views updated Jun 27 2018


LOCATION: Island of Lanyu in western Pacific
POPULATION: 3,400 (2007)
LANGUAGE: Bashiic; Mandarin Chinese
RELIGION: Christianity combined with traditional Tao beliefs


The Tao are one of the currently 13 officially recognized Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan, but are the only ones not on Taiwan proper. Because of their relative isolation on the island of Lanyu, the Tao have best maintained their Austronesian traditions, language, and culture of all these groups. Named Yami early in the 20th century by Japanese ethnologists, the Tao have now persuaded the state to accept their self appellation as the official name of the group.

Linguistic chronology and oral traditions suggest that the Tao migrated to Lanyu about 800 years ago from the Batanes Archipelago north of Luzon. They maintained communication by boat, trading pigs, goats, and millet for weapons, beads, and gold. These exchanges ceased about three centuries ago, after a fight in which most of the Tao visitors on Batanes were killed. However, the languages spoken by Tao and Batanes are mutually intelligible.

Since 1945 Lanyu has been part of Taiwan (the Republic of China), where it is classified as a township that includes four administrative villages. There is an elected township mayor (who by law must be Tao) and a village head in each village.


Lanyu (known as Orchid Island or Botel Tobago in English, and Pongso no tao in Tao) is a small island, 46 sq km, located 40 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan. It is hilly, with eight mountains reaching over 400 m (1,312 ft) above sea level. The only flat area is a narrow, uneven belt lying between the mountains and the coast. Because of the lack of level ground, Tao situate their six villages on gentle slopes at the foot of mountains along the alluvial fans of creeks. Most of the island mountain area is covered by rain forests or dense scrub where the islanders obtain lumber to build houses and boats.

Lanyu climate is tropical. Humidity is often over 90%. July temperatures reach 32°C (90°F) and drop below 20°C (68°F) only in January. Rainfall is high, averaging over 2,600 cm (1,024 in) annually, with just over 100 rain-free days per year. It is also quite windy. From October to January or February, the climate is dominated by northeastern monsoons. Days are often cloudy, windy, and rainy, and the sea is rough. The strong winds not only prevent islanders from fishing at sea, but at times blow sea water far ashore, damaging crops. From February to June monsoons gradually dissipate, and the northern tropical current brings flying fish and the larger fish that prey on them near the island where they can be caught. July to early October is typhoon season. When there are no storms, the weather is clear and very warm. Tao take advantage of the good weather to build or repair houses, boats, and irrigation channels and to open new fields. Fishing takes place both day and night. Fruit also ripens in this summer period. Tao are busiest at this time, preparing for the coming winter.

In 2004 the resident population of Lanyu was 3,094, about 90% of whom are Tao. The others are Chinese from Taiwan, among them soldiers, police, civil servants, and shopkeepers. The Tao population has remained relatively stable for most of the 20th century, but grown slowly in recent years. There are several hundred temporary non-Tao residents. About 30% of the Tao population now live and work off the Lanyu in urban Taiwan.


The Tao language is Bashiic, an Austronesian language. It is still spoken by the older generation, those over 50. The younger Tao speak Mandarin Chinese, the official language of Taiwan; many have lost competence to speak their ancestral language. The use and promotion of Bashiic in their churches has been an important factor in the preservation of the language. Bashiic has been put into writing through church initiatives.

Tao naming customs differ greatly from English names. First, Tao distinguish the living from the dead through names. A man named Konpo is Si -Konpo while living, Simina -Konpo after death. Second, husband and wife keep their own names until they have a child, after which they rename themselves to reflect their offspring. For example, when a child called Si- Manowi is born, his parents change their names to Siaman- Manowi, father of Si-Manowi, and Sinan-Manowi, mother of Si-Manowi. Later, when Si-Manowi marries Si-Awan, and later has a child, Si-Lotem, he must change his name to Siaman- Lotem and his wife to Sinan-Lotem. His parents must also take on new names becoming Siapun-Lotem or grandparent of Lotem. If Si-Awan is her parents' first child, her parents' names also become Siapun-Lotem. When their first great grandchild is born and named, all elders become Siapun-Kotan. This custom of noting parentage is known as teknonymy.


