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Taoism

Religious Studies in
Contemporary China Collection
Series Advisor
Vincent Goossaert
VOLUME 2
The titles published in this series are listed at brill.nl/rscc
LEIDEN • BOSTON
2012
Taoism
Edited by
Mou Zhongjian
Translated by
Pan Junliang and Simone Normand
ISBN 978 90 04 17453 5 (hardback)
ISBN 978 90 47 42799 5 (e-book)
Copyright 2012 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Global Oriental, Hotei Publishing,
IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.
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Fees are subject to change.
This book is the result of a co-publication agreement between The Ethnic Publishing House
and Koninklijke Brill NV. These chapters were translated into English from the original
<<当代中国宗教研究精选丛书:道教卷 >> (Dangdai zhongguo zongjiao yanjiu jingxuan congshu:
Daojiao juan) with financial support from China Book International.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Taoism / edited by MouZhongjian ; translated by Pan Junliang and Simone Normand.
p. cm. — (Religious studies in contemporary China collection ; v. 2)
“This volume gathers together English translations of seventeen articles originally published
in the People’s Republic of China between 1947 and 2006, and republished together in 2008 as
part of an edited volume of representative works in PRC Taoist studies”—Introd.
ISBN 978-90-04-17453-5 (hardback :alk. paper) 1. Taoism. I. Mou, Zhongjian, 1939–
BL1925.T42 2012
299.5’14—dc23
2011041578
CONTENTS
Introduction ................................................................................ 1
Vincent Goossaert
Taoist Studies: Past and Present. A Retrospective and
Perspective Analysis of Taoist Studies over a
Hundred Years ........................................................................ 7
Qing Xitai
From Yiqie daojing to Zhonghua daozang—A Retrospective of the
Study of the Taoist Textual Heritage .................................... 45
Wang Ka
The Apocryphal Jia Section in Taipingjing Chao 太平经钞
[Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace] .............................. 65
Wang Ming
Lao-tzu, the Tao of Lao-tzu, and the Evolution of Taoism—
The Cultural Significance of the “Legend of Lao-tzu
Converting the Barbarians 老子化胡说” .............................. 87
Hong Xiuping
Cao Cao and Taoism ................................................................. 101
Li Gang
The Taoist Concept of the “Six Heavens” ............................... 119
Wang Zongyu
Cheng Xuanying and the Study of the Twofold Mystery ........ 149
Tang Yijie
From the Fundamentals of Philosophical Taoism to the Inner
Alchemy of Religious Taoism ................................................ 177
Zhang Guangbao
vi contents
“Follow and Oppose 顺逆” in Taoist Inner Alchemy and
Its Contemporary Interpretation ............................................ 191
Ge Guolong
The Quanzhen School and the Culture of Qilu Region .......... 209
Mou Zhongjian
The Revival of the Longmen Branch of the Quanzhen School
in the Qing Dynasty ............................................................... 225
Chen Bing
The Impact of the Taoist Morality Book Taiwei xianjun
gongguoge 太微仙君功过格 [Register of Merits and Demerits
of the Divine Lord of Great Tenuity] ............................................. 253
Chen Xia
Abnegating Killing and Cherishing Life .................................... 263
Li Yuanguo
Taoist Philosophy on Environmental Protection ....................... 279
Yin Zhihua
Study of the Medical Elements in Taoist Healing:
The Use of Talismans and Incantations ................................ 293
Gai Jianmin
A Comparative Study of the Ritual of the “Three Great
Purities”, the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation”, and the “Doumu
Ritual of Sublimation”—Similarities and Differences between
the Taoist Rituals of the Cantonese Region and of the
Jiangnan Region ..................................................................... 309
Chen Yaoting
The Theatrical Character of Taoist Rituals .............................. 323
Liu Zhongyu
Index ............................................................................................. 339
INTRODUCTION
Vincent Goossaert
This volume gathers together English translations of seventeen articles
originally published in the People’s Republic of China between 1947
and 2006, and republished together in 2008 as part of an edited vol-
ume of representative works in PRC Taoist studies.
1
The volume origi-
nated in a collaboration between the Minzu Press in Beijing, which
published that edited volume, and Brill; I was honored to be invited to
read it and write an introduction. While only part of the volume edited
by Professor Mou was selected for translation in the present project,
the aim remains the same: showcasing representative works of Taoist
studies in mainland China, including early articles that were widely
influential although they may now be superseded in some aspects by
more recent research. Most of the major scholars of Taoist studies
in the PRC are represented in this anthology, and many of them
have never had any of their work translated into any Western lan-
guage before; it is hoped that the present volume will draw readers to
their scholarship and inspire them to read their books and articles in
Chinese.
Taoist studies have been developing rapidly both in China and
the West since the 1980s,
2
but along different paths;
3
while Chinese
scholars are quoted and discussed in Western-language publications, it
would be useful for students and for scholars in other fields to under-
stand how Chinese scholars approach the study of Taoism on their
1
Mou Zhongjian 牟钟鉴, ed. Dangdai Zhongguo zongjiao yanjiu jingxuan congshu, Daojiao
juan 当代中国宗教研究精选丛书 道教卷 (Beijing: Minzu chubanshe, 2008).
2
This growth has resulted in the creation of several specialized scholarly journals,
notably Taoism: Religion, History and Society (bilingual English and Chinese, est. 2009),
Journal of Taoist Studies (English, est. 2008), and Daojia wenhua yanjiu 道家文化研究
(Chinese, est. 1992), in addition to journals published by Taoist institutions (national
headquarters and regional branches of PRC Taoist associations; Taoist journals in
Hong Kong and Taiwan).
3
The perceived need among Chinese scholars of Taoism to better understand
Taoist studies in the West has resulted in a large project of translating representa-
tive works from Western and Japanese languages into Chinese; the resulting collec-
tion, entitled Daojiaoxue yicong 道教学译丛, is directed by Professor Zhu Yueli 朱越利.
2 vincent goossaert
own terms. For this reason, this volume is intended less as a collection
of new research in the field, than as a general introduction to Chinese
scholarship.
The translations were done by Pan Junliang and Simone Normand,
who deserve praise for their work, as translating Chinese scholarly
articles is a notoriously difficult task. Chinese scholars assume a solid
knowledge of classical culture from their readers, and thus allude to
and quote liberally from a wide variety of sources; Western readers
not immersed in Taoist studies often find these allusions and quotes
difficult to grasp, and thus translation often requires clarification. Quo-
tations from the classics, easily done in Chinese, require hard philolog-
ical work to be rendered satisfactorily in English. Last but not least, a
good deal of the Taoist technical vocabulary, particularly in the realm
of self-cultivation, defies translation, as it is squarely based on multi-
ple meanings (poetical, physiological, mystical ). Faced with such chal-
lenges, the translators have striven to render the style and inspiration
of the authors while respecting sinological standards in all technical
aspects yet keeping the Chinese style for references in footnotes.
Taoist Studies in China
The development of the field of Taoist studies in the PRC is explained
in detail in Qing Xitai’s contribution in this volume. It would be use-
ful to outline here the larger context for the development of this field.
Taoism is one of the five recognized religions in the PRC; the Tao-
ist association was established in 1957 and again in 1980 after the
Cultural Revolution, which had disbanded all religious institutions.
4

