression was supported by other researchers' stud­ ies. When studying the new religion led by Qinghai, Ding interviewed a former senior Yiguan Dao sectarian.45 He says: I was a member of Fayi division before my marriage. Because my wife is a member of Jichu division, I shifted to the Jichu division then. I told myself that "well, I begin to seek something spiritually." But how could I penetrate into Yiguan Dao faith? The initiator told me that I should become a vegetarian. OK, I gave up eating meat immediately. After several months, the initiator asked me to be a master of Buddha hall. No problem, I established a family Buddha hall in my home and became a Buddha hall master. At the time, I also participated in research courses held by Jichu division and read classics. Reading classics really made my life different. Then I decided to become a lecturer. However, I find that the further study focused on ethic and morality. It stresses Confucianism rather than Buddhism. This is not what I want to seek. . . . I had spent about three years in Yiguan Dao but I failed to get what I want. I find that there is no way to further the cultivation of spirituality.

Later, he left Yiguan Dao and attended a Zen group to learn meditation before he eventually joined the Qinghai's group. He continued: This group mostly fits me. I like meditation very much and this group re­ quires you to sit at least two hours every day. It's the best one [I ever met]. (Laugh) . . . Later I said "I want to be equipped with theurgy." She [Qinghai, the leader] does not discuss this issue in her book, but she told me that: "If


Chapter 4

you achieve the second level, you can naturally gain some kind of theurgy." Theurgy is what I want to gain.

Apparently, the interviewee was a core member of Yiguan Dao: he was a master of Buddha hall and a vegetarian. But he eventually shifted to other religious groups because he could not get what he wanted to seek: meditation and theurgy. This person is just an example of various "apos­ tates" of Yiguan Dao. His case just indicates that Yiguan Dao is losing its members because of the popularity of meditation. In addition to turning to other meditation-centered organizations, some former Yiguan Dao sectarians even established their own groups in which meditation was emphasized. Pan Tiansheng and Li Yuansong are two typical cases. Pan Tiansheng converted to the Fayi division of Yiguan Dao before he joined the army in the 1970s. He had kept the sectarian identity more than twenty years before he established his own religious group, the Way of Wisdom (Zhihui Famen). This new religion provides a set of theory about spirit as well as the way of improving people's spirituality by means of meditation.46 Li Yuansong was a former Yiguan Dao sectar­ ian of the fichu division. In 1990, he established "Modern Zen" (Xiandai chan), a very influential lay-Buddhist group, which puts much emphasis on the meditation of Zen.47 Both groups are well-known new religions in Taiwan religious market. Yiguan Dao's Responses to the Challenge

Pacing the challenge of various meditation groups, how can the sect keep its followers? In my fieldwork, I find that Yiguan Dao tries to bring alter­ native ways of meditation into practice. One of them is to "focus on the mystical gate" (Shou xuan). "The mysterious gate" (Xuanguan), "the pithy formulas" (Koujue), and "the hand sign" (He tong) are "three treasures" (Sanbao) of Yiguan Dao. In the past, three treasures were used to deal with the calamity. When one concentrates on the mysterious gate, puts one's hands in the gesture of "hand sign" and repeats the pithy formulas silently, according to Yiguan Dao sectarians, the gods would help the sectarian to survive the disaster. Today, the sectarians emphasize that three treasures actually could be uti­ lized in ordinary life as an alternative practice of meditation. Such activity was named "focusing on the mystical gate" by the sect. What is "focusing on the mystical gate"? How could one practice this activity? Guo Mingyi, the chief leader of Huiguang division as well as an influential Yiguan Dao theorist, directs much attention to these issues. When answering "how to bring the mind back to the mystical gate," Guo says:

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


The first step is to kowtow. When you are kowtowing, you should put all things aside, keep the hands in the gesture of "the hand sign" (Hetong) and focus on the mystical gate through counting one, two, three, etc. These prac­ tices could easily help one concentrate on the mystical gate and bring the mind back. This is the primary step; it is also the safest and the most efficient way for the beginner. The ritual of kowtow must be practiced in Buddha halls. Since we cannot go to a Buddha hall and kowtow all the time, however, we could use a more convenient way to cultivate. That is, "silently repeating the pithy formulas." . . . Imagining the mystical gate as a sound box through which the word of pithy formulas is articulately spoken one by one, one can concentrate on the mystical gate and avoid being bothered by the surrounding. This is the second step of Shou Xuan. The third stage is to put your mind directly on the mystical gate . . . . You should do that in your everyday life. When you drink tea, you should con­ centrate on drinking and then you would feel that the tea is fragrant and sweet. When you eat a piece of bread, you should concentrate on eating and then you taste its sweetness. You can remind yourself to bring the mind back to the mystical gate when you do every thing: speaking, talking, driving, etc. It would help you focus on the things you are doing, but also benefit your cultivation. This is the process of "concentrating mind on the mystical gate": from kowtowing to silently repeating the pithy formulas and finally to the stage of "direct concentration."48

