Whether Tian Dao incorporates Christian elements into its beliefs and practices and, if so, the description of these Christian elements [CHN41903.E]

An assistant professor of history sent the following information, reflecting his personal opinion, regarding whether Tian Dao incorporates Christian elements into its beliefs and practices and the description of these Christian elements:

Tiandao is fundamentally syncretist, which means that it views all religions as being part of its own lineage. Thus, it traces its own founding to include the major figures of world religions, including the Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed and Jesus Christ. Each of these was said to have revealed part of a larger truth in a preordained plan for universal salvation. This process would eventually lead up to the revelation of Tiandao, alternately known as Yiguandao (the Way of Penetrating Unity), the latter name emphasizing the idea that the teaching already existed in the guise of other religions before it was formally revealed to the world. Because of this, it is common to see some Christian symbolism in Tiandao temples, including visual or scriptural references to Jesus Christ. Occasionally this may even include potrayals in statues or altars, but these are generally not central to the temples, which are more Buddhist in appearance. Finally, the revelation of Tiandao does imply the culmination of a larger process of universal salvation, which can be taken to imply the end of sacred time, and thus the immanent end of the world. This feature of Tiandao was much more prominent in its earlier (1930s-40s) incarnation than it is today, but many believers still do draw comparisons between the Tiandao image of the apocalypse and that portrayed in the Book of Revelation.
As far as Christian practices, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish clearly between Tiandao and elements of Asian Christianity. The latter is often more mystic than Western Christianity -- the Pentecostal church is very popular in Taiwan (where Tiandao is strongest), and is very charismatic, with members entering trances, speaking in tongues, etc. Other elements of Asian devotion, such as scripture recitation, also feature prominently in Asian Christianity. Tiandao and Christianity both exhibit these features, but I would not characterize them as specifically Christian for that reason (22 Sept. 2003).

An abstract of Dr. Edward Allen Irons' Ph.D. thesis (Graduate Theological Union, California) on the Tian Dao faith states that Tian Dao, also Yiguandao, "is a dynamic Chinese religious tradition which began in the early years of the twentieth century and is now found all over the world..." (2000). Another abstract of Irons' work says that "Yiguandao is the most influential Chinese religion today, part of a 600-year-old Chinese sectarian tradition which mixes Ancient Mother worship, Maitreya Buddha millenarianism, and Confucian ritual practice and morality" (Irons 2000).

For further information on the Tian Dao faith, please consult CHN41065.E of 24 March 2003, CHN37766.E of 12 September 2001, and ZZZ41428.E of 26 March 2003.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Assistant professor of history, National University of Singapore. 22 September 2003. Correspondence.

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