The Encyclopedia of Taoism

Reproduced from:

Poul Andersen, "Jiao"

In The Encyclopedia of Taoism, vol. 1, pp. 539-44
Edited by Fabrizio Pregadio
Routledge, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Taoism

Table of Contents and List of Contributors


Sample Entries

Daode jing (Scripture of the Dao and Its Virtue)

daojia (Taoism; "Lineage[s] of the Way")

daojiao (Taoism; Taoist teaching; "Teaching[s] of the Way")

Daozang (Daoist Canon) and Subsidiary Compilations

jiao (Offering)

jindan (Golden Elixir)

Lingbao (Numinous Treasure)

Quanzhen (Completion of Authenticity)

Shangqing (Highest Clarity)

Tianshi dao (Way of the Celestial Masters)

The term jiao means "offering" or "sacrifice." It refers, in the present day, to the large-scale Taoist ceremonies organized by local communities, and by other social groups such as professional guilds and various forms of voluntary religious associations, in order to define themselves on the religious level, and specifically in order to establish or confirm the (semicontractual) relationship between the group and its tutelary deity. A jiao may be performed at intervals of three, five, or more years (depending on local traditions) as either a recurrent rite for renewing life and blessings for the community ("Offering of Thanksgiving and Praying for Peace," xie'en qi'an jiao), or a rite that responds to immediate problems such as drought or epidemics ("Offering for Averting Calamities," rangzai jiao).

A classical form of jiao (see table 14) is typically headed by Taoist priests representing the Zhengyi tradition, though in some localities variant forms can be performed by priests of the more popular (and often resident), Red-head (hongtou) category. The event may last a week or longer, and invariably involves the whole community in festivities which include, for example, processions in which the statue of the deity is carried through the neighborhood, trance performances of mediums who become possessed by the god, performances by hired theatre troops on temporary stages, and large-scale presentations of offerings to the god in front of the local temple. The central part of the liturgical program in a classical Zhengyi jiao is performed by the priests (together with their troop of musicians) behind the closed doors of this temple and is witnessed only by select representatives of the community. The inside of the temple is rearranged for the occasion, the statue of the tutelary god being removed from the place of honor in the ritual north — which is now temporarily occupied by scrolls representing the supreme Taoist deities — and placed with its back against the closed door, in the position of worshipping these higher deities. The actual structure of the Taoist ritual area, referred to as the "Taoist altar" (daotan), thus bears out the Taoist vision of a cosmic hierarchy presided over by the Three Clarities (sanqingpictures), such that the gods of the common Chinese religion (representing the postcelestial state, houtian) are viewed as deriving their authority from the higher Taoist powers (representing the precelestial state, xiantian).


Table 14. Program of a three-day Offering (jiao) ritual. Based on Schipper, Le Fen-teng: Rituel taoïste, 10-11. For similar programs, see Lagerwey, Taoist Ritual in Chinese Society and History, 293, and Tanaka Issei, "The Jiao Festival in Hong Kong and the New Territories," 275-79.
1Announcement (fabiao)
2Invocation (qibai)
3Flag-Raising (yangqi)
4Noon Offering (wugong)
5Division of the Lamps (fendeng)
6Sealing the Altar (jintan)
7Invocation of the Masters and Saints (qi shisheng)
8Nocturnal Invocation (suqi)
9Morning Audience (zaochao)
10Noon Audience (wuchao)
11Evening Audience (wanchao)
12Renewed Invocation (chongbai)
13Presentation of the Memorial (jinbiao or baibiao)
14"Ten Thousand Sacred Lamps of the Three Realms" (sanjie wangling shengdeng)
15Orthodox Offering (zhengjiao)
16Universal Salvation (pudu)

