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The Dao is the breath that never dies. It is the Mother to all Creation. It is the root and ground of every soul – the fountain of Heaven and Earth, laid open.
– Dao de Jing


Daoism (Daojiao 道教) is the indigenous religion of China, having emerged from the One Hundred Schools of Thought in the period 770-221 BC, and having been shaped in the 6th century BC by the Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu. Daoism is one of five religions recognised by the Chinese government, alongside Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism, and its profoundly ecological perspective has shaped Chinese life, culture and thought for more than 2,000 years.


Although Daoism (also spelt Taoism) recognises many gods, there is no overarching divinity. Instead, at the heart of the very earliest Chinese vision of the cosmos, there is the Dao, the origin of all. Dao means ‘the way’. The Dao is the natural Way of the universe and it flows through everything, giving life and meaning to everything.


This also means that everything in life is interconnected. Lau Tzu's classic text, Dao De Jing ('Book of the Way'), says: 'Humanity follows the Earth, the Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Dao, and the Dao follows what is natural.' 

Daoism's main precept is: 'Give respect to the Dao above all else'. Daoists obey the Earth. The Earth respects Heaven, Heaven abides by the Dao, and the Dao follows the natural course of everything. 


Daoists believe humans should allow everything grow according to its own way, without interference. This is called the way of no-action, no selfishness (wu-wei).

Another key precept is: 'Give great value to life.' Daoism pursues immortality and its followers seek to prolong their lives through meditation, self-discipline and rituals to promote harmony with the heavenly order or higher forces of the cosmos. Daoists aim to train their will, discard selfishness and become models of virtue.

At the heart of Daoism is the belief that the universe is composed of two opposing forces, yin and yang. These two forces are locked in a perpetual struggle to overcome the other but cannot because each contains the seed of the other within it. This struggle creates the energy of the universe and has to be kept in balance. The Dao is that balance and the role of humanity is to maintain that balance.


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has its roots in Daoism which believes illness is a sign that the body is out of balance with nature. Ironically, the growth in poaching of rare species such as rhino for TCM is causing another unbalance in the world, and Daoism promotes awareness that using such ingredients will not work.

The Dao gives birth to the One. The One gives birth to the Two.
The Two gives birth to the Three. The Three give birth to the Ten Thousand.

– Dao de Jing
Daoist priests in a ceremony at the first Daoist Ecological Temple in Taibaishan, China
Daoist priests in a ceremony at the first Daoist Ecological Temple in Taibaishan, China.

Ceremony at the Daoist ecological temple, in Taibaishan, China, 2007. Photos: ARC


The China Daoist Association, which represents all Daoists in mainland China, says there are an estimated 170 million Daoists, mostly in China but also in Taiwan, Japan and southeast Asia.


According to a 2023 report by Pew Research Center, it is hard to measure how many people in China consider themselves to be religious, partly due to the Chinese government's tight control of information but also because of linguistic and conceptual differences between religions in East Asia and those in other parts of the world.

For example, a 2018 Chinese General Social Survey found only 10% of people said they 'had a religion' – but 33% said they 'believed in Buddha', 26% said they 'burned incense to worship deities', and 18% said they 'believed in Daoist gods'.

Also, traditional Chinese religious or spiritual beliefs and practices are not mutually exclusive and few Chinese hold only one belief. There are no formal registration procedures that believers must follow as part of their religion.


Unlike churches, mosques and synagogues, Chinese temples are not centres of organised group worship but rather the residences of the gods. Devotees may visit both Daoist and Buddhist temples to offer worship, reverence or supplication.


In 2017, the China Daoist Association (CDA) contributed a paper on Daoist attitudes to finance and investing to the Zug Guidelines on Faith-consistent Investing.

Daoism and prosperity

Doasim does not measure prosperity in terms of personal wealth or material abundance, but rather in the wellbeing of the planet and the number of species that co-exist with us harmoniously.

The Three Treasures of Lau Lzu cast a clear light on the path to prosperity, according to the China Daoist Association:

  • To have compassion towards oneself, other people and this living planet.

  • To live in simplicity, keeping our use of resources to the minimum and avoid exhausting nature's generosity.

  • To refrain from completing with others over resources (meaning not just other people but other species and future generations).

Daoism also has a tradition of non-usery stretching back to the 2nd century AD and encoded in the Taiping Jing (Scriptures of the Great Peace').

Daoism and investing

Investors should be guided by the balance of yin and yang, a key concept in Daoism. Destroying nature for development, for example, or burning fossil fuels taken from the earth and causing greenhouse gases to be emitted, disrupts the balance of yin and yang, and should be avoided.


Investors should also be guided by another key Daoist concept – compassion for 'all under heaven', Because the Dao concerns all life, not just humans, biodiversity is seen as a manifestation of the wealth and creativity of the Dao. 


Protecting, treasuring and making appropriate use of this diversity is central to Daoist practice and all Daoism-consistent investment. If anything runs counter to the harmony and balance of nature, even if it offers great profit, people should restrain themselves from doing it. They should also take into consideration the limits of nature's sustaining power so that they have 'a correct standard of success'.

'If all things in the universe grow well, then a society is a community of affluence. If not, this kingdom is on the decline.'
– China Daoist Association, 2003

Daoism's profoundly ecological perspective and its cosmological principles and insights have shaped Chinese culture for 2,000 years, and continue to do so. Daoism is the only religious group mentioned in China's Five-Year Plan as being key to the development of environmental awareness and education.

Daoist environmental action

There are at least 9,000 Daoist temples in China, some in very remote and ecogically important areas. Two hundred of them have signed up to the Qinling Declaration, launched in 2006, promising to protect the environment around them.


They undertake a range of activities including:

  • introducing ecological education into temple programmes

  • reducing pollution (particularly from firecrackers and mass incense burning)

  • farming land sustainably

  • protecting local species and sustainable forestry

  • using energy-saving technology 

  • safeguarding water resources.

These principles are now increasingly being taken up by Daoists creating new towns and cities, and investing in China's development.

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Daoist Faith Statement,2003

The China Daoist Association, based at White Cloud Temple in Beijing, is the leading body representing all Daoists in mainland China. It produced this Faith Satement for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

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Four Muslim investment policy guidelines were created for the Zug Guidelines, published in 2017. These guidelines provide deeper insight into Islamic principles and finance, and the commitment of major Muslim organisations to faith consistent investing.

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Mao Shan Declaration, 2008

This declaration, made at the Third Ecology Protection Forum of China Daoist Temples and Pagodas, committed Daoist temples to a range of eco-friendly activities and to build a Daoist Ecological Protection Network.


The China Daoist Association developed an Eight-Year-Plan for Daoist temples to adopt more environmentally friendly as part of their efforts to counter the global ecological crisis. The plan ran from 2010 to 2017.

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Declaring that harmony between heaven, earth and humanity was  highest aim of Daoists, and following a workshop on Daoism and conservation, the QinLing Declaration announced a new  ecological alliance for temples.

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