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ARC Home > Faiths and Ecology > Daoism > Daoism origins :

Daoism origins

The Dao is the way of truth and peace, as walked by pilgrims here on a peak of Song Shan sacred mountain in China

Ancient roots

Daoism can be traced back to Shamanism, which spread into Mongolia and China at least ten thousand years ago. Two mythological figures from those early days are the divine brother and sister Fu Hsi and Nu Kua. Together they created human progeny and created all aspects of civilization, such as writing, agriculture, medicine and astrology. They were the first two of the Three August Ones of Chinese mythology. Later came the Yellow Emperor, bringer of order and the first recorded ruler. Legend puts his rule around 2500 BC. He is revered as the one who introduced divine knowledge into human society, especially the arts of medicine.

Formal beginnings

The influence of the Shamans in ancient China waned from the beginning of the first millennium BCE. During this period the great Lao Zi is supposed to have lived, and written the Dao De Jing (Tao Te-Ching), the most important book of Daoist wisdom. Daoism was formally established as a religion under the East Han dynasty, about 2,000 years ago. Since then Daoism has been one of the main components of Chinese culture, and has exerted great influence on the Chinese way of thinking, working and acting.

The five religions of China

Daoism is one of the five recognised religions of China – the other four are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and Islam.

Daoism today

With over 90,000 Daoist Masters and 30,000 registered places of worship serving tens of millions of followers it is a major force for social change in the country. Recent developments have seen the Daoists looking wider than the Chinese borders and the influence of Daoism is spreading beyond the Chinese-speaking world to attract international interest.

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Related information

China Projects
China's great traditional religions are once again exerting influence. Monasteries are being re-opened and religious customs revived. ARC is working with Chinese Buddhists and Daoists to encourage their involvement in supporting environmental change
Daoist Faith Statement
Formal statement of Daoist beliefs about ecology: "If all things in the universe grow well, then a society is a community of affluence. If not, this kingdom is on the decline."
Daoist stories and quotations