July 25, 2021

In China, the resistance of the Taoists for their religion to survive

By Frédéric Lemaître

Posted today at 2:00 p.m.

In India, southern Italy or Latin America, the scene would be almost banal. But in a China that is about to commemorate the centenary of the Communist Party, it is simply unheard of. On Saturday, May 29, thousands of pilgrims converged at the top of Mount Taishan, in Shandong province, to pay homage to Bixia Yuanjun, one of the main deities of the Taoist pantheon.

At the foot of Taishan, the city of Tai’an has several Taoist temples. Inside the most famous of them, the Dai temple, the incense burners are padlocked. The reason is given on a sign located outside: “This space is non-religious. Religious activities are not allowed, neither are greeting boxes nor offerings. It is also forbidden to burn sacrificial objects such as incense. “ Yet it is through this that the Taoists are supposed to indicate their presence to the deities and communicate with them. The authorities, for their part, evoke the need to “Protect the environment and preserve the rights and legitimate interests of tourists”.

Pilgrims climb the nearly 7,000 steps of Mount Taishan (Shandong), sacred mountain of Taoism.
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With their arms laden with flowers, fruits, and even magnificent birthday cakes, pilgrims have nevertheless come from the depths of the country to pay homage to this fertility goddess or to ask her to grant a wish, often recorded on a small tablet. made of wood or a thin strip of fabric. “I had three sons. I wanted a girl. And thanks to Bixia Yuanjun, I not only had a daughter but now I can breastfeed her, explains the mother of little Wang Can, whom she holds in her arms. I came to thank her. ”

It is nothing extraordinary that Mount Taishan, the “Eastern Mountain”, one of China’s five sacred mountains, is taken by storm on a beautiful spring weekend. In 2019, it received 5.6 million visitors. Despite the cable car built in 1985, hundreds of young people do not hesitate to climb on foot the thousands of steps that allow them to witness the sunrise, in the early morning, at 1,545 meters above sea level.

But this 18e day of 4e lunar month is special. Canonized by Emperor Zhenzong in the XIe century, Bixia Yuanjun, the “Princess of the clouds of dawn”, is supposed to descend again on this day among men. Hence this thousand-year-old pilgrimage in which, according to Professor Zhou Ying of Taishan University, six emperors have already taken part.

A woman brings as an offering a peach-shaped cake, a symbol of eternity.
Dancers on pilgrimage to Mount Taishan (Shandong).

“Taoism should have disappeared”

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