Myth has it that the Tao ancestors were sent to earth by the Supreme God in the form of two boys, one in a stone, the other in a bamboo, after a flood that destroyed most of the half-human, half-ghosts who had inhabited Lanyu. When the two emerged from their shells and met, their knees became swollen and eventually split open. Their right knees bore baby boys and the left knees baby girls. When they grew older, brothers married sisters, but their children were crippled, blind, or otherwise handicapped. Later, they married each others' sisters and had many healthy offspring.

Tao gods also bless people—for example, transforming an ugly or deformed individual into a handsome one, presenting a man with a wife from heaven, or showering someone with treasure. They do this only out of sympathy for the person or at the request of a man's ancestors, not because individuals sacrifice or pray to them. Tao believe that the gods are indifferent to direct pleas.

The most important Tao cultural hero is the king of flying fish (flying fish are the most important source of animal protein), and all Tao customs and ceremonies are centered on him. He once appeared to an old man in a dream and arranged to meet next morning on the beach. He then taught him everything proper for a Tao to do, which has since been passed to each generation. Because of this, flying fish are sacred to the Tao. Every year they perform solemn rituals during the flying fish season, and they observe many taboos when catching and eating flying fish.


The Tao cosmos has eight levels supported by five massive tree trunks on the lowest plane. Humans occupy the middle level, which is Lanyu or pongso no tao (island of humans) in the Tao language. Gods of different ranks reside on higher planes, with ghosts and underground people on lower ones.

Tao gods are responsible for natural phenomena, catastrophe, and bounty alike. Tao only have vague images of their gods. They know there are several ranks of deities, but they do not agree on how many ranks there are, on which god dwells where, or on which god is responsible for what.

Tao see their gods as distant, yet they refrain from talking lightly about them. Once a year, on the yearly praying festival, they present offerings to the gods. It is also the only day on which the gods can be freely discussed. Although Tao gods will punish bad individuals such as robbers, they are generally more concerned with an entire village or with all the Lanyu Tao. The gods may favor Tao groups, blessing them with good weather and bountiful harvests (both agricultural and aquatic), or they may inflict disasters upon them.

By contrast, Tao are daily concerned with ghosts who cause such woes as death, injury, sickness, bad harvests, infertility, poor fishing conditions, and so on. The most fearful ghosts are the recently deceased. A dead man in his new condition may feel lonesome and decide to come back to the living to fetch a relative or friend to serve as a companion, thus causing another death or even a chain of deaths. Occasionally a Tao will dream of the spirit of a dead person. If, after a time, the living individual becomes ill, others will believe that the spirit caused it.

Almost all Tao became Christians in the 1960s. There are six Presbyterian and two Catholic churches and an independent Protestant chapel on the island. Tao Presbyterian clergy are important local leaders, having previously been the only educated Tao on the island who were not beholden to the Kuomintang (KMT) party and holding state sponsored jobs. Christian festivals, church events, and church-sponsored social services are an important part of local culture. However, Tao Christianity has not completely replaced their traditional beliefs. Instead, the two systems coexist.


Tao mark the year with festivals and ceremonies marking the beginning or end of productive activities. Traditionally most ceremonies centered on group millet-cultivating and catching flying fish, the two most important sources of food. However, this has changed. Millet-cultivating groups no longer exist, and the Tao now celebrate some Chinese and Christian holidays. All Tao holidays, regardless of origin, are celebrated by stopping work for one or two days and serving lunch, a meal that is not generally eaten. Moreover, relatives and friends often visit each other.

The first ceremony of the flying fish season is performed at the landing beach in the tenth Tao month (March on the solar calendar). A chicken or a piglet is killed on the landing beach and its blood collected. Each male must wet his finger with the "magic" blood, smear it on a pebble around the tide line, and pray for a year of health and good harvest. After this ceremony the big boats owned by fishing groups may start nighttime fishing by torchlight.

The second phase of the flying fish season begins in the twelfth Tao month (May). This event includes many rites held beside the fish-drying rack and the small boats, which may be put out to catch migratory fish after the ceremony.

The "good month" ceremony announces the end of the flying fish and millet-growing seasons. Two important activities, exchanging gifts and group millet-pounding, take place on that day. In the morning, families prepare tubers and other food to send to their relatives. The standard gift includes three taro and one dried flying fish.