The above quotations are the general principles of concentrating mind. In practice, the sectarians usually try to focus their attention on the point of

mystical gate, keep the hands in the Hetong gesture, put the tip of tongue on the maxilla, swallow the saliva when necessary, and repeat silently the words of "pithy formulas." Apparently, it is a kind of meditation. In fact, Guo ar­ gues that Shouxuan is the most efficient way towards meditation. In his book Cultivation ofYiguan Dao, Guo Mingyi (1996) explores the history of Shouxuan and holds that Buddha also involves in Shouxuan. According to Guo, people usually equalize "Zen meditation" (Chanding) to "quietly sitting" (Dazuo); this is not right. Sitting quietly is just one way of achieving the status of meditation. There are other ways of meditation, among which Shouxuan is the best. Thus, Guo distinguishes "quietly sitting" from "Zen meditation" and suggests that Yiguan Dao prohibits the former but permits the latter. These explanations legitimate the practice of Zen meditation within Yiguan Dao and Shouxuan is widely practiced by the sectarians. Today, four main Yiguan Dao divisions, namely, Fayi, Baoguang, fichu, and Xingyi, encourage their followers to Shouxuan and provide special courses to teach how to Shouxuan. In addition, the Fayi Chongde division incorporates Xiang Gong, a kind of qigong once popular in Chinese mainland, into the course for nurtur­ ing wellness and wisdom (Yangsheng Yanghui).49 Meditation has currently become a common and popular practice within Yiguan Dao.



This chapter explores the fluctuation of religious experiences within Yiguan Dao from a historical perspective, probing the background against which such fluctuation occurred. Under the leadership of Wang Jueyi, Yiguan Dao was reluctant to in­ volve in both spirit writing and meditation. Facing the popularity of spirit writing in the 1930s, however, Zhang Tianran broke the sect's tradition, updated the technique of spirit writing, and produced a set of theories to legitimate the activity. When Yiguan Dao came to Taiwan after World War II, the skillful use of spirit writing made the sect very successful in recruiting members, motivating social resources, and creating committed members. The updated technique of spirit writing also enabled Yiguan Dao to occupy a favored status when competing with other religious firms, and the sect "swallowed" many competitors, including phoenix halls. But the revelations by means of spirit writing were also a source of religious schisms. In order to establish a sustainable structure, the sect discarded the practice of spirit writing. The shift of Yiguan Dao's attitude towards meditation is also interest­ ing. Previously, the sect regarded meditation as a time-wasting activity and thus forbade its followers to meditate. Since the end of the world is coming soon and so many people need to be saved, from the perspective of Yiguan Dao, the sectarians should spend their limited time in recruiting neophytes rather than meditation. The emergence of various meditation groups in the past two decades, however, threatened the sect's develop­ ment; many Yiguan Dao sectarians turned to these meditation-centered groups or established their own meditation-centered new religions. To keep its followers, the sect had to update its services and introduced the practice of "focusing on the mystical gate" (Shouxuan), a kind of medita­ tion. Meditation has currently become a popular activity practiced by Yiguan Dao believers. The above analysis shows that religious suppliers appear to compete to provide "religious experiences," which maximize their appeal to mem­ bers and potential adherents. At the same time, they try to control these experiences so that they can only be properly pursued and understood (i.e., theologically) within the group. They try to control these experiences to prevent innovations that could threaten the group's leadership and structure. It seems that competition forces religious firms to encourage or forbid some categories of religious experience. In this sense, religious experience, like other religious products, is also influenced by market force more or less. The analyses of Yiguan Dao's evolving positions on spirit writing and meditation provide a very good illustration of those processes.

Market Forces and Religious Experiences


NOTES 1. Andrew Greeley, Sociology and Religion: A Collection of Readings (New York: Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995), 108.