It is Taoism as defined and recognized by the government through
the Taoist association that constitutes the proper object of study by
academics; this stands in contrast to other parts of the Chinese world,
such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, where normative definitions of Tao-
ism are different, and studies of it are thus also different, more attuned
to contemporary situations, Taoist ritual, and connections with local
cults.
4
On the political context for religion and religious studies in the PRC, see Vin-
cent Goossaert and David A. Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2011). See also Yang Fenggang, “Between Secularist
Ideology and Desecularizing Reality: The Birth and Growth of Religious Research in
Communist China,” Sociology of Religion 65, no. 2 (2004): 101–19.
introduction 3
The major institutions for Taoist studies have been the Institute
for the Study of World Religions 世界宗教研究所 at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences (established in 1964), which has a group
for Taoist studies (est. 1981), and several universities that began to
develop centers for Taoist studies in the 1980s. The University of
Si chuan was one of the earliest (1980) and remains a major center,
attracting graduate students and running publication programs. As a
whole, and over the course of a generation (thirty years), the field has
grown both quantitatively and qualitatively at an amazing speed, and
the vibrancy and quality of present-day scholarship is admirable when
we consider the near void it developed from in the early 1980s. Uni-
versity centers for Taoist studies (and for religious studies in general )
most often originate from and are linked to philosophy departments.
This explains their strong emphasis on textual studies, but they have
begun to increasingly extend their gaze to alternative approaches.
5
Scholars of religion in the PRC have an advisory role to the govern-
ment in matters of religious policy. Yet they also often work with con-
fessional institutions; it is not rare for scholars of Taoism to teach in
training programs for clerics within temples. Thus, scholars are often
well acquainted with the present-day situation of institutional Taoism,
and are sympathetic to the demands of Taoist institutions for more
social and political space; a gradual trend toward more empathy for
Taoists is visible in their writings, especially when comparing scholar-
ship from the 1980s, 1990s, and the present. A number of articles in
this anthology should be read with this agenda in mind, as they were
written more or less explicitly with the aim of arguing that specific
aspects of Taoist culture, such as inner alchemical self-cultivation or
salvation rituals for the dead, are not mere “magic” but represent a
coherent, sophisticated vision of the world; are worthy of being consid-
ered as precious elements of Chinese mainstream culture; and should
thus be respected and preserved, rather than suppressed, reformed, or
just treated as relics of the past.
In this context, while the scholars represented here are all noted
for focused, in-depth studies of specific aspects of Taoist studies, they
have also authored more wide-ranging pieces that draw on the whole
5
For another, earlier survey of Taoist studies in China, see Ding Huang, “The
Study of Taoism in China Today,” in Livia Kohn, ed., Taoism Handbook (Leiden: Brill,
2000): 765–91.
4 vincent goossaert
of Taoist literature from antiquity to the present, and that show the
relevance of the tradition as a whole to contemporary issues. Taoist
ethics, their focus on social harmony and respect for the environment,
have been a topic of particular interest, with scholars arguing that
Taoism has long heralded values now upheld by the government and
large parts of society, and pleading on this basis for a larger place for
Taoism in the contemporary intellectual and political scene. Scholars
in the field regularly meet at conferences to discuss the adaptation of
Taoism to modernity, where they both plead for the relevance of Tao-
ism to contemporary society and are encouraged to identify those ele-
ments of the Taoist tradition that should be emphasized. The chapters
by Li Yuanguo (on respect for life) and Yin Zhihua (on the environ-
ment in Taoist philosophy) in this volume speak directly to this type of
scholarship, as does Chen Xia’s chapter on a twelfth-century morality
text, which sees it as a forerunner of the modern turn to secularizing
and popularizing Taoist ethics.
In this political and intellectual context, Taoist studies is a field
strongly oriented toward textual studies and the history of Taoist
thought. This is the background of almost all of the scholars repre-
sented in this volume. There are also historians, art historians and
archeologists, sociologists, and anthropologists interested in Taoism,
and, even more importantly, folklorists and scholars of popular lit-
erature and/or performing arts (music, opera, storytelling), who have
worked with living Taoism in rural China, doing extensive fieldwork
and collecting large amounts of material. Many important articles and
books have been published, either in Taiwan or in the PRC itself, on
Taoism in the context of local religious life, and documenting pres-
ent-day ritual. These are not represented in the present anthology,
because such works are considered by Chinese scholars as belonging
to a separate field.
Major Trends in the Field of Taoist Studies in the PRC
The major task for Chinese scholars of Taoism since the field began
to develop in the 1980s has been to establish the textual legacy. Before
the 1980s, most of the sources in the Taoist canon, Daozang 道藏, were
left untouched, as scholars focused on texts also known elsewhere.
Wang Ming’s work on the Taipingjing 太平經 (known to exist from
other sources, but only extant in fragments in the Daozang) was a major
introduction 5
pioneering effort, and inspired later generations of scholars; this is why
it was included in the present anthology, even though it is the only
chapter to date from before the 1980s. During this period, a very large
part of the scholarship was also devoted to the classic texts of Laozi and
Zhuangzi; this line of enquiry has remained alive, as represented here
in Hong Xiuping’s chapter, which discusses Laozi’s (Lao-tzu) role in
later self-definitions of Taoism.
Starting in the 1980s, in parallel and occasionally in cooperation
with similar Western efforts,
6
most of the scholars in the field have
taken part in large-scale collaborative projects aimed at producing
research tools that will allow the next generation to fully use the Taoist
textual legacy, notably the Daozang: dictionaries of Taoism; analytical
handbooks of the Daozang; publications of extra-canonical sources; a
general history of Taoism based on a first survey of these sources; and
a first modern punctuated edition of the canon, the Zhonghua Daozang
中華道藏 (2004). Qing Xitai’s chapter details this process, which radi-
cally changed the situation in which, thirty years ago, scholars lacked
any knowledge about most of the Taoist scriptural legacy. Wang Ka,
from the Institute for the Study of World Religions, has been a key
force behind the Zhonghua Daozang, and his chapter summarizes his
view of the work done to understand the Taoist textual legacy as a
whole. Many of the other articles translated here have been by-prod-
ucts of this huge collective effort to chart the tradition and identify
major schools, moments of historical change, and elements of continu-
ity across time and space.
Parts of the huge legacy of Taoist texts explored during this pro-
cess have been particularly favored for closer examination. Liturgy
and ritual have so far not been much studied, especially when com-
pared to Taoist studies elsewhere in the world, but scholars such as Liu
Zhongyu (see his chapter on Taoist ritual and opera), who previously
specialized in Taoist philosophy and literature, are now turning to
ritual. Chen Yaoting’s article, which compares different liturgies for
the same death ritual, represents an innovative approach that explores
liturgical texts not only for their underlying doctrinal foundations, but
6
Kristofer Schipper and Franciscus Verellen, eds., The Taoist Canon: A Historical
Companion to the Daozang (Daozang Tongkao 道藏通考), 3 vols. (Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 2004); see also Fabrizio Pregadio, ed., Encyclopaedia of Taoism (Lon-
don: RoutledgeCurzon, 2008).
6 vincent goossaert
also as products of social practice. Gai Jianmin’s chapter examines a
rapidly developing field, namely the interconnections between Taoism
and medicine, as he discuses Taoist ritual healing.
Self-cultivation has received relatively more attention. The chapters
by Zhang Guangbao (on the philosophical basis for inner alchemy) and
Ge Guolong (on the notions of with the flow/against the flow in inner
alchemical theory) both exemplify Chinese research on the corpus of
self-cultivation texts that strives to define the underlying “philosophy
of life” at work in this tradition. Because the Quanzhen 全真 School
of Taoism (which has been the main, albeit not unique, transmitter of
self-cultivation texts and techniques) is now dominant in institutional
Taoism in the PRC, and because it is quite often viewed by scholars
and intellectuals as more ethical, spiritual, culturally refined, and thus
more compatible with “modernity” than other Taoist Schools, it has
received a large share of scholarly attention. Mou Zhongjian’s chapter
on Quanzhen Taoism in the context of Shandong local culture exem-
plifies such scholarly affinity with this particular form of Taoism; it
also hints at a recent and important trend in the field, that of writing
local histories of Taoism, which allows scholars to go beyond exces-
sively ideal-typical, if not outright idealized, representations of Taoism
independently of actual local contexts.
Finally, another scholarly orientation well represented in the present
anthology is the study of major figures, ideas, and movements in the
historical development of Taoism and its interplay with Confucian-
ism and Buddhism. Chen Bing’s classic article on the renewal of the
Quanzhen School of Taoism in the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-
turies is a good example of how Chinese scholars of Taoism tend to
deal with issues of historical change by focusing on state policies and
doctrinal evolutions. For a much earlier period, that of the turn of the
third century AD, Li Gang’s chapter looks at Taoism from the angle
of its connections with imperial rule. Tang Yijie’s chapter deals with
the Tang-period Chongxuan 重玄 movement, admired by Chinese
scholars as the summit of Taoist philosophy and the fruit of its intense
interaction with Buddhism. Wang Zongyu’s chapter is maybe the most
theological of all, inasmuch as he explores, through the key concept of
“six heavens” 六天, the inner logic of early Taoist representations of
Heaven, Hell, good, and evil.
TAOIST STUDIES: PAST AND PRESENT.
1
A RETROSPECTIVE AND PERSPECTIVE ANALYSIS
OF TAOIST STUDIES OVER A HUNDRED YEARS
Qing Xitai
Taoism is China’s indigenous religion and it has a very long history.
It was born in China more than 1,800 years ago and was nourished
within traditional Chinese culture. As one of its principal pillars, it is
closely interwoven into all cultural fields. During its long development,
it exercised influence over politics, the economy, philosophy, literature,
art, music, painting, architecture, chemistry, medicine, pharmacology,
self-cultivation regimen, and Qigong, and helped to form and develop
ethics, mores, national relations, national mentality, national charac-
ter, and national cohesion. Certain influences are not negligible today
in the Chinese lifestyle and cultural structure. Lu Xun said “The root
of China is located in Taoism.” This phrase is a scientific generaliza-
tion of the role and function of Taoism in traditional Chinese culture.
In this chapter, we will examine Chinese studies of Taoism in three
parts, dealing first with the past then with the present and lastly with
the future.
A Retrospective Analysis
The historical period we are referring to spans the twentieth century
up through the Cultural Revolution, from 1900 until December 1978,
when the policy of Economic Reform was decided in the Third Ple-
nary Session of the 11th Central Committee. We consider the period
from 1900 to the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
in 1949 as the first stage of the development of Taoist studies and from
the foundation the PRC to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1978
as its second stage. During the Cultural Revolution all social science
1
Originally published in Zhongguo zongjiao yanjiu nianjian 中国宗教研究年鉴.
Beijing: Religious Culture Publishing House, 2003.
8 qing xitai
studies were suspended, including those on Taoism. This period can-
not be considered an independent stage in the development of Taoist
studies and will be presented briefly in the second stage. The first stage
is considered the budding period, the second the “pioneering period,”
and the ten years of the “Cultural Revolution” an independent period
of interruption. The first and second stages should not be kept distinct,
however, because both are the starting points of Taoist studies. These
two stages belong to the same foundational stage of Taoist studies and
their essential characteristics are, on the whole, identical. We therefore
study them together in this chapter.
This extended foundational period of Chinese Taoist studies, cover-
ing nearly eighty years, shows us the difficulties that Chinese Taoist
studies encountered in their initial period, when they were brutally
interrupted for a long time. The studies were officially opened up in
the last twenty years of the twentieth century, after being neglected
for the first eighty years. This was mainly due to the prejudice of
Chinese scholars who, for a long time, considered Confucianism as
the sole representative of traditional Chinese culture, and Taoism as a
folk superstition, with no theoretical system, that deserved to be eradi-
cated. Han Yu first sustained this idea and Su Shi later took it up.
This opinion is still very much alive among certain circles. Influenced
by this preconception, many people despised Taoism and undermined
it in the extreme. Without substantial studies to support it, the value
of Taoism was underestimated. Consequently, a strange phenomenon
occurred whereby the quality of Chinese Taoist studies fell behind
those made by their Western counterparts. At that time, although
articles and books—some of high academic value—were written by a
few Taoist scholars and remain valuable documents on Taoism, only
a few scholars devoted themselves to the studies in question. Both the
investment in and the results of these studies were meager, compared
with other disciplines like philosophy, history, and even Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam. No institutes were formed to study Taoism
thoroughly. This situation lasted from the beginning of the twentieth
century until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1978.
Let us now turn to the principal characteristics of this first period
(1900–1949). In this period, only a few historians and philosophers,
like Liu Shipei, Wen Dujian, Tang Yongtong, Wang Ming, Meng
Wentong, Chen Guofu, Chen Yinke, Xu Dishan, and Fu Qinjia,
engaged in their own research, studying Taoist culture very perfunc-
torily, but never specializing in Taoism. In compiling the names of
taoist studies: past and present 9
works and authors on Taoism, we found that only about 160 scholars
had studied Taoism over a half-century period. Theirs were spontane-
ous and sporadic efforts, with no plan to study Taoism methodically.
On the whole, despite numerous subjects, the studies were focused
on the sources of the Taoist Canon, the history of ancient Taoism, and
Taoist inner alchemy. There were altogether only about 200 articles
and ten books. We have classified these works into eight categories,
which we will now introduce:
First, on the Taoist Canon, the first work was Liu Shipei’s Du Daozang ji
读道藏记 [Remarks on the Taoist Canon] (published in 1911 in Guocui xue-
bao 国粹学报 [ Journal of Chinese Quintessence] vol. 7, nos. 1–5). Published
in 1935 in Guoxue jikan 国学季刊 [Quarterly of Sinology] (vol. 5, no. 1),
Tang Yongtong’s Du Taipingjing suojian 读太平经所见 [Remarks on the
Scripture of Great Peace] is the first thesis on the Scripture of Great Peace.
In compiling Daozang zimu yinde 道藏子目引得 [Combined Indexes to the
Authors and Titles of Books in Two Collections of Taoist Literature] (published
in 1935 by the Harvard-Yenching Institute of Yenching University in
Beijing), Wen Dujian corrected some errors in various reference books
of the Taoist Canon both in Chinese and in foreign languages. Published
in 1949 by Zhonghua shuju, Chen Guofu’s Daozang yuanliu kao was a
detailed study of the formation and evolution of the Taoist Canon and
had a significant influence on Chinese and foreign scholars.
Annotations, collations, and verifications of particular scriptures
included Hu Shih’s Tao Hongjing de Zhengao kao 陶弘景的真诰考 [Stud-
ies of Tao Hongjing’s Zhengao] published in 1935 in Cai Yuanpei xiansheng
liushiwu sui lunwenji 蔡元培先生六十五岁论文集 (下) [Essays Dedi-
cated to the 65th Anniversary of Cai Yuanpei (vol. 2)], and Wang Guowei’s
Changchun zhenren xiyouji jiaozhu 长春真人西游记校注 [Collation and
Annotation of Changchun Zhenren Xiyouji], published in 1937 by Wen-
zhan ge. Meng Wentong compiled Laozi Cheng Xuanying shu 老子成玄
英疏 [Cheng Xuanying’s Commentary on Lao-tzu] and wrote articles such
as “Jiaoli Laozi Cheng Xuanying shu xulu 校理老子成玄英疏叙录”
[Descriptive Notes of Collation of Laozi Annotated by Cheng Xuanying], “Jijiao
Laozi Li Rong zhu ba 辑校老子李荣注跋” [A Postscript to the Compi-
lation of Lao-tzu Annotated by Li Rong], “Zuowang lun kao 坐忘论考”
[Studies on Zuowang Lun], and “Chen Bixu yu Chen Tuan xuepai—
Chen Jingyuan Laozi Zhuangzi zhu jiaoji fu Chen Tunan xuepu
陈碧虚与陈抟学派—陈景元老子、庄子注校记附陈图南学谱”
[Chen Bixu and Chen Tuan School—Notes on Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu Annotated
10 qing xitai
by Chen Jingyuan published together with the Intellectual Chronicle of Chen
Tunan], which were published in 1948 in the Tushu jikan 图书集刊
[Bulletin of Sichuan Library] (no. 8).
Wang Ming wrote the following articles: “Lun Taipingjing chao jiabu
zhi wei 论太平经钞甲部之伪” [The Apocryphal Jia Category in Taipingjing
Chao], “Zhouyi cantongqi kaozheng 周易参同契考证” [Collation of the
Token for the Kinship of the Three According to the Zhouyi], “Huangting jing kao
黄庭经考” [Studies of the Scripture of Yellow Court], and “Laozi Heshang
gong zhangju kao 老子河上公章句考” [Studies of Lao-tzu Annotated by
Heshang Gong], which were published in 1948 in Shiyusuo jikan 史语所
集刊 [Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology Academia Sinica] (nos.
18, 19, and 20) and Guoli Beijing daxue shizhounian jinian lunwenji 国立
北京大十周年纪念论文集 [Essays Dedicated to the Tenth Anniversary of
Beijing University], respectively. All these works were ground-breaking
masterpieces.
Second, works on the history of Taoism include Chen Minggui’s
Changchun Daojiao yuanliu kao 长春道教源流考 [The History of the Taoist
School founded by (Qiu) Changchun], published in 1921–1922 in Yazhou
xueshu zazhi 亚洲学术杂志 [ Journal of Asian Studies] (nos. 2–4), Fu Qin-
jia’s Daojiao shi gailun 道教史概论 [A Panorama of the History of Tao-
ism] and Zhongguo Daojiao shi [A History of Chinese Taoism] (published by
the Commercial Press in 1933 and 1937, respectively), Xu Dishan’s
Daojiao shi [A History of Taoism] (first volume published by the Com-
mercial Press in 1934), Chen Yuan’s NanSong chu Hebei xindaojiao kao
南宋初河北新道教考 [The New Taoist Schools formed north of the Yellow
River during the early Southern Song period] (published by Fu Jen Catholic
University in 1941), Liu Jianquan’s Daojiao zhenglüe 道教征略 [An Essay
on Taoism] (published in 1948 in Tushu jikan, nos. 7–8), and Wang
Chongmin’s Laozi kao 老子考 [Studies on Lao-tzu] (published in 1927
by Beijing Zhonghua tushuguan xiehui).
Among the valuable articles on Taoist history are Chen Yinke’s
“Tianshi Dao yu Binhai diyu zhi guanxi 天师道与滨海地域之关系”
[The Relationship Between the Heavenly Master School and the Coastal Region]
(published in 1933 in the Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philol-
ogy Academia Sinica, vol. 3, no. 4), Li Simian’s “Daojiao qiyuan zakao
道教起源杂考 [Studies on the Origins of Taoism] (published in 1941 in QiLu
Xuebao 齐鲁学报 [The Bulletin of Qi Lu]), Chen Yuan’s “Li Zhichang
zhi zunian 李志常之卒年” [The Date of the Death of Li Zhichang] (pub-
lished in 1943 in Fu Jen Sinological Journal, nos. 1–2), Meng Wentong’s
“Wanzhou xiandao fensanpai kao 晚周仙道分三派考” [Studies of the
taoist studies: past and present 11
Three Schools of Immortality in the Late Zhou Period] (published in 1949 in
Tushu jikan, no. 8), and Wang Ming’s “Lun Laozi yu Daojiao 论老子
与道教” [Studies on Lao-tzu and Taoism] (published in 1948 in the Cen-
tral Daily News weekly 中央日报). These articles have been considered
reference works of great value to this day.
Third, works on Taoist philosophy included Xu Dishan’s two arti-
cles “Daojia sixiang yu Daojiao 道家思想与道教” [Religious Taoism and
Philosophical Taoism] and “Daojiao zhi genben sixiang ji qi duiyu ren-
sheng de taidu 道教之根本思想及其对于人生的态度” [The Essential
Philosophy of Taoism and Its Attitude with Regard to Life]. The former was
published in 1927 in the Yenching Journal of Chinese Studies, (no. 2), while
the latter was published in 1935 in Dushu jikan 读书季刊 [Reading Quar-
terly] (vol. 1, no. 2). Yao Congwu’s “JinYuan Quanzhen jiao de minzu
sixiang ji qi duiyu rensheng de taidu 金元全真教的民族思想及其对
于人生的态度” [Nationalism and Its Attitude in Regard to Life in the Quan-
zhen School in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties] and JinYuan Quanzhen jiao de minzu
sixiang yu jiushi sixiang 金元全真教的民族思想与救世思想 [National-
ism and the Universal Salvation in the Quanzhen School in the Jin and Yuan
Dynasties] placed a high value on Taoist ideas. The former was pub-
lished in 1939 in Zhishi zazhi 治史杂志 [History Studies Journal ] (no. 2),
while the latter was published in 1946 by Sichuan Qingchengshan
changdaojing shushe. Other works included Wen Yiduo’s Daojiao de
jingshen 道教的精神 [The Spirit of Taoism] in his Wen Yiduo quanji 闻一
多全集 [The Complete Works of Wen Yiduo] (published in 1948 by Kai-
ming shudian), Huang Jigang’s “Xiandao pinglun 仙道平论” [A Study
of the Way of Immortality] (published in 1941 in Yayan, vol. 1, no. 2), Yu
Xun’s “Zaoqi Daojiao zhi zhengzhi xinnian 早期道教之政治信念”
[Political Beliefs in Early Taoism] (published in 1942 in Fu Jen Sinological
Journal, vol. 12, nos. 1–2), and Yi Junzuo’s “Daojiao jiaoyi de jiantao
yu pipan 道教教义的检讨与批判 [Review and Criticism of Taoist Doc-
trines] (published in 1943 in Wenhua xianfeng 文化先锋 [The Pioneer of
Culture], vol. 2, no. 22).
In addition, there were introductions to specific deities by folklorists,
such as Pu Jiangqing’s “Baxian kao 八仙考” [Studies on Eight Immortals]
(published in 1936 in Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, vol. 11, no. 1),
Yu Daoling’s “Xuanwu zhi qiyuan ji qi tuibian 玄武之起源及其蜕变”
[The Evolution of Xuanwu] (published in December 1947 in Shixue jikan
史学集刊 [History Studies bulletin], no. 5), Wen Yiduo’s “Shenxian kao
神仙考” [Studies on the Immortals] and “Siming kao 司命考” [Studies on
the Controler of Life] (in Wen Yiduo quanji published in 1948 by Kaiming
12 qing xitai
shudian), Liang Sheng’s “Zaoshen de yanjiu 灶神的研究” [Studies on
the Stove God (published in 1926 in Eastern Miscellany, vol. 23, no. 24),
Yang Kun’s “Zaoshen kao 灶神考” [Studies on the Stove God (published
in 1944 in Sinology, no. 1), Luo Xianglin’s “Bixia yuanjun 碧霞元君”
[The Mount Tai Goddess] (published in 1929 in Minsu 民俗 [Folklore], vol.
69/70, no. 24), He Cijun’s “Wenchang dijun kao 文昌帝君考” [Stud-
ies on Lord Wenchang] (published in 1936 in Yijing 逸经 [Lost Scriptures],
no. 9), and Zhou Guoting’s “Tang daojiao kao zhi Yuanshi tianzun
唐道教考之元始天尊” [Studies on Taoism in the Tang Dynasty—Heavenly
Worthy of Original Beginning] (published in 1939 in Jingshi 经世 [Gover-
nance], vols. 47–48).
Fourth, on Taoist music, there was Chen Guofu’s “Daojiao lüegao
道教略稿” [An Essay on Taoism] in his Daozang yuanliu kao (published in
1949 by Zhonghua shuju).
Fifth, on Taoist alchemy, there were Cao Yuanyu’s “Ge Hong yi-
qian zhi jindan shilüe 葛洪以前之金丹史略” [A Brief History of Taoist
Alchemy before Ge Hong] (published in 1935 in Xueyi 学艺 [The Art of
Study], no. 14), Lao Gan’s “Zhongguo dansha zhi yunyong ji qi tuiyan
中国丹砂之运用及其推演” [The Use and Evolution of Chinese Cinnabar]
(published in 1938 in the Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology Aca-
demia Sinica, vol. 7, no. 4), Xue Yu’s “Daojia xianyao zhi huaxue guan
道教仙药之化学观” [A Chemical Approach of Taoist Alchemy] (published
in 1942 in Xuesi 学思 [Study and Thought], vol. 1, no. 5), and Huang
Sufeng’s “Woguo liandanshu kaozheng 我国炼丹术考证” [Studies on
Chinese Taoist Alchemy] (published in 1945 in the National Medical Journal
of China, no. 31). In 1932, Wu Luqiang translated Zhouyi cantongqi (with
Tenney L. Davis, a student of the Massachusetts Institute of Technol-
ogy), and in 1935, the chapters “Jindan 金丹” and “Huangbai 黄白”
of Baopuzi neipian. Later, Chen Guofu worked with Tenney L. Davis
to publish Baopuzi neipian de shizhi ji xianyao 抱朴子內篇的释滞及仙药
[An Explanation of Zhi and the Elixir of Baopuzi neipian] in 1941, and Jieshao
Chen Zhixu de Jindan dayao 介绍陈致虚的金丹大要 [An Introduction of
Chen Zhixu’s Essential on Cinnabar] in 1942.
Sixth, on inner alchemy and self-cultivation regimen, there were
Jiang Weiqiao’s Yinshizi jingzuo fa 因是子静坐法 [Master Yinshi’s Medita-
tion Method] (published in 1914) and “LaoZhuang zhi yangshengfa 老
庄之养生法” [The Regimen of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu] (published in 1934
in Qinghe zazhi 青鹤杂志 [The Green Crane Journal], vol. 22, nos. 16–17).
Chen Yingning wrote Sun Bu’er nügong neidan cidishi zhu 孙不二女功内
taoist studies: past and present 13
丹次第诗注 [An Annotation of Sun Bu’er’s Poem on the Procedures of Female
Alchemy] in 1926, Lingyuan dadao ge baihua zhushi 灵源大道歌白话注释
[An Annotation in Modern Chinese of the Great Tao of Divine Source Song] in
1938, and Huangting jing jiangyi 黄庭经讲义 [Lecture on the Scripture of
Yellow Court] in 1941. Zhang Songgu wrote Danjing zhinan 丹经指南 [A
Guide to Scriptures of Inner Alchemy] in 1925. Ding Fubao edited Jingzuo
fa jingyi 静坐法精义 [Essential Meditation]. Yang Jing’an wrote “Daojia
de yanshou yu changsheng 道家的延寿与长生” [The Prolongation of
Life and Longevity in Philosophical Taoism] published in 1943 in Gujin
古今 [Ancient and Modern] (vol. 3, no. 18).
Seventh, on Taoist temples, there were Chen Guofu’s “Daoguan
kaoyuan 道馆考原” [Studies on the Evolution of Taoist Temples] and “Lou-
guan kao 楼观考” [Studies on the Louguan Temple] in his Daozang yuanliu
kao, published in 1949 by Zhonghua shuju. There were also Huang
Zhongqin’s “Song Shenxiao yuqing wanshou gong bei 宋神霄玉清万
寿宫碑” [The Stele of Shenxiao Yuqing Wanshou Temple of the Song Dynasty]
(published in 1930 in Yuli suo zhoukan 语历所周刊 [The Institute of His-
tory and Philology Weekly], vol. 10, no. 118), Cai Shou’s “Song Shenxiao
yuqing wanshou gong zhaoshi kaoshi 宋神霄玉清万寿宫诏石考释”
[Studies on the Imperial Stele of Shenxiao Yuqing Wanshou Temple of the Song
Dynasty] (published in 1936 in Guoxue lunheng 国学论衡 [Debates in Sinol-
ogy], no. 5), Yang Daying’s “Longhu shan Shangqing gong kao 龙虎
山上清宫考” [Studies on Shangqing Temple on Longhu Mountain] (published
from December 1936 to March 1937 in Guanghua daxue banyuekan 光华
大学半月刊 [Kwang Hua University bimonthly], vol. 5, nos. 3–6), Luosang
pengcuo’s “Beiping Baiyun guan daoxue yuanyuan kao 北平白云观
道学渊源考” [Studies on the Evolution of Taoist Study in the Baiyun Temple in
Peking] (published from December 1935 to October 1936 in Zhengfeng
banyuekan 正风半月刊 [The Zhengfeng Bimonthly], vol. 1, no. 24; vol. 2,
no. 1; and vol. 3, nos. 1–3).
Eighth, a number of journals were published. Among them were the
bimonthly Yangshan 扬善 [The Promotion of Good] and monthly Xianxue
仙学 [The Study of Immortality]. The former published 99 issues between
its founding on 1 July 1933 and August 1937. The latter, also called
Xianxue yuebao 仙学月报 [The Study of Immortality Monthly], was cre-
ated in January 1939 and ceased publication in August 1941 after the
appearance of its 32nd issue. The founder of this monthly was Zhang
Zhuming, who was the last manager of the Yihua Group in Shanghai,
and the editor-in-chief was Chen Yingning.
14 qing xitai
Chinese Taoist studies in their second period bore the same charac-
teristics as in their first. Only a few scholars, nonspecialists in Tao-
ism, studied Taoism in addition to their own specialities. Scholars like
Wang Ming and Chen Guofu, who had already studied Taoism in its
first stage, became leading scholars in Taoist studies in their second
stage. But even the scholars who studied Taoism as a sideline to their
own specialities were few. They could not form study groups. Their
work was spontaneous and sporadic and did not offer any coherent
goals or direction. In addition, these scholars were often influenced by
ultra-left ideology and regarded the studies of Taoism as taboo. Few
people paid attention to Taoist studies at the time, which could be
aptly described by a quotation of Li Qingzhao’s famous verse: “seeking
and seeking, a feeling of desolation.” The studies of Chinese scholars
dropped so far behind those of their Western counterparts that on the
occasion of the first international Taoist studies conference, which was
held in Bellagio in September 1968, and the second, which was held
in Japan, no scholar from China was present among the numerous
foreign scholars. At that time, it was said that “the origin of Taoism is
in China, while the center of Taoist studies is in the West.”
This was felt to be an abnormal and regrettable situation although
some academic works were published during that period and some
scientific articles were presented at conferences, for example, Wang
Ming’s Taipingjing hejiao 太平经合校 [A Complete Critical Edition of the
Taipingjing] published by Zhonghua shuju in 1960; some of Tang Yong-
tong’s articles on the history of Taoism and Taoist classics; some of
Yuan Hanqing’s articles on Taoist inner alchemy; and Zhongguo Zhexue
shi 中国哲学史 [A History of Chinese Philosophy], edited by Ren Jiyu,
including some chapters on Taoism. In all, about 50 articles and a
very small number of books were published. This second stage of Tao-
ist studies was shorter than the first (only 17 years, excluding the Cul-
tural Revolution), so the number of works produced was less. We will
briefly introduce these works, using the same categories as before:
First, on the Taoist Canon, besides his Taipingjing hejiao, Wang Ming also
wrote Dunhuang guxieben Taipingjing wenzi canye 敦煌古写本太平经文字
残页 [The Remaining Pages of the Ancient Manuscript of the Scripture Great
Peace in Dunhuang] and Taipingjing mulu kao 太平经目录考 [Studies on the
Catalogue of Scripture of Great Peace], which supplemented his Taiping-
jing hejiao. The revised and enlarged edition of Chen Guofu’s Daozang
yuanliu kao included four new appendices: Daoyue kao lüegao 道乐考略
taoist studies: past and present 15
稿 [An Essay on Taoist Music], Nanbeichao Tianshidao kao changbian, 南北
朝天师道考长编 [An Outline of the Heavenly Master School in the Southern
and Northern Dynasties], Zhongguo waidan huangbaishu kaolun lüegao 中国外
丹黄白术考论略稿 [An Essay on Chinese Taoist Laboratory Alchemy], and
Shuo Zhouyi cantongqi yu neidan waidan 说周易参同契与内丹外丹 [Studies
on the Token for the Kinship of the Three According to the Zhouyi and Taoist
Inner and External Alchemy]. There were also Rao Zongyi’s Laozi xiang’er
zhu jiaojian 老子想尔注校笺 [A Collation on Lao-tzu Annotated by Xiang’er]
(published in 1955 by Hong Kong University Press), Tang Yongtong’s
“Cong Yiqie daojing shuodao Wu Zetian 从一切道经说到武则天”
[The Taoist Canon and Wu Zetian] (published in Guangming Daily 光明
日报 on 21 November 1962) and “Du Daozang zhaji 读道藏札记”
[Remarks on the Taoist Canon] (published in 1964 in Lishi yanjiu [Historical
Research], no. 3), and Chen Yingning’s “Laozi wushizhang yanjiu 老子
五十章研究” [Studies on 50 Chapters of Lao-tzu], “Nanhua neiwaipian
fenzhang biaozhi 南华内外篇分章标旨” [An Abstract of each chapter of
the Chuang-tzu], and “Lun Siku tiyao bushi Daojia xueshu zhi quanti
论四库提要不识道家学术之全体” [On the “Summary of the Complete
Library of the Four Treasuries” ignoring part of the Taoist Studies], all three
published in 1964 in Daoxie huikan (no. 4).
Second, on the history of Taoism, there were only a few articles
written by Chinese scholars, including Chen Yinke’s “Cui Hao yu
Kou Qianzhi 崔浩与寇谦之” [Cui Hao and Kou Qianzhi] (published
in 1950 in Lingnan Journal of Chinese Studies, no. 1), Tang Changru’s
“Fan Changsheng yu Bashi ju Shu de Guanxi 范长生与巴氏据蜀的
关系” [The Relationship Between Fan Changsheng and the Rule of the Ba Clan
in Sichuan] (published in 1959 in Historical Research, no. 11), Yu Song-
qing’s “Laozi yu Daojiao 老子与道教” [Lao-tzu and Taoism] (published
in Guangming Daily on 25 May 1962), “Daojiao de qiyuan he xingcheng
道教的起源和形成” [The Origin and Formation of Taoism] (published in
1963 in Historical Research, no. 5), and “Zhongguo de fengjian jieji tong
Daojiao de guanxi 中国的封建阶级同道教的关系” [The Relationship
Between Chinese Feudal Class and Taoism] (published in Renmin Daily on
May 10, 1964), and Meng Wentong’s “Daojiao shi suotan 道教史琐谈”
[An Essay on the History of Taoism], completed on 30 August 1958 but
not published until 1980 in Zhongguo Zhexue 中国哲学 [Chinese Philoso-
phy], which should nonetheless be considered a work of this period.
In this period, Chinese scholars focused their studies on the Great
Peace School, Zhang Lu’s regime, the relationship between ancient
Taoism and the peasant revolutions, and the relationship between the
16 qing xitai
feudal ruling class and Taoism. A heated debate ensued, which was
centered on the political thought in the Scripture of Great Peace. Yang
Kuan, Hou Wailu, Zhang Qizhi, Yang Chao, Li Xueqin, Xu Zhi,
and Yuan Liangyi, in their respective works, stressed the revolution-
ary content of the Scripture of Great Peace, while Rong Sheng and Fan
Wenlan refuted their analysis. Xiong Deji and Yu Songqing debated
this question. Wang Ming expressed his opinion in the preface of Tai-
pingjing hejiao.
On Taoist philosophy, there were Wang Ming’s “Shilun Yinfu jing
ji qi weiwu zhuyi sixiang 试论阴符经及其唯物主义思想” [An Essay
on the Scripture of Hidden Talisman and Its Materialism] (published in 1962
in Philosophical Researches, no. 5), Yang Xiangkui’s “Lun Ge Hong
论葛洪” [Studies on Ge Hong] (published in 1961 in the Journal of Litera-
ture, History and Philosophy, no. 1), and Tang Yongtong’s “Kou Qianzhi
de zhuzuo he sixiang 寇谦之的著作和思想” [Kou Qianzhi’s Works and
Thoughts] (published in 1961 in Historical Research, no. 5) and “Kangfu
zhaji size 康复札记四则” [Four Reading Notes on Convalescence] (pub-
lished in June 1961 in Xin jianshe 新建设 [New Construction]). Scholars
also wrote about Taoist religious thought in their studies on the Great
Peace Scripture and the history of ancient Taoism, works that cannot be
introduced here.
Fourth, on Taoist inner alchemy, there were important works
produced during this stage, like Yuan Hanqing’s Zhongguo huaxueshi
lunwenji 中国化学史论文集 [Essays on the History of Chinese Chemistry]
(published in 1956 by Sanlian Publishing Company), Zhang Zigao’s
Zhongguo huaxueshi gao (gudai zhibu) 中国化学史稿(古代之部) [History
of Chinese Chemistry (A Chapter on Ancient Times)] (published in 1964 by
Science Press), Feng Jiasheng’s Huoyao de faming yu xichuan 火药的发
明与西传 [The Invention of Gunpowder and its Exportation to the West] and
Liandanshu de chengzhang yu xichuan 炼丹术的成长与西传 [The Evolution
of Taoist Alchemy and Its Introduction in the West] (published, respectively,
in 1954 by Huadong People’s Press and in 1957 in Zhongguo kexue jishu
faming he kexue jishu renwu lunji 中国科学技术发明和科学技术人物
论集 [Essays on Chinese Scientific Inventions and Scientists] by Sanlian Pub-
lishing Company), Wang Kuike’s “Zhongguo liandanshu zhong de
jinxie he huachi 中国炼丹术中的金液和华池” [ Jinye and Huachi in
Chinese Taoist Alchemy] (published in 1964 in Kexueshi jikan 科学史
集刊 [History of Science], no. 7), and Yuan Hanqing’s “Cong Daozang
li de jizhongshu kan woguo liandanshu 从道藏里的几种书看我国炼
taoist studies: past and present 17
丹术” [Studies on Chinese Taoist Alchemy in the Scriptures in the Taoist Canon]
(published in 1954 in Chemistry, no. 7).
Yuan Hanqing’s “Tuijinle liandanshu de Ge Hong he tade zhu-
zuo 推进了炼丹术的葛洪和他的著作” [Ge Hong, Who Promoted Taoist
Alchemy, and His Works] (published in 1954 in Chemistry, no. 5), Xu
Keming’s “Yanjiu huaxue de xianquzhe ji woguo gudai de liandan-
jia Ge Hong 研究化学的先驱者——记我国古代的炼丹家葛洪”
[Ge Hong, Chinese Ancient Alchemist and Pioneer of Chemistry] (published on
31 May 1962 in Workers Daily), and Chen Manyan’s “Woguo gudai
huaxuejia Ge Hong 我国古代化学家葛洪” [The Story of a Chinese
Chemist: Ge Hong] (published on 19 August 1962 in Xinhua Daily), intro-
duced Ge Hong’s achievements in ancient chemistry.
Chen Guofu’s “Zhongguo huangbaishu shilüe 中国黄白术史略” [A
Brief History of Chinese Taoist Alchemy] (published in 1954 in Chemistry,
no. 12), Zhu Sheng’s “Yixue shang danji he liandan de lishi 医学上
丹剂和炼丹的历史” [Alchemical Treatments in Medicine, and the History
of Alchemy] (published in 1956 in The Medicine Magazine of China, no.
6), Yu Shenchu’s “Zuguo liandanshu yu zhiyao huaxue de fazhan 祖
国炼丹术与制药化学的发展” [The Evolution of Chinese Taoist Alchemy
and Pharmaceutical Chemistry] (published in 1957 in the Zhejiang Journal
of Traditional Chinese Medicine, no. 8), Zhang Zigao’s “Liandanshu de
fasheng yu fazhan 炼丹术的发生与发展” [The Origin and Evolution of
Taoist Alchemy] (published in 1960 in the Journal of Tsinghua University,
vol. 7, no. 2), and Xie Haizhou’s “Youguan Gong ji qi liandan de
lishi 有关汞及其炼丹的历史” [The History of Mercury in Taoist Alchemy]
(published in 1963 in Haerbin zhongyi 哈尔滨中医 [Harbin Journal of
Traditional Chinese Medicine], no. 3), dealt with the history and evolution
of Taoist inner alchemy.
Yuan Hanqing’s “Zhouyi cantonqi shijie liandanshi shang zuigu de
zhuzuo 周易参同契—世界炼丹史上最古的著作” [Token for the Kin-
ship of the Three According to the Zhouyi—The Most Ancient Work in the
World History of Alchemy] (published in 1954 in Chemistry, no. 8), Wang
Zhanyuan’s “Zhouyi cantongqi de zhexue sixiang 周易参同契的哲学思
想” [Philosophy of the Token for the Kinship of the Three According to the Zhouyi]
(published on 13 October 1961 in Guangming Daily), and Li Junfu’s
“Lun Zhongguo gudai liandanshu Cantongqi 论中国古代炼丹书参同
契” [Cantongqi: A Chinese Ancient Alchemy Book] (published in 1963 in the
Journal of Xinxiang Teachers College), examined the Token for the Kinship of
the Three According to the Zhouyi.
18 qing xitai
Fifth, on inner alchemy, the work of scholars focused on the the-
ory and practice of Qigong. These works included Xu Jihe’s “Qigong
xueshuo de tanyuan 气功学说的探源” [The Origin of Qigong Theory]
(published in 1962 in the Jiangsu Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine,
no. 5), Liu Guizhen’s Qigong liaofa shijian 气功疗法实践 [The Practice of
Qigong Treatment] and Neiyanggong liaofa 内养功疗法 [The Inner Healing
Practice Treatment], Chen Tao’s Qigong kexue changshi 气功科学常识 [The
General Scientific Knowledge of Qigong], and Yang Jianxing’s Qigong ziliao
气功自疗 [Self-Treatment in Qigong] and Qigong zhexue 气功哲学 [Phi-
losophy of Qigong].
Sixth, on Taoist medicine and self-cultivation regimen, Ge Hong,
Tao Hongjing, and Sun Simiao have drawn particular attention.
Works introducing Ge Hong’s medicine include Jiang Jingbo’s “Jindai
da yixuejia Ge Hong 晋代大医学家葛洪” [Ge Hong: The Great Medical
Scientist in the Jin Dynasty] (published on 24 May 1957 in Xinhua Daily),
Kuang Heling’s “Jindai yixuejia Ge Hong dui zuguo yixue de gong-
xian 晋代医学家葛洪对祖国医学的贡献” [The Contribution to Chinese
Medicine of Ge Hong, a Medical Scientist in the Jin Dynasty] (published in
1959 in the Traditional Chinese Medicine Journal, no. 9), Cai Jingfeng’s
“Jindai yixuejia Ge Hong 晋代医学家葛洪” [A Medical Scientist in the
Jin Dynasty: Ge Hong] (published on 6 January 1963 in the Chinese Health
Journal ).
Works introducing Tao Hongjing included Wang Ming’s “Tao
Hongjing zai gudai yixue shang de gongxian 陶弘景在古代医学上
的贡献” [Tao Hongjing’s Contribution to Ancient Medicine] (published on
11 October 1954 in Guangming Daily), Xie Tianxin’s “Woguo jindai
de yaowuxuejia Tao Hongjing 我国晋代的药物学家陶弘景” [Tao
Hongjing: A Chinese Pharmacologist in the Jin Dynasty] (published in 1960 in
Haerbin zhongyi, no. 8), Shang Zhijun’s “Cong Zhenglei bencao suoyin
ziliao kan Tao Hongjing dui Bencaoxue de gongxian 从证类本草所
引资料看陶弘景对本草学的贡献” [Tao Hongjing’s Contribution to Herb-
alism through the Texts Quoted in the Zhenglei Bencao] (published in 1963 in
the Yaowuxue tongbao 药物学通报 [Pharmacological Bulletin], no. 6).
Works introducing Sun Simiao included Dayu’s “Yaowang Sun
Simiao 药王孙思邈” [Sun Simiao: the King of Medicine] (published on 28
August 1961 in the Workers Daily), Fang Zhao’s “Sun Simiao Tangdai
weida de yixuejia 孙思邈—唐代伟大的医学家” [Great Medical Scientist
of Tang Dynasty Sun Simiao] (published on 31 August 1961 in the Beijing
Daily), Li Jingwei’s “Sun Simiao zai guyixue shang de weida de gong-
xian 孙思邈在古医学上的伟大的贡献” [Sun Simiao’s Great Contribution
taoist studies: past and present 19
to Ancient Medicine] (published in 1962 in the Traditional Chinese Medicine
Journal, no. 2), and Ma Kanwen’s “Tangdai mingyi Sun Simiao guli
diaocha ji 唐代名医孙思邈故里调查记” [Research on the Native Village
of the Famous Doctor of the Tang Dynasty Sun Simiao] (published in 1954 in
the Chinese Journal of Medical History, no. 5).
Seventh, on Taoist music and art, Yang Yinglan’s Zongjiao yinyue
Hunan yinyue pucha baogao fulu zhiyi 宗教音乐—湖南音乐普查报告附
录之一 [Religious Music—Appendix to the Report on Hunan Music] (mim-
eographed in 1958 by Minzu yinyue yanjiu suo 民族音乐研究所 and
published in 1960 by Yinyue Press), collated music, gathered and
edited music books, and analyzed the lyrics of Taoist music in the
Hunan Hengyang region. There were also Suzhou Daojiao yishu ji 苏州
道教艺术集 [The Taoist Arts of Suzhou] (mimeographed in 1957 by
Zhongguo wudao yishu yanjiuhui 中国舞蹈艺术研究会), and Yang-
zhou Daojiao yinyue jieshao 扬州道教音乐介绍 [An Introduction to Taoist
Music in Yangzhou] (edited and mimeographed by Yangzhoushi wenhua
weiyuanhui wenhuachu 扬州市文化委员会文化处 in 1958).
Taoist studies developed within institutions like the Research Insti-
tute of the Chinese Taoist Association, of which Chen Yingning
was the director and Wang Weiye the assistant director. Founded in
November 1961, this institute dealt with the collection and collation of
Taoist documents and the compilation of the History of Chinese Taoism.
As far as Taoist publications were concerned, the Daoxie huikan was
founded in August 1962 and appeared only sporadically. It ceased
publication in 1969 after only four issues.
The period of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, was cha-
racterized by ultra-left ideology. Studies on Taoism halted completely
for ten years, producing hardly any publications. On the other hand,
Taiwanese and Hong Kong scholars on Taoism produced many publi-
cations, which deserve to be introduced here.
First, concerning the Taoist Canon and reference books, the Taiwan-
ese scholar Xiao Tianshi’s Daozang jinghua 道藏精华 [The Essence of the
Taoist Canon] series was printed continually—from 1965 to 1977—by
Ziyou Press. This series collected together more than 800 Taoist scrip-
tures, which were classified in 17 original volumes and two supple-
mentary volumes. The American scholar Michael Saso converted to
Taoism in Taiwan. He made use of his Taoist master’s documents to
edit ZhuangLin xu daozang 庄林续道藏 [Zhuang-Lin Taoist Canon], in 25
volumes and four parts, which was published in 1974 by Cheng-Wen
20 qing xitai
Publishing. There were also Chen Zhibin’s WuLiu xianzong baihua yi
伍柳仙踪白话译 [A Translation in Modern Chinese of the Divine Traces of
Wu (Shouyang) and Liu (Huayang)] (published in 1975 by Quanzhenjiao
Press), Dai Changyuan’s Xianxue cidian 仙学辞典 [A Dictionary of the
Study of Immortality] and Daoxue cidian 道学辞典 [A Dictionary of Tao-
ist Studies] (published in 1962 and 1971, respectively, by Zhenshan-
mei Press), and Li Shuhuan’s Daojiao yaoyi huida daquan 道教要义回答
大全 [Collection of Answers to Questions on the Essence of Taoism] (published
in 1972 by the Ching Chung Taoist Association of Hong Kong).
Second, on the history of Taoism, there were the Taiwanese scholar
Sun Kekuan’s SongYuan Daojiao zhi fazhan 宋元道教之发展 [The Evo-
lution of Taoism in the Song and Yuan Dynasties] (published in 1965 by
Tunghai University), Yuandai Daojiao zhi fazhan 元代道教之发展 [The
Evolution of Taoism in the Yuan Dynasty] (published in 1968 by Tunghai
University), Hanyuan daolun 寒源道论 [The Study of Hanyuan on Taoism]
(published in 1977 by Linking Books), “Tangdai Daojiao yu fazhan
daolun 唐代道教与发展导论” [An Introduction to Taoism and Its Evolution
during the Tang Dynasty] (published in 1974 in the College of Liberal Arts
Journal, no. 1), “Tangdai daojiao yu zhengzhi 唐代道教与政治” [Tao-
ism and Politics in the Tang Dynasty] (published in 1975 in The Continent
Magazine, vol. 5, no. 2), as well as Du Wangzhi’s Rufodao zhi xinyang
yanjiu 儒佛道之信仰研究 [A Study on the Beliefs of Confucianism, Bud-
dhism, and Taoism] (published in 1968 by Huaming shuju 华明书局),
Zhou Shaoxian’s Daojia yu shenxian 道家与神仙 [Taoism and the Immor-
tals] (published in 1970 by Chung Hwa Book), Chen Zhibin’s Master’s
thesis Quanzhen xianpai yuanliu 全真仙派源流 [The Evolution of the Quan-
zhen School] (completed in 1974 at the National Taiwan University),
Nan Huaijin’s “Yuandai Quanzhendao yu Zhongguo shehui 元代全
真道与中国社会” [The Quanzhen School and Chinese Society in the Yuan
Dynasty] (published in 1962 in Xin Tiandi 新天地 [New World], vol. 1,
no. 6), Qian Mu’s “JinYuan tongzhi xia de xin daojiao 金元统治下的
新道教” [New Taoism in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties] (published in 1966
in Rensheng 人生 [Life], vol. 31, no. 3), Jin Zhongshu’s “Lun BeiSong
monian zhi chongshang daojiao 论北宋末年之崇尚道教 (上,下)”
[Official Support for Taoism at the end of the Northern Song Dynasty (Parts 1,
2)] (published, respectively, in The New Asia Journal in 1966, vol. 7, no.
2, and in 1967, vol. 8, no. 1, Shi Yihui’s “Daojiao zai Taiwan fenbu
yu xianzhuang 道教在台湾分布与现状” [The Distribution and Current
Situation of Taoism in Taiwan] (published in 1967 in Nanying xuebao 南瀛
学报 [The Journal of Nanying], no. 12), Fang Yonghui’s “Tangdai huangshi
taoist studies: past and present 21
yu Daojiao guanxi zhi yanjiu 唐代皇室与道教关系之研究” [Studies
on the Relation Between the Tang Imperial Family and Taoism] (published in
1968 in Ching Feng, nos. 18, 19), Li Shutong’s “Tangdai de zhengjiao
guanxi 唐代的政教关系” [The Relationship Between Politics and Religions
in the Tang Dynasty] (published in 1967 in the Journal of the National
Taiwan Normal University 师大学报, no. 12), the revised edition of Liu
Boji’s Tangdai de zhengjiao shi 唐代的政教史 [The History of Politics and
Religion in the Tang Dynasty] (published in 1974 by Chung Hwa Book),
and Ding Huang’s “Tang Gaozu Taizong dui furui de yunyong ji qi
dui Daojiao de taidu 唐高祖太宗对符瑞的运用及其对道教的态度”
[The Use of Auspicious Signs and Attitudes toward Taoism of Emperors Tang
Gaozu and Taizong] (published in 1975 in Lishi xuebao 历史学报 [ Journal
of History], no. 2).
Third, on Taoist rituals, the Taiwanese scholar Liu Zhiwan wrote
a series of reports and articles, including “Taoyuan xian Longtan
xiang jianjiao jidian 桃园县龙潭乡建醮祭典” [The Offering Ritual in
Longtan Village of Taoyuan County] (published in 1973 in Zhongguo dongya
xueshu yanjiu jihua weiyuanhui nianbao 中国东亚学术研究计划委员
会年报 [The Annals of the Chinese East Asia Research Project Committee],
no. 10), and “Taibei xian Zhonghe xiang jianjiao jidian 台北县中和乡
建醮祭典” [The Offering Ritual in Zhonghe District of Taipei County] (pub-
lished in 1973 in the Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology of Academia Sinica,
no. 33). His “Taibei xian Shulin zhen jianjiao jidian 台北县树林镇建
醮祭典” [The Offering Ritual in Shulin Town of Taipei County], “Taoyuan
xian Zhongli shi jianjiao jidian 桃园县中坜市建醮祭典” [The Offering
Ritual in Zhongli Town of Taoyuan County], “Jiaoji shiyi 醮祭释义” [A
Definition of the Offering Ritual], and “Xiuzhai kao 修考” [Studies on the
Taoist Fast Ritual] were published in 1974 in the Special Edition of the Bul-
letin of the Institute of Ethnology of Academia Sinica (no. 22) and collected in
his Taiwan minjian xinyang lunji 台湾民间信仰论集 [Essays on Taiwan’s
Popular Religions] (published in December 1983 by Linking Books).
Fourth, Taiwanese scholars published an academic monthly, Daojiao
wenhua 道教文化 [Taoist Culture], which promoted traditional Chinese
culture. The contribution of Taiwanese scholars filled the gaps in Tao-
ist studies in China.
All the works mentioned so far are a retrospective of the studies on
Chinese Taoism. Wang Ming wrote, in the preface to the four-volume
History of Chinese Taoism, that the basis of Chinese Taoist studies was
not well-established before the foundation of the PRC. Indeed, that
was not only the situation for studies on the history of Taoism, but
22 qing xitai
also on other aspects of Taoism. The real development of studies on
Taoism began after the Cultural Revolution, a period that we will
refer to as the “present stage” of the development of Taoist studies
and that we will examine in the following section.
Present Situation
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee in Decem-
ber 1978 put an end to the Cultural Revolution and laid down the
politics of the Economic Reform. Hereafter, the situation changed dra-
matically. With order coming out of chaos in all fields, with the pro-
duction of research work and the flourishing of science, Taoist studies
were put on their agenda by the Chinese Communist Party and the
government. It attracted their attention and support, and thus could
develop fully. Chinese Taoist studies thus entered a new phase, called
the stage of “total development.” This was a stage of rapid growth,
breaking new ground in a number of directions.
First, special national institutions were created to study Taoism.
With the government’s approval, a research group of Taoist studies
was founded within the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences in 1979, and the Institute of Religions,
with Taoism as its main interest, was created at Sichuan University in
1980. Their equivalents were founded within other institutions (such
as East China Normal University and Xiamen University). The foun-
dation of academic institutions went together with the emergence of
scholars specializing in the study of Taoism, which made it possible to
study Taoism using scientific tools. The previous phase of spontane-
ous and individual research, unlikely to promote larger projects, was
a thing of the past. The Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan Uni-
versity was one of the first research centers for Chinese social sciences
and specialized in religion, now a key discipline on a national level.
This important new strategy, adopted by the government to promote
Taoist studies, had a strong impact.
Second, projects on Taoist studies were officially included in the
national program of philosophy and social sciences. From the Sixth
Five-Year Plan onward (1981–1985), their number increased every
year. These projects were supported by state funds, which was with-
out precedent in the history of China. For example, A History of Chinese
Taoism (four volumes), produced by the Institute of Religious Studies
taoist studies: past and present 23
at Sichuan University, was a key project from the Sixth Five-Year
Plan to the Eighth Five-Year Plan, 1991–1995. The History of Taoist
Ideas has been a national key project from the Ninth Five-Year Plan
(1996–2000) to The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001–2005).
Third, the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences and the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan
University were authorized to award Master’s and doctoral degrees in
religion, and admit postgraduates in Taoist studies. Growing numbers
of young scholars of Taoism with Master’s degrees and Ph.D.s gave
new strength to Taoist studies. Some of them made their mark and
their work became the backbone of further research.
Fourth, scholars whose work engaged with Taoism emerged in
great numbers from many faculties, Party schools, research institu-
tions, and other organizations across the country. They carried out
extensive research on many aspects of Taoism from within their own
disciplines. The number of these scholars was even greater than that
of scholars purely specializing in the study of Taoism. With these two
types of scholars at the forefront, the study of religions took shape on
a nationwide scale. The emergence of their work, although largely
outdistanced by that on Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam in terms of
quality and quantity, was remarkable compared to the standard of the
works released before the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central
Committee. I believe this forefront will be reinforced and developed
by upcoming generations of young scholars.
Fifth, the Chinese Taoist Association created the Institute of Tao-
ist Culture in 1989 and the Chinese Taoist College in 1990 and, at
the same time, reinforced internal personal training and research.
Some local Taoist associations also carried out studies on Taoism on
a local scale. The cooperation, reciprocal respect, and communication
between Taoist believers and scholars gave considerable new strength
and depth to studies on Taoist culture as a whole. At the local level,
many regions created some extensive research organizations such
as the Hubei Taoist Institute, Quanzhou City’s Taoist Culture Insti-
tute, the Chinese Lao-tzu Institute of Luyi, and the Sichuan Lao-tzu
and the Chuang-tzu Institute. The foundation of these institutes had
a significant role in the promotion and expansion of studies on Taoist
thought.
Sixth, the variety and number of conferences held on Taoism
enabled scholars not only to communicate the results of their research,
but also to enliven that research itself. These conferences, held by the
24 qing xitai
above institutions or Taoist associations or both on a national or local
scale, welcomed participants from across the strait. Scholars and Tao-
ist believers strengthened their ties and exchanged their knowledge
through these conferences. They joined forces in order to promote
Taoist culture. There were also several cross-strait and international
conferences on Taoist culture. The cross-strait conferences on Taoist
culture were held either by China, Taiwan, or both. The conferences
gathered together a dozen participants, at first, to one or two hundred
scholars later on. With the development of Taoist studies, the content
of the conferences became richer and more varied. The conferences
showed the study of Taoism as a branch of religious studies that had
gained the position it deserved. They helped establish that Taoism
originated in China, and that Taoist studies had their origin there, too.
We will introduce the main conferences next:
1. “The Taoism and Chinese Traditional Culture Conference,” held
in the winter of 1987 in Chengdu by the editorial department of
Philosophical Researches, the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan
University, and the Institute of Philosophy and Culture at the
Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences, with about 50 participants
from across the country.
2. “The Taoist Culture Conference,” held in September 1989 in Bei-
jing by the Chinese Taoist Association, with 35 participants, most
of whom Taoist scholars, joined by some non-Taoist scholars.
3. “The National Taoist Culture and Contemporary Cultural Con-
struction Conference,” held in October 1990 in Xiangfan of Hubei
by 11 organizations, including the Hubei Institute of the History
of Philosophy, the Hubei Taoist Institute, the Hubei Academy of
Social Sciences, and the School of Philosophy of Wuhan Univer-
sity, with 67 participants who presented some 51 different papers.
4. “The Cross-Strait Taoist ideas and Culture Conference,” held in
August 1992 in Xi’an by the Institute of World Religions of the
Chinese Academy of Social Science and the Taiwanese Institute
of Chinese Religious Philosophy, with 55 participants from across
the strait.
5. “The Wudang Mountain Chinese Taoist Culture Conference,”
held in October 1992 on Wudang Mountain in Hubei by the Insti-
tute of Taoist Culture of the Chinese Taoist Association and the
Wudang Taoist Association, with more than 70 participants from
all over the world.
taoist studies: past and present 25
6. “The Xi’an Chinese Taoist Culture Conference,” held in Octo-
ber 1992 in Xi’an by the Xi’an Taoist Association, Xi’an Eight
Immortals Palace, and the Institute of Taoist Culture of Chinese
Taoist Association, with more than 50 scholars from all over the
world, some of them Taoists.
7. “The Conference on Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism,
and Chinese Culture,” held in November 1994 at Sichuan Uni-
versity by the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan University,
the Institute of Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Culture of Bei-
jing University, and the Ching Chung Taoist Association of Hong
Kong, with more than 150 scholars from across the world, some
of them Taoists.
8. “The Cross-Strait Taoist Culture Conference,” financed by the
president of the editorial department of Taoist Culture Gong Qun
and held by Gong Qun and Gong Pengcheng in December 1994
at the National Chung Cheng University, with more than 100
scholars from across the strait.
9. “The International Conference on Taoist Culture,” held in August
1996 in Beijing by the Department of Philosophy of Beijing Uni-
versity and Hong Kong Taoist College, with more than 150 par-
ticipants from all over the world.
10. “The Lu Mountain Chinese Taoist Culture Conference,” held in
August 1998 by the Institute of Taoist Culture of the Chinese
Taoist Association, the Taipei Cultural Three Purities Palace, and
the Fairy Cave of Lu Mountain, with more than 50 scholars from
across the strait, some of them Taoists.
11. “The 2nd International Conference of Taoist Culture,” held in
December of 1998 in the Yellow Dragon Temple of Luofu Moun-
tain of Guangdong by the Department of Philosophy of Sun Yat-
sen University, the Institute of Chinese Philosophy and Chinese
Culture of Beijing University, Hong Kong Taoist College, and the
Religious Studies Institute of the Chinese Department of Sun Yat-
sen University, with more than 100 participants from Australia,
Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, Singapore, Taiwan, and
the United States.
12. “The 2nd Cross-Strait Taoist Studies Conference,” held in March
1999 at NanHua University in Taiwan by the Graduate Institute
of Religious Studies of the College of Humanities of Nanhua Uni-
versity, with more than 100 scholars from across the strait.
26 qing xitai
13. “The 20th Anniversary of the Institute of Religious Studies of
Sichuan University and International Conference on Taoist Stud-
ies and Chinese Traditional Culture,” held in October 2000 in
Chengdu by the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan Univer-
sity, the Chinese Great Tao Culture and Education Foundation,
and the Institute of Taoist Culture of Wawu Mountain in Hongya
County, with more than 130 participants, some of them Taoists,
from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Macao, Singapore, Tai-
wan, and the United States.
Seventh, many journals devoted to Taoist studies were created. In
addition to Studies in World Religions, published by the Institute of World
Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which had arti-
cles on Taoist studies in almost all of its issues, there was Religious
Studies, created in 1989 by the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan
University, which was circulated internally at first and published at
large from its seventh issue onward. It is today a key journal on Chi-
nese social sciences. There are also Daoyun 道韵 [The Sound of the Tao],
published once or twice a year by Xiamen University and the Chinese
Great Tao Culture and Education Foundation; Chinese Taoism, published
by the Chinese Taoist Association; Shanghai Daojiao 上海道教 [Shanghai
Taoism], published by the Shanghai Taoist Association; Shaanxi Taoism,
published by the Shaanxi Taoist Association; Fujian Daojiao 福建道教
[Fujian Taoism], published by the Fujian Taoist Association; Hebei Dao-
jiao 河北道教 [Hebei Taoism], published by the Hebei Taoist Associa-
tion; and Daojiao wenhua yanjiu 道家文化研究 [Studies on Taoist Culture]
and Hong Dao 弘道 [The Promotion of the Tao], published by the Hong
Kong Taoist College. The number of these journals reflects the scope
and strength of Taoist studies.
Eighth, a large number of monographs, memoirs, reference books,
and popular reading material on Taoism have been published, and
more than 1,000 papers have been presented. The topics dealt with
in these works are numerous. Some of them are valuable contributions
to Taoist research. Among these works were not only the posthumous
books of an older generation of scholars such as Chen Yuan, Meng
Wentong, Wang Ming, and Chen Guofu, but also many works by a
new, younger generation of scholars. The quantity of the works in
Taoist studies of that most recent period is incomparable with the
two previous stages. Taoist studies spanned over 80 years in its first
two periods, while the present stage has lasted about 20 years. The
taoist studies: past and present 27
quality of the most recent period is incomparable, which is a sign that
a profound change is occurring in the development of Chinese Taoist
studies.
First, works on the Taoist Canon included Daozang tiyao, of which
Ren Jiyu is the editor-in-chief (published in 1991 by the China Social
Sciences Press), Chen Guofu’s Daozang yuanliu xukao (published in 1983
by Mingwen shuju 明文书局), Zhu Yueli’s Daojing zonglun (published
in 1991 by the Liaoning Education Press), Daojiao yaoji gailun 道教要籍
概论 [The Conspectus of Taoist Essential Scriptures] (published in 1992 by
Beijing Yanshan Press), Daozang fenlei jieti 道藏分类解题 [A Classifica-
tion and Explanation of the Titles in the Taoist Canon] (published in 1996
by Huaxia Press), Ding Peiren’s Daojiao dianji baiwen 道教典籍百问
[A Hundred Questions on Taoist Scriptures] (published in 1996 by Jinri
Zhongguo Press), Qing Xitai and Guo Wu’s Daojiao Sanzijing zhushi 道
教三字经注释 [An Annotation on the Taoist Three-Character Classic] (pub-
lished in 1993 by Sichuan University Press), and Tian Chengyang’s
Daojiao zhishi baodian 道教知识宝典 [A Treasury of Taoist Knowledge]
(published in 1995 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House).
There were also some works on the compilation of extra-canonical
Taoist scriptures, including Zangwai daoshu 藏外道书 [Extra-canonical
Taoist Texts], compiled by Hu Daojing, Chen Yaoting, Duan Wengui,
and Lin Wanqing and published from 1992 to 1994 by Bashu shushe.
Works on Taoist stele inscriptions included Daojia jinshi lüe, compiled
by Chen Yuan, collated and supplemented by Chen Zhichao, and
published in 1988 by Cultural Relics Press; and BaShu daojiao bei-
wen jicheng 巴蜀道教碑文集成 [A Collection of Taoist Stele Inscriptions in
Si chuan], edited by Huang Haide and published in 1997 by Sichuan
People’s Publishing House.
Works on particular scriptures included Zhou Shiyi and Pan Qi-
ming’s Zhouyi cantongqi xintan 周易参同契新探 [New Studies on the Token
for the Kinship of the Three According to the Zhouyi] (published in 1981 by
Hunan People’s Publishing House), Wang Ming’s Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi
抱朴子內篇校释 [A Critical and Commented Edition to the Inner Chapters
of the Baopuzi] (published in 1980 by Zhonghua shuju) and Wunengzi
jiaozhu 无能子校注 [A Collation and Annotation of Wunengzi] (published
in 1981 by Zhonghua shuju), Yang Mingzhao’s Baopuzi waipian jiaojian
抱朴子外篇校笺 [A Collation and Annotation of Baopuzi waipian] (pub-
lished in 1991 by Zhonghua shuju), Wang Mu’s Wuzhenpian qianjie
悟真篇浅解 [A Simple Explanation of Wuzhenpian] (published in 1990
by Zhonghua shuju), Tianxian jindan xinfa 天仙金丹心法 [The Mental
28 qing xitai
Method of the Inner Alchemy of Heavenly Immortals] (annotated by Song
Fei and published in 1990 by Dongfang Press), Xinyi Yangxing yanming
lu 新译养性延命录 [A New Translation of Yangxing yanming lu] (trans-
lated and annotated by Zeng Zhaonan and published in 1997 by San
Min Book), Hu Fuchen’s WeiJin shenxian Daojiao Baopuzi neipian yanjiu
魏晋神仙道教—抱朴子内篇研究 [The Taoism of the Immortals in the
Wei and Jin Dynasties—Studies on Baopuzi neipian] (published in 1984 by
People’s Press), Laozi Daodejing Heshanggong zhangju 老子道德经河上公
章句 [An Annotation of Heshanggong on Tao Te Ching] (punctuated and
collated by Wang Ka, and published in 1983 by Zhonghua shuju),
Laozi zhigui 老子指归 [The Essential Meaning of Lao-tzu] (punctuated and
collated by Wang Deyou and published in 1994 by Zhonghua shuju),
Zhong Laiyin’s Changsheng busi de tanqiu daojing Zhengao zhimi 长生不死
的探求—道经<真诰>之谜 [The Search for Longevity—The Enigma of the
Taoist Scripture Zhengao] (published in 1992 by Wenhui Press), Wang
Ping’s Taipingjing yanjiu 太平经研究 [Studies on the Great Peace Scripture]
(published in 1995 by Wenjin Press), Taipingjing zhushi 太平经注释
[An Annotation on the Great Peace Scripture] (edited by Luo Chi and pub-
lished in 1996 by Southwest China Normal University Press), Yu Li-
ming’s Taipingjing zhengdu 太平经正读 [The Correct Reading of the Scripture
of Great Peace] (published in 2001 by Bashu shushe), Ma Xueliang’s
Yiwen Quanshanjing yizhu 彝文劝善经译注 [A Translation and Annotation
of Quanshanjing in Yi Language] (published in 1986 by Zhongyang minzu
xueyuan Press), Zhu Senpu’s Xuanzhulu jiaoshi 玄珠录校释 [A Collation
and Annotation of Xuanzhulu] (published in 1989 by Bashu shushe), Ren
Farong’s Daodejing shiyi 道德经释义 [An Annotation of the Tao Te Ching]
(published in 1988 by Sanqin Press), Zhouyi cantongqi shiyi 周易参同
契释义 [An Annotation of the Token for the Kinship of the Three According to
the Zhouyi] (annotated by Ren Farong and published in 2000 by Fung
Ying Seen Koon of Hong Kong), Cao Zhenyang’s Daodejing zhujie 道德
经注解 [An Annotation of the Tao Te Ching] (published in 1993 by Dalian
Publishing House), and Zhao Yumin and Zhao Lin’s Laozi Daodejing
qianjie 老子道德经浅解 [A Simple Explanation of the Tao Te Ching] (pub-
lished in 2002 by Zhongzhou guji Press).
Second, on the history on Taoism, works of general history included
Zhongguo daojiao shi (four-volume edition), edited by Qing Xitai and
published in 1988, 1992, 1993, and 1995 by the Sichuan People’s
Publishing House. A revised edition was published in 1996 by the
same publishers, and the traditional characters Chinese edition was
published in 1997 by Zhonghua daotong Press of Taiwan. Other works
taoist studies: past and present 29
included Zhongguo daojiao shi (one-volume edition) (edited by Ren Jiyu
and published in 1990 by Shanghai renmin Press), Zhongguo daojiao shi
(updated edition with two volumes) (edited by Ren Jiyu and published
in 2001 by China Social Sciences Press), Daojiao shi 道教史 [A History
of Taoism] (written by Qing Xitai and Tang Dachao and published in
1994 by China Social Sciences Press), Zhonghua daojiao jianshi 中华道教
简史 [A Brief History of Chinese Taoism] (written by Qing Xitai and Tang
Dachao and published in 1996 by Zhonghua daotong Press), Zhongguo
daojiao fazhan shi lüeshu 中国道教发展史略述 [A Brief Introduction of the
Evolution of Chinese Taoism] (written by Nan Huaijin and published in
1988 by Laogu wenhua shiye gongsi 老古文化事业公司), Zhongguo
daojiao fazhan shigang 中国道教发展史纲 [An Outline of the Evolution of
Chinese Taoism] (written by Liu Feng and Zang Zhifei and published
in 1997 by Wenjin Press), Jianming Zhongguo daojiao tongshi 简明中国道
教通史 [A Brief History of Chinese Taoism] (written by Qing Xitai and
published in 2001 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Daojiao shilüe
道教史略 [A Brief History of Taoism] (edited by Qing Xitai and pub-
lished in 2000 by Hong Kong Taoist College), Daojiao lungao 道教
论稿 [Studies on Taoism] (edited by Wang Jiayou and published in 1987
by Bashu shushe), and Zhongguo lidai mingdao 中国历代名道 [Prominent
Taoists in Chinese History] (a collective work published in 1997 by Jilin
jiaoyu Press).
Works on specialized history (dynastic history, history of schools,
history of local Taoism) included WeiJin Nanbeichao shiqi de daojiao 魏晋
南北朝时期的道教 [Taoism in the Wei, Jin, Northern, and Southern Dynas-
ties] (written by Tang Yijie and published in 1988 by Shaanxi shifan
daxue Press and Dongda tushu gongsi of Taiwan), NanSong Jin Yuan de
daojiao 南宋金元的道教 [Taoism in the Southern Song, Jin, and Yuan Dynas-
ties] (written by Zhan Shichuang and published in 1989 by Shanghai
guji Press), Dangdai Zhongguo daojiao 当代中国道教 [Contemporary Chinese
Taoism] (written by Li Yangzheng and published in 1993 by the China
Social Sciences Press), Dangdai daojiao 当代道教 [Contemporary Taoism]
(written by Li Yangzheng published in 2000 by Dongfang Press),
Daojiao zai haiwai 道教在海外 [Taoism Overseas] (written by Chen Yao-
ting and published in 2001 by Fujian renmin Press), Tianshi dao 天师
道 [The Heavenly Master School] (edited by Guo Shusen and published
in 1990 by Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press), Tianshidao
shilüe 天师道史略 [A Brief History of the Heavenly Master School] (written
by Zhang Jiyu and published in 1990 by Huawen Press), Zhongguo
Longhushan tianshidao 中国龙虎山天师道 [The Heavenly Master School of
30 qing xitai
Chinese Longhu Mountain] (edited by Zhang Jintao and published in 1994
by Jiangxi People’s Publishing House), Zhang tianshi 张天师 [The Heav-
enly Master Zhang] (written by Zhang Zehong and published in 1999
by Bashu shushe), Tianshidao ershisizhi kao 天师道二十四治考 [Studies
on the Twenty-Four Dioceses of the Heavenly Master School] (written by Wang
Chunwu and published in 1996 by Sichuan University Press), Lou-
guandao yuanliu kao 楼观道源流考 [Studies on the Evolution of the Louguan
School] (written by Wang Shiwei and published in 1993 by Shaanxi
renmin Press), Quanzhen daozu Wang Chongyang zhuan (written by Guo
Wu and published in 2001 by Fung Ying Seen Koon of Hong Kong),
Ming Qing Quanzhenjiao lungao 明清全真教论稿 [Studies on the Quanzhen
School in Ming and Qing Dynasties] (written by Wang Zhizhong and pub-
lished in 2000 by Bashu shushe), Jingmingdao yanjiu 净明道研究 [Studies
on the Jingming School] (written by Huang Xiaoshi and published in 1999
by Bashu shushe), Sichuan daojiao shihua 四川道教史话 [The History of
Taoism in Sichuan] (written by Li Yuanguo and published in 1985 by
Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Wudang daojiao shilüe 武当道教
史略 [A Brief History of Wudang Taoism] (written by Wang Guangde
and Yang Lizhi and published in 1993 by Huawen Press), Chang’an
Zhongnanshan daojiao shilüe 长安终南山道教史略 [A Brief History of the
Taoism of Chang’an and Zhongnan Mountains] (written by Fan Guangchun
and published in 1998 by Shaanxi renmin Press), Daojiao yu Yunnan
wenhua Daojiao zai Yunnan de chuanbo yanbian ji yingxiang 道教与云南文
化—道教在云南的传播、 演变及影响 [Taoism and Yunnan Culture—
Propagation, Evolution, and Influence] (written by Guo Wu and published
in 2000 by Yunnan University Press), Wawushan daojiao wenhua 瓦屋
山道教文化 [Taoist Culture of Wawu Mountain] (edited by Li Houqiang
and published in 2000 by Sichuan minzu Press), Xianggang yu Aomen
zhi daojiao 香港与澳门之道教 [Taoism in Hong Kong and Macao] (written
by Huang Zhaohan and Zheng Weiming and published in 1993 by
Jialüe shanfang youxian gongsi), and Taiwan daojiao yuanliu 台湾道教
源流 [The Evolution of Taoism in Taiwan] (written by Lai Zongxian and
published in 1999 by Zhonghua daotong Press).
Third, on Taoist philosophy, works on Taoist thought or the his-
tory of Taoist thought included Zhongguo daojiao sixiang shigang 中国道
教思想史纲 [An Outline of the History of Taoist Thought, parts one and
two] (written by Qing Xitai and published in 1980 and 1985 by the
Sichuan People’s Publishing House), and a supplement written by
Qing Xitai and published in 1999 by the Sichuan People’s Publishing
taoist studies: past and present 31
House, WeiJin shenxian daojiao 魏晋神仙道教 [The Taoism of the Immortals
in the Wei and Jin Dynasties] (written by Hu Fuchen and published
in 1989 by People’s Press), Daojiao tonglun jianlun daojia xueshuo 道教
通论-兼论道家学说 [An Overview of Taoism, Including Philosophical Taoist
Studies] (edited by Mou Zhongjian, Hu Fuchen, and Wang Baoxuan
and published in 1991 by Qilu shushe 齐鲁书社), Daoxue tonglun daojia
daojiao xianxue 道教通论-道家道教仙学 [An Overview of Taoism: Philo-
sophical, Religious, and Self-Cultivational Taoism] (written by Hu Fuchen
and Lü Xichen and published in 1999 by Social Sciences Academic
Press), Handai daojiao zhexue 汉代道教哲学 [Taoist Philosophy in the Han
Dynasty] (written by Li Gang and published in 1994 by Bashu shushe),
Daojiao zhexue 道教哲学 [Taoist Philosophy] (written by Lu Guolong and
published in 1997 by Huaxia Press), Zhongguo chongxuanxue 中国重玄学
[The Chinese School of Double Mystery] (written by Lu Guolong and pub-
lished in 1993 by Renmin Zhongguo Press), Daojiao zhexue 道教哲学
[Taoist Philosophy] (written by Lü Pengzhi and published in 2000 by
Wenjin Press), Daojiao yu chaoyue 道教与超越 [Taoism and Transcen-
dence] (written by Xu Zhaoren and published in 1991 by The Chinese
Overseas Publishing House), Yizhuan yu daojia sixiang 易传与道家思想
[The Tradition of the Book of Changes and Taoist Thought] (written by Chen
Guying and published in 1996 by Sanlian Publishing Company), Yixue
yu daojiao sixiang guanxi yanjiu 易学与道教思想关系研究 [Studies on the
Relationship between the Book of Changes and Taoist Thought] (written by
Zhan Shichuang and published in 2001 by Xiamen University Press),
Yixue yu daojiao fuhao jiemi 易学与道教符号揭秘 [The Book of Changes
and Taoist Symbols] (written by Zhan Shichuang and published in 2001
by Cathay Bookshop), Chaoyue xinxing ershi shiji Zhongguo daojiao wenhua
xueshu lunji 超载心性—20世纪中国道教文化学术论集 [Transcending
Nature—Essays on Twentieth-Century Chinese Taoist Culture] (written by
Zhang Guangbao and published in 1999 by China Radio and Televi-
sion Publishing House), Daodejing de shiyong jiazhi zhexue bufen 道德经的
实用价值<哲学部分> [The Practical Value of Tao Te Ching (Chapter on
Philosophy)] (edited by Chen Linsheng and published in 1993), Ge Hong
lun 葛洪论 [Studies on Ge Hong] (written by Wang Liqi and published in
1997 by Wunan Book of Taiwan), Haixia liang’an daojiao wenhua xueshu
yantaohui lunwen 海峡两岸道教文化学术研讨会论文 [Articles from the
Cross-Straits Conference on Taoist Culture] (parts one and two, edited by
Gong Pengcheng and published in 1987 by Student Book of Taiwan),
and Di’erjie Haixia liang’an daojiao xueshu yantaohui wenji 第二届海峡两岸
32 qing xitai
道教学术研讨会文集 [Papers of the 2nd Cross-Straits Conference on Taoism]
(parts one, two, and three, edited by Zheng Zhiming and published in
2000 by Religious Culture Publishing House).
Works on the relationship between the three religions included
Tang Dachao’s MingQing zhiji daojiao sanjiaoheyi sixiang lun 明清之际道
教“三教合一”思想论 [Syncretism in Ming and Qing Dynasties], published
in 2000 by Religious Culture Publishing House.
Fourth, works on Taoism and Chinese culture included Daojiao yu
Zhongguo chuantong wenhua 道教与中国传统文化 [Taoism and Tradi-
tional Chinese Culture] (edited by Qing Xitai and published in 1990 by
Fujian renmin Press), Daojiao yu Zhongguo chuantong wenhua (Chinese-
English edition, edited by Qing Xitai and published in 1996 by Zhon-
ghua daotong Press of Taiwan), Daojiao wenhua xindian 道教文化新典
[A New Anthology of Taoist Culture] (traditional Chinese edition, edited by
Qing Xitai and Zhan Shichuang and published in 1996 by Zhong-
hua daotong Press of Taiwan, simplified edition published in 1999
by Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House), Daojiao yu Zhouyi
道教与周易 [Taoism and the Book of Changes] (written by Liu Guo-
liang and published in 1994 by Beijing Yanshan Press), Dao xian ren
道·仙·人 [The Tao, Immortals and Humans] (written by Chen Yaoting
and Liu Zhongyu and published in 1992 by the Shanghai Academy
of Social Sciences Press), Zhongguo daojiao wenhua toushi 中国道教文化
透视 [A Perspective on Chinese Taoist Culture] (written by Liu Zhongyu
and published in 1990 by Xuelin Press), Daojiao yu zhuzi baijia 道教
与诸子百家 [Taoism and the Hundred Schools of Thought] (written by Li
Yangzheng and published in 1989 by the Chinese Overseas Publish-
ing House), Daojiao wenhua cidian 道教文化辞典 [A Dictionary of Taoist
Culture] (edited by Zhang Zhizhe and published in 1994 by Jiangsu guji
Press), Daojia yu minzu xingge 道家与民族性格 [Taoism and the National
Character] (written by Lü Xichen and published in 1996 by Hunan
daxue Press), and Tian Chengyang’s Xianxue pinglun 仙学评论 [A Com-
mentary on Immortality Studies], Xianxue rumen 仙学入门 [An Introduction
to Immortality Studies], and Zhongguo daojia xiuyang xue 中国道家修养学
[Chinese Taoist Self-Cultivation], all published in 1997 by Religious Cul-
ture Publishing House. Collections of articles included Wang Ming’s
Daojiao he daojiao sixiang yanjiu 道教和道教思想研究 [Studies on Taoism
and Taoist Ideas] (published in 1988 by China Social Sciences Press) and
Daojia yu chuantong wenhua yanjiu 道家与传统文化研究 [Studies on Tao-
ism and Traditional Culture] (published in 1995 by China Social Sciences
Press), Qing Xitai’s Daojiao wenhua xintan 道教文化新探 [New Studies
taoist studies: past and present 33
on Taoist Culture] (published in 1988 by Sichuan People’s Publishing
House), Qing Xitai’s Churao ji 刍荛集 [Essays of a Woodman] (published
in 1997 by Bashu shushe), Zhongmiao zhimen daojiao wenhua zhimi tan-
wei 妙之门—道教文化之谜探微 [The Gate to All That Is Subtle and
Wonderful—Deciphering Taoist Culture] (edited by Xiao Shafu and Luo
Chi and published in 1991 by Hunan jiaoyu Press), and Daojiao wenhua
mianmian guan 道教文化面面观 [A Panorama of Taoist Culture] (edited
by Ma Xisha, Wang Ka, and Lu Guolong and published in 1990 by
Qilu shushe).
Fifth, works on Taoist ethics included Li Gang’s Quanshan chengx-
ian—Daojiao shengming lunli 劝善成仙-道教生命伦理 [Becoming Immortal
Through Morality—The Taoist Ethics of Life] (published in 1994 by the
Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Jiang Sheng’s Han Wei LiangJin
Nanbeichao daojiao lunli lungao 汉魏两晋南北朝道教伦理论稿 [Essays on
Taoist Ethics in the Han, Wei, Western Jin, Eastern Jin, and Southern and
Northern Dynasties] (published in 1995 by Sichuan University Press) and
Zongjiao yu renlei ziwo kongzhi Zhongguo daojiao lunli yanjiu 宗教与人类自
我控制—中国道教伦理研究 [Religions and Human Self-Control—Studies
on Chinese Taoist Ethics] (published in 1996 by Bashu shushe), MingQing
daojiao lunli ji qi liubian 明清道教伦理及其流变 [The Evolution of Taoist
Ethics in the Ming and Qing Dynasties] (written by Jiang Sheng and Guo
Wu, et al. and published in 1999 by the Sichuan People’s Publishing
House), Chen Xia’s Daojiao quanshanshu yanjiu 道教劝善书研究 [Taoist
Morality Books] (published in 1999 by Bashu shushe), and Quanshanshu
jinyi 劝善书今译 [Translation in Modern Chinese of Morality Books] (trans-
lated by Tang Dachao and Zeng Chuanhui, et al. and published in
1996 by the Chinese Social Sciences Press).
Works on the relationship between Taoism and literature, art and
aesthetics included Zhan Shichuang’s Daojiao wenxue shi 道教文学史
[A History of Taoist Literature] (published in 1992 by Shanghai Litera-
ture and Art Publishing House), NanSong JinYuan daojiao wenxue yanjiu
南宋金元道教文学研究 [Studies on Taoist Literature in the Southern Song,
Jin, and Yuan Dynasties] (published in 2001 by Shanghai wenhua Press),
Shengming lingguang daojiao chuanshuo yu zhihui 生命灵光—道教传说与
智慧 [The Halo of Life—Taoist Legends and Wisdom] (published in 1993
by Chung Hwa Book of Hong Kong), and Daojiao shushu yu wenyi
道教术数与文艺 [Taoist Divination and Arts] (published in 1998 by
Wenjin Press of Taiwan), Wu Weimin and Jiang Jianyuan’s Daojiao
wenxue sanshitan 道教文学三十谈 [Thirty Essays on Taoist Literature]
(published in 1993 by Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press),
34 qing xitai
Li Fengmao’s Liuchao SuiTang daolei xiaoshuo yanjiu 六朝隋唐道类小说
研究 [Studies on Taoist Novels in the Six Dynasties, the Sui, and the Tang]
(published in 1986 by Student Book of Taiwan), Zhongguo xianhua 中国
仙话 [Chinese Legends of the Immortals] (edited by Zheng Shiyou and
Chen Xiaoqin and published in 1990 by Shanghai Literature and Art
Publishing House), Mei Xinlin’s Xianhua shenren zhijian de mohuan shijie
仙话—神人之间的魔幻世界 [The Legends of the Immortals—The Magic
World between Gods and Humans] (published in 1992 by Sanlian Publish-
ing Company), Luo Yongling’s Zhongguo xianhua yanjiu 中国仙话研究
[Studies on Chinese Legends of the Immortals] (published in 1993 by Shang-
hai Literature and Art Publishing House), Yang Guangwen and Gan
Shaocheng’s Qingci bixiao daojiao wenxue yishu 青词碧箫—道教文学
艺术 [Green Declarations and Green Flutes—Taoist Literary Art] (published in
1994 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Liu Shouhua’s Daojiao yu
minsu wenxue 道教与民俗文学 [Taoism and Folk Literature] (published in
1993 by Beijing Yanshan Press) and Daojiao yu Zhongguo minjian wenxue
道教与中国民间文学 [Taoism and Chinese Folk Literature] (published in
1994 by Wenjin Press of Taiwan), Huang Zhaohan’s Daojiao yu wenxue
道教与文学 [Taoism and Literature] (published in 1994 by Student Book
of Taiwan), Sun Changwu’s Daojiao yu Tangdai wenxue 道教与唐代
文学 [Taoism and Literature in the Tang Dynasty] (published in 2001 by
Renmin wenxue Press), Zhong Laiyin’s Su Shi yu daojia daojiao 苏轼与
道家道教 [Su Shi, Philosophical Taoism, and Religious Taoism] (published
in 1986 by Chung Hwa Book of Taiwan), Zhang Songhui’s HanWei
Liuchao daojiao yu wenxue 汉魏六朝道教与文学 [Taoism and Literature in
the Han, Wei, and Six Dynasties] (published in 1996 by Hunan Normal
University Press) and TangSong daojia daojiao yu wenxue 唐宋道家道教与
文学 [Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism, and Literature in the Tang and
Song Dynasties] (published in 1998 by Hunan Normal University Press),
Huang Shizhong’s Tangshi yu daojiao 唐诗与道教 [Tang Poetry and Tao-
ism] (published in 1996 by Lijiang Publishing House), Shang Shiduo’s
Daojia sixiang yu HanWei wenxue 道家思想与汉魏文学 [Taoist Ideas and
Literature in the Han and Wei Dynasties] (published in 2000 by Beijing
Normal University Publishing House), Zhan Shichuang’s Daojiao yu xiju
道教与戏剧 [Taoism and Theatre] (published in 1997 by Wenjin Press of
Taiwan), Gao Nan’s Daojiao yu meixue 道教与美学 [Taoism and Aesthet-
ics] (published in 1989 by Liaoning People’s Publishing House), Zhan
Shichuang’s Daojiao meishu shihua 道教美术史话 [A History of Taoist Art]
(published in 1992 by Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House),
Wang Yi’e’s Daojiao meishu shihua 道教美术史话 [A History of Taoist
taoist studies: past and present 35
Art] (published in 1994 by Beijing Yanshan Press), Pan Xianyi’s Damei
buyan daojiao meixue sixiang fanchou lun 大美不言—道教美学思想范畴
论 [True Beauty Without Saying A Word—A Definition of Taoist Aesthetics]
(published in 1997 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), and Gou
Bo’s Daojiao yu shenmo xiaoshuo 道教与神魔小说 [Taoism and Novels on
Deities] (published in 1999 by Bashu shushe).
Seventh, works on the Taoist beliefs in deities included Zhongguo
minjian zhushen 中国民间诸神 [The Chinese Folk Pantheon] (edited by
Zong Li and Liu Qun and published in 1987 by Hebei renmin Press),
Zhongguo shenxian daquan 中国神仙大全 [The Chinese Pantheon] (edited
by Leng Li and Fan Li and published in 1990 by Liaoning People’s
Publishing House), Huang Haide’s Tianshang renjian daojiao shenxian puxi
天上人间:道教神仙谱系 [Men in Heaven: The Taoist Pantheon] (pub-
lished in 1994 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), and Daojiao
xinyang yanjiu 道教信仰研究 [Studies on Taoist Beliefs] (edited by the
Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan University and published in
2000 by Zhongguo daotong Press of Taiwan).
Eighth, works on Taoist inner alchemy and techniques included
Zhongguo gudai huaxueshi yanjiu 中国古代化学史研究 [Studies on the His-
tory of Ancient Chinese Chemistry] (published in 1985 by Beijing Univer-
sity Press), Meng Naichang’s Daojiao yu Zhongguo liandanshu shi 道教与
中国炼丹术史 [Taoism and the History of Chinese Alchemy] (published in
1993 by Beijing Yanshan Press), Zhouyi cantongqi kaobian 周易参同契
考辨 [A Collation of the Token for the Kinship of the Three According to the
Zhouyi] (published in 1993 by Shanghai guji Press), Wandai danjingwang
Zhouyi cantongqi sanshisijia zhushi jicui 万代丹经王<周易参同契>三十
四家注释集萃 [A Collection of Thirty-Four Kinds of Annotations on the King
of Alchemical Scriptures—the Token for the Kinship of the Three According to the
Zhouyi] (edited by Meng Naichang and Meng Qingxuan and published
in 1993 by Huaxia Press), Zhang Jueren’s Zhongguo liandanshu yu danyao
中国炼丹术与丹药 [Chinese Taoist Alchemy and Alchemical Drugs] (pub-
lished in 1981 by the Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Jin Zheng-
yao’s Daojiao yu kexue 道教与科学 [Taoism and Science] (published in
1991 by the China Social Sciences Press), Zhu Yaping’s Daojia wenhua
yu kexue 道家文化与科学 [Taoist Culture and Science] (published in 1995
by Zhongguo kexue jishu daxue Press), Chen Guofu’s Zhongguo waidan
huangbaifa kao 中国外丹黄白法考 [Studies on Taoist Laboratory Alchemy]
(published in 1997 by Shanghai guji Press), Rong Zhiyi’s Zhongguo lian-
danshu kaolüe 中国炼丹术考略 [Studies on Chinese Taoist Alchemy] (pub-
lished in 1998 by Sanlian Publishing Company), and Zhongguo daojiao
36 qing xitai
kexue jishushi HanWei liangJin juan 中国道教科学技术史<汉魏两晋卷>
[A History of Chinese Taoist Science and Technology (Chapter on Han, Wei,
Western Jin, and Eastern Jin Dynasties)] (edited by Jiang Sheng and Tang
Jianxia and published in 2002 by Science Press).
Ninth, works on Taoist inner alchemy included Li Yuanguo’s Qigong
jinghuaji 气功精华集 [An Essential Collection of Qigong] (published in 1987
by Bashu shushe), and Daojiao qigong yangshengxue 道教气功养生学 [The
Taoist Regimen of Qigong] (published in 1991 by Sichuan Lexicographical
Publishing House), Daojiao zhengpai danfa jingxuan 道教正派丹法精选
[A Selection of Taoist Orthodox Inner Alchemy] (compiled by Wang Mu and
published in 1989 by Zhongyi guji Press), Chen Bing’s Daojiao qigong
baiwen 道教气功百问 [A Hundred Questions on Taoist Qigong] (published
in 1989 by Jinri Zhongguo Press), Zhongguo fangshu dacidian 中国方术
大辞典 [A Dictionary of Chinese Taoist Techniques] (published in 1991 by
Sun Yat-sen University Press), LaoZhuang cidian 老庄词典 [A Dictionary
of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu] (edited by Dong Zhi’an and published in
1993 by Shandong Education Press), Jindan 金丹 [The Golden Elixir]
(written and edited by Wang Erfeng and Xiaozhou and published in
1989 by the Chinese Women’s Publishing House), Wang Songling’s
Zhongguo qigong de shi li fa 中国气功的史、理、法 [The History, the Logic,
and the Doctrine of Chinese Qigong] (published in 1989 by Huaxia Press),
Wang Qingyu’s Michuan daojia Yijinjing neidangong 秘传道家易筋经内
丹功 [Inner Alchemy: The Art of Taoist Esoteric Yijin Scripture] (published
in 1990 by Renmin tiyu Press), Daojia qigong baodian 道家气功宝典
[The Treasury of Taoist Qigong] (edited by Zhou Xiaoxue and published
in 1990 by Shanxi kexue jiaoyu Press), Neidan yu chanding daofoyi qigong
dianji xuanjie 内丹与禅定—道佛医气功典籍选解 [Inner Alchemy and
Chan Meditation—An Explanation from Selected Books of Taoist, Buddhist, and
Medical Qigong] (edited by Zhang Rongming and published in 1991
by the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House), Shi Dalang’s
Daojiao neidan yangshengxue gaiyao 道教内丹养生学概要 [An Outline of
the Taoist Regimen of Inner Alchemy] (published in 1992 by Hong Kong
Taoist College), Ren Farong’s Huangdi yinfujing shiyi 黄帝阴符经
释义 [An Annotation of the Yellow Emperor’s Scripture on the Hidden Talisman]
(published in 1992 by Sanqin Press) and Zhouyi cantongqi shiyi 周易参
同契释义 [An Annotation of the Token for the Kinship of the Three According
to the Zhouyi] (published in 1993 by Xibei daxue Press), Daozang nannü
xingming shuangxiu migong 道藏男女性命双修秘功 [Esoteric Sexual Prac-
tice in the Taoist Canon] (published in 1994 by Liaoning guji Press), Du
Xianchen’s Neidan tanmi 内丹探秘 [Exploring the Secrets of Inner Alchemy]
taoist studies: past and present 37
(published in 1994 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Zhou
Ruming’s Zhongguo Antangshan daojia neigong neidan shu 中国安堂山道家
内功内丹术 [Taoist Inner Alchemy of Chinese Antang Mountain] (published
in 1994 by Sichuan keji Press), Shesheng zongyao yu shuangxiu yaoji 摄生
总要与双修要集 [The Essence of Life-preserving Regimen and Sexual Practice]
(published in 1995 by Hainan guoji xinwen chuban zhongxin 海南国
际新闻出版中心), Ji Douyong’s “Neidanxue 内丹学” [Studies on Inner
Alchemy] in Guoxue tonglan 国学通览 [A Panorama of Sinology] (published
in 1996 by Qunzhong Press), Wang Mu’s Neidan yangsheng gongfa zhiyao
内丹养生功法旨要 [The Essence of Inner Alchemy and Self-Cultivation Regi-
men] (published in 1990 by Zhonghua shuju), Hu Fuchen’s Daojiao yu
xianxue 道教与仙学 [Taoism and Immortality Study] (published in 1991 by
Xinhua Press), Zhang Guangbao’s JinYuan quanzhendao neidan xinxingxue
金元全真道内丹心性学 [Spirituality and Inner Alchemy of the Quanzhen
School in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties] (published in 1995 by Sanlian Pub-
lishing Company), and Ma Jiren’s Daojiao yu liandan 道教与炼丹 [Tao-
ism and Inner Alchemy] (published in 1997 by Wenjin Press of Taiwan).
Tenth, works on the Taoist medical regimen and environmental-
ism included Bian Zhizhong’s Zhongguo daojiao michuan yangsheng chang-
shoushu 中国道教秘传养生长寿术 [Chinese Taoist Esoteric Techniques
of Self-Cultivation Regimen and Longevity] (published in 1987 by China
Reconstructs Press), Chen Yingning’s Daojiao yu yangsheng 道教与养生
[Taoism and Self-Cultivation Regimen] (published in 1989 by Huawen
Press), Daojia yangsheng miku 道家养生秘库 [A Secret Treasury of Taoist
Self-Cultivation Regimen] (edited by Hong Jianlin and published in 1991
by Dalian Publishing House), Hong Pimo’s Fodao xiuxing yangshengfa
佛道修性养生法 [Buddhist and Taoist Self-Cultivation Regimen] (published
in 1991 by Shanghai wenhua Press), Li Yuanguo’s Zhongguo daojiao
yangsheng chaoshoushu 中国道教养生长寿术 [Chinese Taoist Techniques of
Self-Cultivation Regimen and Longevity] (published in 1992 by Sichuan keji
Press), Zhang Qin’s Daojiao lianyang xinlixue yinlun 道教炼养心理学引
论 [An Introduction to Psychology in Taoist Inner Alchemy] (published in 1999
by Bashu shushe), Daojia yangshengshu 道家养生术 [Taoist Self-Cultivation
Techniques] (edited by Chen Yaoting, Li Ziwei, and Liu Zhongyu and
published in 1992 by Fudan University Press), Li Yuanguo’s Daojiao
yangshengfa 道教养生法 [The Taoist Self-Cultivation Regimen] (published in
1993 by Beijing Yanshan Press), Meng Naichang’s Daojiao yu Zhongguo
yiyaoxue 道教与中国医药学 [Taoism and Chinese Medicine] (published in
1993 by Beijing Yanshan Press), Zhu Heting’s Zhongguo michuan bao-
dian 中国秘传宝典 [The Chinese Esoteric Treasury] (published in 1994 by
38 qing xitai
Yazhou yishu Press), Wang Qingyu and Kuang Wennan’s Daoyi kuimi
daojiao yishu kangfushu 道医窥秘—道教医术康复术 [The Decyphering of
Taoist Medicine—Rehabilitation Techniques in Taoist Medicine] (published in
1994 by Sichuan People’s Publishing House), and Gai Jianmin’s Daojiao
yixue daolun 道教医学导论 [An Introduction to Taoist Medicine] (published
in 1994 by Zhongguo daotong Press of Taiwan) and Daojiao yixue
道教医学 [Taoist Medicine] (published in 2001 by the Religious Culture
Publishing House).
Eleventh, works on Taoist music included Zhongguo Wudangshan
daojiao yinyue 中国武当山道教音乐 [Taoist Music from Wudang Moun-
tain, China] (edited by teachers and students from the Wuhan music
school and published in 1987 by Zhongguo wenlian Press), Yuxi daoren
Min Zhiting chuanpu quanzhen zhengyunpu ji 玉溪道人闵智亭传谱:全真
正韵谱辑 [The Music Score of Yuxi Daoren Min Zhiting: An Anthology of
Orthodox Music of the Quanzhen School] (recorded, transcribed, and edited
by Shi Xinmin, Zhou Zhengxi, Wang Zhongren, Xiang Siyi, and Liu
Hong and published in 1993 by Zhongguo wenlian Press), Zhongguo
Longhushan tianshidao yinyue 中国龙虎山天师道音乐 [The Music of the
Heavenly Master School from Longhu Mountain] (recorded, transcribed, and
edited by Shi Xinmin, Zhou Zhengxi, Wang Zhongren, Xiang Siyi
and published in 1993 by Zhongguo wenlian Press), Wang Chunwu
and Gan Shaocheng’s Zhongguo daojiao yinyue 中国道教音乐 [Chinese
Taoist Music] (published in 1993 by Xinan jiaotong daxue Press), Cao
Benye and Pu Hengqiang’s Wudangshan daojiao yinyue yanjiu 武当山道教
音乐研究 [Studies on Taoist Music from Wudang Mountain] (published in
1993 by the Commercial Press, of Taiwan), Pu Hengqiang’s Daojiao yu
Zhongguo chuantong yinyue 道教与中国传统音乐 [Taoism and Chinese Tra-
ditional Music] (published in 1993 by Wenjin Press of Taiwan), Daojiao
yinyue 道教音乐 [Taoist Music] (written by Shi Xinmin, Zhou Zhengxi,
Wang Zhongren, and Xiang Siyi and published in 1994 by Beijing
Yanshan Press), Zhongguo daojiao yinyue shilüe 中国道教音乐史略 [A Brief
History of Chinese Taoist Music] (written by Cao Benye, Wang Zhongyi,
Gan Shaocheng, Liu Hong, and Zhou Yun and published in 1996 by
Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi in Taiwan), Shanghai Baiyunguan shishi keyi
yinyue yanjiu 上海白云观施食科仪音乐研究 [Studies on the Ritul of Feed-
ing Hungry Ghosts: Ritual Music of Shanghai Baiyun Temple] (written by Cao
Benye and Zhu Jianming and published in 1997 by Xinwenfeng chu-
ban gongsi), Liu Hong’s Suzhou daojiao keyi yinyue yanjiu 苏州道教科仪
音乐研究 [Studies on Taoist Ritual Music of Suzhou] (published in 1997 by
taoist studies: past and present 39
Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi), Zhan Renzhong’s Laoshanyun ji Liaodong
Quanzhendao qiyue yanjiu “劳山韵”及辽东全真道器乐研究 [Studies on
the Music from Lao Mountain and the Instrumental Music of the Quanzhen
School of Eastern Shandong] (published in 1997 by Xinwenfeng chuban
gongsi), Wudang yun 武当韵 [The Music of Wudang Mountain] (written by
Wang Guangde, Wang Zhongren, Liu Hong, Zhou Yun, and Yuan
Shuyan and published in 1997 by Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi), and Pu
Hengqiang’s Shensheng liyue zhengtong daojiao keyi yinyue 神圣礼乐—正统
道教科仪音乐 [Sacred Ritual Music—Orthodox Taoist Ritual Music] (pub-
lished in 2000 by Bashu shushe).
Twelfth, works on Taoist rituals, talismans, and techniques included
Min Zhiting’s Daojiao yifan 道教仪范 [Taoist Ritual Standards] (published
in 1990 by China Taoist College) and Daojiao yifan Zhongguo chuan-
tong yishi yinyue yanjiu jihua zhiyi 道教仪范—中国传统仪式音乐研究
计划之一 [Taoist Ritual Standards—One of the Projects on Chinese Tradi-
tional Ritual Music] (published in 1995 by Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi),
Zhang Zehong’s Bugang tadou daojiao jili yishi 步罡踏斗—道教祭礼仪式
[Pacing the Big Dipper—Taoist Ritual] (published in 1994 by the Sichuan
People’s Publishing House), Jitan chanyin 祭坛颤音 [Vibrato on the Altar]
(published in 1996 by the Sichuan People’s Publishing House), Zhang
Zehong’s Daojiao zhaijiao keyi yanjiu 道教醮科仪研究 [Studies on Taoist
Rituals] and Daojiao zhaijiao fuzhou yishi 道教醮符咒仪式 [Studies on
Taoist Talismans, Incantations and Rituals] (both published in 1999 by
Bashu shushe), and Liu Xiaoming’s Zhongguo fuzhou wenhua daguan 中国
符咒文化大观 [A Panorama of the Culture of Chinese Talismans and Incanta-
tions] (published in 1995 by Baihuazhou Literature and Art Publishing
House), Wang Yucheng’s Daojiao fayin lingpai tan’ao 道教法印令牌探奥
[Taoist Seals and Command Tablets] (published in 2000 by Religious
Culture Publishing House), and Min Zhiting and Zhang Zehong’s
Daojiao liyi 道教礼仪 [Taoist Liturgy] (published in 2000 by Hong Kong
Taoist College).
Thirteenth, more general works and reference books on Taoism
included Zeng Zhaonan and Shi Yanfeng’s Daojiao jichu zhishi 道教
基础知识 [Taoist Basic Knowledge] (published in 1988 by Sichuan Uni-
versity Press), Zhongguo daojiao jichu zhishi 中国道教基础知识 [Chinese
Taoist Basic Knowledge] (edited by the Taoist Study Group of the Insti-
tute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
and published in 1999 by the Religious Culture Publishing House),
Zhongguo daojiao fengmao 中国道教风貌 [The Style and Features of Chinese
40 qing xitai
Taoism] (edited by the Chinese Taoist Association and published in
1999 by the Religious Culture Publishing House), Zhu Yueli’s Daojiao
wenda 道教问答 [Questions and Answers on Taoism] (published in 1989 by
Huawen Press), Li Yangzheng’s Daojiao gaishuo 道教概说 [Introduction
to Taoism] (published in 1989 by Zhonghua shuju), Daojiao shouce 道教
手册 [Handbook of Taoism] (edited by Li Yangzheng and published in
1993 by Zhongzhou guji Press), Lu Guolong’s Daojiao zhishi baiwen
道教知识百问 [A Hundred Questions on Taoism] (published in 1991 by
Foguang Press of Taiwan), Guo Wu’s Daojiao lishi baiwen 道教历史百问
[A Hundred Questions on Taoist History] (published in 1995 by Jinri Zhong-
guo Press), Daojiao changshi dawen 道教常识答问 [Questions and Answers
on Taoism] (published in 1994 by Jiangsu guji Press), Daojiao yu daoxue
changshi 道教与道学常识 [Knowledge of Taoism and Taoist Studies] (edited
by Qing Xitai and published in 1997 by Zhonghua daotong Press of
Taiwan), Zhongguo daojiao 中国道教 [Chinese Taoism] (in four volumes,
edited by Qing Xitai and published in 1994 by Shanghai zhishi Press),
Zhonghua daoxue tongdian 中华道学通典 [A Reference Book of Chinese Taoist
Studies] (edited by Wu Feng and Song Yifu and published in 1994 by
Nanhai Press), Daojiao dacidian 道教大辞典 [A Large Dictionary of Tao-
ism] (edited by Min Zhiting and Li Yangzheng and published in 1994
by Huaxia Press), Zhonghua daojiao dacidian 中华道教大辞典 [A Large
Dictionary of Taoism in China] (edited by Hu Fuchen and published in
1995 by China Social Sciences Press), and Daojiao xue 道教学 [Taoist
Studies] (written by Zhu Yueli and Chen Min and published in 2000
by the Contemporary World Press).
Additional works include Zongjiao cidian 宗教辞典 [A Dictionary of
Religions] (the section on Taoism, edited by Ren Jiyu, under the super-
vision of Qing Xitai, and published in 1981 by Shanghai Lexicograph-
ical Publishing House). In 1998, Ren Jiyu expanded Zongjiao cidian into
Zhongjiao dacidian 宗教大辞典 [The Great Dictionary of Religions] and pub-
lished the section on Taoism as Daojiao xiaocidian 道教小辞典 [A Short
Dictionary of Taoism] in 2000 with the Shanghai Lexicographical Pub-
lishing House. There was also the section on Taoism in Zhongguo dabaike
quanshu zongjiaojuan 中国大百科全书·宗教卷 [An Encyclopedia of China,
Section on Religion] (edited by Qing Xitai and published in 1988 by
Encyclopedia of China Publishing House). In May 1990, the Encyclo-
pedia of China Publishing House published a volume on Taoism enti-
tled Zhongguo dabaike quanshu xuanji daojiao 中国大百科全书选辑·道教
[A Selection of Articles on Taoism from the Encyclopedia of China].
taoist studies: past and present 41
Fourteenth, works on Taoism translated from foreigh languages
include Noritada Kubo’s Daojiao shi 道教史 [A History of Taoism] (trans-
lated by Xiao Kunhua, first published successively in Religious Studies,
nos. 1, 3, and 4 republished in 1987 by Shanghai Translation Publish-
ing House), Fukui Kōjun’s Daojiao 道教 [Taoism] (in three volumes,
translated by Zhu Yueli et al. and published in 1990 and 1992 by
Shanghai guji Press), and Anna K. Seidel’s Chronicle of Taoist Studies in
the West: 1950–1990 西方道教研究史 (translated by Jiang Jianyuan
and Liu Ling and published in 2000 by Shanghai guji Press). This
same book was translated by Lü Pengzhi and others and published
as a series of articles in Religious Studies under the title of Xifang daojiao
xianjiu biannianshi 西方道教研究编年史.
This list of more than 200 works is my own personal selection,
with its own limitations. This number is already considerable, without
accounting for the current increase of more than ten works per year.
The content of these works exceeds that of the first two periods in
length and quality. The number of published papers on Taoism dur-
ing the last 20 years has exceeded 1,000, with about 50 articles per
year on average being published. The scope of the subjects is wider.
Some of them attain the same high academic level as that of the books
published on Taoism. However, due to space limitations I could not
take into account all the published works and deeply regret this fact.
In conclusion, Taoist research, over the last 20 years, has made a
qualitative and quantitative leap compared to the two preceding peri-
ods of its development. We should not forget to mention the Taoist
Canon, published by the Cultural Relics Press, Shanghai shudian 上海
书店, and the Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House, and the tra-
ditional thread-bound and compact editions of Zangwai daoshu and
Daozang jiyao 道藏辑要 [Collected Essentials of the Taoist Canon]. The
publication of these collections of Taoist volumes has facilitated the
expansion of Taoist studies.
The eight categories within Taoist studies listed above show that
since the Economic Reform, Chinese Taoist studies have entered a
new era. Not only have dedicated research institutes and training cen-
ters been created, but also specialised journals have been published.
Research teams composed of both scholars who specialise in Taoism
and scholars from other fields, and of older and younger generations,
took shape and developed. They used to their advantage the thousand-
year-old roots of Chinese culture together with their predecessors’
42 qing xitai
pioneering work, and the contributions of their foreign counterparts.
They made phenomenal progress. They overcame many difficulties,
broke new ground in many fields, and achieved fruitful results. The
vitality of the research, the scope of the content, and the abundance of
the results have drawn the attention of international scholars. Today,
Chinese Taoist scholars are often invited to participate in international
conferences abroad and many foreign scholars often come to China
to study or participate in conferences. Chinese Taoist studies have
gained an international reputation. Looking to the future, we are full
of confidence. However, we have to realize that Chinese Taoist stud-
ies, although they have progressed through a complicated and arduous
process, are still in their infancy. The extent of these studies is wide
and requires investigation from many different angles. We have come
a long way, but there is still a long way to go for more Chinese schol-
ars, especially from a younger generation, to achieve greater success.
A Perspective Analysis
I would like to make a general remark on the future of Taoist studies.
In my opinion, the next objective of Chinese Taoist studies should
focus on in-depth development of the existing basic knowledge that
has already been gathered, and more specifically:
First, interdisciplinary studies should be launched to expand the extent
of Taoist studies. The existing studies on Taoist philosophy, literature,
ethics, self-cultivation regimen, science, music, art, aesthetics, lan-
guage, and archaeology, and on the relationship between Taoism and
Chinese minorities need to be deepened to produce more systema-
tic and high-level works. At the same time, studies on the relation-
ship between Taoism and politics, Taoism and Confucianism, Taoism
and Folklore, and so on should be initiated to produce better-quality
works. Studies on the comparison between Taoism and other reli-
gions should be carried out systematically so as to promote Taoist
culture.
Second, studies on local Taoism should be widened. Currently,
there are only a few works, including Wudang daojiao shilüe, Chang’an
Zhongnanshan daojiao shilüe, Xianggang yu Aomen zhi daojiao, and Taiwan
daojiao yuanliu. Dedicated studies should be carried out to broaden the
scope of such research.
taoist studies: past and present 43
Third, studies on Taoist Schools should be considered. So far, these
include only Tianshidao shilüe, Louguandao yuanliu kao, and Jingmingdao
yanjiu, and a few other works. More Taoist Schools should be studied
thoroughly, using the research that has already unearthed a number
of interesting elements.
Fourth, the study and collation (including annotation, punctua-
tion, and translation into modern Chinese) of Taoist books should
be extended. Some Chinese publishing houses have paid attention
to these studies and published some annotated and translated Taoist
books. Nevertheless, there are a few publishers, such as Zhonghua
shuju, which systematically put the publication of these studies on their
agenda but made slow progress and could not meet the increasing
demand. The scope of such studies therefore needs to be widened.
Fifth, studies on Taoist doctrines should be the focus of our atten-
tion. Currently, there are a few books and articles on this subject. But
we need scholars to study them systematically from a religious angle.
These studies are at the core of the past and present of Taoist studies.
Thus, they are not only indispensable to correct the prejudice of some
scholars who believe Taoism does not have its own body of doctrines,
but they are also important to help Taoism meet the development of
modern Chinese society.
Sixth, works by foreign scholars on Taoism should be widely trans-
lated and published. This mission is indispensable to Taoist studies
despite the preliminary stage of its data collection, because Taoism
has been the focal point of studies on an international scale. Japanese
and French scholars have studied Taoism for more than 100 years.
Scholars from England, Germany, and the United States are catching
up, and their publications are extensive. In addition, they have paid
attention to the collection and accumulation of primary sources and
thoroughly used them. We have translated only a few of their results.
Only Xiao Kunhua and Zhu Yueli translated some of their work, but
the could not meet the increasing demand. It will be harmful to our
in-depth study of Taoism if we do not change our strategy. So this
work needs to be carried out with some urgency.
On the other hand, we should also translate our important works of
Taoist studies into foreign languages and promote them abroad in
order to accelerate the communication between Chinese and foreign
scholars and together improve the level of Taoist studies. So far, only
David C. Yu has translated the first volume of Zhongguo daojiao shi, a
44 qing xitai
four-volume edition that I edited and that was published in 2000 by
University Press of America. Although the original author’s name was
ommited on both book cover and copyright information, this publi-
cation was still a good start, in spite of the breach of copyright. We
hope more people commit themselves to this work in order to facilitate
the cooperation of Chinese and foreign scholars who are promoting
Taoist culture.
If there are inadequacies in this introduction, criticism and correc-
tion from my readers will be welcome. I am willing to discuss and
correct any of the inadequacies found in this work.
October 2002, Canada
FROM YIQIE DAOJING TO ZHONGHUA DAOZANG—
A RETROSPECTIVE OF THE STUDY OF THE TAOIST
TEXTUAL HERITAGE
Wang Ka
The Three Teachings, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism consti-
tute the core of traditional Chinese culture. Taoism is the only religion
that is native to China. As we know, all the major religions, such as
Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, possess their own long-
standing traditions and complete canons of scriptures, hence their clas-
sification as ‘canonical religions.’ This is the case with Taoism, which,
in its formation and evolution, gathered together a large quantity of
scriptures called the Taoist Canon. These scriptures are important com-
ponents of the Chinese cultural heritage and are precious historical
documents that elucidate the evolution of Chinese ancient religions,
philosophy, literature, science, and folklore. This chapter will review
the studies and collation of Taoist scriptures.
The Origin of the Taoist Scriptures
The Taoist community took shape in the middle and late periods of
the Eastern Han Dynasty (about the second century AD) but found
its origin in ancient Taoist thought and magic before the Eastern Han
Dynasty. So the origin of the Taoist scriptures precedes the formal cre-
ation of the Taoist community. According to the “Treatise on Litera-
ture” in the Hanshu, which was written by Ban Gu during the Eastern
Han Dynasty, there were 47 different titles for a total of 1,198 chapters
written on Taoism and on the belief in Immortals from antiquity to
the Western Han Dynasty. Besides these writings there were other
titles concerning the Yin-Yang School, Confucian teachings on the
Changes, Mohism, the School of Military thought, the Miscellaneous
Schools, mathematics (astronomy, the five elements, and divination),
various techniques (medicine, sexual practice), among others, altogether
over 200 titles for a total of about 4000 chapters. These ancient works
have been lost for the most part. The texts that have come down to
us, such as the Lao-tzu, the Chuang-tzu, the Huainanzi, the Mo-tzu 墨子,
46 wang ka
the Sunzi bingfa 孙子兵法 [The Art of War], and the Huangdi neijing 黄帝
内经 [The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon], were collected in the Taoist
Canon and constitute the earliest works in the canon.
As Taoism developed during the Eastern Han Dynasty, some early
Taoist scriptures appeared that were compiled by Taoists and magi-
cians, including the Scripture of Great Peace, Lao-tzu Annotated by Heshang
Gong, Lao-tzu Annotated by Xiang’er, and the Token for the Kinship of the
Three According to the Zhouyi. Of these, the Scripture of Great Peace—
produced most likely during the rule of Emperor Shun of the Eastern
Han (AD 126–144)—with its 170 chapters, is a “divine book,” which
expresses the ideas of the sorcerers and magicians of the period. As
the foundational scripture chosen by Zhang Jiao, the leader of Great
Peace Taoism, it was one of the key texts for the formation of early
communal Taoism. Considered by the Taoist believers at the end of
the Han Dynasty as a classic scripture to recite every day, the Tao Te
Ching is believed to have been commented on by Zhang Ling (or by
Zhang Lu), the patriarchs of the Taoism of Five Bushels of Rice, who
wrote Lao-tzu Annotated by Xiang’er. The latter explained Lao-tzu in the
light of Taoist ideology and supported the cult of the Most High Old
Lord, and the observance of Taoist rules and regimen towards tran-
scendence. This scripture is a keystone of Taoism.
Taoist scriptures multiplied during the Wei and Jin dynasties. The
Taoist scholar Ge Hong, in the chapter “Xialan,” in the Baopuzi,
recorded 204 Taoist scriptures for a total of 679 chapters, and 56
kinds of registers and talismans, for a total of 620 chapters, the two
categories adding to 1,299 chapters. The Taoists of the Wei and Jin
dynasties treasured their scriptures and did not make them accessible
to the public. The scriptures that Ge Hong quoted have been lost for
the most part, except for a few that have been handed down.
During the Southern and Northern dynasties, a large quantity of
Taoist scriptures, including the Shangqing 上清 [Highest Clarity], Lingbao
灵宝 [Numinous Treasure], and Zhengyi fawen 正一法文 [Texts of the Law
of Orthodox Unity] corpi appeared and became widespread. They were
then gathered into a collection. In the seventh year of the Taishi reign
of the Song Dynasty (AD 471), Emperor Ming asked the Taoist Lu
Xiujing to compile the Sandong jingshu mulu 三洞经书目录 [Catalogue
of Scriptures of Three Caverns], which included 1,228 chapters of Taoist
scriptures, prescriptions, and talismans, of which, 1,090 chapters were
already circulating. In the fourth year of the Putong reign of Emperor
Wu of the Liang Dynasty (AD 523), secretary Ruan Xiaoxu compiled
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 47
the Xiandao lu 仙道录 [Notes on Immortals and Taoists], as an addendum
to the Qilu 七录 [Seven Registrations], in which 425 titles for a total of
1,138 chapters of Taoist scriptures were classified in four categories:
Rules, Ingestion of Elixir, Sexual Practices, and Talismans. Some of
those Taoist scriptures of the Southern Dynasty, most of which were
recent scriptures of The Highest Clarity School, the Numinous Trea-
sure School, and the Heavenly Master, are still kept in today’s Taoist
Canon.
As for the Northern Dynasty, according to the “Treatise of Bud-
dhism and Taoism” in the Weishu, during the reign of Emperor Taiwu
of the Northern Wei Dynasty, Kou Qianzhi, a Taoist from Song Moun-
tain declared that a god had given him the Yunzhong yinsong xinke zhijie
云中音诵新科之诫 [Precept Scripture of the New Code, Recited in the Clouds],
consisting of 20 chapters, and the Lutu zhenjing 箓图真经 [The Perfect
Scripture on Talismans and Charts], composed of about 60 chapters, and
several medical prescriptions. In the first year of the Shiguang reign
(AD 424), Kou Qianzhi arrived in the capital, Pingcheng, presenting
the scriptures to the imperial court.
As a pious believer of Taoism, Yuwen Yong (Emperor Wu of the
Northern Zhou Dynasty) paid particular attention to the collection and
classification of Taoist scriptures. According to Zhen Luan’s Xiaodao
lun 笑道论 [A Discourse on Laughing at the Dao], the emperor asked the
Taoists of Xuandu Temple to compile the Catalogue of Xuandu, made up
of 6,363 chapters classified in five categories—Scriptures, Biographies,
Talismans, Charts, and Essays on Taoism. Of these, however, only
2,040 chapters were genuine, while more than 4,000 were apocryphal
chapters, which were often used by the Taoists of the time to com-
pete with Buddhist monks who possessed a larger number of sutras.
Emperor Wu of the Zhou Dynasty not only asked Taoists to collate
Taoist scriptures, but also to take charge of the compilation of an
exhaustive Taoist reference book, the Wushang biyao 无上秘要 [Esoteric
Essentials of the Most High]. As an important document for the study of
the beginning of Taoism, it quoted and classified about 300 kinds of
Taoist scriptures of the Han, Wei, and Six dynasties.
The Suichao daoshu zongmu 隋朝道书总目 [The Catalogue of Taoist
Scriptures of the Sui Dynasty], in four volumes, was compiled after the
unification of China. According to the “Treatise of Books,” in the
Suishu 隋书 [The Book of Sui Dynasty], in the third year of the Kaihuang
reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (AD 583), the secretary Niu
Hong was able to collect and collate the scriptures. He then compiled
48 wang ka
the catalogue of the Taoist scriptures and Buddhist sutras gathered in
the imperial Buddhist temple, classifying the Taoist scriptures into the
following categories—Rules, with 301 titles for a total of 908 chapters;
Ingestion of Elixir, with 46 titles for a total of 167 chapters; Sexual
Practices, with 13 titles for a total of 38 chapters; and Talismans, with
17 titles for a total of 103 chapters—a grand total of 377 titles and
1,216 chapters.
The beginning of the circulation of Taoist scriptures, that is, the
period from the Eastern Han Dynasty to the Wei, Jin, and Southern
and Northern dynasties witnessed the multiplication of Taoist scrip-
tures. These scriptures were catalogued, examined according to their
sources, and classified. But they were not all collected in one particular
Taoist Canon.
The History of the Compilation of the Taoist Canon
The Taoist Canon is a general collection of all the Taoist scriptures.
According to modern scholars, the first Taoist Canon took shape under
the reign of Emperor Gao and Empress Wu at the beginning of the
Tang Dynasty. It was called Yiqiejing 一切经 (“Comprehensive collec-
tion of scriptures”) or Yiqie daojing at that time and was similar to its
namesake Yiqie jing of the Buddhist Canon. The formation of the Tao-
ist Canon or Yiqie daojing may have been influenced by contemporary
Buddhism. Chinese Buddhist scriptures had first been called “Zhongjing
经” or “Yiqiejing,” and afterward “Jingzang 藏经” or “Zangjing,”
sometimes just “Zang 藏” for short.
The term “Dazangjing” (Buddhist Canon) appeared at the end of
the Southern and Northern dynasties and the beginning of the Sui
Dynasty. “Zang” is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit “Pitaka,”
which means the box or case used to preserve things. Ancient Indian
monks used boxes to preserve sutras written on leaves. China had an
ancient tradition of preserving classic books in golden cabinets and
stone rooms, which were called “preservation rooms 藏室.” So the
Chinese translation “Zang” for the Sanskrit “Pitaka” was close to the
idea of preserving sutras. In order to distinguish itself from the col-
lection of Buddhist sutras, which was called “Yiqiejing” or “Buddhist
Canon,” the collection of Taoist scriptures was called “Yiqie daojing” or
“Taoist Canon.”
In chapter two, “Compilation of Scriptures,” in the Taoist scripture
Sandong fengdao kejie yingshi 三洞奉道科戒营始 [The Foundations of Rules
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 49
and Precepts for Worshipping the Tao According to the Three Caverns] from the
beginning of the Tang Dynasty we find the following text:
All scriptures must be collected in two kinds of canon, the Complete
Canon and the Separate Canon. For the former, all the scriptures will be
gathered and called “The Canon of the Precious Scriptures of the Three
Caverns.” For the latter, each of the Three Caverns and Four Supple-
ments should be considered as a canon in itself. The first is “The Canon
of the True Scriptures of Great Cavern,” the second “The Canon of
the Precious Scriptures of Mystery Cavern,” the third “The Canon of
Immortal Scriptures of Spirit Cavern,” the fourth “The Canon of the
Scriptures of Great Mystery,” the fifth “The Canon of the Scriptures of
Great Peace,” the sixth “The Canon of the Scriptures of Great Purity,”
and the seventh “The Canon of the Scriptures of Orthodox Unity.”
Each category should be given a title in order to be distinguished one
from the other.
That means there were two methods for preserving the Taoist scrip-
tures. The first collected all the Taoist scriptures in a Complete Canon,
called “The Canon of the Precious Scriptures of the Three Caverns,”
while the second classified the Taoist scriptures in the “Three Cav-
erns and Four Supplements,” totalling seven categories, each category
being considered as one canon.
1
Instructions for making the “Zang”
were included in chapter three, “Ritual Tools,” in the Foundations of
Rules and Precepts for Worshipping the Tao According to the Three Caverns:
The outside of the Jingzang should be lacquered and sandalwood should
be used on its inside. Or the outside and inside could both be lacquered,
or ornamented with jewelery, or painted with colors, or decorated
1
The “Three Caverns and Four Supplements” is a system of classification of Tao-
ist scriptures according to which Taoist scriptures are classified in seven categories,
including “the Authenticity Cavern,” “the Mystery Cavern,” “the Cavern of the
Spirit,” “The Great Mystery,” “Great Peace,” “Great Purity,” and “Orthodox Unity.”
According to chapter two of the Daojiao yishu 道教义枢 [Essential Doctrines of Taoism],
written by the Taoist Meng Anpai at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, the Three
Caverns corresponded with major Taoist scriptures, the Authenticity Cavern category
with the “Scriptures of the Highest Clarity,” the Mystery Cavern category with the
“Scriptures of the Numinous Treasure,” and the Spirit Cavern category with the
“Scriptures of the Three Emperors.” As to the Four Supplements, the Great Purity
category supplemented the Spirit Cavern category with the scriptures on the ingestion
of elixir; the Great Peace category supplemented the Mystery Cavern category with
the divine book the Scripture of Great Peace; the Great Mystery category supplemented
the Authenticity Cavern category with the Tao Te Ching and others and the Orthodox
Unity category supplemented the other six categories with such scriptures of ancient
Heavenly Master School as the Text of the Law of Orthodox Unity. This system took
shape in the Southern and Northern dynasties and was followed from the Sui Dynasty
onward, when the Taoist Canon was compiled.
50 wang ka
simply with precious woods. That depends on the choice of the moment.
Its size depends also on one’s financial resources. Three or seven lay-
ers or cases should be painted or installed inside to preserve the Three
Caverns and Four Supplements separately. The door should be fitted
with a lock, and the Vajra and celestial kings should be painted on the
left and right side. It should be put on a table so as to avoid direct con-
tact with the ground.
In this text the “Jingzang” refers to the painted and lacquered wooden
cabinet in which scriptures were preserved. The Foundations of Rules
and Precepts for Worshipping the Tao According to the Three Caverns provided
instructions not only for making the Jingzang and for determining its
size, but also for copying and binding the scriptures . The formation of
the Yiqie daojing, or Taoist Canon, at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty
signified that Taoism had integrated the Indian tradition into the Chi-
nese tradition and developed its method of collecting and preserving
its own scriptures.
Under the Kaiyuan reign of Emperor Xuan of the Tang Dynasty,
the Yiqie daojing was first compiled by the government. It had a total of
3,744 chapters. In the seventh year of the Tianbao reign (AD 748), the
emperor ordered all the Taoists to transcribe the Yiqie daojing. Unfor-
tunately, most of the Taoist scriptures were burned during the wars at
the end of the Tang Dynasty. Among the remaining scriptures discov-
ered in Dunghuang, some pieces might be part of the Tang Dynasty
transcript of the Yiqie daojing.
Under the Dazhong xiangfu reign of the Song Dynasty, Emperor
Zhen ordered Zhang Junfang to take charge of the compilation of
the Taoist Canon. The Treasure of the Celestial Palace of the Great Song then
was compiled in the third year of the Tianxi reign (AD 1019), with
4,565 chapters. Extracting from the Tiangong baozang 天宫宝藏 [The
Precious Canon of the Celestial Palace of the Great Song], Zhang Junfang also
compiled the Seven Slips from a Cloudy Satchel, with 120 chapters, which
is considered a “compact Taoist Canon” and an important document
for studies on the circulation of Taoist scriptures during the Northern
Song Dynasty.
Under the Zhenghe reign, Emperor Hui of the Northern Song
Dynasty again ordered the collection of Taoist scriptures that were
collated by Taoists, including Yuan Miaozong and Wang Daojian.
The printing blocks were carved in the city of Fuzhou, and copies
were printed in Dongjing as Wanshou daozang 万寿道藏 [The Taoist
Canon of Wanshou], with 5,481 chapters. This was the first time that the
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 51
entire Taoist Canon was printed using printing woodblocks. It was taken
away by the Jurchen during the Jingkang period war, and has since
been lost. However, some characters with omitted strokes were used to
avoid the taboo names of the Song emperors in the scriptures collected
in the Taoist Canon of the Ming Dynasty edition, which could thus stem
in part from copies of the Southern Song Dynasty edition.
In the fourth year of the Dading reign (AD 1164), Emperor Shi
of the Jin Dynasty ordered the printing blocks for the Taoist Canon
of Wanshou to be moved from Bianjing (now Kaifeng) to the Shifang
Datianchang Temple in Zhongdu (presently the Baiyun Temple in
Beijing). In the first year of the Mingchang reign of Emperor Zhang
(AD 1190), the head of the Tianchang Temple, Sun Mingdao, was
ordered to compile the Dajin xuandu baozang 大金玄都宝藏 [The Pre-
cious Canon of Mystery Capital of the Great Jin Dynasty], made up of 6,455
chapters. It was soon burnt in a fire at the Tianchang Temple. There
is however a Jin Dynasty edition of the Literary Anthology of Panxi pre-
served in the Department of Rare Editions of the National Library
of China. The scriptures of the Jin Dynasty edition are said to be
preserved somewhere in Shanxi Province, although this remains to
be verified.
In the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Yuan
Dynasty (AD 1237), a suggestion made by the Taoist Song Defang
of the Quanzhen School to compile and print the Taoist scriptures
was approved. These scriptures, with more than 7,800 chapters, were
printed in the third year of the reign of Empress Naimazhen (AD
1244) and called the Precious Canon of Mystery Capital. In the eighteenth
year of the Zhiyuan reign of Emperor Shizu (AD 1281), the defeat
of the Taoists in the debate with Buddhist monks led to the burning
of the printing blocks for the Taoist Canon. Many classic Taoist scrip-
tures were thus lost. Today, the only remaining texts from the Yuan
Dynasty canon are the Scripture of Wind and Dew of Great Clarity and Seven
Slips from a Cloudy Satchel.
In the tenth year of the Zhengtong reign (AD 1445) of Emperor
Yingzong of the Ming Dynasty, the 43rd Heavenly Master Zhang
Yuchu compiled the Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign. In the thirty-fifth
year of the Wanli reign of Emperor Shenzong of the Ming Dynasty,
the 50th Heavenly Master, Zhang Guoxiang, compiled the Xu Dao-
zang 续道藏 [A Supplement to the Taoist Canon]. This canon included
more than 1,470 titles in 5,485 chapters, and was preserved in 512
boxes, which were numbered using the successive characters from the
52 wang ka
Thousand Character Classic. This Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign was
printed many times during the Ming and Qing dynasties and con-
ferred to Taoist temples across the country.
In the year Gengzi of Emperor Guangxu’s reign (AD 1900) during
the Qing Dynasty, the printing blocks for the Ming Dynasty edition
of the Taoist Canon were burnt during the invasion of the Eight-Nation
Alliance in Beijing. The copies of the Taoist Canon preserved in local
Taoist temples were also lost for the most part. Only the one preserved
in the Baiyun Temple in Beijing remained largely intact and has been
kept until today in the Department of Rare Editions of the National
Library of China.
In the early years of the Republic of China (AD 1923–1926), the
Hanfenlou publishing house in Shanghai published 350 copies of the
Taoist Canon from the Baiyun Temple edition, in a thread-bound ver-
sion in 1,120 volumes. In 1977, the Taiwanese publishing house Xin-
wenfeng chuban gongsi published a hardcover version in 60 volumes.
In 1988, the Cultural Relics Press, Shanghai shudian, and Tianjin
Ancient Books Publishing House jointly published a hardcover version
in 36 volumes. In addition, the Taiwanese publishing house version
collected 15 kinds of lost Taoist scriptures from the Ming and Qing
dynasties, while the Mainland Chinese version included a few correc-
tions to gaps in the Baiyun Temple edition.
The Collation of Taoist Scriptures in Modern and Contemporary China
From its last compilation in the Ming Dynasty until today, there has
not been a new official edition of the Taoist Canon in over 400 years.
However, some independent compilations of Taoist scriptures have
been made.
During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing of the Qing Dynasty (1796–
1820), Secretary Jiang Yuanting compiled and printed the Collected
Essentials of the Taoist Canon, including 173 titles. In the 32nd year of
Emperor Guangxu’s reign (1906), He Longxiang and Peng Hanran
reprinted it for the fourth time in the Temple of Two Immortals in
Chengdu, with 287 titles in 245 volumes, of which 114 titles had not
been collected in the Ming Dynasty edition.
During the Republic of China, Ding Fubao compiled the Daozang
jinghua lu 道藏精华录 [The Essence of the Taoist Canon] in 10 volumes,
including 100 titles, of which several had not been collected in the
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 53
Ming Dynasty edition. There were a number of other compilations,
including the Fanghu waishi 方壶外史 [The Untold History of Master Square
Pot], the Daoyan wuzhong 道言五种 [Five Kinds of Taoist Discourses], the
Daoshu shierzhong 道书十二种 [Twelve Kinds of Taoist Scriptures], the Gu-
shuyinlou cangshu 古书隐楼藏书 [A Collection from the Ancient Hidden Pavilion
of Books], the Jiyizi zhengdao mishu 济一子证道秘书 [The Secret Book of
Jiyizi, Who Realized the Tao], the Lengyuan xianshu 楞园仙书 [The Divine
Book of Leng Park], the Daoshu quanji 道书全集 [A Complete Collection of
Taoist Scriptures], the Daoguan zhenyuan 道贯真源 [The True Origin of the
Tao], the Daojing miji 道经秘集 [A Collection of Secret Taoist Scriptures], the
Daotong dacheng 道统大成 [The Great Accomplishment of Taoist Lineage],
the Xianshu miku 仙术秘库 [A Stock of Secret Divine Arts], the Daozang
xubian 道藏续编 [A Supplementary Collection of the Taoist Canon]. A com-
plete catalogue can be found in the Zhongguo congshu zonglu 中国丛书
综录 [A Comprehensive Descriptive Catalogue of Book Collections].
The Taiwanese Taoist scholar Xiao Tianshi began collating Taoist
scriptures in the 1950s and compiled the Essence of the Taoist Canon of
which 17 series and two supplementary series were published, with
more than 800 texts. Most of them concerned Taoist inner alchemy
and self-cultivation regimen. Many are Taoist scriptures in old edi-
tions, rare copies, and manuscripts that had not been collected in the
Ming dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon. They were published by
Taiwan ziyou chubanshe 台湾自由出版社 in 75 volumes in a hard-
cover version and 104 volumes in a paperback version. A complete
catalogue can be found in Taoist Culture (vol. 5, no. 12).
The American Taoist scholar Michael Saso compiled the Zhuang-
Lin Taoist Canon in 25 volumes and four categories, a collection of
Taoist scriptures on talismans and rituals, some of which are rare
manuscripts.
From 1989 to 1994, Taoist scholars led by Hu Daojing and Chen
Yaoting, compiled the Extra-Canonical Taoist Texts, which was published
by the Bashu shushe publishing house in Sichuan, in 36 volumes con-
taining 1,042 Taoist scriptures, including those written in the Ming
and Qing dynasties that were not included in the Ming Dynasty edi-
tion of the Taoist Canon. The manuscripts were discovered in modern
times, hidden among the people and among the works of modern and
contemporary scholars on Taoism. Examples include the manuscripts
Yuji jinxiang 玉笈金箱 [The Jade Book in the Golden Box], Daojia shiji 道家
诗记 [Notes on Taoist Poetry], and Dacheng jinshu 大成金书 [The Golden
Book of Great Accomplishment] of the Ming Dynasty edition, preserved in
54 wang ka
the Shanghai Library, and the Guangcheng yizhi 广成仪制 [Ritual Norms
of Master Guangcheng], preserved on Qingcheng Mountain in Sichuan.
In 1999, Tang Yijie, Ding Huang, and Zhang Guangbao edited
the Daoshu jicheng 道书集成 [Collection of Taoist Books] in 60 volumes
published by the Jiuzhou tushu chubanshe 九洲图书出版社 in Beijing.
In 2006, Wang Ka and Wang Guiping edited the Sandong shiyi 三洞
拾遗 [The Newly found books from the Three Caverns] in 20 volumes published
by Huangshan shushe 黄山书社 of Anhui. Some of the Taoist scrip-
tures collected in these two works are precious ancient versions pre-
served in the Institute of History and the Institute of World Religions
of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and cannot be found in
either the Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign or the Extra-Canonical Taoist
Texts. For example, the Daotong yuanliu 道统源流 [The Evolution of Taoist
Lineage] and the Jueyun benzhi daotong xinzhuan 觉云本支道统薪传 [The
Genealogy of the Jueyun Branch of the Orthodox Lineage] are key documents
for the study of the Taoist Longmen School of the Qing Dynasty and
cannot be found in other Taoist collections.
The aforementioned Taoist collections, compiled from the Ming
Dynasty until the modern times, provide abundant material for the
study of Taoism and should be considered as main sources if the Tao-
ist Canon of China is to be collated and supplemented more extensively
in the future.
The Collation of Documents Related to Taoism
Apart from the collections of the Taoist Canon mentioned above there
exist many other documents related to Taoism. The important works
on the collation of these documents are the following:
1) Lost ancient Taoist scriptures
Many ancient Taoist scriptures have been found during the last sev-
eral decades thanks to archaeological discoveries. In the 1950s, the
Wind and Dew of Great Clarity (preserved now in the Department of
Rare Editions of the National Library of China) was found in a pile
of wastepaper in the Cathay Bookshop. It is the remaining part of
the Yuan Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon Among the silk texts
and bamboo slips discovered in 1973 in the Mawangdui tombs of
Changsha, there was a large number of works from the Han Dynasty
on the philosophy of the Huang Lao School and its medical regimen,
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 55
including the silk texts of Lao-tzu, the Chart of Physical Training 导引图,
and the Prescriptions for Nourishing Life 养生方, and bamboo slips of
books on sexual practices, which are recorded in the Silk Books from a
Tomb at Mawangdui published by the Cultural Relics Publishing House.
In 1973, the bamboo slips of the Wenzi 文子 were discovered in the
tombs of the Han Dynasty in Bajiaolang of Dingzhou in Hebei. In the
1980s, the bamboo slips of the Book of Exercises 引书 and the Prescrip-
tions for Nourishing Life 养生书 were discovered in the tombs of the Han
Dynasty in Zhangjiashan of Jiangling in Hubei. In the 1990s, the bam-
boo slips of the Lao-tzu were discovered in the tombs of the Chu King-
dom in Guodian. These works of the ancient Huang Lao School and
Immortality School make up for a part of the lost scriptures recorded
in the “Treatise on Literature,” in the Hanshu, and provide valuable
information on the origins of early Taoism.
2) Archaeological material
From the 1950s on, archaeologists have found in tombs about 200
tomb-quelling texts (also called zhu-dispelling texts); land-purchase cer-
tificates; text records of burial items; and inscriptions by magicians
of the Han, Wei, and Six dynasties that were meant to dispel guilt
and calamity among the living as well as the dead. These texts are
very important for studies on the origins of early Taoism and Taoist
talismans and rituals. Some items and inscriptions concerning Tao-
ist beliefs were also found in tombs dating from the Tang dynasty to
the Qing dynasty. These new materials drew the attention of many
scholars, who later published on them. In 2004, the Thread-binding
Books Publishing House published the Zhongguo daojiao kaogu 中国道教
考古 [The Archaeology of Chinese Taoism], the most complete work in this
field, written by Zhang Xunliao and Bai Bin from Sichuan University
who collected and collated many Taoist archaeological documents and
examined them in the light of the Taoist Canon.
3) Taoist scriptures of Dunhuang
In the twenty-sixth year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign in the Qing
Dynasty (AD 1900), a large number of manuscripts of ancient scrip-
tures was found in the Dunhuang caves. More than 800 Taoist scrip-
tures were transcribed. These ranged from the Southern and Northern
dynasties to the Tang Dynasty and included Taoist philosophy,
rituals, reference books, critical essays, poetry, and prose. Of these,
the manuscripts of the Laozi huahu jing 老子化胡经 [The Scripture on
56 wang ka
Lao-tzu’s Conversion of the Barbarians], the Xiang’er Commentary on the Lao-
tzu, and the Catalogue of the Scripture of Great Peace make up for some lost
parts of the Taoist Canon. Chinese and foreign scholars have published
many articles and books since the discovery of the Taoist scriptures of
Dunhuang. The Japanese professor Ōfuchi Ninji collected the Tao-
ist manuscripts of Dunhuang, from library collections in China and
overseas (Europe, Japan), to write his Catalogue on the Taoist Scriptures
of Dunhuang 敦煌道经·目录编 (published in 1978 by the Fukutake
Publishing Co., Ltd.). This book collected 496 Taoist scriptures from
Dunhuang whose names, sizes, papers, dates of transcription, and
styles were examined in detail by the author. In 1979, Ōfuchi Ninji
published the Pictures and Photos of the Taoist Scriptures of Dunhuang 敦煌
道經·图录编. My Dunhuang daojiao wenxian yanjiu 敦煌道教文献研究
[Studies on the Taoist Documents of Dunhuang] (published in 2004 by the
China Social Sciences Press), which recorded more than 800 of the
Dunhuang Taoist scriptures (with serial numbers), is the most com-
plete reference book on the subject so far.
4) Metal and stone inscriptions
There is much valuable information concerning Taoism to be found
in the metal and stone inscriptions of all periods. The famous scholar
of the Republic of China Chen Yuan collected Taoist stone inscrip-
tions to compile the draft of the Brief Introduction of Taoist Stone and Metal
Inscriptions. In the 1980s, Chen Zhichao, after editing Chen Yuan’s
draft, published it in 1988 with the Cultural Relics Press. This book
included 1,538 Taoist inscriptions from the Han, Wei, and Six dynas-
ties to the Ming Dynasty and is the most complete collection on Taoist
metal and stone inscriptions to date. In 1997 the Bashu shushe pub-
lished the BaShu daojiao beiwen jicheng 巴蜀道教碑文集成 [A Collection of
the Taoist Stone Inscriptions in Sichuan] compiled by Long Xianzhao and
Huang Haide. In 2005, the Beijing University Press published Wang
Zongyu’s Jin-Yuan Quanzhenjiao shike xinbian 金元全真教石刻新编 [A
New Collection of Stone Inscriptions of the Quanzhen School of the Jin and Yuan
Dynasties]. Scholars have recently shown keen interest in the collect-
ing and collating of Taoist inscriptions. Their work is expected to be
released in the years to come.
5) Documents on Taoist history
A great number of documents on Taoist history, Taoist figures, rituals,
catalogues, temples and sacred mountains, and legends are preserved
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 57
in historical records, local records, reference books, literary collections,
unofficial histories, literary notes, novels, dramas, and the like. These
historical materials are difficult to find because they are scattered and
need to be collated. Chen Yingning, with the collaboration of the
Research Institute of the Chinese Taoist Association, compiled the
Daojiaoshi ziliao 道教史资料 [Documents on the History of Taoism] (pub-
lished in 1991 by Shanghai guji chubanshe). Its texts were drawn from
the Twenty-Four Histories 二十四史 and the Comprehensive Mirror to Aid
in Government 资治通鉴. Such collections of primary documents should
be continued.
6) Taoist scriptures preserved among the people
From the Ming and Qing dynasties on, Taoism was popularized.
There were numerous Taoist manuscripts, ritual scriptures, secret
instructions on inner alchemy and self-cultivation regimen, spirit-
writing texts, and morality books preserved among the people. Many
of them were not collected in the Taoist Canon. The French Taoist
scholar Kristofer Schipper collected thousands of Taoist folk manu-
scripts of which an electronic version has been recently completed.
Wang Qiugui, of the Academia Sinica, has also published the folk
Taoist ritual texts he has collected. These rich materials come from
fieldwork and have drawn the attention of Chinese and foreign Taoist
scholars.
7) Ethnic minorities and Taoist scriptures
Taoism, from its foundation, has formed a indissoluble bond with the
primary beliefs of such ethnic minorities in Southwest China as the
Tujia, Yi, and Yao people. Some Republican-period scholars (like
Xiang Da and Meng Wentong) have already studied the interaction
between Taoism and the beliefs of these minorities. However, they
were unable to pursue their studies for lack of documents. In May
2006, the third international conference—“Taoism and the Contem-
porary World: Taoist Cultivation in Theory and Practice”—brought
us good news. According to the paper that Lucia Obi presented at the
conference, “Taoist Aspects of Yao Ritual Manuscripts in the Bavar-
ian State Library,” this library possesses and preserves 2,776 manu-
scripts of the Yao people, of which 867 are written in Chinese, dated
between 1720 and 1980. The catalogue of these manuscripts has been
completed. They include some scriptures from the Taoist Canon, ritual
texts, and secret incantations, and concern Taoism for the most part.
58 wang ka
Those Taoist texts of the Yao people, preserved in Germany, are very
important for the study of the evolution and propagation of Taoism
among the Yao people from the Ming to the Qing dynasties. As far as
I know, there are a few Japanese students who have recently been to
Guangxi Province to collect texts on the fusion of the Taoist Qingwei
School rituals and divination practice, using chicken bones, of the Yao
people. This kind of fieldwork should be continued and more docu-
ments should be collected.
8) Taoist scriptures that have been preserved overseas
Over time, Taoism spread from China to neighboring countries like
Vietnam and Korea, where Taoist scriptures circulated. There are
Taoist scriptures preserved in the libraries of Seoul University, Yonsei
University, the Korean University, the HanNom Institute in Hanoi,
Princeton University, Kyoto University, and the Institut des Hautes
Études Chinoises.
The Taoist scriptures preserved in Korea include some precious
editions, which were not collected in the Taoist Canon and were written
and translated by Koreans. Korean scholars are said to be compiling
the Korean Taoist Canon. The HanNom Institute in Hanoi and some
French and Dutch institutes have a large number of ancient texts and
stone inscriptions in Chinese or in HanNom (Vietnamese written in
Chinese characters). Among them are many texts on Taoism, accord-
ing to the Yuenan hannan wenxian mulu tiyao 越南汉喃文献目录提要
[Descriptive Notes on the Catalogue of the Documents in HanNom in Vietnam]
edited by Liu Chunyin and Wang Xiaodun and published in 2002 by
the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy of the Academia
Sinica. These ancient texts are essential to study both Taoism and
Sino-foreign cultural exchanges.
9) Documents related to Buddhism
Throughout its evolution, Taoism maintained a close relationship
with Buddhism. They had heated debates; assimilated each other’s
doctrines, rules, and techniques; and were aware of each other’s evo-
lution. Therefore, among the large number of Buddhist documents,
there are many that concern Taoism, such as the Hongming ji 弘明集
[A Collection to Promote Buddhism and Expound Its Teaching], the Guang
Hongming ji 广弘明集 [A Supplementary Collection to Promote Buddhism and
Expound Its Teaching], the Ji gujin fodao lunheng 集古今佛道论衡 [A Collec-
tion of All Buddho-Taoist Debates], the Gaoseng zhuan 高僧传 [The Biography
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 59
of Eminent Monks], the Xu Gaoseng zhuan 续高僧传 [A Supplement to the
Biography of Eminent Monks], and the Zhiyuan bianwei lu 至元辨伪录
[Notes on the Distinction of Falsity from Truth in the Zhiyuan Reign]. There are
also some apocryphal Buddhist sutras that were influenced by Taoism.
In spite of the close attention scholars have paid to these important
documents on Taoist history and the Buddhist-Taoist relationship, the
Buddhist texts on Taoism have not yet been collected and collated.
Works and Reference Books on the Taoist Canon
The study of the Taoist Canon began in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Bai Yunji of the Ming Dynasty wrote the Daozang mulu xiangzhu 道藏
目录详注 [Detailed Comments on the Catalogue of the Taoist Canon], and the
famous scholar of the Qing Dynasty, Liu Shipei, wrote Remarks on the
Taoist Canon. More works and reference books by Chinese and foreign
scholars on the Taoist Canon have been produced in the last ten years
or so. Studies on the Evolution of the Taoist Canon by Chen Guofu and the
Daojiao jingdianshi lun 道教经典史论 [Remarks on the History of the Taoist
Classics] by Yoshioka Yoshitoyo are outstanding works on the evolu-
tion of the Taoist textual legacy. Zhu Yueli’s General Remarks on the
Taoist Canon is a more recent work of interest.
The compilation of the catalogue of Taoist scriptures began in the
Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern dynasties. The works on bibliog-
raphy of the Tang, Song, Jin, and Yuan dynasties noted many Taoist
scriptures that still existed at that time. For example, the chapter on
literature in the Tongzhi 通志 [A Comprehensive (Treatise on) Politics and
Regulations] by Zheng Qiao, written in the Southern Song Dynasty,
with 3,700 chapters including more than 1,320 titles of Taoist scrip-
tures, is the most complete of the works on Taoist bibliography written
by non-Taoist scholars. Taoist Books in the Libraries of the Sung Period: A
Critical Study and Index, written by the contemporary scholar Piet van
der Loon, is a very important work on Taoist bibliography.
The scriptures in the Taoist Canon are arranged randomly, making it
inconvenient for scholars to consult. Working on the Taoist Canon of the
Zhengtong Reign, the modern scholar Wen Dujian compiled the Collected
Essentials of the Taoist Canon, the Daozang quejing mulu 道藏缺经目录
[A Catalogue of the Lost Scriptures of the Taoist Canon], and the Combined
Indexes to the Authors and Titles of Books in Two Collections of Taoist Litera-
ture, which includes a catalogue of the Taoist Canon and indices of the
60 wang ka
scriptures, authors, and historical documents, which is a more practi-
cal reference book when consulting the Taoist Canon. The Taiwanese
hardcover edition, The Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign, was published
with a volume of the contents and index that can be used to consult
the Taoist Canon in its sutra-binding, Hanfenlou, and Taiwanese ver-
sions. The Comprehensive Descriptive Catalogue of Book Collections includes
an index of the Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign, the Collected Essentials
of the Taoist Canon, and the Essence of the Taoist Canon. Japanese and
French scholars have also compiled an index of some Taoist scrip-
tures. For example, working on 45 kinds of documents, Ōfuchi Ninji
and Ishii Masako compiled the Catalogue and Index of the Taoist Scriptures
Quoted in the Documents from the Six Dynasties, Tang, and Song Dynasties, a
major reference book for the study of the titles and dates of ancient
Taoist scriptures. The Daozang suoyin 道藏索引 [Concordance to the Tao-
ist Canon] (published in 1996 by the Shanghai shudian) compiled by
Kristofer Schipper and Chen Yaoting includes an index of five ver-
sions of the Taoist Canon.
The scriptures collected in the Taoist Canon are heterogeneous. Their
dates of compilation and the names of their authors are often unclear
and their contents cannot easily be identified from their titles. In the
1980s, the Taoist study group of the Institute of World Religions of
the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences compiled the Descriptive Notes
on the Taoist Canon (of which Ren Jiyu is the editor-in-chief ) in the style
of the Summary of the Complete Library of the Four Treasuries. This book,
which briefly introduces the dates of compilation, authors, and sum-
maries of the scriptures collected in the Ming Dynasty edition of the
Taoist Canon, helps readers understand the heterogeneous contents of
the Taoist Canon. Some imperfections of this book were corrected in
the The Great Dictionary of Chinese Taoism edited by Hu Fuchen. Kristofer
Schipper’s Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang, published
in 2005, is a new work in this field.
The Compilation of the Taoist Canon of China
Since the Ming and Qing dynasties, Taoism stagnated and the colla-
tions of Taoist scriptures were not as rich as those from the Tang and
Song dynasties. The Taoist Canon has never been compiled anew since
the end of the Ming Dynasty. The dynastic governments supported the
compilation of the Taoist Canon to show off their governance, merits,
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 61
and achievements, while the Taoist leaders did it in order to build
an authoritative religious system and win their followers’ recognition.
For Taoist believers, the Taoist Canon is a sacred book. But from a
broader perspective, it is also the precious heritage of traditional Chi-
nese culture. Of the world’s great civilizations, China has preserved
the most complete documents. When the conditions of political stabil-
ity and economic prosperity are met, the collection and collation of
documents can be carried out. Among the books on Confucianism,
Buddhism, and Taoism, the Buddhist Canon, and the Taoist Canon are
the highlights.
After the disastrous “Cultural Revolution,” from the 1980s onward,
China allowed the resumption of Taoist activities. Thus, Taoist studies
gained momentum. After gathering strength for over a decade, some
scientific institutes working with both younger and older generations
of scholars appeared and studies of Taoist scriptures were carried out.
Thus, the conditions to recompile the Taoist Canon were met. In 1996,
a project for the compilation of the Taoist Canon of China was initiated
by the Chinese Taoist Association, the Institute of Taoist Studies of
the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the Huaxia chubanshe,
to collate and recompile the Ming Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon.
Next, the extra-canonical Taoist scriptures should be compiled for a
Supplement to the Taoist Canon of China. With the efforts of more than one
hundred scholars across China, the seven-year-long first phase of the
project was successfully completed in 2003, resulting in the publication
of 48 volumes. The 49th volume, containing the index, was finished
after my work of three years, and has been published in 2007.
The Taoist Canon is a huge collection of more than 5,400 chapters
and 60,000,000 characters. Not only has its volume exceeded that of
the Twenty-Four Histories by more than 3,000 chapters, but it also com-
prises ancient documents written in very different styles. It was very
difficult to collate it following modern academic criteria. The different
stages and the difficulties in compiling of the Taoist Canon of China are
listed below:
1) Lost scriptures found again
An enormous number of secret instructions, ritual texts, morality
books, and lost scriptures were discovered through archaeological field
work after the Ming Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon had been com-
piled. These documents needed to be classified, collated, and collected
in the new Taoist Canon of China. With the completion of such a work
62 wang ka
in mind, 1,476 titles and 5,485 chapters of the scriptures collected
in the Ming Dynasty edition were collated. Except for three dupli-
cates, all of these scriptures were collected in the Taoist Canon of China.
However, in the Ming Dynasty edition, sometimes one scripture was
divided into several independent scriptures or several different scrip-
tures made up one scripture. To resolve potential editorial problems
such circumstances had to be taken into account in the new edition.
The number of chapters and volumes of the scriptures differs slightly,
therefore, between the Ming Dynasty edition and the new edition.
Some Taoist scriptures collected in the Taoist Canon of the Tang, Song,
Jin, and Yuan dynasties editions that were lost or were incomplete in
the Ming Dynasty edition have been recently recovered. For exam-
ple, the silk texts of the Lao-tzu, the Taoist manuscripts of Dunhuang,
and the remaining pages of the scriptures from the Jin and Yuan
dynasties’ print editions—about a hundred in all—were discovered at
modern archaeological sites. Those which had not been collected in
the Ming Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon and those which offer an
interesting variant have been collected in the present edition, together
with the scriptures of the Ming Dynasty edition mentioned above,
amounting to 1,526 titles.
2) Punctuation and proofreading
The Ming Dynasty edition of The Taoist Canon was badly compiled,
proofread, and printed. Some characters are wrong or were omitted,
while some images are blurred or incomplete. The modern photo
printing version is more blurred than the original block print version
and is difficult to read. By considering the Hanfenlou version, the
Xinwenfeng version and the Cultural Relics Press version as original
texts, the compilers of the Taoist Canon of China corrected the omitted
or erroneous characters and provided explanatory notes. All the texts
are punctuated according to contemporary criteria of ancient book
collation.
3) Format
The titles in the Ming Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon were not
divided into different categories. The characters were all the same size.
The texts and comments were often confused. The format did not
conform to modern criteria. All these factors make their reading dif-
ficult. On the other hand, the present edition is typeset and printed in
from YIQIE DAOJING to ZHONGHUA DAOZANG 63
three styles (normal texts, annotated texts, and ritual texts), five levels
of title are distinguished, and three kinds of fonts (12 pt song, 12 pt
fang, and 9 pt song). The tens of thousands of talismans or pictures in
the original edition were digitized. These modern techniques allow for
easier reading.
Each scripture is catalogued to facilitate research. Each scripture is
described by title, number of chapters, author, date of compilation,
and original text. For those scriptures that have several chapters, a list
of chapters is added to help the work of researchers.
4) Reclassification and rearrangement
The classification of Taoist scriptures was based on the system of “The
Three Caverns and Four Supplements” from the Tang Dynasty. All
the Taoist scriptures are classified in the Authenticity Cavern, the
Mystery Cavern, the Spirit Cavern, the Great Mystery, Great Peace,
Great Clarity, and Orthodox Unity—seven categories altogether. This
classification made research difficult for certain readers who did not
know Taoist doctrines and history well. Moreover, although the Ming
Dynasty edition of the Taoist Canon inherited the system of the “Three
Caverns and Four Supplements,” its confusing arrangement did not
correspond to the early style of the Tang Dynasty. Even for Taoist
scholars, research on the canon was made difficult.
On the other hand, the Taoist Canon of China applies modern aca-
demic criteria, while respecting the traditional corpus system. The cat-
egories of the “Three Caverns and Four Supplements” are retained,
but all the scriptures are reclassified according to their contents, dates
of compilation, and schools in the True Scriptures of Three Caverns,
the True Scriptures of the Four Supplements, Taoist Essays, Taoist
Techniques and Arts, Taoist Rituals, Taoist History and Biography,
and Index—seven categories in 49 volumes in all. It is more practical
edition than the Ming Dynasty edition.
5) New catalogue and index
As mentioned above, modern scholars have compiled several reference
books to aid research on the Taoist Canon, but the problem of search-
ing specific items has not been radically resolved. The 49th volume of
the Taoist Canon of China is a new general catalogue and index, which
enable the search of five versions of the Taoist Canon, and the previous
index has been kept. The Titles Quoted in the Scriptures Collected in the Taoist
64 wang ka
Canon, the most complete work so far, was also compiled in order to
help scholars when studying the evolution of Taoist scriptures.
Except for some inevitable errors and controversies in punctuation
and classification, the Taoist Canon of China is a well-elaborated and
practical book that conforms to academic criteria. The publication of
this book promotes studies on Taoism and traditional Chinese culture.
From the Yiqie daojing of the Tang Dynasty to the new Taoist Canon of
China, the collection and collation of Taoist scriptures spanned more
than 1,500 years. The publication of Taoist Canon of China is not only
an event for the Taoism of the new century, but also an important
achievement in the collation of ancient books.
THE APOCRYPHAL JIA SECTION IN
TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 [EXCERPTS FROM THE
SCRIPTURE OF GREAT PEACE]
1
Wang Ming
In Fan Ye’s “Xiang Kai zhuan” 襄楷传 [The Biography of Xiang Kai] in
HouHan shu 后汉书 [History of the Later Han], Xiang Kai is described
as recommending to the emperor what he called the “divine book
(revealed to) Yu Ji” or Taiping qingling shu 太平清领书 [Book of Great
Peace, binded in blue], later known among Taoists as Scripture of Great
Peace. This scripture is divided into ten sections jia, yi, bing, ding, wu, ji,
geng, xin, ren, and gui: each section is composed of 17 chapters, for a
total of 170 chapters. The Scripture of Great Peace included in the Tao-
ist Canon of the Zhengtong reign of the Ming Dynasty is fragmentary
and incomplete, with only 57 chapters. The jia, yi, xin, ren, and gui
sections have all been lost. The remaining sections are missing several
chapters. There is also the Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace, which
was compiled by Lüqiu Fangyuan of the Tang Dynasty who excerpted
passages from the Scripture of Great Peace and divided it into ten sections
( jia, yi, bing, and ding, etc.), each section including one chapter. In
comparing the Scripture of Great Peace with the Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace, we find their contents have a lot in common. Except for the
jia section, which is of unknown origin, all the sections in the Scripture
of Great Peace and the Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace correspond
on the whole to their ancient Han versions despite probable rewritings
and alterations.
The jia section in the Scripture of Great Peace was completely lost.
We do not know who supplemented it in the Excerpts from the Scrip-
ture of Great Peace. Maybe the text was lost for a long time and Lüqiu
Fangyuan borrowed from other Taoist texts to complete it. Or the jia
section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace might have been written
by Lüqiu Fangyuan himself, taking inspiration from the other parts by
1
Published originally in the Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology Academia
Sinica, No. 18, 1947.
66 wang ming
the Scripture of Great Peace. Someone else might have made up this sec-
tion from other Taoist scriptures in order to complete the book. But
these two hypotheses remain difficult to prove. In the Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace, in the Taiping part of the Taoist Canon, we note
that the jia section is the least prominent, with only seven pages. We
will list the number of pages of each section in the Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace in order to compare them.
Whoever supplemented the Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace
made a great effort to pass it off as genuine, despite the small number
of pages of the jia section. But, we find most of the text has its origin
in the Lingshu ziwen 灵书紫文 [Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits] and
is pieced together from the Shangqing housheng daojun lieji 上清后圣道
君列纪 [The Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter (Heavens) of
Highest Clarity]. The Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits seems to be the
general title of a series of books. In the Taoist Canon, the Huangtian
shangqing jinque dijun lingshu ziwen shangjing 皇天上清金阙帝君灵书紫
文上经 [The Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits of the
Highest Clarity Thearch, Lord of the Golden Portal ] (hereafter called Upper
Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits) is classified in the category
of main texts 本文类 in Spirit Cavern canon 洞神部; the Taiwei lingshu
ziwen xianji zhenji shangjing 太微灵书紫文仙忌真记上经 [Upper Scrip-
ture on Taboos for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected, from the Purple Texts
Inscribed by the Spirits of Great Tenuity] (hereafter called the Upper Scripture
on Taboos for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected) is classified in the category
of precepts 戒律类 in the Authenticity Cavern canon 洞真部; and the
Taiwei lingshu ziwen langgan huadan shenzhen shangjing 太微灵书紫文琅玕
华丹神真上经 [Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence, from
the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits of Great Tenuity] (hereafter the Upper
Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence) is classified in the category
of rituals in the Authenticity Cavern canon. The summaries of these
three scriptures can be read in the jia section in the Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace. There is also the Annals of the Lord of the Dao,
Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity, which is classified in the
category of histories and genealogies 谱箓类 in the Mystery Cavern
canon 洞玄部 and signed by Wang Yuanyou, a disciple of the Green
Section jia yi bing ding wu ji geng xin ren gui
No. of
pages
7.5 16 27.5 17.5 15 30 42.5 19 19 13
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 67
Lad Lord 青童君 of the Eastern Palace of Fangzhu. We do not know
who the Green Lad Lord was. He is said to have been the Eastern
Duke 东王公. The Secret of the Saint Lord from the Scripture of Great Peace
太平经圣君秘旨 in the last chapter of the Scripture of Great Peace tells
us it was transmitted by the Saint Lord of Great Peace 太平圣君 to
Prime Minister Green Lad Lord. The Green Lad Lord rules Fangzhu
Mountain situated in the Eastern Sea, which is why he is called Green
Lad Lord of Fangzhu.
2
Green Lad Lord is also called Prime Minister
Green Lad Lord because he is the prime minister of the Saint Lord
of Great Peace. The various names all refer to the same person. Since
the Secret of the Saint Lord from the Scripture of Great Peace, which propa-
gates the method of Keeping Unity 守一, consists of excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace, it must have been compiled after the latter was
circulated. The Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens]
of Highest Clarity’s compilation must postdate that of the Secret of Saint
Lord from the Scripture of Great Peace and its contents are very dissimilar
to the Scripture of Great Peace. I suspect the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts
Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper Scripture on Taboos for Immortals Recorded
by the Perfected, and the Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence,
mentioned above, originally belonged to the same book, the Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits.
3
They took their actual form following the
loss of the original texts.
2
Lishi zhenxian tidao tongjian 历世真仙体道通鉴 [Chronicle of Immortals Attaining Tao],
chapter 6, biography of the Duke of Wood.
3
Chapter 664 of the Taiping yulan 太平御览 [Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era],
quoting the Jinque shengjun zhuan 金阙圣君传 [Biography of Lord of the Golden Portal] “the
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits is also called the Wulao baojing 五老宝经 [Precious
Scripture of Five Elders]. Who possesses it can be liberated from the body, who practices
it can attain the Tao.” In fact, there is no Biography of the Lord of the Golden Portal in the
Taoist Canon, but there is the Precious Scripture of Five Elders under the title Precious Scrip-
ture of Five Elders of Authenticity Cavern, High Jade Emperor, Grand Cavern, and Female Unique
Saint Text, with 58 pages, which is classified in the Orthodox unity canon. Its contents,
which differ from the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, Upper Scripture
on Taboos for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected, and Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence, refer to the Real Scripture of Grand Cavern 大洞真经. In its Table of Contents
of Tao Te Ching of Nine Heavens and Great Reality, the phrases “the Tao of the Lord of
Upper Scene, Emperor Li Zhen of Great Peace, and Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of
Golden Portal” (p. 19) and “this Mysterious and Rich Method of Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence with Five Stones and the Precious Scripture of Five Elders and Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits of Lord of Nine Mysteries, Unique Female Sage of the
Latter [Heavens], and Gold Flower of Grand Cavern” can be compared with the jia
section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace. According to Tao Hongjing’s Zhenling
weiye tu 真灵位业图 [Diagram of Ranks for the Spirits], it was the Elder of Upper Real
Saint City of Five Elders who wrote the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits.
68 wang ming
The most obvious fragments in the Excerpts were taken from the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence. The first sentence
opens with “first, fast in forest and mountain for 40 days.” It is easy to
see that this phrase was taken from a previous text. As to the Annals of
the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity, their con-
tents are related to the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits. For example, it
cites the Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits of the Highest Clarity
Thearch and the Golden Portal. It appears that when the Annals of the Lord
of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity were compiled,
the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits was still unaltered. We will first
examine the compilation date of the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits
and the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest
Clarity, and then examine the fact that the jia section in the Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace copied from the Purple Texts Inscribed by
the Spirits and the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens]
of Highest Clarity.
The Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits in the jia section in Excerpts from
the Scripture of Great Peace includes at least the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper Scripture on Taboos for Immortals
Recorded by the Perfected, and the Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence (hereafter called three scriptures). The jia section in Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace also stems from the Annals of the Lord of
the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity. In order to clarify the
compilation date of the three scriptures and the Annals of the Lord of the
Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity, we will examine them to
find their analogies. In my opinion, the three scriptures and the Annals
of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity were not
compiled before the Jin Dynasty. Here are my arguments:
1. It is written in the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits
that “the one who commits a serious crime will be interrogated by
the Three Officers 三官,” the one who commits a small crime will be
deprived of some years of his life. In the Annals of the Lord of the Dao,
Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity there live the Three Officers
of the Tai Mountain. It is written in the Upper Scripture on the Elixir of
Langgan Efflorescence, “[w]hen he is alive, he will be tormented by fire
and water. After dying, he will be tortured by the Three Officers.”
“The Three Officers” has by that time become a common expression.
The title of Three Officers appeared for the first time with the Five
Bushels of Rice School 五斗米道 of Zhang Heng. The author of the
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 69
biography of Zhang Lu in the Weishu quoted the Dianlüe when he
wrote that when ghost soldiers interceded for patients, “they wrote the
name of the patient and his confession in three reports. Then they sent
one to Heaven, by throwing it on a mountain, buried a second one
in the ground, and threw the last one into water. They called them
the Handwritten Letters to the Three Officers 三官手书.” Zhang
Heng founded the Five Bushels of Rice School during the Guanghe
reign of Emperor Ling of the Eastern Han (AD 178–184). Then (his
son) Zhang Lu ruled the Ba and Han regions for 30 years before his
surrender in the twentieth year of the Jian’an reign of Emperor Xian
(AD 215). Five years later, the Wei dynasty succeeded the Han and
proclaimed the Huangchu reign era. The title of the Three Officers
became popular at the turn of the Han and Wei Dynasties. As an
eminent Taoist scholar in the Jin Dynasty, Baopuzi (Ge Hong) was
highly knowledgeable. He recorded the titles of Taoist scriptures in his
chapter “Xialan” 遐览篇, where we find neither the Upper Scripture of
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits nor the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage
of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity. Presumably, the three scriptures
and Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest
Clarity were written by Taoists in later times.
2. It is written in the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spir-
its that “there are palaces of the Three Origins in the body. The Pal-
ace of the Upper Origin is situated in the Niwan 泥丸, the Palace of
the Middle Origin is situated in the center of the Scarlet House 绛房,
while the Palace of the Lower Origin and the Cinnabar Field is situ-
ated three inches beneath the navel. The fourth rule, according to the
Upper Scripture on Taboos for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected, prohibits
uncleanliness and impoliteness, which lead to the loss of the soul and
the essence of man, and the production of (body-devouring) worms in
the Three Palaces. The Palaces of the Three Origins are also quoted
in Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity.
(The Palaces of the Three Origins are also called the Three Cinnabar
Fields.) The Huangting neijing jing 黄庭内景经 [The Scripture on the Internal
View of the Yellow Court] refers to “jing (essence) and qi are subtle in the
Three Fields” and “withdraw the purple and embrace the yellow to
enter the Cinnabar Field.” The Upper Cinnabar Field is called the
Niwan. The Scripture on the Internal View of the Yellow Court refers to the
god of the brain as Jinggen and as Niwan, his other name.
According to tales and legends, the Emperor of Fusang transmit-
ted the Scripture of the Yellow Court to Wei Huacun of the Jin Dynasty.
70 wang ming
In fact, Wei Huacun wrote it. The chapter “Xialan” in the Baopuzi,
recorded the Scripture of the Yellow Court but not the Upper Scripture of
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits nor the Annals of the Lord of the Dao,
Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity. Maybe the three scriptures
and the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest
Clarity were written after the Jin Dynasty.
3. It seems the method of clicking one’s teeth appeared for the first
time at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Under the Jian’an reign,
in his report to Cao Cao, which is recorded in chapter eighty-one of
the Qianjin fang 千金方 [Precious Prescriptions], the magician Huangpu
said, “one who drinks the spring of jade and clicks his teeth every
day will be strong, will look well, will get rid of the Three Worms
三虫, and will strengthen his teeth.” It is written in the chapter Zaying,
of the Baopuzi, “when asked how to strengthen one’s teeth, Baopuzi
answers, you should nourish them with Flow Pond 华池 and soak
them with Liquor 醴液. In the morning, click your teeth 300 times.
Then they will be never become loose.” In the chapter Yangsheng,
of the Yanshi jiaxun 颜氏家训 [Admonitions for the Yan Clan], it says,
“I always had toothaches, my teeth were loose and almost fell out.
When I ate things that were cold or hot, I felt a great pain. After
reading how to strengthen my teeth in the Baopuzi, which recom-
mends clicking the teeth 300 times in the morning, I practiced it for
several days, and my toothaches were cured.” If we cannot be sure
of the authenticity of Huangpu’s words, Yan Zhitui’s text concerning
Baopuzi’s way of strengthening teeth is certainly believable. The Upper
Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, which often quoted the
phrase “clicking one’s teeth thrice,” may have been circulated after
Baopuzi’s way of “clicking teeth.”
Those are the proofs that the three scriptures and the Annals of the
Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity were compiled
after the Jin Dynasty.
Now we will examine the apocryphal borrowings of the jia section in
Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace from the three scriptures and the
Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity.
When the author of the Scripture of Great Peace quoted classics, he never
gave the references to his quotations. The Green Lad transmits the
twenty-four secrets noted in the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits orally.
The first part of the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits
has many analogies with the jia section of Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace. We will compare them as follows:
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 71
Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed
by the Spirits of the Highest Clarity
Thearch, Lord of the Golden Portal
Jia section in Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace
The Green Lad Lord of Fangzhu
Eastern Palace in the Eastern Sea
fasts in the Yellow Chamber of the
Golden Portal for three years. One
day, in his wagon of floating clouds,
(carried by) three deities, and green
clouds, wearing a green cape with a
flying dragon with streamers on it,
he goes to the Golden Portal of the
Highest Clarity Thearch, follow-
ing thousands of immortals from
Mulberry Forest. There are Four
Emperors in the Golden Portal. On
their left, there is the Sage of the
Latter [Heavens], who lives in the
Palace of Red Pearl, Jade Terrace,
and Grand Vacuity, with thirteen
thousand maids and immortals.
The fierce dragons, thundering
tigers, and beasts that scratch the
sky keep the port safe. Thousands
of boas occupy the beams and wall.
Flying horses, birds, and eagles peck
and claw. They display their forces
in the court. The power spreads
and the light illuminates the eight
directions. Wind puffs out the black
flag and lifts the awning. Jade trees
emit sound and jade grasses play
music. Everyone plays the chant of
cloud and phoenixes sing the song
of Qingtai. Imperial concubines
chorus and eagles and phoenixes
dance. The Green lad arrives. He
bows and says facing the North. . . .
The Green Lad Lord of Eastern
Flower, Jade Protection, and Mas-
ter of High Star fasts in the Yellow
Chamber of the Palace of Cold Fan-
tastic Cinnabar for three years. One
day he goes to the Golden Portal of
the Highest Clarity Thearch. There
are Four Emperors in the Golden
Portal. On their left and right, there
is the Lord of the Tao of Great
Peace who lives in the Golden
Flower of the Chamber of Peaceful
Jade of the Palace of Authenticity
Cavern, Jade Terrace, and Grand
Vacuity, with fifteen thousand
maids and immortals. The fierce
dragons, thundering tigers, and
beasts that claw the sky take the
position of attack with their poison
and keep the port safe. Thousands
of boas inhabit the beams and wall.
Flying dragons, birds, and eagles
peck and claw. They display their
forces in the court. The power
spreads and the light illuminates
the eight directions. Wind puffs out
the black flag and lifts the awning.
Jade trees emit sound and jade
grasses play music. Everyone plays
the chant of cloud and phoenixes
sing the song of Xuantai. Imperial
concubines chorus and unicorns
and phoenixes dance. A Celestial
Melody is played eight times and
chorused in all directions. Green
Lad, creeping and praying, trans-
mitts orally twenty-four secrets, as
noted in the Purple Texts Inscribed by
the Spirits.
72 wang ming
These two texts have many analogies. The most remarkable is the sen-
tence taken from the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits
“There are Four Emperors in the Golden Portal. On their left, there
is the Sage of the Latter [Heavens]” was transformed into “There are
Four Emperors in the Golden Portal. On their left and right, there is
the Lord of the Tao of Great Peace” in the Excerpts from the Scripture
of Great Peace, which links it to the Scripture of Great Peace. The change
made here is too obvious to be denied. Apart from the obvious borro-
wings from Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the jia section of Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace also took some parts from the Annals of the
Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity as follows:
Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the
Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity
Jia section in Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace
1. At the age of five, he already
loves the Tao and transcen-
dance. His tongue is the pen of
a ready writer. He often smiles
at the sun and sighs at the
moon. He observes the bright-
ness of Yang and the deficiency
of Yin. Then he conserves the
celestial soul, exercises the ter-
restrial soul, keeps the embryo,
treasures the spirit, holds back
the essence, restrains the blood,
fixes the saliva, and solidifies the
muscles. He learns to swallow
the light, drink the clouds, and
eat the celestial grasses. At the
age of twenty, he has a charming
appearance. He leaves his fam-
ily and transcends this world.
2. The Later Saint Peng’s name
are Guangyuan and Xuanxu.
His other names are Dachun
and Zhengyang. He is also called
Li Pengguang. As a follower of
the Tao, he was born in the
time of the Human Emperor
and called the Lord of Great
Tenuousness, Left Reality, and
the Protector of the Emperor.
1. At the age of five, he often smiles
at the sunrise and sighs at the
waning moon. He observes the
waxing brightness of Yang and
the waning deficiency of Yin.
Then he conserves the celestial
soul, harmonizes the terrestrial
soul, keeps the embryo, treasures
the spirit, holds back the essence,
supplies the blood, fixes the
saliva, and solidifies the muscles.
At the age of seven, he learns
to swallow the light, drink the
clouds, and eat the root of the
sun. At the age of twenty-seven,
he has a charming appearance.
Then he leaves this world and
embraces transcendence in order
to free the people.
2. The Great Tutor of Later Saint
Lord Li’s name is Peng. He
learnt the Tao from Lord Li
and is called the Left Reality of
Great Tenuousness. In the time
of the Human Emperor, he was
called Lord Tao, Protector of
the Emperor. He is designated
to control and teach people. He
rules the Terrace of Fantastic
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 73
Table (cont.)
Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the
Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity
Jia section in Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace
He was mandated to control the
people. Named The Great Tutor
of Lord Li, he rules the Terrace
of Fantastic and Upper Light of
the Palace of Northern City Wall
and Great Tenuousness. Lord Peng
changes his name every two thou-
sand five hundred years. He travels
in the Grand Vacuity and the Eight
Oceans, to the edge. Even deities
rarely see him in person.
3. The Green Lad Lord of The
Palace of Fangzhu, Upper Min-
ister of Later Saint Lord Li
Original Lord of North-
ern Extremity of The Palace
of Taidan, Upper Protector of
Later Saint Lord Li
Real Lord of Great Simplicity
of The Palace of Baishan, Upper
Tutor of Later Saint Lord Li
King Lord of All Realities of
The Palace of Xicheng, Upper
Secretary Later Saint Lord Li
and Upper Light of the Palace of
Northern City Wall and Great
Tenuousness. He changes his name
every two thousand five hundred
years. He travels in the Grand
Vacuity and the Eight Oceans, to
the edge. Even deities rarely see
him in person.
3. same as text to the left.
The second part of the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter
[Heavens] of Highest Clarity corresponds on the whole to that of the jia
section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace, except for a few diffe-
rences. In the first part, the texts are almost identical. In the third part,
the names of the four assistant ministers are the same. In chapter five
of Du Guangting’s Daode zhenjing guangshengyi 道德真经广圣义 [Ampli-
fication of the Imperial Commentary on the Tao Te Ching] it said that, “When
Lao-tzu was born, three suns appeared in the East, and nine dragons
spouted water to wash his body. His family name is Li, which came
from the name of Li Valley. His name is Xuanyuan and also Ziguang.
As the descendant of The Jade Emperor and The Most High, he is
the assigned Grand Master of Longevity, King of Nine Mysteries,
Later Saint, Golden Postal, and Lord of Grand Unity, Orthodox
Reality, and Great Peace.” These phrases are all quoted by the first
74 wang ming
and second page of the jia section in the Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace. Only the order of the sentences is different. The third page
of chapter five of Du Guangting’s Deduction of Imperial Commentary on the
Tao Te Ching quoted the Scripture of Great Peace. If this legend of Lao-
tzu’s birth also came from the Scripture of Great Peace, the author would
certainly have cited the source. But Du Guangting did not write that
these phrases came from the Scripture of Great Peace, and the jia section
in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace followed Du Guangting’s text.
Maybe the miracle of Lao-tzu’s birth was only a legend made up by
magicians of the Tang Dynasty, a legend that seems to have borrowed
from the biography of Buddha, because the “nine dragons spouting
water” is indeed one of the miracles of the birth of Buddha.
4
The
miracles of Buddha’s birth were told in the Puyao jing 普耀经 [The
Sutra of Universal Brightness], translated by Dharmaraka in the Western
Jin Dynasty. So the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace
cannot be considered as a work dating from before the Jin Dynasty.
Most of the twenty-four secrets of the Purple Texts Inscribed by the
Spirits told in the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace can
be found in the three scriptures and were quoted by Tao Hongjing’s
Zhengao 真诰 [The Declarations of the Perfected], which all quoted the Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits as their source, but not the Scripture of Great
Peace. It is thus clear that the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace copied not only from the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of
the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity, but also the Scripture of Great Peace.
We list the twenty-four secrets of the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits
used in the jia section in the Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace below
and underline their presence in other scriptures in order to trace their
sources.
1. Really memorize and under-
stand and naturally remember
(instructions)
2. Know in detail the taboos for
immortals and memorize them
and never forget
There are taboos for immortals
in the Upper Scripture on Taboos for
Immortals Recorded by the Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture on Taboos
for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected
4
Tang Yongtong, HanWei liangJin Nanbeichao fojiaoshi 汉魏两晋南北朝佛教史 (A
History of Buddhism from the Han to the Southern and Northern Dynasties). Chang-
sha: Commercial Press, 1938, Chapter 5.
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 75
Table (cont.)
3. Research fly root and swallow
the essence of the sun
4. Eat the talisman of brightness
5. Eat moon light
6. Eat the talisman of Yin life
7. Restrain the three celestial
souls
8. Control the seven terrestrial
souls
9. Wear the talisman of imperial
principle
10. Eat the cinnabar of efflorescence
11. Drink yellow water
12. Drink backwater
13. Eat a metal ring
14. Eat the brain of a phoenix
15. Eat pine and pear
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Pur-
ple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits (Eso-
teric Biography of Han Emperor Wu:
method to invite yellow water and
moon light)
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the
Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan
Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper
Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflo-
rescence, and the Declarations of the
Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence and the
Declarations of the Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence and the
Declarations of the Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence and the
Declarations of the Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper
Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflo-
rescence, and the Declarations of the
Perfected
76 wang ming
Table (cont.)
16. Eat plum and date
17. Drink soup
18. Be guarded by white silver and
purple gold
19. Eat fine clouds
20. Fabricate white silver and
purple gold
21. Fabricate guards
22. Eat bamboo
23. Eat breast of swan
24. Wear the talisman of five gods
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper
Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflo-
rescence, and the Declarations of the
Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture of Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper
Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflo-
rescence, and the Declarations of the
Perfected
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence and the
Declarations of the Perfected
5
See also the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence
6
There are many subsidiary questions concerning the Purple Texts Inscri-
bed by the Spirits. For example, the twenty-four secrets either come from
the three scriptures or the Declarations of the Perfected or the sources
cannot be determined. If the jia section of Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace refers to “the oral transmission of the twenty-four secrets
noted in Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits,” the Purple Texts Inscribed by
the Spirits is most certainly incomplete. In the current Taoist Canon, the
Upper Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, the Upper Scripture on
Taboos for Immortals Recorded by the Perfected, and the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence are three independent scriptures. But if we
examine them together, they appear to come from the same book, the
5
The phrase in the Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence is “elixir method
of aquatic Yang and green reflect,” whereas the Declarations of the Perfected has just
“aquatic Yang and green reflect.”
6
The phrase in the Upper Scripture on the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence and the Declara-
tions of the Perfected is “become true silver” and “become purple gold,” which may refer
to the twentieth secret, “fabricate white silver and purple gold.
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 77
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits.
7
However, the latter is not the simple
sum total of the three scriptures.
First, some of the twenty-four secrets of the Purple Texts Inscribed by the
Spirits quoted in the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace
cannot be found in the three scriptures (for example, eat fine clouds,
fabricate white silver and purple gold, fabricate guards, eat bamboo,
eat the breast of a swan, and wear the talisman of five gods). Second,
in the chapter “Zhenmingshou,” of the Declarations of the Perfected, there
are seventeen methods used for becoming an immortal in the Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, including the Scripture of Celestial Rules,
the Seven Origins, and the Flying Step; the Divine Methods of Seven
Transformations and the Scripture of Seven Turns; the Thirty Nine
Chapters of the True Scripture of the Great Cavern; the Ten Secrets
and Eight Gifts of the Hidden Book of the Great Cinnabar; the Three
Pictures of the Celestial Portal; and the Movement of Seven Stars. The
Notes of Fetal Essence and Transformation of Nine Cinnabars, Nine
Red Colorful Talismans Sealing Mountain and Falling Sea, Golden
Liquid, Divine Cinnabar, and Hidden Ganoderma of Taiji, Secret
Talisman of Five Phases Calling Celestial Souls and Summoning Ter-
restrial Souls, and Bent Simple Secret and Prose to Call the Demons
of Nine Heavens, cannot be found either in the three scriptures or in
the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace. So the Purple
Texts Inscribed by the Spirits included in the three scriptures and the jia
section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace are incomplete. The
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits appears to be a collection of scriptures,
chosen from Taoist classics, which date back from between the Jin
Dynasty and the Later Liang Dynasty. Only the Purple Texts Inscribed
by the Spirits quoted in the Declarations of the Perfected includes many com-
plete scriptures, like the Scripture of Celestial Rules, the Seven Origins, the
Scripture of Divine Methods and Seven Transformations, and the Thirty Nine
Chapters of True Scripture of Grand Cavern, showing the rich variety of its
contents. Nevertheless, the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits, quoted in
the Declarations of the Perfected and other Taoist books, cannot be found
in the Baopuzi. So its compilation must have postdated that of the
7
For example, the Ten Taboos for Immortals, quoted in the Scripture and Secret of
Practice of Highest Clarity 上清修行经诀, come from the Upper Scripture of Purple Texts
Inscribed by the Spirits, according to the commentary. Nevertheless, we can find the Ten
Taboos for Immortals in the current Upper Scripture on Taboos for Immortals Recorded by
the Perfected but not in the Scripture and Secret of Practice of Highest Clarity.
78 wang ming
Baopuzi. The Taoist scriptures noted in the Purple Texts Inscribed by the
Spirits might be works from the period between the Jin Dynasty and
the Later Liang Dynasty, postdating the compilation of the Baopuzi.
As we have shown above, the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits was
compiled after the Jin Dynasty, and the apocryphal jia section in
Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace was written with the Purple Texts
Inscribed by the Spirits and the Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter
[Heavens] of Highest Clarity as its starting point. Now we will prove that
the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace cannot have been
a part of the Scripture of Great Peace through an analysis of its discussion
of cinnabar and talisman, its style, and its vocabulary.
First, the Scripture of Great Peace did not mention Taoist alchemy.
“Eat cinnabar of efflorescence” and “eat metal ring,” quoted in the
jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace, are incompatible
with the Scripture of Great Peace, and might have been copied from the
Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits. The cinnabar of efflorescence, yellow
water, backwater, and metal ring can be found in the Upper Scripture on
the Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence. The Declarations of the Perfected confirms
our hypothesis.
Second, in the Scripture of Great Peace, the only type of talisman men-
tioned is the ‘variant characters,’ fuwen 复文. The talismans noted in
the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace are probably
copied from the Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits. The fu character 符
in the historical records of the Han and the Later Han Dynasties, in
expressions such as “tiger fu,” “transmission of fu,” the bronze tiger
fu, and “envoy carring a bamboo fu,” always means tally or symbol,
that is, an authenticated sign of bureaucratic authority. The fu in the
apocrypha, like the ‘prosperity fu of the river chart,’ or the ‘red fu of
the river chart” are auguries, that is, signs of an incoming change of
government. In my opinion, fu has three meanings: the first is tally or
contract, which is cut into two parts. As a physical sign of government,
it is written and stamped without any abstract mystique attached to
it. The second is augury. As the sign of the future Emperor, who
receives the celestial mandate, it is a kind of strategy adopted dur-
ing a dynastic transition. For example, Wang Mang and Liu Xiu all
fabricated divine auguries in order to take power. This kind of fu was
considered the sign of celestial will and was used for deluding people
and as a political tool. The last is the Taoist talisman that is used
for chasing ghosts, treating illnesses, communicating with gods, and
prolonging life.
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 79
Baopuzi said, “all talismans are transmitted by gods.”
8
Xiao Ying-
sou of the Song Dynasty said, “physical talismans are formed by
physical characters, whereas the abstract ones are numinous breath.”
9

