Often you can read everywhere about China as a main cultural center of Asia from which culture of other countries originates. Ancient China is regarded as major source of culture, inventions, philosophy,  architecture, science, system of governance and beliefs in Asia same as ancient Greece and Rome were for Europe. Not only via Silk Road but via sea trade China was expanding its influence in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Asia. Also China was open for foreign influence too mostly during Han and Tang dynasties in terms of commodities, foreign migrants, clothing, religion and cuisine. Furthermore China was influencing culture, state system, beliefs, tradition and science of Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Chinese merchants in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia were spreading their influence in terms of culture too.


But it is often spoken about  influence culture,  trade, political system, science, philosophy, Buddhism and literature what I wrote in chapters about history. It is rarely spoken about presence and influence of Daoism a spiritual philosophy of Chinese people in Asia and in other countries. So lets review it today in which forms Daoism exists in different countries.


Daoism in Vietnam

For long period of its history Vietnam had strong ties with imperial China. During some period whole Vietnam was under Chinese dominance and at least its northern parts for even longer period. Vietnam was tributary state of China until 1885 and had to pay tribute and acknowledge supremacy of China. Despite often wars in history between China and Vietnam China left great influence on Vietnamese culture, state system,  architecture, language, customs, clothing, philosophy and beliefs. In 11th century Vietnam established similar state system and examinations based on Confucianism. Chan Buddhism entered Vietnam from China and got new local name- Thien Buddhism. Daoism and Chinese folk religion as inseparable part of Chinese culture and philosophy left great influence on culture, philosophy and folk religion in Vietnam. Daoism entered Vietnam during Tang dynasty peacefully and was gaining more influence on Vietnamese folk religion. In 11th century King Ly Nhan Tong of Ly dynasty incorporated Daoism in state service examinations what was in China since Tang dynasty. Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism were 3 official teachings in Vietnam same as in China. With Qing dynasty and fall of imperial China Daoist influence was weakening. Daoism in Vietnam doesn’t exist in its pure and official form today but it left definite influence in todays perception of life, folk religion and martial arts of Vietnam.

tao viet

Daoist principles are present in minds and hearts of Vietnamese people both in cities and villages. There is only one Daoist temple in Hanoi. In Buddhist temples in Vietnam you can see yin yang same as in traditional houses. Yin Yang is definitely important concept in Vietnamese philosophy and religion in relations to nature, balance, harmony, human relations and universe. Ancestral worship, myths, exorcism and rituals are deeply under influence of Daoism. Daoist values  such as simplicity, patience and compassion are also deeply present in Vietnamese folk religion as well as closeness to nature. Still in temples and home shrines in Vietnam there are present deities and mythological beings which originate from Daoism. Mostly worshipped gods in Vietnam are gods of nature( fire, water, earth), Jade Emperor, Guanyin( Quan Am in Vietnam), Budai or Fat Buddha( Bo Dai in Vietnamese) and other. In Vietnamese mythology dragons, phoenixes, qilins and turtles are present as well. Legendary sovereign Shen Nong is present under name of Than Nong. Chinese mythological monkey king Sun Wukong is present in Vietnamese mythology under name Ton Ngo Kong. Mazu a Chinese goddess of sailors and fishermen is popular in Vietnam under name Thien Hau. Vuong Mau is a Vietnamese name for Xiwangmu( Queen Mother of the West) one of oldest Chinese goddesses. However Vietnamese mythology has some other figures which are not present in Daoism such as  4 immortals and 12 midwives but probably their concept is combination of Vietnamese original beliefs and Daoism. Daoism was also inspiration for many Vietnamese poets and writers. In Vietnamese version of Chan( Zen) Buddhism known as Thien principles of Daoism are present.


Mountains in Vietnamese folk religion also play an important role like in Daoism and Chinese folk religion where they present bridge between Heaven and Earth. Therefore there are several sacred mountains like in China with temples. People in Vietnam come to mountains as pilgrims to worship Heaven, worship deities, pray for balance and good fortune. Most sacred mountain in Vietnam is Yen Tu on which top legendarily a Daoist scholar turned into rock and achieved immortality.

Various festivals and holidays of Vietnam are interrelated to those Chinese which are linked with Daoism. Most famous Vietnamese holiday is Tet which is name for Spring Festival or lunar New Year in Vietnam.  Tet is celebrated similarly like in China with a lot of  lanterns and dances of dragons and lions. It has same zodiac signs as Chinese but instead of rabbit there is cat in Vietnamese version.

Except that Daoist teaching served as basis for Cao Dai a Vietnamese institutionalized religion established in 1926.  Instead of term Dao there is concept of Highest Power which can be seen as equivalent to Dao. It incorporates concept of Daoist virtues, Yin Yang for explaining universe, nature and balance. Among Caodaist deities are Guanyin and Jade Emperor.

Cao Dai Temple, https://vietnamculturaltours.com/cultural-tours/religions/taoism-in-vietnam.html

Martial arts in Vietnam are also under influence of Chinese Daoist martial arts from Wudang. Tai Chi is widely popular in Vietnam. Many people practice it every morning in Vietnamese cities. There are also a lot of Tai Chi clubs. In Vietnam there are local martial arts such as Bin Dinh which incorporate concepts of Yin Yang and balance between mind and body.