2. Lawrence A. Young, "Phenomenological Images of Religion and Rational Choice Theory," in Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment, ed. Lawrence A. Young (New York: Routledge, 1997), 138.

3. For an extensive discussion on this issue, please refer to David Yamane and Megan Polzer, "Way s of Seeing Ecstasy in Modern Society : Experiential-Expres­ sive and Cultural-linguistic Views," Sociology of Religion 55, no. 1 (Spring 1994):

1-25. 4. Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1967). Also see Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979). 5. Charles Glock and Rodney Stark, Religion and Society in Tension (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1965). 6. See Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Deviance and Moral Boundaries: Witchcraft, the Oc­ cult, Science Fiction, Deviant sciences and Scientists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). Also see James Lett, "The Persistent Popularity of the Paranormal,"

Skeptical Inquirer 16, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 381-88.

7. John W. Fox, "The Structure, Stability, and Social Antecedents of Re­ ported Paranormal Experiences," Sociological Analysis 53, no. 4 (December 1992):

417-31. 8. Erich Goode, Paranormal Beliefs: A Sociological Introduction (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2000). 9. William L. MacDonald, "The Effects of Religiosity and Structural Strain on Reported Paranormal Experiences," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, no. 3 (September 1995): 366-76. 10. Tom Rice, "Believe It or Not: Religious and Other Paranormal Beliefs in the United States," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42, no. 1 (March 2003): 95-106. 11. David Yamane and Megan Polzer, "Way s of Seeing Ecstasy in Modern So­ ciety : Experiential-Expressive and Cultural-linguistic Views," Sociology of Religion no. 1 (March 1994): 1-25.

12. Bernard Spilka, Kevin L. Ladd, Daniel N. Mcintosh, Sara Milmoe, and Carl 0. Bickel, "The Content of Religious Experience: The Roles of Expectancy and Desirability," International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 6 (1996): 95-105.

13. Aryeh Lazer, "Cultural Influences on Religious Experiences and Motiva­ tion," Review of Religious Research 46, no. 1 (March 2004): 64-71.

14. Mary Jo Neitz, Charisma and Community: A Study of Religious Commitment within the Charismatic Renewal (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers,

1987). 15. Susan Blackmore, "Who Am I? Changing Models of Reality in Meditation," in Beyond Therapy: The Impact of Eastern Religions on Psychological Theory and Prac­

tice, ed. Guy Claxton (London: Wisdom Publications, 1986), 71-85.

16. Mary Jo Neitz and James V. Spickard, "Steps toward A Sociology of Reli­ gious Experience: The Theories of Mihal Csikszentmihay i and Alfred Schutz,"

Sociological Analysis 51, no. 1 (March 1990): 22.




17. Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 156. 18. Lawrence A. Young, "Phenomenological Images of Religion and Rational Choice T heory," in Rational Choice Theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment, ed. Lawrence A. Young (New York: Routledge, 1997), 133--45. 19. Colin Jerolmack and Douglas Porpora, "Religion, Rationality, and Experi­ ence: A Response to the New Rational Choice T heory of Religion," Sociological

Theory 22, no. 1 (March 2004): 140-60. 20. Philip Clart, The Ritual Context of Morality Books: A Case-study of a Taiwanese Spirit-writing Cult, Ph.D. T hesis (Canada: the University of British Columbia, 1996), 59-70. 21. Clart, The Ritual Context of Morality Books, 70. 22. Jianchuan Wang, Taiwan de Zhaijiao yu Luantang [Vegetarian Religion and

Phoenix Halls in Taiwan] (Taibei: Nan-tian Press, 1996). 23. Zhiming Zheng, Ming dai San yi jiao zhu yan jiu [A Study of the Lord of Three in One] (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 1988), 64. 24. David K. Jordan and Daniel L. Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chi­ nese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986). 25. Zhiyu Wang, Taiwan de enzhugong xinyang [The Belief of Benevolent Masters on Taiwan] (Taiwan: Wen-jing Press, 1997), 50-51. 26. Renjie Ding, Shehui Fenghua Yu Z ongjiao Zhidu Bianqian [Social Differentiation and the Transition of Religious Institution] (Taipei: Lianjing Press 2004), 81. 27. Meir Shahar, Craz y Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998). 28. Ding, She/mi Fenghua Yu Zongjiao Zhidu Bianqian, 86. 29. Clart, The Ritual Context of Morality Books, 88-91. 30. Yiguan Dao, An Account of Ghosts' Presences (Taipei: Sanyang Shanshu Chu­ banshe, 1988), 8-13. 31. Yiguan Dao, An Account of Glwsts' Presences, 22-26. 32. One can download these spirit writings from and . T hey were retrieved on September 10, 2006. 33. Guo Wuwang, Yiguan Dao Dagang [An Outline of Yiguan Dao] (Taiwan: Shangsheng Hang Press, 1985), 348. 34. Yiguan Dao, A Collection of Words from Saints and Buddhas, 1980: 11-12. 35. For example, in 1982, Wang Haode regarded himself as "the representa­ tive of Mistress Sun" (Shimu Daibiao) who owned the updated celestial mandate. Later this group renamed itself as "the Great Dao of Maitreya" (Mile Dadao) to differentiate from Yiguan Dao. Many former Yiguan Dao followers converted to