The physical character is identical to the tally or symbol of the Han
Dynasty, while the mystery and strangeness are dedicated to abstract
“numinous breath,” which is often expressed by some signs resembling
characters. Professor Tang Yongtong believed there were two origins
of Taoist talismans: one was variant characters and another was tallies.
The variant characters are the original writing of the talisman, which
resembles Seal Script 篆. Although they were no longer characters,
their origin as characters could be recognized. In addition, they were
less complex than later talismans.
The chapters from one hundred and forty to one hundred and sev-
enty of the current Scripture of Great Peace were all written in variant
characters. The Numinous Talisman of Brightness, the Talisman of
Life in Yin, the Talisman of the Great Symbol in the jia section in
Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace can all be found in the Upper
Scripture of Purple Texts Inscribed by the Spirits and the Upper Scripture on the
Elixir of Langgan Efflorescence. The Talisman of the Great Symbol can
also be found in the Declarations of the Perfected, which says, “the way of
immortals includes the Talisman of Celestial Great Symbol to unify
the original breath.” This quotation is noted in the Purple Texts Inscribed
by the Spirits. Logically, the talismans in the jia section in Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace were not originally in the Scripture of Great Peace.
There were some fu in the Scripture of Great Peace, like the Talisman of
Shortening Life and the Talisman of Prolonging Life in chapter one
hundred and ninety, “Secret of Four Auspiciousnesses and Four Inaus-
piciousnesses,” which were all elementary talismans made by superim-
posing variant characters ( fuwen).
The strokes of the “Numinous Talismans of Taoist Scripture,” listed
in the Thirty Six Venerable Scriptures of the Most High—Scripture of Jade Clar-
ity Heaven 太上三十六部尊经玉清境经,
10
are clear and simple. One
of these talismans, for example, is written thus: at the top, the char-
acter zhong 中; in the middle, the character xi 西; and at the bottom,
the character yong 用. These three characters are unified as one and
8
Chapter “Xialan.”
9
Yuanshi wuliang duren shangpin miaojing neiyi 元始无量度人上品妙经内义 [Essence of
the Excellent Scripture of the Upper Chapters on Limitless Salvation of Original Beginning].
10
Taoist Canon, Mystery Cavern.
80 wang ming
resemble the variant characters in the Scripture of Great Peace. Page two
of the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace notes, “writ-
ing celestial talismans with cinnabar brings back essences. The talis-
man should be swallowed. It is auspicious when the characters can be
seen through the stomach; all evils will be driven away.” The so-called
celestial talisman is probably made of something like variant charac-
ters. The cinnabar writing takes cinnabar as a character. As to celes-
tial talisman and cinnabar writing, it is, in my mind, probably what
was written in chapter ninety-two, “Formula for Writing the Repeated
Character of Ultimate Cavern to raise the qi and dispel the worms,”
and in chapter hundred and eighty, “Nineteen Important Secrets” of
the Scripture of Great Peace as “swallow the characters of cinnabar writ-
ing to heal.” The origin of Taoist talismans goes back to Zhang Ling
(biography of Liu Yan in HouHan shu). Then Zhang Heng and Zhang
Jiao used talismanic water to heal people. The variant characters were
the origin of the Zhang family talismans which later evolved into more
complicated and more mysterious forms.
11
Third, in terms of content, we have already showed that the golden
cinnabar and talismans of the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace do not correspond to the ideology of the Scripture of Great
Peace. In terms of form, the style of the jia section in Excerpts from the
11
Chen Panchang, on the basis of the Controlling Inauspiciousness to Drive Ghosts Away
in eight volumes (mentioned in Yao Zhengyu’s Critical edition of the Bibliographic section of
the Hanshu) and Liang Yusheng’s Pieji, has argued that Zhang Ling was not the initiator
of talismans. However, the Controlling Inauspiciousness to Drive Ghosts Away has been long
lost and we know very little about its contents. It seems to me it is a kind of mysterious
incantation, because incantations preceded talismans. The opinion of Liang Yusheng
is unfounded and cannot be taken seriously. In the “Biographies of Magicians” of the
HouHan shu, written under the reign of Emperor Zhang, it notes that a certain Shou-
guang Hou could drive all the ghosts away. But people did not know what technique
he used. It seems that from the Emperor Shun’s reign on, talismans started to circulate
and became common. As to Qu Shengqing, who used talismans in cinnabar writing to
drive ghosts away and Fei Zhangfang, who was killed by demons because he had lost
his talismans, the dates of their stories cannot be determined with precision but they
may be traced back to the end of the later Han Dynasty. In the Liexian zhuan 列仙传
[Biographies of Immortals], it says, “[w]hen Juanzi went fishing, he caught a fish, in the
belly of which he found a talisman.” This book is believed to have been written by Liu
Xiang of the Han Dynasty. It was thought to have been written by a magician of the
Wei or Jin dynasties under the name of Liu Xiang. I prefer to date it from the reigns
of Emperor Huan and Ling of the later Han Dynasty. I gave further explanations in
my Collation on Token of the Kinship of the Three According to the Zhouyi.
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 81
Scripture of Great Peace is different from that of the Scripture of Great Peace.
In the jia section of Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace it says:
Precious scriptures, talismans, pictures, and the numinous techniques of
the three dynasties of high antiquity were hidden in a jade box guarded
by divine functionaries. Their transmission required rituals to be per-
formed and traveling demanded chosen days. Transmission strategies
and established codes were applied to seed-people 种民. Those who
could not observe them could not be seed-people. The new dynasty
had been established, but the pure antique custom was a thing of the
past. The sign of the Huangping era disappears and there are disasters
everywhere. After the Shanghuang era and from year Three-Five, wars,
plagues, and catastrophes follow one another. All these happen because
of the people who have vicious hearts and a negative attitude. They
abandon the five virtues, let loose their six desires, conduct themselves
with violence, attack each other, respect their inferiors while neglecting
their superiors, and confuse the noble with the vulgar. All these lead to
the disorder of the Two Polarities, the deviation of the Seven Stars, the
aberrant emergence of the Three Powers, and the prosperity of evils.
Gods fight demons and numerous talented people die. People do not
repent despite the calamities that take place continuously. All kinds of
evils are rife.
The literary style of these jointed, rhyming, and parallel phrases is
similar to that of the Six Dynasties but not to that of the Scripture of
Great Peace. For example, in chapter thirty-six, “The Three Needs and
the Method of [Dealing with] Auspicious and Ominous Events” of the
Scripture of Great Peace it says that:
It is a shame you are so stupid! You were foolish before, but it has
become worse! I am no good. If you call yourself no good, what are we
supposed to say when common men go astray? This is really being no
good! If the Heavenly Master would only explain things to me, foolish
and dumb as I am! Well, all animals live as men do, in the dispen-
sation of Heaven and Earth and Yin and Yang. They also share the
same needs—two big ones and one that is smaller. What do you mean?
When animals first received the dispensation of Yin and Yang, they all
exhaled and inhaled, took in the qi of what is as it is, and did not yet
know eating and drinking. In the course of time, when they moved away
from their roots, the great Tao began to shrink and Heaven’s qi could
no longer watch over them, so they became hungry and thirsty. Thus,
Heaven provided them with drink and food. It also became necessary
to continue the dispensation of Yin and Yang. So there are male and
female animals, and generation after generation they continue to bring
forth offspring. If one cut off their food and drink, and if they were no
82 wang ming
longer to reproduce by mixing Yin and Yang, then the world would be
without animals. These are the two great needs.
12
Also in chapter hundred and eight, “Formula for Disasters, Diseases
and Hiding,” we find the following text:
Heavenly Master, how can we know the book allows the practice or not,
and how can we know it will go away? You want to know? I will show
you with the example of disease and disasters. When one practices it, but
gets ill, that means Heaven will hide it. When one escapes it, but gets
ill, that means Heaven will practice it. Why explain it twice? Because
Heaven lets the qi of the four seasons circulate to nourish all beings as it
will. If a being wants to appear, but one hides it, it will be very inauspi-
cious. If a being wants to escape and hide itself, but one exposes it, it will
also be very inauspicious. There will be a big calamity if we disobey the
celestial will. You want to understand Heaven. Heaven likes practice. So
do not use divination concerning this.
These vulgar, incomprehensible, and prolix phrases, couched in a style
that is radically different from the style of the jia section in Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace, can be found everywhere in the Scripture
of Great Peace. So it seems to me that the jia section in Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace was written after the Eastern Jin Dynasty.
Fourth, the proper nouns used in Taoist and Buddhist texts in the
jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace differ from those
found in the Scripture of Great Peace. The term “seed-people,” for exam-
ple, can be found only in the jia section of Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace:
The ancient and the contemporary worlds have similarly a beginning
and an end. With virtuous beginning and vicious end, it goes through
the cycles of prosperity and decline, success and failure. The suffering of
Yang Nine and Hundred and Six signifies the completion of the circle,
which will be followed by great destruction. The world will turn into
chaos and people will decline. Only those who have done good survive
as seed-people. The intelligence of seed-people is not homogeneous.
They still need a lord and master. The master is a saint and the lord
has intelligence. Their enlightenment gives them longevity and their
practices lead to sainthood. That is why they are called the seed-people,
which means long-living saints.
12
Translator’s note: this translation is copied from Barbara Hendrischke, The Scrip-
ture on Great Peace—The Taiping Jing and The Beginnings of Taoism. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2006, p. 122.
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 83
The Annals of the Lord of the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest
Clarity state:
The Saint Lord nominates dukes and marquises, according to the ability
of each. With ranks he rules the seed-people.
Also:
One who has done good will be one of the seed-people. A Taoist novice
will become an immortal envoy. One who realized the Tao will be an
immortal functionary.
The meaning of “One who has done good will be one of the seed-
people” corresponds to the phrase used in the jia section in Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace, “only those who have done good will
survive as seed-people.” The apocryphal borrowings of the jia section
in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace from the Annals of the Lord of
the Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity as we have shown
above, is confirmed here. Books that quoted the “seed-people,” such
as the Wuyue zhenxing tufa 五岳真形图法 [A Method of Diagrams of the
True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains], Shi Xuanguang’s Bianhuo lun 辨
惑论 [An Essay on Analyse of Doubts], Tao Hongjing’s Declarations of the
Perfected, and the Treatise of Buddhism and Taoism of Weishu, all date
from after the Jin or Liu-Song Dynasties, except for the Method of Dia-
grams of the True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains. The latter began to
circulate from Middle Antiquity, magicians transmitting it from gen-
eration to generation until the Jin Dynasty, when it was compiled as a
formal book.
13
The Diagrams of the True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains
were likely tampered with many times, and several versions circulated,
including versions of the diagrams, their preface, and essays on the
preface. The author of all these works is believed to be Dongfang
Shuo, which does not appear to be possible. The author of the Preface
and Method of Diagrams of the True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains 五岳
真形图法并序
14
is Baopuzi, who is writing on the method of Diagrams
of the True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains transmitted by his master
Zheng. The phrase in the chapter, “Ritual Prose for Receiving the
Diagrams,” “I shun evil to follow the good and hope to be one of the
13
Lushan Taiping xinguogong Caifang zhenjun shishi 庐山太平兴国宫采访真君事实
[True Records on the Perfect Lord Investigator of the Palace of Great Peace and Prosperous
Country of Mountain Lu], chapter six, “Jade Records of the enfeoffment of the God.”
14
Yunji qiqian 云笈七签 [Seven Slips from a Cloudy Satchel], chapter 79.
84 wang ming
seed-people” corresponds to the phrase in the Annals of the Lord of the
Dao, Sage of the Latter [Heavens] of Highest Clarity, “one who has done
good will be one of the seed-people.” The “Ritual Prose for Transmit-
ting the Diagrams” and “Ritual Prose for Receiving the Diagrams” of
Method of Diagrams of the True Forms of the Five Sacred Mountains were likely
written by a magician in the Jin Dynasty.
The jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace used not only
the late Taoist proper nouns, but some Buddhist terms as well. For
example, “original present 本起,” “The Three Realms 三界,” “Ten
Directions 十方,” and “receive a prediction from the Buddha that
one will achieve perfect enlightenment in the future 受记,” can be
also found in the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace.
The miracle of the birth of the Old Lord, quoted in the jia section in
Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace, is probably a borrowing from
the biography of Buddha, as shown above. The jia section in Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace distinguishes itself from other sections by
using many Buddhist proper nouns. As it quoted the story in the book
of Zhu Fahu, it cannot be considered as a work produced before the
Western Jin Dynasty. On the whole, the later the Taoist scripture is,
the more numerous the borrowings from Buddhist sutras it contains.
It seems logical that Xuanyi of the Tang Dynasty said the book of Yu
Ji did not quote many Buddhist sutras. On the other hand, the jia sec-
tion in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace was clearly influenced by
Buddhism. So it is a late Taoist work.
In chapter forty-nine of the “Diagrams of Three Ones Explicated by
Nine Scriptures 九经所明三一图表,” of Seven Slips from a Cloudy Satchel
(Yunji qiqian), it says, “sixth, Three Ones of Great Peace, think of the
spirit, keep the spirit in mind, sing the spirit, all these come from the
first chapter “Technique of Self-Divination 自占盛衰法.” The chap-
ters one to seventeen of the Scripture of Great Peace, the first book of
the Great Peace section of the Taoist Canon, were lost for a long time.
When the Taoist Canon was recompiled under the Zhengtong reign of
the Ming Dynasty, the ten chapters of the Excerpts from the Scripture of
Great Peace were taken to complete the Scripture of Great Peace, which had
lost its first ten chapters. However, ten chapters of the Excerpts from the
Scripture of Great Peace correspond to seventeen chapters of the Scripture
of Great Peace. The first chapter of today’s Scripture of Great Peace is lost,
while the jia section in Excerpts from the Scripture of Great Peace did not
record the original text. If the Three Ones of Great Peace, according
to “the Diagrams of Three Ones Explained by Nine Scriptures” in the
the apocryphal JIA section in TAIPINGJING CHAO 太平经钞 85
Seven Slips from a Cloudy Satchel, comes from the first chapter, “Tech-
nique of Self-Divination,” it might be the first chapter of the Scripture
of Great Peace.
15
The “Technique of Self-Divination” is similar to such
titles found in the Scripture of Great Peace as “The Technique of Unifying
Yin and Yang and Following the Tao,” “The Technique of Keep-
ing the Unique Light,” “The Technique of Distinguishing Poor and
Rich,” and “The Technique of Strengthening Oneself and Dismissing
Calamity,” whose style cannot be found in the jia section in Excerpts
from the Scripture of Great Peace. It seems the first chapter, “the Technique
of Self-Divination,” quoted in the Seven Slips from a Cloudy Satchel, comes
from the original first chapter of the Scripture of Great Peace.
15
The Taipingjing mulu 太平经目录 [Catalogue of the Scripture of Great Peace], discov-
ered in Dunhuang and now kept in the British Museum, confirms that there is a
“Technique of Self-Divination” in the first chapter.
LAO-TZU, THE TAO OF LAO-TZU, AND THE EVOLUTION
OF TAOISM—THE CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE
“LEGEND OF LAO-TZU CONVERTING THE BARBARIANS
老子化胡说”
1
Hong Xiuping
Lao-tzu was one of the most illustrious figures in the history of ancient
Chinese philosophy and the founder of philosophical Taoism. It was
he who first put forth the “Tao” as the ultimate philosophical category
and laid a foundation for a new stage of Chinese philosophy. After
the Han Dynasty, Lao-tzu’s philosophy was linked to religious Tao-
ism, which made him its founder and deified him. From its founda-
tion onward, religious Taoism inherited and developed the theory of
philosophical Taoism. Historically, religious Taoism evolved through
the conflicting and integrating movements between indigenous Confu-
cianism and foreign Buddhism, but especially through its relationship
with the latter. Taoism strongly emphasized the “Legend of Lao-tzu
Converting the Barbarians” in order to honor Lao-tzu. This exag-
geration reflected the complex relationship between Taoism and Bud-
dhism and the resulting impact on its evolution.
1.
Whether Lao-tzu’s Taoist philosophy is at the origin of Chinese cul-
ture and philosophy is still a matter of dispute.
2
But it is undeniable
that philosophical Taoism, together with Buddhism and Confucianism,
was a fundamental component of Chinese culture. Which features of
Lao-tzu’s philosophical Taoism stood out, however, among the many
other philosophical schools to place it on a par with Buddhism and
1
Published originally in Nanjing daxue xuebao 南京大学学报, no. 4, 1997.
2
See Chen Guying’s Lun daojia zai Zhongguo zhexueshi shang de zhugan diwei 论道家
在中国哲学史上的主干地位 [On the Central Position of Taoism in the History of Chinese
Philosophy], in Zhexue yanjiu, no. 1, 1990 and Li Cunshan’s Daojiao zhugan diwei shuo
xianyi 道家主干地位说献疑 [My Doubts Regarding the ‘Central Position of Taoism’ Thesis],
in Zhexue yanjiu, no. 4, 1990.
88 hong xiuping
Confucianism? In my opinion, the answers can be found in the par-
ticular angle from which Lao-tzu observed life and the universe, and
in the philosophy he built from the concept of the “Unity of Heaven
and Man.”
At the core of Taoist belief was the theory of the Tao, induced by
Lao-tzu from the universal relationship between Heaven, Earth, and
Man. The Tao has no physical existence, but is the abstract basis of
all existence. On the temporal plane, it covers the past, present, and
future of all existence. On the spatial plane, it covers all evolution and
the transformation of Heaven, Earth, and Man. As the origin of the
existence and evolution of nature and man, the Tao is immeasurable
and invisible. Its existence precedes that of all others and it exists in
all things. It is as omnipresent as “Existence 有” and transcendental
as “Non-existence 无.” “By being without desire, you can experience
wonder. But by having desire, you experience the way. Both spring
from the same source but differ in name. This source is called ‘Mys-
tery.’ Mystery upon Mystery, the womb gives birth to all beings.”
3

The original, transcendental, and eternal nature of the Tao, and the
contents of the concept, both complex and vague, made it widely open
to interpretation within religious Taoism. The Tao as nature defined
all the practices of religious Taoism.
Nature and non-action were the two main features of the Tao.
While nothing is done, nothing is left undone. Heaven, Earth, and
Man shared the same Tao, which “communicated all.”
4
Since the
Tao of Man followed the Tao of Heaven, Man should be natural
and remain non-active. Lao-tzu for that reason criticized kindness,
righteousness, and all actions saying, “when the Tao is not followed,
kindness and righteousness appear. When intelligence and learning are
exalted, pretentiousness emerges.”
5
He believed that “when the Tao
is lost in a person or country one must resort to righteousness to rule
society. When righteousness is lost, one has to use morality. When
morality has been abandoned there is only ritual to govern society.
But ritual is only the outer clothing of true belief; reaching this point
is being near to chaos.”
6
3
Lao-tzu, chapter 1.
4
Chuang-tzu, chapter “Qiwu lun”.
5
Lao-tzu, chapter 18.
6
Idem, chapter 38.
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 89
Another interpretation is that, in times of great change, Lao-tzu
promoted the Tao to criticize kindness, righteousness, and all actions.
This notion showed not only the relationship between the parallel
development of philosophy and the world, but also the different reac-
tions of philosophical Taoism and Confucianism when facing the col-
lapse of traditional rites. Confucianism set great value by traditional
culture and rites. So it insisted on “completely overcoming selfishness
and keeping to propriety” and tried to strengthen the teaching of eth-
ics to promote moral sense, reconstruct the social order, and build an
ideal world. On the other hand, philosophical Taoism thought that
rites destroyed nature and the origin of man. It advocated keeping
away from the sages; from wisdom, kindness, and righteousness; and
returning to simplicity and reality by observing the rules of nature in
order to realize a free spiritual life.
Xunzi accused Chuang-tzu of “being blinded by nature and ignoring
man.”
7
This quotation was often cited to undermine Taoist philoso-
phy. This criticism was to some extent apt, since philosophical Tao-
ism did not insist on ethics and human sociability. However, it would
be inexact, or at least partial to conclude from this that philosophi-
cal Taoism neglected human life. The basis of Lao-tzu’s philosophy
was “nature,” while laying emphasis on the “human.” It was based
on “nature” because it consisted in “looking for a reliable principle
for human life on a spiritual level.”
8
Lao-tzu said, “There are four
supreme forms in the universe; man is one of them,”
9
which shows
how greatly he valued the human being. Confucianism put man’s
social character first and foremost, and then ethics, whereas philo-
sophical Taoism emphasized man’s natural character, followed by
personal freedom and independence. In terms of purposeful actions,
Confucianism advocated participating in the affairs of the world and
“becoming a sage” and therefore followed the theory of “cultivating
individual moral character, ruling the family in harmony, bringing
order in the nation, and establishing peace throughout the universe”
and of the “inner sage and outer king.”
10
Conversely, philosophical
7
Xunzi, chapter “Jiebi 解蔽.”
8
Yan Shi’an, Zuowei xinyang tixi de yuanshi rujia daojia 作为信仰体系的原始儒家
道家 [Ancient Taoism and Confucianism as Belief Systems], in Nanjing daxue xuebao, no. 4,
1993, p. 109.
9
Lao-tzu, chapter 25.
10
Hong Xiuping, Cong sanjiao guanxi kan chuantong wenhua de renxue tezhi 从三教关
系看传统文化的人学特质 [Humanity in Traditional Culture, seen from the Perspective of the
90 hong xiuping
Taoism advocated escaping the world, returning to reality, and getting
rid of social and moral restrictions. As Lao-tzu wrote, “Man is subject
to the laws of the earth, the earth is subject to the laws of the universe,
the universe is subject to the laws of the Tao, and the Tao is subject
to the laws of its own nature.”
11
Lao-tzu’s philosophy of life was not
passive. “When the Tao is not followed, kindness and righteousness
appear” was the theoretical principle for returning to reality while the
concepts of “nature” and “non-action” were a tortuous way suggested
by Lao-tzu to reach his goal. Taoist philosophy contained profound
views on the nature of human civilization, its alienation, and the price
it had to pay for its evolution.
Lao-tzu’s philosophy was largely developed in the pre-Qin period
and many schools were created; for instance, the philosophical Tao-
ism of Jixia, which put forth the theory of essence and energy ( jingqi
精气); the Yangzhu School, which honored “life and cherished the
self ”; and the Taoism of the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu, which
integrated Legalism and the School of Names. As to Chuang-tzu’s
School, which developed the theory of transcendence, it was always
regarded as the most representative School of Taoism after the Wei
and Jin dynasties. In the Warring States period, many philosophical
schools influenced one another, as noted in the Yizhuan.
12
Philosophi-
cal Taoism influenced other schools and in turn absorbed theories
from them, especially Confucianism. From the Xunzi and Yizhuan to
the Confucianism and Taoism of the Han Dynasty to Wang Chong’s
Lunheng, the interaction between Confucianism and Taoism became
more and more frequent. In this context, the Arcane Learning of the
Wei and Jin dynasties combined the two philosophies of life for the
first time.
The Arcane Learning is reputed to have consisted of “pure con-
versation” and to have been abstract in its analysis of phenomenon
and noumenon. In fact, the theory of the Arcane Learning was based
on actual society and life. It was a theoretical attempt to study social
harmony and human nature in that particular period. The main pur-
pose of that attempt was to explain Confucianism through Taoism
Relationships between the Three Teachings], in Zhongguo chuantong sixiang wenhua yu nianyi shiji
guoji xueshu yantaohui lunwen xuanji 中国传统思想文化与廿一世纪国际学术研讨会论
文选集. Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, 1992.
11
Lao-tzu, chapter 25.
12
Yizhuan, chapter “Xici xia 系辞下.”
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 91
and integrate Confucianism into Taoism. The Arcane Learning was
based on the Taoist philosophy of nature and integrated into it the
Confucian ideal of society and life. According to it, those rites that
did not correspond to human nature should be abolished and replaced
with those that followed the Tao. The adepts of the Arcane Learning
believed that there was a contradiction between human nature and life
in society. To resolve this contradiction theoretically, the best strategy
for the Arcane Learning was to combine Lao-tzu’s philosophy about
nature with Confucian rites. In this way, the lack of theories of life in
philosophical Taoism was made up for and the syncretism of Taoism
and Confucianism was theoretically founded. From then on, Chinese
culture was based on Confucianism assisted by Taoism and Buddhism.
The specialists of the Arcane Learning discussed terms such as “Exis-
tence and Non-existence,” “noumenon and phenomenon,” “action
and non-action,” “oneness and multiplicity,” and “signifier and signi-
fied” through the commentaries on the Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu, and Yijing.
Lao-tzu’s existentialism was developed into an ontology in the Arcane
Learning.
If the Arcane Learning could be called neo-Taoism and considered
as the new form of Lao-tzu’s philosophy, there was no philosophi-
cal Taoism officially represented by one school in particular that suc-
ceeded it. On the other hand, it survived and grew within religious
Taoism. After the Southern and Northern dynasties, Taoism, which
was often cited alongside Confucianism and Buddhism, encompassed
both religious and philosophical Taoism.
2.
While the Arcane Learning of the Wei and Jin dynasties developed
Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu’s philosophies about natural life by integrat-
ing Confucianism, religious Taoism interpreted this philosophy in the
religious context with its belief in immortals. From its birth, the atti-
tude of religious Taoism toward Confucian ethics differed from that
of philosophical Taoism because of different historical and social con-
texts. Although Taoist religious philosophy shared Confucian ethical
norms such as loyalty and filial piety, its ultimate purpose remained
achieving immortality by relying on the theory of nature put forth in
philosophical Taoism.
While scholars agree that philosophical Taoism and religious Tao-
ism are bound into an inextricable relationship, they diverge on how
92 hong xiuping
to interpret this relationship. For me, this relationship did not lie in the
deification of Lao-tzu in religious Taoism; or in the historical docu-
ments according to which Lao-tzu preached on the Louguan terrace
in the Qin state and wrote the Tao Te Ching at Yin Xi’s request before
going with him to the west; or in the mysticism in Lao-tzu (and even
Chuang-tzu)’s philosophy, which could be exploited by religious Tao-
ism; but in the theories based on Lao-tzu’s philosophy as expressed in
religious Taoism. Despite the miscellaneous sources of religious Tao-
ism such as the ancient magic arts, popular sorcery, Mohism, and the
School of Yin and Yang, the philosophical Taoist theory of realizing
transcendence by following nature was undoubtedly the core of all
theories and practices of religious Taoism.
The theory of immortality in religious Taoism was developed from
the theory of longevity using Lao-tzu’s philosophy on nature and life.
Philosophical Taoism aimed at attaining longevity through a spe-
cific regimen, while religious Taoism aimed at achieving immortal-
ity, which involved a religious belief in salvation. To attain this goal,
religious Taoism not only invented a series of deities as models, but
also advocated all kinds of Taoist practices. Despite the difference of
method between those practices, they all originated from Lao-tzu’s
theory of the “Unity of Heaven and Man.” The practitioners were
encouraged to realize transcendence by conforming to nature. For
religious Taoism, the human body was a microcosmos in commu-
nication with the Cosmos. In the same way, human beings could be
unified with Heaven and the Tao and become eternal and immortal
through the practice of the laws of nature. Religious Taoism believed
that its practice followed the same pattern as the evolution of Heaven
and Earth.
13
In fact, this was only the religious interpretation inspired
by the philosophical Taoist theory of following nature as a model.
A question should be answered here. Was religious Taoism closely
linked to philosophical Taoism because it had deified Lao-tzu and
his philosophy, or did religious Taoism deify Lao-tzu as its founder
because it was based on Lao-tzu’s philosophy? In my opinion, both
hypotheses are possible, but the latter seems more convincing.
It is generally acknowledged that Lao-tzu’s concept of the abstract
Tao and the legends about Lao-tzu in historical documents foreshad-
owed his deification. However, when religious Taoism was founded,
13
Peng Xiao, Zhouyi cantongqi fenzhang tong zhenyi 周易参同契分章通真义.
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 93
there were men whose lives could have been made into legends more
convincingly than Lao-tzu’s and whose theories were more mystical
than his. Why then was Lao-tzu chosen as the founder of religious
Taoism? The origin of religious Taoism included magic arts and the
Taoism of the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu, which was very popular,
as noted in the dynastic histories that claim for instance that “Emperor
Huan of the Han Dynasty was a follower of the Taoism of the Yel-
low Emperor and Lao-tzu”
14
and that “Zhang Jiao was a follower of
the Taoism of the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu.”
15
But why did reli-
gious Taoism not consider him as its founder? Moreover, the Yellow
Emperor was said to be “superior to all others.”
16
Why did religious
Taoism not resort to him to contend with Confucianism? Like Lao-
tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching, the Yellow Emperor was said to have
written the Book of the Yellow Emperor.
17
Nevertheless, despite his high
status in religious Taoism and the many Taoist scriptures written under
his name, the Yellow Emperor was not acknowledged as its founder. I
believe that the reasons why Lao-tzu was acknowledged as the founder
can be found in the evolution of philosophical Taoism and its social
status in the Han Dynasty. But the most important reason was that
religious Taoism and philosophical Taoism had the same purpose,
which was to attain transcendence. So it was theoretically inevitable
that religious Taoism chose Lao-tzu as its founder and that Lao-tzu’s
philosophy would provide rich resources for its development.
“All Taoist scriptures announced that their belief was based on the
Tao, which was believed to be the origin and ruler of the universe. It
was omnipresent and eternal. The universe was born from the Tao.
The Original qi was born from the universe. The Original qi evolved
and created Heaven and Earth, Yin and Yang, the four seasons, and
14
Hou hanshu, chapter “Wanghuan zhuan 王涣传.”
15
Idem, chapter “Huangpu song zhuan 皇甫嵩传.”
16
Chuang-tzu, chapter “Daozhi 盗跖.”
17
In the chapter “Yiwen zhi 艺文志,” in the Hanshu, many books ascribed to the
Yellow Emperor were cited, including Huangdi taisu 黄帝泰素, Huangdi yinyang 黄帝
阴阳, and Huangdi neijing 黄帝内经. There were several kinds of Book of the Yellow
Emperor in philosophical Taoism. These Books of the Yellow Emperor had already been
lost by the Eastern Han Dynasty. But I think that if the Yellow Emperor had been
regarded as the founder of religious Taoism, these books would have been kept among
the texts pertaining to religious Taoism. In 1993, four silk texts were discovered at
Mangwangdui. They are believed to be an important part of the Books of the Yellow
Emperor.
94 hong xiuping
the Five Agents. Then all things were born.”
18
This statement dem-
onstrates that religious Taoism inherited and relied on the cosmogony
of philosophical Taoism. From Wang Chong’s Lunheng to the Laozi
bianhua jing 老子变化经 [Scripture of Transformation of Lao-tzu] at the
beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty to the Laozi xiang’erzhu at the
end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, not to mention Li You’s Hanguguan
ming 函谷关铭 [Inscription of Hangu Pass], Wang Fu’s Laozi shengmu bei
老子圣母碑 [Stele of Lao-tzu’s Holy Mother], and Bian Shao’s Laozi ming
老子铭 [Inscription of Lao-tzu], all these texts described Lao-tzu as a
Perfect Man, at one with the Tao. Later Taoist scriptures all followed
this pattern. For example, Ge Hong said in the preface to the Tao
Te Ching: “[t]he Old Lord follows the model of nature. He was born
before Great Non-existence and causality. He lives from the beginning
to the end of the world. He is unlimited and eternal.” The Louguan
Taoist School played an essential role in the process of the deification
of Lao-tzu in religious Taoism. Its theories, such as “nature gives birth
to the Tao” and “nature is the basis of the Tao,” also insisted on the
concept of “nature” found in philosophical Taoism.
In my opinion, during the controversy with Taoism, Buddhism
always tried to distinguish philosophical Taoism from religious Tao-
ism, using the former and attacking the latter;
19
but it could not really
separate them because of their inextricable relationship—Even though
we as scholars still need to distinguish them since we can not hold a
tradition of learning and a religion on a same level.
3.
Religious Taoism was closely bound to Lao-tzu’s philosophical Tao-
ism and its development was related to Confucianism and Buddhism,
18
Li Yangzheng, Daojiao gaishuo 道教概说 [An Introduction to Taoism]. Beijing: Zhon-
ghua shuju, 1989, pp. 215–16.
19
Distinguishing religious Taoism from philosophical Taoism was the principal
strategy Buddhism employed to attack Taoism, which had existed in China prior
to Buddhism. In Mouzi’s Lihuo lun 理惑论 [Correction of Errors] it days, “Buddha
and Lao-tzu both emphasized non-action.” Although it identified itself with philo-
sophical Taoism, it attacked practices such as fasting and self-cultivation regimens to
attain longevity that were promoted by religious Taoism. The same strategy could
be found in Dao’an’s Erjiao lun 二教论 [On the Two Teachings (Budhism and Taoism)]:
“[t]oday’s Taoists are followers of Zhang Ling’s demonic Taoism, which has nothing
to do with Lao-tzu.” See Hongming ji, chapter 8.
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 95
particularly to the latter as their relationship was characterized by con-
stant conflict and integration. Through the relationship between Tao-
ism and Buddhism, we can learn more about the relationship between
religious Taoism and philosophical Taoism, which was at the core of
the controversy between Buddhism and Taoism.
Historically, Taoism and Confucianism were indigenous and their
relationship was peaceful on the whole. In the conflict with Buddhism,
Taoism even considered Confucians as followers of the same Tao in
order to fight off the new alien religion. The conflicts and controversies
between Taoism and Buddhism never stopped and even grew fiercer
in their competition for the same religious spheres of influence.
However, we should adopt a dialectical standpoint regarding the
conflict and integration between Buddhism and Taoism, through
which Taoism developed continually. This conflict and integration
were always so closely interwoven that they could not be distinguished.
This interconnection expressed itself in two ways.
First, conflict and rejection were part of the process of integration
and conversely. A remarkable example was the “Legend of Lao-tzu
Converting the Barbarians,” which, when it first appeared, intended
both to incorporate Buddhism into Chinese culture and to belittle Bud-
dha by considering him as inferior to Lao-tzu. The Buddhist reaction
oward this legend therefore changed in different times and in different
circumstances. We will come back to this point later in this chapter.
Second, conflict would often facilitate integration and integration
could in turn deepen the conflict. Historically, Buddhism clung to phil-
osophical and religious Taoism at the beginning of its propagation in
an attempt to survive and develop itself in China. Religious Taoism,
in the early years of its foundation, considered Buddhists as followers
of the same Tao as its own and took advantage of Buddhism in order
to expand. After a period of mutual use and absorption, both gathered
strength and their conflicts reached a climax. Sometimes they could no
longer tolerate each other. Several violent conflicts took place between
Buddhism and Taoism during the Southern and Northern Dynasties,
and that led to bloodshed and transformed the religious struggle into
a political one: they were the result of the bitter quarrel in the begin-
ning of the collaborative development between Buddhism and Taoism
under the Han, Wei, Western Jin, and Eastern Jin dynasties. This
integration and mutual use were realized through constant conflicts.
Taoism often engaged in conflicts with Buddhism under Lao-tzu’s
banner and allied itself with Confucianism in order to reject Buddhism
96 hong xiuping
under the pretext that there was a difference between the Chinese and
alien traditions and that Buddhism did not follow the same rites and
moral precepts. Buddhists criticized the vulgarity of Taoism by draw-
ing a line between religious and philosophical Taoism. It particularly
derided the Taoist study of alchemy, its use of drugs, its belief in the
ascension to Heaven and in the Immortals, and its pernicious encour-
agement of peasant revolutions known as “rebellions in the name of
Tao.”
20
Rejection by Confucianism and Taoism on the pretext of the
difference between a Chinese and alien tradition drove Buddhism to
mingle with Confucianism and Chinese culture. Furthermore, this
attack on the part of Buddhism, which distinguished philosophical
Taoism from religious Taoism, made the latter embrace Lao-tzu’s
theory and develop it in order to construct its own metaphysical sys-
tem. Taoism also absorbed Buddhist speculative theories, practices,
and commandments to perfect its own theological system and inte-
grated Confucian ethics further to “clarify and reorganize Taoism.”
In addition, it tried to counterbalance its drawbacks and develop itself
into a more elitist and more theoretical system so as to draw a sharp
distinction with original Taoism. It was unusual for Buddhism and
Taoism to see that their conflicts had actually hastened their interpen-
etration, but they evolved constantly in a way that could be considered
dialectically.
We will now further explore the question of the “Legend of Lao-tzu
Converting the Barbarians” in the context of the relationship between
Buddhism and Taoism. The legend represents the deification of Lao-
tzu by Taoism and from another standpoint reflects changes in the
Buddhist-Taoist relationship and the development of Taoism. When
talking about the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians,”
people are inclined to link it directly to the conflicts between Bud-
dhism and Taoism. But in my opinion, we should put some distance
20
Dao’an of the Northern Zhou Dynasty said in his Erdao lun that “as to alchemy
and drugs, practices of consuming cloud and eating jade, ascension to Heaven and
transformation into Immortals, release from the body, and transformation of forms,
they all violate Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu’s original principles. Although these practices
became popular, they do not correspond to the Tao. . . . In addition, Taoist magical
arts are bad and impure. They regard the grinding of teeth as a celestial drum, saliva
as elixir, horse faeces as divine firewood, and mice as magic drugs. How can we
reach the Tao with these magical arts?” He added that “they rebelled in the name of
Tao. The demoniac Tao of the Yellow Turban has caused much mischief to the Han
Dynasty. Sun En, who sought immortality, put the Jin Dynasty in danger. They have
brought calamity to the country and to the people.”
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 97
between the legend itself and the conflict and at the same time differ-
entiate the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” from the
Laozi huahu jing 老子化胡经 [Scripture of Lao-tzu converting the Barbarians].
The latter, which made use of the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the
Barbarians” was the product of the conflicts between Buddhism and
Taoism, whereas the former at first took on a cultural aspect by trying
to harmonize Buddhism and Taoism.
According to the existing documents, the “Legend of Lao-tzu Convert-
ing the Barbarians” had already been widely circulated at the end of
the Han Dynasty. Emperor Huan of the Han Dynasty offered sacrifices
in the palace to Buddha, the Yellow Emperor, and Lao-tzu together.
His minister Xiang Kai, in the ninth year of the Yanxi Reign (AD 166),
sent in a memorial to oppose this practice, mentioning that “someone
said Lao-tzu went to barbarian regions and transformed himself into
Buddha.”
(I) heard that the cults of Buddha, the Yellow Emperor and Lao-
tzu were established in the palace. This Tao is pure and simple and
advocates non-action. It loves life and hates killing. It promotes the
restriction of desire and the abstinence from luxury. Now Your Majesty
has not abstained from addictions and desires and you have meted out
punishment without proper consideration. Since Your Majesty does not
obey the Tao, how can Your Majesty be blessed? Some said Lao-tzu
went to the barbarian regions and transformed himself into Buddha.
Buddha never spent three nights under the same mulberry tree lest the
attachment would come in time. That is the extremity of faith. The dei-
ties offered him a beautiful woman. Buddha said “that is nothing more
than a leather sack full of blood.” Then he did not give her a second
look. Buddha kept the unity (守一) like this so that he could reach the
Tao. Now Your Majesty has beautiful women and can enjoy good fare.
How can Your Majesty aspire to the Tao of the Yellow Emperor and
Lao-tzu?
21
Here, Xiang Kai placed the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu on a par
with Buddha. He believed they all advocated purity, non-action, the
restriction of desires, and opposed killing. It seemed to him that the
reason why Buddha could follow the Tao was that he managed to
“keep the unity.” These descriptions show that in the Han Dynasty
Buddhism was considered as a branch of the magical arts of Tao-
ism of the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu and people accepted it as a
part of traditional Chinese culture. The Taoists (including those of the
21
Hou Hanshu, chapter “Xiang Kai zhuan 襄楷传.”
98 hong xiuping
Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu Taoism) began to deify Lao-tzu by fab-
ricating many stories about the transformations of Lao-tzu. For exam-
ple, Wang Chong in the chapter “Daoxu,” of his Lunheng [Balanced
Discourses], said:
People believe that the Tao of Lao-tzu can save them. This Tao is
peaceful and tranquil and stands for keeping energy and cultivating
qi. . . . By practicing it, Lao-tzu became immortal and survived hundreds
of generations.
Wang Fu, during Emperor Huan’s reign, in his Laozi shengmu bei,
noted:
Lao-tzu is what we call the Tao. He was born before Non-form, acts
before the Supreme Origin, and practices in the time of the Supreme
Pure Being.
Other Taoist scriptures, such as the Laozi bianhua jing which describes
the birth of Lao-tzu, appeared later.
22
The “Legend of Lao-tzu Con-
verting the Barbarians” appeared under those circumstances and
referred to far-fetched historical records that said Lao-tzu went to the
West in his later years and “no one knew his end.” In the chapter
“Xirong zhuan 西戎传,” of his Weilüe, Yu Huan of the Wei Dynasty
of the Three Kingdoms further interpreted the sentence “Lao-tzu went
to barbarian regions and transformed himself into Buddha”:
The version of the story in the Sutra of Buddha was different from that
in the Chinese Scripture of Lao-tzu. According to the former, Lao-tzu went
through the Hangu pass toward the West. He went to India and taught
the barbarians. Buddha was in fact another name for his disciples.
23
Then Buddha became Lao-tzu’s disciple. Afterward, the Taoists often
made use of the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” to
attack and play down Buddhism. Especially after the fabrication of
the Laozi huahu jing by Wang Fu of the Western Jin Dynasty, this leg-
end was consistently made prominent by the Taoists. Until the Yuan
Dynasty, there still was an intense dispute on that subject between
22
The fragments of the Laozi bianhua jing gathered in the 18th volume of the Zhong-
hua daozang describe Lao-tzu’s many births under different names from the antiquity of
the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. According to the research of some Japanese
scholars, this scripture dates from between the first year of the Yongshou reign and the
eighth year of the Yanxi reign of Emperor Huan (AD 155–65) of the Han Dynasty.
23
See the comments in the chapter “Dongyi zhuan 东夷传” of Wei shu 魏书 of
Sanguo zhi 三国志.
lao-tzu, the tao of lao-tzu, and the evolution of taoism 99
the Taoism of the Quanzhen School and Buddhism, which led to the
banning and burning of this scripture.
The “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” was evidently
not created to belittle Buddhism, because it implied a shared origin
with Buddhism. Since Lao-tzu transformed himself into Buddha and
Buddha issued from Lao-tzu, Buddhism and Taoism followed the
same path and were integrated in the same Chinese cultural system.
Buddhism was no longer considered an alien culture. At that time,
Buddha received offerings alongside the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu,
the Buddhist concept of “nirvana” was compared to Lao-tzu’s “non-
action,” and Buddhism was regarded as a branch of the Taoism of the
Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu. The attempt to integrate Buddhism into
Chinese culture through the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Bar-
barians” found its source in the unifying character of Chinese culture,
in particular its ethnical self-centered character and its trend to see
the world as one system. Thus, Chinese tradition was favorable to the
implantation of Buddhism. In Mouzi’s Lihuo lun it says that “Buddha
and Lao-tzu both emphasized non-action,” which showed that in the
beginning Buddhists were trying to position themselves as holding the
same concepts as philosophical Taoism. For that reason, Buddhism
may have tolerated the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbar-
ians” at the beginning of its implantation in China. One Japanese
scholar believed that “the legend of Lao-tzu turning into Buddha or
Lao-tzu converting Buddha was an expedient strategy for implanting
Buddhism in China. Maybe it was invented by Buddhism.”
24
This
remains to be proved. Nevertheless, it should be useful to distinguish
the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” from the Laozi
huahu jing. The latter was born of the conflict between Buddhism and
Taoism, whereas the former demonstrated the tolerance of Chinese
culture toward the alien Buddhist culture.
This legend was also favorable to religious Taoism, which regarded
Lao-tzu as its founder because the legend implied that Lao-tzu was
superior to Buddha. Once Taoism was sufficiently strong and inde-
pendent and the expansion of Buddhism threatened its development,
Taoism certainly used it to fight back. In the beginning, Buddhism
used Lao-tzu’s philosophy against ancient religious Taoism and
24
Kamata Shigeo, Jianming Zhongguo fojiaoshi 简明中国佛教史 [A Brief History of
Chinese Buddhism], translated by Zheng Pengnian. Shanghai: Shanghai Translation
Publishing House, 1986, p. 39.
100 hong xiuping
magical arts.
25
Once Buddhism had gained a firm footing in China,
it was no longer willing to rely on philosophical Taoism and began
to refute this legend. After the Wei and Jin dynasties, there was a
heated controversy about the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Bar-
barians,” which opposed Taoism to Buddhism. To fight this legend,
the latter put forward that “Lao-tzu was the disciple of Buddha”
26
by
inventing a story according to which Buddha sent his three disciples,
Confucius, Yan Yuan, and Lao-tzu, to China to preach.
27
The inven-
tion of the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” was likely
linked to the idea of orthodoxy in Chinese culture.
From antiquity onward, the Chinese considered their country the
center of the world and named it the “country of the center.” With a
certain sense of cultural superiority they called other people barbar-
ians. At the end of the period of “Contention of a Hundred Schools
of Thought” and the foundation of a unified country, the concept of
unity promoted by the Chunqiu [Spring and Autumn Annals] became
a kind of collective unconscious of the Chinese. To “govern the world
and rule China,”
28
all kinds of schools were divided into orthodox
and unorthodox schools of thought. Yet, the latter were not treated
as heretical schools and were not eradicated. Official ideology toler-
ated and controlled other philosophical schools. Even Emperor Wu of
the Han Dynasty, who adopted Dong Zhongshu’s strategy of “making
Confucianism the official ideology,” did not banish other philosophi-
cal schools such as Taoism. This is an important feature of Chinese
politics. The same strategy was applied to deal with foreign cultures,
however different from Chinese culture. Gu Huan’s Yixia lun 夷夏论
[Treatise on Chinese Culture and Foreign Cultures] was a good example and
the “Legend of Lao-tzu Converting the Barbarians” was part of this
strategy.
25
According to Mouzi, Buddhism believed man was mortal and immortality was
a heterodox concept. He added: “the legends of the immortals are highly demagogic.
Besides, they are imaginary and illusory. For that reason the Great Tao does not
abide by them.” “There are thousand of methods for fasting. However, none of them
is effective. Stupid people longing for longevity follow this practice. How pitiable they
are!” See Hongming ji, chapter 8.
26
Zhengwu lun 正诬论. See Hongming ji, chapter 1.
27
In the Qingjing faxing jing 清净法行经 it says: “Buddha sent three disciples to con-
vert the Chinese, the Bodhisattva Rutong, called Confucius in China; the Bodhisattva
Guangjing, called Yan Yuan in China; and Mahakasyapa, called Lao-tzu in China.”
This text was quoted in Dao’an’s Erjiao lun.
28
Hanshu, chapter “Lu Jia zhuan 陆贾传.”
CAO CAO AND TAOISM
Li Gang
The relationship between Cao Cao and Taoism can shed light on the
complex relationship between emperors and Taoism in history, their
utilitarianism in regard to Taoism, and their spiritual life.
Politics and the Military
The reason why Cao Cao was very much aware of the relationship
between religion and political-military affairs was that he faced grave
religious problems (more precisely with Taoism), which could even-
tually lead to the fall of his regime if mismanaged. In the 3rd year
of the emperor Xian’s Chuping reign (AD 192), of the Eastern Han
Dynasty, Cao Cao incorporated more than 300,000 soldiers who had
surrendered to him and over one million people, women and men,
from the Yellow Turban Army (huangjin jun) from Qingzhou city. With
its elites he built an army called the Qingzhou soldiers (Qingzhou bin),
who would be the main forces helping Cao Cao to seize territories,
vanquish adversaries, and lay the strong foundations of his regime.
In the 20th year of the Jian’an reign (AD 205), Cao Cao defeated
Zhang Lu’s army in Hanzhong, integrating it within the ranks of his
army, thus reinforcing his political and military strength. Furthermore,
according to the Chronicle of Li Te in the Jinshu (The Jin History), “When
the emperor Wu of the Wei Dynasty (i.e., Cao Cao) conquered the
Hanzhong region, Li Te’s grandfather turned to him with more than
500 families of whom most had been ancient believers of the ‘Five
Bushels of Rice’ Taoism 五斗米道.” With the increase of his military
force, Cao Cao had to face the numerous Taoist believers of “Great
Peace” and of “Five Bushels of Rice,” who had been incorporated
into his armies. How to deal with them became a crucial point if he
wanted to stabilize the army’s morale, strengthen its fighting ability,
and eventually seize power. Cao Cao’s general strategy toward Tao-
ism was, on the one hand, to win its supporters to his side to expand
this military force and, on the other hand, to control it rigorously to
prevent it from causing disturbances on the political plane.
102 li gang
In order to achieve this, Cao Cao chose two tactics, first attacking
then placating the Yellow Turban and Zhang Lu’s armies and finally
incorporating them. During the war with the Yellow Turban Army,
the latter sent Cao Cao a letter saying: “When you were in Jinan, you
destroyed the altars of all popular religions. Your ‘Tao’ was identical
to the Central Yellow Supreme Unity’s (Zhonghuang taiyi). It looks as
if you have known the Tao before, but you are confused now.”
1
The
phrase “When you were in Jinan, you destroyed popular religions’
altars” was a reference to the end of the Guanghe reign of the emperor
Lin of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 178–184), when Cao Cao, as the
governor of Jinan, “prohibited all illicit cults,” “destroyed all places of
worship,” and “forbade officials and people to offer sacrifice to these
popular gods.” Hence, “evildoers ran away and the teachings and poli-
cies were applied in this county which lived peacefully from then on.”
It seemed to Taoist believers of the “Great Peace” that Cao Cao’s
behavior, in prohibiting all illicit cults, resembled their “Tao” of the
Central Yellow Supreme Unity. So they considered Cao Cao to be
someone who understood the “Tao of Great Peace” and told him that
the Han’s mandate was destined to come to its end and the Yellow
Family would be established on the throne and that Cao Cao’s abilities
and strength wouldn’t allow him to stop this change. They hoped Cao
Cao could help them to overthrow the Han dynasty and establish the
Yellow family’s dynasty in its stead. When he had read the letter, Cao
Cao scolded its senders. Yet he “gave the Great Peace army many
opportunities to surrender.” In the end, the Great Peace Army yielded
to Cao Cao. In the 1st year of Jian’an’s reign (AD 196), “The Yellow
Turban of Runan and Yingchuan, led by He Yi, Liu Pi, Huang Shao
and He Man, each at the head of several tens of thousands of men,
first gave in to Yuan Shu’s appeal to join him and later went over to
Sun Jian. In the second month of that year, Cao Cao attacked and
defeated them. He Yi finally surrendered with his army to Cao Cao
after Liu Pi and Huang Shao were beheaded.”
2
So Cao Cao incorpo-
rated another Yellow Turban Army in addition to Qingzhou’s army.
Why did the Yellow Turban Army surrender to Cao Cao and not
to other warlords? Among other reasons, they probably believed that
1
Sanguozhi, the “Biography of the Emperor Wu” and the annotation quoted in the
Weishu, Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2000. The author of the Baopuzi has also praised
Cao Cao for “prohibiting illicit cults.”
2
Idem.
cao cao and taoism 103
Cao Cao had “destroyed the altars of popular religions” and “appar-
ently had understood their ‘Way’.” Cao Cao’s former treatment of the
religious issues was evidently the main reason why he could integrate
the Yellow Turban Army into his own forces.
Against Zhang Lu, Cao Cao employed the same strategy: threaten
with force before summoning him to surrender. In the chapter “Biog-
raphy of Zhang Lu,” of the Sanguo zhi, it says,
in the 20th year of Jian’an’s reign (AD 215), Taizu attacked Zhang
Lu. He arrived at Yangping Pass passing through San Pass and Wudu.
Zhang Lu wanted to surrender. However his brother Zhang Wei dis-
agreed and resisted with ten thousand soldiers. Taizu won the battle
and conquered the Shu region. Hearing of the defeat, Zhang Lu had
once again the intention of surrendering. But he was stopped by his
minister Yan Pu who said: ‘now if we yield to Cao Cao’s threat, we will
have less merit. We had better join the borderlands people under Du
Huo and then surrender. We will have more merit.’ Zhang Lu accepted
this advice. Before leaving, his entourage was going to burn down his
treasure hold. Zhang Lu stopped them saying: ‘I wanted to surrender.
Now I take just evasive action. The treasure belongs to the country. Do
not be malicious by destroying it.’ Taizu appreciated this action and
sent someone to express his sympathy. Zhang Lu then surrendered with
all his family. Taizu conferred on him the title of General Zhennan and
Marquis of Langzhong and gave him ten thousand families. The five
sons of Zhang Lu and Yan Pu were all conferred the titles of marquis.
Zhang Lu’s daughter married Taizu’s son. When Zhang Lu died, he was
given the posthumous title of “Marquis Yuan” and his son inherited his
title and property.
This story was also mentioned in the chapter “Biography of Liu Yan,”
in Houhan shu, and the following phrase was added: “when Zhang Lu
returned to the Chinese heartland (zhongguo), Cao Cao treated him as
a special guest.” Pei Songzhi commented on this passage: “although
Zhang Lu’s intention was good, he surrendered only after being
defeated. It was exaggerated to have conferred his sons the title of
marquis and to have given him ten thousand families.”
3
In fact, this
was Cao Cao’s strategy to integrate Taoist forces. Before that, “in
March of the 16th year of Jian’an’s reign (AD 211), Cao Cao sent
Zhong Yao to attack Zhang Lu, who occupied the Hanzhong region.
3
Sanguo zhi, annotation on the “Biography of Zhang Lu,” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju,
2000.
104 li gang
Gongsun Yuan and others joined Zhong Yao’s army.”
4
Cao Cao’s real
opinion in regard to Taoism can be perceived in the next passage: “on
their way to attack Zhang Lu, Cao Cao and his army arrived in the
Hanzhong region. The mountains were arduous to climb and food
was scarce. Cao Cao said: ‘it is only a demonic country and it will not
cause me any trouble.’ ”
5
It is not surprising to see that Cao Cao con-
sidered Zhang Lu’s Taoism as “demonic” and attacked him several
times, and at the same time married his daughter to Zhang Lu’s son.
This story is an example of the flexibility of Cao Cao’s strategy.
Moreover, Cao Cao’s strategy towards Great Peace Taoism had an
impact on Zhang Lu’s attitude. Sun Quan sent an envoy to tell Liu
Bei: “evil Zhang Lu rules the Ba and Han regions as Cao Cao’s spy
and intends to attack Yizhou.” Liu Bei, who intended to attack the
Shu region, answered: “Zhang Lu is not sincere and not really loyal
to Cao Cao.”
6
This dialogue tells us that Sun Quan and Liu Bei all
knew of Zhang Lu’s intention to join Cao Cao’s camp. According to
the Xiandi zhuan 献帝传 [Biography of the Emperor Xian], quoted in the
annotation of the chapter “Biography of the Emperor Wen,” in Sanguo
zhi, “people disagreed with Zhang Lu and wanted to join Liu Bei’s
camp. Zhang Lu was angry and said: ‘I would rather be Cao Cao’s
servant than Liu Bei’s guest.’ He sounded very determined and that
was not without reason.” This story showed Zhang Lu’s partiality for
Cao Cao. To account for the favor of the Wei Dynasty toward Zhang
Lu, Hu Shi suggested: “Zhang Lu ruled people with demonic Taoism.
People were pleased with his politics and he ruled the Ba and Han
regions for 30 years. After his kingdom had been conquered, most of
the people there were probably displaced to the West, the Shaanxi and
Gansu regions. The highly valued social status of Zhang Lu’s family,
which probably followed the ‘Iron Contract’ and the ‘Welcome Rite,’
ensuring the inheritance, might be due to the importance attached by
the Wei rulers to the influence on society of Zhang Lu’s Taoism.”
7