The millet-pounding ceremony used to be performed separately by individual millet-growing groups, but since such organizations no longer exist, millet pounding has become a village-wide ceremony in which all participate. The sponsor of the millet pounding brings some millet and a wooden mortar to the village plaza. Men who want to participate bring their own pestles. Four or five elders lead the pounding, and then younger people take turns. The participants surround the mortar, bent over at the waist, and pound the millet in turn.

The yearly praying festival is the only occasion on which the Tao make offerings to the gods. The first offering is communal. Several old men represent the village, each bringing a rattan tray to the beach. The offerings include betel nuts, gaud vines (Piper betel), pork, and chicken feathers—every essential Tao food item except fish. They pray to the gods for health, longevity, and a good harvest. Upon returning home, they put similar offerings on the ridge of their roofs, setting out trays on the right side for the gods and on the left side for the ancestors. After praying, they leave the offerings on the roofs.

The ceremony for goats is a two-day festival. On the first, Tao exchange gifts with their relatives and friends. On the second they perform a ritual: a goat herder picks two kinds of abundant wild plants and prays that his goats will be as numerous as the plants.

Finally, Tao celebrate new holidays, including Lunar New Year, Christmas, and Easter. Lunar New Year is the longest holiday, lasting three or more days, and Tao working in Taiwan return for a family reunion. Tao celebrate Christmas and Easter in the same way that other Christians do, adding Tao songs and dances.


Tao rites of passage are relatively simple. Tao mark three events: marriage, birth, and death. Tao weddings lack festiveness and the boisterous merriment of the Chinese. Only a few close relatives of the bride and groom attend. The ceremony is simple, private, and exclusive. Couples attracted to each other typically live together for several years before formally marrying. However, the community regards the pair as a couple despite the lack of a wedding. Young Tao may change sexual partners several times before eventually settling down and establishing a family; however, when deciding to live together, by cultural tradition they must be faithful to each other. Because a marriage becomes stable only after a child is born, Tao view the first child's naming ceremony as more significant than a wedding.

The ceremony performed for a newborn is the naming ceremony. On a chosen morning several days after the baby is born, the baby's father carries a knife and a coconut shell bowl to a running spring to collect water. On the way home, he must not speak to or even greet anyone. He must also be very careful not to fall or spill the water, as this would be a very bad omen, foretelling the baby's approaching death. At home, he sprinkles the water onto his baby's hair, touches the top of the baby's head with his moistened finger, and gives it a name and a blessing. This ceremony is especially important to the baby's parents and grandparents if the baby is the first child and if one or both parents is also a first child.

Death and funerals are very private events in Tao society. Only close kin and the most intimate of friends attend a funeral. The corpse is wrapped in cloth and bound into a bundle by the son. If a young man does not know how to wrap a body, he may ask one of his uncles for help. The reward for this service, as well as other funeral services such as pall bearing and grave digging, is a flake of gold or a plot of land. Corpses are buried as soon as possible after death, some within a few hours. The graveyard is a taboo place after sunset; when the death happens in the late afternoon or at night, the burial must wait until dawn. While the body remains at home, men must remain vigilant to prevent ghosts making the body heavy and hard to handle. Some spears and other weapons are placed around the house to keep evil spirits at bay.

Inauguration ceremonies for new houses and new boats are distinctive and important in Tao society and may be viewed as a type of rite of passage. Inaugurations primarily involve the display and distribution of large quantities of pork, goat, and water taro. Because a host family needs about one ton of taro, enough to cover the roof of the new house or bury a new boat, prior to the ceremony they collect water taro for about five days.

Although there are several different kinds of inauguration ceremonies, they follow roughly similar scripts. On the first day, the huge taro pile and domestic animals are displayed. After sunset, guests from other villages gather in the host's house and sing ritual songs to admire his achievement until the sun rises the next morning. Then the taro and butchered pigs and goats are distributed to every guest and every village family.


In daily greetings, the Tao emphasize generation and age differences. The most popular greeting includes a kinship term plus gon (be well). On meeting someone, a person has to be aware of his generation relative to that of the other. A younger speaker says maran (uncle) gon to a male, kaminan (aunt) gon to a woman. The other responds, anak (son or daughter) gon. If the other is younger, the greetings and responses are reversed. To an elder peer, he says kaka (elder brother or sister) gon and to a younger one wali (younger brother or sister) jon. The kinship terms used here are honorific and do not imply real kinship relations.

