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Yiguandao version
The character mu, meaning "mother", in different ancient Chinese scripts. It is used as the symbol of Yiguandao, mostly in a style derivative of oracle bone or bronzeware scripts. According to the religion, the character also means "fire".[1]

Yiguandao (Chinese: 一貫道; pinyin: Yīguàn Dào; Wade–Giles: I-Kuan Tao), meaning the Consistent Way or Persistent Way,[note 1] is a Chinese religion that emerged from the Xiantiandao group of sects in 1930, in Shandong.[2] Another name of the faith is Zhenli Tiandao (Chinese: 真理天道 "True Heavenly Way") or simply Tiandao (天道, "Way of Heaven"). Yiguandao was led by Zhang Tianran, who proclaimed himself as the eighteenth patriarch of the Xiantiandao lineage, among thousands of other sects that thrived since the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911.[2]

In the 1930s Yiguandao was a local religion of Shandong with a few thousand followers, but under Zhang Tianran's leadership and with missionary work the group grew to become the biggest sect in China in the 1940s with millions of followers.[2] After 1949, Xiantiandao sects were proscribed as illegal secret societies and heretical cults.[3] While still banned in China, Yiguandao was legally recognised in Taiwan in 1987 and has flourished since then.[3] Currently it is the third largest religion in the island.[citation needed]

The religion involves ancestor veneration and importance given to the family as in Confucianism, cultivation practices as in Taoism and moral teachings as in Buddhism.[4] Yiguandao is characterised by an eschatological and soteriological doctrine, presenting itself as the only way to salvation.[1] It also encourages adherents to engage in missionary activity.[1]

Yiguandao is the worship of the unformed matrix of all things, the Unborn Ancient Mother (Chinese: 無生老母; pinyin: Wúshēng Lǎomǔ or Chinese: 明明上帝; pinyin: Míngmíng Shàngdì) like other Xiantiandao sects.[1] She is the primordial energy of the universe, identified by Yiguandao thought with the Tao in the Wuji or "Great Void" state[1] and with fire.[1] The name used in modern Yiguandao is Wujimu "Mother of the Great Void" and the mǔdēng (母灯 "lantern of the Mother")—a flame representing the Mother—is the central focus of Yiguandao shrines.[1]


Unborn Mother belief

Yiguandao focuses on the worship of the Mother of the Great Void (Wujimu), also known as the Unborn (or Limitless) Ancient Mother (Wusheng Laomu), which is also a feature of other Xiantiandao movements.[1] It is the source of things, not female nor male, though it is called "mother" or "matrix".[1] It is the primordial force of the universe, the fire, that animate all things.[1] It is the Tao, as Yiguandao doctrines explain:[1]

«Because the Tao is the ultimate force or principle rather than a father-figure supreme being, Yiguandao 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».

As the personification of the primordial force, a prototype of the Unborn Ancient Mother was given in the works of Luo Qing.[1] At first he used the concept of Wuji ("Great Void") to refer to the origin of the universe, arguing that Wuji gives birth to heaven and earth and supports all things.[1] Later Luo created a literary personification of the universal source, the "Holy Patriarch of the Great Void" (Wuji Shengzu).[1]

In the 16th century the Unborn Ancient Mother (Wusheng Laomu) began to take the place of the Holy Patriarch.[1] A mythology surrounding the Mother began to form, integrating the Maitreya belief, which had been widespread since the Yuan dynasty.[1] The Maitreya belief is millenarian, claiming that the world would come to an end soon and Maitreya would incarnate himself in the physical plane to save humanity.[1]

In the Mother belief, the Maitreya is one of the three enlightened beings sent by the Mother herself to bring salvation.[1] Further myths explained the creation of the world and mankind:[5] the Unborn Ancient Mother gave birth to yin and yang and two children, Fuxi and Nüwa, who begot auspicius stars and all sentient beings.[5] The human beings were sent to the east and lost their memory of the Mother.[5] The myth of Fuxi and Nüwa is found also in orthodox Chinese mythology.[5]

The figure of Wusheng Laomu is thought to be derived from that of Xiwangmu, the "Queen Mother of the West", the ancient mother goddess of China, related to the mythical Kunlun, the axis mundi, and thus to the Hundun.[5] The Limitless Ancient Mother is thought as omnipotent, and regarded by Yiguandao followers as merciful, worried by her sons and daughters who lost their true nature, and for this reason trying to bring them back to the original heaven.[6] Through its development, the Mother belief has shown the qualities of the three goddesses Xiwangmu, Nüwa and Guanyin.[6]

Gods and teachers

File:Vihara maitreya.jpg
Yiguandao ceremony in front of an altar with statues of the pantheon.