Early History

This special function of Taoist liturgy within the local cults of the common religion did not exist before the Song dynasty. In fact, as is well known, the Taoist religion that emerged toward the end of the 2nd century CE defined itself at the outset in sharp contradistinction to the "excessive cults" (yinsi) and "bloody sacrifices" (xueshi) of the common religion, which it viewed as the counterproductive responses of the people to extortion by demonic and false spirits. The attitude toward sacrifice and offerings within the Way of the Celestial Masters (Tianshi dao) of this period was distinctly negative, and thus the earliest forms of the communal liturgies, from which the present-day jiao liturgy descended, were not designated by this term, but referred to as zhai, "fast" or "retreat." The overwhelming focus in the zhai liturgies was on purification, repentance (chanhui), and the expiation of sins through self-mortification. Our sources for these early communal liturgies are mostly external and often hostile to the tradition, and we know the rituals in greater detail only as they were codified and transmitted within the Lingbao tradition, that is, in texts that were constructed around the year 400 and later. They are reflected furthermore in the ritual system proposed in the imperially sponsored anthology Wushang biyao (j. 48-57; see Lagerwey, Wu-shang pi-yao: Somme taoïste du VIe siècle, 150-70), which draws on the totality of ritual traditions of its time while giving pride of place to the Lingbao liturgy.

The ritual program presented in this anthology testifies to a common tripartite structure. The first major ritual of most services is the Nocturnal Invocation (suqi), through which the sacred area is established, purified, and consecrated (within the Lingbao tradition this entailed the planting of the five Authentic Scripts or zhenwen, i.e., the five Lingbao talismans, in the five directions of the sacred area — an act that still occurs in the classical jiao liturgy of southern Taiwan). It is followed by the main rite of communication — conceived as an audience with the supreme deities — in which a Declaration (ci) is read. The program concludes with the Statement of Merit (yangong), the purpose of which is to reward the spirits that have assisted the priest in transmitting his messages to heaven. In the earlier Zhengyi form of the zhai liturgy, the Statement of Merit was commonly postponed until a later time, when the ritual was determined to have had its effect (see Cedzich, "Das Ritual der Himmelsmeister im Spiegel früher Quellen," 97-102). In later forms of the jiao liturgy, the ritual corresponding to the Statement of Merit (in present-day southern Taiwan, the Presentation of the Memorial, jinbiao) is accompanied by large-scale displays of offerings addressed to the Jade Sovereign (Yuhuang) and inaugurates a whole series of additional major rituals in which offerings are presented to all categories of the spirit-world. These offering rituals are conspicuously absent in the early forms of the zhai liturgy. Rewarding the subordinate spirits was implied in the "statement of merit" itself, which reported to heaven the conscientious and successful execution of their official duties, on which their advancement within the spiritual hierarchy depended. The incorporation of large-scale offerings as part of the overall liturgy, and the introduction of the term jiao to designate the concluding segment, did not occur until the Tang dynasty, when indeed the use of the combined term, zhaijiao, became current in reference to major Taoist ceremonies.

The jiao that was thus added to the zhai liturgy clearly had a separate origin and followed a separate line of development during the Six Dynasties. Indeed, the history of the term from before the emergence of Celestial Masters Taoism associates it with exactly the kinds of practices that this Taoism was eager to condemn. The locus classicus for these earlier forms is the Gaotang fu (Rhapsody on Gaotang) by Song Yu (3rd century BCE), which describes the activity of certain "magicians" (fangshi), who presented "pure sacrificial oxen" (chunxi), prayed to the stars of the Northern Dipper (beidou), and "made offerings (jiao) to all the deities and worshipped the Great One" (Wenxuan, j. 19; trans. Knechtges, Wen Xuan, or, Selections of Refined Literature, 2: 325-39). It is clear that such practices were widespread within the so-called "occult traditions" of the south, prior to the full-scale transmission of the Way of the Celestial Masters that occurred after 317 CE, as is evident from the summary of these traditions in the Baopu zi, and notably in the jiao to the Five Emperors (Wudi) described in the Lingbao wufu xu (3.3a-5a). It clearly descends from Han dynasty ritual, and serves to establish and confirm the alliance of the practitioner with the divinities that empower the crucial five Lingbao talismans. The ritual comprises the killing of a goose, as well as elaborate offerings of wine. An updated version of this ritual is found in the Lingbao corpus, with the important elimination of the killing of the goose, which is replaced by dates and fresh fruit, and the wine, which is replaced by pure, fragrant tea (Lingbao wudi jiaoji zhaozhen yujue; CT 411, 1a-2a). However, as with the preceding jiao, the eponymous purpose is to make the Perfected, i.e., the Five Emperors, descend in response to the offerings (jiaoji zhaozhen).

