21. Economic Development

China is today the world’s largest economy. This is the result of a massive expansion that increased it more than thirty-fold from $202 billion in 1980 to close to $7,000 billion in 2011. Growth rates, fueled by government credit, a controlled currency exchange rate, low-cost manufacturing, and global exports, stayed in the double digits for several decades and still hover around 7 percent. However, they are falling and expected to drop to 3-4 percent over the next few years. In addition, while the country’s overall GDP is $11 trillion, its debt has risen to 260 percent of GDP, compared to 104 percent in the U.S.

China is far from a developed country. Per person GDP is $8,000, just above Peru. The income gap within the country is widening. China has the most billionaires after the U. S. and 1 percent of the population hold 30 percent of the country’s wealth. About one third, 350 million, have reached the middle class, with incomes between $8,000 and $25,000. The remainder, 875 million, are still below, but set to move into cities and rise to the middle class, their incomes expected to rise 15 to 20 percent.

It is these people that make up the backbone of the Chinese economy. They are vibrantly entrepreneurial and aggressively upward moving. Many run sole proprietorships, and there are 40.6 million small businesses. When the government eased the requirement for cash reserves and simplified administrative procedures in 2015, new registrations rose dramatically. While moving the economy forward, the rising middle class will also require (and demand) expanding infrastructure and improved social services. This puts an additional burden on provincial and municipal governments, who are already facing heavy debt.

In addition, the economy is hampered by large-scale government interference, notably the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that still control 40 percent of the economy and are known for being cumbersome, bureaucratic, and corrupt. In fact, they are a prime example of what economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in their ground-breaking study Why Nations Fail (2012), call “extractive” as opposed to “inclusive” institutions. Concentrating power in the hands of a narrow elite and placing few constraints on the exercise of this power, such institutions extract resources from the rest of the society, appropriating the resources of many, erecting entry barriers, and suppressing the functioning of markets.

They prevent what Joseph Schumpeter has called “creative destruction,” the way in which economic growth and technological change replace the old with the new. New firms take over, new technologies make existing skills and machines obsolete. The process creates losers as well as winners, endangers old privilege and power structures, potentially toppling governments and upending social patterns—in other words, it presents a major danger to Party rule.

This rule is still strong. Without an independent judiciary and unhindered by private competition, state-owned enterprises control entire industries, most importantly banking, transportation, telecommunications, the media, and real estate. The latter is a prime example on how local governments manipulate the economy, alternatively creating bubbles or slowing the market. That is, they influence demand by willfully installing or removing home purchasing restrictions: preference to local versus out-of-town buyers, restrictions on the number of properties one can own, requirements on the amount of down payments, plus a wide variety of taxes due at purchase (in lieu of the annual property tax): value-added tax, land-value tax, real estate transaction tax, capital gains tax, property tax, education tax, to name but a few.

A rigged economy, combined with a lack of clear property laws and freedom of expression, does not bode well for China as it finds itself now in what economists call the “middle income trap.” This is reached when a country has lost its competitive export edge due to rising wages and increased cost of living, yet is unable to evolve toward higher levels, mainly due to lack of creative destruction but also because of it fails to educate and create opportunities for lower earners. In the 1960s, 106 countries entered the middle income trap, and so far only 13 have made it out—most notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, who all seriously democratized in the process and created excellent educational systems with justly enforced laws and free independent media.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uKYYQAgJDg


Read: Rein, Shaun. 2014. The End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia. New York: Wiley.

Shambaugh, David. 2016. China’s Future. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Also check: http://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/the-china-meltdown

20. Western Daoists

Photograph courtesy of Helene Minot

A yet different form of Daoist international expansion is the practice and teaching by westerners initiated into the religion by Chinese masters in China, then building communities in their homeland. There are numerous such western masters, prominent all over Europe and the U. S. I introduce a few representatives.

