Why do people become clerics of the Longhushan Daoist Complex? Situations, motivations and conditions.

Shengjin Xie

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 20 August 2019


Boardroom, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU


Shengjin Xie


CIW Admin Team

My thesis is a study of the clerics of the Longhushan Daoist Complex (LDC) in Jiangxi Province, in the present, based on a year’s fieldwork carried out in 2016.

Since the late 14th century, Daoism has had two main schools: Orthodox Unity (Zhengyi) and Complete Perfection (Quanzhen). One significant difference between these two schools is that clerics of Orthodox Unity can get married and live a worldly life, whether they are household priests or temple clerics, while those of Complete Perfection are supposed to live an ascetic life in monasteries. The LDC is an Orthodox Unity institution and, historically, has been the only institution allowed by the state to ordain Orthodox Unity clerics. This is still the case in Mainland China, with these rules being reinstated in the early 1990s after being suspended for nearly 40 years. In 2016, there were around 45 to 50 clerics in LDC. While scholars have paid attention to the religious practices of Daoist clerics, few have explored why people want to become one. In addition, becoming a Daoist cleric, especially one attached to an eminent institution, is not only a matter of personal preference. Not everyone has this opportunity but scholars have rarely studied what makes it possible for someone to become an LDC cleric. In this paper, based on a chapter of my thesis, I explore what people hope to attain by becoming clerics of LDC by examining the circumstances under which they joined and the conditions that allowed them to do so. I argue that those who become LDC clerics are intending to pursue a good life in this world rather than attempt to achieve immortality – which is supposed to be ultimate goal of Daoist practitioners. In addition, I argue that the most important characteristic that enabled people to become LDC clerics is their personal ties or guanxi with leaders of LDC, especially its head, or else with the local government officials who could use their influence on the head, rather than their religious enthusiasm.

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