Daoism in Korea

China during history also had great influence in Korea in terms of culture, political system, education,  tradition, clothing, architecture, philosophy and religion. Korean Gogureyo, Baekje and Silla Kingdoms and later Goreyo and Joseon Kingdoms often fought wars against Chinese empire. During Han dynasty almost whole Korea was under Chinese dominance but in later centuries Korean Kingdoms often had tributary status and recognized supremacy of China until 1895. Despite often conflicts cultural exchange was great. Besides culture and export of Chan Buddhism ( Seon in Korea) Daoism also left significant impact in Korea.

korean flag explained
Korean flag explained, http://www.koreansentry.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4597

With founding of Tang dynasty at beginning of 7th century Daoism was becoming again popular in China. Emperor Gaozu of Tang dynasty sent Daoist scholars to Gogureyo Kingdom who brought Dao De Jing and Zhuangtzu. Gogureyo King favored Daoism and built a lot of Daoist temples. Moreover Daoism was during 7th century popular among elite of Korean Gogureyo. During Tang dynasty Baekje Kingdom didn’t spread Daoism much while it was popular in Silla Kingdom. Silla Kingdom in 8th century introduced Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism as major teachings for royal examinations on example of China. Silla sent its scholars to China to study Daoism. Elite armed forces of Silla were trained under Daoist principles. During Goreyo Kingdom Daoism was very popular with rising number of temples, priests and followers. King Yejong( reign 1105-1125) was most interested Goreyo King in Daoism from all of them.

Daoist murals next to Buddhist ones in Korean Buddhist Temple, http://koreamosaic.net/PhotosHTML/CountryPhotos/Korea/k_buddhistOther.htm

With arrival of Neoconfucianism, Mongols and later Ming dynasty Daoism started to decline in Korea. Ming court wasn’t open anymore for promoting Chinese culture abroad and Confucianism dominated in China and in Korea too. Neoconfucianism served as great tool for keeping stability and strict rule of dynasty in Joseon Kingdom.  Still between 16th and 18th centuries there were intellectuals who were interested in Daoism and also hermits who lived in temples in mountains and practiced inner alchemy, meditation and martial arts. There was famous master Blue Crane from 17th century who left a lot of scripts on meditation, immortality, harmony with nature and balance between mind and body. Most of intellectuals interested in Daoism were marginalized by Korean court and Confucian scholars thus Daoism was dying out during 19th century. Confucianism and Seon Buddhism were predominating Korean society of 19th century. Several apocalyptic movements similar to Taiping in China incorporated some Daoist ideas during late 19th and early 20th century. With imposed Japanese dominance from 1895 and total occupation between 1910 and 1945 Daoism and Confucianism were in decline. Japan tried to completely marginalize Korean culture and establish complete dominance in all spheres of life of Koreans. By late 19th century and early 20th Christian evangelist missionaries contributed to demonization of Korean tradition and Daoism.

Only in second half of 20th century Daoism experiences partial revival in Korea. In 1967 was established Korean Daoist Association. Not many Koreans call themselves Daoists today but Daoism has important place in culture, perception of life and Korean folk beliefs( Shindo a way of gods). Shindo is combination of shamanic practices, Daoist concepts, Korean mythology and Korean and Daoist view on the world. Among core concepts here is Taegeuk or Taiji( in Chinese) a supreme ultimate. It has meaning of supreme balance between nature, beings, mind and body, elements and cycles. Taegeuk is so important that it is on Korean national flag since end of 19th century. It is today on flag of South Korea and it has 4 trigrams around Yin Yang which symbolize heaven, sun( fire), moon( water) and earth. Except Taegeuk in Korean Shindo dominates idea of qi energy and sacredness of mountains. Both in Korean shamanism and Korean Daoism like in original Daoism mountains are sacred bridges between Heaven and Earth and great sources of qi energy. Many mountains were places of worship for centuries and centuries. Today mountains in Korea are widely visited because of hobby in hiking but also because of spiritual feelings and belief that visiting mountain will bring balance to your mind and body. Mountains of Korea have a lot of Buddhist and few Daoist temples. However there are a lot of cliffs and caves with Daoist inscriptions where Daoist hermits lived in past. Today trend of Daoist hermits going and staying at mountains for long time is in revival together with revival of Daoism in Korea.  There are also a small groups of people who go on occasional Daoist retreat in mountains. They mostly practice meditation, martial arts and relax in nature. When it comes to priests there are not many Daoist priests in Korea today but there are many shamans both in cities and villages who also practice Daoist teachings. Shamans practice worships, rituals and exorcism.

When it comes to deities and spirits there are hundreds of them in Korea.  Except those local and who originate from Shindo there are Daoist ones such as Three Purities, Guanyin( in Korea Gwan Eum), Jade Emperor( Hwanin) and Queen Mother of the West( in China Xiwangmu and Korea Seowangmo).  Among bigger Korean holidays such as Lunar New Year there is a lot of Chinese and Daoist influence. Korean zodiac is same as Chinese one.  Korean martial arts are also under Daoist influence like in case of China and Vietnam. For example most famous Korean martial art Taekwondo contains word Do( Dao, a Way or principle). In poetry of Korea during history Daoism also played significant role.

korean mount


In case of North Korea it is hard to say how much Daoism remained since state forbids religion. But question is how much Daoism plays role in lives and thoughts of ordinary people.