There is no need for a Tao to make an appointment before visiting friends or relatives living in other villages. One may arrive at the destination some time before dusk, at which time the host should be on the way or at home. As visits are not expected, the host may not have enough food for guests. Not wanting to inconvenience the host, the visitor brings gifts, usually tubers and dried fish or other meat, eliminating the problem.


Since the 1980s a market-based economy has developed in Lanyu, with commercial goods imported and obtainable only with money. However, Tao still have a subsistence economy—that is, they produce most of their food, build their own houses and fishing boats, and make some of their clothing. Many goods they produce do not enter the market. However, the development of tourism from the 1980s, and demand for Tao handicraft has led to significant production of traditional goods for these markets.

Tao have less access to modern medical care than they have to commercial goods. A small public clinic is staffed by two doctors and several nurses, but the limited facilities permit them to treat minor problems only. Islanders afflicted with serious illnesses have to go to a hospital on Taiwan. Although the public clinic is free and Tao have public medical insurance, some live with serious illness because they cannot afford transportation to Taiwan.

Construction of homes is important in Tao culture. The traditional house is a complex consisting of a main residential dwelling, a workshop, and an open, roofed platform each built on separate terraces and descending to the beach. The residential dwelling is built inside a large pit with the roof level with the surface of the terrace. The workshop, on the other hand, is built on top of a somewhat smaller pit so that its floor is level with the terrace ground. The open platform is erected on heavy posts, its floor about 2 m (6.5 ft) above ground. The residence and workshop also rest just off the earth supported by thick posts. Tao residences face the sea, their roofs uniformly parallel to the coastline, while workshops and platforms are perpendicular to the shore.

In the 1960s the local government replaced these traditional houses with small, confining concrete houses. Each family has limited living space. This created many problems and difficul-ties, and in the hot season these concrete boxes were almost unlivable, so most people built traditional roofed platforms in front of them. Starting in 1995 the government paid for construction of new houses for the whole island. Few people rebuilt traditional houses (unsuited as they are for modern utilities) but chose to design their own versions of modern rural Taiwanese homes.

Tao construct boats almost exclusively for fishing and for carrying harvested millet or taro. Because Lanyu is small, islanders used to get around on foot. Recently, the number of motor vehicles has increased. Many Tao families own motorcycles or even cars. The island has a public bus service. Tao travel to Taiwan is by airplane or steamer.


The family is the most important social unit and the basic economic unit in Tao society. Most Tao families are nuclear, which means that they consist of wife, husband, and unmarried children. Some children may be from previous marriages. Average family size is four persons. In the typical Tao family, relationships between parents and children and spouses are very close. This closeness will endure even after a child marries and establishes his or her own family.

Husband and wife are not only very close emotionally, but also economically reliant on each other, working together to support their families. For religious reasons, Tao women are not permitted aboard fishing boats, so men provide seafood. Women mainly work in their fields, weeding, digging, and hauling heavy loads of tubers back to the village. A man with no wife or with an incapacitated wife will be unable to accumulate enough taro and pigs to hold socially important inauguration ceremonies and unable to reciprocate the gifts of meat received from relatives and other villagers at ceremonies they sponsor. He falls into debt and his status declines.

Although remarrying is both common and easy for the divorced or the widowed, the Tao emphasize monogamy, spiritual loyalty, and sexual fidelity in marriage. Extramarital affairs are unacceptable and rare, and polygyny (multiple wives) is unheard of. As suggested earlier, unstable relationships in the early stages after marriage will result either in separation or, after several children, evolve into more stable unions recognized by the community.


Tao clothing is simple. Men wear nothing but a loincloth. Women wear woven skirts tied around the waist with two bands and a breast covering or vest. In summer, older women may wear only skirts, leaving their upper bodies bare.

Men and women traditionally share responsibility for clothing production, but there is a sexual division of labor, with women weaving abaca and other fibers into fabrics from which Tao clothing is made. Men engage in weaving as well, but use different materials such as tree bark, large leaves, bamboo or rattan to create helmets, vests, raincoats and wide-brimmed hats. However, with the recent trend toward the purchase of clothing, Tao weaving skills are slowly disappearing.