This hypothesis is right to some extent. According to the Erjiao lun
二教论 [Essay on the Two Religions], composed by the Buddhist monk
Dao’an, “Zhang Jue and Zhang Lu dressed in yellow because of the
4
Idem, “Biography of the Emperor Wu.”
5
Idem, “Biography of Liu Ye.”
6
Idem, “Biography of the Ancient Emperor.”
7
Yang Liansheng lunwenji 杨联陞论文集, annex 1 “Hu Shi xiansheng laixin 胡适先
生来信”. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1992, pp. 86–87.
cao cao and taoism 105
prediction that the future emperor would be dressed yellow. When
Cao Cao took power, he also changed the color of his clothes from red
to yellow.”
8
It was possible that Cao Cao had been under the influence
of Taoism and used it.
The second of Cao Cao’s tactics was to build a network to take con-
trol of Taoism. The Taoist leaders seemed to enjoy special privileges,
but in fact were under house arrest. Some rebel Taoists even ran the
risk of being killed.
9
Cao Cao appointed Hao Mengjie to instruct all
magicians. Hao Mengjie was a native of Shangdang: “A date pit in
the mouth, he could live five or ten years without eating. He could
also hold his breath half a year, motionlessly, as if he were dead. He
was married, he was prudent, and looked like a gentleman. Cao Cao
appointed him to supervise all magicians.”
10
Moreover, Cao Cao
invited Taoists of influence like Gan Shi, who was capable of attract-
ing a great many magicians. Cao Zhi said in Biandao lun 辩道论 [Essay
on the Debate on the Tao]: “the reason why we gather magicians in the
Wei kingdom is that we are afraid that they would spread fallacies to
deceive people. We gather them under our control and prohibit this
practice. Gan Shi is old but looks young. That is why he attracts magi-
cians. However his speech is full of fine words that mean nothing. He
is just like Xu Fu to Qinshihuang and Ruan Da to the emperor Wu
of the Han Dynasty.”
11
This passage shows that Cao Cao’s aim in convening magicians
was not to achieve longevity or immortality, but to prevent them
from deceiving people like the leaders of the Yellow Turban Rebel-
lion. Along this tactical line, famous Taoists like Gan Shi “knew they
were paid like ordinary officials, never recompensed without merit,
and had no chance of traveling to the sea and islands. Then they never
dared to say something special.”
12
The tragedy of Qinshihuang and
the emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, who longed for longevity, was
8
Guang hongming ji. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1991, vol. 8, p. 146.
9
Lu Xun said: “Cao Cao was a great literati and knew that gathering literati and
magicians under his control would prevent them from causing trouble.” See Lu Xu
quanji 鲁迅全集, vol. 1, “Eryi ji WeiJin fengdu ji wenzhang yu yao ji jiu zhi guanyi
而已集 魏晋风度及文章与药及酒之关系.” Wulumuqi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe,
1995, p. 785.
10
Houhan shu, “Fangshu zhuan” (Biographies of magicians).” Beijing: Zhonghua
shuju, 1965.
11
Guang hongming ji. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1991, vol. 5, p. 124.
12
Sanguo zhi, “Fangji zhuan” (Biographies of magicians) and the annotation on it,
Zhonghua shuju, 2000.
106 li gang
not repeated for Cao Cao. Taoists like Gan Shi dared not curry favor
from emperors like Xu Fu and Ruan Da. Although Cao Cao intended
to learn a self-cultivation regimen from these magicians, he was more
conscious of its importance than Qinshihuang and the emperor Wu
in this regard.
According to the chapter “Biographies of magicians” of the Houhan
shu, “Cao Cao, followed by about a hundred officials, went to the
suburbs. Zuo Ci prepared only a liter of alcohol and a pound of meat
but satisfied the hunger of all the officials. Cao Cao was surprised and
looked for the secret. Finally he found out that all the stocks of meat
and alcohol had disappeared. Unhappy, Cao Cao wanted to kill Zuo
Ci. The latter walked through a wall and disappeared.” Hua Tuo’s
story was noted in the same book: “Hua Tuo had a quick temper and
felt ashamed to practice medicine as a profession. One day he was
homesick and asked Cao Cao to let him go home on the pretext of his
wife’s illness. Hua Tuo overstayed and refused to return to the court
despite several summons from Cao Cao. Angry, the latter ordered an
investigation and discovered the illness of Hua Tuo’s wife was fake.
Then Hua Tuo was arrested and confessed after interrogation. Xun
Yu begged for leniency thus: ‘Hua Tuo is an outstanding doctor. I beg
your mercy.’ Cao Cao denied him clemency and had him killed.”
In the 4th year of Jian’an’s reign (AD 199), Cao Cao reported to
the throne: “previously, I attacked the Henei region and conquered
several villages. The captured inhabitants said: ‘there was a man-god,
Song Jinsheng, who ordered villages to be guarded by dogs instead of
men. If people did not obey his order, they would hear the sound of
armies in the night and find tigers’ footprints in the village the next
morning.’ I sent General Lü Na to capture Song Jinsheng and kill
him.”
13
As a warning to others, Cao Cao killed without mercy the
magicians who were suspected of harming the regime or disobeying
his orders.
As to Zhang Lu and his people, Cao Cao gave them special privi-
leges and at the same time took several measures to gain control over
them. A skeptic, he displaced Zhang Lu to north and left Xiahou
Yuan and Zhang He to guard the Hanzhong region in order to super-
vise the Taoist leaders. According to the chapter “Biography of Zhang
13
Cao Cao ji 曹操集, “Yanhuo Song Jinsheng biao 掩获宋金生表.” Beijing: Zhong-
hua shuju, 1959, p. 20.
cao cao and taoism 107
Ji,” in the Sanguo zhi, Cao Cao displaced Zhang Lu’s people, about
ten thousand families, to Chang’an and the region of the capital.
14
In
the chapter “Biography of He Qia,” of the Sanguo zhi, we find: “After
Taizu defeated Zhang Lu, He Qia advised displacing the people to
save costs. Taizu did not accept this at first, but followed his advice
later.” As we know, Zhang Lu’s kingdom was a political and reli-
gious regime. Most of the people were Taoist followers. Once they
were displaced under Cao Cao’s control, ruling them and preventing
imposters from deceiving people became a real issue. So Cao Cao
made every effort in this regard. He put some influential magicians
(including Zhang Lu) under house arrest in the name of “special treat-
ment” in order to cut off their links with their disciples. This tactic was
effective. On the other hand, after the Taoism of Great Peace and the
Taoism of the Five Bushels of Rice joined Cao Cao, his political and
military power was strengthened. His religious policy proved attrac-
tive to Taoists. Obviously, Cao Cao was wiser than Liu Bei and Sun
Quan in his dealing with the relationship between Taoism, politics,
and the military.
In brief, concerning Cao Cao’s way to power, Taoism was an
unavoidable question. Cao Cao answered this question with measures
that satisfied Taoist soldiers and the people of occupied cities.
Self-Cultivation Regimen
In the chapter “Biographies of magicians” in the Houhan shu, we find:
“From emperor Wu onward, the emperors of the Han Dynasty loved
magical arts. All magicians scrambled for the favor of the court.” The
Wei regime inherited this tradition. According to the chapter “Biog-
raphy of Zang Tao,” in the Songshu, “from the foundation of the Wei
Dynasty, the emperors loved pets, literature was ignored, and magical
arts were praised.” We believe “magical arts” included self-cultivation
regimen. Among several previously lost medicine books discovered at
the Mawangdui site, are Quegu shiqi fang 却谷食气方 [Method for Refrain-
ing from Grains and Ingesting Qi] and Daoyin tu 异引图 [Charts of Circulating
Energy], which both show the importance of immortality techniques
14
Chen Yinke believed Kou Qianzhi’s ancestors had been displaced at this time
from the Hanzhong region to the north. See Chen Yinke shixue lunwen xuanji 陈寅恪史
学论文选集. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1992, pp. 193–94.
108 li gang
under the Han Dynasty. During the period of the Three Kingdoms,
breathing exercises and techniques evolved. Hua Tuo believed the
human body must exert itself. That was why ancient immortals exer-
cised their joints to prevent them from aging. Hua Tuo invented the
“Five-Animal Exercises 五禽戏” as a substitute for breathing exercises.
Since these methods were linked to Taoist immortals, they were also
called the “magical arts of immortals,” which enabled rulers, including
Cao Cao, to follow such regimen. Zhang Hua wrote, in chapter five of
his Bowu zhi 博物志: “the emperor Wu of the Wei Dynasty admired
immortality regimen and had some knowledge of medicine. He invited
magicians such as Zuo Ci and Hua Tuo to the court.”
15
Pei Songzhi
quoted this passage in the “Biography of the Emperor Wu” of the
Sanguo zhi, adding “he was used to eating wild Pueraria lobata and drink-
ing more or less poisoned wine.” In addition, Cao Cao wrote the Sishi
shizhi 四时食制 [Food of the Four Seasons] to study the link between food
and longevity. Unfortunately, most of this book was lost.
16
It is beyond
doubt that Cao Cao admired the Taoist immortality regimen.
The magicians that Cao Cao convened under his rule included
Wang Zhen of Shangdang, Feng Junda of Longxi, Gan Shi of Ganling,
Hua Tuo of Qiaoguo, Bu Shi of Henan, Fei Zhangfang of Runan, Xi
Jian of Yangcheng, Zhao Shengqing of Henan, Lu Nüsheng, Dong-
guo Yannian, Tang Zha, Leng Shouguang, Zhang Diao, Zuo Ci,
Su Zixun, and Xiannu Gu. But what magical arts did they possess?
According to the Dianlun 典论, quoted in chapter five of the Bowu zhi,
“Gan Shi, Zuo Ci, and Dongguo Yannian observed the sexual prac-
tices of Lord Rongcheng. Cao Cao invited them and learned about
efficient practices. Taoist Master Liu Qing learned how to make ‘Orig-
inal Method of the Yunmu jiuzi’ medicine. He disappeared when he
was 300 years old. The emperor Wu was used to taking this efficient
medicine.”
17
“Huangpu Long met the ‘Taoist on the Green Buffalo,’
Feng Junda, who told him of the method of self-cultivation accord-
ing to which ‘one should practice temperance in sex and do suitable
exercise; avoid eating fatty, acidic, and salty food; reduce anxiety, hap-
piness, and anger; refrain from hunting and prevent ejaculation; keep
the energy in autumn and winter. This method was proved efficient
15
Zhang Hua, Bowu zhi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980, chapter 5, p. 61.
16
The remaining text is quoted in the chapter “Yu Huangpu Long lin,” of the Cao
Cao ji. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, pp. 66–67.
17
Zhang Hua, Bowu zhi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980, chapter 5, p. 65.
cao cao and taoism 109
by emperor Wu.”
18
According to the Gaodao zhuan 高道传 [Biography
of Eminent Taoists], quoted in chapter 15 in Sandong qunxian lu 三洞群
仙录 [Record of the Immortals of the Three Caverns], “Feng Heng, whose
public name was Junda, often sat on a green buffalo. Hence his name
was the ‘Taoist on the Green Buffalo.’ If people were sick, whether
Feng Heng knew them or not, he gave medicine or acupuncture and
moxibustion. People were healed immediately. The emperor Wu con-
sulted him on the method of self-cultivation. Feng Heng answered:
‘often exercise your body and control your appetite. However the
exercise and the control should not be excessive. Do not eat fatty,
acidic, and salty food. Reduce anxiety, happiness, and anger. Refrain
from hunting. Eliminate energy in spring and summer and keep it in
autumn and winter. Then you will attain the Tao.’ ” These two pas-
sages are different, but both dealt with Feng Junda.
19
Cao Cao wrote, in his “Letter to Huangpu Long”: “I heard that you
are more than 100 years old and your strength has not been diminished.
Your hearing and eyesight are normal and your eyes have a high color.
It is outstanding. Can you tell me your method for self-cultivation? If
you agree, you can show me in secret.”
20
It was written in the chapter
“Biographies of magicians” in the Houhan shu, that “Gan Shi, Dong-
guo Yannian, and Feng Junda were all magicians and observed the
sexual practices of the Lord Rongcheng. They drank urine, hung them-
selves upside down, kept their energy, and talked rarely about longevity.
They were all recruited by Cao Cao, who consulted their self-cultivation
methods and practiced them. Feng Junda was also called the ‘Master of
the Green Buffalo.’ They were more than 100 or even 200 years old.”
“Wang Zhen was about 100 years old and his face radiated light, as if
he was less than 50 years old. He wrote: ‘I traveled to all the famous
mountains. I practice breathing exercises and swallow saliva. But I do
18
Idem, p. 62.
19
According to the Hanwudi neizhuan quoted in the chapter “Biographies of magi-
cians” of the Houhan shu, “Feng Junda was a native of Longxi. At first he ate rhizoma
coptidis for about 50 years. Then he entered the Niaoju Mountains and fed on mer-
cury for about 100 years. When he returned to his hometown, he looked 20 years old.
He often sat on a green buffalo. Hence his name the ‘Taoist on the Green Buffalo.’ If
people were sick, whether Feng Heng knew them or not, he gave them medicine or
acupuncture and moxibustion. People were healed immediately. When he heard Lu
Nüsheng had got the Picture of the Five Mountains, he asked for its transmission for
years, but was always refused. Lu Nüsheng just taught him temperance. When Feng
Junda was more than 200 years old, he lived in the Xuanqiu Mountain.”
20
Cao Cao ji, “Yu Huangpu Long lin.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, pp. 66–67.
110 li gang
not refrain from sexual activity.’ As to Meng Jie, a date pit in his mouth,
he could live five or ten years without eating. He could also hold his
breath half a year, motionlessly, just like the deceased.” According to the
Dianlun, quoted in the chapter “Biographies of magicians” in the Houhan
shu, “Xi Jian of Yingchuan knew how to refrain from eating rice and
taking Tuckahoe. Gan Shi of Ganling was good at breathing exercises
and had a youthful appearance. Zuo Ci of Lujiang knew self-cultivation.
They were all recruited into the army.”
Hua Tuo was considered to be immortal by his contemporaries.
21

Taizu heard of his reputation and invited him to visit. Taizu had
headaches and suffered from vertigo. By using acupuncture, Hua Tuo
alleviated his illness immediately.
22
The texts above showed Cao Cao
had convened magicians not only from a political need, but also from
his interest in self-cultivation regimen and longevity. The magical arts
he admired, such as breathing exercises, taking medicine, sexual exer-
cises, and self-cultivation, were all taught by magicians.
Cao Cao’s opinion of Taoist arts was not fixed. He had viewed
them with skepticism in his early years and followed them in his
later years. For him, the ultimate object of the Taoist regimen was
to lengthen life and the object of longevity was to realize his political
ideals. Cao Cao lamented: “How pitiful people are. They are deceived
by legends of immortals.”
23
He advocated “prohibiting any discussion
of auspicious or inauspicious omens in the army.”
24
He said “he did
not believe in fate.”
25
Before he reached the age of 50, Cao Cao kept
his distance from Taoist arts. In his later years, he gradually came to
admire knowledge of drugs and self-cultivation and expressed it in a
poem: “The Tao of the immortals is secret and profound. One should
concentrate. The heart should be at peace but should never fall asleep.
Retire from the world and meditate. Heaven will give energy. He who
longs for immortality rides on a chariot of clouds conducted by a white
deer and arrives at Heaven’s door. He asks for the divine medicine,
he receives it kneeling, and greets the god. In this way, the Tao will
come spontaneously.”
26
21
Houhan shu, “Biographies of magicians.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965.
22
Sanguo zhi, “Biographies of magicians.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2000.
23
Cao Cao ji (Buyi补遗), “Shanzaixing 善哉行.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959,
p. 219.
24
Idem, “Sunzi zhu 孙子注,” p. 117.
25
Idem, “Rang xian ziming benzhi ling 让县自明本志令,” p. 42.
26
Idem, “Qichuchang 气出唱,” p. 1.
cao cao and taoism 111
Cao Cao was different from Qinshihuang and emperor Wu of the
Han Dynasty, however, who feverishly sought divine medicine, and
some emperors of the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, who died
from having taken medicine.
27
Yang Sheng’an of the Ming Dynasty
stated his admiration for Cao Cao: “Cao Cao was very intelligent,
completely different from some emperors of the Tang Dynasty, who
died from having taken cinnabar.”
28
He was more reasonable than
many emperors with regard to life. He wrote: “all things have their
end; even the sage is no exception.”
29
“The divine turtle lives long, but
its life comes to an end, too. He who rides a serpent and a cloud will
finally be burned to ashes.”
30
“I lift my cup and sing a song, for who
knows if life be short or long. Man’s life is but the morning dew, past
days many, future ones few. Melancholy my heart begets. Rises from
sorrows I cannot forget.”
31
On the other hand, he believed: “although
life is decided upon by Heaven, he who follows the regimen can attain
longevity.”
32
Although the life of a human being is limited by nature,
he can prolong his lifespan with some effort. He did not believe that
Chisong zi and Wang Qiao had attained the Tao, but had just lived
longer than others. “How eternal Heaven and Earth are! The life of
a human being is shorter. People say Lao-tzu is forever young and
Chisong zi and Wang Qiao attained the Tao. I have not heard they
attained the Tao, but just lived longer than others.”
33
He frequently
expressed his wish for longevity: “One should remain silent to keep his
energy. Then he will live long. . . . The host must propose a toast to
wish his guests longevity. Attain permanent happiness before thinking
of descendants. I wish the host will live as long as Heaven.”
34
“I desire
the divine medicine to live for a hundred thousand years.”
35
“Hun-
dred thousand years” was an exaggerated expression of the author
who longed not for an illusory immortality, but for real longevity. To
meet this objective, Cao Cao not only took medicine and practiced
27
Paradoxically, Cao Cao was admitted into the Taoist pantheon. In the Zhenling
weiyetu of Tao Hongjing, “Cao Cao, in the name of Emperor Wu of the Wei Dynasty,
Grand Tutor, and Northern King,” was put in the seventh place.
28
Sheng’an waiji 升庵外集. “Shishuo bu 史说部,” vol. 40.
29
Cao Cao ji, “Jinglie 精列,”. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 2.
30
Idem, “Buchu Xiamen xing 步出夏门行,” p. 11.
31
Idem, “Duange xing 短歌行,” p. 5.
32
Idem, “Buchu Xiamen xing,” p. 11.
33
Idem, “Qiuhu xing 秋胡行,” p. 8.
34
Idem, “Qichuchang,” pp. 1–2.
35
Idem, “Qiuhu xing,” p. 8.
112 li gang
breathing exercises, but also meditated: “I meet Chisong zi and Xian-
men who gave me the secret method of preserving my energy. I take
divine herbs and drink liquid elixir. I walk with a cane and wear a hat.
I leave the world behind and travel in the universe. I walk quickly in
the wind. I live long but never forget my faults.”
36
These poems tell us that Cao Cao’s interest in Taoist arts was based
on his desire for longevity. Taoist arts were the method used to become
immortal. According to Taoism, life can be prolonged so long as one
follows the practices correctly and perseveres. For example, according
to the Shennong jing 神农经 [Scripture of Shennong], “the best medicine
can lengthen life, for example, the Five Stones are used for purifying
the body whereas the Six Divine Herbs are used for prolonging life.
The medium-quality medicine enables the cultivating of the self: for
example, Albizzia julibrissin Durazz is used for forgetting anger, whereas
Hemerocallis fulva is used for forgetting worries. The inferior-quality
medicine allows for healing: for example, rhubarb is used for relaxing
the bowels, whereas angelica is used for relieving pain.”
37
Medicine
can treat illness and prolong life. That was why Cao Cao admired it.
Cao Cao had headaches that were considered as a case of “illness of
reversed qi.” He always prepared water for dipping his head in. Before
his death, he would have angelica soup. So in his later years, Cao Cao
needed Taoist arts to improve his poor health.
But what was Cao Cao’s real objective when practicing Taoist arts?
The answer can be found in his political ambition. Indeed, even in
his later years, Cao Cao had political ambitions, as he himself wrote:
“an old steed in the stable still aspires to gallop a thousand li; an old
man may still cherish high aspirations.”
38
However, life is short and
Cao Cao felt sorry to be unable to fulfill himself. On the one hand,
he believed “sages rush when guests call, so at their feet the empire
does fall.” On the other hand, he “cannot forget the melancholy.”
39

He “cannot stop aging and his remaining days are numbered; at the
same time health and intelligence are lost forever.”
40
Some scholars
noted that in certain poems, Cao Cao expressed his sadness at the
shortness of life and his desire to find sagely ministers who could help
36
Idem, “Moshang sang 陌上桑,” p. 5.
37
Zhang Hua, Bowu zhi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980, chapter 4, p. 48.
38
Cao Cao ji, “Buchu Xiamen xing.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 2.
39
Idem, “Duange xing,” p. 5.
40
Idem, “Qiuhu xing,” p. 8.
cao cao and taoism 113
him achieve his dreams of becoming emperor. In fact, Cao Cao pre-
ferred political exploit to longevity. He wrote “I do not worry about
time going by, but about the political situation of the country.”
41
This
kind of worry led Cao Cao to resort to a Taoist regimen, which was
only a means for Cao Cao to achieve his ambitions.
Literature
Was there a link between Cao Cao’s literary achievements and Tao-
ism? The answer is positive. His poetry about immortals, especially in
its vivid imagination, had an unquestionable link with Taoism. Several
specialists of literature have argued that the style of Cao Cao’s poems
in his early years was that of the “music bureau 乐府” and that these
poems are about immortals. Their opinion might be wrong. As we
showed above, Cao Cao did not believe in Taoism in his early years,
but did in his later years because of the state of his health. So his
poetry about immortals was the product of his belief in Taoist regimen
in his later years.
Poetry about immortals has a long history. It includes early pieces
such as Qu Yuan’s Yuanyou 远游 and Lisao 离骚, the Xianzhenren shi
仙真人诗 of Qin times, and the Changge xing 长歌行 of the Han-time
Music Bureau.
42
After the Wei and the Jin dynasties, poetry about
immortals developed. Before the Jian’an reign it could be classified
in two categories: the first contained the poetry about immortals in
the Chuci 楚辞, the second included the poems on immortals of the
Han Dynasty. In the first category, the authors expressed their dissat-
isfaction with this world and aspired to be in Heaven. In the second
category, the authors believed in the existence of immortals, desired
their protection, and hoped to join them. Cao Cao’s style in his poems
on immortals belonged to the latter. In these works, he expressed his
ambitions and his worry about the situation of the country. In his
commentary on Guo Pu’s poetry about immortals, Li Shan of the
Tang Dynasty said: “on the whole the poetry about immortals is writ-
ten to express rejection of this sullied world and the longing for the
41
Idem.
42
It is traditionally considered that the changge (long songs) and duange (short songs)
refered to the idea that the lifespan of a human (long or short) was predetermined and
could not be changed according to one’s wishes.
114 li gang
life of immortals. Nevertheless, Guo Pu’s texts expressed his own feel-
ing. The subject of his texts was quite narrow, but the vocabulary was
refined and the style was new. It is superb.”
43
However, it was not Guo
Pu, but Cao Cao who was the initiator of this style of poetry.
Cao Cao’s poetry expressed not only his desire to “become immor-
tal,” but also his philosophy, his view of the world, and his understand-
ing of life. In fact, Chinese literature and philosophy are derived from
the same origin. For the Chinese, the universe is a viable system bear-
ing on the circulation of energy. Literature should be viable just like
the universe. Chinese literati preferred to express feelings and emotions
through physical things, Cao Cao being no exception. He praised life
by describing Taoist immortals and expressed his desire for longevity.
The image of immortals in his poems embodied eternal life and the
wish to live as long as Heaven. In his poetry, Cao Cao entered the
world of the immortals where limits were pushed and melancholy was
dispelled. He “traveled on the rainbow and red clouds, climbed the
Jiuyi Mountain, passed through the Jade Gate, crossed the Milky Way,
and arrived in Kunlun Mountain. I met the Queen Mother of the
West, Duke Father of the East, Chisong zi, and Xianmen, from whom
I received the secret method of preserving energy.”
44
With immortals,
he “crossed the Kunlun Mountain, on the way to Penglai Island. I
went to the Eight Extremities and met immortals. . . . I travelled to all
famous mountains, slept on rocks, and drank from springs.”
45
With
immortals, he “moved on clouds, rode dragons . . . drank liquid jade,
and enjoyed banquet all day long.” Moreover, goddesses “danced”
for him. “Wine was accompanied by songs; everyone had a good
time.”
46
He “took divine herbs and drank liquid elixir. I walked with
a cane and wore a hat. I left the world behind and traveled in the
universe.” In his dream, he obtained longevity.
47
But when he woke
up, immortals had left for Heaven. “They cannot be caught up with.
How sorry I am! From now on, I can not sleep any more and will feel
melancholy.”
48
43
Wenxuan, commented on by Li Shan. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1977, chapter
21, p. 306.
44
Cao Cao ji, “Moshang sang.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 2.
45
Idem, “Qiuhu xing,” p. 8.
46
Idem, “Qichuchang,” pp. 1–2.
47
Idem, “Moshang sang,” p. 2.
48
Idem, “Qiuhu xing,” p. 8.
cao cao and taoism 115
However, Cao Cao did not give up his quest for longevity. Lin
Yutang noted: “the Chinese who live in this world have always a secret
desire for longevity, except for some theorists.”
49
Cao Cao was no
exception. Even his desire was stronger, which was expressed through
his poems on immortals, “by following immortals, one can obtain
longevity”;
50
“I desire the divine medicine that will enable me to live
a hundred thousand years”;
51
“One should close one’s mouth to keep
one’s energy. Then one will live long”; “Living ten thousand years and
having many children.”
52
These verses reveal Cao Cao’s true senti-
ments and aim.
Chinese literati are reputed to be sentimental about time and about
life, Cao Cao being no exception. He sighed in the Shanzai xing: “gen-
tlemen are always sentimental, only what they worry about is varied”;
53

in the Buchu Xiamen xing: “I always feel melancholy and sorry.”
54
But
what for? The answer can be found in the Qiuhu xing: “How eternal
Heaven and Earth are. The life of the human being is shorter, the
four seasons alternate, so do days, suddenly one year is gone.”
55
He
observes in the Jinglie 精列: “from its birth, everything is doomed to go
toward its end . . . even Sages such as the Duke of Zhou and Confucius
could not escape from death and Yu the Great was buried in Huiji.
So who can be eternal? Maybe gentlemen would not worry about this.
One cannot stop age and remaining days are numbered.”
56
What Cao
Cao expressed was the same melancholy on the shortness of life. So
how about making the most of this lifespan?
Then we have the renowned Duange xing: “I lift my cup and sing a
song, for who knows if life be short or long. Man’s life is but the morn-
ing dew, past days many, future ones few. The melancholy my heart
begets. Comes from cares I cannot forget. Who can unravel these woes
of mine? I know but one man . . . the god of wine!”
57
However, wine
deepens melancholy. Facing ephemeral life, one makes merry while he
49
Lin Yutang, Wuguo yu wumin 吾国与吾民. Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe,
1990, p. 106.
50
Cao Cao ji, “Tangshang xing 塘上行.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 2.
51
Idem, “Qiuhu xing,” p. 8.
52
Idem, “Qichuchang,” pp. 1–2.
53
Idem, p. 10.
54
Idem, p. 11.
55
Idem, p. 8.
56
Idem, p. 2.
57
Idem, p. 5.
116 li gang
can. This kind of sentiment could be already noticed in the “Nineteen
Ancient Poems 古诗十九首”: “between heaven and earth our lives
rush past like travelers with a long road to go. Let this measure of wine
be our merriment; cherish it highly, without disdain.”
58
“Man’s life is
as brief as a sojourn; his years lack the firmness of metal or stone. Ten
thousand ages come and go but sages and wise men discover no cure.
Some seek long life in fasts and potions; many end by poisoning them-
selves. Far better to drink fine wine, to clothe ourselves in soft white
silk”;
59
“Man is not made of metal or stone; how can he hope to live
for long? Swiftly he follows in the wake of change”;
60
“Life, scarce a
hundred years, holds millenniums of fears. Brief its noon, and long its
night: Best then mingle darkness with light. Make merry while ye may:
Wait not for another day.”
61
Ruan Yu noted in “Qiai shi 七哀诗”:
“youth goes away and never returns. Health cannot be found a second
time. Times of happiness pass quickly. One will be dust in deep Hell
and eternal night.”
62
Wang Xizhi wrote in his preface to the Lanting ji
兰亭集 [At the Orchid Pavilion]: “‘Great indeed are life and death,’ said
the ancient. Ah! What sadness!” It was written more clearly in the
chapter “Yangzhu 杨朱” in Liezi 列子: “Enjoy life and forget death.”
This opinion was shared by many literati at the end of the Han, the
Wei, and the Jin Dynasty whose lives were threatened by war, plague,
and political struggle. Even Cao Cao, intelligent as he was, was influ-
enced by and immersed himself in poetry about immortals. This phi-
losophy caused the notion of immortality to spread to all social classes.
So in this context, it is not surprising to see the creation of Cao Cao’s
poetry about immortals in close connection with Taoism.
Lu Xun wrote that: “Cao Cao advocated the use of the “unconven-
tional” style, which meant “voluntarism.” This style influenced litera-
ture and many pieces were elaborated in the same style. In his way,
certain prejudices were overcome and a different philosophy from
Confucianism was introduced into literature.
63
Indeed, his “unconven-
tional” style helped shake off the shackles of Confucian morals posed
58
Wenxuan, “Qingqing lingshangbai 青青陵上柏.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1977,
vol. 29, p. 409.
59
Idem, “Quche shang dongmen 驱车上东门,” p. 411.
60
Idem.
61
Idem, “Shengnian bumanbai 生年不满百,” p. 412.
62
Jian’an qizi shi jianzhu 建安七子诗笺注. Chengdu, Bashu shushe, 1990, p. 272.
63
Lu Xun quanji, “Eryi ji WeiJin fengdu ji wenzhang yu yao ji jiu zhi guanyi.”
Wulumuqi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe, 1995, p. 784.
cao cao and taoism 117
on literature during the Han Dynasty and gave rise to the Jian’an
literature. “A different philosophy from Confucianism” was nothing
other than Taoism, which can be perceived in Cao Cao’s works: “The
bird flies high to the sky; how can it be ensnared? He who remains
in peace, close to nature, how can he be attracted by reputation and
wealth?”
64
In the same poem, he introduced Lao-tzu’s philosophy:
“when we have much, we show only a little. Only the virtuous man
can attain his goal.”
65
As these works show, Cao Cao was clearly influ-
enced by religious Taoism and philosophical Taoism, especially his
later works. If Cao Cao’s poetry about immortals had not been writ-
ten, his works would not have gained such renown.
About the features of Chinese literature, Lin Yutang wrote: “there
are two categories in Chinese literature. The first is ‘moral preaching,’
which transmits truth and the Tao. The second is the expression of
feelings.”
66
Furthermore, the first transmitted Confucianism, whereas
the second introduced philosophical Taoism, religious Taoism, and
even Buddhism. In Cao Cao’s works, we can find the first two, but
Buddhism is not present. According to Lin Yutang, “all literary works
are the expression of the author’s heart. This can even be applied to
speculative works. Only the works that come directly from the heart
deserve to be remembered in eternity.”
67
Cao Cao’s most important
works concerned Taoism and feelings.
It is impossible for scholars who study the political history of the late
Eastern Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms not to take Taoism
into account. Moreover, the study of the relationship between Cao
Cao and Taoism sheds light on this obscure period. The study of
Cao Cao’s use of the Taoist regimen enables us to know the practice
of self-cultivation and the contribution of Taoism to ancient Chinese
medicine. The influence of Taoism on Cao Cao can be seen in his
works, which were neglected by early scholars. In brief, the study of
the relationship between Cao Cao and Taoism helps us to understand
politics, military history, medicine, and literature at the end of the Han
Dynasty and the beginning of the Wei Dynasty.
64
Cao Cao ji, “Shanzai xing.” Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 10.
65
Idem.
66
Lin Yutang, Wuguo yu wumin. Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1990, p. 197.
67
Idem, p. 198.
THE TAOIST CONCEPT OF THE “SIX HEAVENS”
Wang Zongyu
1
Origin of the Concept of “Six Heavens”
The most ancient records of the “Six Heavens” in official history and
Confucian classics that I found are Kong Yingda’s annotation of the
Liji and Jiu Tangshu.
2
In the chapter “Jiaotesheng 郊特牲” of the Liji
it says:
The word jiao 郊 [suburb], used by ancient Confucians, had two mean-
ings. According to the Shengzheng lun 圣证论, jiao and the Round Knoll
圆丘 are identical, since there was only one Heaven. For Zheng Xuan,
there exist Six Heavens, and jiao and the Round Knoll are different
from them. Now I will analyze Zheng Xuan’s theory and answers, put-
ting forth Wang Su’s theory. According to Zheng Xuan, there are Six
Heavens. However, Heaven is the most venerable and should be unique.
The reason why Zheng Xuan thought the Heavens were six comes
from the creative characteristic of the unique and venerable Heaven
through the system of the Five Agents. Five plus one is six.
3
A report by the Master of Rite, Xu Jingzong, was quoted in the chap-
ter “Treatise on Rites” in the Jiu Tangshu:
In the seventh month of the second year of the Zhenguan reign, the
Master of Rite Xu Jingzong with his assistants sent a report to the throne
saying: according to the rules of cults and rites, and also Zheng Xuan’s
theory of the Six Heavens, the sacrifice for the Highest Lord of Limitless
1
I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Kristofer Schipper of Leiden
University, who is a great admirer of Chinese culture and who, with my tutor Tang
Yijie, facilitated my research at Leiden University. He pointed out the significance of
materials such as the Santian neijie jing and inspired my approach in this chapter. The
interpretation and choice of documents, however, are solely my responsibility.
2
The Daojiao dacidian 道教大辞典 (Great Taoist Dictionary) published by Huaxia
Press quoted the Xiaojing 孝经’s (Classic of Filial Piety) sentence “offer sacrifice to King
Wen in the Hall of Light beside the Six Heavens and High Lord” for its entry on “Six
Heavens”. However, for the same sentence in the Xiaojing annotated by Kong Anguo
and Zheng Xuan and often quoted by historians before the Tang Dynasty, there was
no “Six Heaven.” I wonder what is the source of the Daojiao dacidian.
3
Shisanjing zhushu 十三经注疏 (The Thirteen Classics, annotated), Peking, Zhong-
hua shuju, 1980, p. 1444.
120 wang zongyu
Heaven 昊天上帝 should be made on the Round Knoll; the sacrifice
for the Responsive Lord of Great Tenuity 太微感帝 should be made in
the Northern Suburb; the sacrifice for the Five Lords of Great Tenu-
ity should be made in the Hall of Light. In my opinion, Zheng Xuan’s
theory was founded on the apocrypha (wei 纬). What he called the Six
Heavens were stars, whereas the Highest Lord of Limitless Heaven did
not belong to the universe. So the authors of the annotations of the Yue-
ling 月令 and Zhouguan 周官 insisted that the Highest Lord of Limitless
Heaven, worshipped on the Round Knoll, was in fact Beichen yaoguibao
北辰耀瑰宝 [Bright Treasure of the Northern Star]. Having examined
this theory, I find it does not hold. It was written in the Zhouyi: the sun
and moon belong to the sky, all cereals and plants belong to the earth.
There are stars in the sky and forms in the earth. It is very clear that
stars are not the sky and plants are not the earth. We find in the Maoshi
zhuan 毛诗传: the Original Qi is great and limitless, hence its name of
Limitless Heaven. Here it is Green Heaven, which does not belong to
the stars. Moreover, Heaven and Earth are separated, what we call the
Two Polars. There is no second Heaven; how can there be six?
4
From the texts above, the theory of the “Six Heavens” was a Confu-
cian interpretation of official rites as put forth by Zheng Xuan. The
aforementioned texts are no proof that Zheng Xuan initiated this the-
ory; this name was only given by Wang Su to Zheng Xuan’s theory.
Although, we cannot find the “Six Heavens” in Zheng Xuan’s anno-
tations on the Xiaojing, Liji, and Zhouguan 周官 [Officials of Zhou], we
can assume that Zheng Xuan proposed a similar theory as long as we
understand its significance and examine it in historical sources.
The sacrifice di 禘, which was dedicated to celestial gods by ancient
emperors, existed for quite some time. Heaven was the ancestor of all
the emperors and their clans. Zheng Xuan explained the significance
of “di” in his annotation of the chapter “Dazhuan 大传” of the Liji:
“this momentous sacrifice was to celebrate the birth of the ancestor,
what we call the jiao Sacrifice to Heaven.”
5
It certainly embodied some
historical view of clan or government. This Heaven was called the
Highest Lord of Great Heaven 皇天上帝 or the Highest Lord of Lim-
itless Heaven in later times. The Five Emperors were also considered
the ancestors of all emperors, who were probably born of historical
ideas of clan or government. According to historian Xu Xusheng
徐旭生, the name “Five Emperors” did not appear until the early
4
Jiu Tangshu, Peking, Zhonghua shuju, punctuated edition, 1989, p. 823.
5
Shisanjing zhushu, p. 1506.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 121
period of the Warring States era, and cannot be found in the Zuo-
zhuan 左传, Guoyu, Lunyu, Mozi, or Mengzi.
6
Even a long time after the
appearance of the term, its significance remained doubtful. It referred
at first to five legendary emperors called the “Five Personal Emper-
ors.” The concept of the “Emperors of the Five Directions” developed
from the theory of the Five Agents. We cannot be sure that the con-
cept of the “Emperors of the Five Directions” was influenced by that
of the “Five Personal Emperors.” According to the chapter “Fengshan
shu 封禅书” (The Feng and Shan sacrifices) of the Shiji:
The second year, Liu Bang attacked Xiang Ji in the East. After invading
the Guanzhong region, he asked: in the Qin dynasty, which lord was the
cult of the Highest Lord dedicated to? He was given this answer: to four
lords. There was a cult of the White Lord, the Green Lord, the Yellow
Lord, and the Red Lord. Liu Ban went on to ask: I heard there were
five lords in Heaven. Why did you have only four? No one could give
him an answer. Liu Bang said: I know. I am the fifth. Then he created
the cult of the Black Lord and called it the “Northern Altar.” However,
it was an official who was in charge of this cult in his place. Liu Bang
recruited all the ritual officials of the Qin dynasty and created the post
of Great Supplicator and Great Chancellor. The rules of the old rites
were followed.
7
This record showed not only that the cult of the Five Emperors in
the Qin dynasty was still incomplete, but also that the Emperors of
the Five Directions Liu Bang mentioned were not the same as the
Five Personal Emperors. On this point, see the analysis made by Xu
Xusheng.
8
Nevertheless, if Liu Bang questioned the cult of the Four
Emperors and transformed it into the cult of the Five Emperors, he
was certainly influenced by the concept of the five directions.
The rules of ancient Chinese imperial rites were based on the Confu-
cian interpretation of the Qin and Han dynasties and later Confucian
literati abided by them. However, the application of these rules was
6
Xu Xusheng, Zhongguo gushi de chuanshuo shidai, revised and enlarged edition,
Peking, Kexue chubanshe, 1960, p. 19.
7
Shiji, Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, punctuated edition, 1982, p. 1378. Yang Kuan
wrote: “the cult of the Five Colours and Five Emperors of the Directions appeared
late in the Spring and Autumn Period.” See Gushi bian 古史辨, Kaiming shudian,
first edition, 1941, vol. 7, p. 250. In mentioning this passage, Yang Kuan suggested
Qin deduced Qinshihuang already knew the Five Lords. I find his suggestion inap-
propriate.
8
Xu Xusheng, Zhongguo gushi de chuanshuo shidai, p. 207.
122 wang zongyu
not precise. That is supported by the chapter “Fengshan shu” of the
Shiji, which presented the rites from Shun 舜 and of the Zhou dynasty:
“After he became Chancellor, the Duke of Zhou ordered the worship
of Houji 后稷 with the jiao sacrifice beside the shrine of Heaven and
of King Wen of Zhou in the Hall of Light beside the Highest Lord’s
shrine. From Yu the Great onward, the cult of she 社 was established.
Houji was in charge of agriculture, that was the reason why this cult
had been established. As to the jiao and she sacrifices, they were even
more ancient.”
9
Ma Duanlin commented on the evolution of imperial
rites under the Han dynasty and Sima Qian’s intention: “the Western
Han dynasty inherited the rules of the jiao sacrifice of the Qin dynasty
mixing it with magicians’ theories. Taiyi and the Five Emperors were
worshipped together under the name of ‘Jiao Sacrifice for Heaven’.”
Sima Qian wrote the chapter “Fengshan shu,” listing the cults under
the Qin and Han dynasties that had not been in official documents.
According to him, Shun was worshipped beside the Highest Lord and
the Jiao sacrifice of the Three Ancient Dynasties was more ancient.
10

As a historian, Sima Qian had probably no intention of describing
this system of rites as a model for later dynasties, yet they took it as
such. In “Fengshan shu” we are told that the sacrifice to Taiyi was
established under the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty. Taiyi
was the Heavenly Lord and the gods of the five directions were his
assistants.
11
Around the altar to Taiyi erected by Emperor Wu, the
altars of the Five Emperors were installed in the five directions.
12
The
system of the “Six Heavens” was formed at that time.
These six altars were dedicated to the gods and given the names
that we have seen above in the apocrypha. Ma Duanlin commented:
Ban Gu gave his chapter on rites the name of “Treatise of the Jiao
Sacrifice” because in the Han dynasty people believed the sacrifice of
the Three Ancient Dynasties had been dedicated to Taiyi and the Five
Emperors and that there were Six Heavens. Then they followed Sima
Qian and Ban Gu’s arguments and worshipped the six gods with the jiao
sacrifice. Zheng Xuan, when he commented on these two rites, indicated
each time the name of the emperor, if he was linked to the sacrifice to
9
Shiji, p. 1357.
10
Wenxian tongkao 文献通考, chapter “Jiaosi kao 郊祀考”, Shanghai, Shangwu yin-
shuguan, 1936, p. 611.
11
Shiji, pp. 1386–1401.
12
Idem, p. 1394.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 123
Heaven. There was not one Heaven only or one emperor, so there was
not one ancestor only worshipped beside Heaven’s shrines. Then he
explained the jiao sacrifice now for one emperor, then for five emperors,
and with one ancestor beside. This problem probably arose because he
annotated the classics with the apocrypha and confused the Qin and
Han dynasties and the Three Ancient Dynasties. However, the sacrifice
to the Six Heavens was followed by the Han people, while the theory of
the Six Heavens was advocated by Sima Qian and Ban Gu, so Zheng
Xuan was not at the origin of this mistake. Zheng Xuan annotated the
Liji thus: “the ancestors of kings were all born from the essence of the
Five Emperors of Great Tenuity. The green one was called Lingweiyang
灵威仰, Chibiaonu 赤熛怒 was the red one, Hanshuniu 含枢纽 the
yellow one, Baizhaoju 白招拒 the white one, and Zhiguangji 汁光纪
the black one. A jiao sacrifice was dedicated to them in the first month
in order to honor them.” According to the Xiaojing, the jiao sacrifice was
dedicated to Houji beside the shrine of Heaven and Lingweiyang, while
the zong sacrifice was dedicated to King Wen of Zhou in the Hall of
Light beside the Highest Lord and Five Emperors.
13
In his annotation of Zheng Xuan’s annotation of the Xiaojing, Pi Xirui
presented the idea of the lord with responsive powers being able to
give birth. For him, the Responsive lord and the Emperors of the
Five Directions were linked, but each had his own significant role.
14

The idea of “being impregnated by Heaven, then giving birth to a
human” could already be found in the Jiangyuan legend. Following
the concept of the Five Agents, it was their essence that had an impor-
tant role. The emperors’ ancestors were simply born of Heaven. This
idea was often used to explain the origin of clans and their found-
ers. Zhen Xuan perfectly understood the objective of Confucian sac-
rifice to Heaven. Annotating the sentence “there is no better action
to honor one’s father than worshipping beside Heaven’s shrine,” he
wrote, “Respect him when he is alive and worship him after he is
dead.”
15
For him, the Responsive emperors of the five Directions were
linked to the five emperors of human origin. In his annotation of the
chapter “Xiao zongbo 小宗伯” in the Zhouli 周礼 he wrote: “the Five
Emperors included the green one called Lingweiyang, whose shrine is
next to Taihao; the red one called Chibiaonu, whose shrine is next to
Yan Emperor; the yellow one called Hanshuniu, whose shrine is next
13
Shisanjing zhushu, p. 1506.
14
Pi Xirui, Xiaojing zhengzhu shu 孝经郑注疏, vol. 3, p. 4.
15
Shisanjing zhushu, p. 1.
124 wang zongyu
to the Yellow Emperor; the white one called Baizhaoju, whose shrine
is next to Shaohao; the black one called Zhiguangji, whose shrine is
next to Zhuangxu.”
16
The Confucian theory of the “Six Heavens” was evidently Zheng
Xuan’s interpretation of the official rites studied in the apocrypha. He
tried to reorganize the earlier official points of view on history and to
create his own system. This interpretation can even be considered an
overall interpretation of Confucianism after the “burning of the books
and burying of the Confucians” during the Qin dynasty. Wang Su
studied Zheng Xuan’s theory. He used the term “Six Heavens” to
criticize the latter. Using his power as one of the emperor’s relatives,
he abolished the sacrifice to the five celestial lords. But Zheng Xuan’s
“Six Heavens” theory stood fast among Confucians. Henceforth, impe-
rial sacrifices oscillated between Zheng Xuan’s theory and Wang Su’s,
and the “Six Heavens” became the synonym for the sacrifice advo-
cated by Zheng Xuan. More than a thousand years after the decline of
the Han dynasty, the Song dynasty philosophers Cheng Hao, Cheng
Yi, and Zhu Xi interpreted Heaven with the character li 理 and never
mentioned the “Six Heavens,” which was gradually forgotten until the
reign of Qianlong and Jiaqing in the Qing dynasty, when the revival
of the Han philosophy allowed Confucians to rediscover it. Hang Shi-
jun collected the theories of Han and Song philosophers on the “Six
Heavens” in Xu Liji jishuo 续礼记集说 [Supplement to the Collection of the
Commentaries on Liji], which can be used as a reference.
Taoist Criticism of the “Six Heavens”
We are told from the texts above that the “Six Heavens” referred to
the system of bloody sacrifices from the Zhou dynasty onward and
became the basis of Chinese official politics and ideology. The Confu-
cian ritual system was based on it. The objects of sacrifice reflected offi-
cial historical points of view from the Han dynasty, which also formed
the “accumulated mainstream historiography of Chinese antiquity,” a
hypothesis suggested by the Doubting Antiquity School 古史辨派.
The first meaning of the Taoist “Six Heavens” had a Confucian
origin; however Taoists endowed it with new meanings through their
16
Idem, p. 766.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 125
criticism. The most representative ancient Taoist scripture was the first
juan of the Santian neijie jing 三天内解经 (Scripture of the Inner Explication of
the Three Heavens). Written in the Liu Song dynasty, it undermined the
“Six Heavens” and at the same time presented Taoist historical points
of view and the characteristics of Taoist rituals.
This scripture deals with the history of Lao-tzu’s preaching. After
the birth of Lao-tzu from vacuity, he spread the concepts of xuan 玄,
yuan 元, and shi 始—the three qi—and created the universe and beings.
Then he preached the Tao of Non-action, the Tao of Buddhism, and
the Tao of Purity and Simplicity in the time of Fuxi and Nüwua. After
that, despite his multiple transformations, his preaching and profane
official politics, also called the “Six Heavens,” were always in concor-
dance before the end of the Han dynasty. According to the Santian
neijie jing, when Lao-tzu preached the three Tao, “the governance of
the Six Heavens was imposed and the three teachings were largely
propagated. Lao-tzu was crowned emperor and given the role of
national master. At that time, Fuxi was called Yuhua zi 郁华子, Zhu-
rong 祝融 was called Guangshou zi 广寿子 . . . Lao-tzu transformed
himself 9 times or 24 times a day. His multiple transformations were
too numerous to be noted. By the time of King You of Zhou, Lao-tzu
knew the governance of Zhou was about to decline. He disheveled his
hair, faked madness, and left Zhou.”
17
Thus, the divergence between
Lao-tzu and the Six Heavens appeared during the Zhou dynasty. The
history of the Zhou dynasty was described as follows: “in the time of
Lower Antiquity, the moral values of society were worsening day by
day. Evil was rife. People offered sacrifices to demons and did not
distinguish the true from the false.” The scriptures, such as Tao Te
Ching, Laozi zhongjing, and Taiping jing, that Lao-tzu preached after his
departure from the Zhou were opposed to the governance of the Six
Heavens. But Lao-tzu always wanted to put the Six Heavens in the
right way. He sent Yu Ji, Li Wei, Wang Fangping, and Dongfang
Shuo to help the Six Heavens do away with evil qi, but this was in
vain. On the first day of the fifth month of the first year renwu of the
Han’an reign (142 CE) he spoke with the Taoist Zhang Daoling in
the grotto of Quting Mountain in the Shu region and then visited the
Newly Appeared Most High of Great Governance of Kunlun. The
17
The Taoist scriptures quoted in this paper are all from the Hanfenlou edition. I
will indicate the number of the volume or the page only exceptionally.
126 wang zongyu
latter said people were not afraid of reality but of evil demons; so he
called himself Newly Appeared Most High. He conferred on Zhang
Daoling the title of Master of Three Heavens and Equal Qi of Ortho-
dox Unity of the Capital of Great Mystery and transmitted to him the
Tao of the Covenant with the Powers of Orthodox Unity. At the same
time, he abolished the system of the Six Heavens and the three Tao
and imposed the system of the Three Heavens. All vanity was elimi-
nated and simplicity was introduced in order to return to perfection
and receive the rules and true scriptures from the Most High.
This story from the Santian neijie jing tried to give a logical explana-
tion for the origins of Taoism. The reason why the Old Lord decided
to break away from the system of the Six Heavens was that in that
system “humans mixed with demons” and this state of things reached
its climax during the Han dynasty. According to the same scripture,
“under the Han dynasty, evil ran wild, the qi of the Six Heavens
became aggressive, the three Tao were mixed, malevolent qi filled the
world, and shamans were revered. People abandoned the real to fol-
low the false. They sang, danced, and killed domestic animals to offer
sacrifices to demons.” The last two sentences were crucial criticism
of the Six Heavens. The radical divergence between Taoism and the
Six Heavens consisted in their attitudes toward blood sacrifices for
the dead. According to the Santian neijie jing, the Old Lord, when he
transmitted the Tao of the Covenant with the Powers of Orthodox
Unity, established the “Orthodox Law of Three Heavens,” including
“it is prohibited to offer sacrifices to other spirits; gods do not accept
sacrifices and Taoist masters do not accept money. It is prohibited to
have illicit sexual intercourse and to steal. When one treats patients,
it is prohibited to drink wine or eat meat. People are only allowed
to offer sacrifices to ancestors and parents during the five la 腊 days.
The Orthodox Law of the Three Heavens does not allow the offering
of sacrifices to the gods of the Earth, she and the Stove, zao 灶 in the
second and eighth month.”
This doctrine was called pure rule, qingyue 清约 in Taoism. The Lu
xiansheng daomen kelüe 陆先生道门科略 (Abridged Codes for the Tao-
ist Community by Master Lu Xiujing) clearly states: “[g]ods do not
accept sacrifices and Taoist masters do not accept money. That is what
we call the pure rule.” Similar rules can also be found in the Taishang
zhengyi mengwei falu 太上正一盟威法箓 [Ritual Register of the Covenant with
the Powers of Orthodox Unity from the Most High] and in scriptures of the
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 127
Lingbao School.
18
In the “Ten Commandments of High Grade” listed
in the Taishang dongxuan lingbao zhihui zuigen shangpin dajie jing 太上洞
玄灵宝智慧罪根上品大戒经 [Scripture on the Great Precepts of the Upper
Levels on Wisdom and the Roots of Transgression from Numinous Treasure of
the Great High Cavern Mystery], the seventh was “it is prohibited to kill
to offer sacrifices to the spirits of the Six Heavens”—see also Benx-
ing suyuan jing 本行宿缘经 and Taishang dongxuan lingbao sanyuan yujing
xuandu daxian jing 太上洞玄灵宝三元玉京玄都大献经 (Scripture of the
Great Offering in the Capital of Mystery on (Mount) Jade Capital for the Days of
the Three Principles). From the systematic presentation of Taoist histori-
cal points of view in the Santian neijie jing, we see the important role that
ritual rules played in the Taoist doctrinal system. We can also find,
through Taoist criticism of the Six Heavens, that this doctrine was
in opposition to the Confucian ritual system from the Zhou dynasty,
which used blood sacrifices, precious objects, and music.
19
In fact, the hostility of Taoists toward blood sacrifice can already be
found in the chapter “Neipian” in Ge Hong’s Baopu zi. To show the
difference between Taoism and Confucianism, Ge Hong wrote, in the
chapter “Mingben 明本”: “Confucians offer sacrifices to ask for bene-
fits, whereas Taoists follow the right way to drive away evil.”
20
The evil
that Taoists wanted to drive away most likely included objects of Con-
fucian sacrifice, because Ge Hong said spirits that enjoyed blood sac-
rifices belonged to “evil qi.”
21
He noted the harm done in sacrifices in
the chapters “Daoyi 道意” and “Qinqiu 勤求”: “the way to longevity
18
The ritual rules in these three scriptures are different. It was written in the Tai-
shang zhengyi mengwei falu: “offer sacrifice to ancestors and parents in the five la days, to
the Stove and the she on the same day of the second and eighth month. It is prohibited
to offer sacrifice to other spirits.” It was written in the Lu xiansheng daomen kelüe: “the
emperor offers sacrifice to Heaven; the three dukes offer sacrifice to the Five Great
Mountains; the marquis offer sacrifice to mountains and rivers; people offer sacrifice
to ancestors and parents in five la days, to the stove and the she on the second and
eighth month. All other sacrifices are prohibited.” These two scriptures allowed the
sacrifice to the stove and the she in the second and eighth month, but not the case of
the Santian neijie jing which dated from the same period as the Lu xiansheng daomen kelüe.
So there are probably some missing passages in the Santian neijie jing. Lu Xiujing’s
permission of the sacrifice to the Six Heavens can be taken as a concession towards
the central government.
19
Ōfuchi Ninji noticed this issue when studying the Dongyuan shenzhou jing. He gave
the name “bloodless sacrifice” to this Taoist rule. See his Shoki no Dōkyō: Dōkyō shi no
kenkyū 初期の道教-道教史の研究, Tōkyō: Sōbunsha, 1991, p. 525.
20
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, 1980, p. 170.
21
Idem, p. 76.
128 wang zongyu
is not to offer sacrifice to spirits” and “longevity relies on medicine
instead of sacrifices.”
22
His criticism of sacrifices offered by emperors
of the Qin and Han dynasties, who were seeking to attain longevity,
showed that these actions were not part of Taoism. However, his dis-
cussion was not coherent. Moreover, he confused the Taoist interdic-
tion of sacrifices and the interdiction of sacrifices by the government,
which made his opinion even less clear.
23
Ge Hong’s arguments have
been ignored because scholars have not paid attention to the different
views of Taoism and Confucianism regarding sacrifices. It is clear that
Ge Hong’s discourse about sacrifice was based on Taoist doctrines,
which may have become official after the creation of a Taoist com-
munity. Compared with the Santian neijie jing and Lu xiansheng daomen
kelüe, Ge Hong’s interpretation was more personal, but it still corre-
sponded to the Taoist classics. His criticism of the Tao of Li 李家道,
“which was not pure and simple,”
24
provides us with new historical
material that was different from the Lu xiansheng daomen kelüe and called
our attention to the synonym for qing in qingyue 清约 and qingsheng 清
省. Moreover, his Taoist techniques for driving away “demons who
enjoy blood sacrifice” was related to objects in the Confucian sacrifices
criticized by Taoism.
25
Although, in the chapter “Duisu 对俗,” Ge
Hong said Taoism would not threaten the Confucian ritual system,
the passages above and in the chapter “Duisu” showed Taoists were
not allowed to offer sacrifices.
26
Taoist criticism of blood sacrifice aimed in fact at sacrifices for the
dead (except for ancestors). Taoist gods were transformed by qi, not
like mortal bodies. Thus, they did not accept blood sacrifices. In the
Santian neijie jing it says: “the Tao issued from non-existence, which was
limitless and immense. There was no first impetus. Nature was born
from vacuity and transformed itself into the Tao. The Venerable Man
of Virtue was born before the Original Qi. He embodies the superiority
22
Idem, pp. 68, 233.
23
Idem, p. 157.
24
Idem, p. 158. The text is: “there are also hundreds of heterodox Taoist Schools
which advocate killing for blood sacrifice. Only the Tao of Li which follows Non-
action is better. However, the cost of its sumptuous offerings and food is high. It is
not pure and simple and should be prohibited.”
25
Idem, p. 287.
26
Idem, p. 45. The text is: “If immortality can be realized by studying, immortals
will fly to the sky, leaving this world and abandoning sacrifices, and ancestors will be
hungry.”
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 129
of the Tao and is called the Venerable Man of Virtue for that rea-
son. Then there was the Most High Old Lord of Limitless Great Tao
and Highest Three Heavens of Great Clarity and Mysterious Origin,
the Celestial Emperor Lord of Virtual Venerable Man, the Lord of
Immortal Capital of Nine Old Men, the Venerable Man of Nine Qi,
millions of Taoist qi, one thousand and two hundred officials, and the
Jade Emperor of Great Clarity. Petitions sent to Gods in Great Clarity
(Heaven) nowadays are all addressed to such Pure Gods.”
The objects of Confucian sacrifice were all dead men. Even legend-
ary figures were regarded as men and accepted sacrifices after death.
This was not the case for Taoism. In the Taishang laojun xuwu ziran benqi
jing 太上老君虚无自然本起经 [Scripture of the Origins of the Void Sponta-
neity by the Most High Old Lord ] it says: “the Tao is non-existence. Thus
there is neither sacrifice nor killing.” From the Santian neijie jing we are
told that this idea of immortality rested on a body of doctrines. It is
still difficult to know the degree of popularity of this Taoist doctrine
in ancient Taoism. But the qi, the origin of immortals and humans, is
a recurrent subject in Taoist scriptures and we can find its origin in
ancient philosophical Taoism. It was prohibited to install icons in Tao-
ist meditation halls. That showed the long history of this tradition. It is
possible that Non-existence and Nature, advocated by ancient Taoist
philosophers, sprang from a certain popular religious doctrine. This
opposition between Confucianism and Taoism in terms of doctrine
represented their historical points of view, which could be used for
their religious purposes, as in the case of the Santian neijie jing.
In the chapter “Xuanhua 宣化” of his Nanbeichao tianshidao kao chang-
bian 南北朝天师道考长编, Chen Guofu quoted the Santian neijie jing,
Lu xiansheng daomen kelüe, and other Taoist texts to describe the charac-
teristics of Taoist rituals. Chen Guofu emphasized the important role
of these texts in Taoist doctrine. Nevertheless, among these texts, only
one record from Laozi xiang’er zhu indicated that Taoism prohibited
sacrifices. Other texts focused their criticism on the spirits. These texts
proved that the Lingbao and Shangqing Schools were all opposed to
blood sacrifice. It is to be noted that Chen Guofu took this criticism as
the opposition between “the old law of shamanism and the governance
of the Six Heavens” and “the orthodox law of the Three Heavens.”
In my opinion, the “Six Heavens” in the Santian neijie jing referred to
Confucianism, even though it mentioned shamanism.
Taoist criticism of the “Six Heavens” can be found in other impor-
tant Taoist scriptures. Dadao jia lingjie 大道家令戒 [Commands and
130 wang zongyu
Admonitions for the Family of the Great Dao], for instance, cited a similar
history to that of the Santian neijie jing: “[f ]rom the Yellow Emperor,
people became deceptive. They rode on bulls and horses and used
bribes to obtain official positions. Morality was undermined and finally
disappeared under the reign of the Five Emperors. In the Three Peri-
ods of Xia, Shang, and Zhou, people sought profit. From the Spring
and Autumn Period to the Qin dynasty, people murdered each other.
The number of the dead was too large to be counted. That was due to
their disbelief in the Tao. The Tao is the master of emperors forever,
but emperors did not follow it. That was why they had to face the
downfall of their power, exile, and death. The Tao honors human life.
It was revealed at the end of the Zhou dynasty, observed in Langya
琅琊 province, and transmitted to Yu Ji. . . . From the Spring and
Autumn Period onward, society was on the decline. The Han rulers
received the celestial mandate with the help of the Tao. The scripture
of Huangshi 黄石 was revealed and transmitted to Zhang Liang. The
Tao is often transformed; who can recognize it? The foundation of
the Han dynasty was the beginning of an apocalyptic period. People
sought wealth and fought one another. The Tao left the people to
their fate forever. Hence Heaven’s transmission of qi to the Newly
Appeared Old Lord to rule people.”
In the Nüqing guilü 女青鬼律 (Code of Nüqing for (Controlling) Demons)
it says: “[t]he Bottomless Spirit of High Heaven, his name is impe-
rial among all spirits; he leads the spirits of all directions.” There also
exist “the Spirits of Direct Talisman and Five Directions,” who are
the Eastern Green Emperor, Southern Red Emperor, Western White
Emperor, Northern Black Emperor, and Middle Yellow Emperor.
They have no specific name, like “Lingweiyang.” So the Bottomless
Spirit of High Heaven might be called the Highest Lord of Limitless
Heaven, who is most certainly linked to imperial sacrifice because “his
name is imperial.” The Nüqing guilü listed the spirits of the Six Heav-
ens, which were worshipped from the Zhou dynasty as the Spirit of
Five Great Mountains, Spirit of the Nine Rivers, Spirit of the Three
Waters, Spirit of the Four Ditches, and Spirit of Jade and Soil of Great
Heaven and High Lord. The presence of “the Spirit of Blood Sacri-
fice” reflected the Taoist opposition to blood sacrifice. The objects of
sacrifice of the Six Heavens were henceforth put in the category of
spirits. At the end of the fifth chapter of the Nüqing guilü there is the
following rule: “do not offer sacrifices to ancient qi; neither call spirits.”
The “ancient qi” referred to “beheaded generals,” whose souls have
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 131
left the human qi. Another meaning of the “ancient qi” was a deity
worshipped in imperial sacrifice. The Most High abolished the “Six
Heavens,” which had once been in harmony with Taoism; so it was
called “ancient qi.” In the Taishang zhengyi zhougui jing 太上正一咒鬼
经 [Collection of Incantation Spells for Exorcism of the Orthodox Unity, by the
Most High] we find: “[a]rrest all evil spirits who enjoy blood sacrifices.”
According to this text, if people ask for the safety of their family and
happiness, they should invite deities and “generals” home so as to
drive away the “spirits of blood sacrifice and ancient qi.”
The Daoyao lingqi shengui pin jing 道要灵祇神鬼品经 [Scripture of Tao-
ist Principal Deities and Spirits] quoted the Dongyuan jing 洞渊经 [Scripture
of Cavern Abyss]: “[t]he Tao said: from Fuxi’s time, bodies of dead gen-
erals are deformed. Soldiers who died in war are numerous. There
are special corpses whose bones are separated and heads are cut off.
Some corpses have a body, but no head; some have feet, but no head;
and some have a mouth, but no eyes. They are millions in number
and travel to the mountains and rivers. They travel with Li Zi’ao on
clouds to the sea and everywhere. They ride the wind and birds and
catch chickens and dogs. They become demons and ask for blood
sacrifices.”
The author of the Taishang zhengyi zhougui jing criticized a certain “het-
erodox Tao,” noting “Eastern Heterodox Tao is Green Dragon, South-
ern Eastern Heterodox Tao is Fire Flame, Western Eastern Heterodox
Tao is the White Tiger who roars, Northern Eastern Heterodox Tao is
the Xuanwu whose tail falls, and Middle Eastern Heterodox Tao is the
Yellow Emperor.”
27
The official sacrifice to the Five Emperors of Great
Tenuity was certainly criticized by the Taoism of the Heavenly Master.
The Nüqing guilü and Taishang zhengyi zhougui jing are scriptures from that
Taoist School. So the definition of the “Six Heavens” was provided by
27
The concept of “Five Emperors of the Directions” needs to be defined according
to Taoist Schools. For example, the Dongxuan lingbao wulao shezhao beifeng guimo chishu
yujue 洞玄灵宝五老摄召北鄷鬼魔赤书玉诀 referred to the five demons of directions
including the “Demon Green Emperor,” the “Demon Red Emperor,” the “Demon
Yellow Emperor” and the “Demon Black Emperor” which must be chased away.
However, in the text, they are called also “emperors.” This scripture is a part of the
first volume of Yuanshi wulao chishu yupian zhenwen tianshu jing 元始五老赤书玉篇真文
天书经. The Lingbao titles of the Original Five Old Lords are in fact identical to the
names of the Five Emperors of Great Tenuity. Although this scripture also criticized
the “Six Heavens,” the “Six Heavens” was only a general reference, not a specific
reference as shown in the Nüqing guilü and other scriptures.
132 wang zongyu
the Heavenly Master of Taoism. In Taoism the “Six Heavens” repre-
sented official politics and were the domain of demons.
Influenced by the criticism of the Heavenly Master, many Taoist
scriptures regarded the Six Heavens as the most obnoxious enemy.
When Taoists preached and sent reports for killing demons, their final
purpose was to eliminate the Six Heavens. Taoists created the Chu
liutian yuwen santian zhengfa 除六天玉文三天正法 [Orthodox Law of Three
Heavens and Jade Text for Eliminating Six Heavens],” a text now preserbed
in the Taishang santian zhengfa jing 太上三天正法经 [Scripture of the Ortho-
dox Law of Three Heavens and Most High] collected in the Taoist Canon.
28

