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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.
– Dao de Jing


Daoism (Daojiao 道教) is the indigenous religion of China. It emerged from the One Hundred Schools of Thought in the period 770-221 BC and is founded on the teachings of Chinese philosopher Lau Zi and the classical text Dao De Jing. One of five religions recognised by the Chinese government (with Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism), its profoundly ecological perspective has shaped Chinese life, culture and thought for more than 2,000 years.


Three principles underpin Daoism (also spelt Taoism).

1. Dao (the way): Although Daoism recognises many gods, there is no overarching divinity. Instead, in 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 flows through everything, giving life and meaning to all.

Daoism's main precept is: 'Give respect to the Dao above all else'.
Lau Zi'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.' 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).


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

To achieve this, Daoism stresses the need for a peaceful and harmonious environment as a very important external condition.


Yin and Yang: At the heart of Daoism is the belief that the universe is composed of two opposing forces, yin and yang, which must always be in balance. Yin is female, moist, cold, the moon, autumn an winter, shadows and waters. Yang is male, dry, hot, the sun, spring and summer, brightness and earth. 


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 procedures that believers must follow as part of their religion (eg, baptism in Christianity).


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.


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 Zi (sometimes spelled Lau Tzu) 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 competing with others over resources (including other species and future generations).

Daoism and investing

Investors should be guided by the balance of yin and yang. Destroying nature for development, for example, or burning fossil fuels 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 and treasuring 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, Daoism says people should restrain themselves from doing it. 

Daoism and wealth

Daoism does not oppose wealth, but believes the grabbing of wealth brings greed and desire. The classic Tai Ping Jing (Scriptures of the Great Peace) declares that ultimately all wealth belongs to the Universe and to the Dao, and should not be possessed by a small number of people. Wealth should be distributed properly in society, ensuring that every member of the community has the essentials for life.

  • First, social wealth should be redistributed by the government through an appropriate financial policy, ensuring the hungry have food.

  • Second, those who are wealthy should distribute their wealth voluntarily to the poor.

  • Third, those with money should lend to the poor for their life’s necessities without charging interest. If those with wealth fail to do this and thereby increase the suffering of the poor, then they will be punished by the Universe.


Daoism has a tradition of non-usery stretching back to the 2nd century AD and encoded in the Tai Ping Jing. It also advocates concepts such as: 'A contented man is rich' and 'When a hall is full of gold and jade, nobody can keep them long'.

'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.

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The China Daoist Association, based at White Cloud Temple in Beijing, represents Daoists in China. It produced this Faith Statement in 2003

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Faith leaders, including Daoists, pledged practical action to support the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals.

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The QinLing Declaration announced a new  ecological alliance for temples, and said harmony between heaven, earth and humanity is the  highest aim of Daoists

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Daoists contributed to the Zug Guidelines, the first publication to outline the investment principles of dozens of faith traditions.

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This declaration committed Daoist temples to a range of eco-friendly activities and to build a Daoist Ecological Protection Network.

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A chapter on Daoism was included in Voices from Religions on Sustainable Development, published in 2017. 


This Eight-Year-Plan aimed to make Daoist temples more environmentally  friendly, and ran from 2010 to 2017.

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A Seven Year Plan for Environmental Protection was produced in 2018. This copy is a draft but is in use nonetheless.


FaithInvest's Founding President Martin Palmer has worked with Daoists on environmental issues for more than 30 years through our founder organisation, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.


Now FaithInvest works with them on investing. Find out about Daoism's significant commitment to ethical investing, announced in September 2023, including supporting the creation of the first Daoist Investor Hub.

Daoist leaders meeting HRH Prince Philip in 2017

Daoist leaders meet HRH Prince Philip in 2017


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