Tao women continue to weave certain fabrics to make clothing worn exclusively at ceremonial events. These articles include loincloths, vests, skirts, and lightweight gowns made of white fabric decorated with woven blue stripes. Tao clothing traditionally was simple in construction and style. Women cut and sewed together pieces of fabric from woven sheets 3 m (10 ft) long and 20 cm (8 in) wide. The making of ceremonial vests is a very solemn undertaking. Before Tao can wear these items, they must make offerings of goat or pork to their gods. By these offerings the ceremonial clothing acquires magical powers. Tao wear their ceremonial garments on visits to other villages as a way of showing respect for their hosts, and because they believe that the ritual clothing will protect them from evil spirits to which they are vulnerable whenever they journey outside the safe confines of the village.


Tao generally eat two meals a day. They go to work after breakfast but rarely take anything other than tobacco and betel at midday. Dinner is their main meal. They eat lunch only when they stay at home for festivals or because of bad weather.

Tao classify food into two categories: staples and supplements. A regular meal includes both. Ordinarily women are responsible for obtaining staples and men for supplements. The two important staples are sweet potato and water taro. Other basic crops include taro and yams. Millet is also grown but is exchanged as a gift and consumed only on ceremonial occasions. In recent years, rice and noodles have replaced tubers in the daily diet of young Tao.

There are many kinds of supplements, obtained mostly from the ocean. Fish are most important, fresh when available, but otherwise dried and salted. Other types are crab and conch, as well as various kinds of seaweed and an assortment of edible wild plants. Families with little male labor have to depend more on plants.

Pork and goat meat are also supplements, but are generally eaten only on ceremonial occasions; neither is eaten on a daily basis.

Fish is very important in the Tao diet and is classified into good fish that everyone can eat, bad fish (not good for women), and old men's fish, which neither women nor young men are allowed to eat. This classification deeply affects eating etiquette, daily fishing activities, and other aspects of life. Some Tao insist that women will vomit if they eat bad fish or will become ill if they fail to. Every family has two sets of cooking and eating utensils, one for each of these two types of fish.


There is now an elementary school in every Tao village, and a secondary school, grades 7 through 12, is located in the town. Tao children have compulsory schooling for nine years, and most continue through senior high school. Students board and lodge in the high school five and half days per week, except in winter and summer vacations. Despite special government assistance, few Tao qualify to enter universities.

Prior to the 1980s only poor-quality teachers and public servants were sent to Lanyu, although capable volunteers also went there occasionally. Children learned very little from their teachers, and were often ordered out of their classrooms to gather highly valued wild flora and fauna for their teachers and principals. Most Tao over 60 are hardly able to read. Not surprisingly, when the high school was established, most Tao did not want their children to attend, and soldiers had to pick up students during the first two years. As the generation who began receiving more progressive education beginning in the 1980s become parents, Tao are concerned to invest in education, sometimes sending their children to Taiwan or even moving there to access better schools for their children. There are numerous government and private programs and subsidies for education of Tao children. Computer education in the schools and government provision of computers and Internet linkage for free to each village have made most young Tao computer users, so numerous Internet sites now serve Lanyu and present it to the world.


Tao music consists only of singing; musical instruments are unheard of. There are eight categories of Tao songs, including ritual songs, love songs, lullabies, and work songs. Since most Tao songs use the three-tone or four-tone system, melodies sound more like chanting than singing. However, Tao singers may improvise, adding grace notes or changing the tempo, so that the same song sounds different when sung by different singers. Most well known are ritual songs, sung all night long in inauguration ceremonies.

Most Tao songs, lullabies included, are sung by men, but hand-clapping songs can be performed together by men and women, whereas only women dance in Tao tradition. Ganam , a category of songs, is exclusively for females and always accompanies dancing. A famous Tao dance is the hair dance. The dancers swing their hair to and fro while singing and dancing. Since the 1990s men's dances have been created for indigenous cultural festivals and tourism.


Until the 1960s, Tao living on Lanyu relied upon a subsistence economy, consuming primarily, if not exclusively, what they produced. Recently, however, the island population has become increasingly incorporated into Taiwan's market economy. Young people in particular prefer working in Taiwan as wage laborers to staying home and growing tubers or fishing.

Tao youth began to enter the off-island labor market in large numbers during the 1970s. At that time, Taiwan experienced impressive growth in labor-intensive industries that required large numbers of workers. Tao youth worked in construction and factories manufacturing shoes, clothing, electronic goods, etc. On Lanyu, there are not enough good job opportunities; thus at least a third of the Tao population lives and works in Taiwan. Part of the wages earned working in Taiwan comes back to Lanyu to support elderly parents invested in local economic initiatives generally linked to the tourist industry. These include purchase of cars for taxis, investment in a store or upgrading their house to a bed and breakfast. Many people produce traditional artifacts for the tourist industry. In addition there are now job opportunities in government services, schools, or church-operated social services.