This scripture stated: “Taoists must follow the Orthodox Law of the
Three Heavens and get rid of the evil of the Six Heavens.” Although
in this scripture the notion of “Three Heavens” is hollow, not specific
as the “pure rule” proposed by Lu Xiujing, it referred also to the poli-
tics of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. The Shangqing canon also
includes texts such as the Dongzhen taishang shenhu yinwen 洞真太上神
虎隐文 [Hidden Text of Divine Tiger of Most High from the Authenticity Cav-
ern], Dongzhen taishang hufu zhenwen jing 洞真太上虎符真文经 [Scripture
of True Text and Tiger Symbol of Most High from the Authenticity Cavern], and
Dongzhen taishang shuo zhihui xiaomo zhenjing 洞真太上说智慧消魔真经
[Perfect Scripture of Wisdom Eliminating Demon Taught by Most High from the
Authenticity Cavern], which all aimed to attack the Six Heavens.
At the beginning of the Dongzhen taishang shuo zhihui xiaomo zhenjing
it says: “[t]his scripture was used for driving away demons, curing
patients, eliminating spirits, getting rid of the evil qi of the Six Heav-
ens, and defeating all ghosts . . . demons of the Six Heavens trouble
the truth with disease.” The function of these scriptures was “to drive
away the qi of the Six Heavens” because they taught wisdom and were
used for eliminating demons. “Wisdom can be used for driving away
spirits. The golden talisman of the divine tiger (also called the great
talisman of divine tiger, or the real talisman of golden tiger) is given
(to adepts receiving this scripture) to attack the Six Heavens.” There
28
My argument is as follows: most of the Chu liutian yuwen santian zhengfa listed in
Ōfuchi Ninji and Masako Ishii’s Daojiao jingdian mulu suoyin 道教经典目录索引 comes
from the Taishang santian zhengfa jing. The most important argument is presented in the
eighth volume of the Yunji qiqian in which we find the Chu liutian yuwen santian zhengfa
but not the Taishang santian zhengfa jing in the category Shangqing. Obviously, these
two scriptures are the same.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 133
were also other names linked to the Six Heavens such as the “Big
Demon of Six Heavens” (in Jinpian hufu jing 金篇虎符经 and Shenhu
yinwen 神虎隐文), the “Big Evil King of Six Heavens” (in Taishang
dongyuan shenzhou jing), and the “Big Demon King of Six Heavens”
(in Taishang taixiao langshu jing 太上太霄琅书经 and Sanshijiu zhangjing
三十九章经).
With the evolution of Taoist theories, the theory of the Taoist cycle
was born and linked closely to its condemnation of the Six Heavens.
According to Taoism, the cycle of the Six Heavens followed that of
Fuxi and was created by the Most High who often sent perfect men to
“help the Six Heavens get rid of evil qi.” In that time, the governance
of Six Heavens had not met its end. The Newly Appeared Old Lord
promulgated the Tao of the Covenant with the Powers of Orthodox
Unity and Orthodox Law of Three Heavens and announced the end
of the governance of the Six Heavens and the beginning of a new era.
Those who followed this Tao would become seed people. Henceforth,
the Six Heavens became synonymous with apocalypse. Its denun-
ciation became a part of Taoist propaganda, which preached that
Taoism corresponded to celestial will, created a new era, and saved
people. The apocalypse of the Six Heavens was a recurrent subject in
the scriptures of the Taoism of the Heavenly Master. One of the fea-
tures of the apocalypse was that demons were sent by the Most High
to inflict punishments. In the Zhengyi tianshi gao Zhao Sheng koujue 正一天
师告赵升口诀 [Oral Formula Taught by Heavenly Master of Orthodox Unity
to Zhao Sheng] it says: “[t]he Most High said: now the world is on the
decline and the old cycle will come to its end. People have been angry
and disobedient for a long time. That is why I send calamity into the
world causing millions of deaths.”
Some of the content of the Taishang zhengyi zhougui jing was similar to
that of the Nüqing guilü, which advocated casting spells on the demon’s
name to fight it. The notion of apocalypse also existed in the Nü-
qing guilü, which preached “keeping from great calamity and escaping
from disaster” and that the “world would be saved and people would
become seed people” ( juan 5). This notion was not as developed as
that in the Taishang zhengyi zhougui jing, however. Certainly, there was
more than one interpretation of the demons of the Six Heavens. In
the Taishang santian zhengfa jing it says: “[t]he Lord of Great Tao and
Most High sent spirit soldiers to drive away evil men of the Three
Generations.” This was a significant scripture, which criticized the
134 wang zongyu
Six Heavens using the theory of apocalypse. However, there was no
idea of “sending calamity into the world,” which actually influenced
the Taoist theory of the Six Heavens. The Taishang dongyuan shenzhou
jing was the product of this influence and indeed exaggerated it. This
scripture states: “3,000 years after the reign of Fuxi, there was a big
flood and half the people died. . . . After the fall of the Zhou and Qin
dynasties, almost all the people died. In the Han and Wei dynasties,
people lost their homes and half of them died.” ( juan 1)
For the author, the governance of the Six Heavens was a terrible
time. According to this scripture, there were also demons in the Six
Heavens: “she gods in mountains and forests, popular spirits, dead gen-
erals, and unregistered ghosts come to help the king of the demons to
harm people.” It would be pointless to look for proofs of the Six Heav-
ens in this scripture because it was the product of Taoist ideology and
the social situation at the end of the Western Jin dynasty. Apart from
the “Devil King of the Six Heavens,” the “Devil King of the Three
Heavens” and “Devil King of the Nine Heavens” were created in this
scripture. By contrast, the sense of “apocalypse” of the Six Heavens
was clearer in the Taishang santian zhengfa jing. The latter presented
the same history as other Taoist scriptures, such as the Nüqing guilü,
indicating the apocalyptic end of the Six Heavens and inevitability of
the Orthodox Law of the Three Heavens and Jade Text for Eliminat-
ing the Six Heavens, which would get rid of devils. Whether the Six
Heavens was always a demon world or, only after having received the
Old Lord’s order, the kings of the Six Heavens rebelled and caused
the Most High to send calamity into the world, in any case, apocalypse
was one of the meanings of the term “Six Heavens,” as showed by
“the Six Heavens fell and the Three Tao rise” (in the Sanshijiu zhenjing)
and “the cycle of the Three Heaven is beginning and that of the Six
Heavens is ended” (in the Dongzhen taishang badao minji jing 洞真太上
八道命籍经).
As we showed above, the Six Heavens, which had originally been
part of Confucian vocabulary and referred to a system of sacrifices,
was attributed new meanings through Taoist criticism regarding offi-
cial politics, and became a Taoist concept. In Taoism, its first mean-
ing was domain of demons, the second was apocalypse, and the third
was Hell. In the Taoist theory of Hell, demons of the Six Heavens
were completely transformed and merged into the Taoist system, even
though the original concept was still present.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 135
The Palaces of the Six Heavens in Fengdu and Elsewhere
The Palace of the Six Heavens in Fengdu is referred to in many Tao-
ist scriptures. The more precise descriptions are found in the Zhenggao,
Dengzhen yinjue, Taishang dongxuan lingbao sanyuan pinjie gongde qingzhong
jing 太上洞玄灵宝三元品戒功德轻重经 [Scripture of Measure of Merit
according to the Precepts of Three Origins from the Numinous Treasure of the Most
High Cavern Mystery], Daoji lingxian ji 道迹灵仙记 [Annals of Transcen-
dant Immortals, (Abstracted) from the Traces of the Tao], Dongzhen shangqing
kaitian santu qixing yidu jing 洞真上清开天三图七星移度经 [Scripture of
Movement of Seven Stars and Three Pictures of the Creation of the Universe from
Authenticity Cavern Highest Clarity], and Taishang dongyuan beidi tianpeng
huming xiaozhai shenzhou miaojing 太上洞渊北帝天蓬护命消灾神咒妙经
[Perfect Scripture of Spirit Invocations for Protecting Life and Dispelling Disasters
of Tianpeng and the Northern Emperor of the Great High Cavern Abyss].
29
Some
texts have a common origin and offer small variations in content. I am
not an expert in examining the dates of Taoist scriptures. So this essay
is based upon the Zhengao because it is the most complete and precise
work and it will allow us to trace the origin of the concept of the Six
Heavens within Taoism.
In chapter 15, “Chan youwei 阐幽微” it says:
The Luofeng Mountain is situated in the gui 癸 direction to the North. It
is 2,600 li high and 30,000 li in perimeter. At the foot of the mountain,
there is a cavern, 15,000 li inside. On the cavern and under it lie the
chambers of the spirits. On the mountain there are six caverns in which
there are six palaces, each being 1,000 li in perimeter. They are the
palaces of the spirits of the Six Heavens. Above, there is the cavern of
the eternal palace, in which lies the internal palace. The rules in those
palaces are the same. The first palace is called Zhoujueyin tiangong 纣绝
阴天宫. To the east, the second is the Celestial Palace Taishaliangshizong
泰煞谅事宗天宫. The third is called the Celestial Palace Mingchengnai-
fanwucheng 明晨耐犯武城天宫, the fourth the Celestial Palace Tianzhao-
zuiqi 恬昭罪气天, the fifth the Celestial Palace Zonglingqifei 宗灵七非天
宫, and the sixth the Celestial Palace Gansilianyuanlü 敢司连宛屡天宫.
They are the seats of the government of the Six Heavens of the spirits.
The six palaces in the cavern bear the same names. If people know the
29
Xiao Dengfu presented some varying versions of the Six Palaces of Fengdu
in his HanWei Liuchao fodao liangjiao zhi tiantang diyu shuo 汉魏六朝佛道两教之天堂地
狱说, Taiwan, Xuesheng shuju, 1988.
136 wang zongyu
names of the six palaces of the Six Heavens in Fengdu, they will not be
harmed by demons.
The character feng 丰 has only two meanings: the capital of the Zhou
dynasty and the Taoist Luofeng Mountain. It is also used as the per-
sonal name of the Marquis Feng, attributed to the descendent of King
Wen of Zhou. The character feng in the historical documents from the
Pre-Qin period to the Han dynasty stood for the capital of the Zhou
dynasty. The same was found in the apocrypha and the Shanhai jing
山海经 [The Classic of Mountains and Seas] concerning Jiang Shang and
Houji.
30
The Zhou dynasty built its capital on the shore of the Feng
River and then the character feng was created. The word “luofeng”
appeared for the first time in the chapter “Duisu 对俗” in Baopu zi,
31
in
which it was the synonym of Hell. However, wedo not know why feng
was linked to luo. Furthermore, “feng” had nothing to do with the Tai
Mountain, which represented the origin of hell. Tao Hongjing com-
mented on the aforementioned text: “hells are situated everywhere, in
the Tai Mountain as well as in the sea or the ocean.” I have not found
other texts that indicate the precise location of “luofeng” other than in
the chapter “Chan youwei” of Zhengao. Yu Yue showed that Luofeng
was in no way connected with Fengdu County in Sichuan, whose name
was established only under the Ming dynasty.
32
After examining the
30
There are two notes in the Shangshu dimingyan 尚书帝命验 concerning feng.
According to one of these notes, “the jiazi day of the ninth month, a red sparrow flew
into the Feng city with a red writing in the beak. It stopped in front of King Wen’s
gate. King Wen greeted it and then went to the river Panxi where Jiang Shang was
fishing. King Wen saluted him and said: you have been fishing for seven years. What
have you caught? Jiang Shang answered: ‘I have found a piece of jade on which is
inscribed: King Wen will receive the celestial mandate.’ Then he climbed up in his
chariot and sat on the left. King Wen drove it in person and called him the ‘Master
the Great Father’.” It was written in Shanhai jing: “the country of the Feng clan of
Liuhuang has an area of 3,000 li and is surrounded by roads in four directions. In
the centre of the country there is a mountain which is situated to the left of Houji’s
tomb.”
31
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, p. 46.
32
Yu Yue quoted a passage from Fang Chengda’s Wuchuan lu 船录 in chapter 16
of his Chaxiangshi congchao 茶香室丛钞: “the Fengdu County is situated in Zhongzhou.
There is the Pingdu Mountain 3 li away from the county. According to the inscriptions
found on the mountain, Wang Fangping of the Western Han and Yin Changsheng
of the Eastern Han became immortals on this mountain. Yu Yue commented it thus:
“the Pingdu Mountain of the Fengdu County is one of the 72 Taoist Blessed Fields
and is the fine dwelling of Immortals. So it is difficult to understand why people take
it as the dwelling of ghosts. After having read Wuchuan lu, I discover there has been
a confusion about the Lord Yin, which could be the origin of this misunderstanding.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 137
original meaning of “feng,” we understand why in the Palaces of the
Six Heavens there lived the Northern Great Lord Yan Emperor, the
Lord of Great Dipper King Wu of Zhou, the Duke of Eastern Light
Qi of Xia, the Duke of Western Light King Wen of Zhou, the Duke
of Southern Light Duke Shao, the Duke of Northern Light Jizi of Wu.
There are other interpretations for the Palaces of the Six Heavens
in Taoist scriptures. But in my opinion, that of the chapter “Chan
youwei” of Zhengao is the most pertinent, even though it may not be
the most ancient one, because among the figures listed above, five are
from the Ji clan, kings of Zhou, while “feng” was the capital of Zhou.
33

Later, when “fengdu” became the Taoist term for Hell, the Ji clan had
to share it with other spirits of the Six Heavens. In the Taishang yuanshi
tianzun shuo beidi fumo shenzhou jing 太上元始天尊说北帝伏魔神咒妙经
[Scripture of Spirit Invocations Used by the Northern Emperor for Vanquishing
Demons, as Spoken by the Most High Heavenly Worthy of Original Beginning],
which was compiled after the time of Tao Hongjing, the description
of the Palaces of the Six Heavens was even more exaggerated. For
example, the spirits were described as “resembling the Three Kings
and the Five Emperors and wearing ornaments.”
The world of spirits in the Palaces of the Six Heavens was made
up by gradually absorbing all kinds of Taoist beliefs and Chinese leg-
ends. It is hard to tell whether the descriptions in the chapter “Chan
youwei” of Zhengao could express the whole belief about Fengdu. It
would be very difficult to trace the origin of this belief, because terms
such as “fengdu,” “beifeng 北丰,” and “luofeng” existed as synonyms for
Hell in Taoist scriptures before the Southern and Northern dynasties.
However, few of the Taoist scriptures were dedicated to the descrip-
tion of the evolution of this belief.
34
The documents analyzed in this
chapter can only explain the origin of the Palaces of the Six Heavens
of Fengdu. Its evolution awaits further research.
As to the hell of the Northern Pole, it has its own particular interpretation, nothing
to do with the Fengdu area.”
33
Tao Hongjing underlined King Wen, King Wu, and Duke Shao, leaving aside
Jizha. Perhaps he had another interpretation for Jizha’s origin. See Wang Ming’s
Baopu zi, chapter “Duisu 对俗,” footnote 136 and Tao Hongjing’s commentary on
“Xiang Liang 项梁” in his Zhenggao, chapter “Chan youwei.”
34
Xiao Dengfu classified the texts about the Palaces of Six Heavens of Luofeng in
the Taoist scriptures of the Six Dynasties in four categories represented by four scrip-
tures: Zhenggao, Fumo jing 伏魔经, Tianguan santu shangqing jing 天关三图上清经, and
Sanyuan pinjie jing 三元品戒经. However his study was synchronic without a diachronic
research of their origin.
138 wang zongyu
It is undeniable that Fengdu represented the whole of the Six Heav-
ens. Nevertheless, Fengdu had not been conceived with the structure
of the Palaces of the Six Heavens and the Six Palaces were not the
same as the Palaces of the Six Heavens. In fact, the name “Palaces of
the Six Heavens of Fengdu” was created by combining Fengdu, the
Six Heavens, and the Six Palaces, all independent terms. It probably
represented the Taoist conception of the Hell of the Three Officers.
The Taishang dongxuan lingbao sanyuan pinjie gongde qingzhong jing, presented
more than six palaces in the Hell of the Three Officers. In the chap-
ter “Chan youwei” of Zhengao they included: Mingchengwucheng Palace
明晨武城宫, Naifan mingcheng Palace 耐犯明城宫府, Zhoujueyintian
Palace 纣绝阴天府, Qifeitianzhao Palace 七非恬照府, Liangshi Palace
谅事府, Zonglingyintian Palace 宗灵阴天宫, Lianwanquanqu Palace 连宛
泉曲府, Taishajiuyou Palace 泰煞九幽府, and Zuiqixianchi Palace 罪气
咸池府. In the same scripture, there were also two palaces called Beifeng
Palace 北丰宫 and Beifengdu Palace 北丰都宫 (called also Luofeng Pal-
ace 罗丰宫). Beifeng Palace was the right palace of the second degree of
Middle Primordial, which had jurisdiction over the left Lianwanquanqu
Palace, the right Taishajiuyou Palace, and the middle Zuiqixianchi Pal-
ace, which were also known as “the Three Palaces of Beifeng.” Luofeng
Palace was the right palace of the third degree of Lower Primordial.
In this scripture, the palaces were described around the Three Offi-
cers of Heaven, Earth, and Water or the Three Primordials (Upper
Primordial, Middle Primordial, and Lower Primordial ). It can be seen
that the six palaces in the chapter “Chan youwei” of Zhengao were not
original and the Rites of Release from the Six Palaces of Fengdu of the
Northern Emperor had not been formed yet at that time. The names
of those palaces can not be found in the Benxing suyuan jing, a scripture
from the Lingbao canon. However, the term fengdu represented a sort
of palace:
Those who do not believe my word will be sent to the Hell of the Three
Officers. The Six Heavens and Three Worlds are ruled by the Northern
Emperor, the King of Demons. They are situated in the great northern
sea, on Luofeng Mountain, which is 2,600 li high and whose circumfer-
ence is 30,000 li. There are palaces made of jewels outside and inside
this great city, which control all demons. Now I will show you the names
of these palaces. Those who recite them are safe from demons.
“The Six Heavens are the great kings of demons of the Three Worlds
who rule the spirits of the Six Heavens.” Clearly, the Palaces of the
Six Heavens of Fengdu were closely linked to the spirits of the Six
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 139
Heavens. The common point of the text above and that of the chapter
“Chan youwei” is the spirits of the Six Heavens and the Taoist rites
of casting spells on demons, which were mentioned also in the Qixing
yidu jing 七星移度经 [Scripture of the Movement of Seven Stars] and should
be attributed to the Taoist School of the Heavenly Master. So the Hell
of the Three Officers was certainly one stage of the evolution of the
concept of Taoist Hell from the Palace of Fengdu to the Palace of the
Six Heavens. An analysis of the Palaces of the Six Heavens of Fengdu
will allow us to understand the text of the chapter “Chan youwei” and
Tao Hongjing’s commentary on it.
It is not hard to understand why the Palace of the Six Heavens
was considered to be the palace of the spirits of the Six Heavens.
However, we should analyze the part played by the spirit officers in it.
According to the Santian neijie jing, the fall of the Western Han dynasty
“was due to the heterodox belief of the rulers, who were lacking in
assistants. So demons indulged in rebellious behavior, while the rulers
became finally officers of the spirits.” The last sentence means that
the Han imperial rulers became masters of Hell. The chapter “Chan
youwei” listed some of the names of the officers of the spirits. They
were all ancient emperors, ministers, or generals; none were Taoist
followers. Commenting on the sentence “the King Wen became the
Duke of Western Light and the Master of the Northern Emperor,”
Tao Hongjing said: “even though King Wen and King Wu were
reputed for their benevolence, they became officers of the spirits after
death because not only had they killed but they had not believed in
Taoism.” This commentary illustrated the opposition between Taoist
deities and the spirits of the Six Heavens and Taoist opinion in this
regard. Tao Hongjing believed that “Jiang Shang had killed too many
people; that was why his name was noted down in the Hagiography. As
to Shao En, who had exiled Gan Tang, he then became officer of the
spirits forever.”
35
According to Tao Hongjing, “not following the Tao”
and “much killing” were the reasons Jiang Shang became an officer of
the spirits. As to the officers of the spirits, their presence underscored
the consistent Taoist standpoint as to “dead generals.” They served the
government of the Six Heavens when they were alive, so they became
officers of the spirits of the Six Heavens after they died. Again we
35
According to the Xuejin taoyuan 学津讨源 in the Congshu jicheng 丛书集成, there
was a confusion between the characters bao 饱 and kui 魁, and mao 旄 and gui 鬼 in
the text.
140 wang zongyu
find in the chapter “Chan youwei,”: “there are sixteen Officials of the
Western Light who are in charge of all demons of blood sacrifice.”
The texts above show that during the Six dynasties the legends of
Fengdu inherited and developed the Taoist critical standpoint toward
the Six Heavens despite the new interpretation on the spirits of the
Six Heavens.
The Palaces of the Six Heavens were in fact the sophisticated ver-
sion of the Taoist concept of Hell, which was different from the ancient
Chinese belief. In some Taoist scriptures, there was also the Hell of
the Three Officers. I never could have a clear idea of why Taoism
created the Palaces of Six Heavens separate from the Hell of Three
Officers. In the Taishang dongxuan lingbao chishu yujue miaojing 太上洞
玄灵宝赤书玉诀妙经 [Wonderful Scripture of Red Writing and Jade Secret
from the Numinous Treasure of the Great High Cavern Mystery], although the
Three Officers were mentioned, it was the term “beifeng” that meant
Hell. The Taoist concept of Hell was extensive. The names for Hell
were numerous and not all of them were used to demonize the Six
Heavens. Maybe “fengdu” was a proper Taoist term. Other appella-
tions for Hell concerning the Six Heavens, such as the Tai Mountain,
Haoli 蒿里, Five Mountains and Four Rivers, were from the begin-
ning the objects of official sacrifices. Taoism integrated them into its
own system in order to undermine the concept of the Six Heavens.
The belief in the Hell under Tai Mountain had a long history and
was widespread, according to ancient documents. This topic still needs
to be further explored although Chinese and foreign scholars have
studied it to some extent. A very important aspect of this topic is the
relationship between this belief and Taoism, a relationship which has
not yet been given a satisfactory explanation as far as I know.
36
Exist-
ing scholarship has only examined a limited number of Taoist texts
36
Gu Yanwu’s Shandong kaogu lu 山东考古录 and Rizhi lu 日知录, chapter 30; Zhao
Yi’s Gaiyu congkao 陔余丛考, chapter 35; Yu Yue’s Chaxiangshi congchao, chapter 16;
Édouard Chavannes’s Le T’ai chan: essai de monographie d’un culte chinois: appendice Le
dieu du sol dans la Chine antique; Sawada Mizuho’s Jigokuhen 地狱辨; Wu Rongzeng’s
“Zhenmuwen zhong suojiandao de Donghan daowu guanxi” 镇墓文中所见到的东
汉道巫关系 in Wenwu, no. 3, 1981; Yu Yingshi’s “Zhongguo gudai sihou shijieguan
de yanbian” 中国古代死后世界观的演变 in Yanyuan lunxue ji 燕园论学集 published
in 1983 by Peking University Press. I do not want to criticize these scholars. In fact,
I benefited greatly from the study of Édouard Chavannes and Sawada Mizuho. Wu
Rongzeng’s article intended to discover the relationship between the belief of the Tai
Mountain and Chinese philosophy. This is also my purpose. However they did not go
further than Gu Yanwu on this question.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 141
on the evolution of this belief in Taoism, and since most of these texts
are late, the question has only been further obscured. The concept of
the Hell of the Tai Mountain was not created by Taoism. I am unable
to prove that this belief was a sign of the resistance of the Qi and
Lu regions’ local culture to the culture of Zhou. Nevertheless, I sup-
pose it was the sign of popular resistance to official sacrifices and this
popular standpoint was expressed in Taoism. The divergence between
official and popular opinions lay in the fact that for the former, the
Tai Mountain was the dwelling of deities whereas for the latter, the Tai
Mountain was the dwelling of the dead. Later, literati did not feel at
ease with this ideology—Yu Yue considered this belief preposterous.
37

