A syncretic salvationist Chinese faith blending elements from major world religions with a focus on universal salvation.

Yiguandao, or the Way of Pervading Unity, is a Chinese new religious movement characterized by its syncretism of major religious teachings, including Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. This movement, translating to “Consistent Way” or “Persistent Way,” emerged in the late 19th century in Shandong, China, and rapidly expanded throughout the country in the 1930s and 1940s under the leadership of Zhang Tianran and Sun Suzhen. The religion venerates the Eternal Venerable Mother, representing the primordial energy of the universe and the unity of all existence​​​​​​.

Origins and Growth

Yiguandao traces its roots back to Xiantiandao, a sect of the “Way of Former Heaven,” which itself was part of the broader Chinese salvationist religious tradition. The movement underwent significant transformations over the centuries, especially under the leadership of Wang Jueyi in the 19th century and subsequently by his successors, culminating in the formation of Yiguandao by Liu Qingxu in 1905. Under Zhang Tianran, who became the eighteenth patriarch, and his wife Sun Suzhen, Yiguandao witnessed a period of rapid expansion, boasting millions of followers by the 1940s​​.

Beliefs and Practices

Central to Yiguandao belief is the worship of the Infinite Mother, or the Eternal Venerable Mother, a deity that transcends gender and is seen as the source of all creation and salvation. This figure is syncretized with the Tao and represents the ultimate reality and primordial energy of the universe. Yiguandao’s theology integrates the concept of salvation with the veneration of this deity, advocating for a path to spiritual salvation and enlightenment through its teachings. The movement also emphasizes the unity of the five teachings—Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—reflecting its inclusive and syncretic approach to spirituality​​​​.

Persecution and Spread

Yiguandao faced significant persecution in mainland China, particularly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, when it was banned as a heretical cult and secret society. Despite this, it flourished in Taiwan after the ban was lifted in 1987, and has also spread to other parts of Asia and the West, maintaining a significant following among the Chinese diaspora. Today, Yiguandao is recognized for its contribution to the promotion of spiritual and moral values, and continues to engage in missionary activity, although it remains a subject of controversy and scrutiny in some regions​​​​.

Modern Influence

Despite its historical challenges, Yiguandao has made a quiet return to mainland China, largely through the influence of Taiwanese businessmen and informal networks. It operates in a legal gray area, not officially recognized but tolerated to some extent, reflecting the complexities of religious practice and regulation in contemporary China. The movement’s emphasis on moral education, vegetarianism, and community service has allowed it to maintain a positive social influence, contributing to its resilience and adaptability in the face of persecution​​.

Yiguandao’s journey from a persecuted sect to a global religious movement underscores the dynamic nature of religious evolution and the enduring appeal of syncretic belief systems that offer inclusive paths to spiritual fulfillment and salvation.