A major force in the initiation of western Daoists since the mid-1990s has been Feng Xingzhao, the abbot of a small, isolated temple called Leigutai擂鼓台 (Terrace of Rolling Thunder) in the high mountains of southern Shaanxi near Ankang. He initiated many of the leading Daoists of Europe, including Shi Jing and his fellows of the British Taoist Association (http://www.taoists.co.uk/); Karine Martin, president of the Association Française Daoiste whose center near Montluçon just opened (http://france-dao.blogspot.com/); as well as Herve Louchouarn, the leader of a Chinese medicine clinic and Daoist community in Guernavaca, Mexico (https://tusaludcuernavaca. wordpress.com/ tag/prof-herve-louchouarn-t/).

All these groups provide lessons in taijiquan and qigong, teach Daoist philosophy and ethics, offer healings and counseling, and operate Daoist temples and priestly education. They also commonly publish newsletters and sponsor workshops with leading Daoists, scholars, and taiji masters.

In the U. S., practicing Daoists tend to be initiated by various masters. For example, Michael Rinaldini, founder of the American Dragon Gate Lineage (https://qigongdragon.com) with a center in Santa Rosa, California, trained with Master Wan Sujian (b. 1953). A former military physician, he runs a medical qigong clinic on the outskirts of Beijing, which he expanded to also house a Daoist temple in 2002. Training in bagua and other forms of taijiquan as well as in medical qigong and Daoist scripture studies, Rinaldini practiced at home and visited Wan over several years, to be initiated by Wan’s resident Daoist in 2003. He now has an active training center and himself initiates the next generation

Louis Komjathy, the founder of the Daoist Foundation (http:// daoistfoundation.org/about/), trained with a vice abbot on Huashan and lived both there and on Laoshan as a Daoist monk in addition to being a Ph. D. level scholar and academic professor of Daoist studies. He teaches various workshops and proposed an integrated program that encompasses a Daoist lifestyle (breathing, exercises, cooking, fengshui) in combination with internal cultivation and alchemical transformation.

Jerry Alan Johnson, the founder of the International College of Medical Qigong (http://www.medicalqigong.org), as well as his successor and current director Bernard Shannon, in addition to training in traditional Chinese medicine and qi-healing, hold multiple Daoist lineages: Dragon Gate from Qingcheng shan in Sichuan, Highest Clarity from Maoshan near Nanjing, and Celestial Masters from Longhu shan in Jiangxi. The College is located in Palm Desert, California, complete with Chinese gardens and a Daoist sanctuary, the Temple of Peace and Virtue. In addition to training medical qigong healers, they also run a publishing house specializing in qi healing, offer a program leading to initiation as a Daoist priest, and maintain continued close contact with Chinese masters.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD4VJIPZLzE


Read: http://www.taoists.co.uk/Files/FengXingzhao-interview.pdf

Komjathy, Louis. 2004. “Tracing the Contours of Daoism in North America.” Nova Religio 8.2:5-27.

Rinaldini, Michael. 2008. “How I Became a Daoist Priest.” Journal of Daoist Studies 1:181-87.


19. International Masters

Master Chen

As part of the overall Chinese reach abroad, Daoist organizations, notably the Chinese Daoist Association, have been making various efforts to create positive relationships overseas and establish Daoist masters and centers abroad. Most recently, the Association is planning to send an official delegation on a 10-day tour to the western United States, connecting to universities, overseas Chinese, and local practitioners.

For several years, moreover, its vice chairman and long-time hermit, Master Meng Zhiling 孟至岭, has run workshops both in the U. S. and in Europe, teaching forms of Daoist cultivation, including philosophical and ethical teachings together with taiji quan, qigong, and quiet sitting meditation. Sponsored by the U. S. Taoist Association (http://ustaoistassoc.com/1.html), an unofficial arm of its Chinese counterpart run by David Hessler, also leader of the Society of Dao Fa Zi Ran (http://societyofdaofaziran.com/), Master Meng has also been active in the International Daoist Forum. Held in China every two-to-three years, it brings together practitioners and scholars from China and the West to engage in Daoist practice and discuss issues of Daoist teachings, such as the adaptation of key notions to the modern world.