In fact, this belief had already been expressed by some earlier literati.
In Lu Ji’s “Song of the Tai Mountain 泰山吟” it says: “Hell assembles
all demons, whereas the divine house assembles all spirits.” All spir-
its meant the dead emperors who received sacrifices. We can find in
the tomb-quelling texts of the Eastern Han dynasty the sentence “the
quick belong to Chang’an in the west, whereas the dead belong to the
Tai Mountain in the east.”
38
By examining other historical documents,
I deduced that this belief in the Hell of the Tai Mountain was created
to oppose official sacrifices, and was not a convergence of the official
opinion with the popular one. Taoism inherited this popular belief
and emphasized its link to the Six Heavens. The “Bottomless Spirit of
37
Chaxiangshi congchao, chapter 15, entry “Naihe qiao 渿河桥”. “Today, when peo-
ple talk about deities or demons, they think of the Tai Mountain. Although it sounds
ridiculous, to some extent it may be reasonable. When we believe in Heaven, we
offer it sacrifice. When we believe in Earth, we offer it sacrifice. That is the origin
of the fengshan 封禅 sacrifice. According to the belief in deities, there is the King of
Heaven. So the sacrifice is offered to the Tai Mountain to worship Heaven. According
to the belief in demons, there is the King of Hell. So the sacrifices are offered to the
small mountains beside the Tai Mountain such as Yunyun, Tingting, Liangfu, Gaoli
etc . . . We can say demons belong to the small mountains such as Gaoli, but not the
Tai Mountain. According to the ‘Biography of Guan Lu’ in the Sanguo zhi, ‘the Tai
Mountain rules the dead, not the living.’ So at that time, there was a confusion in
beliefs.” Yu Yue found that the official sacrifice lost its original significance by neglect-
ing the popular interpretations of sacrifice.
38
This sentence is from Gu qiwu shi xiaolu 古器物识小录. There is another tomb-
quelling text in Luo Zhengyu’s Zhensongtang jigu yiwen 贞松堂集古遗文: “the living
belong to Chang’an whereas the dead belong to the Tai Mountain. The living and
the dead should be separated. One can not disturb the other.” See Wu Rongzeng’s
“Zhenmuwen zhong suojiandao de Donghan daowu guanxi.” Wu Rongzeng said the
capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty was Luoyang, not Chang’an. So this belief came
from the Western Han Dynasty. I think the concordance of these two texts show this
belief was very popular at that time. The owner of this text was the emperor who
received sacrifice in the Tai Mountain.
142 wang zongyu
High Heaven,” mentioned in the Nüqing guilü, was the spirit of the Tai
Mountain, who “inhabited the water in the southeast corner of the
Tai Mountain, the dwelling of all the dead.” In the “Catalogue of All
Spirits from Lao-tzu,” quoted in the Daoyao lingqi shengui pin jing, it says:
“[t]he governor of the Tai Mountain is called junhou 君后.” Those two
texts are the only texts I could find on this belief. However, they are
enough to undermine the real Taoist interpretation of the Hell of the
Tai Mountain.
Haoli was also called “li of the dead.” Like the Tai Mountain, it was
regarded as the dwelling of souls. Historically, there was a controversy
on “haoli 蒿里” and “gaoli 高里,” which remains an enigma. Accord-
ing to both the Shiji and the Hanshu, Emperor Wu of Han went to the
Tai Mountain to offer sacrifices to Gaoli and Houtu 后土 in the first
year of the Taichu reign (104 BCE).
39
Here, gaoli was the name of a
mountain. We have no proof to show that this gaoli is indeed haoli. But
we can say that they were considered identical at the end of the Jin
dynasty. Lu Ji wrote, in his “Song of the Tai Mountain”: “[t]he Tai
Mountain is so high it reaches the sky. At the top, mist wreathes. There
is a house in Liangfu 梁父 like the pavilion in Haoli. Hell assembles
all demons, whereas the divine house assembles all spirits. Sing beside
the Tai Mountain. It is the dynamic sound of Chu.”
40
Yan Shigu was not satisfied with Lu Ji’s opinion. In his commen-
tary on the Hanshu he said: “[t]his character gao means high. The li
of the dead is called ‘Haoli’ or ‘Xiali 下里.’ The character hao means
wormwood. Someone heard of the house of the deities of the Tai
Mountain and Haoli nearby. Then people, including literati like Lu,
confused gaoli for haoli. Today, in some books, the two characters are
still confused with one another.” Yan Shigu’s commentary obviously
represented the literati’s opinion and gave us an important clue: even
in official books, gaoli and haoli were considered identical. Gu Yanwu
studied this poem through Yan Shigu’s commentary. According to
him, people started to consider those two characters as identical from
the circulation of this poem onward. He said: “[i]n Lu Ji’s ‘Song of the
Tai Mountain,’ Liangfu was compared to Haoli and from this, people
believed it was the dwelling of demons. Hereafter, the altar of the shan
39
Shiji, p. 481, Hanshu, p. 199.
40
Guo Maoqian, Yuefu shiji 乐府诗集, chapter 41, Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, 1979,
vol. 2, p. 605.
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 143
sacrifice offered by emperors was considered the temple for the King
of Hell and Duke of demons.”
41
We should be thankful to Yan Shigu and Gu Yanwu for point-
ing out an alternative, which indicated that there existed a popular
force that opposed the official interpretation of Haoli. I have not found
a Taoist explanation for the Hell of Haoli, which is an infrequently
used term in Taoist scriptures. Perhaps, Taoism equated Haoli and
the Tai Mountain without distinguishing the sacrifice to Heaven from
that to the Earth. As a synonym for Hell, the Five Mountains and
Four Rivers was a recurrent term in Taoist scriptures. However, I
have not found any historical documents to explain the link between
them. Regarding the Five Mountains and Four Rivers, which were,
in the official view, worshipped as Hell, Taoism showed its opposition
to official sacrifices.
At the end of the previous section, I proposed an analysis of the Tao-
ist concept of the Six Heavens on three levels. Since Taoism construed
it as Hell this suggests that it regarded other religions as evil in order to
assert its own identity.
42
In the Taoist Hell, most of the demons were
those of the Six Heavens. The term diyu 地狱 (Hell ) was probably cre-
ated at the end of the Han dynasty. Even though we have no proof
that this term existed before Buddhist sutras were massively translated
into Chinese, a similar concept must have been in existence prior to
that. In the Shuoyuan it says: “only the kin of the dead and those of
prisoners ( yu) sit on the ground.”
43
Yu had meant lawsuit before the
Qin dynasty and meant prison in the Han dynasty. The Taoist Hell
41
See the entry “Bian Gaoli shan 辨高里山” in Gu Yanwu’s Shandong kaogu lu
which quoted Wu Qingtan’s Shuoling 说铃. Gu Yanwu also said: “the term haoli can be
found in ancient dirges in which it did not mean a location.” According to the entry
“Bian Naihe 辨渿河” in the same book, the Naihe is situated on the left side of the
Gaoli Mountain. The bridge over the Naihe is called the Bridge of the Naihe. It is
said the soul could return if it crossed the bridge, then it sighs “What to do?” (which
is homophonous with Naihe). This text showed that the Gaoli Mountain was really
considered as the “li of the dead.” The Shuoling was quoted also in Kong Zhenxuan’s
Taishan jisheng 泰山纪胜 which explained the significance of the imperial sacrifice
“sheshou 社首” and showed sheshou was linked to haoli. According to the same book,
literati did not like to refer to the jade talisman thrown by emperor Zhen of Song in
the north west cavern of the Haoli Mountain because they found it ridiculous and
could not explain it. Clearly, the belief in Haoli was opposed to the official religious
system. The ancient literati’s failing to comment on this made it difficult for people
to know the origin of Haoli.
42
Kristofer Schipper drew my attention to the fact that this Taoist strategy resem-
bled the strategy used by Christianity at its beginning.
43
Shuoyuan, chapter 17 “Zayan 杂言.”
144 wang zongyu
had two meanings: dwelling of the dead and prison. So the dwellers of
Hell were the dead rather than demons. Although in Taoist scriptures
these two have not been strictly distinguished, we have to differentiate
them in order to piece together Taoist doctrine. If the government of
the Six Heavens worshipped dead emperors and generals as deities, it
was convenient to take the Six Heavens as Hell. As Hell, it naturally
had the function of arresting and interrogating criminals. That was
probably the reason why there was the Hell of the Six Heavens and
that of the Three Officers. Because of this function, the spirits of the
Six Heavens were integrated into the Taoist pantheon.
As Hell, the Six Heavens undoubtedly bore a negative aspect. Many
ancient scriptures of the Shangqing and Lingbao Schools taught follow-
ers how to protect themselves from the demonic qi of the Six Heavens
and become immortal (Shangqing tianguan santu 上清天关三图, Tai-
shang dongxuan lingbao chishu yujue miaojing, and Yuanshi wulao chishu yupian
zhenwen tianshu jing 元始五老赤书玉篇真文天书经, for example). At
the same time, if Taoists transgressed the rules, they would be sent to
Hell. There were also the hells of Fengdu, the Tai Mountain, and Five
Mountains and Four Rivers. The hell of the Six Heavens became little
by little the place where people in general or Taoists in particular were
interrogated. In the first and second juan of Yuanshi wulao chishu yupian
zhenwen tianshu jing, the Six Heavens was considered an adversary force:
“Beifeng should be controlled and demonic qi should be suppressed.”
However, in the third juan of the same scripture, the spirits of the
Six Heavens, such as the “Duke of Beifeng,” were invited to assume
the function of interrogator. “The Emissary of Taiyi and the Duke of
Beifeng are sent into the world to examine the merits or demerits of
people and deities. They are expected to report to their superior. The
name of those who perform (prescribed) rituals and respect the Tao
will be noted in the register of immortals. Spirits will be promoted if
they gain merit. Human or ghost, if they transgress the rules, they will
be sent to Hell. (. . .) The stars of the Dipper are harsh. They descend
into this world together with the Five Emperors, Five Mountains and
Four Rivers, the Lords of Jiang, Huai, He, and Ji Rivers, the Cen-
sor of Nine Ministries, Three Officers, and other deities on the earth.
They travel the world to examine people and deities and finally report
to Heaven.” In the same scripture, in the chapter on Taoist rituals,
it says: “[a]ll immortals of the Five Mountains, lords of Four oceans,
Beifeng, Three Officers, and all deities solemnly perform the ritual and
respect the Tao. They gave great importance to the Tao to promote
the perfection of Heaven.”
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 145
Those texts cannot be simply regarded as contradictory because
these three juan were probably compiled by different people and the
third juan is apparently linked to the Laozi zhongjing 老子中经 [Scripture
of the Center from Lao-tzu]. It seems logical that Hell or the spirits of the
Six Heavens assumed the function of examination and were integrated
into the Taoist system. But the process of forming Taoist doctrines
was not so simple. In the Laozi zhongjing, the function of the Northern
Star of Taiyi was to examine people’s merits and demerits. Neverthe-
less, it was not said to be identical with the Taiyi in official sacrifices.
Did the people and the government have different interpretations of
the Taiyi? Did Taoism distinguish them and transform them into the
Northern Emperor? Was the Duke of Beifeng identical with the Taiyi
and Northern Emperor? If we can discover answers to these questions
through further study, we could explain how the spirits of the Six
Heavens were integrated into the Taoist system.
Taoism has really integrated the spirits of the Six Heavens into its
own system, as we have seen in a number of Taoist scriptures. In the
Taishang dongxuan lingbao benxing suyuan jing it says: “[t]here are degrees
among immortals as among deities. The Six Heavens were the great
king of demons of the three worlds who command the spirits of the Six
Heavens. The great king of demons follows all deities of the most high.
If Taoists attain their ultimate objective, the great king of demons will
also be promoted.” In the Taishang Taixiao langshu jing 太上太霄琅书
经 [Scripture of Jade Book of Great Heaven by the Most High], quoted in the
Daoyao lingqi shengui pin jing, it says:
The Green Lad of Eastern Flower said ‘there are several kinds of demons—
the heavenly demons, earthly demons, and ghostly demons. The great
king of demons is the king of the demons of heaven and earth. He
gained in his last life the merits that allowed him to become in this life
the king of demons. He has the same virtue as Indra and they rule peo-
ple together. He is under the command of the Jade Capital of the Most
High and only the Heavenly Emperor is superior to him. When some-
one studies the Tao, he should be put through the question by demons.
When he accomplishes the Tao, he should pass the same examination.
Then he will be recommended to the Jade Capital.
So not only the spirits but also the administrations and palaces of the
Six Heavens Hells were integrated into the Taoist system. At the end
of this scripture, it says: “a hell like Fengdu was the lower place for
immortals.” Since the spirits of the Six Heavens were integrated into
the Taoist system, Taoists conceived the structure of Hell and the titles
of the spirits as a very serious matter. It is said that juan 15 and 16 of
146 wang zongyu
the Zhengao conserved the concept of the hell of Fengdu that was cre-
ated by Yang Xi and Xu Mi. These chapters can be seen as the result
of the integration of the Six Heavens into Taoism. However, they
emphasized the description of the structure of this hell yet neglected
the theory. So their historical value is hard to assess. In juan 16 it says:
“[t]he Queen Mother of the West appreciates my hard practice and
the Northern Emperor of Fengdu praises my sincerity toward the Tao.
They tell the God of Destiny and the Three Officers to give back my
body and soul. Then I will become immortal.” The officers of the
spirit in the chapter “Chan youwei” had two identities: they were at
first souls of dead emperors and generals against whom Taoists would
fight because of their demonic qi. At the same time, they were ordered,
according to Taoist rules, to examine people’s merits and demerits.
Through this mission, it was possible for them to become immortal.
Juan 15 indicated that the Four Dukes of Light (Qi of Xia, King Wen,
Duke Shao, and Jizha) “would all become immortal.” In this sense, the
Palaces of the Six Heavens were no longer an external hell opposed
to Taoist beliefs. There is a spell in juan 15: “I am a disciple of the
Most High and go down to rule the Six Heavens. The Palaces of the
Six Heavens are under my command and that of the Most High. I
know the names of the six palaces. That is why I was given longevity.
Who attacks me will be killed by the Most High.” The object of this
spell was to prevent the attack of the demonic qi of the Six Heav-
ens. The Palaces of the Six Heavens were under the command of the
Most High. Inheriting this theory, Tao Hongjing classified the spirits
of Fengdu on the seventh level in his Zhenling weiye tu, where Taoist
deities, formed by qi, were attributed souls like humans. Is this a con-
tradiction? How does Taoism maintain coherence between its different
doctrines? The answers to such questions remain to be found.
Some questions remain that were beyond the scope of this chapter.
As reliable sources were lacking, this chapter focused on some particu-
lar points and did not offer a systematic analysis. I did not treat the
question of whether the term “Six Heavens” later became one of the
Taoist three worlds. I therefore welcome any response to my work.
The only point that I can ascertain is the significance of the Six Heav-
ens in Taoism and its popular nature. The popular nature of Taoism
as discussed by scholars remains a vague idea and is often assimilated
with “folklore.” I mentioned the opposition of Taoism to government,
which was limited to certain aspects and certain times. But I have no
intention of identifying it with its popular nature. To study Taoist
the taoist concept of the “six heavens” 147
history and philosophy, we have to stress the difference between their
popular origin and the official religion, which was long ignored and
derided. The sacrifices to ancient emperors and cults of ancestors were
transmitted from generation to generation and constructed their own
systems. Even today, they attract foreign people. The Confucian reli-
gious system is still dominant today and Taoism and other popular
practices embody diversity. The traditions preserved in philosophical
Taoism of the Pre-Qin era and religious Taoism of the Han era need
to be understood together. Taoism should be put on an equal footing
with Buddhism and Confucianism and not considered mere literature
or folklore, but a religion complete with its own rituals and philosophy.
In fact, Taoism and Confucianism committed themselves to replacing
history with religious history. Even scholars of the Doubting Antiquity
School, such as Gu Jiegang, did not negate the religious value of the
Three Emperors and Five Kings.
44
Nevertheless, the critical question-
ing of antiquity was erroneously applied in the study of religions, espe-
cially of Taoism. In fact, this imaginary history is not preposterous in
the context of religious history, which is made up of unsubstantiated
materials. In dealing for the first time with the historical material on
religion, the Doubting Antiquity School left us an important heritage.
My intention was also to treat these so-called “unsubstantiated” docu-
ments and I found it all the more necessary after reading the works
of ancient scholars.
Unlike Chinese scholars, many Western scholars stress the opposi-
tion between Taoism and the official ideology because they put forth
the following hypothesis: Chinese society for a long time was divided
into two opposing parts. This hypothesis leads them to reach a com-
pletely different conclusion from ours on the question of the nature of
Taoism and its place in the history of Chinese culture. Chinese schol-
ars still need time to clarify their opinions because of the geographi-
cal and linguistic challenges they face. Western scholars have studied
some documents that Chinese scholars have ignored. I was influenced
by them only a short time after my arrival in Europe. Yet I have still
some doubts about their methodology and viewpoints, which I con-
sider too extreme and I share the point of view of ancient Chinese
scholars.
44
Gu Jiegang, “Sanhuang kao” 三皇考, in Gushi bian 古史辨, Shanghai, Kaiming
shudian, 1941, volume 7, chapter 2, p. 51.
CHENG XUANYING AND THE STUDY
OF THE TWOFOLD MYSTERY
1
Tang Yijie
The concept of “Twofold Mystery” comes from the phrase “mystery
upon mystery 玄之又玄” in the Tao-te-ching. Its study developed grad-
ually after the Jin Dynasty. In the remaining pages of the Dunhuang
manuscript of Cheng Xuanying’s, Introduction to the Annotation on the Tao
Te Ching, it says:
When one explains and annotates the classic scriptures, one ought to
know the beliefs they contain. Moreover, annotations highlight certain
points more than others and so vary according to the time they belong
to. Yan Junping’s Zhigui 旨归 centered on the Mysterious Vacuity as
belief, Gu Huijun’s Tanggao 堂诰 on Non-action, Meng Zhizhou and
Zang Xuanjing on Virtue, Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty on “Nei-
ther Existence Nor Non-existence,” and Sun Deng of the Jin Dynasty
on the Twofold Mystery. Today, in spite of such different focuses, we
consider Sun Deng’s work as orthodox, the Twofold Mystery as its sub-
ject, and Non-action as its basis. What we call xuan means “remote and
profound,” and also “without obstacle.” Speech is remote and profound
without obstacle or attachment. It is not attached to existence, or non-
existence. It is not attached to attachment, or non-attachment. There is
no attachment in the ‘four negations’, that is what we call the Twofold
Mystery. So it is said in the Tao Te Ching: “Mystery upon mystery—the
gateway to manifold secrets.”
In this passage the author develops three ideas: first, annotators ana-
lyzed the classics according to their beliefs. The annotations on the
deep significance of the Tao Te Ching are often different for that rea-
son. Second, the author introduced the focal points of all the impor-
tant annotations on the Tao Te Ching. He particularly refers to Sun
Deng, who “had taken the Twofold Mystery as belief ” and had con-
sidered it as orthodox. Third, the author explained the “Twofold
Mystery” by emphasizing that “[i]t is not attached to attachment, nor
1
Published originally in Tang Yijie, Weijin xuanxuelun jiangyi 魏晋玄学论讲义, Xia-
men, Lujiang chubanshe, 2006.
150 tang yijie
non- attachment. There is no attachment in the ‘four negations,’ that
is what we call the Twofold Mystery.”
Sun Deng lived during the Jin Dynasty. In Sun Deng’s biography
in the Jinshu we find: “he was good at philosophy when he was young.
He annotated the Lao-tzu, which was widely circulated.” The “Treatise
of Bibliography” in the Suishu noted the Tao Te Ching, with two chap-
ters annotated by Sun Deng. In chapter six, “The Ten Collated Tao-
ist Scriptures,” of the Meng Wentong wenji 蒙文通文集 [Collection of the
Articles of Meng Wentong], there are 17 annotations by Sun Deng on the
Tao Te Ching under the title “Collated Annotations of Forty Authors
from the Jin to the Tang dynasties on Lao-tzu.” Two of these 17 anno-
tations are most important. The first is the annotation on the sentence
“Tao gives birth to One” from the 42nd chapter: “The wonderful One
lives in the great vacuity. The mysterious transformation helps the
application of the Tao. So we call this process ‘birth,’ according to the
origin.” The “wonderful One” means “Tao.” The Tao exists in the
universe as a noumenon. The transformation of everything in the uni-
verse is the effect of the Tao. The first part of the phrase refers to the
Tao as “noumenon,” while the second refers to the “application” of
the Tao. Everything in the universe originates from the Tao, which we
call “birth.” Obviously, Sun Deng is influenced by Wang Bi’s “Unity
of the Noumenon and the Application 体用如一.” The Twofold Mys-
tery is influenced by the “High Evaluation of Non-existence 贵无” (or
“High Evaluation of the Mystery 贵玄”).
The second is the phrase from the 43rd chapter: “the soft can con-
quer the hard, while Non-existence can replace Existence. Then we will
know that the teaching of Non-action is beneficial to people.” “Non-
existence can replace Existence” is the “One Mystery,” which is benefi-
cial to people. If we replace “from Non-action” with “Non- existence,”
then we can grasp the origin of the Twofold Mystery learning. To
reach the “Twofold Mystery” one must first go through the “One
Mystery.” Relying on the work of Sun Deng of the Eastern Jin and of
many Buddhist and Taoist scholars, Cheng Xuanying constructed the
philosophical system of the Taoist Twofold Mystery at the beginning
of the Tang Dynasty. We will briefly introduce the evolution from
the Mystery study (or Arcane Learning, Xuanxue) of the Wei and Jin
dynasties to the Twofold Mystery study of the Tang Dynasty.
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 151
The Mystery Study of the Wei and Jin Dynasties Was Developed from the
Philosophy of the Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu in the Pre-Qin Period
We find it important to explain the features of the evolution of the
Mystery study because the Mystery study of the Wei and Jin dynasties
used an ontological point of view whereas the philosophy of the Han
Dynasty employed a cosmogonical (an explanation of the origin of the
universe) point of view.
There are generally two categories of the cosmogonical themes
developed in the Han Dynasty: the first dealt with how the universe
evolved from its original state to Heaven, Earth, and all things. For
example, in the chapter “Tianwen xun 天文训,” in the Huainan zi, it
says, “The Grand Origin gave birth to Vacuity. Vacuity gave birth to
the Universe. The Universe gave birth to the Vital qi. The Vital qi had
its own boundaries. What was pure and light rose, forming Heaven
while the heavy and impure fell, forming the Earth.” In the beginning,
the universe existed in a coarse state, encompassing everything. Then
time and space emerged from this chaos. Next, the undifferentiated
substance (the Vital qi) was born, and afterward, things that could be
defined came into being. The purer went up, becoming Heaven, while
the heavy and impure went down, becoming the Earth. That was the
genesis of the universe according to the Huainan zi.
Numerous works of the Han Dynasty presented an analogous cos-
mogony. For instance, we find in the chapter “Goumingjue,” in the
Xiaojing wei 孝经纬 [Apocrypha of the Classic of Filial Piety], “before the
separation of Heaven and Earth, there were the Great Transforma-
tion 太易, Great Beginning 太初, Great Commencement 太始, Great
Simplicity 太素, and Great Ultimate 太极, which we call the Five
Phases 五运. The unity of form and symbol, we call the Great Trans-
formation. The emergence of the Vital qi, we call the Great Begin-
ning. The beginning of the formation of the qi, we call the Great
Commencement. The transformation of form into substance, we call
the Great Simplicity. The completion of substance and form, we call the
Great Ultimate. The gradual transformation of the five qi, we call the
Five Phases.”
The Five Phases are the five stages of the development and transfor-
mation of the Vital qi: from unity to the primary beginning, the begin-
ning proper, then the substance, and finally concrete things. Wang
Chong had the same point of view when he wrote: “Heaven and
152 tang yijie
Earth unified their qi and then things were born spontaneously and
by chance” (chapter Wushi of the Lunheng) and “Heaven and Earth
unified their qi and then everything was born spontaneously” (chapter
Ziran of the Lunheng). That means the qi of Heaven and Earth were
unified and then everything was born naturally. Wang Chong said
that mainly to reject any teleology, and at the same time he explained
that everything issued from the interaction of the Vital qi. This is one
of the cosmogonical theories of the Han Dynasty.
According to another theory, Heaven gives birth to everything with
a purpose. For instance, Dong Zhongshu said in his Chunqiu fanlu:
“Heaven is the lord of all gods” and “A father is Heaven for his son,
Heaven is Heaven for a father. No one is born without the interven-
tion of Heaven. Heaven is the ancestor of everything that cannot be
born without the intervention of Heaven.” The chapter “Qianzaodu,”
in the Yiwei 易纬, begins with quoting the Yellow Emperor as saying:
“In antiquity, the hundred emperors created the universe and split
open the chaos (separating Heaven and Earth), and then Fuxi 伏羲
was born. Fuxi knew Heaven cherished all beings, thus it created the
fonts of all the creation.” That means Heaven, Earth, and everything
was created purposefully by gods in Heaven.
The Mystery study of the Wei and Jin dynasties differs from the
Han Dynasty philosophy in its method. It used not a cosmogonical
approach but an ontological one to explain the origin of the exis-
tence of everything in the universe. The reasons for this ontological
approach were multiple and included the decline of Confucianism,
and changes in scholarship. All these engendered a new ideological
trend, which we will not to discuss in this article. We will study only
the theoretical questions raised by the Mystery study of the Wei and
Jin dynasties in its ontological point of view.
The biography of Wang Yan, in the Jinshu, says: “under the Zheng-
shi reign of the Wei Dynasty, He Yan and Wang Bi, among others,
followed Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu’s philosophy. Their argument was:
Heaven, Earth, and all things have Non-existence (wu) as their root.”
Obviously, He Yan and Wang Bi’s philosophy was based on Lao-tzu
and Chuang-tzu’s. Its basic argument is “taking Non-existence as the
root,” in other words, “Existence (Heaven, Earth, and all things)” take
Non-existence as their root. Wang Bi said: “the Tao is the name of
Non-existence leading to all and from which all results. It is at rest,
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 153
without form and cannot be visualized, thus we compare it with the
Tao.” The Tao cannot be expressed. We have to present it as Non-
existence. However, the Tao exists in all things. Nothing is realized
without it. The name “Tao” is only used for practical reasons. It is
eternal but has no substance, it is without form. That is why Wang Bi
believed we had to use the word Non-existence to express the Tao.
But how did Wang Bi support his argument? In his Laozi zhilue
老子指略 [Brief Presentation of the Lao-tzu], Wang Bi explained his argu-
ment of “taking Non-existence as the root” by analyzing the Lao-tzu
exhaustively. He wrote that sounds include the five notes gong, shang,
jue, zhi, and yu. A sound cannot be gong and shang at the same time. If
it is square, it cannot be round at the same time. Only the “without
sound” might include all sounds. Only the “without form” may create
all forms. Thus, only unconstrained “Non-existence” can realize con-
strained “Existence.” The meaning of unconstrained “Non-existence”
is explained by Jin Yuelin, who wrote that Lao-tzu’s Tao was “Exis-
tence that did not exist.” In other words, Wang Bi’s “taking Non-
existence as the root” meant Non-existence is the root and Existence
is the end. That was the debate on “the root, the end, Existence, and
Non-existence” of the Mystery study in the Wei and Jin dynasties.
Why is it said that the Mystery study of the Wei and Jin dynasties was
a new form of Lao-tzu’s and Chuang-tzu’s philosophy? In my opinion,
it was because when Wang Bi annotated the Lao-tzu, he explained its
cosmogony from an ontological point of view. For instance, the phrase
from chapter 40, “everything in the universe comes from Existence
and Existence from Non-existence,” is annotated by Wang Bi thus:
“everything issues from Existence (with form and image). The multiple
Existence takes its shape from Non-existence (unconstrained or with-
out form). If Existence is to be realized, it should return to its root,
Non-existence.” Also, Wang Bi explained the phrase “The Tao gives
birth to One. One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three
gives birth to all” by saying “multiple things have multiple forms, but
their origin remains the same.” How can we find the same origin to
different things? We find it through “Non-existence without form or
image.” According to Wang Bi, a common attribute must be found in
multiple things with form and image. But it could not be realized by
something with form and image, but by unconstrained “Non-existence.”
In other words, the “particular” results from the abstract “universal.”
154 tang yijie
The particular is empirical, whereas “Non-existence” without form or
image is transcendental. Thus Wang Bi transformed the cosmogonical
elements in the Lao-tzu into ontological elements.
Such examples are too numerous to be cited, such as his anno-
tations to the chapter “Fugua” in the Zhouyi and to chapter 38 of
the Lao-tzu. As Wang Bi’s philosophy was based on the relationship
between “Non-existence” and “Existence” and maintained that the
former was the ultimate origin of the latter, he was considered as
belonging to the School of “the High Evaluation of Non-existence.”
In addition, Wang Bi maintained that the abstract “Non-existence”
should be embodied by the particular “Existence.” He said “Non-
existence (without form or image) cannot be clarified by itself, but by
Existence (with form and image). So at the extremity of Existence we
can find its origin, Non-existence.” Apparently, Wang Bi’s philosophy
dealt with the dialectical relationship between “Non-existence” (the
universal ) as “noumenon” and “root” and “Existence” (the particular)
as “application” and “end.” Therefore we call it the philosophy of
the “unity of noumenon and application” and the “unity of the root
and the end.” We also find in Wang Bi’s works his explanation of the
relationship between “Non-existence” and “Existence” in “advocat-
ing the root and appreciating the end” and “keeping the mother and
preserving the son.”
However, Wang Bi’s philosophical system was not purely ontological.
He kept some cosmogonical elements in his annotations on the Lao-tzu
and the Zhouyi. For example, he annotated the phrase “These two are
the same, yet, they diverge in nature as they issue forth” as follows:
These two things mean the Beginning, the Mother. “Issued from the
same mould” means “issued from the same Mystery.”. . . The Mystery
means profound, silent, and without Existence, from which the Begin-
ning, the Mother, issued.
The Mystery is the Tao, the ontological “wu” or “Non-existence”
(which is not Existence). As “the beginning of Heaven and Earth”
and “the Mother of everything” all result from the Mystery, the “nou-
menon” precedes “everything” that is born from it. That is why Wang
Bi said, in his annotation to chapter 37 of the Lao-tzu, “everything is
born from the Tao.” In fact, Wang Bi, like Lao-tzu, did not completely
exclude the cosmogonical elements from his philosophy, which still
comprised the idea of “appreciating the root and despising the end.”
According to this idea, after everything resulted from the Tao, men
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 155
kept away from it. For example, they had their “personal desires” and
“schemes” and deviated from the Tao. So they needed to appreciate
the root and despise the end in order to return to the root.
There was a contradiction in Wang Bi’s philosophy, however. His
ontological “unity of the noumenon and the application” would lead
to “advocate the root and appreciate the end,” whereas his cosmog-
onical “everything results from the Tao” leads to the separation of
the root and the end, and to “cherish the root and despise the end.”
Despite this contradiction in Wang Bi’s philosophy, its core was still
the ontology of “taking Non-action as the root,” which was a new
form of Lao-tzu’s philosophy. Wang Bi’s theory of “High Evaluation
of Non-existence” emphasized the “unity of the noumenon and its
application” and the “advocacy of the root and the appreciation of
the end” by enhancing the universal and neglecting the particular.
The Mystery study during the Zhengshi era, represented by Wang
Bi and He Yan’s “High Evaluation of Non-existence,” split into two
groups at the time of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove: one
stressed nature and the universal more, advocating “the appreciation
of the root and the contempt of the end”—Ji Kang and Ruan Ji’s
philosophy—the other underlined the spontaneous birth of everything
and the particular—Xiang Xiu’s philosophy.
Wang Bi advocated the “unity of the noumenon and the applica-
tion.” His idea was to let nature take its course and not to abolish
social ethics. Ji Kang and Ruan Ji, on the other hand, were in favor
of abolishing the end so as to return to the root, and advocated “going
beyond social ethics and letting nature take its course.” According to Ji
Kang and Ruan Ji, nature was an ordered and harmonious unity, like
human society at its beginning. But artificial social ethics destroyed the
“natural harmony.” As Ji Kang wrote in his Taishizhen 太师箴:
How vast the Great Simplicity. The Yang shone and the Yin condensed.
The Two Polarities fused, then the human being arose. In the beginning,
people were naïve. They did plot and scheme. . . . At that time, every-
thing was peaceful. The emperor Hexu passed away; Fuxi succeeded
him. They were unassuming and without vanity. The Great Austerity
was never damaged. Everything was prosperous. They never languished.
Later, virtue faded and the Tao declined. Wit was favored and everyone
privileged their kin. For fear of worsening the situation, moral criteria
were established. Intrigue was rife and fussy rites were created. People
gave themselves up to contention and lost their authenticity. They relied
upon their force, showing no respect toward friends and teachers. They
competed to protect their own interests.
156 tang yijie
This excerpt shows how society alienates itself further and further from
harmonious “nature” because of intrigues, selfishness, and disputes.
So the “moral” as opposed to the “natural” should be abolished so
that society can return to harmonious nature. Accordingly, everything
should return to the undifferentiated state (wu). Ji Kang and Ruan
Ji proposed “going beyond social ethics and letting nature take its
course,” thus following Wang Bi’s theory of “the appreciation of the
root and the contempt of the end.” The text mentioned above pre-
sented the evolution of the universe from nature to society. The fol-
lowing phrases in the Sheng wu aile lun 声无哀乐论—“Heaven and
Earth unified their virtue then everything was born. The seasons suc-
ceeded one another and the Five Phases were realized”—and in the
Da Zhuang lun 达庄论—“nature is a whole. . . . Prosperity and decline
are the same. Everything changes, but is never lost”—show that Ji
Kang and Ruan Ji’s philosophy is a kind of cosmology and that the
development of Wang Bi’s theory follows “the appreciation of the root
and the contempt of the end.”
Xiang Xiu advocated the “fusion of Confucianism and Taoism” (see
Xie Lingxun’s Bianzong lun 辩宗论) and believed there was no opposi-
tion between the “natural” and the “moral.” Obviously, his point of
view developed from Wang Bi’s theory of “the appreciation of the
root and the contempt of the end.” In his Nan Yangsheng lun 难养生论,
Xiang Xiu criticized Ji Kang’s point of view in the Yangsheng lun
养生论, writing that there was no contradiction between the “logos of
nature” and “artificial rites,” because “reality is shown in the image,
the Tao is clarified by the particular. The Tao without the particular is
just like a female without a male” (Xiang Xiu, as quoted in the annota-
tion to the Liezi). Xiang Xiu believed that the Tao and its application
were two faces of the same coin and that there was no contradiction
between “nature” and “ethics.” Emphasizing the rationality of the par-
ticular, Xiang Xiu thought that the “spontaneous birth of everything”
clearly refuted the “birth of everything from the Tao” and criticized
the cosmogonical elements in Wang Bi’s theory of the “High Evalua-
tion of Non-existence.” However, Xiang Xiu’s criticism was not on an
ontological plane. He was indeed influenced by the theory of the “High
Evaluation of Non-existence.” Zhang Zhan quoted Xiang Xiu in his
Liezi zhu 列子注 [Annotation on the Liezi ]. For instance, about the phrase
in the chapter “Tianrui,” “that which gives birth to others was not born,
that which transforms others cannot be transformed,” he said:
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 157
This phrase could also be found in the Chuang-tzu. Xiang Xiu annotated
it thus: my birth does not issue from my will, it is spontaneous. It is not
the “thing” 物 that gives birth to others. (It is a non-thing) and it issues
from nothing. My death is not caused by anything, but is a spontaneous
death. It is not the “thing” that gives death to others. If it is a non-thing,
it will not die. If that which gave birth was also born from something, if
that which gave death also dies, it would die like a “thing.” Then what
is the difference between it and a “thing?” That which is not born from
something and who will not die may be the root of birth and death.
That which gives birth to birth cannot be a “thing.” It must be some-
thing different. A “thing” is issued from something and will die. Only
a “non-thing,” which surpasses a “thing,” can be the transcendental
root of birth and death. Xiang Xiu believed in both “the spontaneous
birth of everything” and the transcendental root of birth and death,
which contradicted one another in his philosophical system.
Pei Wei, whose work came after Xiang Xiu’s, wrote the Chongyou
lun 崇有论 (On Respect for Existence) to express his aversion toward
a society that believed in the concept of wu. According to the Jin-
shu, Pei Wei, like Xiang Xiu, sustained the idea of “the spontaneous
birth of everything” as opposed to “the birth of Existence from Non-
existence.” He advanced a clearer proposition than Xiang Xiu’s: the
spontaneous birth is simultaneous with the appearance of the nou-
menon. The spontaneous birth of everything is linked to its existence
as a noumenon. Pei Wei not only denied Wang Bi’s theory of “taking
Non-existence as the root,” but also abandoned Xiang Xiu’s theory of
“the transcendental root of birth and death.” On emphasizing the par-
ticularity of everything, Pei Wei said, in his Chongyou lun, “everything
can be classified according to different categories. The distinction in
form and image is the substance of everything.” Moreover, Pei Wei
suggested that “the substance of the principle (li 理) is just Existence.”
The principle (or natural rules), for him, is the what make things exist.
Through these propositions, Pei Wei clarified the theory of “the spon-
taneous birth of everything.”
However, he raised another question in his Chongyou lun when he
wrote, “the ultimate Non-existence is issued from nothing. So the
beginning of birth is spontaneous.” Although things are not issued
from Non-existence, but are born spontaneously, birth has a begin-
ning. Another question is raised in another version of the Chongyou lun,
quoted in chapter 82 of the Zizhi tongjian: “ ‘what is before the begin-
ning of birth?’ In the Jinshu, it says, ‘[t]he ultimate Non-existence is
158 tang yijie
issued from nothing. So the beginning of birth is spontaneous. Spon-
taneous birth is based on the substance of Existence. If existence is
discarded, birth will not be completed’.” Birth is marked by Existence,
which distinguishes itself [according to the Jinshu jiaozhu 晋书斠注; in
the Zhonghua shuju version, the phrase was “birth takes Existence as
its substance”]. Non-existence is left by Existence.
There is a different version of this passage in the Zizhi tongjian:
“[p]hysical things emerge from Non-existence. But their birth is
marked by Existence, which distinguished itself [the original annota-
tion reads: ‘[w]hen the thing is not born, there is no distinction. When
birth is caused, Existence appears also and distinguished itself from
Non-existence’]. Non-existence is abandoned by Existence [the origi-
nal annotation reads: ‘yi 遗 means abandon’].” If we read this passage
as quoted in the Zizhi tongjian, the “beginning of birth” would be easy
to explain: the universe was in a chaotic state before the birth of physi-
cal things. Although physical things are issued from things without
form, the former leave the latter once they are born. Thus, physical
things left the formless things. All physical things begin in birth. Before
that, the universe was chaos without distinction. But this chaos did not
contain the beginning of birth. Pei Wei thus faced the same contra-
diction as Xiang Xiu, between “the spontaneous birth of everything
(Existence)” and “Non-existence (or things without form), which gives
birth to everything.” Indeed, in the evolution of the Mystery study
in the Wei and Jin dynasties, “Existence” and “Non-existence” were
always the focal point of discussion.
Guo Xiang said, in his preface to the Chuang-tzu, that he anno-
tated it to clarify “the Tao of the inner Saint and outer King” and
let everyone know that “there is no thing that creates things and the
birth of things is spontaneous.” The latter part concerns “the Creator”
and the relationship between “Existence” and “Non-existence,” while
the former deals with the relationship between “the moral” and “the
natural.” Guo Xiang constructed his philosophy around the denial
that “Existence issued from Non-existence.” He believed everything
was born spontaneously, because everything had its “own nature”:
“everything has its nature and each nature has its limit” (annotation to
the “Xiaoyao you” 逍遥游注 chapter). Everything has its intrinsic way
of being, its own nature; and each such intrinsic nature has its limi-
tations. Indeed, Guo Xiang emphasized the particular. If everything
exists of its own nature, then things do not issue from anything. As
Guo Xiang wrote, in his annotation to the “Qiwu lun” 齐物论 chapter:
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 159
“[t]here is no creator. Everything is born spontaneously.” Existence is
not issued from Non-existence, as he wrote in the same chapter: “Is
there a Creator or not? If there is not, how can things be created?”
According to Guo Xiang, Non-existence is nothing. How can Existence
be issued from Non-existence (annotation to the “Qiwu lun”)? Guo
Xiang believed there was no beginning to the birth of everything:
What preceded the things? I believed it was Yin and Yang that preceded
the things, but Yin and Yang were already things. So what preceded Yin
and Yang? I believed it was nature that preceded it, but nature is the
nature of things. I believed then it was the ultimate Tao that preceded
it, but the ultimate Tao was the ultimate Non-existence. Non-existence
was nothing, so how could it precede nature? What, indeed, preceded
the things? If things preceded the things, there would be no end. We
would know that the birth of the things is spontaneous and induced by
Existence. (Annotation to the “Zhibeiyou” 知北游 chapter)
Everything is “things.” There is nothing before the “things.” There is
no beginning for the “things” (Existence), which is spontaneous and
issued from nothing. Guo Xiang’s point of view was a refutation of the
theory of the “beginning of birth” sustained by Pei Wei. Moreover,
Guo Xiang believed that since all things were born spontaneously,
their evolution was influenced only by their “nature.” They are self-
sufficient and transform themselves, the phenomenon is called “self-
transformation 独化.” Guo Xiang went on to say:
He who attained [self-transformation] outwardly would not depend on
the Tao. Inwardly, he would not be constrained by the self. Satisfied of
his simplicity, he would enter the phase of “self-transformation.” The
difficulties in life can be solved by self-transformation and self-sufficiency.
If we were given life, why worry about it and make it artificial? (Annota-
tion to the “Dazongshi” 大宗师 chapter)
This passage refers to someone who lives according to his own nature,
which is not given by the Tao from the outside, nor found by the
inner self. Without primary impetus, he lives spontaneously. “Self-
realization” means the Tao cannot be born, but realizes itself. Since
it realizes itself, it would be useless to look for it. Everything is self-
sufficient. If everything depended on the Tao from the outside, or
was defined by the self on the inside, that could not be called “self-
realization.” Pei Wei believed that the existence of things depended
on certain conditions—“Existence needs dependence”—whereas
Guo Xiang believed everything existed free from external conditions.
He wrote:
160 tang yijie
If we ask ourselves questions about the condition (on which the things
depend) and seek the origin, the interrogation is endless and we eventu-
ally find there are no external conditions. Thus, “self-realization” clearly
exists. (Annotation to the “Qiwu lun” chapter)
Guo Xiang not only refuted the cosmogony of “the birth of Exis-
tence from Non-existence,” with his theory of “the spontaneous birth
of everything,” but also refuted the ontological argument of “taking
Non-existence as the root,” with his theory of “self-realization.” His
philosophy might be called “the theory of non-Non-existence 无无论.”
Its features differ from those of Wang Bi’s philosophy. Guo Xiang
emphasized the self-sufficient existence of everything. He studied not
the universal, but the particular. Two questions remain: Does every-
thing have a universal character? Is the existence of everything deter-
mined by its “nature”?
Having concluded our discussion of “there is no thing that creates
things and the birth of things is spontaneous” and “Non-existence is
nothing, so how can it precede nature?” we will now proceed to dis-
cuss “the Tao of the inner Saint and outer King.” In his annotation
to the “Qiwu lun” chapter, Guo Xiang said: “[i]f someone stresses
Non-existence, but knows nothing about non–Non-existence, he is still
concerned with the meaning of what is right and wrong, and of likes
and dislikes, which are a methodological way of avoiding contradic-
tion. Nevertheless, the subject discussed at the time was the relation-
ship between the ‘natural’ and the ‘moral’.” According to Guo Xiang,
only “non-Non-existence” could resolve the contradiction between the
“natural” and the “moral.” According to Chuang-tzu, he who lives
outside of the world cherishes nature, whereas he who lives in the
world advocates ethics, and they are not on the same plane (see the
“Dazongshi” chapter). However, Guo Xiang insisted that no one could
live totally cut off from the inner world and vice versa. By trying to
erase the boundary between the “outer” and the “inner,” Guo Xiang
wanted to unify the “natural” and the “moral” in order to clarify “the
Tao of the inner Saint and outer King.” His theories, such as the
“appreciation of Existence” and “non–Non-existence,” were the start-
ing points he used to unify the “natural” and the “moral.” As he said
in his Ying diwang 应帝王: “He who has no intention and lets himself
be transformed should be king.”
After this brief analysis of the evolution of the Mystery study of the
Wei and Jin dynasties, we have two remaining points:
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 161
(1) There is an inherent problem in the history of Chinese philoso-
phy: The system of a given philosopher is often thought to be
free of contradiction. All philosophical systems have their contra-
dictions, however. Questions they have not resolved need to be
further looked into. As a philosophical school, the Mystery study
of the Wei and Jin dynasties developed through the discussion
about “Existence” and “Non-existence” and the resolution of its
contradictions.
(2) Each era has its favorite philosophical subjects. The Mystery study
of the Wei and Jin dynasties put “Existence” or “Non-existence”
foremost, along with the relationship between being and the origin
of being. Other subjects were connected to these. For instance,
Wang Bi, who emphasized Non-existence, advanced the theory
of “taking Non-existence as the root” and supported it with the
theory of “taking the One to rule all,” in order to underscore the
universality of everything. On the other hand, Guo Xiang, who
stressed the importance of Existence, supported his theory with
“the spontaneous birth of everything,” in order to privilege the
particular. The history of philosophy should therefore focus on the
primary philosophical subjects of each era. Furthermore, the his-
tory of philosophy cannot be considered the same as the history of
ideology, the history of science, or the history of culture.
Origin and Development of the Twofold Mystery Learning
According to Du Guangting’s preface to Daode zhenjing guangshengyi
(Amplification of the Imperial Commentary on the Tao Te Ching),
there were more than 60 kinds of annotations to the Lao-tzu (Tao Te
Ching) from the Han Dynasty until the Tang Dynasty. Most were writ-
ten by Taoists or scholars who had an interest in Taoism. We find the
same phenomenon in Meng Wentong’s JinTang Laozi guzhu sishijia jicun
晋唐老子古注四十家辑存 [The Collation of Forty Kinds of Ancient Annota-
tions to the Lao-tzu from the Jin Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty].
2
Why were
2
For Cheng Xuanying’s works, see Meng Wentong’s Annex 1 of the Jijiao Cheng
Xuanying Daodejing yishu 辑校成玄英道德经义疏 in Meng Wentong wenji 蒙文通文集,
vol. 6, Chengdu, Bashu shushe, 2001. See also Li Dahua, Li Gang, and He Jianming’s
SuiTang daojia yu daojiao 隋唐道家与道教, Guangzhou, Guangdong People’s Publish-
ing House, 2003.
162 tang yijie
Taoists interested in annotations to the Tao Te Ching? In my opinion,
they all wanted to make use of the Tao Te Ching, whose history could
be traced back more than one thousand years, to construct a Taoist
philosophical system that could compete with the Buddhist and Con-
fucian philosophies. In Du Guangting’s Daode zhenjing guangshengyi, the
contemporary annotations to the Tao Te Ching were classified accord-
ing to their schools of philosophy:
The venerable Tao Te Ching has many meanings. Its purport was
explained differently by the scholars of different times. Heshang Gong
and Yan Junping emphasized the importance of the governance of peo-
ple. Songlin Xianren, Sun Deng of the Wei Dynasty, Tao Hongjing of
the Liang Dynasty, and Gu Huang of the Southern Qi Dynasty empha-
sized the cultivation of the body. Kumārajīva, Buttocho of the later Zhao
Dynasty, Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, and Dou Lüe, the Taoist of
the Liang Dynasty, all emphasized causality. The Taoists Meng Zhizhou
and Zang Xuanjing of the Liang Dynasty; Zhu Rou of the Chen Dynasty;
Liu Jinxi of the Sui Dynasty; and Cheng Xuanying, Cai Zihuang, Huang
Xuanyi, Li Rong, Che Xuanbi, Zhang Huichao, and Li Yuanxing of the
Tang Dynasty all knew the way of the Twofold Mystery. He Yan, Zhong
Hui, Du Yu, Wang Bi, Zhang Si, Yang You, Mr. Lu, and Liu Renhui
advocated Vacuity, Non-action, and the government of people. Each
annotator’s understanding of the texts was clearly different.
Among the annotators quoted by Du Guangting, most were Taoists
from the Southern and Northern dynasties. Their annotations shed
light on the comprehension of the Lao-tzu at that particular time.
However, in the JinTang Laozi guzhu sishijia jicun, only a few anno-
tations by Taoists remain, which does not help further the analysis
of their philosophy. Despite this difficulty, Meng Wentong collated
the Daodejing yishu, written by Cheng Xuanying, who is considered the
founder of the Twofold Mystery School. He constructed a Taoist phil-
osophical system and founded the post-Tang Nature study of Taoist
inner alchemy. This chapter will examine Cheng Xuanying’s Taoist
philosophy.
In the “Treatise on Literature,” in the Xin Tangshu 新唐书 [New His-
tory of the Tang], it says: “[t]he Taoist Cheng Xuanying annotated the
Lao-tzu in two chapters, the Chuang-tzu in 30 chapters, commented on
the Chuang-tzu in 12 chapters, and wrote the Daodejing kaiti xujue yishu
道德经开题序诀义疏 [Annotation on the Preface of the Tao Te Ching] in
seven chapters. Cheng Xuanying, also know as Zishi, was a native of
Shanzhou and lived in seclusion in Donghai. In the fifth year of the
Zhenguan reign (AD 631), he was summoned to the capital and given
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 163
the title “Ritual Master of Xihua 西华法师.” During the Yonghui
reign, he was exiled to Yuzhou. When Cheng Xuanying’s book was
finished, Li Yuanqing, Prince Dao, sent the scholar Jia Ding to learn
philosophy from him. Li Lishe, a native of Mount Songgao, wrote the
preface for him. We noted only the Annotation to the Lao-tzu and the
Commentary on the Chuang-tzu.
He also took part in the debate between Taoism and Buddhism in the
21st year of the Zhenguan reign (AD 647). According to Daoxuan’s Ji
gujin fodao lunheng 集古今佛道论衡 [Collection of the Debates between Bud-
dhism and Taoism]: “In the 21st year of the Zhenguan reign, emperor
Taizong of the Tang Dynasty ordered the translation (into Sanskrit)
of the Tao Te Ching. Cheng Xuanying was one of the translators and
debated with Xuanzang on the translation of the word “dao 道.”
At first, the “dao” was translated as “moja 末伽 (marga).” This trans-
lation dissatisfied all the Taoists, who believed “this translation did
not correspond to the ancient translation which had been “puti 菩提
(bodhi ).” Xuanzang said: “today we translate the Tao Te Ching under
imperial order; we must take it very seriously and translate it carefully
so as to shed light on its true meaning. Puti means ‘enlightenment,’
whereas moja means ‘way.’ The pronunciation and meaning of these
Chinese words, which were translated from Sanskrit are clear. How
dare you translate it arbitrarily and deceive the emperor?” Cheng
Xuanying retorted: “[f ]otuo (buddha) means ‘enlightenment,’ whereas
puti means ‘way.’ That was the current translation made by monks and
laymen alike. Now you want to translate it by moja. How ridiculous
it is!” Xuanzang then made another argument and finally the Tao Te
Ching was translated as he wanted. From this debate, Cheng Xuanying
showed his knowledge of Buddhism. According to Huiyuan’s Dasheng
yizhang 大乘义章 [Doctrine of the Mahāyāna], “in a foreign language the
Tao is called moja and translated by dao. The foreign word puti means
also ‘Tao’ . . . moja is the Tao within Reason whereas puti is the Tao
within the Effect.” Obviously, the dao in the Tao Te Ching could be
translated by moja or puti depending on the context. Cheng Xuanying
also debated with Xuanzang on the translation of the preface of the
Tao Te Ching, written by Heshang Gong, which was ultimately not
translated. However, as a Taoist, Cheng Xuanying showed his lean-
ings toward Taoism and its importance in terms of social status and
religious theory.
The Zhuangzi shu, quoted in Guo Qingfan’s Zhuangzi jijie 庄子集解
[Collection of the Annotations to the Chuang-tzu], is the only work by Cheng
164 tang yijie
Xuanying that has come down to us. According to its preface, “[a]s
stupid as I am, I studied the Chuang-tzu from my childhood. I have
dedicated myself to its study for thirty years. Following Guo Xiang’s
annotation, I wrote my annotation in thirty chapters. Limited by my
own ignorance, I have gained some knowledge. I dare not share it
with people, but just want to enjoy myself.” Cheng Xuanying spent
thirty years studying Guo Xiang’s Zhuangzi zhu and gained a thorough
knowledge of it. His works also include the Daodejing yishu, collated
by Meng Wentong, and the remaining pages of Daodejing shu kaiti in
the Dunhuang manuscript version. The Yuanshi wuliang duren shangping
miaojing sizhu 元始无量度人上品妙经四注 (Four Commentaries on the
Upper Wondrous Scripture on the Salvation of Humanity, Preached
by the Limitless (Pure One) of Original Beginning), collated by Chen
Jingyuan of the Song Dynasty and collected in the Taoist Canon, quoted
Cheng Xuanying’s annotations. There is also his preface to the Nanhua
zhenjing shu 南华真经疏, collected in chapter 923 of the Quan Tangwen
全唐文. Meng Wentong noticed two annotations by Cheng Xuan-
ying quoted in the Daoshu jijiao shizhong 道书辑校十种 (Ten Edited and
Commented Taoist Classics). For the phrase from chapter 10 of the
Tao Te Ching, “When Heaven gives and takes away, can you be con-
tent with the outcome?” Cheng Xuanying annotated: “Heaven is our
mind. To be content means to be calm and yielding.” For the phrase
from chapter 57, “The more knowledge is acquired, the stranger the
world will become. The more laws you make, the greater the number
of criminals there will be,” Cheng Xuanying annotated: “This is the
natural law. The more taboos there are, the less harmony you live in.
The more laws there are, the more power you lose. The more knowl-
edge there is, the more criminal intentions there are. If you multiply
the laws, you cannot eradicate crime.” Cheng Xuanying may have
had other annotations to the Lao-tzu. In our opinion, these two quota-
tions express his philosophy aptly.
The theory of the Twofold Mystery is based on the quotation from
chapter one of the Lao-tzu’s “mystery upon mystery.” According to
the historical documents that have come down to us, the Twofold
Mystery developed during the Southern and Northern dynasties. Sun
Deng of the Eastern Jin Dynasty “constructed his theory on the basis
of the Twofold Mystery” (quoted in Cheng Xuanying’s Daodejing xujue
kaiti ). Buddhist monks like Zhi Daolin and Sengzhao also used the
Twofold Mystery. This theory appeared to be more present in Tao-
ism. Since Sun Deng’s Annotation on the Lao-tzu was lost, it is impossible
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 165
to discuss his philosophy of the Twofold Mystery. Nevertheless, Sun
Deng’s uncle, Sun Sheng, wrote Laodan fei daxian lun 老聃非大贤论
[Lao-tzu Is Not a Saint] from which we may get a general idea of the
“High Evaluation of Non-existence” and the “High Appreciation on
Existence” as studied during the Eastern Jin Dynasty:
Once Pei Wei advanced the theory of the “High Appreciation of Exis-
tence” and the “High Evaluation of Non-existence,” he was considered
not to have achieved the Tao of Vacuity. Others thought that his argu-
ments were weak. In my opinion, the theories of the “High Evaluation
of Non-existence” and the “High Appreciation of Existence” did not
capture the true significance of the Tao. The Tao is chaos. It has no
form, does not change according to circumstances. . . . So the same analy-
sis sometimes led to different comments on Non-existence and Existence.
The same philosophy sometimes was given a different name. . . . Lao-tzu
supported the present theory of Existence with the ancient Tao, whereas
Pei Wei wanted to insist upon the present theory of Existence to refute
the ancient Tao. Both philosophers failed to achieve the perfect Tao
because they were limited by their own theories. (Guang Hongming ji 广弘
明集 [A Further Collection of Essays on Buddhism], chapter 5)
Sun Sheng criticized the supporters of the “High Evaluation of Non-
existence” and the “High Appreciation of Existence” theories and
believed they had not achieved the perfect Tao and had been limited
by their own theories. Did it mean we should overcome the opposition
between “Existence” and “Non-existence” in order to attain “Neither
Existence nor Non-existence 非有非无”? Or did Sun Deng’s philoso-
phy of the Twofold Mystery comprise “Neither Existence nor Non-
existence”? These questions cannot be answered without new material.
However, Sengzhao’s Buzhenkong lun 不真空论 [Against True Emptiness]
aimed to refute the theories of the “High Evaluation of the Non-
existence” and the “High Appreciation of the Existence” so as to advo-
cate “the middle way” of “Neither Existence nor Non-existence.” Wang
Bi was concerned with “Non-existence,” Guo Xiang with “Existence.”
Their theories were partial. Sengzhao found fault with three erroneous
interpretations of “the Mādhyamaka (the middle way)” in his Buzhen-
kong lun, especially the partial theories of the “High Evaluation of Non-
existence” and the “High Appreciation of Existence.” According to
him, the existence of everything (physical or spiritual ) was not real,
so it could not be considered as “Existence.” Everything was engen-
dered within the chain of causation, so it was not “Non- existence.”
For instance, the illusory man is not a real man, but he exists. Seng-
zhao constructed his theoretical system in this way. This concept of
166 tang yijie
“ Neither Existence nor Non-existence” was the double negative that,
in its turn, negated “Existence” and “Non-existence.” “Dharmas do
not have their own nature” can be understood only when everything
has been negated. Moreover, Sengzhao said, in his Niepan wuming lun
涅槃无名论 (On the unnamingability of the Nirvana):
Beings are numerous, but their number is limited. However, even though
we have intelligence, we cannot find out the number, to say nothing of
the expanse of Non-existence and the kingdom of the Twofold Mystery
in which the Tao is limitless. How can we fathom all these? It was noted
in the Classics that he who studies gets something everyday, whereas he
who practices the Tao loses something everyday. To practice the Tao
is to exercise Non-action. Then, every day one loses something. This
cannot be realized in one day. One must continue to lose until there is
nothing more to lose.
Nirvana is translated into Chinese as “Non-action.” “The expanse of
Non-existence” and the kingdom of the Twofold Mystery all mean
nirvana in Buddhism. This excerpt shows that one must continue to
lose until he reaches nirvana, the kingdom of the Twofold Mystery.
Obviously, after having destroyed the old theoretical system, Sengzhao
wanted to construct a new one, a message expressed in Chen Huida’s
preface to the Collection of Articles Written by Sengzhao 肇论:
The perfect cause is supreme wisdom, and the ultimate effect is only the
nirvana. So finally the Twofold Mystery is opened; it is the dwelling of
the saints.
A similar message is found in Yuankang’s annotation:
The perfect cause is supreme wisdom” refers to the Wisdom Cannot be
Known 般若无知论. The authentic cause of nirvana is nothing but wis-
dom, whereas the ultimate effect of wisdom is nothing but nirvana.
“Finally the Twofold Mystery is opened” means even the cause and
the effect have been negated. “Finally” means the Twofold Mystery is
the last step. The wisdom is the first Mystery, while nirvana is the sec-
ond Mystery. At first the author examined the absolute and the illusion,
which referred to the first two notions, and later he mentioned the Two-
fold Mystery, which referred to the two later notions. This is obvious
and does not call for further explanation. The Twofold Mystery refers
to the phrase in the Lao-tzu “Mystery upon mystery—the gateway to the
manifold secrets.” This phrase is borrowed to explain nirvana and the
wisdom that all saints have reached. That is why the author called them
the “dwelling of the Saints.”
3
3
See also Qiang Yu’s and Cui Zhenzhe’s PhD dissertations under my direction.
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 167
If “the kingdom of the Twofold Mystery” refers to a certain level, the
“Twofold Mystery” can be presented as a method centered on wisdom
and nirvana. Yuankang meant that the four articles in the Collection
of Articles Written by Sengzhao were organized in a progressive order.
The first two dealt with the “absolute” and the “illusion,” the last two
with the causality of enlightenment. In this causality, wisdom is the
cause, while nirvana is the effect. Wisdom is the first mystery, while
nirvana is the second, from which comes the “Twofold Mystery.” If
there was only the mystery of wisdom, the end would not be attained.
The second mystery of nirvana is necessary to complete the “Twofold
Mystery” and to attain saintliness.
By analyzing the excerpts above, we may ascertain that Sengzhao,
who borrowed Lao-tzu’s “Twofold Mystery” theory, considered wis-
dom that eliminated illusion as the first mystery and nirvana leading
to saintliness as the second. The study of Prajñā was prominent in Bud-
dhism during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, whereas the study of nirvana
emerged later, after the Song and Qi dynasties and reached its peak in
the Liang Dynasty. The study of nirvana clearly succeeded the study
of Prajñā. The nature of Buddha can be revealed after all illusions have
been discarded, and nirvana can be attained through practice. “Elimi-
nate the illusions and show the nature of Buddha” means eliminating
all the obsessions in the world (including the obsession with “Exis-
tence” and “Non-existence”). Then the “Twofold Mystery” would be
the way to attain nirvana. As to the question of “what is the nature
of Buddha,” there were many explanations at the time. Baoliang, of
the Liang Dynasty, classified them in ten categories. This question is
beyond the scope of the present chapter, however. In any case, the
development of Buddhism in China certainly inspired Taoism and had
an impact on the generalization of the Twofold Mystery study in the
Sui and Tang dynasties.
In the works of the Taoist scholars of the Southern and Northern
dynasties, many explanations were given of the “Twofold Mystery.”
Some explained it as the “Twofold Heaven,” some as the perfection
level, some as the Tao, and some as the “extremity of reason and
nature.” In the Xuanmen dalun 玄门大论 [Great Arguments of the Mys-
tery Study], written by an unknown author before the compilation of
the Benji jing 本际经 [Scripture of the Original Ultimate], the “Way of the
Twofold Mystery” was compared with the trinity of jing, qi, and shen
(essence, qi and spirit). That marked the beginning of the combination
of the “Twofold Mystery” and the “Tao of the Trinity 三一为宗.”
On the other hand, in the Benji jing the objective of the sutra was said
168 tang yijie
to “open the secret door of the Twofold Mystery using the most pro-
found and wonderful method.” According to the author, the “Twofold
Mystery” means to “eliminate all illusions” until “there will be nothing
to eliminate” (chapter 8). “The Mystery is something that is attached
to neither Emptiness nor Existence. If this Mystery is cleared, there
will be nothing. That is why this method is called ‘the gateway to the
manifold secrets of the Twofold Mystery’ ” (chapter 1). The Xuanmen
dalun and Benji jing are all influenced by Buddhism. Both works had a
direct impact on the generalization of the “Twofold Mystery study.”
The “Twofold Mystery” comes from the phrase “Mystery upon
mystery—the gateway to the manifold secrets” in the first chapter of
the Lao-tzu. According to the same chapter, the “eternal Tao” can-
not be described, but can be grasped through “Existence” and “Non-
existence.” That is why it was said, “[b]eing the same, they are the
source, but the source remains a mystery. Mystery upon mystery, the
gateway to the manifold secrets” (according to the silk manuscript ver-
sion found at Mawangdui). Thus, the Tao can be comprehended only
through “Existence” and “Non-existence.” Equally, “Existence” and
“Non-existence” can be comprehended only through the Tao. Wang
Bi emphasized “Non-existence” and used it to explain the Tao. He
believed that “Non-existence” was “Existence” (pure being) and that
the former was the origin and foundation of the latter.
Guo Xiang emphasized “Existence.” According to him, “Existence”
was engendered spontaneously, without origin. “Non-existence,” as
“Non-being,” could not give birth to “Being.” Sengzhao advanced
a theory of “Neither Existence nor Non-existence,” refuting both the
“High Evaluation of Non-existence” and the “High Appreciation of
Existence.” His Buzhenkong lun was based on the idea that “dharmas do
not have their own nature” from the Mādhyamaka. However, if nothing
has its own nature, what would be the origin of its existence? How
would it be possible to become Buddha? So the nirvana study devel-
oped after the Mādhyamaka study, aiming to destroy all illusions. At the
beginning of the Tang Dynasty, the Taoist scholars Cheng Xuanying
and Li Rong used the “Twofold Mystery” to explain the Tao with the
idea of “Reason 理.” This was a significant step in the development
of Taoist theories.
The philosophies of Cheng Xuanying, Li Rong, and other later
Taoist scholars (such as Du Guangting) were all inspired by the “Two-
fold Mystery.” Cheng Xuanying said that his philosophy was built
on the Twofold Mystery theory. So how did he explain the Twofold
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 169
Mystery? He said: “[t]he Mystery is profound and remote. Reason
returns to it without attachment to Existence and Non-existence. No
attachment to these two, that is what we call the Mystery” (chapter 1
of the Annotations to the Tao Te Ching). That is the first Mystery. He
also said:
he who desires is attached to Existence, while he who is without desire
is attached to Non-existence. That is why the first Mystery was put forth
to eliminate the two attachments. However, it is possible that the prac-
titioners were attached to the first Mystery. So the second Mystery is
used to prevent other attachments. Not only the practitioners must not
be attached to attachment, but they also must not be attached to non-
attachment. In this way the practitioners purify again and again, which
is the method called Mystery upon Mystery. (chapter 1 of the Annotations
on the Tao Te Ching)
This is the second Mystery. The first Mystery refutes the “High Appre-
ciation of the Existence” and the “High Evaluation of Non-existence”
in order to attain “Neither Existence nor Non-existence.” The second
Mystery aims to negate even “Neither Existence nor Non-existence”
so as to attain “no attachment to non-attachment,” because if practi-
tioners were attached to Sengzhao’s theory of “Neither Existence nor
Non-existence,” this would also be an attachment. After destruction,
construction should follow. As in Buddhism in China, after the heyday
of the study of the Mādhyamaka, came the emergence of the study of
nirvana. Cheng Xuanying’s “Twofold Mystery” theory was no doubt
inspired by the Buddhism of the Southern and Northern dynasties.
After having refuted the attachments to “Existence,” “Non- existence,”
and “Neither Existence nor Non-existence,” how did Cheng Xuanying
and Li Rong construct their theoretical system of the “Twofold Mys-
tery”? Wang Bi explained the “Tao” through “Non-existence,” while
Guo Xiang conflated the “things 物” with “Existence.” Cheng Xuan-
ying conflated the “Tao” with “Reason.” Furthermore, he explained
and defined “Reason” as the “wonderful Reason of the Twofold Mys-
tery,” “natural Reason,” “omnipresent and wonderful Reason,” and
“true Reason.” The “wonderful Reason of the Twofold Mystery”
meant positive Reason after the negation of the “Tao” as “Existence”
(substance) and “Non-existence” (original nothingness). “Natural
Reason” meant that Reason was not artificial. “The celestial Tao is
natural Reason.” (annotation to chapter 47 of the Lao-tzu) “The true
Tao is the natural Reason.” (annotation to the chapter “Tiandao,” in
the Chuang-tzu) “The ultimate and mysterious Tao is natural Reason.
170 tang yijie
Everything must follow it.” (annotation to the “Dazongshi” chapter
in the Chuang-tzu) “Natural Reason” underscored the inevitability of
the dharma. Cheng Xuanying explained the Tao primarily with the
“omnipresent and wonderful Reason” and “true Reason.” The former
meant that “Reason” was not substance; however, it was omnipresent
and widely circulated, so it was not “vacuity and nothingness.” “Who
comprehends the omnipresent Tao will certainly attain profound true
Reason.” “Omnipresent Reason” is certainly “true Reason” and “true
Reason” is nothing but “real Reason,” which is not false and exists
forever. Cheng Xuanying’s explanation of the “Tao” with “Reason”
was a great leap forward for Taoism on the theoretical plane. “Rea-
son” was conceived as the omnipresent true Reason. The substance of
the Tao was in this way ruled out, thus the Tao was “Non-existence.”
The falsity of the independent Tao was also denied, thus the Tao was
“non–Non-existence.” Finally the “non-nature” of the Tao embod-
ied by “Neither Existence nor Non-existence” was excluded, thus the
Tao became eternal and real. Clearly the “Twofold Mystery” was pre-
sented not only as a method, but also as the noumenon of everything
(the noumenon of the universe).
There were common points and differences between Cheng Xuan-
ying’s ontological approach and Wang Bi’s. They both believed that
the noumenon was the origin of all existence and explained it with the
“Entity” and the “Application.” Wang Bi wrote: “[i]f one wanted to
apply Non-existence, he could not take it as the Entity.” He underscored
“Non-existence,” which made the “Application” depend on the “Entity.”
Cheng Xuanying put forth “Reason” as the noumenon of everything,
with what he called the “Entity of Reason,” and disclosed the secret
of the “Application” of “Reason” with his “wonderful Application.”
The most significant difference between Cheng Xuanying’s ontological
approach and Wang Bi’s was that the latter took the indefinable “Non-
existence” as the noumenon of everything, whereas the former consid-
ered definable “Reason” (omnipresent true Reason) as the noumenon
of everything, perhaps under the influence of Buddhism and Taoism,
which developed during the Southern and Northern dynasties.
In his annotation to the “Tiandi” chapter in the Chuang-tzu, Cheng
Xuanying wrote: “the omnipresent Tao (omnipresent Reason) includes
all, without limits. The Two Polarities depend on it to engender and
everything is issued from it. It is nothing else but that which is the ori-
gin (noumenon) of things.” Furthermore, Cheng Xuanying suggested
that the application of the “Tao” (or Reason) was the nature of all
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 171
beings. Cheng Xuanying said: “the Tao is the omnipresent wonder-
ful Reason and the orthodox nature of all beings.” The “Tao” is the
“Reason” of the existence of everything and the basis of the existence
of the universe. The human being and other beings get their “ortho-
dox nature” from the “Tao.” Perfect nature is the foundation of the
existence of the human being. In other words, “nature” is the intrinsic
quality of existence that the human being receives from the “Tao”
(Reason). “Nature is the Reason of destiny.” (annotation to the “Zai-
you” chapter in the Chuang-tzu) “All beings have their own eternal
nature and do not depend on others.” (annotation to the “Mati” chap-
ter in the Chuang-tzu) How can man realize his “orthodox nature” (real
and eternal nature) to attain the “omnipresent wonderful Reason,” in
other words, go from the individual being to the universal being?
According to Cheng Xuanying, the key to this question was the
function of the “Heart.” The “Heart” (real and eternal ) is the soul of
the human being’s spiritual activity. “The heart is the chief of the five
internal organs and the dwelling of the spirits.” (annotation to the
“Dashengshu” chapter in the Chuang-tzu) “The divine mansion is the
dwelling of the spirit, a synonym of the heart.” (“Dechongfu” chap-
ter in the Chuang-tzu) So “the use of wisdom depends on the heart.”
(annotation to the “Dazongshi” chapter in the Chuang-tzu) Through
the “Heart” one may cultivate oneself and “comprehend Reason and
nature,” by eliminating desire, which “is contrary to Reason” and
“causes the loss of nature.”
Cheng Xuanying commented: “[t]he reason why human beings have
lost their nature is that they are attached to the world. Only through
purity and simplicity without desire, will true nature not be lost. That
is what we call realization.” (annotation to the “Mati” chapter in the
Chuang-tzu). “Man drowns himself in the material world and desire
because man is born devoid of talents. If man possessed intelligence,
he would not be attached in any way.” (annotation to the “Dazongshi”
chapter in the Chuang-tzu) However, one can restore one’s “orthodox
nature” through the practice of the spirit. “When the spirit becomes
quiet, one can find one’s true nature” and attain the noumenon of the
universe. That is what we call the “perfect combination of the universe
and intelligence” (Unity of Heaven and Human) through which one
attains the “Kingdom of the Twofold Mystery.” “Outside the universe,
there is the origin of the nature of all beings and the kingdom of the
ultimate way of the Twofold Mystery.” (annotation to the “Qiwulun”
chapter in the Chuang-tzu)
172 tang yijie
The “Kingdom of the Twofold Mystery” is the transcendental uni-
verse that surpasses the self and the world. Cheng Xuanying proposed
the “ultimate comprehension of Reason and nature” as the way to the
transcendental universe. Through the “Reason of the Twofold Mys-
tery” Cheng Xuanying transformed the “real and eternal heart” into
“real and eternal nature” (orthodox nature). “If man can be simple
and unworried, he will achieve the real and eternal heart.” (annota-
tion to the “Dechongfu” chapter in the Chuang-tzu) In this way, the
ontological approach was transformed into a question about nature.
Equally, Cheng Xuanying believed that through the “ultimate com-
prehension of Reason and nature” of the “real and eternal heart” and
the “double negation” of the “Twofold Mystery,” which surpassed the
theory of the negation, man could realize his “real and eternal nature”
and attain the “Kingdom of the Twofold Mystery” through the “Rea-
son of the Twofold Mystery.” In this way, the noumenon (Reason of
the Twofold Mystery) and the universe would be one. According to
the annotation to the “Xuwugui” chapter in the Chuang-tzu, “the uni-
verse of the ultimate Tao and the kingdom of the Twofold Mystery
cannot be known even by the sacred heart nor be described even by
the divine mouth. He who sought to know reality through wisdom
and language, would be alienated from it.” Obviously, the “Twofold
Mystery” is not only the method and the theory, but also the universe.
As shown above, Cheng Xuanying’s philosophy was a perfect sys-
tem revolving around the three concepts of “Reason,” “nature,” and
the “heart.”
As a philosophical system, Cheng Xuanying’s “Twofold Mys-
tery study,” which transformed the ontological issue into the study
of nature, was all-important. There was a similitude between Cheng
Xuanying’s philosophy and Neo-Confucianism in the Song Dynasty.
Was the evolution of Chinese philosophy inevitable from the ontologi-
cal approach marked by the Mystery study of the Wei and Jin dynas-
ties to the study of nature marked by the Twofold Mystery study of the
Tang Dynasty? Maybe it was because Chinese philosophy emphasized
the spiritual universe and was focused on “intrinsic transcendence.” If
Cheng Xuanying’s Twofold Mystery was such a philosophical system,
it did not answer the question of Taoism as a religion, and thus was
not a religious philosophy. As we know, the objective of Taoism was
different from that of Buddhism. The latter sought nirvana, whereas
the former longed for immortality and longevity. If Cheng Xuan-
ying’s “Twofold Mystery study” was not only a philosophy, but also
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 173
a religious (Taoist) philosophy, his system would be constructed to
support “longevity” theoretically. As we know, there was a close link
between the Taoist quest for “longevity” and the theory of the “trans-
formation of the qi.” The unity of jing, qi, and shen was considered
the way to attain longevity. How did Cheng Xuanying deal with this
question in his “Twofold Mystery study”?
In order to adapt his system to the ultimate objective of Taoism,
Cheng Xuanying introduced the idea of “qi” into his system. He wrote
in his annotation to the phrase “The Tao gives birth to One. One
gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three” in chapter 42 of the
Lao-tzu:
The Tao as the wonderful noumenon of everything is not physical and
cannot be named. From the noumenon issues the form. The original qi is
born and then transformed into Yin and Yang. The light qi of the Yang
ascends and transforms itself into Heaven, whereas the heavy qi of the
Yin descends and transforms itself into the Earth. The interaction of the
two qi engenders the human being. All things are born after the birth of
Heaven, Earth, and man.
In this paragraph, Cheng Xuanying took the “Tao” (Reason) as the
origin (noumenon) of the “things.” “The natural Reason gives birth
to all things.” (annotation to the “Qiwulun” chapter in the Chuang-
tzu) “The qi is the origin of the things.” (annotation to the “Zaiyou”
chapter in the Chuang-tzu) Everything in the universe is issued from the
“Tao” (Reason) through the “qi”—as the annotation to the “Qiwu-
lun” chapter in the Chuang-tzu noted—“as the wonderful origin, the qi
gives birth to all things.” The human being, composed of jing, qi, and
shen, gets his “orthodox nature” from the “Tao.” If he cultivates him-
self and practices the “Tao,” he may return to the origin, be unified
with the “Tao,” and finally attain longevity. For this objective, Taoism
put forth the “double cultivation of nature and life.” The practice of
nature aims to cultivate the heart, whereas the practice of life aims to
cultivate the qi. But how can one return to the origin? According to
Cheng Xuanying, one must “appreciate shen, cherish qi, strengthen
jing, and practise the Tao. Do not despise your own body, it is called
self-respect.” The practice of the Tao is the necessary condition to
“appreciate shen, cherish qi, strengthen jing,” and finally achieve lon-
gevity. Cheng Xuanying, in his annotation to chapter 16 of the Lao-tzu
maintained: “[ h]e who does not cultivate his nature, return to virtue,
and meet the real and eternal Tao would always act with a false heart,
make the karma alter with circumstances, and throw himself in the
174 tang yijie
land of death.” Conversely, “he who keeps his heart at peace, may
rediscover his real nature and return to the divine life.”
As we have shown above, Cheng Xuanying’s philosophical system
was founded on a cosmogony that supported his Taoist philosophy.
Certainly, the question of whether this Taoist philosophical system
could achieve Taoism’s ultimate objective—the lengthening of life—
was always open, since Cheng Xuanying only constructed a Taoist
theory to achieve the ultimate objective, but not a system of practice
to realize it. We had to wait until the emergence of the “nature study
of Taoist inner alchemy” and the elaboration of the practice of the
“double cultivation of the nature and life” at the end of the Tang
Dynasty and the Five Dynasties to see a new development of the Tao-
ist theory and practice. The “study of nature in Taoist inner alchemy”
deserves a more profound analysis; however, it is not the subject of the
present chapter.
In my opinion, the significance of Cheng Xuanying’s “Twofold
Mystery study” is threefold.
First, if we consider pre-Qin Taoism (Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu) as
the first stage of the evolution of Taoist philosophy, and the Mystery
study of the Wei and Jin dynasties, which aimed to integrate Confu-
cianism into Taoism as the second, the Twofold Mystery study of the
Tang Dynasty would be the third, from which the Mystery study of
the Wei and Jin dynasties absorbed the main contemporary Buddhist
Schools such as the Mādhyamaka study and nirvana study, and the Neo-
Taoism of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. To a certain extent,
the Twofold Mystery embodied the syncretism of Confucianism, Tao-
ism, and Buddhism.
Second, from the foundation of Taoism in the Eastern Han
Dynasty, it always lost to Buddhism in the domain of philosophical
theory, despite many scholars’ (such as Ge Hong, Kou Qianzhi, Gu
Huan, and Tao Hongjing) fruitless efforts. There were two possible
reasons. First, the Taoist philosophical system was not built upon the
annotations to the Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, and the Mystery study of
the Wei and Jin dynasties. Second, the contemporary debate on phi-
losophy was not paid much attention. Indeed, Taoist theory before the
creation of the “Twofold Mystery study” had been poor. The “Two-
fold Mystery study” more or less overcame these two shortcomings.
It proposed a significant method for the Taoist philosophical system
by absorbing some philosophical theories of the Mystery study, Bud-
dhism, and Taoist ideology of the Southern and Northern Dynasties,
cheng xuanying and the study of the twofold mystery 175
and annotating the Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. The “study of nature in
Taoist inner alchemy” was built upon it. The annotations to the Lao-
tzu and Chuang-tzu were vital to understand the evolution of Chinese
philosophy (the annotations to the Confucian and Buddhist classics
deserve the same attention).
Third, it used to be said that Neo-Confucianism, criticizing both
Buddhism and Taoism, absorbed and transformed both. However,
in the historical studies of Chinese philosophy, more attention was
paid to the integration of Buddhism (the Chan and Huayan Schools)
in Neo-Confucianism than of Taoism. The “Twofold Mystery study”
explained the “Tao” with “Reason,” suggesting that “the Tao is the
omnipresent Reason and the orthodox nature of all beings.” According
to it, the “heart” was considered the subject of the spirit. “The heart
is the chief of the five internal organs and the dwelling of the spir-
its.” Unity with the Tao was possible only through the “ultimate com-
prehension of Reason and nature.” This was its common point with
Neo-Confucianism (especially the Cheng-Zhu School ). We should pay
more attention to the relationship between Neo-Confucianism and the
Twofold Mystery study in order to shed light on the intricate relation-
ship between Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
FROM THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PHILOSOPHICAL
TAOISM TO THE INNER ALCHEMY
OF RELIGIOUS TAOISM
1
Zhang Guangbao
The “communion of the Tao and life” 生道合一 is a fundamental
piece that Taoists must observe when developing their theory of the
Tao. According to philosophical Taoism, as the logos, the Tao existed
in everything in a particular way. In the world, only humans con-
sciously investigated their existence. So in this regard, the significance
of human life was not limited to the individual level. It was also a
medium for the manifestation of the Tao, and given ultimate signifi-
cance. The Tao revealed itself through human life and its manifes-
tation was the human act of realizing and comprehending the Tao.
Indeed, the “communion of the Tao and life” was a concept that
could help humans shake off the shackles of egotism, realize the Tao,
and give meaning to life. However, every single life is a union of body
and soul. The “communion of the Tao and life” could be found not
only on the spiritual level, but also on the corporeal. In this connec-
tion, religious Taoism inherited and developed the principle of ancient
philosophical Taoism in its focus on the body. Through the cultiva-
tion of the jing 精 (essence) and qi, which composed the body, the Tao
could be realized. Taoist inner alchemy was just the concrete mani-
festation of the “communion of the Tao and life.” Compared with the
French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the
body, the Taoist way of realizing the Tao through the practice of
the body composed of jing, qi, and shen might be the model of the
ancient holist philosophy. The reason was simple. No matter how
subtle the Tao was, those who practiced it observed it with the body.
Descartes’ “cogito” and Hegel’s “absolute idea,” independent of the
body, were only conceptions that issued from the physical human.
There is a prevalent opinion according to which there exists a gap
of principle between philosophical Taoism and religious Taoism.
1
Published originally in Daojia wenhua yanjiu 道家文化研究, Beijing: Sanlian
shudian, 2006, no. 21.
178 zhang guangbao
Certain people believe that the attention paid by religious Taoism to
the body, ritual, and the gods went against the Tao and the philosophy
of Chuang-tzu, who emphasized the spirit. Some even consider the
elucidation of philosophical Taoism by religious Taoism a degrada-
tion. They think the evolution from philosophical Taoism to religious
Taoism is not progressive. In contrast, religious Taoism’s obsession
with the body shut out the light of the Tao. In fact, they didn’t notice
that the “communion of the Tao and life” was the basis of both philo-
sophical and religious Taoism. Its manifestations on the bodily and
spiritual levels can be linked. This link can be found in philosophi-
cal Taoism, which already developed the notions of jing, qi, and shen
and underscored the connection between them. Although Chuang-tzu
used dreams, life, and death to establish his theory and explained the
realization of the Tao in terms of awakening from dreams, he did
not completely give up the importance of the body, as can be seen in
the chapter “Dazongshi” in the Chuang-tzu. The evolution from philo-
sophical Taoism to religious Taoism was a more complete manifesta-
tion of the Tao, rather than its degradation. We will now treat the
relationship between the theory of “communion of the Tao and life”
and Taoist inner alchemy.
Realization of the Tao and Longevity
The link between the realization of the Tao and longevity was the
basis of philosophical Taoism’s theories. As one of the important Tao-
ist philosophers, Wenzi has formulated this link with the phrase: “life
is the Tao.”
2
This opinion, shared by all pre-Qin Taoist philosophers,
presented concisely the Taoist emphasis on life.
The Tao, as the logos, exists transcendently in everything. Relying
on this belief, Taoism constructed the universality and the transcen-
dental character of the Tao. However, the Tao can be revealed only
through human acts and life. Human life is characterized by a meta-
physical significance that transcends the limited physical body.
2
“Dingzhou Xihan Zhongshan Huaiwang mu zhujian (Wenzi) shiwen” 定州西
汉中山怀王墓竹简(文子)释文 (An annotated edition of the text of the Wenzi on
bamboo slips excavated from the Western Han tomb of King Huai at Zhongshan,
Dingzhou), in Wenwu, 1995.
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 179
Human life comprises both body and spirit. The attention paid by
Taoism to the connection between the body and the Tao represented
the ancient Chinese tradition of caring for life. From the founder of
philosophical Taoism, Lao-tzu, Taoist philosophers outlined the gen-
esis of the Tao, especially the connection between the body and the
Tao, which could be found in Lao-tzu’s way of formulating his meta-
physical theory. Lao-tzu constructed his theory of the Tao around two
aspects. First, in exploring the origin of the universe and showing the
genesis of the Tao, Lao-tzu established his cosmology. In Lao-tzu’s
opinion, there were two levels of relationship between the Tao and
the phenomenal world. First, everything embodied the Tao. The uni-
versality and the transcendental character of the Tao decided its omni-
connection with everything. Second, in time, the Tao preceded and
gave birth to the universe and everything. This cosmogological view of
the Tao was the precondition for the theory of “communion of the Tao
and life.” It was no accident that the Tao gave birth to the universe.
On the contrary, it was determined by the genetic nature of the Tao.
In brief, the universe was fated to be born by the Tao. This process was
also the inevitable procedure by which the Tao manifested itself.
Second, Lao-tzu emphasized life and the human body by showing
that the Tao revealed itself through them. To borrow a term from
Chan Buddhism, people need an “entrance”—life—to attain the Tao.
This is why Lao-tzu continually repeated the question of life in the
Tao Te Ching. Examples include the Tao of longevity in chapter 59,
the phrase “[t]hose who embrace death will not perish, but have life
everlasting” in chapter 33, and all kinds of recommended self-cultivation
regimens in chapters 6 and 10, and such phrases as “[t]he spirit of emp-
tiness is immortal. It is called the Great Mother because it gives birth
to Heaven and Earth. It is like a vapor, barely seen but always present.
Use it effortlessly.” “Nurture the darkness of your soul until you become
whole. Can you do this and not fail? Can you focus your life-breath until
you become supple as a newborn child? While you cleanse your inner
vision will you be found without fault?” The theory and practice of the
later Taoist inner alchemy were founded on the creative interpretation
of Lao-tzu’s theory and self-cultivation regimen.
In adopting Lao-tzu’s theory, later Taoist philosophers precised
the generative nature of the Tao. For Chuang-tzu, the connection
between life and the Tao was based on the spirit; however, he also
considered the link between the Tao and body. For example, in the
chapter “Dazongshi,” it says: “Fuxi got it and entered into the ‘mother
180 zhang guangbao
of breath.’ The Yellow Emperor got it and ascended to the cloudy
heavens. Zhuangxu got it and dwelt in the Dark Palace. The Queen
Mother of the West got it and took her seat on Shaoguang. Nobody
knows her beginning, nobody knows her end. Pengzu got it and lived
from the age of Shun to the age of Five Dukes.” Thus, for Chuang-tzu,
the realization of the Tao was inevitably linked to longevity (Pengzu)
and immortality (the Yellow Emperor). This point of view was even
clearer in the chapter “Zaiyou 在宥”:
The essence of the Perfect Tao is deep and darkly shrouded; the extreme
of the Perfect Tao is mysterious and hushed in silence. Let there be
no seeing, no hearing; enfold the spirit in quietude and the body will
right itself. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up
your essence, and then you can live a long life. When the eye does not
see, the ear does not hear and the mind does not know, your spirit will
protect the body and the body will enjoy long life. Be cautious of what
is within you; block off what is outside you, for much knowledge will do
you harm. Then I will lead you up above the Great Brilliance, to the
source of the Perfect Yang; I will guide you through the Dark and Mys-
terious Gate to the source of the Perfect Yin. Heaven and earth have
their controllers, the Yin and Yang their storehouses. You have only to
take care and guard your own body; the other things will of themselves
grow sturdy. As for myself, I guard this unity, abide in this harmony, and
therefore I have kept myself alive for twelve hundred years and never
has my body suffered any decay.
In this passage, cultivation of the Tao was taken to be the same as
cultivation of the body. Longevity was the product of a body impreg-
nated with the Tao. Thus, the theory of “communion of the Tao
and life” was actualized on the corporeal level. Moreover, Chuang-tzu
encapsulated the transcendence of life through the realization of the
Tao in “non-life and non-death.” This state resembled the “breaking
the chain of life and death” of Buddhism. Nevertheless, Chuang-tzu
adopted belief in the immortal, especially in his later philosophy in
which he fixed the terminus in the Country of the Lord 帝乡:
The true sage is a quail at rest, a little fledgling at its meal, a bird in
flight who leaves no trail behind. When the world has the Tao, he joins
in the chorus with all other beings. When the world is without the Tao,
he nurses his Virtue and retires in leisure. And after a thousand years,
should he grow weary of the world, he will leave it and ascend among
the immortals, riding on white clouds all the way up to the Country of
the Lord.
3
3
Chuang-tzu, chapter “Tiandi 天地.”
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 181
The belief in immortality revealed in this passage cannot be consid-
ered simply as Chuang-tzu’s later philosophy because similar traces
can be found in other chapters, such as “Dazongshi.” According to
the chapter “Rangwang 让王,” the essence of the Tao was embodied
in the cultivation of the body and there was an inextricable relation-
ship between the body and the Tao. The body was the direct mani-
festation of the Tao, whereas the country and the world were only
indirect manifestations. “The Truth of the Tao lies in looking after
oneself; its fringes and leftovers consist in managing the state and its
great families; its offal and weeds consist in governing the empire.” A
similar opinion can be found in the Lüshi chunqiu [ Master Lü’s Spring
and Autumn Annals] and was very popular with Taoist philosophers
of the time, such as Wenzi:
The great Tao is peaceful and not removed from body. Cultivate the
body, then virtue will be true. Cultivate things, then virtue will be
perpetual.
4
These theories were the basis for the later Taoist inner alchemy, which
emphasized the practice of the body.
The author of the Guanzi shared this theory. His chapters “Baixin
白心” (Simple Mind), “Neiye 内业” (Inner Work), and “Xinshu shang
心术” parts 1 and 2 (Techniques of the Mind) were, in my opinion,
works of pre-Qin Taoism. In these chapters, the precise relationship
between the Tao and the body were introduced. For example, in the
chapter “Neiye,” it says:
The Tao is what fills in all forms. If one can not seize it, it will go and
never return; even if it comes, it will not reside. It is inaudible, and sud-
denly, can be found in the heart. It is invisible, but one is born with it.
Inaudible and invisible, but its way can be followed, that is the Tao.
According to this passage, people can seize the Tao through practice.
As to the generative nature of the Tao, it was emphasized in these
chapters of the Guanzi as well. For example, according to the chapter
“Neiye,” even though the Tao can not be perceived by the senses, it
rules human life. One who has the Tao will live, whereas one who
loses it will die. “The Tao cannot be said by the mouth, seen by the
eyes, or heard by the ears. Cultivate heart and body with the Tao. Life
and death, success and defeat, all depend on it.” “One who follows
4
Wenzi, chapter “Shangde 上德.”
182 zhang guangbao
the Tao strictly will obtain longevity.” Thus, the author of the Guanzi
believed that practice of the Tao led to certain longevity.
Respect for life was a typical feature of Chinese traditional culture.
In the Yizhuan 易传 [Interpretation on the Book of Changes], it says “the
great virtue of Heaven is life.” The instinct of life was described as
an abstract spiritual character. With this character, Chinese people
fought against nature for thousands of years and never stopped to
develop and multiply. There was a Taoist School of self-cultivation
that took longevity as a symbol of the realization of the Tao. The Tao-
ists of this school explained the theory of “communion of the Tao and
life” by establishing all kinds of concrete rules of self-cultivation prac-
tice. This school was probably linked to early medical practitioners. It
was, perhaps, a syncretism of Taoism and medicine:
The Yellow Emperor said: I heard there was in early antiquity the
True Man who took hold of Heaven and Earth, grasped Yin and Yang,
breathed vital energy, stayed alone, kept his spirit, and unified his body.
Thus his endless life of the Tao was longer than Heaven and Earth.
There was in middle antiquity the Ultimate Man. His virtue was pure
and his Tao was complete. He accorded with Yin and Yang, and the
four seasons. He left this world and kept his energy, traveled all over the
world, and observed all directions. This was someone who prolonged his
lifespan. He belonged also to the True Men.
5
This passage borrowed such terms from Chuang-tzu as “True Man”
and “Ultimate Man.” However, their images differed from those in
the Chuang-tzu: “[w]hat do I mean by a True Man? The True Man
of ancient times did not rebel against poverty, did not grow proud
in plenty, and did not plan his affairs. A man like this could climb
the high places and not be frightened, could enter the water and not
get wet, could enter the fire and not get burned. His knowledge was
able to climb all the way up to the Tao like this.”
6
“The True Man
of ancient times knew nothing of loving life, knew nothing of hating
death. He emerged without delight; he went back in without a fuss.
He came briskly, he went briskly, and that was all. He didn’t forget
where he began; he didn’t try to find out where he would end. When
he received something, he took pleasure in it; then he forgot about it
and handed it back again. This is what I call not using the mind to
5
Huangdi neijing suwen, chapter “Shanggu tianzhen lun 上古天真论.”
6
Chuang-tzu, chapter “Dazongshi.”
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 183
repel the Tao, not using man to help out Heaven. This is what I call
the True Man.”
7
The chapter “Qiwu lun 齐物论” talked about the
Ultimate Man. The Chuang-tzu insisted on the spiritual level, which
was less present in the Huangdi neijing. The author of the latter illumi-
nated the connection of the Tao and life and the generative nature
of the Tao through the physical body. This theory was inherited by
religious Taoism and became its basis.
The Taoist School represented by the Huangdi neijing emphasized
the transcendence of body and spirit. In contrast, Chuang-tzu’s theory
of “equalizing life and death, before now and today” met with no
sympathy from this school. For instance, in the chapter “Qi jiaobian
dalun 气交变大论,” a passage of ancient scriptures was quoted to
define the Man of the Tao: “[i]t was said in the ancient scriptures:
the Man of the Tao knows Heaven, Earth, and human beings. Then
he lives long.” In the chapter “Shanggu tianzhen lun,” it says: “those
who knew the Tao in ancient times followed Yin and Yang and com-
prehended divination. They ate and slept regularly and rarely worked
themselves out. So their body and spirit were perfected. At the age of
100, they left this world after having finished their lifespan.” The Tao
was revealed internally, then in activated form, and filled their body.
This was the forerunner of the cultivation of nature and life of Taoist
inner alchemy. This theory found resonance in the Lüshi chunqiu:
The ancient who had realized the Tao lived long; then they could enjoy
limitless physical pleasures. Why? because it was pre-decided. Then
people knew how to be sparse with their energy. When autumn is pre-
cociously cool, winter will be warm. If the rain is abundant in spring,
there will be drought in summer. There is equilibrium for Heaven and
Earth, and so for the human being.
8
The different levels, spiritual or bodily, of interpretations of the “com-
munion of the Tao and life” by Taoist philosophers have been unified
in religious Taoism, especially the Taoist inner alchemy school of the
Song and Yuan dynasties. Built on the Three Origins—jing, qi, and
shen—Taoist inner alchemy emphasized the purification of the spirit
and adopted the practice of the spirit into its system. For more infor-
mation on this subject, see my JinYuan Quanzhendao xinxingxue 金元全
真道心性学 [Spiritual Cultivation in Quanzhen Taoism of the Jin and Yuan
7
Idem.
8
Lüshi chunqiu, chapter “Qingyu 情欲.”
184 zhang guangbao
Dynasties].
9
Certainly, there was a clear difference between the spiritual
cultivation of religious Taoism and the liberty of spirit of philosophical
Taoism. The radical difference consisted in the obvious influence of
Chan Buddhism in the former.
Practice of Jing and Qi, and Realization of the Tao
The omnipresent Tao exists in everything including man as a physi-
cal and limited being. If one wants to transform one’s natural given
connection to the Tao into an enlightened self-conscious presence of
the Tao, he needs a strict regimen of practice to remove the shadow
that hides the Tao and reveal its original state. This practice to realize
the Tao includes the enlightenment of the spirit and physical practice.
According to ancient philosophical Taoism, these two levels had to be
distinguished in theory, but integrated completely into one another
in practice. The reason was simple: the concrete practice relied on
the human body. Nevertheless, Taoist philosophers had a particular
point of view in regard to the human body. They took it as a biologi-
cal coherent entity and analyzed it with three basic elements: jing, qi,
and shen.
These three elements became two basic notions for philosophical
Taoism and Taoist inner alchemy. Ancient Taoist philosophers cre-
ated the notion of “jingqi” by linking jing and qi because they consid-
ered them to be one element. In the Tao Te Ching, jing was described
as the existence of the Tao: “Even though the Tao is intangible and
evasive, we are able to know it exists. Intangible and evasive, yet it has
a manifestation. Secluded and dark, yet there is a jing within it. Its jing
is very genuine. Within it we can find order.”
10
Lao-tzu used jing for
distinguishing the Tao and Vacuity. For Lao-tzu, jing was existence.
Lao-tzu described it as huanghu 恍惚, which meant “intangible and
evasive.” Thus, jing is not a descriptive scientific notion, but a tran-
scendental philosophical notion. This notion of Lao-tzu’s has directly
influenced the School of Chuang-tzu. According to the chapter “Zai-
you,” in the Chuang-tzu, jing was the substance of the Tao. Through
9
Zhang Guangbao, JinYuan Quanzhendao xinxingxue. Beijing: Sanlian shudian,
1995.
10
Tao Te Ching, chapter 21.
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 185
the practice of keeping shen and solidifying jing which filled the body,
humans can merge with the Tao by passing the mystery gate:
The essence of the Perfect Tao is deep and darkly shrouded; the extreme
of the Perfect Tao is mysterious and hushed in silence. Let there be no
seeing, no hearing; enfold the spirit in quietude and the body will right
itself. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up your
essence and then you can live a long life.
What kind of existence is jing? How did philosophical Taoism define
jing on the basis of the Tao? Some useful glimpses can be found in the
Guanzi, in the chapter “Neiye”: jing is the essence ( jing) of qi.
Dong Zhongshu considered jing and qi to synonymous in his Chunqiu
fanlu: “jing is the pure qi.”
11
Guanzi believed jing was the source of qi
and gave birth to qi:
Jing exists and is born spontaneously. Its exterior is peaceful and prosper-
ous and its great interior is the source of qi. If this source is inexhaustible,
the body will be solid and the nine orifices will be open. Then man can
travel all over the world. He will not be confused and will never meet
calamity. His mind and body are perfected. He will not confront natural
disasters or man-made calamities. He is what we call a Saint.
12
He also said:
Clean its abode with respect, and jing will come naturally. Concentrate
yourself and ease your mind. Be serious and reverent, jing will come
and reside. Get it and never let it go. Don’t be excessive in desire and
restrain your mind. Concentrate your mind in it, everything then can
be released.
13
In this passage, jing has two meanings: as the source of human life,
it has physical meaning; at the same time, it comes from outside of
and is independent of the human body. Thus, the notion of jing in the
Guanzi established the connection between physics and metaphysics.
Moreover, the theory of “jing as the source of qi” had an important
impact on ancient philosophical Taoism. The fixed notion of “jingqi”
was created on the basis of the link between jing and qi: for example,
the sentences “jingqi is collected” in the Lüshi chunqiu
14
and “man is
composed of jingqi” in the Huainan zi and the Wenzi.
11
Chunqiu fanlu, chapter “Tongguoshen 通国身.”
12
Guanzi, chapter “Neiye.”
13
Idem.
14
Lüshi chunqiu, chapter “Jingshu 尽数.”
186 zhang guangbao
The origin of the notion of “jing” was closely linked to the Tao. In
the cosmogonic pattern, “The Tao gives birth to One. One gives birth
to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three gives birth to all things,” jing
or jingqi was one of these stages. In other words, only through jingqi or
the original qi, does the Tao give birth to all things and link physics
and metaphysics. Ancient Taoist philosophers established their classi-
cal cosmogony on this basis, which was quoted in many Taoist works.
For instance, in the Heguan zi it says: “so Heaven and Earth rely on the
original qi and all things rely on Heaven and Earth. As to divinity, it
relies on virtue.”
15
Lao-tzu’s speech was quoted in the Wenzi:
before Heaven and Earth were separated, there had been mysterious
chaos. Then it became silent and pure. The heavy and impure part
formed the Earth and the fine part formed Heaven. The four seasons
were created and Yin and Yang took shape. Fine qi gave birth to human
beings, while thick qi gave birth to insects. Hard and soft were unified,
then all things were born. Jing and shen relied on Heaven; the skeleton
was rooted in the Earth. Jing and shen passed their gate, whereas the
skeleton returned to its root.
16
These passages are all a sketchy outline of “the Tao giving birth to
all things” through original qi—Heaven and Earth—all things (includ-
ing human beings). On the other hand, the author of the Huainan
zi discussed precisely the evolution of the universe from primitive to
advanced and from chaos to manifestation in annotating the following
passage from the chapter “Qiwu lun,” in the Chuang-tzu:
There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning.
There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a begin-
ning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to
be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning
to be nonbeing. What we call “there is a beginning”: enclosed things
haven’t been revealed except for a little sign. Shape hasn’t been taken.
There is chaos and change will happen. What we call “there is a not
yet beginning to be a beginning”: Celestial qi begins to go down while
terrestrial qi begins to go up. Yin and Yang are mixed and full of the
universe. Virtue is enclosed and harmony is covered. There is prosperity.
Things will be influenced but there is not yet a sign. What we call “there
is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning”:
Heaven comprises harmony but does not yet go down. The Earth com-
prises qi but does not yet rise. There is silence and loneliness between
15
Heguan zi, chapter “Tailu 泰录.”
16
Wenzi, chapter “Shishou.”
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 187
existence and non-existence. Qi goes everywhere. What we call “there is
being”: all things are prosperous. Plants grow with luxuriant foliage and
spreading branches in leafy profusion. Animals fly or walk. They can be
counted and perceived. What we call “there is nonbeing”: it is invisible.
It is inaudible. It can’t be seized. It has no limit. It is very large. It can’t
be hidden and measured. Its light can be seen everywhere. What we call
“there is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing”: it envelops Heaven and
Earth and nurtures all things. It is so large that there is nothing outside
it. It is so small that there is nothing inside it. It has no space but gives
birth to existence and non-existence. What we call “there is a not yet
beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing.”
17
We have to understand correctly the signification of “the Tao giving
birth to all things”: this birth is not what we ordinarily understand as
birth, such as a mother giving birth to her child. The birth of every
concrete thing is realized by physical separation. Genesis is possible
only when the child is separated from the matrix. Once the child is
born, he will be isolated eternally from the matrix. This is not the case
of the Tao, which is the matrix of all things and exists in them. Thus
“the Tao giving birth to all things” is just the process through which
the Tao manifests its intrinsic diversity. However, for Taoist philoso-
phers, in this process, the Tao undergoes an evolution from a fine state
to a coarse state. As the first manifestation of the Tao, jingqi is a won-
derful form of existence. Thanks to the intermediary of jingqi, all things
are born. Ancient Taoist philosophers constructed their system on the
basis of this particular notion of genesis. They didn’t mechanically
analyze things, but thought from the genesis of the Tao. According to
them, the existence of everything was based on the Tao. At the same
time, when things were separated from the Tao, they went against
it. As a conscious being, man is part of all things. Nevertheless, he is
able to interrogate the Tao and return to the Tao through practice,
thanks to its reflection. Practice must follow the proper sequence. So
practice can be realized only when it is based on jing—the original
state of the Tao.
In Taoist philosophers’ works, jing or jingqi were considered a won-
derful existence. They believed jingqi existed in everything and was
the source of vitality. A passage of the Lüshi chunqiu was dedicated
to its wonderful function of bringing the dying back to life: “[w]hen
jingqi gathers, it will work. If it works in a bird, the bird flies. If it
17
Huainan zi, chapter “Chuzhen xun 俶真训.”
188 zhang guangbao
works in a beast, the beast walks. If it works in a pearl, the pearl is
bright. If it works in a tree, the tree grows. If it works in a sage, the
sage is intelligent. The arrival of jingqi enables flying with wings, walk-
ing with feet, eat with savour, nurture with growth, enlightenment
with intelligence.”
18
We find a similar philosophy in the Guanzi, which
inspired Taoist spiritual practices:
[t]he jing of things is vital. Underneath, it created five cereals and above
it gave birth to stars. When it wanders on earth, we call it spirit. When
it enters into someone’s body, we call him a sage. It is bright like in
Heaven. It is far away like in an abyss. It is moist like in the sea. Sud-
denly it exists in the self. So this qi cannot be stopped by force, but can
be settled by virtue. It cannot be called by sound, but can be received
by music. Keep it with reverence and never lose it; that is what we call
realized virtue. When virtue is realized and intelligence is manifested, all
things can be obtained.
19
Jing or jingqi as discussed in the Lüshi chunqiu and Guanzi is a kind of
exterior existence and is the basis of the connection between the uni-
verse and all things. It exists in everything and favors prosperity. This
wonderful generative function of jing is the concrete manifestation of
the Tao, which gives birth to all things. However, jing cannot be per-
ceived by human reason and sense organs. This shared feature of jingqi
and the Tao led Taoist philosophers to describe the mysterious Tao as
mysterious jingqi. However, jingqi is different from the Tao in terms of
logos. In the original state, the unique Tao is activated from vacuity
and loneliness and the production of jingqi is the result of this process.
This is also a process of evolution from a fine state to coarse state.
Having realized this, ancient Taoist philosophers wanted to return to
the Tao through practice, transform the coarse state to a fine state,
and finally realize the Tao through enlightenment of life. This is what
we call realization of the Tao.
An all-pervasive nature has been attributed to the jing by ancient
Taoist philosophers. It was at the same time the shared matter exist-
ing throughout the universe and all things and the vital material of
human life. The latter was the physical basis of Taoist practice. But
what did ancient Taoist philosophers mean by jing? Was it different
from the external jingqi? According to the Lüshi chunqiu, Huainan zi, and
18
Lüshi chunqiu, chapter “Jingshu.”
19
Guanzi, chapter “Neiye.”
from the fundamentals of philosophical taoism 189
Wenzi, there were two meanings of jing in philosophical Taoism. The
narrow sense of jing was semen, called jing of Yan in the Mawangdui
silk manuscripts. The broad sense was the vitality of human beings or
things. For instance, in the Lüshi chunqiu it says: “running water is never
stale and a door-hinge never gets worm-eaten because they move. It’s
the same for the body and qi. If the body doesn’t move, jing will not
flow. If jing doesn’t flow, qi will be blocked.”
20
“The primordial thing
is to care for the body and keep its great treasure. Take the new and
get rid of the old, then there will be no blockage in the body. Vital
qi is new, whereas evil qi should be cleaned out, then life will be pro-
longed. That’s we call the True Man.”
21
Jing in these passages meant
jingqi, which comprised human vitality. Ancient Taoist philosophers
believed jingqi was the basis of life. Maintaining its circulation was the
precondition for health:
Everyone has 360 joints, nine orifices, five zang organs, and six fu organs.
Skin must be tight, circulation must be free, bones must be strong, the
mind must be peaceful, and jingqi must be active. Then disease will not
stay and evil will not be born. Disease and evil are caused by the block-
age of jingqi. So still water is dirty, the still tree gets worm-eaten, and still
grass becomes rotten.
22
In the Huainan zi it also says: “one commits hypocrisy because he looks
for jing externally. Jing is exhaustible, whereas action is inexhaustible.
Then the mind will be confused and the heart will err.”
23
Here, jing
meant the vitality of the human body. This kind of vitality can com-
municate with the universe’s vitality. According to the “Ten Ques-
tions” of the Mawangdui silk manuscripts, humans can acquire the
universe’s vitality through practice: “the ultimate jing of the universe
is born in no-sign, grows in no-form, is realized in no-body. He who
achieves it will live a long life; he who loses it will die prematurely.”
The author of the Wenzi believed that jing was key to transforming the
human body and surmounting life and death. He said:
Keep jing in the eyes, vision will be clear. Keep jing in the ears, hearing
will be accurate. Keep jing in the mouth, words will be relevant. Keep
jing in the mind, ideas will be active. So close four passes, there will be
20
Lüshi chunqiu, chapter “Xianji 先己.”
21
Idem.
22
Idem, chapter “Daxulan 达郁览.”
23
Huainan zi, chapter “Chuzhen xun.”
190 zhang guangbao
no worry all life long. Four limbs and nine orifices, there is neither life
nor death. That’s what we call the True Man.
24
Obviously, Wenzi believed a human could become True Man through
the practice of keeping jingqi. Taoist philosophers thought the real issue
of keeping and absorbing jing was to maintain a peaceful mind. Jingqi
is the ultimate fine existence and can be achieved by ordinary means.
Only when we ease our mind, does jingqi come naturally. The practice
of keeping jing is in fact a spiritual practice. This opinion can be found
in the Huainan zi:
For spirit and vitality, one who remains peaceful and is filled with them
every day will become strong; one who is irritated and consumes them
every day will become feeble. That is the reason why the sage nurtures
his shen, eases his qi, pacifies his body, and moves with the Tao. In peace,
he lets them go, whereas in urgency, he uses them. He lets them go as
one puts down his clothes, while he uses them as one fires his weapon.
25
Also, in the chapter “Taizu xun”:
The Tao is to keep jing inside and keep shen in the heart. In peace and
simplicity, the evil qi will not stop in the four limbs or the joints. If each
pore is open, then the machine runs smoothly and all veins and nine
orifices are harmonious. To put each spirit in its own place, is not only
the result of kneading parts of the body or trimming hair.
This passage of the Huainan zi represented the philosophical Taoist
theory: “keeping spiritual peace” was the unique way to realize the
Tao. Although Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu did not discuss the means of
sublimating jing, we can find in their writings on Taoist practices their
confirmation that one can thus realize the Tao.
In brief, as we have seen above, the notion of jingqi was open to
more than one interpretation. The first was the cosmological significa-
tion in the context of the Tao. The second meant different levels in
the human body. The jingqi in the human body could communicate
with that of the universe. This was the remarkable representation of
the Chinese own vision of transcendence and the theoretical basis for
religious Taoism, especially Taoist inner alchemy. It proved there was
an intrinsic link between philosophical and religious Taoism and that
the latter has inherited the spirit of the former.
24
Wenzi, chapter “Xiade 下德.”
25
Huainan zi, chapter “Yuandao xun.”
“FOLLOW AND OPPOSE 顺逆” IN TAOIST INNER
ALCHEMY AND ITS CONTEMPORARY INTERPRETATION
1
Ge Guolong
Introduction
The theory of Taoist inner alchemy finds its origin in Lao-tzu and
Chuang-tzu’s works. Lao-tzu’s “Empty the self and embrace peace,
return to the origin and retrieve nature” anticipates “he who follows
remains mortal, he who opposes becomes immortal.” Most Taoist inner
alchemy practitioners considered Lao-tzu as their founding master and
adopted his theory of the “return to the origin.” They took the “return
to the origin” and “who follows remains mortal, who opposes becomes
immortal” as the starting points of the theory, even though Taoist
inner alchemy was divided into southern, northern, eastern, western,
and middle schools. The study of immortals means “to refine nature
and return to the origin.”
2
Considering the importance and universal-
ity of the “follow and oppose” concepts in Taoist inner alchemy, I will
explore only the modern interpretation and theoretical basis of the
idea of the “return to the origin”.
Before examining the idea of “follow and oppose” in Taoist inner
alchemy, we should at first analyse and clarify its meaning to avoid
too literal an interpretation. “Follow” and “oppose” are not notional
words. Their exact meaning cannot be drawn from their literal inter-
pretation, but from the words and context in which they are found.
Their meanings depend on “follow what” and “oppose what.” From
the angle of the “noumenon,” there appears to be nothing to “fol-
low” or “oppose.” The thing-in-itself 物自身 is a self-such (tathātā, in
1
Due to its length, the present paper was originally published as two articles: “‘Fol-
low and Oppose’ in Taoist Inner Alchemy and its Contemporary Interpretation” was
published in 1998 in Religious Studies, No. 3, while “‘Follow and Oppose’ in Taoist
Inner Alchemy” was published in 2000 in Studies in World Religions, No. 4. But its
reduction diminished its value. Hence this article in a new form.
2
Cuigong ruyaojing zhujie 崔公入药镜注解 [Commentary on Master Cui’s Mirror on the
Admixture of Ingredients], in Hong Pimo’s Daozang qigong yaoji 道藏气功要集 [An Anthology
of Qigong in the Taoist Canon], vol. 1, p. 75, Shanghai, Shanghai shudian, 1991.
192 ge guolong
Buddhist terms) 如 and an organic whole with a universal interac-
tion. “Follow and oppose” is the value or judgment of a cognitive
person, and thus is relative. In the same frame of reference, “follow”
and “oppose” appear to be a contradiction in terms. Follow means fol-
low in one frame of reference, while oppose means oppose in another
frame of reference. But in a different frame of reference, following
something could mean oppose something else. So follow and oppose
are not necessarily a contradiction in terms. The thing-in-itself is a
synthesis of contradictions: following one thing will necessarily mean
opposing another and in the end there is no contradiction.
We will first consider “follow and oppose” in Taoist inner alchemy
then give a modern interpretation of these concepts. Here “modern
interpretation” means leaving aside the tradition of Taoist inner alchemy
to reflect on and interpret them from a modern point of view.
“Follow and Oppose” in Taoist Inner Alchemy
1.
The ultimate aim of Taoist inner alchemy is to become a deity. How-
ever, the meanings of “deity” are many and Taoism’s idea of “deity”
has evolved. The salient feature of a deity is “longevity” and “immor-
tality,” between which, however, there is a radical difference. The
“physical body” and the “formless true body” of the immortal must
be distinguished. Longevity refers to a life relatively longer than that
of common people. Forever caught in a “time frame,” it cannot attain
ultimate transcendence. Indeed, hundreds or thousands of years are
just the blink of an eye in the limitless flow of time. The immortals,
by contrast, must transcend the contradiction between life and death
to attain eternity. The Secret Instructions of Huanxu 涵虚秘旨 says “in
antiquity there existed immortal spirits (shen 神) but no immortal body.
If one’s shen is immortal, he can be called a deity.”
3
We find in the
Anthology of Central Harmony 中和集 “the main idea of the Quanzhen
School lies in the two words ‘body and heart’. . . . What I mean by
‘body and heart’ are not the physical body and heart, but the invisible
body and heart.”
4
In the Twelve Kinds of Taoist Scriptures it says that “the
3
Li Xiyue, Hanxu mizhi. Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 1990, p. 59.
4
Xu Zhaoren, Tianyuan danfa. Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 1990, p. 46.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 193
sacred embryo is formless and not physical . . . the sacred embryo is the
Dharma body within the physical body.”
5
The highest level of practice
of Taoist inner alchemy considers the “union of shen and qi,”—the
“original shen” returned to the essence of nothingness—as the highest
goal, and takes “refining jing 精 into qi,” “refining qi into shen,” and
“refining shen into xu 虚” as the steps to follow to attain the Tao. The
method to “return to the origin” in Taoist inner alchemy, from post-
existence 后天 to pre-existence 先天 was thus created.
If “becoming immortal” means “attaining eternal transcendence,”
such transcendence cannot come from mortals. There must be an onto-
logical basis of transcendence to make immortality possible. Hence the
strict distinction between “post-existence” and “pre-existence” made
by Taoist inner alchemy. “Physical beings, born after the creation of
Heaven and Earth, are not the best medicine because the physical is
inferior and is not part of the Tao of pre-existence.”
6
“Human beings,
born after the creation of Heaven and Earth, are confined between
Heaven and Earth and the physical world is mortal.”
7
The post- existent
beings are all mortals, thus cannot be the source of immortality. “So
the saint took the pre-existent unique qi as cinnabar, refined the form
into the unique qi, refined the qi into the shen, united the shen and the
Tao, and returned to the form of the formless. Hence he could tran-
scend Heaven and Earth and be independent of the rebirth.”
8
The
pre-existent unique qi is of transcendental origin. Someone who takes
the pre-existent unique qi as the material for the creation of cinna-
bar and is united with the Tao, can “transcend Heaven and Earth.”
As in the cosmological and ontological approaches, the distinction of
transcendence between “post-existence” and “pre-existence” has two
meanings. First, “pre-existence” means cosmogonical origin, the origin
of the world of phenomena. The return from “post-existence” to “pre-
existence” means the return to the origin. Second, “pre-existence”
means the ontological thing-in-itself of every phenomenon. The rever-
sion from “post-existence” to “pre-existence” means the reversion from
phenomenon to noumenon. However, in documents on Taoist inner
alchemy, the distinction between the two meanings is not so clear-cut.
For example, the meaning of “origin” includes that of “noumenon.”
5
Liu Yiming, Daoshu shierzhong. Beijing: Shumu wenxian chubanshe, 1996, p. 95.
6
Daozang qigong yaoji, vol. 1. Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1991, p. 113.
7
Ibid., p. 213.
8
Ibid., p. 214.
194 ge guolong
The origin means tracing back in time the “mother of all phenom-
ena”, while the noumenon means the logical search for the “root of all
phenomena.” However, the inherent coherence of evolution in time
and in logic means that the origin is only the noumenon. Indeed, in
the Lao-tzu, the Tao unifies the origin and the noumenon. The Tao
is at the same time the origin of everything and the transcendental
noumenon. The meaning of the noumenon in Chinese philosophy is
very subtle. It can be vague to those who analyse it and mysterious to
those who know it.
In Taoist inner alchemy, there are two main concepts which cor-
respond to the noumenon, the Tao and the xu. The comprehension
of these two concepts leads to the comprehension of other ontological
concepts like “the wuji 无极,” “the Pre-Existent Unique qi,” and “the
Great xu 太虚.”
2.
The complete evolutionary pattern of the cosmos in Taoist inner
alchemy “Form-jing-qi-shen-xu-Tao” is presented exhaustively in Tan
Qiao’s Book of Transformations 化书:
When the Tao is at rest, the xu is transformed into the shen, the shen into
the qi, and the qi into the form. When the form is created, all are stopped
in their development. When the Tao is in action, the form is trans-
formed into the qi, the qi into the shen, and the shen into the xu. When the
xu is lightened, everything starts to circulate. So ancient people looked
for the cause of impediment and circulation and found the origin of the
world. Forget the form to cultivate the qi, forget the qi to cultivate the
shen, forget the shen to cultivate the xu. The unity of the xu and the shi 实
(phenomenal reality) is called the “Great Unity 大同.”
9
The preceding paragraph sums up the two-way transformation that
takes place between the cosmological xu and shi in Taoist inner alchemy.
“The Tao at rest” represents the clockwise evolution of the cosmos
from the “xu” to the “shi”—the process through which “the Tao gives
birth to all” and “the xu is transformed into the shen, the shen into the
qi, and the qi into the form”—while “the active Tao” represents the
counterclockwise evolution of the cosmos from the “shi” to the “xu.”
This latter is the reverse process of the “return to the origin” through
9
Tan Qiao, Huashu, eds. Ding Zhenyan and Li Sizhen. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju,
1996, p. 1.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 195
“the transformation of the form into the qi, the qi into the shen, and
the shen into the xu.” The clockwise evolution leads to “the creation of
form so everything halts,” while the counterclockwise evolution leads
to “the lightening of xu so that everything starts to circulate.” This
quotation is the best commentary on the theory that “who follows
remains mortal, who opposes becomes immortal,” which explains the
essential concepts and theories of Taoist inner alchemy. We will now
elaborate on the ontological theory of “follow and oppose” in Taoist
inner alchemy.
If we take “0” to represent the level of “the Tao” and “the xu,” “1”
“the pre-existent unique qi” or the “original chaos unique qi,” “2” the
dual level of “the shen and the qi” or “the yin-yang,” and “3” the triple
level of “the jing (form), the qi, and the shen,” then the pattern “0-1-
2-3 . . . all” can represent the clockwise evolution: “The Tao gives birth
to One. One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three
gives birth to all things.” The pattern “all . . . 3-2-1-0” can represent the
counterclockwise evolution of “refining the jing into the qi, refining the qi
into the shen, and refining the shen into the xu (Tao).” I classify the
“jing,” (form) and “Tao,” (xu) in the same category, but the “form” is
cruder and inferior to the “jing” (hence the stage of refining the form
into the jing) while the “Tao” is subtler and superior to the “xu” (hence
the stage when the xu is refined into the Tao). It cannot be said there
are no differences between the “form” and the “jing,” the “Tao” and
the “xu.” The form and the jing, however, belong to the physical level,
whereas the Tao and the xu belong to the category of the formless
noumenon. They should logically be classified in the same conceptual
category because the differences between them are not so clear-cut.
The terms used in Taoist inner alchemy are not strictly logical. Early
Twofold Mystery 重玄 study placed emphasis on the “form,” leaving
aside the “jing.” A passage in the Zongxuan xiansheng wenji 宗玄先生文
集 [Collected Works of Master Zongxuan] echoes another one from the
Book of Transformations mentioned above:
The xu accumulated, then the shen was born. The shen was activated,
then the qi was engendered. The qi was solidified and gradually attached
itself to the shen until the form was created. The form was created, then
the shen lived within, the form created we call the human. So if we let it
escape and flow we are just mortals. If we return to the origin we will
become immortals. Thus we should summon perfection to refine the
form. The purified form will be unified with the qi. Refine the qi with
the Tao. The purified qi will be unified with the shen. If the body is one
196 ge guolong
with the Tao, it means the realisation of the Tao. The Tao is limitless,
how can immortals be limited?
10
This excerpt examines the union between the form and the qi. The
Book of Transformations emphasized the “transformation of the xu,” while
underscoring the “union with the Tao.” However, they are both clear
on the two directions of “follow and oppose.” The form in question is
referred to in the context of the evolution of all things: it presents no
logical difference with Taoist inner alchemy, even though the latter
underlines the jing more than the form. Only Taoist inner alchemy
emphasizes the practices in which the “form” becomes concrete in
the “jing” and therefore are more direct and more precise. The sig-
nificance of the “Tao” is clearly broader than the “xu.” The Tao in
general encompasses xu, shi, existence, and nothingness. But the same
applies to xu ontologically. They all mean the “existent context” and
the “universal interaction” of all concrete phenomena, all things come
from them and return to them. So the emphasis on the “Tao” or the
“xu” in depends only on the style of writing and the context. There is
virtually no difference. We can describe the evolution of the cosmos
in the four stages of “jing,” “qi,” “shen,” and “xu.”
“Jing, qi, shen, and xu” can be seen as a limitless series “from shi to
xu.” They embrace and set off each other. The formless origin, xu (Tao),
contains all possibilities. The clockwise evolution from the formless
“xu” to the physical world is a deciphering process from “nothingness”
to “existence” and from “xu” to “shi.” This process gradually limits the
possibilities since the more physical the stage is, the more concrete
things are. Differences are thereby created, and contradictions impede
unions. So it is a process “from shi to obstacles.” Since they can trans-
form themselves into each other, they possess an intrinsic homogeneity
and come from the same origin (Tao or xu). Nevertheless, they have
different functions in and impacts on the different stages of evolution.
Only he who attains the stage of “returning to xu” can reach a state of
vacuity, without meeting any obstacle, and thus reach transcendence.
The clockwise evolution of “0-1-2-3 . . . all” is the process from “pre-
existence to post-existence” and of “transforming xu into shi and pro-
ducing obstacles from shi.” In contrast, the counterclockwise evolution
of “all . . . 3-2-1-0” is the process from “post-existence to pre- existence”
10
Collected works of Master Zongxuan, in the Taoist Canon, vol. 39. Taiwan, Yiwen
yinshuguan, 1977, p. 31496.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 197
and of “returning to the xu from the shi and being enlightened through
the xu.” Retuning to the origin and the formless xu through coun-
terclockwise practices means returning from the limited to the lim-
itless, and then attaining transcendence and eternity. Following the
counterclockwise evolution things and humans are created in the post-
existent Tao. Opposing, they become immortals and Buddha in the
pre-existent Tao of the golden cinnabar.
11
The practice of “refining
the jing into the qi, refining qi into shen, and refining shen into xu” in
Taoist inner alchemy is nothing but the counterclockwise evolution
of “all . . . 3-2-1-0.” In the evolution of the “inter-transformation of xu
and shi,” “qi” plays the role of intermediary. Objectively, the qi is a
continuous physical existence without concrete form and resembles
the xu. At the same time, the qi is the material that constitutes all spe-
cific existences and resembles the shi. Subjectively, the human is the
synthesis of “the jing, the qi, and the shen.” The shen is the “xu” while
the body is the “shi.” Qi is the link between shen and the body and
plays an intermediary role through which shen influences the body and
the body transforms itself into shen. Thus the qi has a very important
function in Taoist inner alchemy. Indeed, its theory of “the double
cultivation of nature and life 性命, the transcendence of shen and the
body” is based on the emphasis on qi and answers the Buddhist idea
of original nature and enlightenment.
There is another cosmogonical pattern in Taoist inner alchemy:
“wuji-Taiji 太极—yin-yang—Five Agents 五行-All”. But in the herme-
neutic context of the present article, these two patterns are interchange-
able. The wuji can be considered as “0 (xu),” the Taiji “1 (pre-existent
unique qi ),” the yin-yang “2 (the two qi of yin-yang),” and the Five
Agents “3 (the jing, the qi, and the shen).” In order to be more concise,
we will leave aside the “wuji-Taiji” pattern.
3.
The objective of the present paper is not to study in detail personal
cultivation in Taoist inner alchemy. In this chapter, we will analyse
personal cultivation through “transcendence by opposition” in refer-
ence to “follow and oppose.” As mentioned above, the ontology in
Taoist inner alchemy is linked to the cultivation of “nature and life.”
11
Daozang qigong yaoji, vol 1. Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1991, p. 165.
198 ge guolong
The laws of the cosmos are also those of human life in Taoist inner
alchemy. The growth of human life follows the clockwise evolution
“from pre-existence to post-existence.” Taoist inner alchemy observes
human life from the birth of the embryo and compares it with the
evolution of the cosmos. According to Taoist inner alchemy, in cor-
respondence with the evolution of “0 (xu)-1 (pre-existent qi )-2 (qi of
yin-yang)-3 ( jing, qi, and shen),” human life originates from the Great
xu. The father’s semen and the mother’s blood are combined in xu into
the pre-existent qi. Jing, qi, and shen in the embryo combine to make a
human being. Nature and life are united and placed in the pre-existent
stage. Then the embryo grows. Shen and qi are separated and emerge
from the embryo after ten months. This is what we call the boundary
between pre-existence and post-existence. The pre-existent qi is hidden
in the navel and then the breath of the post-existent qi is born. The
pre-existent shen is hidden in the heart and then the post-existent shen
of feeling, desire, and knowledge is born. Before birth, qi is ample and
the embryo is complete. The form moves and the embryo splits, like
rocks rolling down the mountain with a loud sound when they touch
the ground. Nature and life are thus separated. Henceforth, they do
not come together again.
12
Pre-existence is from then on transformed
into post-existence. At sixteen, jing, qi, and shen attain their climax.
After that, desire becomes exuberant, strange thinking develops, and
jing disperses while shen is deficient. So humans grow old and eventu-
ally die. That is the clockwise evolution of the natural life of human
beings. In contrast, all the self-cultivation in Taoist inner alchemy is
based on the counterclockwise practices from post-existence to pre-
existence, so the jing is not dispersed from the body and will be refined
into qi. Shen and qi will be united and shen will be refined into xu.
The ordinary clockwise evolution includes physiology (life) and
psychology (nature). These two aspects are interrelated in reciprocal
causality. It is the physiological dissipation of life’s energy ( jing and
qi ). According to Taoist inner alchemy the energy of human life is
limited. Its quantity determines human vitality. Taoist inner alchemy
emphasizes the sublimation of “natural energy.” The energy of life
can be taken as “natural energy” in a broad sense. Humans are born
from “nature.” “Jing” is thus closely linked to semen, which is also the
12
Xu Zhaoren, Jindan jicheng 金丹集成. Beijing: China Remin University Press,
1990, p. 55.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 199
“essence” in the body. The practice of life 命功, of refining jing into
qi, is essentially the sublimation of this “natural energy.” On the other
hand, it is also a self-centered process of socialization. Humans forever
seek the satisfaction of their desires, particularly sexual desire. “Desire
remains in the mind, which is a slave to fame and wealth. Schemes and
intrigues emerge endlessly.”
13
The “practice of nature 性功,” which
consists in refining shen into xu is essentially the natural cultivation of
“turning away from feelings to return to nature.” “The original shen
is pre-existent nature. It takes form when physical nature comes into
being. The nature of the world will be preserved if we know how to go
against this process.”
14
Sexual desire is the post-existent epistemic shen,
also called physical nature, while the original shen is called pre-existent
nature. The core of the “practice of nature” is nothing but the return
from the epistemic shen to the original shen and from physical nature
to pre-existent nature. Accordingly, the counterclockwise practice for
becoming immortal in Taoist inner alchemy combines “the practice
of nature” and “the practice of life.” Physiology influences psychology,
while the cultivation of life is the basis of the cultivation of nature.
Psychology influences physiology, while the cultivation of nature leads
to the cultivation of life.
When common people refer to “follow and oppose” in the “practice
of nature,” their view tends to “take substance from the outside” and
their thinking turns to the outside. They have only the object of con-
sciousness in mind and take it as an entity. In contrast, the practice of
Taoist inner alchemy gives preference to “returning to the inner side
and penetrating xu.” It does not concern itself with any object of con-
sciousness and integrates itself into the limitless “consciousness of xu,”
which is the origin of consciousness at one with the Tao. The practice
of nature is the reversion from the obsession with the substance of con-
sciousness to xu, the return to the infinity of nature. If qi is the physical
medium created from the reciprocal transformation of xu and shi, in
the practice of Taoist inner alchemy the application of consciousness
is the fundamental mechanism that enables the counterclockwise evo-
lution to proceed. The common element of all the practices is deter-
mined by the active application of consciousness. “The practice of the
13
Xu Zhaoren, Xiantian paijue 先天派决. Beijing: China Remin University Press,
1990, p. 27.
14
Wang Mu, Wuzhenpian qianjie 悟真篇浅解. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990, p. 231.
200 ge guolong
heart is the primordial way of all the saints and immortals.”
15
The
“cultivation of nature” is no doubt the direct practice of consciousness
as well as the “cultivation of life,” which works through the observa-
tion of consciousness. All the secrets of the practice of nature are, in
brief, nothing more than vacuity and calmness.
So according to the practice of the Taoist inner alchemy, the evo-
lution of the ordinary person is “the dispersion of jing and the loss of
shen.” Broadly speaking, it includes all physical and spiritual activities
like selfishness and distraction, careerism, the seeking of a life of plea-
sure, all of which weaken jing and deplete shen by meeting the demands
of desire. The counterclockwise evolution to immortality strives to keep
jing and shen, and to obey the instinctive desire by giving up everything.
The eyes see nothing, the ears hear nothing. The shen and the form
fuse while the body and the heart are unified. Finally, we return to the
origin, are unified with the Tao, and attain transcendence.
“Follow and Oppose” in Taoist Inner Alchemy and Its Contemporary
Interpretation
1.
Hao Qin wrote in Longhudandao Daojiao neidanshu 龙虎丹道—道教内
丹术 [The Taoism of the Cinnabar of Dragon and Tiger—The Taoist Inner
Alchemy] that
Taoism claims that “the Tao follows the way of itself,” which means fol-
lowing the natural laws. However, the main point in the study of Immor-
tals and Taoist inner alchemy is the study of longevity and immortality.
That means “opposing to become immortal,” the exact opposite of the
natural Tao. This is not only the core ontological theory of Taoist inner
alchemy, but also the contribution of Taoist inner alchemy to the impor-
tant reform and breakthrough in the traditional Taoist ideology.
16
Many people believe that the theory of “opposing to become immortal”
in Taoist inner alchemy is in opposition to that of “the Tao following
the way of itself.” This is why they criticized the illusion of becom-
ing immortal. As explained above, however, there exists an inherent
15
Huang Yuanji, Leyutang yulu 乐育堂语录, p. 692. In Zangwai daoshu (Extra-
Canonical Taoist Texts), vol. 5. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1994.
16
Hao Qin, Longhudandao Daojiao neidanshu. Chengdu: Sichuan People’s Publishing
House, 1994, p. 180.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 201
coherence between the theory of “opposing to become immortal” and
the theory of “the Tao following the way of itself.”
“The Tao following the way of itself ” means following not the
nature of human desire but the nature of the Tao, despite human
selfishness and alienation. In the highly socialized and material life,
humans have developed the “strong ego” necessary to human growth,
because with a child’s innocence a human being could not possibly
adapt to society. However, a human encounters hardships and trou-
ble. The harmony between the human body and the mind is lost. An
opposition has arisen between man and nature, humans and society,
and humans and their ego. The ensuing woe must be addressed within
society at large. Taoism, by observing the alienation caused by human
socialization, tries to return to nature, the source of the Tao. But this
road to the origin cannot be reached naturally by ordinary people. It
is not a gift of nature but an achievement through spiritual practice.
This is a journey to go beyond oneself, a conscious evolution, which
perfectly illustrates the meaning of the “counterclockwise practice to
become immortal” in Taoist inner alchemy.
As mentioned above, the objective of all the cultivation in Tao-
ist inner alchemy is to attain non-action 无为 and be unified with
the Tao. Vacuity, calm, and nature are at the heart of cultivation in
Taoist inner alchemy. They do not contradict the counterclockwise
practice to become immortal. “The Tao following the way of itself ”
is the language on the “application level” that emphasizes the Tao-
ist practice of the reversion to consciousness from shi to xu and from
you to wu, while the “counterclockwise practice to become immortal”
expresses the “existence level.” This existence level is the evolution
directed against the un-nature of ordinary people who “follow their
human proclivity and go against the Tao,” while the followers of the
School of Immortality “follow the Tao and oppose the human.” So
the objective of the “counterclockwise practice to become immortal”
is only “the Tao following the way of itself.” However, philosophical
Taoism only points theoretically in the direction of Taoist practice,
while Taoist inner alchemy constructs a comprehensive system on the
idea of the “return to the origin.”
People may wonder how Taoist inner alchemy could elaborate this
idea of “the refining of jing into qi, qi into shen, and shen into xu,” based
on “action 有为” and full of the “artificialness,” which can be called
“the Tao following the way of itself.” In fact if “the return to the xu and
non-action” remain the ultimate objective of Taoist inner alchemy, the
202 ge guolong
latter insists that the human is the synthesis of body and mind. The
human mind is limited by the body. Man’s thought is induced by his
body and therefore seeks illusion. How can human beings attain the
spiritual return to the xu? To do so, they must surpass the boundar-
ies of their body before attaining spiritual transcendence, hence the
emphasis laid by Taoist inner alchemy on the practice of nature and
life, the mind and the body. For Taoist inner alchemy, action in the
practice of life is to attain non-action in the practice of nature. The
necessity of action originates in the very limits of the physical body. If
humans had enough wisdom to attain the level of non-action and the
return to the xu directly, all the cultivation of action would be need-
less. It is the high-level practice of Taoist inner alchemy that teaches
how to return to xu and enter the Tao directly. Chen Yingning dis-
tinguished the cultivation of the Tao and the ‘refinement of cinnabar’
(alchemy). He who practices the Tao can successfully return to pre-
existent nature and life from the post-existent shen and qi. There is no
need to mention lead and mercury here. Only the cinnabar method of
the three unities underlines them.
17
The method to return to xu level
of natural non-action in Taoist inner alchemy may differ from that
of philosophical Taoism, but that does not mean the “counterclock-
wise practice to become immortal” and “the Tao following the way
of itself ” are complete opposites. As mentioned above, the concept of
“follow and oppose” cannot be understood literally. On the level of
coherent non-action and the great Tao, there are neither following nor
opposing; following and opposing should be surpassed.
2.
In his introduction to An Essay on Cosmological Unity, Tang Yijie said
“human cognition of the universe should start with the unity of the
chaos, by going through the separation between the human and nature
to finally reach holographic unity.”
18
Zhang Shiying also made a dis-
tinction in Tianren zhiji 天人之际 [Between Heaven and Human] between
two kinds of unity of Heaven and man 天人合一. One is the chaotic
unity of Heaven and man before the separation of subjectivity and
objectivity. Another is the high-level unity of Heaven and man after
17
Chen Yingning, Daojiao yu yangsheng. Beijing: Huawen chubanshe, 1989, p. 184.
18
Wang Cunzhen and Yan Chunyou, Yuzhou quanxi tongyi lun. Jinan: Shandong
renmin chubanshe, 1995.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 203
the separation of subjectivity and objectivity. Which one is the objec-
tive of Taoist inner alchemy? Is it to “regress” to the original chaotic
state or “evolve” to the higher level of harmony? The first state is
the state of nature, according to Feng Youlan, whereas the second is
the state of the world. So is the “return to the origin” in Taoist inner
alchemy the former or the latter?
Feng Youlan wrote, in Xinyuanren 新原人 [The New Origins of Human-
ity], “man in the ‘world’ state knows he is in the ‘world’ state while
man in the ‘nature’ state does not know it . . . . The Taoist point of view
was not clear because they often confused the state of the world with
the state of nature, and the original chaos of man in the state of nature
and the unity of man and things in the state of the world.”
19
Feng You-
lan said that philosophical Taoism confused the state of nature and the
state of the world because he believed that philosophical Taoism used
the word “reversion” to explain the “return to the origin” and did
not distinguish them in terms of logic. However, modern philosophers
want to understand their predecessors using their own logic. The fact
that the latter did not make the distinction does not mean they have
not comprehended the world. The language used by philosophical
Taoism and Taoist inner alchemy was not that of logic but was called
“the phenomenology of the practice of the Tao 修道现象学.” Not
only its expression of the distinction was insufficient, it also remains
obscure. In our analysis “follow and oppose” are relative terms, as are
“evolution” and “reversion,” depending on the context in which they
are used. The language of the practice of the Tao is a language of wis-
dom full of paradoxes. Unlike scientific language, consisting of theories
based on facts, it is a language of self-cultivation, which represents
the truth of the “application level”: “Its clockwise words always seem
counterclockwise” and “its wisdom always seems stupidity.” Its objec-
tive is not to give you rational knowledge but to lead you to attain
the level of the cultivation of the Tao. The “counterclockwise practice
to become immortal” and “the Tao following the way of itself ” are
not opposites. The “return to the origin” is not synonymous with the
regression to the original natural state, but the evolution to the high-
level unity of Heaven and man. We will now expand on that.
19
Feng Youlan, “Xinyuanren,” in Sansongtang quanji 三松堂全集, vol. 4. Zheng-
zhou: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1986, p. 636.
204 ge guolong
At first, the human grows out of the chaos of the natural state. The
human is never able to return to the lost Eden. “Human evolution is
based on the fact that man has lost his original place—nature and he
can never return, never go back to his animal form.”
20
Man is social-
ized and cannot go back to the original chaos unless he becomes a fool
and an animal. Human evolution gives man reason, without which
he cannot survive. So strictly speaking, the state of nature is a logical
starting point, but has no real existence in actual society. You can no
longer find a human being living in a total state of nature.
He who wants to return to the state of nature needs to transcend
himself. He is more rational than ordinary people. He feels the pain
of the separation and seeks higher harmony. The psychoanalyst Erich
Fromm said “all religions look for a synthesis—that does not mean
the return to the pre-individual and pre-consciousness chaos of Eden,
but a synthesis on a new level. . . . The premise of this synthesis is the
full development of human reason.”
21
How can man want to return
to nature to seek a synthesis if he has not been aware of the contra-
diction and the dilemma of existence? Taoist inner alchemy not only
represents a quest for a synthesis but also has created a method built
through long-standing research to reach it. It would be inconceivable
if the high consciousness of synthesis were not realized. By using the
language of self-cultivation, we can say the “regressing” practice of
the subjective return to the origin is objectively the “evolution” to the
higher life state. The return to the xu and transcendence of Taoist
inner alchemy is not “degeneration” to the original chaos, but “evolu-
tion” to the unity of Heaven and man.
3.
“In the whole of nature, the question of human existence is unique.
Human beings left nature but they are still part of it. They are part
god, part animal, partly limited and partly limitless. For them, the
need to resolve the many contradictions of life, and to seek an increas-
ing state of unity with nature is the source of human spiritual quest,
20
Huang Songjie, Fuluomu zhuzuo jingxuan 弗洛姆著作精选. Shanghai: Shanghai
renming chubanshe, 1989, p. 273.
21
Erich Fromm, Chanzong yu jingshen fenxi 禅宗与精神分析, trans. Wang Leiquan
et al. Guiyang: Guizhou renmin chubanshe, 1998, p. 113.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 205
passion, love, and anxiety.”
22
Psychoanalysts have discovered that
the human psychological world is very complex, with its numerous
intrinsic contradictions and conflicts originating from the human con-
science. Human beings are born as part of nature. But human beings
were separated from nature when they emerged from their natural
animal state and became alienated from nature. That is the prob-
lem of human evolution. The human ultimate impetus to live and the
final objective of religion are to look for higher levels of unity with
nature and go beyond themselves to evolve toward limitless harmony.
Man is a miracle. When human beings awoke and became aware of
the “self,” its mortal and limited existence in the vast universe,” they
realized their own “nonentity.” All the pursuits and desires in life are
fatal attempts to reach “nonentity,” to return to it. “Life is born of
nonentity and will return to it.”
23
Everything is impermanent. Where
does the meaning lie? All religions are born from the question of “life
and death.” The key to this question is that man can transcend himself
and overcome his own limits. Who would feel the “nonentity” when
human beings return to the origin of the limitless universe from which
they were born, and where the self dissolves? When man is integrated
into nonentity and the limitless universe, he reaches transcendence
and eternity.
The most important discovery made by psychoanalysis in the twen-
tieth century was that of the “unconscious mind.” The human mind
is not just the small segment seen on the surface. Beneath it there is
a fathomless source. Nature is completely unconscious, while man is
only partially conscious. Human behavior is not totally conscious.
Man’s limitless unconscious mind, concealing potential resources, has
not been fully exploited. However, man has been self-centered and
has forgotten his true nature. The practice of Taoist inner alchemy is
the exploitation of limitless human potential, the evolution from partly
conscious human to completely conscious human, and the full bloom
of human spiritual life! As mentioned above, the return to the origin
in Taoist inner alchemy does not mean going back to original chaos,
or chaotic unconsciousness, but evolving into complete consciousness.
The “vacant consciousness 虚意识” is limitless consciousness and pure
22
Huang Songjie, Fuluomu zhuzuo jingxuan. Shanghai: Shanghai renming chubanshe,
1989, p. 274.
23
Silivio Fanti, Weijingshen fenxi xue 微精神分析学, trans. Shang Heng. Beijing:
Sanlian Publishing Company, 1993, p. 17.
206 ge guolong
non-objectified consciousness, which is not filled with any conscious
objects. The universe is full of this pure consciousness.
The human consciousness has boundless possibilities. Taoist inner
alchemy, differs from psychoanalysis, which emphasizes the treatment
of the psyche, aiming at transcendence, and is based on the possibility
of becoming immortal and the promotion of life. It is not based on the
human level, to answer human questions, but on the immortal level,
to reflect on the possibility of human evolution toward the ultimate
transcendence.
The freeing of human beings should be on the social and economic
levels as well as on the level of the basic questions of life. The social
level consists of seeking democracy and freedom, the economic level
the satisfaction of material life, and the life level the resolution of the
contradiction between human life and human pain (like birth, age-
ing, illness, and death). Taoist inner alchemy consists of resolving the
intrinsic questions of life, looking for the ultimate relief, and fulfilling
the potential of human life. It hardly touches upon social problems but
underscores “how to become immortal.”
Conclusion
In Chinese philosophy, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism all
seek to “transcend life.” The Confucian saint, the Taoist immortal,
and Buddha all embody in a sense the self-cultivation of the “return
to the origin” they all cultivate. So the present article is a general
discussion and “follow and oppose” is a general philosophical ques-
tion. It is written in the Buddhist sutra Dasheng qixin lun 大乘起信论:
“by following this unique spiritual method we will open two doors.
Why two? The first is the door to spiritual tathātā while the second is
the door to spiritual life and death.”
24
The door to spiritual life and
death is the “clockwise” moving door of life and death whereas the
door of spiritual tathātā is the “counterclockwise” door of the nirvana,
the spiritual tathātā. Buddhist self-cultivation can be summed up as
“the transformation of the puzzle into the awakening.” By following
the “two attachments of the self and the dharma” we will have the
“puzzle” of ignorance, whereas by following the “two emptinesses of
24
Gao Zhennong, Dasheng qixin lun lunshi 大乘起信论校释. Beijing: Zhonghua
shuju, 1992, p. 16.
“follow and oppose 顺逆” in taoist inner alchemy 207
the human and the dharma,” we will reach the “awakening” of the
bodhi. Compared with the difficulty met by ordinary people, Buddhist
self-cultivation also means to “come back to understand the truth” and
return to the origin of vacuity. Mou Zongsan believed that the “one
spiritual method to open two doors” in the Dasheng qixin lun had great
significance. He wrote: “we can consider it as a common model which
can be applied in a general way.”
25
This model created the phenom-
enon and the noumenon, two worlds that include the sacred and the
ordinary, two levels comprising all the ultimate philosophical proposi-
tions. We can also consider the question of “follow and oppose” as a
general model in order to give it more significance.
Broadly speaking, science looks for the “truth” in the “object” in
the external material world. That is what we call “clockwise.” Religion
looks for the “state” of the “subject” in the spiritual world. That is
what we call “counterclockwise.” The state of “existence” is clockwise,
whereas the state of “non-existence” is counterclockwise. Contempo-
rary human civilization is dominated by science. People look for the
truth in the external world and material well-being, insisting on the
external world of “existence.” People take the physical material world
as true. They cannot perceive the religious world and the Taoist world,
thus they consider them to be illusions. In fact, substance coexists with
vacuity, the same applies in the world of “existence” and the world of
“non-existence.” The material world is substance and “existence” while
the spiritual world is vacuity and “non-existence.” “Existence,” com-
prising vacuity, is no ordinary “existence,” while “non-existence,”
comprising “existence,” is not really “non-existence.” The material
comprises the spiritual on one side and the spiritual comprises the
material on another. “Existence” and “non-existence” should be uni-
fied to compose a complete world.
While on a clockwise quest, why should not people revert to the
original counterclockwise?
25
Mou Zongsan, Zhongguo zhexue shijiujiang 中国哲学十九讲. Shanghai: Shanghai
guji chubanshe, 1997, p. 274.
THE QUANZHEN SCHOOL AND THE CULTURE
OF QILU REGION
1
Mou Zhongjian
Developed in the north under the Jin and Yuan dynasties, Quanzhen
was a new Taoist School. It sprouted in Shaanxi, was founded in
Shandong, and finally spread all over China. Its creation and pros-
perity brought far-reaching innovation to Taoism, extensive changes
to Taoist basic beliefs, symbolized a new stage in its development,
was decisive in its evolution, and exerted a profound influence over
Chinese society and culture.
Quanzhen was the joint product of the cultures of the Guanlong
and Qilu regions. If we compare its founder Wang Chongyang to
a seed, cultivated in the culture of the Guanlong region, the culture
of the Qilu region could be compared to the fertile soil in which the
Quanzhen School germinated and grew. It then developed rapidly.
The Quanzhen Seven Masters were all natives of the Jiaozhou region
(Ninghai, Dengzhou, and Laizhou prefectures). They helped Wang
Chongyang establish the new school and made the Jiaodong region its
cradle. This was not accidental, but was brought on by the historical
and cultural context of the times.
Innovations in Taoist Philosophy Initiated by Wang Chongyang
The history of the development of Taoism can be broadly divided
into an earlier and a later stage. The earlier stage was represented
by Ge Hong, who lived under the Western and Eastern Jin dynasties
and sought longevity. In that stage, Taoists were aiming to “main-
tain intact one’s own original body” and “reinforce it with external
means.” The practice representing that stage involved Taoist alchemy,
using talismans and sacrifices. The Sui and Tang dynasties marked
the watershed between the earlier stage and the later stage, which
1
Published originally in the Qilu wenhua yanjiu 齐鲁文化研究. Jinan: Qilu shushe,
2003, no. 2.
210 mou zhongjian
was represented by the Twofold Mystery study developed by Cheng
Xuanying and Li Rong. The idea of the “immortality of the body”
was abandoned and spiritual transcendence became the focal point
after Taoism had absorbed Buddhist philosophy. At the same time,
Taoist laboratory alchemy underwent a decline, whereas Taoist inner
alchemy was gaining momentum. The later stage was represented
by Wang Chongyang and Qiu Chuji of the Quanzhen School who
inherited the Taoist inner alchemy from Chen Tuan and Zhang Bo-
duan of the Five Dynasties and the Song dynasty. They also created
a new Taoist theory discarding the immortality of the body and turn-
ing to the conservation of “real nature” and spiritual salvation. The
main concerns of the Taoists at that stage were “real nature in peace”
and “becoming immortal with one’s yang spirit, yangshen 阳神.” The
most representative practice of this stage was the “Double Cultivation
of the Body and the Spirit” in Taoist inner alchemy. Wang Chong-
yang and Qiu Chuji not only possessed creativity, but also knew how
to communicate and organize to make their school prosper. Later,
even though Taoism was divided into the Quanzhen and the Zhengyi
Schools, the former played a greater role. Among the Quanzhen Tao-
ist branches, the Longmen Branch 龙门派, founded by Qiu Chuji,
was the most representative. It has evolved until the present day.
Thus, Wang Chongyang and Qiu Chuji rank highly in Taoism and
Chinese culture.
The innovation brought about by Wang Chongyang concerned the
following aspects:
1. Transforming Taoism from a Religion that Worshipped Deities
into the Way of Spiritual and Physical Salvation
In a society where talismans, sacrifices, and Taoist alchemy were very
popular, Wang Chongyang tried to elevate Taoist theory to the level of
Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu’s philosophies and to transform Taoism from
a religion based on magic and rituals into a holistic spiritual practice.
He advocated naturalism built on a calm, peaceful, and healthy life.
This proposition is expressed in his poem “look for the transcendence
in desire and wealth and seek elevation in rich food.”
2
He explicitly
2
Chongyang quanzhen ji 重阳全真集, juan 1. This text and those quoted below are all
found in the Taoist Canon: see Zhonghua daozang. Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 2004,
vols. 26 and 27.
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 211
put forth the concept of “transcendence” in the context of the Chinese
language and asked people to let go of their daily worries caused by
fame, gain, and desire so as to attain spiritual peace and freedom,
which are the manifestation of “real nature (real self ).” He believed
longevity in Taoism meant the immortality of real nature, not the
immortality of the body, saying: “real nature will not be disturbed and
all karmas will not be blocked. Come not; go not, that is what we call
longevity and immortality.”
3
“How stupid is the man who looks for
immortality and wants to leave the world.”
4
This was a great change
in Taoist philosophy. Xu Yan of the Yuan dynasty indicated in Hao
zongshi daoheng bei 郝宗师道行碑 [Stele of the Taoist Life of Master Hao]
that Taoism had gradually lost sight of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu’s orig-
inal purpose. After Wang Chongyang founded the Quanzhen School,
which focused on discovering nature and the heart, discarding desires
and emotions, enduring disgrace, and sacrificing oneself for others, the
Tao of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu became the focal point once again.
Indeed, Wang Chongyang turned to the concepts of “respecting the
Tao and honoring Virtue” and “the Tao that imitates Nature,” found
in philosophical Taoism, with the feelings of a religionist who wanted
to save the world.
2. Promoting the Syncretism of the Three Religions
From the Tang and Song dynasties onward, the syncretism of Con-
fucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism was enhanced. However, Taoism
insisted on the difference between the three religions. Wang Chong-
yang supported the syncretism of the three religions on the ideas
of equality and fraternity. He wrote: “the three religions all revolve
around the real Tao, just like the three branches of a tree.”
5
He urged
people to recite the Buddhist classic Bore xinjing 般若心经 [Heart of
Perfect Wisdom Sutra], the Taoist classic Tao Te Ching, and the Confu-
cian classic Xiaojing. In the Jiaodong region he created five popular
Taoist congregations and all bore the name of “three religions,” for
instance, the “Congregation of the Seven Treasures of the Three Reli-
gions,” the “Congregation of the Jade Flower of the Three Religions,”
and the “Congregation of the Equality of the Three Religions.” He
3
Chongyang shou danyang ershisi jue 重阳授丹阳二十四诀.
4
Chongyang lijiao shiwu lun 重阳立教十五论.
5
Chongyang zhenren jinguan yusuo jue 重阳真人金关玉锁诀.
212 mou zhongjian
believed “equality is the basis of the Tao and Virtue and the origin of
Purity and Peace.”
6
He considered equality superior to all and advo-
cated dealing with the three religions and all beings with equality and
benevolence.
3. Double Cultivation of the Body and the Spirit and the Precedence
of the Spirit over the Body
The “Double Cultivation of the Spirit” was the fundamental principle
of the Quanzhen School and was called the real art. The combination
of the real art and real practice—like sacrificing oneself for others,
doing good, and accumulating virtue—was the only way to become
immortal. The art of the spirit consisted in psychological training and
the cultivation of shen, while the art of the body consisted in physi-
cal training and the cultivation of qi. Zhang Boduan of the South-
ern Quanzhen School insisted that “the body had precedence over
the spirit,” whereas Wang Chongyang insisted that “the spirit had
precedence over the body.” He believed that “the body is second-
ary to the spirit, which is essential.”
7
The cultivation of the spirit also
included the cultivation of the body and the main purpose was to
“keep pure and peaceful in the mind for only that deserves to be
called cultivation.”
8
From then on, the Taoist inner alchemy of the
Quanzhen School largely absorbed the Heart and Nature study of
Confucianism and Buddhism to expand the “Double Cultivation of
the Body and the Spirit.”
The Real Cradle of Quanzhen: Three Cities of the Jiaodong Region
Through long-term practice and meditation, at the age of about 50,
Wang Chongyang finally perceived the essence of Quanzhen. Then he
preached in his native city. He built the “Tomb of the Living Dead,”
installing his name tablet as “Crazy Wang” and devoting himself to
practice for three years in order to attract people’s attention. After
that, he built a temple in Liujiang village where he continued to prac-
tice. In six or seven years, he made several Taoist friends and accepted
several disciples. Although they wanted to help him develop his religious
6
“Sanzhou wuhui huayuan bang 三州五会化缘榜,” in Chongyang jiaohua ji 重阳
教化集, juan 3.
7
Chongyang shou danyang ershisi jue, juan 1.
8
Chongyang jiaohua ji, juan 3.
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 213
school they had no power to do so. So Wang Chongyang burnt the
temple and went east to look for new followers.
Why wasn’t the Guanlong region, where Taoism was profoundly
rooted, able to help Wang Chongyang develop his religion and attract
disciples? It was largely due to local conservatism, which discouraged
Taoists from welcoming new ideas. Taoism in the Zhongnan Moun-
tain region flourished under the Sui and Tang dynasties as the start-
ing point of the Louguan Taoist School. From the Song dynasty until
the Jin dynasty, this school, which dominated local Taoism, instituted
ever stricter rules, which was unfavorable to the creation of a new
school. Although there were eminent masters of Taoist inner alchemy,
such as Chen Tuan and Liu Haichan, they were interested in per-
sonal meditation rather than public preaching. So local people knew
little about Taoist inner alchemy and the region was not favorable
to Wang Chongyang’s wish to promote his new school. A well-read
erudite, Wang Chongyang believed he could find followers in Shan-
dong, where Taoism was traditionally popular, hence his choice of
the Jiaodong region to develop his school. He wrote in his poem “Ti
Zhongnanshan Zishenggong 题终南山资圣宫” (Composed in the
Zisheng temple in the Zhongnan Mountains): “Zhongnan Mountain,
Chongyang zi, leaving the Difei Mountain and the capital, passing by
Lantian, Huayue, entering Nanjing (that is, modern Kaifeng), traveling
to the islands, meeting good friends, and arriving at Penglai Island.”
This itinerary decided his future career.
The Bohai bay region was one of the birthplaces of Chinese Tao-
ism. The constant mirages (on the sea), the flickering (immortals’ )
islands, and the navigational adventure off its coast aroused people’s
curiosity and admiration. In the chapter “Fengshan shu 封禅书” of
the Shiji it says:
Kings Wei and Xuan of Qi and King Zhao of Yan have sent emissaries
to look for the mountains Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou in the sea.
These three sacred mountains are said to be in the Bo Sea. When people
want to approach it, wind will push their boat away. Those who reach it
say there are immortals and elixir there. The animals are all white; the
palaces are made of gold and silver. When people see them from afar,
they resemble clouds. Approaching, people find they are in fact deep in
the water. When people want to land, wind pushes their boat away and
it is impossible to set foot on these mountains.
After these kings, it was Qinshihuang’s turn to send Xu Fu, a native
of the Qi region, with boys and girls to look for immortals who had
disappeared forever in the sea. Qinshihuang also traveled to Cheng
214 mou zhongjian
Mountain, Zhifu Mountain, and Jieshi, hoping to meet immortals and
find elixir. Emperor Wu of Han was eager to become an immortal.
The magicians he trusted, like Li Shaojun, Le Shaowen, Luan Da,
and Gongsun Qing, were all natives of the Qi region. The popular
worship of immortals in the Qin and Han dynasties later became the
core of Taoism. The Tianguan li baoyuan taiping jing 天官历包元太平经
invented by Gan Zhongke of the Qi region and the Taiping qingling shu
太平清领书 transmitted by Gan Ji and Gong Chong of the Langya
region were early Taoist classics. Moreover, the Huanglao study
of the Guanzhong School, that belonged to the culture of Qi, and
the Yin and Yang study created by Zhou Yan gave life to Taoism and
helped it thrive. In the Jiaodong region, the resources were rich
and accessible; education was developed; Confucianism, Buddhism,
and Taoism were popular; there were many literati; and the tradition
was not conservative. All these conditions were favorable to the devel-
opment of a new Taoist School.
Hardly three years after his creation of the new school in the
Jiaodong region, Wang Chongyang attracted many young Taoists
thanks to the school’s convenient location and his preaching strategy.
Among them, there were seven qualified disciples: Ma Yu (Danyang),
Tan Chuduan (Changzhen), Qiu Chuji (Changchun), Liu Chuxuan
(Changsheng), Hao Datong (Guangyu), Wang Chuyi (Yuyang), and
Sun Buer (Qingjing). Their class origins, experiences, and reasons for
converting to Taoism differed. They were all gifted; longed for tran-
scendence; had been influenced by the culture of the Qilu region and
by Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism; and worked hard. Their
charisma enabled them to enhance the reputation of the Quanzhen
School. It would not have come into existence but for Wang Chong-
yang and the Seven Masters.
In the seventh month of the seventh year of the Dading reign of
the Jin dynasty (AD 1167), Wang Chongyang erected a temple for
Ma Yu’s family, which he used for preaching and which he named the
Quanzhen Temple. This was the first time that the name Quanzhen
was given to his school. Thereafter, he also preached in the Yanxia
Cavern on Kunlun Mountain and the Jiangshi Temple of Wendeng.
At the same time, with the help of his seven disciples, Wang Chong-
yang created the five popular Taoist congregations in the three pre-
fectures (of Eastern Shandong). In the eighth month of the eighth year
of the Dading reign of the Jin dynasty (AD 1168), the “Congregation
of Seven Treasures of Three Religions” was created in Jinghai. In
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 215
the eighth month of the ninth year of the Dading reign of the Jin
dynasty (AD 1169), the “Congregation of the Golden Lotus of Three
Religions” was created in Jinghai. In the ninth month of the same
year, the “Congregation of the Three Lights of the Three Religions”
and “Congregation of the Jade Flower of the Three Religions” were
created in Dengzhou. In the tenth month, the “Congregation of the
Equality of the Three Religions” was created in Laizhou. These con-
gregations attracted more than one thousand followers. Thence, the
Quanzhen School had a founder, fundamental doctrines, members,
an official organization, rules, and a number of followers, which all
were essential to the creation of a great religion. The foundation of
the five popular Taoist congregations in the three prefectures marked
the rise of the Quanzhen School, which benefited from the conjunc-
tion of favorable factors: the war period of the Jin and Yuan dynasties,
which was propitious for the creation of a new Taoist School, a good
location, the Taoist tradition in the Jiaodong region, and the support
of people, and finally the encounter between Wang Chongyang and
his seven disciples.
The Jiaodong Region as the Starting Point of the Quanzhen School
After the creation of his new school in the Jiaodong region, Wang
Chongyang, accompanied by Ma Yu, Tan Chuduan, Qiu Chuji, and
Liu Chuxuan, spared no effort to preach in Henan and Shaanxi. He
was conscious that the Jiaodong region, despite its favorable conditions
for Taoism, was a marginal area in terms of politics, economy, and
culture. In order to spread the teachings of the Quanzhen School, he
had to preach in the central region of China. Henan, whose ancient
name had been Zhongzhou, was a pivotal region, while Shaanxi
remained, from the Han dynasty onward, the center of politics, where
the economy and culture were highly developed. Even after the change
of capital in the Song dynasty, it maintained its reputation. That was
why Wang Chongyang chose those two regions to spread the teach-
ings of the Quanzhen School. Wang Chongyang died in Bianliang
and his disciples arrived in Shaanxi and preached in their master’s
native region. Ma Yu and Qiu Chuji had lived there for a long time
and had prospered. Ma Yu taught a great number of disciples from
the Guanzhong and Longyou regions. Qiu Chuji, after a long practice,
was invited by the general of the Jingzhao region, who was attracted
216 mou zhongjian
by his reputation, to be in charge of the founder’s temple on Zhong-
nan Mountain. He made the Guanzhong region the national center
of communication of the Quanzhen School. Tan Chuduan in Hebei
and Henan; Liu Chuxuan in Guanzhong and Luoyang; Hao Datong
in Hebei; Sun Buer in Shandong, Shaanxi, and Luoyang; and Wang
Chuyi in Shandong; all seven masters preached in person and as a
close-knit group, making the Quanzhen School a great transregional
religion. Their success drew the attention of the Jin emperors. Wang
Chuyi, Liu Chuxuan, and Qiu Chuji were summoned to the capital
one after the other and received with courtesy. Despite a brief inter-
diction to preach, the Quanzhen School lived in concord with the Jin
government.
The seven masters always considered the Jiaodong region the rear
base of the school, even after some of them went west to preach. They
often returned to the Jiaodong region to rest and to administer the
school. When the school was in difficulty, the force of its grassroots sup-
ported it and helped the school pull through. Wang Chuyi, who stayed
in the Jiaodong region, played a key role in consolidating the base.
He kept contact with the five congregations in the three prefectures,
improved the relationship between the school and the Jin government,
and expanded its influence among the literati. He was summoned three
times to the capital, thus giving the school a political status.
When Ma Yu preached in the Guanzhong region, the Jin govern-
ment banned the Taoists from traveling and ordered them to return to
their original cities. Ma Yu returned to the Jiaodong region and died in
Youxian Temple in Laiyang. Liu Chuxuan returned to Lingxu Tem-
ple in Laizhou after having traveled in many regions. After twenty-one
years of preaching in Shaanxi, Qiu Chuji returned to his native city of
Qixiang, building the Taixu Temple in the second year of the Ming-
chang reign (AD 1191), when the Jin government prohibited Taoism.
After that, he moved to the Haotian Temple in Laizhou. He had spent
18 years in the Jiaodong region before he was invited by Genghis
Khan. Most of his competent disciples came from Shandong as well.
But for the rear base of the Jiaodong region, the Quanzhen School
would hardly have overcome all kinds of challenges and difficulties.
Qiu Chuji’s Major Part in the Prosperity of the Quanzhen School
Qiu Chuji played a major part in the promotion and prosperity of the
Quanzhen School. His status and role in the school actually exceeded
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 217
Wang Chongyang’s. He was admired by people because of his achieve-
ments on their behalf.
After his arrival in Shaanxi, Qiu Chuji studied the Tao for six years
in Panxi and seven years on Longmen Mountain. Chen Shike, in his
Changchun zhenren benxing bei 长春真人本行碑 [Stele of the Biography of
Changchun zhenren (Qiu Chuji)], wrote: “[t]he master lived in a cavern
in Panxi. He begged for one meal a day and dressed in a coat, and
was called for this reason Mister Coir Coat. He did not possess any
furniture. He did not sleep for six years. Then he lived in seclusion
for seven years on Longmen Mountain in Longzhou and practiced as
before. His long-lasting practice gave him the appearance and perse-
verance of an immortal.” According to the Changchun zhenren xiyou ji,
“he attained the Tao after having worked hard.” According to the Bei-
you yulu 北游语录 [Recorded Sayings during a Voyage to the North], “he was
the first to follow the Tao but the last to attain it.” These texts dem-
onstrated the perseverance, intelligence, and power of Qiu Chuji.
Wang Chongyang and Ma Yu insisted on peaceful practice, the
Tao of non-action. After having succeeded to them as the leader of the
movement, Qiu Chuji changed his preaching strategy and transformed
the Tao of non-action into the Tao of action, as written in the Beiyou
yulu, “keeping non-action and adapting action.” With this strategy to
save the world, the school was well developed. The meeting between
Qiu Chuji and Genghis Khan was an unprecedented occasion for the
Quanzhen School to exert its influence on society and an opportunity
to further its prosperity.
In AD 1219, the Jin government and that of the Southern Song
sent a number of emissaries to summon Qiu Chuji to the capital and
the latter declined the two invitations. In the same year, on the way
to conquer the west, Genghis Khan, who admired Qiu Chuji, sent
his trusted aide Liu Zhonglu to invite Qiu Chuji to a meeting. This
was an unprecedented political opportunity for the school and a seri-
ous challenge for Qiu Chuji because he was 73 years old, a critical
age for setting out on travels. Genghis Khan was at the apex of his
career, so it would have been very difficult to refuse his invitation.
To save countless people who would suffer in the war, Qiu resolutely
started on a dangerous and extremely long journey to the west with
his 18 disciples and finally arrived at his destination after more than
a year on the road. Qiu Chuji most certainly had a foreboding that
China would be conquered by the Mongols and wanted to establish a
good relationship with them to help the development of the Quanzhen
218 mou zhongjian
School. Nevertheless, the essential reason that Qiu Chuji wished to
meet Genghis Khan was to dissuade him from killing (Chinese civil-
ians). Before departing, he wrote a poem for his Taoist friend in Yan-
jing: “[m]illions of people have suffered in the war for ten years. Most
of them died. Last year, I received the emperor’s invitation. In spring,
I will travel, braving the cold. I go despite a three-thousand-li journey
and the people of Shandong will always be in my thoughts. Hope
that those who survive will live in peace.”
9
On the way he wrote: “I
am going to meet the emperor, hoping to put a stop to the war.”
10

