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New Taoist 'pope' proclaimed in Nantou

NANTOU, Taiwan -- A new Taoist pope was proclaimed in Nantou yesterday.

The proclamation took place at the Nantou Stadium, where Zhang Daochen declared himself the lineal heir to the first Celestial Master, or Tianshi, who started his Taoist See in the mid-first century.

A compromise reached with the Long-Hu Shan (Dragon Tiger Mountain) court in Jiangxi earlier this year enabled Zhang Daochen to be inaugurated as the 64th Celestial Master on June 10.

There was a 64th Celestial Master, however. He was Zhang Yuanxian, who died at Tsaotun in the landlocked county of Nantou in October last year. His death kicked off a petty war of succession between Taiwan and China.

Zhang Daoling, the first pope, created Dragon Tiger Mountain in the province of Jiangxi in eastern China. He set up the sect, which was popularly known as the Way of Five Pecks of Rice,” or Wu-tou-mi-dao.

Adherents were required to donate five pecks of rice on the first day of the tenth moon on the lunar calendar. The rice was kept in a granary and distributed among the faithful in time of famine. They never doubted the Celestial Master the First, who ruled the theocracy until he finally ascended to Heaven.

Zhang Daoling was apotheosized by Chinese emperors.

His lineal descendants ascended the Taoist papal throne, duly recognized by emperors of different dynasties, over the past 19 centuries.

The 63rd Celestial Master, Zhang Enfu, fled Dragon Tiger Mountain for Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

When Zhang Yuanxian died, Zhang Jintao proclaimed himself Celestial Master the Sixty-fifth at Dragon Tiger Mountain. He was able to do so only after the Chinese Communists relaxed control over Taoism, which legendary Laozhi, or Laotzu, founded more than five centuries before Christ.

According to the agreement reached across the Taiwan Strait, Zhang Yuanxian was regarded as an adopted heir, who could not succeed Zhang Enfu.

The Dragon Tiger Mountain pope accepted Zhang Daochen as the 64th Celestial Master, who in theory still can ordain most of Taoist priests.

A 42-year-old Taipei resident, Zhang Daochen began contending for the Taoist papal throne last year. He claimed Zhang Yuanxian was not the legitimate pope.

As evidence, Zhang Daochen produced letters to his father from Zhang Enfu to the effect that Zhang Yuanxian had to be made Celestial Master pro tem after his death.

At a press conference after the proclamation, Zhang Daochen showed the seals of the Taoist pope he brought back from Dragon Tiger Mountain.

Also shown was a proclamation in writing of Zhang Jintao's abdication as the 65th Celestial Master.

There are many religious Taoist sects, of which the one Zhang Daoling founded almost two millenniums ago has no large following in Taiwan.

Most of practicing Taoist priests have not been ordained by the Celestial Master.

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 New Taoist 'pope' proclaimed in Nantou 
Zhang Daochen proclaims himself the 64th Celestial Master. He also shows an official seal of the Celestial Master he brought back from Dragon Tiger Mountain in Jiangxi, China. The proclamation took place at Nantou yesterday. (CNA)

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