What is a religion in the Mongol empire? Were the Jews? How about the White Cloud Sect? The Confucians? And more precisely, in whose perspective?
This article examines how the ruling Mongols perceived and understood the different “religions,” focusing on the less familiar, the more minor “religions” during the Mongol rule of China. Specifically, it will focus on the Jews, White Cloud Sect (baiyunzong 白雲宗) and the Confucians. Although most modern scholars would generally agree that these three religions would all fit into what we would call “religions,” the analysis in this research demonstrates that the status of each of the three different religions differed significantly. Unlike the Buddhists, Daoists, Christians, and Muslims, the Jews were often treated as a subgroup of the generic “westerners (huihui 回回)” and did not receive the tax exemption privileges. The White Cloud Sect once established themselves as a separate sect from the larger Han Chinese Buddhists, but due to their reliance of influential individuals such as the Yanglianzhenjia and Danba, their influence in the central court quickly diminished after the death of these two figures. In the early days of the Mongol empire, Confucians were often grouped with other religions, but later the Mongol treated them as a group of individuals who could contribute to the Mongol empire through their knowledge and education. In other words, in the eyes of the Mongols, the three different “religions” were not merely the same, and the relationship between each religion and the Mongol state determined each religions fact. And in that sense, I argue that emphasis on the rulers, and focus on the relation between the empire and subjects can be another useful way to approach and analyze “religions” in history.