A similar emphasis is found in the jiao liturgy described in the Suishu (History of the Sui; 35.1092-93, completed 644), which describes the jiao under the heading "Methods for dispelling disaster and saving from danger," and associates it with divinatory methods for calculating individual destinies (shushu): "At night, under the light of the stars, wine, dried meat, cakes, and pledges of silk are laid out and offered successively to the Celestial Sovereign, the Great One (Tianhuang Taiyi), and to the five planets and the array of stellar mansions. [The priest] produces a document like in the ritual of sending up a petition in order to report it. This is called an Offering (jiao)." "Methods of petitioning," zhangfa, appear, at least since the end of the Six Dynasties, to have been specifically connected with the jiao liturgy. The term zhangjiao, "offering (that includes) a petition," is frequently mentioned in Tang ritual manuals, while the Sui dynasty author Fei Changfang (writing in 597) anachronistically attributes the origin of a whole system of zhangjiao to the first Celestial Master, Zhang Daoling (see Li Xianzhang, Maso shinkō no kenkyū, 204 and 213-14). It is clear, furthermore, from the description in the Suishu, that the jiao liturgy of this time was viewed as specifically addressed to the high god of the firmament, Taiyi, as well as to various other stellar deities, including the administration of human destinies located in the Northern Dipper. The same focus is evident throughout the Tang dynasty and in the early Song.

Song to Present Day

However, it is clearly the all-inclusive compensation of the (subordinate) spirits that assisted the priest in performing his tasks that constituted the rationale for adding a jiao at the end of a zhai service. The liturgists of the early Song dynasty generally attribute this new system to Du Guangting, who is said to have instituted the tradition of performing an Offering of Thanksgiving (xie'en jiao), either as a direct continuation of the zhai service, or in a separate ceremony on another day (preferably taking place at a sacred grotto in the mountains). A special reason for this development was the growing importance in this period of a host of new martial spirits derived from the emerging traditions of exorcism, spirits who were invited as special protectors of the sacred area in a newly-designed ritual called Announcement (fabiao), performed at the very outset of the program.

Some liturgists of the period of the Five Dynasties protest against the new emphasis on the jiao within the zhai liturgy, claiming that it distorts the focus of this liturgy by shifting attention to subordinate deities, at a point when the supreme deities addressed in the zhai have already left the scene (presumably escorted by these subordinate deities). A somewhat related stance is represented by the founders of the Lingbao dafa (Great Rites of the Numinous Treasure), who comment critically on the expansion of the jiao in their time, and on the "separation" [sic] of the zhai and the jiao into two independent units and liturgical styles, attributing the first to the Lingbao and the second to the Zhengyi tradition (see Shangqing lingbao dafa; CT 1221, 59.20b-23a; CT 1223, 39.3a-4b). The end result of the liturgical development of the period was a situation in which the two forms of liturgy had become fused to the point where the two terms were sometimes used interchangeably, but where the growing importance of the jiao component of the whole gradually led to the substitution of this term for the former as the general designation of the combined liturgy, when applied in ceremonies for the living. The important background for this development was the fact, mentioned above, that since the Song dynasty the Taoist communal liturgy had achieved its survival through a functional symbiosis with the local cults of the common religion — in which of course the emphasis on sacrifice and offerings had remained dominant since ancient times. The term zhai was still used for communal services during the Song dynasty, when however its association with ceremonies for the dead becomes more and more pronounced, and today it is used most commonly as the technical term for the Taoist funeral liturgy.

A final addition to the sequence of offerings included in the jiao liturgy was the ritual of Universal Salvation or pudu, which was borrowed from Buddhism, first incorporated during the Song dynasty, and concerned with the salvation and feeding of the lost souls suffering in hell, the so-called "orphaned souls" (guhun). In most present-day ceremonies the pudu occurs at the very end of the program, in fact, quite commonly after the sending away of the gods that marks the end of the Taoist liturgy, properly speaking. It thus represents in a sense the most exoteric level of activity in a jiao, though it should be noted that in many local traditions there is a strong emphasis both on this pudu ritual and on other means of averting harm from the dangerous spirits of hell. In all cases, the jiao today seems strongly focused on territoriality and its definition through local cults, with the important qualification that, in the perspective of the jiao, the territory is not the land as such, but the land as possessed by a certain community, and therefore subject to the inclusion or exclusion of certain groups (that may or may not be actually resident) from participation in the ceremony, depending on the alliances of the dominant strain of the population.