Mile Dadao, which soon became a worldwide religious group. Because it "steals" followers from Yiguan Dao divisions, a conflict exists between Mile Dadao and Yiguan Dao. For a detailed analysis, please refer to Philip Clart, "Opening the Wil­ derness for the Way of Heaven: A Chinese New Religion in the Greater Vancouver Area," Journal of Chinese Religion 28 (2000): 127-43. 36. It refers to those divisions that join the World I-Kuan Dao Headquarters. T his is an official Yiguan Dao organization that was permitted to register in Tai­ wan Ministry of Interior in 1987.


Market Forces and Religious Experiences

37 . Yiguan Dao, Words from the Teacher (the fifth volume): Understanding the Spirit Possession and its relationship with the truth (September 10, 2006). 38. "Kind Teachings from the Mother" (September 10, 2006). 39. For the meditation service offered by Zhongtai Shan, please visit the fol­ lowing website: . People who are interested in meditation can learn it freely. Fagu Shan also provides such information on its website: . For such ser­ vices by Foguang Shan, please refer to . The above websites were retrieved on September 10, 2006. 40. For more information about this group, please refer to Ding 2003, or its web­ site . One can also download Qinghai's works and speech records from . Both websites were retrieved on September 10, 2006. 41 . Clart,

The Ritual Context of Morality Books,


42. Jianchuan Wang, Yumin Zhou, and Meirong Lin,

Gaoxiongxian jiaopai zongjiao [Sects in Gaoxiong county]. (Gaoxiong: county government, 1997), 141. 43. Wang, Zhou, and Lin, Gaoxiongxian jiaopai, 141. 44. Zhiming Zheng, Dang dai xin xing zong jiao: Xiu xing tuan ti pian [The current new religions] (Taiwan: Nanhua Daxue Chubanshe, 2000) . 45. This case was collected by Ding Renjie when he studied Qinghai's group. I would like to thank Dr. Ding very much for generously sharing the primary

record with me. 46. Zheng,

Dang dai xin xing zong jiao: Xiu xing tuan ti pian,


47. One can also get information about Li Yuansong's attitude towards Yiguan Dao from the following


(September 10, 2006). 48 . Mingyi Guo,

Yiguan Xiuchi [The cultivation of Yiguan Dao]

(Taiwan: Ciding

press, 1996), 55-57. 49. "The Course Schedule of Chongde Nurturing Wellness and Wisdom," (September 10, 2006).

Chap ter 5

Deregulation and Organizational Transformation Determination causes transformation; Transformation causes smooth opera­ tion; Smooth operation causes long duration. Yi ling

This chapter is concerned with the impact of competition on the orga­ nizational transformation of Yiguan Dao. When the Kuomintang state deregulated the religious market in the late 1980s in Taiwan, religions be­ came more organized and competitive. Competition drove Yiguan Dao to emulate other religious groups by providing social services. But its ability to offer efficient services was constrained by its organizational structure. When the sect was suppressed, it developed an organizational structure that was helpful in avoiding persecution and sustaining the sectarians' morale and motivation. However, the old structure not only became a roadblock to religious innovations but also induced frequent schisms in a deregulated religious economy. In order to sustain the vitality, Yiguan Dao had to update its structure.


