Since its foundation in Shundi (an emperor)
period (126 - 144 AD) of East Han Dynasty, Taoism has had a history of more than
1,800 years, or more loosely speaking, a history of over 2,000 years.
The basic ideas of Taoism are
Changsheng (long living), Shen (god), and Xian (immortal),
etc., and its doctrine has evolved from the academic thought of Taoists in the
Spring and Autumn, and Warring States Period (770-256 BC). The religion of
Taoism and the thought of Taoists are closely related, and to some extent, the
former is the extension of the latter.
In addition, nature-worshiping and
ghost-worshiping, popular in ancient Chinese society, also contributed a social
and cultural basis to the formation of Taoism.
At the very beginning, there were two sects
within Taoism: Fangxian Tao (square immortals) and Huanglao Tao (Yellow Emperor
and Lao Zi).
Fangxian Tao was formed in about the 4th
century BC, and was widely accepted by the upper-class society in today's
Beijing, Hebei Province and Shandong Province, etc. Its aim was to get
longevity and become immortal with the help of ghosts and gods. From the Warring
States Period to the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty (5th
century BC - 8th year BC), under the encouragement of both Taoist experts and
emperors and kings, a famous movement in the history was initiated to seek
longevity panacea in the sea. The immortal theory of Fangxian Tao became the
basic belief in later Taoism, and its magic arts were later inherited and
developed by Taoism. Fangxian Tao was combined with Huanglao school of thought
Huanglao Tao is the mainstream of Huang
(Yellow Emperor) and Lao (Lao Zi, a philosopher) school of thought, and it is a
combination of the philosophy in emperors' ruling, Wuxing (five elements:
metal, wood, water, fire, earth) of Yin (negative) and Yang
(positive), and the immortal theories. Although like Fangxian Tao, it had
neither systematic doctrines nor formal religious organization, it was a crucial
phase in the formation of Taoism, and served as the precursor of Taoism.
During the reign of Emperor Shundi (126-144)
of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Zhang Ling created Wudoumi (five
pipefuls of rice) Tao in Sichuan Province, and then during the reign of Emperor
Lingdi (172-178) of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Zhang Jiao established Taiping
(peace) Tao. These marked the real formation of Taoism.
During its popularization since its birth,
Taoism had long been a kind of high-level culture, and widely pursued by the
upper-class society. Consequently, many leaders of Taoism had gained respects
from the imperial governments. However, since the 12th century, Taoism began to
decline due to its own reasons, the attitude change of the government as well as
the revival of other religions. From then on, Taoism started to spread in the
lower-class society, and its witchcraft elements facilitated its influence on
the folk society.
Since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the
influence of Taoism on folks had become stronger and stronger. In the mean time,
people held a mussy, superstitious, and vulgar faith in religions because of
their illiteracy. In order to attract followers, the doctrine, form and content
of Taoism had been randomly modified to cater for people's psychological needs,
and finally Taoism became a mixture with no unique features. During this period,
Taoists were of low quality, and knew little about the doctrine and laws of
Taoism. They could only carry out some religious rites to satisfy people's
demand. Along with the decline of the normal Taoism, some folk religions of even
lower level, which were even more ridiculous in both form and content, prospered
in the name of Taoism.
The combination of the vulgarization of
Taoism and people's needs has developed into a series of superstitious
activities in Chinese folk society, such as fortune-telling and