Daoism takes its origins in China; however, nowadays, this religious and philosophical tradition has several regional peculiarities. In part, this tendency can be explained by cultural, political, and social development of different Asian countries. The readings that will be discussed in this paper illustrate the diversity of this movement and their importance for different cultures. They indicate that Daoism still plays a vital role in the life of such countries as China, Japan or Korea. This is one of the main arguments that should be analyzed.
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First, it should be noted that these national distinctions can in part be explained by the historic development of different countries. For example, when speaking about China, many researchers focus on the influence of political ideology and the intervention of the government. Livia Kohn argues that currently Daoist institutions are dependent on the state (Kohn 2009, 183). In the opinion of this author, the practices of Daoist leaders have been affected even by the Marxist ideology (Kohn 2009, 183). In other words, these people do not have much autonomy.
This is one the main points that she makes in the book. However, while discussing these issues, Livia Kohn refers the two schools of Daoism that emerged after the end of the Tang dynasty. In particular, one can mention the movement known as the Celestial Masters and the School of Complete Perfection (Kohn 2009, p. 149).
These schools became state-controlled institutions, but at the same time, there are many local cults in China. One can argue that these cults are more self-sufficient (Kohn 2009, p. 149). Therefore, one has to speak about the diversity of contemporary Daoism. These issues are vital for understanding the development of this tradition.
Other authors such as Chi-Tim Lai also acknowledge that Daoism was adversely affected by the communist government of China (Chi-Tim 2003, 413). For example one can speak about the destruction of many temples in the country (Chi-Tim 2003, 413). Nevertheless, this author believes that contemporary Daoism in China is a self-sufficient movement that should not be confused with governmental organizations (Chi-Tim 2003, 413). Such an assumption would be inaccurate. This is one of the main issues that should be taken into consideration. Therefore, one can say that scholars provide different interpretations when discussing Daoism.
In contrast, this tradition in Japan and Korea has some distinctions. One of the most important peculiarities is that Daoism in these countries was not strongly affected by the state, especially in the twentieth century. This difference is important for understanding how this religious tradition evolved in different countries. It should be noted that Korean and Japanese cultures adopted the official rituals such as purification exercises that are vital for Daoist tradition (Kohn 2009, 202).
Furthermore, one can speak about the presence of such rituals as mountain asceticism or holding vigil. Nevertheless, in these countries, the influence of Neo-Confucianism is much stronger. Therefore, there are some regional similarities and differences that should not be overlooked.
These readings indicate contemporary Daoism can take different forms. In this case, one can speak about regional characteristics. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that contemporary development can be affected by political influences, especially in China. The readings discussed in this paper highlight the complexity of this philosophical and religious tradition. This is why they are worth attention.
Kohn, Livia. 2009. Introducing Daoism. New York: JBE Online Books.
Lai, Chi-tim. 2003. “Daoism in China Today: 1980-2002.” In Religion in China Today, ed. Daniel Overmyer, 413-427. New York: Cambridge University Press.