Cao Dai

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Cao Dai (Cao Đài) is a syncretic religion, founded in 1926 in Tay Ninh province in southern Vietnam while Indochina was under French colonial rule. Cao Dai (Vietnamese: Cao Đài, Ch: Gaotaijiao) meaning "supreme channel" or "high palace." The religion emerged after what its followers believe was a revelation from the divine ordering a fusion of elements from major religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Spiritualism.

Like the Church of England, Caodaisism has a hierarchical organization resembling that of the Roman Catholic Church, with a pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests. Ordained women may attain ranks up to cardinal. Cao Daiists believe that its teachings, symbolism and organization were communicated directly from God, and even the construction of the Tay Ninh Holy See had divine guidance. Cao Dai currently has an estimated seven to eight million adherents in Vietnam, and an additional 30,000 (primarily ethnic Vietnamese) in the United States, Europe, and Australia.


Political History

According to Samuel Popkin the Cao Dai have been poorly understood outside Vietnam. He describes the religious movement as an effort to protect small landowners and their tenants in southern Vietnam from the economic exploitation of large Vietnamese landlords and the French colonial officials who protected them. The Mekong Delta had long been the frontier for Vietnamese settlement and large Vietnamese landowners who were fluent in both French and Vietnamese had been particularly adept at using the French colonial court system to seize the rice paddy developed by small farmers without legal title. The rapid growth in the number of Cai Dai adherents after its founding is thus attributable to its success in protecting peasant land ownership. According to Seth Jacobs, press coverage of Vietnam in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s was dominated by conservative anti-communist Roman Catholics and as a consequence often expressed contempt for both Buddhism and Caodaism. This led the United States to endorse the repression by the "personalist" regime of Roman Catholic dictator Ngo Dinh Diem of political opposition by these groups.

Cao Dai in Science Fiction

The Cao Dai movement is a future theocratic superpower engaged in an undeclared but hot conventional war war with the West in Frederick Pohl's dystopian 1957 novel Slave Ship.



  • Frances Fitzgerald. 1972, 2002. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and trhe Americans in Vietnam. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. ISBN 0316159190.
  • Seth Jacobs. 2004. America's Miracle man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race and U.S. Intervention in Southeast Asia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822334402. Pp. 189-190.
  • Michael Mann. 2001. A Grand Delusion: America's Descent into Vietnam. New York: Perseus Books. ISBN 0465043690.
  • Frederick Pohl. 1957. Slave Ship. Ballantine Books.
  • Samuel Popkin. 1979. The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam'. Berkeley, CA: University of Californaia Press. ISBN 0520039548. Pp. 193-202.
  • Eric Wolf. 1969, 1999. Peasant Wars of the Twentienth Century. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806131969. Pp. 193-194.
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