Using the framework of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, this paper attempts to establish the following points : (1) An orthodoxy existed in China since the middle of the second century before the common era and lasted until the turn of the present century. (2) This orthodoxy was not articulated by a religious authority, but rather by a political authority. (3) The content of this orthodoxy, socio-political-ethical in emphasis, was defined not by narrow sectarian doctrines but by a compromise consensus among all the major religious traditions in China. (4) Challenge to this orthodoxy was long-lasting and variegated in nature, but at the turn of the sixteenth century crystalized into a potent tradition revolving around a central matriarchal deity and a strong millenarian and eschatological vision. (5) This heterodox tradition, though similarly socio-ethical in content, was by definition also politically subversive and occasionally erupted into anti-dynastic rebellions.