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Making Saints in Modern China$
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David Ownby, Vincent Goossaert, and Ji Zhe

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190494568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190494568.001.0001

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Zhang Yuanxu

Zhang Yuanxu

The Making and Unmaking of a Daoist Saint

2 (p.78) Zhang Yuanxu
Making Saints in Modern China

Vincent Goossaert

Oxford University Press

This chapter chronicles the sad fate of Zhang Yuanxu, the leader of the “Heavenly Master” Daoist institution at the end of the imperial era. For centuries, the authority and charisma of these hereditary leaders had been almost wholly institutional, since Zhang’s sainthood, like that of his predecessors, was confirmed by the Chinese emperor, which made it thoroughly bureaucratic. Therefore, the “Daoist pope” felt little need to enhance his religious status via miracles or faith-healing; sales of talismans, charms, and licenses were brisk enough without his personal touch. When the dynasty disappeared in 1911, however, so did a key guarantor of Zhang Yuanxu’s state-supported charisma. He sought to rebrand himself by associating with redemptive societies, Christians, and other religious entrepreneurs, but he was a clumsy salesman. Zhang’s loss of bureaucratic charisma also coincided with the rise of an elite discourse of anti-superstition, and Zhang became the frequent target of criticism.

Keywords:   Xuyun, Chan Buddhism, Hagiography, Vinaya, Monastic Reconstruction

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