Competition has played a prominent part in rational choice theory of religion. From the perspective of Stark and his collaborators, market forces will ensure diversity; competition and diversity will generate high levels of religiosity.1 By comparing religious participation in eigh­ teen developed countries, Iannaccone finds that rates of church atten­ dance and religious belief are substantially higher in free markets than 113


Chapter 5

those in regulated markets.2 Also, such an effect is observable in non­ Christian societies. In Japan, deregulation led to religious prosperity in the past decades.3 But the relationship between religious pluralism and religious participation is still controversial. While proponents of the reli­ gious economy model find a positive relationship between them,4 some empirical studies show that religious pluralism is negatively associated with religious participation.5 While the relationship between regulation and religious vitality has been fully studied, few researchers have explored the impact of competi­ tion on the organizational structure of religion. Organizational literature can throw new light on this issue. Rose held that competition tended to drive groups to be active and flexible in activities and techniques. Groups faced with competition were more likely to meet frequently and more likely to develop a cohesive relationship among their members than groups facing neither competition nor conflict.6 Khandwalla found that organizations would be structurally differ­ entiated in a friendly surrounding. The differentiated personnel were integrated by a series of mechanisms, such as committees and ad hoc coordinating groups. By such means, the environment will be more easily monitored. If the environment was hostile, the organization would cen­ tralize and standardize its operation to cope with the hostility.7 Pfefer and Leblebici analyzed the effects of competition on structure. They found that in the less competitive environment, groups are associ­ ated with decentralization, less formalization, and more departments. Competitiveness can increase the demand for coordination and control of behavior within the organization, leading to more formalization, less departmentalization, horizontal differentiation, and a relatively taller organizational structure. While competition implies a demand for greater control and coordination within organizations, it also imposes a demand for rapid response to changing environmental conditions. In the follow­ ing, we will see that these analyses are useful to understand the ongoing organizational transformation of Yiguan Dao.


When the Kuomintang state retreated to Taiwan in 1 949, it restricted re­ ligions to ensure that no religious organization became sufficiently well­ organized to produce political challenges. Due to the state regulation, Buddhism and Daoism failed to develop strong clergy organizations. Nor did they have mature congregational structures that would have more ef­ fectively connected clergy and the laity. In the 1960s and 1970s in Taiwan, Buddhist monks were reluctant to establish a close relationship with local

Deregulation and Organizational Transformation


communities and the laity, partly due to strict regulation; nor did they use congregations to recruit and convert neophytes.8 They usually spent most of their time in reciting sutras, or repeating the name of a Buddha over and over. Daoist monks provided divine help when consumers patronized them and they always failed to distinguish themselves from shamans. Daoist specialists were not interested in forming congregations either. It was politically risky to hold congregations in a society where the dominating party was suspicious of any mass gatherings. But state regulation could not restrict the spread of folk religion. Since it is highly risky to attend religious congregations, it would be safer for people to patronize temples or religious specialists for divine help when need arises. Indeed, it is impossible for the state to control the establish­ ment of privately built temples and shrines, most of which were not nec­ essarily managed by the priesthood. These village temples were usually managed by a temporary organization headed by a Luzhu, host of the incense burner. Each year, a Luzhu would be chosen "either according to a rota or divination, and in any case after the approval of the patron deity has been ascertained by divination."9 As a temporary governor, the Luzhu was responsible for collecting funds, hiring opera troupes and religious specialists, building the opera canopy, preparing for the offerings, and making general arrangements. When the rituals were completed, these ritual associations would be disbanded. To summarize, state regulation failed to destroy religion, but it succeeded in preventing the emergence of well-organized religious groups in Taiwan. The democratization of Taiwan in the 1980s drove the state to deregu­ late religious affairs. In 1989, the Kuomintang government voted in the Law on Civic Organization (renmin tuanti fa), whereby all religious groups were permitted to exist legally and the government would not impose prohibitions on the establishment of religious groups. Believers of any religion were free to hold their religious activities and spread their faith without fear of state suppression. The deregulation of religion in the late 1980s was viewed by many as a "religious fad" (Zongjiao re) in Taiwan. The renewed religious vitality can be seen in the increase of religious organizations. Since the state did not regard religious organizations as political threats any longer, religions were allowed to freely register themselves as civic organizations and operate legally without restrictive regulation. As a result, there was a dra­ matic growth in the number of religious organizations in the 1990s. The number of religious groups increased from 83 in 1986 to 1,062 in 2004, as illustrated in Figure S . l . The 1980s witnessed the decline o f the Buddhist Association o f the Re­ public of China. We know that the association tended to lobby the state to suppress its rivals, rather than attempting to offer competitive religious


Chapter 5

1200 1062


947 825

800 725 626





400 318

200 124




Figure 5.1.






...._ rfS

!:)')... rfS