These poems showed Qiu Chuji’s compassion for people and his will
to oppose the war. The reasons why Genghis Khan invited Qiu Chuji
were first that he admired him greatly; second, he intended to con-
trol the Han people through Qiu Chuji’s reputation and wisdom; and
third, his eagerness for longevity. So when he met Qiu Chuji, his first
question was on the politics of governance and the second was on the
way to attain longevity. Even though Qiu Chuji’s answers did not
necessarily satisfy Genghis Khan, his sincerity and frankness and intel-
ligent words won Genghis Khan’s respect.
In the chapter “Shilao zhuan 释老传” (Treatise on Buddhists and
Taoists) of the Yuanshi 元史 (History of the Yuan) it says:
Qiu Chuji repeated that he who wants to conquer the world cannot love
killing. When Genghis Khan asked him about strategies of governance,
Qiu Chuji answered “respecting Heaven and loving the people.” When
Genghis Khan asked him about the way to attain longevity, Qiu Chuji
answered “easing the mind and abstinence.” Genghis Khan loved those
words. He addressed him thus: “you are sent by Heaven to enlighten
me.” He asked his entourage to write down their conversation in order
to transmit them to his descendants as maxims. Then he gave Qiu Chuji
a tiger-talisman and an imperial edict. He called Qiu Chuji “Immortal”
instead of using his real name.
This passage shows how this meeting between a strategist and a reli-
gious leader bore fruit because it was held in an atmosphere of com-
passion and reason. Indeed, Genghis Khan did not stop the war and
went on killing. But he limited the massacre of civilians. We can say
Genghis Khan conquered the western region with military force, while
Qiu Chuji conquered Genghis Khan with religious force. In this way,
9
Changchun zhenren xiyou ji, juan 1.
10
Idem.
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 219
Qiu Chuji accomplished a journey of peace and love. In the chapter
“Shilao zhuan” of the Yuanshi it says:
After having returned to the Yan region, Qiu Chuji asked his disciples
to look for prisoners and survivors and free them in accordance with the
imperial edict. In this way, 20,000 or 30,000 people were saved from
the edge of death and slavery. People of Zhongzhou have praised him
till today.
According to Buddhism, one receives more merits for saving a life
than for building a seven-story stupa. Since Qiu Chuji saved tens of
thousands of people, the merits that he earned were countless. That
was another reason why the Quanzhen School became so popular
and prosperous.
On his return from the meeting, Qiu Chuji made the most of Genghis
Khan’s trust and confidence to develop the Quanzhen School and
extend its role in society. In Yanjing he founded congregations called
“Equality,” “Evergreen,” “Numinous Treasure,” “Longevity,” “Light
Perfection,” “Safe,” “Warding off Calamities,” and “Ten Thousand of
Lotus” and made Yanjing the center of the school. In addition, he had
temples built all over China. He preached and taught in public and
the Quanzhen School was very prosperous at that time. Qiu Chuji
once told his disciples: “from the beginning of Taoism, never has it
been so prosperous before.”
11
What was most remarkable was that Qiu Chuji did not thereafter
become arrogant and went on with his work unassumingly. He never
forgot to save people and kept the Taoist tradition pure and simple.
Qiu Chuji’s western travels and his virtue were highly esteemed by
contemporary scholars and later eminent Taoists. Chen Shike of the
Yuan dynasty wrote in the Changchun zhenren benxing bei:
Great Master Qiu practiced abstinence when he was alive and when he
was dead, his body did not rot. He was an extraordinary person. But a
Taoist master, he could convince the emperor and touch the people. If
he had not had real virtue and sincerity, he would not have been able to
do this. Qin Zhi’an wrote in The Orthodox Golden Lotus: when the Mongol
army came, it seemed their horses would drink up the Yellow River and
the noise of their arrows would cause the collapse of Hua Mountain.
The Mongol soldiers killed all indiscriminately. The dead bodies reached
up to the sky and the blood flowed like the sea. Fortunately, Master Qiu
11
Beiyou yulu, juan 1.
220 mou zhongjian
accepted the invitation and met the emperor, whom he managed to dis-
suade. From then on, those who surrendered would not be killed. Hard
labor and chores were cancelled and some slaves liberated. Half of the
Chinese survived thanks to him. With his personal force, he released
countless people from danger. His merits made him an immortal; he had
no need for either cinnabar or elixir.
Qiu Chuji touched Heaven and dissuaded the emperor with his great
compassion, courage, wisdom, and merit. His name and exploit will
be remembered forever. As Lao-tzu said, “real longevity is immortality
after death.” There were two great travelers to the west in Chinese
religious history. One was the Buddhist monk Xuanzang of the Tang
dynasty and the other was Qiu Chuji. The importance of the former’s
travels lay in their resulting religious and cultural communication,
while the latter’s lay in the religious force, which brought peace and
saved people. The latter deserved more praise.
The Prosperity of the Quanzhen School in the Yuan Dynasty Thanks
to Its Eminent Disciples in the Jiaodong Region
Qiu Chuji, due to his reputation, virtue, and long life, attracted more
disciples than the other six masters. Most of them came from Shan-
dong. One of the reasons why Qiu Chuji traveled to the west with his
18 disciples was to cultivate their nature and increase their knowledge
to enable them to later on take over the leadership of the school.
Qiu Chuji’s training proved successful. His disciples were really deter-
mined and reliable. For example, Yin Zhiping contributed a lot to the
Temple of the Founder on Zhongnan Mountain after having taken
charge of the school and was given the title of “Great Master of Purity
and Harmony.” His Beiyou yulu was one of the important documents
of the Quanzhen School. Song Defang was proficient in Taoist clas-
sics. He spent eight years collating and printing the Taoist Canon in the
Xuandu Temple of Pingyang in Shanxi. He included the classics of the
Quanzhen School, thus contributing much to Taoism. Li Zhichang
recorded in detail the travels of Qiu Chuji to the west in his Changchun
zhenren xiyou ji, which was an essential document for communication
between China and foreign countries and the history and geography
of the western region. Qiu Chuji’s disciples did not disappoint their
master. After his death, they developed the school throughout China.
What was even more remarkable was that they did not fight for power
or wealth, but deferred to the head of the school. In this way, the
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 221
school became more and more united and prosperous and managed
to overcome the attacks against Taoism in the Yuan dynasty.
The achievements of Qiu Chuji’s disciples and their disciples after
them can be analyzed along three lines. First, they consolidated the
key role of the Quanzhen School in the capital. The heads of the
school, like Yin Zhiping, Li Zhichang, and Wang Zhitan, had excellent
reputations for they were all the direct disciples of Qiu Chuji. Zhang
Zhijing, Qi Zhicheng, and Sun Deyu were Qiu Chiji’s or Ma Yu’s
disciples. They were all persevering, intelligent, and highly educated.
Zhang Zhijing was a man of profound learning. After becoming the
head of the school, he changed the tradition of the Quanzhen School
by promoting the reading of classics among his disciples. Through the
reading and the discussion of classics, he improved the quality of their
teaching and preaching. After his death, many people, including both
Taoists and laymen, from the capital or distant regions came to pay
him homage.
Influenced by the illustrious Qi Zhicheng, the Prime Minister An
Tong assisted Emperor Shizu of the Yuan dynasty with the Tao. Even
when he was dismissed, he kept calm. Every head of the school tried
to reinforce cooperation with the Yuan government to consolidate
the school’s status. Yin Zhiping and Emperor Taizong of the Yuan
dynasty had a harmonious relationship, as did Li Zhichang and the
three khans Ögedei, Güyüg, and Möngke. In the third year of the
Zhida reign of Emperor Wuzong of the Yuan dynasty (AD 1310),
the government conferred the title of “Emperor Lord” on the five
founders of the school, the title of “Real Lord” on the Seven Mas-
ters, and the title of “Perfect” on the eighteen eminent masters. Yin
Zhiping had the Baiyun Temple built and made it the temple of the
founder of the Longmen Branch. After Li Zhichang became the head
of the school, more than 100 Taoist temples were built in the region
around the capital.
Second, the Quanzhen School spread throughout China. The tem-
ple of the founder in the Guanzhong region attracted attention. When
Li Zhichang was the head of the school, the Chongyang Temple had
more than 5,000 rooms and about 10,000 Taoists attended it. The
Quanzhen School continued to spread to northern and Eatsern China.
Song Defang preached in Shanxi, Wang Zhijin and Ji Zhizhen in Pan-
shan in Hebei, while Yu Tongqing preached in Fushan in Shandong.
Moreover, the Northern Quanzhen School was imported into Jiang-
nan and merged with the Southern Quanzhen School. Hence, the
222 mou zhongjian
Quanzhen School became popular in Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Hunan, and
Fujian. Lu Dayou, Wang Zhenchang, and Zhang Shouqing preached
on Wudang Mountain, while Huang Gongwang, Luo Pengtou, and
Ding Yehe preached in Suzhou and Hangzhou. They were all experts
in Taoist inner alchemy. The influence of the school could be traced
even to Noerthwestern China. Song Dao’an had the Qixia Temple
built on Abuhan Mountain when he accompanied Qiu Chuji to the
west. It marked the beginning of the Quanzhen School in the Mon-
gol region. Afterward, Zhang Zhisu preached in Baixi (presently the
northern part of the Liaoning province). Li Zhichang had a Taoist
temple built in Helin (presently Kharkhorin in Mongolia) by imperial
decree. Wang Zhitan went 17 times to Kharkhorin from the capital
to preach in favor of the development of the school in that northern
border area.
Third, the Quanzhen School integrated the doctrines and rituals
of the Zhengyi School, which combined personal practice with the
use of talismans and rituals. The Quanzhen could then serve society
better and meet people’s needs. Chen Minggui said in the Changchun
daojiao yuanliu:
The Quanzhen School had not used talismans, neither had Wang
Chongyang and Qiu Chuji nor other masters. However, some of their
disciples, like Zhang Zhixuan, yielded to popular tradition and stud-
ied the Zhengyi School to make use of rituals. Afterward, the emperors
of the Yuan dynasty ordered Zhang Zongyan, Zhang Liusun, and Wu
Quanjie to perform rituals in Changchun Temple. Apparently, more
and more Taoists of the Quanzhen School studied the Zhengyi School
at that time. Zhang Shouqing was even trusted by the emperors Wuzong
and Renzong of the Yuan dynasty because he knew Xiantian Taoism
先天之道. So many Taoist masters of Wudang Mountain were famous
for their knowledge of the Zhengyi School. Nevertheless, they followed
the personal practice of the Quanzhen School as well.
The cult of spirits and exorcist rituals were profoundly rooted in Chi-
nese society. The Zhengyi School with its proficiency in rituals was very
popular. If the Quanzhen School was not capable of meeting religious
needs, it would lose the support of people and officials. So it was inevi-
table that it should integrate talismans and rituals into its system.
Confucius said: “it is the human who develops the Tao, not the
Tao which develops the human.” The key reason why the Quanzhen
School could uphold its prosperity in the Yuan was the solid founda-
tion built by Qiu Chuji and the tradition of salvation and abstinence
the quanzhen school and the culture of qilu region 223
kept by the disciples of the Seven Masters. At the end of the Yuan
dynasty, the most qualified masters had died and the leaders started to
seek power and wealth. The school’s reputation was seriously discred-
ited. However, the Longmen Branch always kept its vitality. At the
end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty, the
Taoist master Wang Changyue used Qiu Chuji’s influence in society to
revive the Longmen School. In the three cities of the Jiaodong regions,
which had been its cradle, the Quanzhen School was in decline. On
the other hand, Lao Mountain, relying on the reputation of the Seven
Masters and Zhang Sanfeng who visited there and on its beautiful
scenery, attracted numerous Taoists and became the new center of
the Quanzhen School in Shandong from the Ming and Qing dynas-
ties onward.
Conclusion
The culture of the Lu region, represented by Confucianism, rested on
moral rules and reason and underscored its practical function. The
culture of the Qi region, represented by Guanzi’s philosophy, consisted
of a combination of rites and laws and emphasized syncretism and
openness. These cultures were combined and developed in Shandong
and after the Han dynasty spread throughout China, becoming the
mainstream culture. The Quanzhen School flourished in Shandong
and then spread throughout China. This was a revival of the culture of
the Qilu region in new historical conditions and a new contribution to
Chinese culture. The Taoists of the first generation of the school rep-
resented the characters of the Qilu culture: compassionate and loving
people, determined and courageous, tolerant and gentle, and simple
and pure. The Seven Masters of the Quanzhen School devoted them-
selves to helping others. They were intelligent, studious, and open.
They studied under the direction of Wang Chongyang, setting aside
all differences in their origins. They cooperated with other schools,
despite being at variance with them. They had a moral influence on
emperors, whatever their nationality. They preached all over China
regardless of the differences between regions. All these were part of the
essence of the Quanzhen School which became one of the two main
schools in Taoism and in the three religions. Its eminent masters will
be remembered forever for their achievements.
THE REVIVAL OF THE LONGMEN BRANCH
OF THE QUANZHEN SCHOOL IN THE QING DYNASTY
Chen Bing
The Taoism of the Quanzhen School reached its apex under the Jin
and Yuan dynasties. At the end of the Yuan dynasty, the school’s lead-
ers appeared to be corrupt because of the long-lasting prosperity of
their school. Nevertheless, the school still exerted a great influence on
society. Taoism had been officially divided into the Quanzhen School
and the Zhengyi School during the Ming dynasty. The imperial Ming
family had preferred the latter, and so the former’s development was
limited. During the Ming dynasty, few works were produced, there
were few influential Taoist masters, and little progress was made in
the doctrines of the Quanzhen School.
The fall of the Ming dynasty and the founding of the Qing dynasty
in its place gave rise to a dire national conflict. At the beginning of the
Qing dynasty, the Han people bore the trauma of the invasion and felt
ashamed to be forced to adopt barbarian dress and hairstyle. At that
time, the social atmosphere favored the use of propaganda similar to
that of the Jin dynasty under which the Quanzhen School had been
founded. The Quanzhen School, with its belief in transcendence and
immortality and its hermit-like lifestyle, provided a refuge for those who
were at a loss and who still clung to memories of the Ming dynasty.
Wang Changyue and other Taoist masters of the Longmen Branch
seized this opportunity to spread its ideas. At that time, the Quanzhen
School had been under attack by adherents of Neo-Confucianism for
its obsolete theories and its corruption. It was difficult for the school
to attain the same level of success it had enjoyed under the Jin and
Yuan dynasties. However, it is reasonable to consider this a period of
revival, following its decline under the Ming dynasty.
Wang Changyue and the Transmission of the Longmen Branch
during the Qing Dynasty
Wang Changyue, as the leader of the revival of the Longmen Branch,
was originally called Wang Ping and his Taoist name was Kunyang zi.
226 chen bing
He was a native of Changzhi County in Shanxi. He had been very
ill in his youth and had been cured by the Taoist Zhang Mayi. From
that point on he developed a great interest in Taoism. He traveled to
famous mountains in search of the Tao, and on Wangwu Mountain
he finally met the sixth-generation patriarch of the Longmen Branch
and precept master Zhao Zhensong (also called Zhao Fuyang), who
taught him the Taoist precepts, ritual techniques, and doctrines. He
then left his master and traveled again. He became well-read in the
classics of the three religions. He studied Taoist scriptures for many
years, visited more than twenty Taoist masters, engaged in discussion
with more than fifty persons, and became finally a precept master of
the Longmen Branch of Taoism. In the twelfth year of the Shunzhi
reign of the Qing dynasty (AD 1655), Wang Changyue left the Song
Mountain, where he had lived in seclusion, to go to the capital and
stayed at the Lingyou Temple for a short time. Soon after, he was
engaged as the abbot of the Baiyun Temple, the erstwhile dwelling of
the founder of the Longmen Branch (Qiu Chuji), and began to spread
his teachings.
The principal means Wang Changyue used to revive the Longmen
Branch was the public transmission of Taoist precepts. At the begin-
ning of the Quanzhen School, the precepts had been simple and had
expanded freely. According to the Bojian xu 钵鉴续 (Sequel to the Exami-
nation of the Bowl ), Zhao Zhensong told Wang Changyue that the Taoist
Longmen precepts were always transmitted secretly to one person only.
For that reason, the people were left in ignorance and the precepts
suffered a decline. Then he transferred his power to Wang Changyue
and told him to preach and transmit the precepts as he saw fit. In
the thirteenth year of the Shunzhi reign (AD 1656), the time finally
came. Wang Changyue changed the Longmen’s tradition of secret
transmission and installed an altar in the Baiyun Temple in the capital
in order to transmit the precepts openly. He “performed the (initia-
tion) ritual three times and initiated more than a thousand people.”
1

In the second year of the Kangxi reign (1663), Wang Changyue went
to the south, with his disciples Zhan Shouchun and Shao Shoushan,
and transmitted the precepts in the Yinxian Temple near Nanjing,
and in Huzhou and Hangzhou. He continued his travels to Wudang
1
Jin’gai xindeng 金盖心灯, juan. 1.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 227
Mountain in Hubei and transmitted the precepts in the Yuxu Temple.
Numerous people came to be converted.
Wang Changyue’s public transmission of precepts won the sup-
port of the Qing government. According to the Bojian xu and Wanyan
Chongshi’s Kunyang Wang zhenren daoheng bei 昆阳王真人道行碑 [Stele of
the Taoist Life of Perfected Wang Kunyang], the Qing government praised
Wang Changyue and conferred on him the title of “National Mas-
ter.” He preached in the Baiyun Temple by imperial order and was
awarded a purple robe three times. In the 45th year of the Kangxi
reign (1706), Wang Changyue received the title of “Eminent Scholar
of Embracing Unity.” A sacrificial Hall and a statue were built on his
tomb by imperial order and officials were sent every year to offer a
sacrifice on the anniversary of his death. Emperor Qianlong visited the
Baiyun Temple twice and wrote poems, inscriptions for a stele, and
couplets in Qiu Chuji’s praise. After the system of clerical certificates
was abolished under Qianlong’s reign, the Longmen Branch devel-
oped more freely.
Many of Wang Changyue’s disciples created their own sub-branches
throughout China, especially in the Nanjing, Suzhou, Huzhou, and
Taizhou regions. For example, Huang Shouzheng (Xutang) created
the sub-branch of the Taiweilü Temple in the Hushuguan in Suzhou;
Sheng Qingya, also called “Old Jinzhu,” created the sub-branch of the
Tianzhu Temple in Jinzhuping in Yuhang; Tao Jing’an (Shouzhen)
created the sub-branch of Yunchao on Jin’gai Mountain in Huzhou;
and Shi Liangsheng (Daoyuan), also called the “Taoist Master of Iron
Bamboo,” created his own sub-branch on Qionglong Mountain near
Suzhou. Lü Yunyin (Shoupu), who preached on Guan Mountain near
Suzhou, had the greatest success among Wang Changyue’s disciples.
His disciples, like Qiu Yinyang and Qian Hanyang, created their own
sub-branches in the Changchun Temple in Jiashan and in Wuxi. Tan
Shoucheng (Xinyue) succeeded Wang Changyue as the Taoist abbot
of the Baiyun Temple. He had thousands of disciples, according to
the Liuxi waizhuan 留溪外传 [Unofficial Biography of Liuxi ]. Others, like
Cheng Eshan, Huang Chongyang, Zhan Shouchun, Cheng Huayang,
Lin Maoyang, and Jia Taixu, traveled all over the country to preach,
or lived in seclusion.
Sheng Changjing, who was Wang Changyue’s contemporary, lived
on Mao Mountain in his later years and initiated Sun Shouyi (Yuyang)
and Huang Shouyuan (Danyang). The latter also received the pre-
cepts from Wang Changyue and created the Dade guan sub-branch
228 chen bing
in Hangzhou. His disciple Zhou Tailang (Mingyang) had originally
been Sun Shouyi’s disciple. After receiving the precepts from Huang
Shouyuan, he studied for two years with Wang Changyue. Sun
Shouyi’s disciple Fan Taiqing (also known as Qingyun zi, 1606–1748)
was the Taoist abbot of the Tongbo Temple on Tiantai Mountain and
had the Chongdao Temple built by imperial order. It was dedicated
to Zhang Boduan. Fan Taiqing’s disciple Gao Dongli also studied
with Zhou Tailang. Sheng Changjing’s sub-branch then merged with
Wang Changyue’s.
Zhou Tailang (1628–1711) was the most influential of the ninth-
generation Taoist masters of the Southeast Longmen Branch. He cre-
ated the “Jingu dong” sub-branch in Hangzhou and had more than
one thousand disciples. According to chapter three of the Jin’gai xindeng
金盖心灯 [Mind-Lamp Transmission on Jin’gai Mountain], the Longmen
Branch, established in the north, became popular in the south thanks
to Zhou Tailang’s efforts. Of his disciples, the most illustrious was Gao
Dongli (Qingyu, 1721–1768), who in his later years succeeded Fan
Taiqing as the Taoist abbot of the Tongbo and Chongdao Temples on
Tiantai Mountain. Among his disciples, the most famous were Shen
Yibing (1708–1786) and Min Yide (1758–1836). The former was also
called “Qingyun zi” and was the most brilliant eleventh-generation
Longmen master. He was the abbot of the Kaihua Temple in Wuxi
and of the Dongxiao Temple on Dadi Mountain in Yuhang. Of his
disciples, Chen Qiaoyun created the sub-branch of the Sanyuan Tem-
ple in Yuanhang, Zhou Tixia created the sub-branch of the Banchi
Temple on Tong Mountain in Yuhang, and Fei Danxin created the
sub-branch of the Kaihua Temple in Gui’anshe. Min Yide, whose
original name was Xiaogen, was also known as Lanyun zi. He was
Gao Dongli’s disciple at first and then Shen Yibing’s. In his later years
he lived in the Chunyang Temple on Jin’gai Mountain and had many
disciples. Gao Dongli’s other disciple was Fang Rongyang. Fang Rong-
yang’s disciple Wang Fengyang created the sub-branch of the Doumu
Temple in Zhuangjiaqiao in Suzhou. Xu Qingyang, the disciple of
Huang Shouyuan’s disciple Wang Yongning, created the sub-branch
of the Jishen Temple in Hangzhou.
Wang Changyue also had a disciple called “the Taoist Master of
the Jizu Mountain” (?–1790) who practiced on Jizu Mountain in the
Yunnan and created the sub-branch of the Heart of Xizhu (India)
and Longmen 龙门西竺心宗. According to chapter six of the Jin’gai
xindeng, the Taoist Master of Jizu Mountain claimed to be a native
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 229
of Yuezhi 月支 and was called Yedaposhe. He came from India to
Yunnan and lived on Jizu Mountain to practice Taoism. He was the
master of the “Dipper Technique of Xizhu” and the Xiduo Arhat of
the 100th generation of the “Xizhu xinzong” Branch. In the 16th year
of the Shunzhi reign (1659), he went to the capital and met Wang
Changyue. The latter gave him the name of Hang Shouzhong and
asked him to practice his original technique. This story can be found
in Wang Changyue’s Bojian. In the 55th year of the Qianlong reign
(1790), Min Yide met him when he was traveling to Jizu Mountain.
Min Yide transmitted the precepts of the Longmen Branch to him
while he transmitted the “Dipper technique of Xizhu” to Min Yide.
When he returned home, Min wrote the Dafan xiantian fanyin douzhou
大梵先天梵音斗咒 [Dipper Spells in Sanskrit of Anterior Heaven Great
Brahma], in 12 chapters. Min Yide’s Gushu yinlou cangshu 古书隐楼藏书
[Books from the Hidden Library of Ancient Books] included the Chishi duoluoni
jingfa 持世陀罗尼经法 [Dharani Sutra for Saving the World ] transmitted
by Huang Shouzhong. This sutra was translated by Xuanzang of the
Tang dynasty and belonged to Tantric Buddhism. The “Longmen
xizhu xinzong” was born of a blending of the Taoist Longmen Branch
and Tantric Buddhism. The members of this branch mainly practiced
such Buddhist spells as the “Divine Spell of Guhyapada Vajra” and
loved to use magical arts. Their behavior was often strange. For that
reason, they were not considered as belonging to the orthodox Long-
men Branch.
From the Qing dynasty on, the Longmen Branch spread throughout
China, even in Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and South, which
had not been greatly influenced by the Quanzhen School under the
Yuan and Ming dynasties. For instance, the Taoist Guo Shouzhen
(?–1673) of Liaoyang in Manchuria went to Shandong at the end of
the Ming dynasty to study under the direction of Li Changming, a
seventh-generation Taoist master of the Longmen Branch. After return-
ing to Manchuria, he lived more than 30 years in seclusion in the
Babao yunguang Cavern of Tiecha Mountain in Jiuding in Benxi. He
was the founder of the Quanzhen School in Guandong (now Liaoning
province). According to the chapter “Jiangcheng nianbiao 疆臣年表,”
(Chronicles of Officials posted on the Borders) in the Qingshigao 清史稿,
and the Manzhou mingcheng zhuan 满州名臣传 [Biography of the Illustrious
Manchu Officials], General Wukulun of Shengjing courteously invited
Guo Shouzhen to Shengjing (presently Shengyang) at the beginning
of the Kangxi reign. The general respected him as a master and had
230 chen bing
the “Hall of Three Religions” built for him. In the 44th year of the
Qianlong reign (1779), this hall was transformed into a Taoist monas-
tery and its name was changed to “Taiqing Temple.” From then on
it was the center of the Longmen Branch in Manchuria. According to
the Taiqinggong conglin lishi falue 太清宫丛林历史法略 [Brief History on
the Taiqing Temple], in the fifty-plus years between the 3rd year of the
Daoguang reign (1823) and the 5th year of the Guangxu reign (1879),
the ritual of the transmission of precepts was held four times and hun-
dreds of Taoists were initiated.
The eleventh-generation Taoist master of the Longmen Branch Liu
Yiming (1734–1821), also called Wuyuan zi, was a native of Quwo of
Shanxi. In his many travels, he met Kangu laoren in Jinxian in Gansu
and Xianliu zhangren in Agan in Gaolan, who transmitted the secrets
of Taoist inner alchemy to him. After that, he lived in seclusion on
Qiyun Mountain and Xinglong Mountain in Jinxian to practice. Many
men in Guanlong (Shaanxi-Gansu) studied under his direction and the
Chaoyuan Temple on Qiyun Mountain became a leading monastery
of the Quanzhen School in that region. In the GanNingQing shilue 甘宁
青史略 [Brief History of Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai] it notes: “most
Taoists belong to the Longmen Branch. . . . There are many Taoists of
the Longmen School in Gansu.”
According to chapter 16 of the Xiaoyaoshan wanshougong zhi 逍遥山
万寿宫志 [Gazetteer of the Wanshou Temple of the Xiaoyao Mountain], at
the beginning of the Qing dynasty, there was an eighth-generation
Taoist master of the Longmen Branch, Xu Shoucheng (1632–1692),
called Yegu, who came to the Western Mountain in Xinjian, near
Nanchang, the cradle of the Taoist Jingming School, to practice. He
had the Wanshou Temple rebuilt and trained disciples like Tan Tai-
zhi, Zhang Taixuan, and Xiong Tai’an, who all lived on Western
Mountain.
According to chapter seven of the Changchun daojiao yuanliu, during
the Kangxi reign, the eleventh-generation Taoist master of the Long-
men Branch, Zeng Yiguan, came to Luofu Mountain in Guangdong
and became the Taoist abbot of the Chongxu Temple. This temple
then became the first Taoist monastery of the Quanzhen School in
Guangdong. Zeng Yiguan’s disciple, Ke Yanggui, had more than
one hundred followers. One of them, who was called Tong Fukui,
became the Taoist abbot of the Sulao Temple on the same mountain.
In the 27th year of the Kangxi reign (1688), Zeng Yiguan’s disciple Du
Yangdong was engaged as the Taoist abbot of the Yuanmiao Temple
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 231
at Xihu in Huizhou, which became the second Taoist monastery
of the Quanzhen School in Guangdong. Chen Jiaoyou, a sixteenth-
generation Taoist master of the Longmen Branch and the Taoist abbot
of the Sulao Temple of Luofu Mountain, said, in his Changchun daojiao
yuanliu: “today, all Taoist temples in the capital and Luofu Mountain
are of the Quanzhen School.”
In Sichuan, a tenth-generation Longmen Branch master named
Chen Qingjue (1606–1705) who came from Wudang Mountain dur-
ing the Kangxi reign, had the Changdao Temple of the Qingcheng
Mountain repaired. He became the abbot of the Erxian Temple in
Chengdu and created the sub-branch of Cinnabar Terrace and Green
Cavern 丹台碧洞宗 of the Longmen Branch. According to chapter 38
of the Sichuan tongzhi 四川通志 [Annals of the Sichuan], a poem written
by Emperor Kangxi for Chen Qingjue and a board inscribed by him
were kept in the Erxian Temple.
According to the Zhuzhen zongpai zongbu 诸真宗派总簿 [Register of All
Branches descending from the Various Immortals], Sun Xuanqing of the fourth
generation of the Longmen Branch also created the Jinshan branch
during the Jiajing reign of the Ming dynasty and Yan Xiaofeng of
the eighth generation founded the Yanzu branch on Mao Mountain.
Both branches have survived until this day. At the end of the Guangxu
reign, Qi Shouben of the 15th generation created the Jinhui branch
and Zhang Zongxuan of the 23rd generation created the Huoshan
branch in Fushan in Shandong. According to the Jueyun benzhi daotong
xinchuan 觉云本支道统薪传 [Transmission of the Orthodox Tao within the
Sub-Branch of the Jueyun Altar], Yao Laijian of the 23rd generation cre-
ated the Jueyun sub-branch in the 14th year of the Guangxu reign
(1888). This shows that until the end of the Qing dynasty, the Long-
men Branch never stopped developing. This branch spread all over
China and its influence overshadowed other branches of the Quan-
zhen School. Its success could be compared to that of the Linji lineage
of Zen Buddhism. There was an expression at the time that said “half
the Taoists are from the Longmen Branch while half the Buddhists are
from the Linji lineage.”
The revival of the Longmen Branch under the Qing dynasty
relied on several qualified Taoist masters like Wang Changyue, Tan
Shoucheng, and Zhou Tailang, who preached and initiated numerous
people. When Tao Jing’an died, High Secretary Huang Ji wrote the
inscription on his tomb. Shen Yibing was summoned to the capital
by Prince Zhuang. After his death, Prince Ding and High Secretary
232 chen bing
Huang Ji wrote couplets and inscribed a wooden board in his honor.
The Taoist masters of the Xizhu Heart Branch in were famous for
their longevity, Qigong, and magic arts, and they were highly regarded
by officials and the gentry. Chancellor Yin Jishan sent a letter to Li
Pengtou (?–1784), a disciple of Huang Shouzhong, to ask him about
Taoist inner alchemy. High officials in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hunan, and
Hubei such as Bi Yuan and Wang Xin regarded Li Pengtou and Guo
Yangxiao (?–1798), also called Zhuzhusheng, as Longmen masters of
the twelfth generation. Governor Qing Antai of Zhejiang asked Zhang
Daheng (1767–1811), also called Shizhao shanren, to fight against the
Western invaders. Liu Yiming, Min Yide, and Chen Jiaoyou were also
renowned. Although the quality and social influence of these masters
might not have equaled that of Wang Chongyang’s seven disciples
and of the 18 masters of the early Quanzhen School when it was
on the ascendance, they were still excellent, considering that school’s
later decline.
Wang Changyue’s Philosophy and the Ethics of the Longmen Branch
at the Beginning of the Qing Dynasty
Wang Changyue wrote the Chuzhen jielü [Precepts for Taoist beginners].
Later, his preaching in the Biyuan Temple in Nanjing was compiled
and printed as the Longmen xinfa 龙门心法 [Heart Method of Longmen]
(called also the Biyuan tanjing 碧苑坛经). The book was organized
in twenty chapters, including “Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels,”
“Confession,” “Getting rid of Obstacles,” “Keeping from Love Bonds,”
“Observing Strict Rules,” “Enduring Humiliation,” and “Purifying
Mind and Body” according to the different ways of practicing Tao-
ism. This book presented the purpose of reviving the Longmen Branch
and became a classic on its doctrines. To counter the decline of the
Quanzhen School, Wang Changyue focused on its original doctrines
and promoted the practice of observing precepts and “seeing one’s
true nature with a clear mind.” He tried to revive the original ethic
of the Quanzhen School and combine Confucianism and Taoism by
following the tendency of the times.
From the end of the Yuan dynasty, the corruption of the Quan-
zhen School went from bad to worse and the precepts could not be
imposed. At the end of the Ming dynasty, when Wang Changyue trav-
eled all over China he regretted that the orthodox doctrines were on
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 233
the decline and the heterodox ones were on the rise. His key measure
to fight this phenomenon was to re-evaluate the importance of the pre-
cepts, as he wrote in the Chuzhen jielü: “the precepts are first and fore-
most in the Quanzhen School.” He also said, in the Longmen xinfa, “it is
essential to observe the precepts.” He compared precepts to the pestle
used for crushing demons, the talisman for protecting life, the ladder
for ascending, the light for leading the way, and the divine boat. He
sacralized precepts as the absolute order of the celestial bureaucracy
and asked followers to “keep them in mind as if holding something
firmly in hand” and never lose them.
The “Great Precepts of the Perfect Immortals of the Three Altars,”
as transmitted by Wang Changyue, could be classified in three levels:
“precepts for novices,” “precepts for intermediates,” and “precepts for
immortals.” The first level included the “Five Precepts Returning to
the Root and Accumulating Merit Ordered by the Most High Old
Lord,” “Ten Precepts for Novices Ordered by the Celestial Worthy
Emperor of Vacuity” and “Nine Precepts for Taoist Nuns.” The sec-
ond level included 300 precepts. These two levels were created by
Taoists during the Southern and Northern dynasties who had taken
inspiration from Buddhist precepts. The third level included the “Great
Unlimited Precepts of Immortals Spoken by the Celestial Worthy of
Original Beginning.” This three-tier system was created on the Bud-
dhist model of the precepts dedicated respectively to the Samanera
(novices), Bhiksu (monks), and Bodhisattva. The authors were prob-
ably Zhao Zhensong and Wang Changyue, according to whom these
precepts were made to control the mind. The precepts of the first
level were made to prevent the body from engaging in evil actions.
The precepts of the second level were made to keep the mind from
running wild. The precepts of the last level were made to understand
reality and get rid of all attachments. This system put into practice the
doctrines and ideology of the Quanzhen School.
The “Great Precepts of the Perfect Immortals of the Three Altars”
defined people’s morality, way of dressing and eating, behavior, and
even ideas. Despite their complexity, these precepts were but religious
doctrines based on traditional ethics. Moreover, some of these pre-
cepts coincided with Confucian moral rules. For example, the first
of the “Ten Precepts for Novices Ordered by the Celestial Worthy
Emperor of Vacuity was “[d]o not be disloyal, heartless, or faithless.
Do all your duties to kings as well as to your parents and be sincere in
234 chen bing
regard to all things.” The first of the “Nine Precepts for Taoist Nuns”
was “[o]bserve filial piety. Be gentle. Be careful in your words and
never be jealous. The second was “be chaste and keep yourself from
all obscene behavior.” The 16th of the “Intermediate Precepts” was “it
is prohibited to be disloyal.” The 117th precept was “it is prohibited
to live separately from parents and brothers.” The 211th precept was
“regard the emperor as a saint.” The 242nd precept was “believe min-
isters are gentle and intelligent.” As Wu Taiyi wrote in the Chuzhen jielü
shuo 初真戒律说 [Commentary on the Precepts for Beginners]: “[t]hey are
Taoist precepts. In fact they are Confucian, even governmental pre-
cepts . . . there were governmental precepts for public life, while there
were Taoist precepts for private life. The former were used for govern-
ing people, while the latter were used for governing oneself. They are
like the two faces of the same coin, which were combined to reinforce
orthodoxy.”
2
Wang Changyue’s preaching included many Confucian
elements. He preached traditional morality to adapt to the politics of
the Qing government and conform to the social order.
After the fusion of its northern and southern branches, the Quan-
zhen School attached increasing importance to the physical, to the
detriment of the spiritual. To oppose this trend, Wang Changyue
underlined the importance of “seeing one’s true nature with a clear
mind,” which had been stressed at the school’s foundation. In the
Longmen xinfa it says: “the way of transcending life and death resides
only in the true heart.” Everyone has his own perfect “true heart.” “If
one understands it, it is right in front of him. If not, it goes away.”
Everyone has “clear reason,” which enables one to distinguish good
from bad, right from wrong, orthodoxy from heterodoxy. In Confu-
cianism, it is called “conscience.” Confucius advised his disciples to lay
aside the inessential practices, such as the recitation of scriptures, ritu-
als, alchemy, magic, the making of medicine, and inner alchemy; to
commit themselves to the study of the Tao; and to think about where
their parents had been before they were born. He believed enlighten-
ment consisted in sudden comprehension of the truth. In the Longmen
xinfa it says:
To get rid of thoughts and emotions, you should first understand where
thoughts and emotions come from. When you really comprehend it, you
can get rid of them. But what will make you comprehend it? . . . Getting
2
Daozang jiyao, zhang section.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 235
rid of thoughts and emotions with thoughts and emotions, we call it
superfluous and a waste of effort. It would be better to get rid also of
the way of getting rid of thoughts and emotions. That is really an excel-
lent way.
This theory of comprehending the origin of the true heart was similar
to that in Chan Buddhism. The difference between Wang Changyue’s
theory, that of Chan Buddhism, and the original theory of the Quan-
zhen School lay in Wang’s emphasis on practice, carried out through
the observance of precepts and meditation. According to the Longmen
xinfa, followers should “receive at first the ten precepts for novices for
controlling the body and the mind. Then they would comprehend
the heart of the sages, the immortals, and the Buddhas. They should
then receive the precepts for the intermediate level to enlighten their
nature and get rid of obstacles in the Mysterious Pass, xuanguan 玄关.
Then they would comprehend the way of the sage. Finally they should
receive the precepts for immortals to study the divine way and perfect
their wisdom. Then they would comprehend the law of the sage, the
immortals, and the Buddhas.” Clearly, he was influenced by the Con-
fucian theory of the “investigation of all things.”
Wang Changyue criticized the practitioners of Taoist inner alchemy
for their “superficial practice.” The Longmen xinfa decries: “[r]efining
lead and mercury can merely be compared to divination. Those who
practice thus understand only a fragment of Taiji (Ultimate reality)
and take the false for the true. They speak fantastically of the vital qi of
the three fields and the key of the nine orifices . . . But after nine years
of practice, they are still in darkness.” He believed “destiny is in one’s
own nature.” He who understands the latter, understands the former.
Ease the mind and reality will appear. Then the jing will be refined and
the qi will be transformed. If all conditions are met, one will become
enlightened. Conversely, he who has not understood the true heart
and used his jing and qi, has followed only a superficial practice and a
false way. For him, the great way was one that enlightened nature and
was called the “Tao of kings,” but not the “Tao of tyrants” or “little
Tao of low level.” He advised his disciples to concentrate in order to
discover their own original nature and to put aside sensations of hot,
cold, and other sensory illusions during practice.
Wang Changyue particularly criticized those who strove for longev-
ity through Taoist inner alchemy. He re-evaluated the preaching of
Wang Chongyang and Qiu Chuji and insisted that the prolonging of life
that the Quanzhen School promoted was not longevity or immortality,
236 chen bing
but a way to attain the eternal “body of the law,” which was but the
“true heart.” In the world, only the “body of the law” was eternal,
so it was called longevity. He did not believe that longevity could be
attained through physical practice. In the Longmen xinfa, he wrote:
“[p]hysical practice can only prolong life by several years. It is not the
real Tao . . . Those whose physical body has lasted ten thousand years,
can only be called demons, not Taoists. The body of the law is free and
eternal. He who understands this, even if he died immediately, would
have no regret.” His “Original Spirit 元神” would return to the blue
Heaven, “[l]eaving his name as immortal in the world and his words
in the Taoist canon: that is real longevity, immortality after death.”
3
In
Wang Changyue’s words we find the influence of Confucianism.
From the Yuan dynasty on, Neo-Confucianism was highly regarded
by emperors and officials, while Buddhism and Taoism, which
advocated detachment from the world, was often attacked by Neo-
Confucianism and was unable to meet the needs of officials and the
people. Thus, these two religions were obliged to adopt Confucian ele-
ments and adjust their discourse. In his Longmen xinfa, Wang Changyue
advised Taoists to shun love. But devotion to the emperor and one’s
parents was considered an ethical duty. He encouraged repaying
Heaven and Earth, the sun and the moon, parents, lord and mas-
ter, saying “love can be abandoned, whereas grace cannot be forgot-
ten.” He who observed filial piety and was loyal to his lord, should
be open, upright, tolerant, and compassionate. That was the way to
repay Heaven, Earth, the sun, and the moon. Wang Changyue tried
to balance the harmonious commitment to the world with the disen-
gagement from the world. He said “the way of disengagement from
the world is a variation of the way of engagement in the world. Both
ways emphasize the true heart. Only the directions of these two ways
are different. They are in fact identical.” This ultimate way of the
Quanzhen School, which combined the two ways, consisted in ethical
practices such as fraternity, filial piety, and loyalty. Wang Changyue
advised his disciples:
Before practicing the simple, peaceful, and excellent way of disengage-
ment from the world, you should first practice the way of engagement in
the world because the former can be found in the latter. . . . The founder
said: before practicing the way of the immortals, practice the way of the
3
Longmen xinfa, chapter “Gongde yuanman 功德圆满.”
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 237
human. According to Buddhism, “the answer can be found in daily life.”
This sentence is excellent. What does daily life mean? It means filial
piety, fraternity, loyalty, faith, rite, righteousness, honesty, and shame. If
you are able to understand these eight words, you can be called human.
If not, you are not even capable of following the way of the human, how
can you access to the way of the immortals?
As for lay Taoist followers, Wang Changyue advised them “not to
study the way of disengagement from the world, but to maintain
sincerity, be filial to parents, be loyal to their emperor, and observe
kindness and righteousness.” All those principles were in fact part of
Confucian ethics.
The strategy that Wang Changyue put in place to revive the Quan-
zhen School corresponded to the contemporary ideological mainstream
and met the social needs of the times. The effect was especially obvious
on the Longmen Branch in which Taoists generally followed Wang
Changyue’s advice and observed precepts and studied their own origi-
nal nature. Even though there were no noted ascetics like the Seven
Masters of the early Quanzhen School, some practitioners deserved to
be noted. As Shen Yibing said: “[t]he Taoists of our branch rely on
the limitless compassion of the Celestial Worthy of Original Beginning
and practice his method of meditation. We do not focus on the magic
arts or longevity. Our practices consist in cleansing one’s own original
nature and purifying the mind to atune to the Tao.”
4
They worked
hard, traveled to study, and engaged in debates like the masters of
the Chan School of the Tang and Song dynasties. For example, Jin
Jingling studied under the direction of Zhou Tailang. At the begin-
ning, Zhou Tailang assigned him the task of fetching water to lower
his pride. Jin Jingling “stood and did not sleep at night and when he
was tired, he just knelt in the position of paying homage.” One year
later, Zhou Tailang told him: “the Tao is pure because it does not
care for the self. Buddha has a long life because he does not care
for attachment. Then Zhou Tailang stared at him and showed him
his hand. Suddenly, Jin Jingling understood everything.”
5
Shen Yib-
ing meditated facing a wall for three years in the Zhengqi Temple in
Wuxi to study the Tao. Fan Taiqing was teased and attacked by some
young ruffians, but did not feel angry at them. The Qigong he practiced
4
Jin’gai xindeng, juan 3.
5
Idem, juan 4.
238 chen bing
enabled him to live without eating for several days, underdressed even
in winter, and looking but 40 or 50 years old at more than a hundred
years of age. Wang Changyue, Shen Changjing, Gao Dongli, Wang
Yongning (1597–1721), Wang Qingchu, and Baima Li (1615–1818)
of the Sect of the Heart of the Xizhu all lived more than 100 years
because they followed a Taoist regimen.
During the Qing dynasty, the Longmen Branch was popular in
the south. Inevitably, it interacted with the Zhengyi among southern
indigenous Taoist School. The Taoists of the Zhengyi School, such as
Shi Liangsheng and Lü Yunyin (of the 24th generation of the Qingwei
Branch), studied under Wang Changyue. Yan Xiaofeng (of the Mao-
shan Branch) studied under Sun Shouyi of the eighth generation of the
Longmen Branch. Among the Taoists of the Longmen Branch, there
were those who were famous for their knowledge of talismans and ritu-
als. For example, Wang Dongyang of the tenth generation and a dis-
ciple of Wang Dongyang’s disciple lived on Dadi Mountain in Yuhang
in his later years and “carried out rituals that were very efficient. For
that reason, he had a special reputation among Taoists.”
6
Xu Longyan
of the 11th generation of the Yunchao sub-branch of the Longmen
Branch converted to the Zhengyi Shool and was an expert in Taoist
ritual techniques. His disciples, such as Jiang Yu’an, Chen Qiaoyun,
Zhu Chunyang, and Shi Changzai, learned the “Dipper rituals” from
him. Jiang Yu’an also learned the rituals of the Maoshan Branch and
converted to the Zhengyi School. Wang Xiuhu of the Xizhu Heart
Branch studied the rituals of the Maoshan Branch under the direction
of Li Pengtou. Zeng Yiguan and Guo Shouzhen were all respected by
local officials for their performance in praying for rain.
At the end of the Qing dynasty, the practices promoted by Wang
Changyue were gradually ignored. Few Taoists after the 13th genera-
tion of the Longmen Branch were famous for their orthodox practice.
For example, the eminent 13th-generation masters Chen Laogan and
Wang Laiyin noted in the Jueyun benzhi daotong xinchuan that everyone
practiced the rituals as if it was a mere job. The ordinary Taoists
of the Longmen Branch performed rituals for people like the Taoists
of the Zhengyi School, while the leaders showed signs of corruption.
For instance, the Taoist abbot of the 20th generation of the Baiyun
6
Idem, juan 3.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 239
Temple in Beijing, Gao Rentong, was trusted by Empress Cixi. He
frequented the imperial palace and sold official titles.
7
He was powerful
and influential in the capital and often criticized for that very reason.
The Eminent Taoist Masters of the Longmen Branch Who Combined
Taoism and Confucianism
The Longmen Branch at the beginning of the Qing dynasty was akin
to the Quanzhen School at the beginning of the Jin dynasty. It relied
on members who had originally been Confucian literati and who con-
verted to Taoism after the fall of the Ming dynasty. Among them,
there were those who had fought against the Manchu army. Wang
Changyue’s disciple Zhan Shouchun had been a famous literatus in
Nanjing and was born into a salt merchant’s family. His mother Liu
was from the imperial family. At the end of the Ming dynasty, Zhan
Shouchun helped the refugees in the Jianghuai region financially. He
did not answer Ruan Dacheng’s summons (to join the new regime).
For that reason, the latter, his wife, and concubines were imprisoned
and died in prison. Angry about that and about the fall of the south-
ern Ming government, he lived in seclusion on Yan Mountain and
converted to Taoism under the direction of Wang Changyue. Sheng
Qingya had been a laureate of the highest degree of the public service
examinations at the end of the Ming dynasty. He had been erudite
and compared himself to Guan Zhong and Yue Yi. He converted to
Taoism after the fall of the Ming dynasty. Huang Xutang was born
into a Confucian family. When he was thirteen years old, he entered
the official school of Suzhou prefecture and his literary talents were
celebrated. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, he decided to convert
to Taoism and was no longer interested in imperial examinations.
8