Another, slightly less official, representative of Chinese Daoism is Master Chen (Zeng Yongxiang 曽永祥; www.wudangchen.com), a 25th generation Dragon Gate and 14th generation Zhang Sanfeng lineage holder, sent to the U. S. in 1990 to spread Daoism in the West. Trained on Mount Wudang and teaching a mix of martial arts and internal alchemy, he built communities in various cities, notably New York, Atlanta, and St. Louis before settling in Colorado, where he now runs Dao House near Estes Park, a retreat center and starting point for a future Daoist temple. President and founder of the Daoist Association USA (https:// daousa.org) and the North American Wudang Daoist Association, he offers priestly training, spiritual counseling, various ceremonies to celebrate life events as well as protective devices, such as talismans. Every year, moreover, he sponsors the Universal Consciousness Festival, a Daoist gathering that provides workshops on Daoist living (https://www.universalconsciousnessfestival.org/).

A yet different Daoist organization with an increasing foothold in the West is the Taoist Tai Chi Society (http://www.taoist.org/usa/), the international arm of a major Hong Kong temple, known as Fung Loy Kok. It began when Master Moy Lin Shin emigrated to Canada in 1970 and from there spread throughout North America. With a dominant focus on the practice of its own unique brand of taiji quan, the Society emphasizes health benefits and moral values, allowing members to rise to higher levels but not initiating anyone into the Daoist priesthood. It has by far the most Western followers.

While there is a certain proselytizing fervor among all these masters, they tend to be sincere and honest and strive present the tradition in an authentic way, emphasizing good ethics and purity of living.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwcknEEkcnY


Read: Moretz, Harrison. 2009. “The Dao is Not for Sale.” Journal of Daoist Studies 2:167-76.

18. Reaching Abroad

With increased economic prosperity and the drive toward becoming a world power, China has been expanding its influence abroad, focusing particularly but not exclusively on developing countries with great metal or mineral resources. Efforts are threefold: state-owned enterprises (SOE) that strike deals with governments and provide aid, private conglomerates that set up cooperative ventures, and individual businessmen who establish their brands in various locations.

Used to their home-style brand of crony capitalism, Chinese entrepreneurs on all levels tend to be overbearing and arrogant, with little or no regard for local culture and customs. They impress leading magnates with grand projects and rich gifts, and expect exclusive contracts largely in their favor, typically hoping to build massive infrastructure projects (roads, railways, bridges, power plants) in exchange for the rights to mine metals or minerals the growing Chinese economy so urgently needs. Geographically their prime focus has been Africa, where governments in numerous small states have struck big deals and where China is by far the biggest foreign investor, followed closely by Central Asian countries in China’s backyard, where the One Belt One Road initiative—the New Economic Silk Road—not only seeks to create easy lines of communication and transport but also to establish a solid Chinese presence. Beyond that, China has been very active cooperating with Australian mining operations and ruling elites in Polynesian islands as well as in Papua New Guinea and, to a lesser but not unimportant degree, in South America.

The Chinese government has also begun to establish harbor facilities that house military vessels officially serving as escorts through pirate infested waters along the southern sea route toward the Middle East, its main supply line for oil. Notably the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Singapore forms a bottle neck that could be easily blocked by a hostile navy, bringing China’s economy to a grinding halt within days.

The overall success rate of this expansion policy has been a great deal less than made out in alarmist Western publications. Very little land in Africa is actually owned by Chinese, and agriculture plays a minimal role. Crony capitalism, too, only goes so far. Often the Chinese strike deals with authoritarian tyrants, only to find them toppled in an overthrow or ousted in an election, rendering their efforts null and void. The prime example here is Burma (Myanmar), where the Chinese were hand-in-glove with the ruling junta but have lost all standing since democratization.

Also, once actually in business, the Chinese tend to bring in their own workers and engineers as well as supply personnel, refusing to train locals or treating them miserably, never really benefiting the local economy. This leads to high levels of resentment and may result in protests, in some cases causing projects to fold. Add to this the overall shoddy quality of their work—one road in Africa began to crumble at one end before it was completed at the other—and it becomes understandable that their overall success rate is maybe around 30 percent, for the most part being a massive waste of money.