Lanyu has very few sports facilities, but basketball courts can be found in every village. This sport is popular among young men and children. Although Tao are rarely seen playing softball, there are annual township softball tournaments. Teams organized by villages compete with each other for the prizes. Swimming is the favorite sport of children and teenagers in summer time.


There are no theaters on the island, but television and videotapes are popular. In Tao culture reference to sex in the presence of parents, children, or a sibling of the opposite sex is taboo. They feel uneasy when obscene footage appears. Thus, watching television is not "family entertainment" on Lanyu except for sports programs.


Tao used to make almost everything they used; thus, they were skilled in carpentry, wood sculpture, gold and silver smithery, pottery, and weaving. Recently, they have begun to buy goods they used to make themselves; except for carving miniature boats and pottery idols sold as souvenirs, the only remaining traditional Tao handicraft is boat construction.

Tao make two sizes of fishing boats, 2–4 m (6.5–13 ft) long for 1 to 3 persons, and 5–8 m (16–26 ft) long for 6 to 10 persons. Boats may be propelled by oars and sails, but sails are rarely used. The typical boat, shaped like a Venetian gondola, requires several grades of wood that are joined together by means of dowels, dovetailing, rattan roping, and glue. The keel must be made of a very hard, abrasion-resistant wood because the shores where Tao beach their boats are strewn with rocks. Many Tao boats are beautifully sculptured and painted in black, white and red. This intricately decorated boat has become a Tao cultural symbol.


A hundred years ago, Tao did not smoke or drink alcohol. Since the early 1980s, usage of both has skyrocketed. Cigarettes are enjoyed on a daily basis, but alcohol is considered a luxury and is limited to ceremonial occasions or when guests come to visit. Tao families now spend significant proportions of their income on these products. Drinking has brought many problems to Tao society such as marital problems, traffic accidents, and loss of the will to work.

The Tao are a minority people, Lanyu being part of Taiwan (the Republic of China). Their experience with the Taiwan government has often been frustrating. Until the late 1980s human rights were ignored, not just for the Tao but for everyone. Some of the problems have been resolved, but others continue to exist. For example, in the 1950s much land was seized to establish cattle ranches for demobilized Chinese soldiers or for a prison farm. The cattle uprooted Tao crops, and inmates stole Tao property and raped Tao women. Because authorities rarely observed such transgressions first-hand, Tao complaints were seldom taken seriously. In 1982 low level radioactive waste from Taiwan's nuclear power stations began to be stored on the island. The radioactive material is put into drums and stored in concrete trenches. The government neither sought permission from the Tao to establish this facility, nor told them what was being built on their land. The radioactive waste has become the defining issue that shapes Tao relations with the state and the rest of Taiwan since then. Supported by the anti-nuclear and environmental movement, the Tao did obtain a promise from the state that this waste would be removed, but local resistance from other areas in Taiwan chosen for a new site means that the waste is still there (2008). Meanwhile the Taiwan Power Corporation has paid large amounts of subsidies and compensation monies for local infrastructure and welfare, as well as providing free electric power for all Tao on Lanyu. Ironically, it is opposition to the facility that is the strongest basis for island-wide unity in a culture that tends to be highly fragmented by family and village loyalties.


Tao only recognize two genders, there being no categories other than male and female. Because the traditional economy depended on close co-operation based on a gendered division of labor, and because affines were often as important in economic and ritual life as kin, there tends to be more basic gender equality in Tao culture than in other Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, or Taiwan as a whole. Nonetheless, the primacy of the male in the household, economic life and ritual life was uncontested. Conversion to Christianity, public education, and development of economic opportunities in the tourist industry have all contributed to problematize gender equality, as well as provide more avenues for women to achieve status as independent social actors. Women now have strong roles in the modern sector as teachers, church leaders, locally elected politicians, small store operators, and cultural performers for tourism and competitive festivals.


Benedek, Dezso. The Songs of the Ancestors: A Comparative Study of Bashiic Folklore. Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 1991.

del Re, Arundel. Creation Myths of the Formosan Natives. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1951.