Various deities are worshipped as emanations of the Limitless Mother. In a typical Yiguandao shrine there are, just in front of the flame representing the Mother, Maitreya in the central position, accompanied by Jigong, Guanyin, Guangong and another deity of one's own choice.[6] In addition, any god from the Chinese tradition may have a position in the pantheon.[6]

As Yiguandao written material explains:[7]

«The important thing to keep in mind is that these deities [...] serve as reminders for us to always keep their teachings in mind, and we honour them for the virtues they embody, such as tolerance, open mind, cheerfulness and generosity (Maitreya); justice, fairness, honour, courage and loyalty (Guangong); compassion, giving, caring and nurturing (Guanyin)».

The patriarchs of the faith are: Lu Zhongyi (路中一), believed to be an incarnation of Maitreya; Zhang Tianran (張天然), believed to be the incarnation of Jigong and worshipped as "Tianran the Ancient Enlightened" after his death; and Sun Suzhen (孫素真), the wife in name to Zhang Tianran, worshipped as the "Holy Mother of the Chinese" after her death.[citation needed]


Yiguandao conceives the cosmos as tripartite, consisting of litian (the right heaven), qitian (the spiritual heaven) and xiangtian (the material plane).[8] Litian is the heaven of the Unborn Ancient Mother, where there's no cycle of rebirth; qitian is the plane imbued by the gods and spirits, that despite being more powerful than humans still risk incarnation in the matter.[8]

Xiangtian is the physical world that is composed of all visible things, with colors and shapes, including all the stars and the sky.[8] Only litian is eternal, and qitian and xiangtian will be re-absorbed into litian.[8]


A Yiguandao temple in Batam, Indonesia. Maitreya is represented by the statue on the porch roof.

Yiguandao involves an eschatological-soteriological belief.[9] According to the teaching, grieving over the loss of her children, the Mother sent to the material world three enlightened beings.[9] Accordingly, the human history is divided into "Three Suns" (or eras): Qingyang si or Green Sun, Hongyang si or Red Sun, and Baiyang si or White Sun.[9] Dipankara Buddha presided over salvation in the Green Sun, Gautama Buddha in the Red Sun, and Maitreya Buddha will preside over the third period of salvation, the White Sun, which began in 1912.[9]

Extreme ruthlessness and craftiness in human behaviour and disasters are associated with the end of the third period and final salvation.[9] Cultivation of the Tao is the opportunity of repenting and purifying during the White Sun.[9] Those who devote their efforts to the spread of the Tao will be repaid for their merits, regardless of their society status.[9]


Salvation requires initiation by other Yiguandao followers. The rite of initiation involves the transmission of the "Three Treasures", the xuanguan (opening of the heavenly eye), koujue (utterance and learning of the pithy formula) and hetong (learning of the heavenly gesture).[8] Through the rite the initiate "receives the Tao". Although all members have received the Tao, only an "enlightened master" (明師) may pass on the Tao to new members.

The three treasures are supposed to be a special saving grace offered by the Mother to her followers.[10] They enable the followers to transcend the cycle of reincarnation and to ascend to the highest heaven after death.[10] For this reason, Yiguandao followers regard the initiation ceremony as the most important ritual.[10]


Zhang Tianran.

The Xiantiandao family of sects is thought to derive from the White Lotus movements of imperial China.[3] The White Lotus was in turn derived from the vegetarian and millennarian religion of Manichaeism, which survived in China a full thousand years after it had disappeared in the West.