Another major expense, meant to result in cultural rather than economic expansion, is the worldwide initiative of establishing so-called Confucius Institutes in cooperation with academic institutions. Not unlike the British Council or the Japan Foundation, these Institutes propose to increase access to Chinese learning, both of language and culture. Typically, a full professor at the host institution serves as director, joined by a Chinese language instructor sent from headquarters in Beijing and helped by several local assistants. Each Institute operates independently, without thematic or ideological restrictions. They each receive an annual budget to cover salaries—especially for language teachers who work at the host institution and other venues, including most importantly high schools—as well as for library acquisitions, workshop expenses, honoraria for guest speakers, and more. Often placed at less prominent universities and in more remote locations, the Institutes—so far number around 500 worldwide—make an important contribution to the understanding of Chinese culture and the increase of Chinese literacy (ses http://english.hanban.org/).

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLKgGyBO5x8

Read: Brautigam, Deborah. 2015. Will Africa Feed China? New York: Oxford University Press.

Economy, Elizabeth, and Michael Levi. 2014. By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World. New York: Oxford University Press.

French, Howard W. 2014. China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa. New York: Vintage Books.

Miller, Tom. 2017. China’s Asian Dream. London: ZED Books.


17. Mount Wudang

The leading location for Daoist martial arts is Mount Wudang, where Zhang Sanfeng allegedly observed the fighting animals. Already a religious center in the Tang, it became a major Daoist sanctuary in the early Ming dynasty, when it was associated with protecting the imperial house and served as the main worship place of the Perfect Warrior (Zhenwu ).

Originally called Dark Warrior (Xuanwu 玄武), indicating a constellation in the northern sky, and depicted as an intertwined turtle and snake, this figure soon appeared as a mighty warrior. His rise to imperial protector began in the Song, when he was seen as the latent force behind the universe and was associated with potent protector deities of tantric background. A national cult developed, he appeared in various manifestations at court, was honored in inscriptions and records, and his hagiography grew to ever longer accounts of miraculous lives and military exploits.

The Ming rulers set up regular sacrifices for him and between 1405 and 1418 greatly expanded his center on Mount Wudang. Bolstered by imperial patronage, the god was adopted by both leading Daoist schools, Complete Perfection and Celestial Masters, and he grew into an increasingly popular figure. He also became the protector of Daoist martial arts, described vividly in the late-Ming novel Fengshen yanyi 封神演义 (Creation of the Gods), where Lord Lao appears variously to fight for the righteous, give advice, provide weapons, and mastermind battle plans.

Located northwest of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, Mount Wudang consists of multiple peaks, each covered by Daoist temples, today encompassing fifty-three ancient buildings and nine architectural sites. The highest and most important is the Golden Peak (Jinding 金顶·), accessible by cable car, with its elaborate temple complex and crowning statue of the Perfect Warrior, made from bronze and weighing about two tons. The other major temple is the Palace of the Purple Clouds (Zixiao gong 紫霄宫), which covers an area of two acres and includes numerous halls and shrines. Nearby, moreover, is the Palace of the Southern Cliff (Nanyan gong南岩宫), a set of buildings carved right into the steep cliff side. The entire mountain is a protected natural park under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

A popular retreat for Westerners in the Wudang range is the Wu-xian guan 五仙观 (Five Immortals Temple) on Baima shan 白马山 (White Horse Mountain). Run by Master Li (b. 1964), an accomplished and widely trained Daoist master, it houses as many as 30 students who engage in various practices. They range from martial arts through scripture studies to various forms of internal cultivation, including internal alchemy. As David Hessler, who took a 2-week course there in 2017, notes in a personal email,

Master Li was a good teacher. He did a nice job or explaining some complex ideas to Westerners. The students who had taken several classes from him loved him, including two long-term disciples. I learned a lot about the rituals to follow at a Daoist temple and found Master Li to be of good humor and exceptional understanding of Dao, as well as an inspiring practitioner of water and fire Taiji and Gongfu. I found that immersing myself in a temple environment was very beneficial for my own understanding.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8_A9I2jB18


Read: Chao, Shin-yi. 2011. Daoist Rituals, State Religion, and Popular Practices: Zhenwu Worship from Song to Ming (960-1644). London: Routledge.

DeBernardi, Jean. 2010. “Wudang Mountain and the Modernization of Daoism.” Journal of Daoist Studies 3:202-10.