Kano, Tadao, and Segawa, Kokichi. An Illustrated Ethnography of Formosan Aborigines, Vol. 1, the Tao. Tokyo: Maruzen Company, 1956.

Kim, Uichol, et al, eds. Indigenous and Cultural Psychology: Understanding People in Context. New York: Springer, 2006.

Yu, Guang-hong. "Ritual, Society and Culture Among the Tao." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1991.

—revised by M. Stainton


views updated May 29 2018


Term used in ancient Chinese religious philosophy, signifying "the Way" or pathway of life. The Tao is understood as a unity underlying the opposites and diversity of the phenomenal world. Ching Shen Li (cosmic energy) is manifest in the duality of yin and yang (negative and positive), female and male principles in nature. Yin and yang are also energies in the individual human body and the balancing of these energies is one of the tasks of life. The correct harmony between yin and yang may be achieved through diet, meditation, and a life of truth, simplicity, and tranquillity, identifying with the Tao of nature.

Taoism teaches union with the law of the universe through wisdom and detached action. Special techniques of Taoist yoga normalize and enhance the flow of vital energy in the human body. This yoga is variously named K'ai Men (open door), Ho Ping (unity), and Ho Hsieh (harmony). K'ai Men implies opening the path to the channels of mind, spirit, and body so that they reflect the balance of yin and yang and a harmony with the energy of the cosmos.

Taoist yoga is very similar to the kundalini yoga systems of India, and it is not clear whether such a parallel system originated by direct influence of traveling mystics or by spontaneous rediscovery of basic truths. Both Indian and Chinese yogas are concerned with the control of vital energy, seen as the force behind sexual activity, but which may be diverted into different channels in the body for blissful expansion of consciousness. For centuries the techniques of Chinese yoga were little known in the West; teaching manuals were closely guarded and not translated into Western languages. Teachings were usually transmitted orally from teacher to pupil.

During the twentieth century, and especially since the Chinese Revolution, teachers of Taoism and Chinese yoga have established schools in the United States and published translations of basic Chinese yoga texts. Modern teachers of Chinese yoga include Charles Luk (Lu K'uan Yü) of Hong Kong, who has translated various Chinese Buddhist and yoga texts, and Mantak Chia from Thailand, who studied with Taoist and Buddhist masters and has created a synthesis of their spiritual techniques, in conjunction with classical techniques of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Together with his wife Maneewan Chia, Mantak Chia has been instrumental in establishing Healing Tao Centers in the United States and Europe that offer a basic self-development course of what is termed Taoist Esoteric Yoga.

In distinction to the philosophical esoteric concept of the Tao, but growing out of it, Taoism as a religious system complete with temples and popular worship, became one of the three major religious systems of China, together with Confucianism and Buddhism.


Chang, Chung-Yuan. Tao; A New Way of Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Chia, Mantak. Awaken Healing Energy through the Tao. New York: Aurora Press, 1983.

Chia, Mantak, and Michael Winn. Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy. New York: Aurora Press, 1984.

Ch'u Ta-Kao, trans. Tao Te Ching. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Samuel Weiser, 1937.

Lu K'uan Yü. Taoist Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality. London: Rider & Co., 1970.

Soo, Chee. The Chinese Art of K'ai Men. London: Gordon & Cremonesi, 1977.

Suzuki, D. T., and Paul Carus, trans. The Canon of Reason and Virtue. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1913.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Tao (Chin., ‘way’). Central concept of Taoism, supplying the name of this philosophical and religious system. In Confucian usage, tao is (as the pictogram suggests) ‘teaching’, and ‘the way humans should follow’. In Lao-tzu (Tao-te ching), Tao becomes the source from which all appearance derives, the unproduced Producer of all that is, and the guarantor of its stability and regularity. In its manifestation, it appears as Te, and human virtue is to live with discernment in accordance with Te expressing Tao, especially through wu-wei.


views updated May 29 2018

Tao in Chinese philosophy, the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with the natural order. The interpretation of Tao in the Tao-te-Ching developed into the philosophical religion of Taoism.
Tao-te-Ching the central Taoist text, ascribed to Lao-tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism. Apparently written as a guide for rulers, it defined the Tao, or way, and established the philosophical basis of Taoism.


views updated May 29 2018

TAO Technical Assistance Operations (of the UN)