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  • Daoism in Latin America1
  • Matheus Oliva da Costa (bio)

Many Daoist traditions and lineages of masters formed over its 2000 years of development as a historical community. Which of them, represented by whom, arrived in Latin Amercia when? Are there any empirical or academic studies about them? The following outlines the development of Daoist traditions as they arrived and grew in various Latin American countries. The study goes back to research beginning in 2011, originally focusing on Brazil and from there expanding through the continent.

Chinese Migration

The first contact of Chinese with Latin America occurred in 1565, lasting until the 17th century. Called the Manila-Acapulco Connection (Lai and Tan 2010), it involved Chinese workers from the Philippines, in mercantile migration, moving to labor in what would later become Mexico. The migration reflected the connection between the two places as a result of Spanish colonialism. Unfortunately, so far, we have no knowledge of Daoists or even single Daoist elements that migrated at this time.

Next, there was the Macao-Brazil-Portugal Connection. This allowed a rich cultural exchange, in which Brazil received many impulses both directly from China—especially from Canton—and also indirectly through the Portuguese and other European people. According to Gilberto Freyre (2013) and José Leite (1994), in sparked an intense propagation [End Page 197] of Chinese techniques, products, and images during the formation of colonial Brazil. Freyre thinks of Brazil as a "tropical China," while Leite goes went deeper, affirming that cultures from the south of China and India had more impact even than European societies among the main social references of the Brazilian colonial period. This held true until the 19th century, when British, French, and later American models of civilization became the dominant paradigms for the formation of independent Brazil. In the early period, then, there was the first official migration of a Chinese group to Brazil: Cantonese or Hakka moving to Rio in 1812 (Yang 1977; Piza 2013).

In a similar way, many immigrants arrived in other South American countries during the 19th and 20th centuries. The first to arrive came to the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago in 1806. After that, groups arrived in Brazil (1812), Cuba (1847), and especially Peru (1849). Later migrants also settled in Argentina, Mexico, and other countries, but they were smaller in number. Two countries stand out particularly. First, Brazil housed the largest number of overseas Chinese in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (Costa 2015b, 2017). Second, Peru is the country with the most expansive interaction between the two cultures, both in terms of intensity and continuous contact. One result of this is the Chinese-Peruvian cuisine, generically called chifa2 (Pastor 2005).

Brazil and other Latin American countries welcomed Chinese immigrants, but migration remained limited for a long time. The strongest flows of overseas Chinese occurred from the mid-20th to the early 21st centuries. Migrants commonly moved through other Asian regions, especially Taiwan and Hong Kong, or African countries before arriving in Europe or the Americas. Only in this last wave of immigrants, who overall had reached a higher level terms of education and professional training, did cultural Chinese aspects begin to have an impact on Brazil. It included doctors of Chinese medicine and teachers of martial arts (wushu 武術 or gongfu 功夫) as well as artists, scholars, sales people, and more. [End Page 198]

Early Waves

Daoism, brought along by these immigrants, only appeared in its institutional form in the end of the 20th century. Before that, it existed dominantly in single elements and indirect or informal modes. To organize the complexity of transmission, I distinguish three waves of contact, especially in Brazil (Costa 2015a), but also expanded to the study of Latin America in general.

The three waves are: 1) from the colonial era to the 1960s, Daoist elements were present in a rather diffuse mode, such as in architecture, art work, images, and literature; 2) from the 1960s, Chinese immigration increased, creating a font of knowledge of traditional techniques; at the same time, Latin American culture came under the influence of the New Age movement, leading to the informal and...


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pp. 197-210
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