WSJ: Is Daoism Losing Its Way?

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article about Daoism – take a look before it vanishes behind the WSJ paywall.

The gist of the article is that Daoism is finding it hard to compete against other religions, and against widespread ignorance amongst Chinese (both mainlanders and the diaspora, including Singapore) about what it actually stands for.

(Via @UCAA on Twitter)


  1. Notwithstanding the fact the WSJ’s title is a funny play on words, I think the primary reasons Daoism may be losing traction is twofold. First, it doesn’t fit well with modern westernized society, though for many of us that is what makes it attractive. Secondly, it is not a boastful belief system; silence is more valued than talk.


    1. Hi, R.T.! Thanks for dropping by.

      Hmmmm, maybe. I think I might have agreed with you before I moved to Asia; then, I was reading a lot about Daoism, particularly the classical texts. If that’s your experience of Daoism, then yes.

      What I see now after living in Singapore and China is a bit less clear-cut. There are plenty of people who see ‘pure’ Daoism in the way Westerners would see it. But…. are tang-kis and the spirit cults Daoist? Yes…. How about the Daoist monks who can be found at temples all over China, who specialize in fortune-telling using the ba zi and the yi jing? Are they Daoist? Yes…. How about taijiquan? How about TCM? Yes, and yes – but….

      Thinking on my feet here, one might say that Buddhism is all about the individual experience, and how the individual can learn to control their reactions to the good and bad in life in order to develop good karma, reduce bad karma, and so eventually get off the wheel of rebirth. In this approach, there is no need to explain why bad things happen, since the important thing is the individual’s own response.

      Daoism, on the other hand, is concerned with explanations, all of which derive from the void leading to one, one leading to two, leading to the ten thousand things. Although self-control along Buddhist lines is a part of Daoism, all the other things I mentioned above (and lots more) are also parts. This leads to a much larger, and potentially all-encompassing system of the world than Buddhism attempts to achieve (Buddhism, as I say, not seeing it as necessary). Unfortunately, given the traumas Chinese society has been through in the twentieth century, this knowledge has become fragmented, and few people see the overall, unified whole. Thus, the fortune-tellers, the ascetic monks, the martial artists, the doctors, the spirit mediums all say they’re Daoist, and they’re all correct – but the average man or woman in the street looks at all these fragments claiming to be Daoist, can’t see the common threads, and concludes Daoism doesn’t really stand for anything, after all.

      That would be my guess…. Would be glad to hear your thoughts on this!


  2. I know of no belief system that is monolithic. Look at the thousands of Christian denominations or churches who each interpret the bible and doctrine in a multiplicity of ways.

    But when we look at Daoism it actually emphasizes that there is no official dogma or orthodoxy. Dao can’t be codified because “the Dao that can be named is not the eternal Dao.”

    In our fast-paced alienating world, too many people are looking for prescribed formulas to help them find meaning and not to feel so alienated. A belief system like Daoism runs against this current as, for the most part, it stipulates that each being must discover its own nature and through this its own meaning.


    1. No arguments here with that! Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t mean my previous comment as criticism, only as observation…


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s