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Taoism and Folk Customs

As a Chinese native religion, Taoism has a close relationship with Chinese folk customs. With the development of Taoism, it has become deep-rooted in, and the practices of, the ordinary people. This can be seen both in Taoist religious festivals and sacrifice-offerings.

There are many Taoist festivals, and quite a few of them have evolved into folk festivals. For example, the Double Ninth Festival on September 9 of lunar calendar came from the Taoist festival. It is said that in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), there was a Taoist immortal named Fei Changfang, who was resourceful enough to drive all devils away. At that time, he had a pupil called Huan Jing. One day, Fei Changfang foresaw a disaster on September 9 in Huan Jing's family, and told Huan Jing to fasten a bundle of dogwood onto his arm, and drink chrysanthemum wine in an elevated place so as to prevent the disaster. Having done what he had been told, Huan Jing's family was indeed safe and sound. Along with the spreading of Taoism, this legend has evolved into the Double Ninth Festival. When the day comes, people will carry dogwood and drink chrysanthemum wine in elevated places. Another example is Beijing's Yanjiu Festival (literally swallow nine), also known as Yanjiu (banquet nine), which is on lunar January 19. This day is the birthday of Qiu Chuji, the ancestor of Quanzhen Tao (meaning totally true), a main branch of Taoism - and a Taoist festival to commemorate Qiu. Later on, it was rumored that Master Qiu would be sure to come on this day, so all the visitors would sit and wait to see the immortal. In this way, it gradually became a folk activity. In the past, Beijing people went and gathered in Baiyuan Temple to worship and offer sacrifices to Master Qiu, which was considered as a meeting with the immortal. Therefore, nowadays, these festivals are not only the days for Taoists to hold religious activities, but also have become folk festivals. Together with various kinds of temple fairs, they have evolved into a part of folk economic activities as well as cultural entertainment with special local features.

Many immortals in Taoism came into being on the basis of earthy folk gods, and thus the Taoist god-worshiping system has much in common with the earthy folk god-worshiping. On the one hand, a number of earthy folk gods such as Caishen (mammon), Chenghuangshen (city god), Dongyuedadi (god of East Mountain) and Guanshengdi (god of Saint Guan) have become part of the pedigree of folk gods; on the other hand, Taoist immortals such as Laojun (Holy Lord), Yuhuangdadi (Jade Emperor) and Baxian (eight immortals) have become widespread and part of people's life.

Moreover, some Taoist taboo tricks have an extensive influence on the folk society, especially in the countryside; or rather, they have constituted a necessary part of folk customs. The combination of Taoism and Chinese folk customs is in various aspects, but it is mainly embodied in celebrations of festivals and seasonal changes and spirit worshiping.

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