The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy

By Pacey, Scott | The China Journal, January 2009 | Go to article overview

The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy


Pacey, Scott, The China Journal


The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious Economy t by Yunfeng Fu. Fanham: Fexington Books, 2008. xii + 201 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover).

According to Taiwan's Ministry of the Interior, in 2006 Yiguan Dao was the third largest religion on the island. While various books and articles have touched on this religion, including Meir Shahar's Crazy Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature, David K. Jordan and Daniel F. Overmyer's The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan and Daniel F. Overmyer's Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China, none have discussed the differing historical manifestations of Yiguan Dao or provided holistic accounts of its practice. Yunfeng Fu's study analyzing the religion's growth and adaptations to social change performs this role admirably.

Lu's book is the product of three months of fieldwork, undertaken in Taiwan in 2002 at Yiguan Dao divisions affiliated with the World I-Kuan-Tao Headquarters. The book covers three stages of Yiguan Dao's history: its origin in mainland China, its arrival on Taiwan, and the period after its legalization on the island in 1987. The study is driven by two main theories: the religious economy model and the sect-to-church theory. Fu demonstrates that the diverse religious landscape of the Chinese world comprises a "religious market" in which competing religions vie for patronage (p. 12). He then uses the sect-to-church theory to show how the "deregulation of religious markets in Taiwan" (p. 157) in 1987 enabled Yiguan Dao to become more church-like than sect-like.

Lu begins by discussing the antecedents of Yiguan Dao cosmology and its origin in mainland China. The history of Yiguan Dao proper begins with Zhang Tianran's declaration in 1930 that he was its eighteenth patriarch. After this, the religion grew rapidly. Fu covers the period from Zhang's declaration until the Communist victory on the mainland, after which the religion was suppressed. He then shifts his focus to Taiwan, where Yiguan Dao was outlawed by the Kuomintang in 1952. Here, Lu shows how state repression in Taiwan actually provided an impetus for missionary activity. In this sense, it was a positive factor in the expansion of Yiguan Dao.

Lu then describes the transformation of the religious environment in Taiwan in subsequent decades, when educational levels in society rose significantly and Buddhist organizations also experienced rapid growth. Yiguan Dao was legalized, and in 1989 the Civic Organizations Law lifted restrictions on the formation of religious groups. These events led Yiguan Dao divisions to make a number of changes to their doctrine and forms of religious practice. For example, there was an effort to make its theology more appealing to educated members. While spirit-writing had been an integral part of Yiguan Dao since the 1930s, by the 1980s it was viewed with suspicion. By 2002, the time of Lu's fieldwork, spirit-writing was performed at only one Yiguan Dao division.

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