Daoism in Japan

Even when Japan was never officially a tributary of China it largely adopted Chinese culture and state apparatus through history. During Tang dynasty Japan sent many scholars and politicians to learn from Chinese example. Japan adopted Chinese system of governance, a lot of cultural norms, clothing and religious beliefs. Daoism wasn’t accepted as official teaching but was highly respected and many of its values and concepts were incorporated in Japanese culture, beliefs, martial arts and perception of life. Japan often sent during history scholars to China to study Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.  During most of history Daoism had great impact on painting and poetry of Japan. It had some influence on Japanese folk religion Shinto. Some concepts in Shinto were upgraded with Daoist perceptions, concepts, values, rituals and practices. Talismans , ancestral worship, meditation, balance with nature, exorcism and worship on sacred mountains are common things shared by Daoism and Shinto. On basis of Daoism, Shinto and Buddhism was created small religious teaching known as Shugendo which focuses on mountain retreats and meditation. Daoist concept of hard and soft in martial arts was incorporated in Japanese martial arts as well such as Karate, Aikido and other. Today in Japan there are very few Daoist temples.  In Japan deities such as Guanyin, Budai( Hotei) and Queen Mother of the West( Seiobo) are also common.


Daoism in Singapore

Population of Singapore is composed of 74% Han Chinese, 13 Malays and 10% Indians. 30 years ago about 30% of population considered themselves as Daoists. Today this number is about 12% while Buddhists count about 35%, Muslims 15%, Christians 18% and Hindus 5% and irreligious 18%. This decline in Daoism is seen as result of unclear distinction between Daoism and Buddhism in Singapore which are very similar and some people can follow both teachings. Many people who practice Buddhism are actually inspired by Daoist principles what is case in China too. Also there was rise in atheism in Singapore.



There is a Daoist Association of Singapore and Daoist College. In Singapore there are about 500 Daoist temples devoted to different Daoist deities. Usual Daoist deities are worshipped in Singapore like in China. Various rituals, celebrations, customs  and talisman writing are practiced. Most of Daoist teaching in Singapore is based on Zhengyi Dao sect. Except 3 Purities, Guanyin and Budai( Maitreya in Chinese Buddhism and Daoist god of luck and wealth) in Singapore are popular Mazu( goddess guardian  of sailors), Ji Gong( god of luck and joy) and Guan Yu( god of war, guardian of property and house). Daoist martial arts are also popular in Singapore such as Tai Chi. Large number of people practices Tai Chi with different purposes. Daoist priests are serving their communities with rituals and consecrations, offering fortune telling and exorcism, guiding celebrations and teaching martial arts.

Daoism in Malaysia

Daoists count only 2% of all religions in Malaysia where Islam predominates( 60%) and followed by Buddhism( 30%). Because of large number of Chinese inhabitants in Malaysia there are many Buddhists and Daoists. It is considered that a lot of those who consider themselves as Buddhists practice Daoist principles too or both. Zhengyi Dao is dominant school of Daoism in Malaysia and influences rituals, exorcism, celebrations and martial arts.  Local folk beliefs and superstitions influenced Daoist practices in this country.


Daoism in Indonesia

In Indonesia Buddhists compose less than 1% of population while Muslims 87%. Daoists classify themselves as Buddhists since Daoism isn’t officially recognized as religion in Indonesia. Most of Daoists and Buddhists here have mixed beliefs between two teachings.

In Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore Daoism arrived with Chinese settlers who came as merchants during imperial China,


Daoism in Europe, Americas and Australia

Takes minor place in these continents as official teaching but its aspects attract quite  a lot of people. Qi Gong clubs, Tai Chi clubs and associations and meditation clubs exist in Europe, Americas and Australia. There are at least thousands of fans and exercisers Tai Chi and Qi Gong in these continents. Many of them function as independent exercisers. This is primarily practiced as source of relaxation and alternative to modern lifestyle but more rarely as source of spiritual inspiration. Moreover Traditional Chinese Medicine is quite popular in Western world. Daoist books especially Dao De Qing and Zhuangtzu are important subject of study among fans of philosophy and academics and were translated into many languages. Among those interested not only in philosophical side but in spiritual side of Daoism Yi Jing is popular for reading and studying. When it comes to Daoist official associations there are few of them in South America, USA and Europe. In Europe most famous are in UK, Germany, Italy and France. In USA, Brazil, UK, Germany, Italy and France there are few newly established Daoist temples where typical Daoist deities are worshipped. In general speaking these associations do not have more than between few hundreds and few thousand followers. These associations focus on practice of Daoism in its full specter. In Europe only recognized by Chinese Daoist Association is Daoist Association of Italy. There is also an European Daoist Association seated in Germany which soon will be recognized by Chinese Daoist Association.

europe dao











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