By late 19th century, Wang Jueyi, a Xiantiandao adherent, founded his own school, named "Dongzhen Hall" (東震堂).[11] In 1877, he claimed that God passed him the Mandate of Heaven, appointing him 15th patriarch of Daoism (with Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma as the first such patriarch). In 1882, Liu Qingxu, the 16th patriarch renamed the school "Yiguandao".[12]

Formation and spread in the 1930s

Between the late years of the Qing dynasty and 1945, China went through a period of crisis, civil unrests and foreign invasions.[13] The Confucian orthodoxy crumbled quickly together with the empire.[13] In the republican China between 1912 and 1949 new religious movements mushroomed and expanded rapidly.[13]

Zhang Tianran, whose secular name was Zhang Guangbi, was born in 1889 in Jining, Shandong.[14] In 1915, he was initiated into Yiguandao (Xiantiandao) by Lu Zhongyi, the 17th patriarch of the sect.[14] After the death of Lu in 1925 the sect fragmented due to strifes over the leadership.[14] One of the subgroups that formed was led by Zhang Tianran.[14]

In 1930, Zhang Tianran took Sun Suzhen as his partner, proclaiming that their marriage was a message from the Unborn Ancient Mother, and that he was an incarnation of Jigong, a deified miracle worker that lived between the late 12th and the 13th century.[15] However, few members welcomed the new claims; many challenged the validity of the revelation and left the group.[14] For this reason, Zhang Tianran and his wife moved to Jinan in 1931.[14] There, different religious groups were competing with each other, and Zhang Tianran began himself preaching his new faith.[14]

Zhang Tianran recruited hundreds of followers, and Jinan became the main base of Yiguandao.[16] Many initiated members began preaching in other big cities, where Yiguandao was well received.[16] From 1934 Yiguandao missionaries were sent to Tianjin and Qingdao.[16] To facilitate the spread Zhang Tianran restructured Yiguandao,[16] that since then had preserved the nine-levels structure (jiupin liantai) of Xiantiandao.[16] The new structure had four levels, Zhang as the patriarch, and below him the leaders of the way (daozhang), the initiators (dianchuan shi), and further below the masters of the altars (tanzhu).[16] The initiators functioned as missionaries,[16] while the masters of altars were managers of administrative units composed of multiple congregations.[16]

With the rapid growth of Yiguandao, Zhang Tianran's status as a divine patriarch (shizun) was strengthened,[17] with a large number of pamphlets published to justify his divinity.[17] The following one is an example:[17]

«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 enlightened Jigong, who was sent by heaven to save humanity».

Fuji, shanshu and rituals

File:Ikuantaoist oil lamp.PNG
An oil lamp is an element at the center of a Yiguandao shrine, below the effigy of Maitreya.

With its centralised authority and highly organised form, Yiguandao had an extraordinary power of mobilisation.[17] Furthermore, fuji divination, that consists in receiving direct revelations from the gods, and is closely linked to the Chinese intellectual tradition since the Song dynasty, contributed to the dynamism of the sect.[17][need quotation to verify]

Spirit revelations were published in "morality books" (shanshu), and distributed to the general public for moral edification of the society.[18] Spirit writing was also used to offer oracles for everyday problems.[18]

Fuji was introduced into Yiguandao despite Wang Jueyi, the 15th patriarch of the lineage, discouraging it.[18] Zhang Tianran distinguished between "innate writing" (xiantian ji), received by juvenile media and considered superior to "acquired writing" (houtian ji), received by old media.[18] Youth purity is considered more conductive of divine revelation.[18] Zhang emphasised that only Yiguandao fuji is xiantian ji.[18]

Yiguandao also spread and gathered financial support through the performance of "rituals of salvation of the ancestors".[18] Ritual rules and practices for the followers were also systematised.[19] Zhang Tianran also gave much importance to aggressive missionary work, contrasting with the Chinese tradition of peaceful coexistence.[20] In 1938 he held missionary workshops named "stove meetings" (lu hui) to train missionaries in Tianjin.[20] Hundreds of missionaries were trained in these workshops, and they were sent all over the country.[20] Many became influential leaders of Yiguandao.[20]

Rapid growth in the 1940s

Through missionary activity, in the political and social turmoil caused by the Japanese invasion of China in the 1940s, that made Yiguandao's millenarian beliefs more convincing to the masses, the religion grew rapidly, reaching an estimated membership of 12 million.[21] Even a number of top officials of the Japanese puppet government of Wang Jingwei converted to Yiguandao.[22]

Suppression in China after 1949

With the rise of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, Yiguandao was suppressed,[23] being viewed as the biggest "reactionary society, Tao organisation and community" (fandong huidaomen).[23] In December 1950 The People's Daily published the editorial "Firmly Banning Yiguandao" (Jianjue Qudi Yiguandao), proclaiming that the sect had been used as a counterrevolutionary tool by imperialists and the Guomindang.[23] The article claimed that Yiguandao members were traitors collaborating with the Japanese invaders, Guomindang spies, and reactionary landlords.[23]

The editorial marked the beginning of the country-wide campaign of eradication of Yiguandao.[24] The main target of the campaign was to destroy the sect's organisation and leadership.[24] The top leaders were executed or sent to prison, the members were forced to undergo political re-education and they were kept under close surveillance.[24]

An exhibition denouncing Yiguandao was held in Beijing in January 1951.[25] In 1952 the communists released "The Way of Persistently Harming People" (Yiguan Hairen Dao), a film against Yiguandao.[25] A number of Yiguandao believers, including Sun Suzhen, fled to Hong Kong and later to Taiwan, where the religion currently thrives.[25]

Activity in Taiwan

Yiguandao advocated stand at the 22nd Taipei International Book Fair (2014), near the Taipei World Trade Center.

Today, the sect has nearly 900,000 followers in Taiwan. Its members operate many of Taiwan's vegetarian restaurants. One of its high profile members is Zhang Rongfa, the president and founder of the Evergreen Marine Corporation.

Since the 1980s, Yiguandao has been spreading secretly in mainland China, building temples, networks and factories.[26] In more recent times it has started cooperation with academic and non-governmental organisations there.[27]

Structure and schisms

Yiguandao does not have a single organization. This is because, after the death of Zhang and the escape from China following the end of the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution, many of the followers found their own way to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States. They established their own groups, mainly following their ancestral temples' names from China, spreading the teachings of the faith. The Yiguandao headquarters recognise eighteen groups.

Apart from these eighteen, there is an independent group, started by the wife and the son of Zhang Tianran, which does not have many followers. A large splinter group, also recognized by the government of Taiwan but not acknowledged by Yiguandao, is that founded by Wang Hao De, Miledadao ("Great Way of Maitreya").

See also

  • Caodaism, a new religion which has similar concept started in Vietnam


  1. It may also be translated as Only Way. According to the proponents of the faith its name is inspired to a phrase of Confucius: 吾道一以貫之 (wú dào yīyǐguànzhī), "one only principle that explains everything".


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 23
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 21
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Goossaert, Palmer, 2011. p. 340
  4. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. pp. 22-23
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 24
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 25
  7. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. pp. 150-151
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 27
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 26
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 28
  11. "一贯道". Taoleaks.org. Retrieved November 15, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "I Kuan Dao". nciku Chinese English Dictionary. Retrieved March 3, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. pp. 29-30
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 31
  15. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. pp. 31-33
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 32
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 34
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 35
  19. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 36
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 37
  21. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. pp. 37-38
  22. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 38
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 39
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 40
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 41
  26. Yunfeng Lu, 2008. p. 166
  27. Religions & Christianity in Today's China. Vol. IV, 2014, No. 1. ISSN 2192-9289. pp. 22-23


  • Lu, Yunfeng (2008). The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-1719-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goossaert, Vincent; Palmer, David A. (2012). The Religious Question in Modern China. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-00533-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Robin Munro: "Syncretic Sects and Secret Societies – Revival in the 1980s." In: Chinese Sociology and Anthropology (M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, N.Y.) Summer 1989/Vol. 21, No. 4
  • Song Guangyu 宋光宇: Tiandao Gouchen (天道钩沉), 2. Ed. Taipei 1983
  • Weyrauch, Thomas (2006). Yiguan-dao Chinas Volksreligion im Untergrund. ISBN 978-3-938946-02-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links