Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taoism Resurgent

Interesting story by Ian Johnson in the NY Times about the revival of Taoism in China, part of a general rise of religious faith. Official surveys count 300 million people who list themselves as members of one of the recognized faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Christianity. Taoism is the only one native to China, and it appeals to people leery of foreign influence or trying to get back to Chinese traditions. Taoism is a fusion of ancient Chinese paganism with the esoteric philosophy of "The Way," developed around the 5th century BC. Traditional Chinese medicine and Tai Chi are both rooted in the same ideas. Taoism has many new followers, and it has also been promoted by government tourism officials:
Mount Yi is in a poor part of China, and Communist Party officials had hit upon tourism as a way to move forward. They fenced in the main mountain, built a road to the summit and declared it a scenic park. But few tourists were willing to pay for a chance to hike up a rocky mountain. Enter religion. China is in the midst of a religious revival, and people will pay to visit holy sites. So the local government set out to rebuild the temple, which was wrecked by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, modestly rebuilt then torn down when the park was first constructed. Officials commissioned a 30-foot statue of the Jade Emperor, had it hauled to the peak and encased in the brilliant red pavilion. They then built a bell and a drum tower, as well as another set of halls devoted to minor deities.

All that was missing was a soul. For that, the temple had to be properly consecrated. The officials got in touch with Abbess Yin, widely regarded as a leading expert in Taoist ritual, and soon she was driving the 350 miles from her nunnery to Mount Yi. . .

Shortly after noon, when it seemed she had little strength left, Abbess Yin stopped singing. She held a writing brush in one hand and wrote a talismanic symbol in the air. Then she looked up: the sun was at the right point, slanting down into the prayer room. This was the time. She held out a small square mirror and deflected a sunbeam, which danced on the Jade Emperor’s forehead. The abbess adjusted the mirror slightly and the light hit the god’s eyes. Kai guang, opening brightness. The god’s eyes were open to the world below: the abbess, the worshipers and the vast expanse of the North China Plain, with its millions of people racing toward modern China’s elusive goals — prosperity, wealth, happiness.

No comments: