Daoist monasteries/abbeys

(gong/guan)
Traditionally, among the great variety of Chinese temples, the terms guan (observatory) and gong (palace) define the category of Daoist monasteries. Like their Buddhist equivalents (si or yuan), they house a monastic community governed by set rules. They may belong to a corporate clergy and are open to all (‘ecumenical’ status, shifang) or to a lineage, in which case they are passed on from master to disciple (‘hereditary’ status, zisun). In this regard, all monasteries are opposed to temples (miao), which belong to a lay community (most often territorial) and which may employ clerics as temple keepers. That said, the names of religious establishments usually endure while their status and function evolve over time: some guan or gong could happen to be privately owned, and even house no cleric, while some miao with a large clerical community might function as monasteries. Most guan were managed by the Quanzhen order, with a couple of exceptions in the Jiangnan area (such as the Xuanmiaoguan in Suzhou) where they were run by an alliance of hereditary Zhengyi families (see Daoism (Quanzhen order); Daoism (Zhengyi tradition))
Since the progressive reopening of temples, active guan are now controlled by the Daoist Association. In sharp contrast to temples, monasteries in general, including the major guan, have mostly been spared the brunt of the destruction that happened during the entire twentieth century—a destruction of which the Cultural Revolution was only the climax, that is still unstudied and little understood. Almost all ‘ecumenical’ guan of the early twentieth century have opened again, whereas a majority of the temples have been razed to the ground. Among the most important temples that were staffed by Daoists, few have been opened, and if reopened, only recently and as museums, not as places for religious activity (notable cases are the Dongyuemiao in Beijing and the Chenghuangmiao in Shanghai, though the latter has recently been seen to incorporate some Confucian rituals). One may explain this differentiated treatment by the fact that in pre-1949 society, monasteries were more isolated institutions, whereas large temples like those just mentioned played a key role in the self-organization of urban society (some say ‘civil society’).
Some guan have preserved both their architecture and their decoration (for example, those on Wudangshan); in most cases, statues and furniture had to be made anew.
Almost all guan have lost their archives and libraries. Restoration is usually faithful, but some change in deities occurs. Buildings and statues from the Ming are not rare, but those from the Qing are common. The active guan are either in cities or clustered on one of many holy mountains throughout the country. From an architectural perspective, nothing fundamental differentiates Daoist from other temples. Nor does iconography in statues and murals: if the central deities (the Three Pure Ones, Laozi, Daoist patriarchs) are proper to guan, their style is the same as that of other religious works of art. The guan also house many popular gods in side halls. Beside sightseers, guan also attract many devotees. The Daoist laity is less formally organized than that of Buddhism, but people do come to pray, consult clerics or join in the festivals. In cities, the clerics are not allowed to perform services outside of the monastery, but families may request death rituals performed for them within the guan.
Qiao, Yun (2002). Taoist Buildings: Ancient Chinese Architecture (Zhongguo gujianzhu daxi). Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.
VINCENT GOOSSAERT

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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