Huang Shouyuan had been a student at the local official school in
Huanggang. His father died and his family left when he was young.
He lived in poverty but worked hard and sold his calligraphy. “In the
jiashen year (1644), he burned his literati dress and classic books and
left his house in Taoist dress.”
9
Lü Yunyin’s father was a licentiate
7
Qingchao yeshi daguan 清朝野史大观, chapter 11 “Baiyunguan daoshi zhi yin’e
白云观道士之淫恶.”
8
Jin’gai xindeng, juan 2.
9
Idem.
240 chen bing
from Taicang.” He converted to Taoism after the fall of the Ming
dynasty. Soon after, Lü Yunyin and his wife followed in his father’s
footsteps. Tang Shoucheng, Cheng Huayang, and Lin Maoyang all
converted from Confucianism to Taoism at the beginning of the Qing
dynasty. Among the Taoists of the ninth generation of the Longmen
Branch, Zhou Tailang was born into an official’s family and studied
at the local national school; Fan Taiqing was chivalrous and erudite
when he was young. In the first year of the Shunzhi reign (1661), he
converted to Taoism; Bao Sanyang was a student at the local national
school in Daxing; Weng Chaoyang was a literatus in Wuxing; and Sun
Zeyang’s parents committed suicide at the death of Emperor Chong-
zhen. Sun Zeyang took charge of army supplies and was also an intel-
ligence officer for the four garrisons in Jiangbei. He took advantage of
his role to persuade people to fight against the Qing army. That was
why Li Dingguo defected to the southern Ming government.
10
Sun
Zeyang converted to Taoism after the fall of the southern Ming gov-
ernment. Wang Taiyuan, (called the “the big feet immortal”) from the
Xizhu Heart Branch, was the posthumous child of prince Tang of the
Ming dynasty. Zhang Pengtou was the son of Qu Shisi, a loyal officer
of the Ming dynasty.
From the middle of the Kangxi reign and the tenth generation of
the Longmen Branch, the national conflict abated and the branch
turned to recruiting literati who had failed the imperial examina-
tions or children of poor literati’s families. For example, Xie Binyang
“[f ]ailed three times in the imperial examination. Very frustrated, he
then converted to Taoism.”
11
Jin Jingling and Xu Qingyang took the
same course. Xu Shengzong “[h]ad been poor when he was young
and failed the imperial examination many times. He went to Guang-
dong and Fujian as the assistant to an official. He converted to Taoism
when he was tired of this life.”
12
Xu Ziyuan “converted to Taoism
after his family had become poor.”
13
Wang Shenghui had been the
child of a literati family in Hangzhou. His parents had died when he
was young. He became a vagabond and was adopted by Xu Qingyang
of the Longmen Branch. Wang Xiuhu of the Xizhu Heart Branch had
joined the army when young. He was never recompensed, even after
10
Idem, juan 3.
11
Idem, juan 4.
12
Idem.
13
Idem.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 241
several victories. In anger, he converted to Taoism on Lao Mountain.
Yun Dabian (1663–1773), also called the “Living dead,” joined the
army when he was young and had never been promoted. At the age
of 50, he eventually converted to Taoism. Shen Yibing and Min Yide
were all children of literary families. The latter had even been an offi-
cial and converted to Taoism in his later years.
These Taoist masters did not have habits and characteristics differ-
ent from those of Confucian literati. They showed their ascetic side
when they lived in seclusion, traveled in the mountains and along riv-
ers, and wrote books. They showed their Confucian side when they
studied Confucian classics, talked about their own original nature and
reason, and promoted loyalty and filial piety. They showed their Tao-
ist side when they dressed like Taoists, burnt incense, and practiced
meditation. They adopted both Confucian and Taoist aspects in their
lifestyles, thoughts, and behavior.
Among them, Tao Ying’an was a typical Taoist characterized by a
Taoist penchant outwardly and a Confucian literati penchant inwardly.
He was the son of an officer in Wuxing. He had sought refuge at his
nephew Tao Shi’an’s in Dongwu at the fall of the Ming dynasty. Feel-
ing sorry for his country, he traveled all over China for five years hop-
ing to fight against the Qing government and re-establish the Ming
dynasty. However, after having thought over the situation, he con-
verted to Taoism. He said: “I heard that, before practicing engage-
ment in the world, one must practice disengagement from the world
and vice versa because the Tao lies in these two attitudes. Those who
do not understand this are only ordinary people and do not deserve
to be spoken to.”
14
In the engagement in the world and the disen-
gagement from the world promoted by Wang Changyue he found
a philosophy of life that could be used to ease the mind. He lived in
seclusion on Jin’gai Mountain and kept contact with Huang Shouguo,
Sheng Qingya, the Confucian literatus Min Sheng, known as the “old
man with a bamboo hat,” and the Buddhist monk Dongming. His
nephew Tao Shi’an became a Confucian literatus and lived on Jin’gai
Mountain after his conversion to Taoism. He “[w]as silent all day
long. In the morning he read the Daxue and Zhongyong, then the Tao
Te Ching and Lengyan jing. At night he burned incense and worshipped
14
Idem, juan 2.
242 chen bing
the Dipper.”
15
His disciple Xu Ziyuan (1630–1719) lived like a hermit.
He “[a]te little and only vegetarian fare. He lived like a woodsman
and practiced a self-cultivation regimen. He enjoyed life. Sometimes
he sang, sometimes he dressed like a Taoist, sometimes he declaimed
verses with disheveled hair.”
16
These eminent Taoist masters were not concerned by the line drawn
between different schools and studied the classics of the three religions,
especially those of Confucianism. For example, Zhou Tailang was
reputed for his erudition in Taoism and Confucianism. When Gao
Dongli became his disciple, Zhou Tailang taught him first the Tao
Te Ching, then the Zhouyi cantongqi, the Wuzhen pian, the Huayuan jing
华严经, and finally the Xue yong daode shouzhang xinjing 学庸道德首章
心经, annotated by Zhao. Zhou Tailang told him: “[t]hese are the real
texts on engagement in the world and disengagement from the world.
They are simple to practice. After these, you will study the Zhouyi.
Then all conditions will be met for you to become immortal.”
17
Shen
Yibing was said to have been taught by a soothsayer, Li Niwan. After
that, “[h]e committed himself to the study of Confucian classics. He
studied the Zhouyi for more than fifty years. He was an expert on the
theory of ‘Shendu 慎独 (watching oneself in solitude).’ He was sincere
and quiet and kept his mind straight. In his later years, he possessed
the divine skill of foresight and had perfect knowledge of the common
origin of the three religions. His words and concepts proceeded from
the Daxue, Zhongyong, Neo-Confucianism, the Tao Te Ching, Lengyan jing,
and Zhouyi.”
18
These eminent Taoist masters wrote many books, especially on the
history of Taoism. For example, Fan Taiqing’s Bojian xu was the sequel
to Wang Changyue’s Bojian and recorded the history of the Long-
men Branch at the beginning of the Qing dynasty. Min Yide’s Jin’gai
xindeng recorded the history of the Longmen Branch as based on the
Jin’gai Mountain. In this book he also included the biographies of
sages, scholars, chaste women, and eminent monks who had connec-
tions to this mountain to show the syncretism of the three religions.
Chen Jiaoyou’s Changchun daojiao yuanliu was the first book dedicated to
the study of the Quanzhen School.
15
Idem, juan 3.
16
Idem.
17
Idem.
18
Idem, juan 4.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 243
The eminent Taoist masters of Longmen Branch endeavored to
promote loyalty and filial piety. Tao Jing’an advised his disciples:
“[t]he celestial immortals were filial children and loyal ministers when
they lived in this world. The duke Shouting of the Han (Guan Yu)
was beheaded. However, he became Lord in Heaven. I have never
heard that he had practiced Taoist inner alchemy or fasted. Our prac-
tices are based on daily virtue. It is very important.”
19
Tan Shoucheng
advised others “to be loyal, filial, sincere, and silent.”
20
Tao Shi’an told
his disciples “[t]he teachings of the Branch of the Jin’gai Mountain are
based upon loyalty and filial piety.”
21
The Jin’gai Mountain in Huzhou was the place where eminent
Confucian literati, monks, and Taoists lived in seclusion. At the begin-
ning of the Qing dynasty, a big temple of the Longmen Branch was
built there. In this temple, Tao Jing’an and Tao Shi’an were renowned
for their erudition on Confucianism and Taoism. When Min Yide
became the Taoist abbot of this temple, he used Confucian teach-
ings and further secularized the doctrine of the Longmen Branch. He
created the “Simple Method of the Longmen Branch” according to
which all people, whether followers of a particular school, whether
religious or lay, had to follow Confucian ethics. This method is some-
what different from Neo-Confucianism. It became very popular in the
southeastern region because it corresponded to the ideological trend
of the times. Dai Benheng wrote in his postscript to the Jueyun ben-
zhi daotong xinchuan that after Min Yide had created a simple method,
“[m]ost Taoists were laymen and more and more Confucian literati
converted to Taoism. . . . Today, it is said that Taoism has spread over
the Jiangzhe region.”
The Theory of Taoist Inner Alchemy of Liu Yiming,
Liu Huayang, and Min Yide
The Longmen Branch of the Qing dynasty insisted on the observance
of precepts and the cultivation of one’s own original nature, neglect-
ing the practice of Taoist inner alchemy. However, some Taoists were
19
Idem, juan 2.
20
Chen Ding, Liuxi waizhuan 留溪外传.
21
Jin’gai xindeng, juan 3.
244 chen bing
illustrious for their works on this alchemical practice, such as Liu
Yiming, Liu Huayang, and Min Yide, each one having his particular
method.
Liu Yiming wrote more than ten works on Taoist inner alchemy,
including Yili chanzhen 易理阐真 [True Explanation of the Yijing], Xiang-
yan poyi 象言破疑 [Explanation of the Different Compositions of the Trigrams],
Yinfujing zhu 阴符经注 [Commentary on the Yinfujing], Cantong zhizhi 参同
直指 [Explanation of the Zhouyi cantongqi], and Wuzhen zhizhi 悟真直指
[Explanation of the Wuzhen pian]. At the beginning of the Republican
period, these works were published together as Daoshu shierzhong 道书
十二种 [Twelve Taoist Works], which was popular. He also produced
works on medicine such as the Jingyan zafang 经验杂方 [Diverse Verified
Prescriptions] and Yanke qimeng 眼科启蒙 [Ophthalmology for Beginners]. He
wrote the greatest number of works and created the greatest theoreti-
cal system among all Taoists of the Qing dynasty.
Liu Yiming inherited the theory of the syncretism of the Quanzhen
School in the Jin and Yuan dynasties and made a synthesis of the
doctrines of the three religions concerning the Tao, the Spirit and the
Body, and the Orthodox Tao. He said in his preface to Zhinanzhen 指
南针 [Compass]: “[t]he study of the spirit and body is the orthodox
Tao. The latter is called the Doctrine of the Mean in Confucianism,
the Unique Vehicle in Buddhism, and the Golden Cinnabar in Tao-
ism. That is the way to build the syncretism of the three religions.”
He often explained Confucian classics by means of Taoist doctrines,
considering the Daxue and Zhongyong as works on the theory of the spirit
and the body and comparing the Yizhuan to Taoist inner alchemy. He
wrote the Zhouyi chanzhen 周易阐真 [True Explanation of Zhouyi ] and
Kongyi chanzhen 孔易阐真 [True Explanation of Kongyi] to explain the
Yijing using the doctrines of Taoist inner alchemy because he believed
the Yizhuan was the origin of those doctrines. He said, “[t]he doctrines
of Taoist inner alchemy and that of the Yijing are identical. The Tao of
the sages and that of the immortals are identical”
22
and “all books on
Taoist inner alchemy deal with the same principle as in the Yijing.”
23
Liu Yiming regarded the Tao, the origin of the three religions, as
the ultimate philosophical basis of Taoist inner alchemy. He said, in
22
Yili chanzhen xu 易理阐真序.
23
Kongyi chanzhen.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 245
his Xiuzhen biannan 修真辨难 [Solving Difficulties for Self-cultivators]: “[t]he
Tao is the transcendental, original, cosmological qi. . . . It is called Taiji
in Confucianism, Golden Cinnabar in Taoism, and Enlightenment
in Buddhism.” According to his Zhouyi chanzhen, the Taiji was the
human “true heart.” So the “original cosmological qi” and the “true
heart” were identical. He adopted the theories of Neo-Confucianism
to develop those of Taoist inner alchemy. He also treated, among
other things, the relationship between the Tao and Yin and Yang, the
spirit and the body, reason and qi, the precedence between Yin and
Yang and spirit and body, and the relationship between Taoist inner
alchemy and Taoist laboratory alchemy.
Liu Yiming explained the relationship between the Tao and Yin
and Yang using the concepts of noumenon and phenomenon. He
combined the Confucian theory of Yin and Yang and the Taoist
theory of the Tao, saying, in the Xiuzhen biannan: “[t]he Tao is Yin
and Yang in terms of noumenon while the Tao is invisible in terms
of phenomenon.” He also said, from the cosmological point of view:
“[b]efore the separation of the Taiji, the Yin and Yang were part of
the Tao. After the separation of the Taiji, the Tao was born from the
Yin and Yang . . . before the birth there was the Tao, whereas after the
birth there were the Yin and Yang. The Tao is the origin of the Yin
and Yang, whereas the Yin and Yang are manifestations of the Tao.
The Taiji is separated into Yin and Yang whereas Yin and Yang are
unified into the Taiji, just like the relationship between one and two.”
He distinguished the prenatal from the postnatal Yin and Yang: “[t]he
prenatal Yin and Yang was the qi. The postnatal Yin and Yang was
the matter. The former was included in the Taiji, whereas he latter
was born from the Taiji.” “Inner Yin and Yang are prenatal Yin and
Yang and are physical, whereas the outer Yin and Yang is the post-
natal Yin and Yang and is invisible.” He studied Yin and Yang with
that precise distinction in mind.
Liu Yiming studied “original nature and destiny” as the basis of
humanity, and considered Taoist inner alchemy from the concept of
the “Unity of Heaven and Man.” He said, in the Xiuzhen biannan: “[t]he
paternal semen and the maternal blood come together; and cosmo-
logical qi penetrate the fetus. Then the visible is born from the invisi-
ble. All organs and members are formed naturally.” The human being
is born from the fetus and live in postnatal Yin and Yang. Original
nature and destiny are born in the prenatal Yin and Yang. “Life is
the qi whereas original nature is reason.” “Original nature and destiny
246 chen bing
are the noumenon of the Yin and Yang, while the Yin and Yang are
the phenomena of original nature and destiny.” “The original nature
given by Heaven is true, whereas the nature given by the qi is false.
The life of Tao is true, whereas the life of destiny is false. The prena-
tal one is true, whereas the postnatal one is false.” These theories are
Neo-Confucian.
According to Liu Yiming, the secret of the success of Taoist inner
alchemy lay in the discovery of prenatal nature and life in the post-
natal body. One should practice in the reverse direction of evolution,
returning to the origin to unify the Taiji, the prenatal and postnatal,
original nature and life. Prenatal nature and life proceeded from the
“Unique Orifice of Mystery Pass.” “This orifice cannot be felt by the
six senses and is situated in a place not composed by the Five Agents.
In the chaos, there is an orifice in which there is a door. It opens
and closes automatically. When one calls it, it will answer. When one
shakes it, it will be activated. It is clear and bright. When one under-
stands it, it is right in front of him. When one does not understand it,
it is remote.” This passage describes the subjective feeling born from
the practice of meditation.
There were two methods in the practice of Taoist inner alchemy: that
of “original nature preceding life” of the northern Quanzhen School
and that of “life preceding original nature” of the southern Quanzhen
School. Liu Yiming adopted both methods, advocating that practitio-
ners should choose a method according to their nature. According to
the Xiuzhen biannan, the intelligent one “was able to acknowledge his
origin immediately once he met the master and learned the secret
instructions. Hence, he progressed gradually by keeping close to his
origin.” This was the method of “original nature preceding life” of
the northern Quanzhen School. The obtuse one would not be able
to understand quickly. He would need the method of “life preceding
original nature” of the southern Quanzhen School. In the Xiuzhen bian-
nan, the methods of Taoist inner alchemy were classified in three cat-
egories that corresponded to three levels among Taoists. The superior
“Free Method” and the moderate “Expedient Method” were dedi-
cated to those who followed the practice of original nature and life.
The inferior “Hard Method” was meant for disciples who, deprived
of intelligence, “had to leave aside all their affairs and work hard
physically and spiritually. One day they would suddenly understand
the origin. Knowing that, they should continue to work following the
superior and moderate methods.” Liu Yiming developed this method
of teaching according to everyone’s ability.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 247
In the Xiuzhen biannan it says: “the double practice of the Tao and
techniques, original nature and life is the supreme way of the unique
vehicle . . . it should be practiced in gradual steps.” There were 18
secrets and 24 keys for this practice, which could be organized in
four stages. The first, “constructing the base and cultivating the self,”
consisted in abstaining from anger and desire, destroying attachments,
studying doctrines thoroughly, enduring hardship, being tolerant to
others, regarding others like another self, putting life and death on an
equal footing, keeping one’s semen, and pushing away the demons of
sleep, all of which were “based on the non-self.”
24
For the second and
third stages, Liu Yiming followed the methods described in the Wuzhen
pian and the key points he noted resembled (eminent Song-period Tao-
ist) Bo Yuchan’s. For instance, the key point for the second stage of
collecting medicine, cultivating, and washing was “comprehending the
Male and guarding the Female and following natural cycles.” The key
point for the third stage of taking medicine and cultivating the self was
“forgetting the body and the mind. Think not and do not. Approach
not and leave not.” The key point for the fourth stage of cultivat-
ing the spirit and returning to vacuity was “living between Existence
and Non-existence and regarding the world as vacuity.” In addition,
Liu Yimin classified the timing of Taoist inner alchemy internally and
externally, collecting medicine, refining it, refining cinnabar, making
cinnabar, cultivating heat, taking cinnabar, nurturing the fetus, culti-
vating nature, cultivating life, civil fire, and martial fire. He also dealt
with the practice of female alchemy. He did not explain the meth-
ods of Taoist inner alchemy in precise detail. However, he developed
the theories of Taoist inner alchemy more than other scholars of the
Qing dynasty.
Liu Yiming’s Theories on Taoist Inner Alchemy
At the end of the Ming dynasty, Wang Changyue’s disciple Wu Shou-
yang studied the Taoist inner alchemy of Li Niwan, Cao Huanyang,
and Zhao Zhensong, and wrote the Xianfo hezong yulu 仙佛合宗语录
[Speech on the Unified Origin of Immortals and Buddhas], Tianxian zhengli
天仙正理 [Orthodox Principle of Immortals], and Dandao jiupian 丹道九
篇 [Nine Texts on Taoist Inner Alchemy], which described in detail the
24
Xiuzhen jiuyao 修真九要.
248 chen bing
methods of Taoist inner alchemy. His theory was characterized by
its combination of Buddhism and Taoism. His disciple Xie Ningsu
inherited his theory, writing more than ten works of which the Jinxian
zhenglun 金仙证论 [Argumentation on Golden Immortals], Huiming pian 慧
命篇 [Essay on Wisdom and Life], and Jindan huohou 金丹火候 [Timing
of Refining Golden Cinnabar] were the most interesting. In the chapter of
Xie Ningsu’s biography in the Jin’gai xindeng it says, “[i]n the fourth
year of the Jiaqing reign (1799), a monk called Liu Huayang lived to
the east of the Temple of Heaven. He was about 40 or 50 years old,
a native of Anqing or Wujing. I visited him and he showed me the
books that he had written.” The table of contents was identical to that
of Xie Ningsu but their contents were a little different. Liu Huayang
was likely none other than Xie Ningsu. Xie Ningsu’s works have been
lost. Only Liu Huayang’s Jinxian zhenglun and Huiming jing have come
down to us. People attributed the “School of Wu and Liu” to him
and Wu Shouyang because he inherited the latter’s theory According
to the Huiming jing, Liu Huayang met Wu Shouyang, who taught him
the secret methods. However, Wu Shouyang died in the year of jiashen
(1644). Liu Huayang could not possibly have met him. This book was
probably copied from Xie Ningsu’s eponymous book.
Liu Huayang divided the practice of Taoist inner alchemy into four
stages: refining the self and returning to vacuity, the small circle of
revolution (refining the jing and transforming the qi), the big circle
of revolution (refining the qi and transforming the shen), and, finally,
returning to vacuity. According to the Jinxian zhenglun, there were two
methods for refining the self and returning to vacuity. The gifted ones
used the method of sudden comprehension, which consisted in “sleep-
ing and awakening, attaching not to the body or to the spirit, and clar-
ifying the heart without doubt.” Those deprived of intelligence used
the method of gradual comprehension, which consisted in getting rid
of desire and feelings, braving demons with clear views, and working
hard in the hope of gaining comprehension one day. His theory was
similar to that of his contemporary Liu Yiming.
Liu Huayang described collecting medicine, refining, reinforcing,
and timing the small circle of revolution, illusions experiences while
in meditation, and their spiritual and physical effects, in even greater
detail than Wu Shouyang. For example, he said in the Jinxian zhenglun:
“what is the prenatal before the birth? It is the moment of chaos. But
what is chaos? It is the prenatal shen. In the moment of the chaos,
the true pace is activated automatically. The penis is suddenly erect.
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 249
That is the prenatal jing.” According to him, the prenatal jing and the
prenatal shen were identical. The qi moved, while the jing remained in
peace. In the moment of chaos, there was a movement in peace. It was
the moment called the “Flexible Moment of the zi hour.” Then the
original jing was born. After that, the practitioner refined the original
jing with civil or martial fire, according to its status. The spiritual and
physical effect of the making of the jing and medicine was especially
detailed:
The qi is full and the medicine is efficient. It is peaceful and then the
celestial pace is activated. Naturally, the practitioner will feel comfort-
able in his whole body. The feeling of softness and joy will spread from
the fingers to the body. The body will be upright like a mountain and
the heart will be peaceful and calm like the image of the autumn moon
reflected in a lake. Each pore will tickle and the heart will be full of joy.
It is hard to express such feeling in words.
Liu Huayang decrypted classical works on Taoist inner alchemy,
revealing their methods and effects directly. His writing were typical
of the vulgarization of these kinds of books. Even though Liu Hua-
yang was a Buddhist monk, he had a Taoist name and studied Tao-
ist doctrines. His disciples, such as the Buddhist monks Huoran and
Zhenyuan, also studied Taoist inner alchemy. Liu Huayang was also
renowned for annotating Buddhist works with Taoist terms. In the
Jinxian lunzheng and Huiming jing he said that the Buddhist unique law
and direct way of transmission taught by Bodhidharma and Huineng
was indeed the practice of Taoist inner alchemy, which consisted in
the double cultivation of original nature and life. At the same time
he criticized such popular Buddhist practices as studying abstract dia-
logues, reciting Buddha’s name, reciting sutras, and fasting for seven
days because “they were not the orthodox law of Buddha.” He con-
sidered the words of Buddhist masters to be ridiculous and caused
Buddhist monks to react angrily to his criticism. The printing blocks
for his books were burned for that reason.
Shen Yibing and Min Yide’s Theories on Taoist Inner Alchemy
Min Yide compiled the most influential book on Taoist inner alchemy
in the Qing dynasty, the Gushu yinlou cangshu, which contained 28
distinct works. Most were about Taoist inner alchemy. Min Yide’s
knowledge of Taoist inner alchemy was transmitted by Shen Yibing,
250 chen bing
who was taught by the immortal Li Niwan. Works in the Gushu yinlou
cangshu included the Sanni yishi jue 三尼医世诀 [Practical Instructions on
the Three Sages’ Doctrine of Healing the World], Tianxian xinchuan 天仙心传
[Heart Transmission from the Heavenly Immortal], and Suoyan xu 琐言续
[Sequel to an Ignored Transmission], all transmitted by Shen Yibing and
annotated by Min Yide and also the Jindan sibaizi zhu 金丹四百字注
[Annotation on the Four-hundred Words Essay on Inner Alchemy] written by
Min Yide. Min Yide also annotated the works written by other authors
in that book.
Shen Yibing and Min Yide proposed three methods of Taoist inner
alchemy: the direct practice of original nature, the method of “original
nature preceding life,” and that of “life preceding original nature,” and
attached importance to the cultivation of the heart in the revelation
of one’s original nature. Shen Yibing said, in his Tianxian daojie xuzhi
天仙道戒须知 [Essentials on the Taoist Precepts of the Heavenly Immortals]:
“[t]he study of immortals is the study of the heart. The practitioner
has to cultivate his heart until it reaches enlightenment. The Tianxian
xinchuan also says: “[t]he true study of immortals can not be analyzed
or measured. All the practitioner has to do is to empty his mind. All
his practical experiences should be left aside.” Neophytes who have
not acceded to the practice of refining the jing and transforming the
qi, are asked to cultivate their hearts and original nature directly and
“start from the Biyuan tanjing.” Clearly, Shen Yibing and Min Yide had
adopted Wang Changyue’s theory.
Shen Yibing and Min Yide believed that vacuity, non-existence,
and original nature were the bases of the practice. In the Suoyan xu,
the rules of inner practice were summed up as: “sit straight, empty
the heart, and realize the idea.” “The essential is attached to noth-
ing and is ‘immovable’.” Cultivate original nature in movement and
life in peace. When the “Flexible Moment of the zi hour” came, the
practitioner should seize the opportunity to practice. The essential is
to be natural during practice and not to do it forcibly. He annotated
the notion of “non-idea” as “observe the change of jing, qi, and shen
with a clear and concentrated mind.” The practitioner should have
no other ideas than this one. That was why it was called “non-idea”
or “realizing the idea.”
Some of Shen Yibing’s and Min Yide’s theories, especially those of
the latter, differed from traditional ones. For instance, for the begin-
ning stage, according to the Tianxian xinfa, the practitioner conducted
the light from the vertex to the point between the eyebrows and
the revival of the longmen branch of the quanzhen school 251
concentrated on the “root of the mountain” (the point between the
eyes). The Six Steps method noted in the Sanni yishi shuo shu, compiled
by Huang Shouyuan and Tao Shi’an and said to have been transmit-
ted by Lü Dongbin, also started with concentrating on the vertex with
eyes closed. According to the Du Sanni yishi shuo guankui 读三尼医世
说管窥 [Simple Explanation of Sanni yishishuo], written by Min Yide, the
practitioner should contemplate until he forgets everything. Then he
should visualize the body in the orifice of the ancestor and observe the
movements of jing and qi in the body. The method noted in the Donghua
zhengmai huangji hebi xianjing 东华正脉皇极阖辟仙经 [Divine Scripture of
Opening or Closing the Imperial Ultimate, in the Orthodox Transmission from
Eastern Flower (Lord)], said to have been transmitted by the immortal
Yin Pengtou, started with concentrating on the “Yellow Center”—an
orifice on the back of the body. The method noted in the Taiyi jinhua
zongzhi 太一金华宗旨 [Ultimate Purport of the Golden Flower of the Great
One], collated by Tao Shi’an and said to have been transmitted by
Lü Dongbin, started with concentrating on the eyes and the point
between the eyebrows. For the circulation of jing and qi, Shen Yibing
and Min Yide suggested that the “Yellow Way” was on the back,
through which the prenatal jing and qi went up and down. Shen Yi-
bing and Min Yide called it the “direct communication to the Middle
Yellow,” which differed from the way of the two ren and du vessels in
traditional Taoist scriptures. These methods can not be found in the
Taoist scriptures of the Yuan or Ming dynasties and might have been
invented by Taoists of the Longmen Branch in the Qing dynasty.
The Taoists of the Longmen Branch in the Qing dynasty developed
Taoist inner alchemy. Liu Yiming, for example, developed the theory
of Taoist inner alchemy by integrating Neo-Confucianism. Xi Ningsu,
Shen Yibing, and Min Yide detailed the methods of Taoist inner
alchemy. The vulgarization of Taoist inner alchemy enabled Taoism
to open up its practice out of secret transmission and exercise its influ-
ence on society at large, especially through present-day Qiqong.
THE IMPACT OF THE TAOIST MORALITY BOOK
TAIWEI XIANJUN GONGGUOGE 太微仙君功过格
[REGISTER OF MERITS AND DEMERITS OF THE
DIVINE LORD OF GREAT TENUITY ]
1
Chen Xia
From the Southern Song dynasty to the Mid-Ming dynasty, Taoist
rituals gained in popularity. At the same time, Taoist morality books
were circulated as an important means to improve people’s moral life.
In the Qin and Han dynasties, there were already similar morality
books such as the Yushu 语书 [Book of Speeches], Xiaojing 孝经 [Book of
Filial Piety], and the Nüjie 女戒 [Rules for Women]. However, moral-
ity books as such first made their appearance in the Song dynasty.
Morality book was the general name given to the popular books from
all schools that urged people to do good. People also called this type
of book “Benevolent Book,” “Text of Advice for People,” or “Book
on Retribution.” Those names referred not only to religious morality
books and secular tracts on improving mores, but also to rules writ-
ten by the government, such as “imperial decrees,” and to popular
morality plays. High-level officials, literati, craftsmen, and ordinary
people all added to their compilation, popularization, and interpreta-
tion. Taoism had a pioneering role in their evolution. Compiled under
the Song dynasty, the Taishang ganying pian was both the first morality
book and the first Taoist book of this kind. Taishang ganying pian, the
Wenchang dijun yinzhiwen 文昌帝君阴骘文 [Lord Wenchang’s Text of Hid-
den Administration], and the Guansheng dijun jueshi zhenjing 关圣帝君觉世
真经 [The Book of Enlightenment of Lord Guan] were called the “Three
Sacred Classics of Morality Books” because they were widely read,
exerted great influence, and were often commented upon. Theism is
the main characteristic of Taoist morality books. According to these
books, deities supervise people’s behavior, mete out punishment or
rewards, and urge people to do good in order to become immortal.
“Avoid evil action, instead practice benevolent deeds”: this phrase is
1
Published originally in Daojiao quanshanshu yanjiu 道教劝善书研究. Chengdu:
Bashu shushe, 1999, ch. 2, section 4. This chapter is a revised version.
254 chen xia
the gist of Taoist morality books. From the Song and Yuan dynasties,
numerous Taoist morality books were compiled; they culminated in
the Ming and Qing dynasties. Taoist morality books were widespread,
exerted great influence right into the Republican period, and had by
then existed for almost a thousand years in China.
Definition of the Register of Merits and Demerits
Taoist morality books can be classified into four categories: Argument,
Operation, Record, and Punishment. The books in the Argument cat-
egory revealed rules and principles (of moral retribution) to the public.
The Taishang ganying pian was the masterpiece in this category. Taoist
morality books in the Record category told miracle stories of retribu-
tion, as shown in the Zitong dijun huashu 梓潼帝君化书 [Transformation
Book of Lord Zitong] and the Qinghe neizhuan 清河内传 [Inner Legend of
Qinghe]. The books in the Punishment category described Hell, like
the Yuli chaozhuan 玉历钞传 [ Jade Register], which was dedicated to
the subject of punishment after death. In the Operation category the
books set forth and applied Taoist rules. The Taiwei xianjun gongguoge
was the first Taoist morality book in the Operation category.
Li Shan quoted the “Essay on Cangjie” saying: “ge 格 means mea-
sure.” Gongguoge is a book that measures merits and demerits. “Gefa
格法,” “tianquan 天券,” and “biaoge 标格,” cited in Taoist scriptures
before the Song and Yuan dynasties, were early forms of Taoist moral-
ity books. The compilation of the chapter “Merits and Demerits” of
the Zhiyan zong 至言总 [Collection of Perfect Speeches] represents a more
complete form of the Taoist morality book.
2
According to it: “the Mer-
its and Demerits mean saving the living, saving the dead, and being
benevolent to others.” In the Lieji jing 列纪经 (Scripture of the Chronicles)
it says: “he who follows the Tao must practice its virtues, be com-
passionate with everything and everyone, support who is in difficulty,
help people in trouble, prefer the Tao to wealth, avoid meanness, give
money where it is needed, and pray on his knees with a sincere heart.”
In the Benyuan jing 本愿经 (Scripture of the Fundamental Vow):
2
Li Gang, “Daojiao gongguoge jiexi 道教功过格解析,” in Daojia wenhua yanjiu,
no. 7, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995.
the impact of the taoist morality book 255
He who wants to become immortal must gain 30 points of merit. It is
said that someone who gathers 3,000 points of merit becomes immortal
in a day. According to the chapter “Merits and Demerits” of the Zhiyan
zong: Doing good lengthens life whereas doing evil shortens it. Deities
metes out recompense or punishment unerringly.
3
This passage shows that the tradition of measuring personal behav-
ior has existed for a long time. However, these Taoist scriptures only
mentioned the existence of this kind of book and the awards or pun-
ishments, without referring to a concrete method of counting merits
or demerits. The Taiwei xianjun gongguoge, which inherited this method
of analyzing behavior, was the first book to define the awards and
punishments with great precision.
The Taiwei xianjun gongguoge and the
Jingming Taoist School (净明道)
The Taiwei xianjun gongguoge, classified in the Authenticity Cavern
(Dongzhen 洞真) part of the Taoist Canon, is the earliest Taoist moral-
ity book; it is signed “Youxuanzi of the Huizhen Hall of the West-
ern Mountain.” The Western Mountain is the cradle of the Jingming
School. Xu Xun took refuge in Nanchang in Yuzhang Province where
the Western Mountain is located.
4
We also find the Xishan Xu zhen-
jun bashiwu huashu 西山许真官八十五化书 [Eighty-five Transformations
of Lord Xu of the Western Mountain]. The Jingming School Taoist master
Zhang Hongya studied and enjoyed fishing on Western Mountain and
he died there.
5
Liu Yu, who restored the Jingming School, was called
the “Hermit of the Western Mountain.” The center of the activities
of the Jingming School was the Western Mountain where, according
to the legend, Xu Xun of the Eastern Jin dynasty became immortal
and went up to Heaven. In the first year of the Zhenghe reign of
Emperor Hui of the Song dynasty (AD 1112), Xu Xun was given the
title of “Lord of Perfect Release and Divine Merit.” Consequently, the
Jingming School, whose main deity was Xu Xun, prospered under
the Southern Song dynasty. From the author’s signature, we know that
3
On this text, see Daozang tiyao. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1991,
p. 777.
4
Jingming zhongxiao quanshu, see the Taoist Canon. Shanghai shudian: Tianjin Ancient
Books Publishing House, 1988, Cultural Relics Press, vol. 24, p. 623.
5
Idem, p. 629.
256 chen xia
he belonged to the Jingming School and that this book was compiled
in the eleventh year of the Dading reign of Emperor Shi of the Jin
dynasty (also the seventh year of the Qiandao reign of Emperor Xiao of
the Southern Song dynasty, AD 1171). According to a Japanese study,
the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge was a classic of the Jingming School.
6
As a new school advocating the use of talismans, the Jingming, also
called Jingming Zhongxiao School stemmed from the Lingbao School
and took in elements from the Shangqing and the Zhengyi Schools.
In AD 1125, after conquering the Liao kingdom with the allied forces
of the Northern Song government, the Jin government, taking advan-
tage of its unguarded boarders, attacked and conquered the Northern
Song empire. Prince Kang (Zhao Gou) established the Southern Song
government in the Jiangnan region to oppose the Jin government.
Most of the northern region was ruled by the Jin government and suf-
fered from intense fighting between different ethnic groups and social
classes. The ancient Taoist system was destroyed, but the need for
religion gave rise to many new Taoist Schools. Under pressure from
the Jin government, the people—but also the emperor of the South-
ern Song—lived in fear and prayed for the protection of the gods.
Although Taoism at that time was not as successful as under the reign
of the emperors Zhen and Hui, schools that used talismans, such as
the Jingming School, were active because they were experts at con-
ducting rituals and finding solutions to the daily needs of the people.
The outstanding feature of the Jingming School was its emphasis
on feudal ethics. The name Jingming was interpreted thus: “Jing-
ming means simply sincerity and loyalty and filial piety, which helps
strengthen the social structure. (. . .) What is the meaning of jing? It
means unpolluted. What is the meaning of ming? It means untouched.
Unpolluted and untouched, then loyalty and filial piety follow natu-
rally.” The Taiwei xianjun gongguoge was the book of rules and behavior
of the Jingming School. Its author wrote:
I write 36 rules concerning merits and 39 rules concerning demerits,
classified, respectively, in four categories. This book is dedicated to those
who long to become immortal. Write down merits and demerits every-
day. Verify them every month and examine them every year. Then a
Taoist can measure his merits and demerits, which will correspond to
6
Fukui Kojun, Daojiao 道教, translated by Zhu Yueli. Shanghai: Shanghai guji
chubanshe, 1992, vol. 2, p. 118.
the impact of the taoist morality book 257
those noted down by celestial officials. . . . Observe these rules, shun evil,
and strive for goodness. If you practice these with sincerity, you will
become immortal.
7
Contents of the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge
Compared with later Taoist morality books, entries in the Taiwei xian-
jun gongguoge were simpler and fewer. The highest-ranking good action
deserves 100 merits, whereas the lowest-ranking evil action deserves
100 demerits. In the category of merits, there are 36 clauses dedicated
almost exclusively to Taoists and divided into four groups: the first
group concerns assistance to others. It includes saving people with
talismans and medicine; helping widows, widowers, people who live
alone, and famine refugees; and repairing roads and bridges. For
example, “he who treats serious illness with talismans and medicine
deserves 10 merits, 5 merits for minor ailment. If one accepts reward,
there will be no merit for him. The same applies if he cures the patient
with exorcism.” “For repairing a road and cleaning a place covered in
mud, one deserves 10 merits a day.”
The second group concerns scriptures. It includes the study of Tao-
ist classics, the seeking of advice on scriptures, their protection, and
transmission. For example, “he who transmits the scriptures for the
salvation of people deserves 5 merits, 4 merits for the transmission of
the meditation scriptures, 3 merits for the transmission of the scrip-
tures on rituals.”
The third group deals with rituals, including those for repairing
Taoist buildings, instructions for carrying out rituals, and reciting
scriptures for people. For example, “He who honors gods day and
night for country and people deserves 2 merits a day. If he does it for
himself, he deserves 1 merit a day.” “He who conducts a ritual for the
country, people, ancestors, wandering souls, and parents, driving away
calamities, and saving souls, deserves 2 merits per ritual, 1 merit for
his client and one for himself. If he has received a pledge (in payment),
there will be no merit for him.”
The fourth group dealt with social life. It includes charity, propa-
gating doctrines, mediation in disputes, and thriftiness. For example,
7
The Taoist Canon. Shanghai shudian: Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House,
1988, Cultural Relics Press, vol. 3, p. 449.
258 chen xia
“He who propagates doctrines and explains them to people deserves
1 merit for every 10 persons present, the maximum number of merits
gained is 50.”
In the category of demerits, there were 39 clauses divided into four
groups: the first concerns the uncompassionate. It refers to situations
such as seeing someone in mortal danger without doing anything to
save him, studying heretical skills like malediction, and killing. For
example, “He who sees someone or an animal being killed without
doing anything deserves half the demerits attributed to the killer. He
who has no compassion deserves 2 demerits. He who helps killing
deserves 5 demerits.”
The second concerns mischievous actions. It includes destroying
temples, eating meat, profaning the gods, and misinterpreting the
Taoist scriptures. For example, “He who scolds the Celestial Worthy
or destroys a statue of the Celestial Worthy deserves 20 demerits, 15
demerits for immortals, 10 demerits for the divine lord, 2 demerits
for the witness who does not intervene, and 5 demerits for whoever
helps in the destruction. One who burns or destroys Taoist scriptures
deserves the same demerits.”
The third dealt with disloyalty. It included an inclination for fight-
ing, lying, despising teachers, and living without friends. For example,
“He who does not study from a good teacher deserves 2 demerits. He
who does not obey the teacher deserves 10 demerits. He who betrays
his teacher deserves 50 demerits. He who violates the teacher’s teach-
ings deserves 30 demerits, the same applies for the violation of parents’
teachings.”
The fourth deals with the violation of laws. It concerns the transmis-
sion of false doctrines to disciples, the writing of erotic novels, drink-
ing, and the seeking of pleasure. For example, “He who eats the five
pungent spices without special reason deserves 1 demerit per kind of
spice. He who reads scriptures after having eaten the five pungent
spices deserves 10 demerits per volume, 5 demerits for a small scrip-
ture, and 1 demerit for each deity. He who eats the five pungent spices
during a fast deserves 5 demerits.”
The Influence of the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge
A large number of Taoist Registers of Merits and Demerits were com-
piled after the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge, like the Wenchang dijun gongguoge
文昌帝君功过格 [Register of Merits and Demerits of the Lord Wenchang],
the impact of the taoist morality book 259
the Shijie gongguoge 十戒功过格 [Ledger of Merits and Demerits of the Ten
Precepts], the Jingshi gongguoge 警世功过格 [Register of Merits and Demer-
its of Admonishment], and the Shi Yinfu gongguoge 石音夫功过格 [Register
of Merits and Demerits of Shi Yinfu], and set a trend in the writing of
such registers under the Ming and Qing dynasties. Compared to the
Taiwei xianjun gongguoge, the registers of merits and demerits of the
Ming and Qing dynasties were simpler, more accessible, and more
practical. The classification was more meticulous and all classes in
society were involved, whereas the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge had been
meant only for Taoists. A novel spirit of syncretism pervaded these
books and was characterized by a drive to adapt to contemporary con-
ditions. For instance, the Wenchang dijun gongguoge, the product of spirit-
writing in the second year of Yongzheng (AD 1724), recommended a
simpler method for recording merits and demerits—that of yellow and
black beans:
Make a purse of any size and tie it to the waist. The purse has three
layers. The internal layer contains yellow beans, the external layer con-
tains black beans, and the middle layer is used for counting merits and
demerits. When one wins a merit, he takes a small yellow bean and puts
it in the middle layer. When one commits a fault, he takes a small black
bean and puts it in the middle layer. A big yellow bean for 10 merits,
a big black bean for 10 demerits. Before sleep, count the beans in the
middle layer and note in a daily register. That is the secret and simple
method. In this way people can assess their behavior. One could attain
a very high level before knowing it. If unregistered, most of those actions
done during the day would be forgotten before being noted at night.
8
A calendar was appended to this book. Before using this book, a rit-
ual of announcement would be carried out, and an account would
be made to Lord Wenchang one month after the application. The
method of the yellow and black beans mentioned in this book was
used by Taoists and ordinary people alike. The Shi Yinfu gongguoge gave
an example of someone who had become immortal after this method
was used in a ritual.
Influenced by Taoist registers of merits and demerits, gentlemen
and literati also compiled a great number of registers of merits and
demerits, like the Dangguan gongguoge 当官功过格 [Register of Merits and
Demerits for Officials], the Bufeiqian gongdeli 不费钱功德例 [Merits without
8
Yuan Xiaobo, Wenchang dijun gongguoge, see Minjian quanshanshu 民间劝善书.
Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995, p. 202.
260 chen xia
Spending Money], the Wenchang dijun xizi gongdelü 文昌帝君惜字功德律
[Merit Rules on Cherishing Written Characters of Lord Wenchang], and the
Jieyin gongguoge 戒淫功过格 [Register of Merits and Demerits for Preventing
Lewdness]. There were also the Huibian gongguoge 汇编功过格 [Collection
of Registers of Merits and Demerits], collated by Hu Zheng’an, and other
collections, like the Huizuan gongguoge 汇纂功过格 [Collection of Regis-
ters of Merits and Demerits] and the Guang gongguoge xinbian 广功过格新
编 [New Edition of the Collection of Registers of Merits and Demerits]. Their
authors were officials, gentlemen, members of the Fushe 复社 (Restora-
tion Society), and students who had failed the imperial examinations.
Taoists believed, they could attain their objective by counting merits
and demerits accurately. The Register of Merits and Demerits of gen-
tlemen imitated the Taoist Register of Merits and Demerits not only
in its form but also in its reference to the Taoist utilitarian concept
of retribution. Confucianism advocated unconditional benevolence.
However, officials and gentlemen believed “ordinary people do good
for merits and dare not do evil, to avoid demerit. Heaven encour-
ages people through the Register of Merits and Demerits. . . . Ordinary
people are many, so the use of the Register of Merits and Demerits
can be spread widely.”
9
At that time, literati were criticized because
they committed themselves to philanthropy in order to achieve fame
and fortune. “Today, people commit themselves to philanthropy
for merit and believe 1,000 charities equal 1,000 merits and 10,000
charities equal 10,000 merits. In fact the Register of Merits and
Demerits is meant for the common people. As for the literati, charity
is their duty.”
10
The birth of the Buddhist morality books bore the influence of
the Taoist morality books
11
and the Buddhist Registers of Merits and
Demerits were compiled in a similar way. Of these, the most impor-
tant work was the Zizhi lu 自知录 [Register for Self-knowledge], written by
9
The chapter “Gongguoge xuyan 功过格绪言” of the Huizuan gongguoge, see the
Wang Shihe fushanlun 王石和福善论, chapter 5: “Xiushenge huocai 修身格货财.”
10
Zhu Guozhen, Yongchuang xiaopin 涌幢小品, see the Biji xiaoshuo daguan 笔记小说
大观. Hangzhou: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1983, vol. 13.
11
“Morality Books urge people to do good. They synthesize the three religions
and explain the consequences of good and bad actions from a Taoist point of view.
Influenced by the Taishang ganying pian, Yuan Liaofan of the Ming dynasty wrote the
Yingzhi lu. The monk Zhuhong transformed it into a Buddhist book, the Zizhi lu.” See
Ren Jiyu, Du Jiwen, Fojiao shi 佛教史. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe,
1991, p. 514.
the impact of the taoist morality book 261
the famous monk Zhuhong in the 32nd year of the reign Wanli of the
Ming dynasty (AD 1605). Zhuhong wrote, in the preface:
When I was young, I was pleased to read the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge and
printed it for people. Later, I became a monk and engaged in practice.
Then I lived in seclusion and committed myself to meditation. I had no
time to learn this. Today, although I am old, I am pleased when I read
this book again. Then I collated and reprinted it. . . . Ancient people said:
“the worst thing for people is that they do not know themselves.” If they
know their demerits, they will be afraid and stop doing evil. If they know
their merits, they will be pleased and encourage themselves. If they do
not know these, they will lose their temper like animals. When people
note their merits and demerits clearly, they cannot lie to themselves.
This book is serious like a teacher and sincere like a friend. It advises
without reward or punishment. Do not look for divination to know good
and bad fortune. There is promotion and demotion instead of Heaven
or Hell in this book. In this way, the Tao is not difficult to reach. I
changed the name of the book to Zizhi lu.
12
This preface clearly shows why the author compiled this book, whose
style and content were very similar to the Taiwei xianjun gongguoge. In
the Zizhi lu, the “category of merits” was changed into the “section of
benevolence” while the “category of demerits” was changed into the
“section of malevolence.” As Zhuhong wrote: “in this book, Taoist
lords and immortals are replaced by Buddhist deities. Taoist rituals are
replaced by Buddhist rituals. The religion has been changed. As to the
meting out of merit and demerit, it has been altered but little.”
Conclusion
The main objective of the Register of Merits and Demerits was to urge
Taoists through the meting out of merits and demerits to do good in
order to become immortal. It exemplified the development of Taoist
practices and theory. Taoist morality books not only urge people to
do good, but also teach people how to do so. The new method for
measuring merits and demerits was simpler than in the early Taoist
practices. At that time, the Register of Merits and Demerits was really
efficient to propagate ethics.
The Taoist Register of Merits and Demerits was the product of
secularized and popularized Taoism. Taoism adapted itself to society
12
Zizhi lu, see Minjian quanshanshu. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995, p. 182.
262 chen xia
and influenced it. This change allowed Taoists to regain the govern-
ment’s support. In this way, Taoism transformed itself into an ethical
religion. Through simple ways of doing good, the Taoist Register of
Merits and Demerits attracted more and more people, from all social
classes, who were seeking good fortune.
ABNEGATING KILLING AND CHERISHING LIFE
1
Li Yuanguo
Caring for human beings and cherishing life, abnegating killing because
of compassion, these were among the most far reaching Taoist ideas.
From “caring for life,” “appreciating the self,” and “longevity,” all
found in the Lao-tzu, “protecting life,” “making life complete,” “liv-
ing to the end of one’s alloted lifespan,” and “respecting life,” in the
Chuang-tzu, and “caring for life and appreciating the self,” of the Lüshi
chunqiu 吕氏春秋 [Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals], to “enjoying
life” and “appreciating life” in the Scripture of Great Peace, the Xiang’er
zhu, the Zhouyi cantongqi, the Baopu zi neipian, the Xisheng jing 西升经
[Scripture of Western Ascension], the Duren jing, the Wuzhen pian 悟真篇
[Awakening to Reality], and other Taoist texts, these notions have always
been present in Taoist teachings.
Going Through Life and Death and Strengthening the Root of Life
“Sheng 生,” which encompasses all life, is the most important con-
cept of the Taoist philosophy of life. From Lao-tzu onwards, Tao-
ism emphasized “maintaining life,” “caring for life,” “appreciating the
self,” and “longevity.” Lao-tzu wrote: “Among those who leave the
womb at birth and eventually enter death, three out of ten celebrate
life, three out of ten celebrate death, and three out of ten simply go
from life to death.” This passage means danger is everywhere and
life is threatened permanently. So people should do their utmost to
“maintain life”: “Then they walk safely among wild animals. When
they go into battle, they remain unharmed. Animals find no place to
attack them and the weapons are unable to harm them. Why? Because
they can find no place for death in them.”
2
Life and death are serious
matters that cannot be ignored. He who comprehends the Tao should
1
Published originally in Zhexue, no. 30. Taipei: Bianqiang chubanshe, 1999.
2
Lu Xisheng, Daode zhenjing zhuan 道德真经传, chapter 1. in Daozang (Taoist Canon),
Shanghai shudian; Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House; Cultural Relics Press,
1988, vol. 12, p. 598.
264 li yuanguo
know all life is born in the Tao and will be respected according to their
virtue. So life should be appreciated, as Lin Xiyi 林希逸 wrote: “giv-
ing birth to it, cultivating it, caring for it, nurturing it, sheltering it in
peace, and helping it to grow. There is a beginning and there will be
a following. The continuous reproduction of life is due to the power of
the Creator.”
3
“Maintaining life” means using a certain self-cultivation
regimen and following the Tao to cultivate life. Inwardly, one should
seek peace and serenity, cultivate his own being with simplicity, and
protect himself from desires. This is what we call “neijie 内解.” “ ‘Nei-
jie’ means remaining in peace and calm and avoiding worry . . . even
while remaining in this world, one would not be troubled by desire.”
4
Outwardly, one should be kind to all beings and devoid of viciousness.
Wu Cheng wrote: “welcoming peace inside, showing apparent weak-
ness, as motionless and emotionless as the tree and the stone, naive as
the child who has no desire, even though one meets beast and mon-
ster, he would not be hurt.”
5
For Lao-tzu, there are 13 favorable strengths and 13 unfavorable
weaknesses in life. He who understands them can “go through life
and death.” “Emptying people’s minds and filling their stomachs,”
“preferring simplicity and freedom to desires,” “non-action,” “selfless-
ness,” “wanting nothing from the world,” “focusing on living breath
until it becomes supple,” “cleansing one’s inner vision,” “emptying
one’s mind of all thoughts,” “embracing simplicity, desiring little,” and
“avoiding extravagance, excess and extremes,” all these phrases refer
to a certain life regimen. Conversely, “taking an empty cup and fill-
ing it,” “sharpening a knife,” and “wanting to rule the world,” these
phrases are metaphors for the causes that lead to death. Yan Junping
summed up these ideas:
Vacuity, non-existence, purity, peace, obscurity, loneliness, suppleness,
weakness, humbleness, loss, appropriateness, harmony, and stinginess,
these are 13 points favorable to life. Solidity, existence, impurity, trouble,
manifestation, multitude, hardness, strength, height, full, excess, prosper-
ity, and waste, these are 13 points opposing life. Why? The Tao of Sages
make them act when they have to, and rest when they are invited to.
3
Wei Dayou, Daode zhenjing jiyi 道德真经集义, chapter 7. in Daozang, vol. 13,
p. 598.
4
Qiang Siqi, Daode zhenjing xuande zuanshu 道德真经玄德纂疏, chapter 14. in Dao-
zang, vol. 13, p. 598.
5
Idem, p. 597.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 265
Four limbs and nine orifices are the exterior appearance of life and
death whereas the transformation of vacuity into solidity, and of hard-
ness into suppleness are inner destiny. That is why we count 13. Solid-
ity is born of vacuity, eternity issues from non-existence. Purity leads to
intelligence, peace gives birth to light. Multitude issues from one, hard-
ness from suppleness, strength from weakness, high issues from low, and
gain issues from loss. Appropriateness leads to freedom, harmony leads
to neutrality, and stinginess leads to richness. These are all beneficent to
life. He who can follow this Way, will live as long as Heaven and Earth.
If he rules the country, his governance will be long.
6
Obviously, Lao-tzu wanted to figure out “the Tao of reinforcing the
root and of lengthening life” through a reflection on the rules of life
and death.
Chuang-tzu advocated that “life and death are equal,” considering
them both part of a natural evolution. He wrote: “life and death are
fixed, like day and night, which are natural. Human beings cannot
intervene.”
7
So people should be open-minded when facing life and
death and “be content with being alive.” To explain this, Chuang-tzu
told the story of Zilai. When Zilai was dying, his wife cried and his
friend Zili came to see him. Zilai spoke to Zili: “nature gave me a
body, told me to work through “life,” granted me rest in old age, and
finally allowed me to rest in peace through death.” If “life” is gain,
so is “death.” These were more than his last words, they were the
description of the life of ancient people who were born, faced life with
pleasure and calmness, worked hard with few needs, grew old, and
had no regrets. Taoists also dealt with life earnestly and with death
peacefully.
One who cultivates life is free, unconventional, lives detached from the
world and from his appearance and strengthens his spirit to the extreme.
He does not consider life for its benefits nor death as harmful. He takes
everything as part of himself without preference. His energy is ample,
and he possesses good fortune and virtue. The Tao rules within him,
and he shines towards the outside world. He can react appropriately to
natural phenomena and can’t be defeated.
8
6
Yan Junping, Laozi zhigui quanyi 老子指归全译, translated and annotated by
Wang Deyou. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1992, p. 635.
7
Lin Xiyi, Nanhua zhenjing kouyi 南华真经口义, chapter 8. in Daozang, vol. 15,
p. 731.
8
Yan Junping, Laozi zhigui quanyi, p. 636.
266 li yuanguo
Before understanding death, one must understand life: seizing life and
facing death with courage.
Chuang-tzu’s phrase “allowing me to rest in peace through death”
described the attitude that helps one return to nature. It differs from
Western philosophy in this regard. Western philosophers from Socrates
onward were influenced by Orphism and aspired to a transcendental
world. On the other hand, Taoists believed this world is full of life and
beautiful. Even though sometimes they wanted to leave this world,
they feared loneliness in the next world, which might be less interest-
ing than this world.
9
So according to Chuang-tzu, life and death should be understood
and body and life should be valued. He wrote: “nature gave me a
body, told me to work through ‘life,’ granted me repose through ‘old
age,’ and finally allowed me to rest in peace in ‘death.’ He who under-
stands my life will understand my death.”
10
Life should be honored
until pre-ordained death occurs. Chuang-tzu criticized the idea of
“despising life,” insisting that “only he who values his life as much
as the world can be entrusted with the world.”
11
Hence Chuang-tzu’s
concept of “life and death as equal” did not consist of despising life; on
the contrary, seeing through life and death was necessary to transcend
this world and cultivate the self. The notions Chuang-tzu that advo-
cated, such as “indifference,” “despising things,” “despising benefit,”
“simplicity,” “non-existence,” and “withdrawing from this world,”
emphasized keeping spiritual peace and keeping away from the affairs
of this world. Then, “he who abandons work rests his body and he
who forgets life keeps his spirit.” In this way he protects his body and
recovers his spirit before communing with Heaven.
12
The philosophy of nourishing life was expressed in the Lüshi chunqiu:
“the sage valued life more than anything.”
13
A methodical ecological
philosophy of life was elaborated along three lines. First, sheng (life) is
“composed of energy”; it proceeds from and is part of nature. There
are five levels in life: 1) ming 命 means life granted by Heaven; 2) qi 气
means energy, the origin of life; 3) xing 形 means the physical form
9
Su Shi, Shuidiao getou 水调歌头, in Tang Guizhang, Tang Song ci jianshang cidian
唐宋词鉴赏辞典. Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, p. 379.
10
Lin Xiyi, Nanhua zhenjing kouyi, chapter 8. in Daozang, vol. 15, p. 731.
11
Idem, chapter 13, p. 755.
12
Idem, chapter 20, p. 800.
13
Lüshi chunqiu, in Zhuzi jicheng 诸子集成. Changsha : Yuelu shushe, 1996, vol. 8,
p. 16.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 267
of life; 4) shen 神 means feelings and perceptions of life; 5) xing 性 is
what is nurtured by life. According to the chapter “bensheng 本生,” life
is created by Heaven, nurtured and protected by human beings. He
who can protect life is the son of Heaven and all he does is meant for
the protection of life and nature as given by Heaven. This is also the
basic principle of the governance of this world.
The second line emphasizes that people must appreciate life, observe
the changes in Heaven and on Earth, observe the growth of every-
thing, and help the development of life to its very end. A sage keeps
away from exclusive humanism by cherishing life in everything and
considers the protection of life as his responsibility. According to the
chapter “jinshu 尽数,” the energy of the world gathers and looks for
something to attach itself to. If it is attached to a bird, it will fly. If it
is attached to a beast, the beast will run. If it is attached to a pearl, the
pearl will be bright. If it is attached to a forest, the forest will grow. If
it is attached to a sage, the sage will be intelligent. The responsibility
of the son of Heaven is to realize all of these. It is the Tao that rules
the world.
The third line stresses that to appreciate life is the ultimate virtue in
human beings. The basic principle is to do good, not evil. According
to the chapter “guisheng 贵生,” “respecting life means protecting life.”
14

Heaven and Earth are magnificent. They give birth to all things but
do not consider them their children. They nurture all things but do
not appropriate them for themselves. All things enjoy benevolence,
unaware it comes from Heaven and Earth. That is the ultimate virtue
of Heaven and Earth, of the Three Emperors and Five Kings, and of
human beings.
Obviously, the philosophy of life in the Lüshi chunqiu was clearer and
more thorough than Lao-tzu’s and Chuang-tzu’s. It was inherited and
further developed by Taoism.
Treasuring Life, Abnegating Killing, and Compassion for All
The Taoist philosophy of life originates in “the Tao gives birth to every-
thing,” from the Tao Te Ching, according to which all things evolve and
transform themselves. This notion of sheng (life) as transformation and
14
Idem, p. 17.
268 li yuanguo
evolution made Taoist philosophy positive and progressive. In the Laozi
Xiang’erzhu (The Xianger commentary to the Laozi), “ren 人” (humans)
was replaced by “sheng,” which, together with the Tao, Heaven, and
Earth was considered one of the “Four Primordial Elements of the
World.” Sheng was also considered the embodiment and manifestation
of the Tao. If there is no life, there is no Tao.
The creation and the world were described in the Taishang laojun
kaitianjing 太上老君开天经 [Scripture of the Creation of the World by Most
High Old Lord ]: “at the beginning of the creation of the world, Heaven
and Earth were separate. Between them were the sun, the moon, and
the original qi. Everything proceeds from the qi: stones from the simple
qi; animals from the dynamic qi; human beings from the energetic qi.
Among all things, the human being is the most precious.”
15
It was also
written in the Scripture of Great Peace: “Heaven favors longevity and lives
forever. Immortals appreciate longevity and life. They dare not do
evil because they think of their own benefit.”
16
From this passage we
see that life was the product of the union of Yin and Yang, without
any link to gods. Ge Hong wrote in the chapter “Huangbai 黄白”
in Baopuzi neipian: “I alone am responsible for my life, not Heaven.
Transform cinnabar into gold and live a million years.”
17
Zhang Bo-
duan wrote in Wuzhen pian: “the making of medicine is realized thanks
to the qi. The Tao is mystery and united with nature. Once cinnabar
is taken, one knows his own life only depends on himself.”
18
These
excerpts showed how Taoism appreciated the physical world and were
willing to join in the processes of creation.
At the beginning of the Durenjing (Scripture of the Salvation of
Humanity), considered the main source of all Taoist scriptures, is
written: “the Tao of immortals appreciates life and delivers count-
less people.”
19
The Celestial Worthy of Original Beginning preached
ten times and the world was created thereafter. The Five Movements
evolved and all things prospered. “When he preached for the first
time, all gods and goddesses praised him. An immortal lady recalled
her past lives and saw the origin of the Tao. She realized that, before
the creation of world, there was the original qi. The divine spirit was
refined. Yin and Yang conceived the fetus. After 9,000 million kalpas
15
Daozang, vol. 34, p. 618.
16
Wang Ming, Taipingjing hejiao. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979, p. 223.
17
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979, p. 262.
18
Daozang, vol. 2, p. 936.
19
Idem, vol. 1, p. 5.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 269
(cycles of time), the Three Qi were still intermingled. After 90 great
kalpas, the Three Periods were distinguished. The Five Old Masters
protected the fetus and the Three Origins nurtured the soul. The Seven
Orifices were opened. The chaos split, the Two Poles took shape, and
the sea was created. When he preached for the second time, all kinds
of life were created. When he preached for the third time, human
beings and animals knew speech, crying, breathing, and answering the
celestial rhythm. When he preached for the fourth time, skin and fur
were created. When he preached for the fifth time, the Tao showed
its divinity and wondrousness. When he preached for the sixth time,
the most ingenious aspects of creation were fully realized. When he
preached for the seventh time, children were ready to be born and
given compassion and intelligence. When he preached for the eighth
time, women and female animals were pregnant. When he preached
for the ninth time, the fetus was revealed. When he preached for the
tenth time, the Tao was active in the world and the human was born.
All people of the country committed themselves to protect life and
lived long.”
20
In such texts, life was praised in the most lyrical terms. From
conception to birth, the process was considered divine. For instance,
the fetus
was nurtured by the Three Origins and given form by the Nine Qi. Until
the ninth month, the fetus was impregnated with the spirit and the qi
and produced sound. This sound was full of grace and all Nine Heavens
celebrated it. The Lord Taiyi granted him a talisman while the Imperial
Lord measured his fate. The officer recorded his name while the Siming
(Controller of Fate) decided on his lifespan. The Five Emperors super-
vised the birth while the Saint Goddess protected the delivery room.
All the gods were present. Facing the East, they recited nine times the
Precious Text of Divine Birth of the Nine Heavens. If it was a boy, all the gods
would sing the sound gong 恭 and the Siming would sing the sound nuo
诺. If it was a girl, all the gods would sing the sound feng 奉 and the
Siming would sing the sound shun 顺. Then the child was born. If the
Siming did not formally grant him his fate and all the gods did not sing
gong and nuo, the child would be born. The human being was born in
this world and his body cleansed with the sun. This was a very important
thing. All the gods were present to honor it.
21
20
Idem, pp. 286–87.
21
Dong Sijing, Dongxuan lingbao ziran jiutian shengshen zhangjing jieyi 洞玄灵宝自然九
天生神章经解义, chapter 1 in Daozang, vol. 6, p. 395.
270 li yuanguo
In this sacred majestic moment, a new life was born. Apparently, this
passage, which described the process of birth, was full of mysterious
codes. However, it made people respect, cherish, and appreciate life.
Taoism values life even more than other religions. All Taoist scrip-
tures advocate the appreciation of life. For example, the Santian neijie
jing says: “the preaching of Lao-tzu consisted in keeping and reinforc-
ing the root. People were born from the qi from the Tao. He who
loses qi dies. He who focuses on the Tao and reinforces the root will
become immortal. . . . The true Tao appreciates life and abnegates kill-
ing. Immortality is the Tao. Death is not. A dead king is not worth a
live mouse. So the preaching of the sage consists in appreciating pre-
cious life.”
22
The Lingbao wuliang duren shangping miaojing states: “[K]ing
and people live in peace forever. The world is calm while the sun
and the moon are bright. Insects follow their nature and grow. Gods
give help. Governance has the same eternal virtue as the Tao. Merit
is due to Heaven. Disasters are overcome. Good fortune and wealth
are promised, non-action and peace are forever.”
23
We find in the
Taiqing jing taiqing jing 太清境太清经 [Scripture of Great Purity of the World
Great Purity]: “all people share the same nature. The nature of Heaven
and Earth is good and it cares for all things. The sage governs the
world obeying the rules of Heaven and Earth, so all things enjoy great
benevolence. Gods who help Heaven and Earth respect, cherish, and
protect all things as the Original Qi. So good fortune prevails over
bad fortune.”
24
According to Taoism, wealth does not mean gold or silver, but the
variety and bounty of nature. This point was clearly explained in the
Scripture of Great Peace. In the times of the Upper Emperor, there were
more than 12,000 kinds of species, so that time was called “rich.”
In the times of the Middle Emperor, there were fewer than 12,000
kinds of species, so that time was called “poor.” In the times of the
Lower Emperor, there were even fewer species, so that time was called
“poorer.” Then there was the time of the “poorest.” If the world is
poor, so are the people.
25
This philosophy of respecting life and pro-
tecting species, which was elaborated 1800 years ago, was Taoism’s
great contribution to ecology. Taoism asks people to cherish nature. It
22
Daozang, vol. 28, p. 416.
23
Idem, vol. 1, p. 25.
24
Taishang sanshiliubu zunjing 太上三十六部尊经 in Daozang, vol. 1, p. 597.
25
Wang Ming, Taipingjing hejiao, p. 30.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 271
was written in the Yuanshi tianwang huanle jing 元始天王欢乐经 [Scripture
of Happiness of The Celestial King of Original Beginning]: “for protecting all
things, one should have a humble abode, be wary of desire, devote
himself to charity, cherish the self, avoid hunting, and fast.” According
to the Yuanshi dongzhen cishan xiaozi baoen chengdao jing 元始洞真慈善孝
子报恩成道经 [Original Beginning Authenticity Cavern Scripture of the Good
and Dutiful Son Who Repaid His Debt and Attained the Tao], people should
be compassionate and respectful, observe the rules of nature and the
Tao to protect the self, and cherish all things and never harm them.
These Taoist scriptures confirm the ethical value of cherishing all life,
which is as precious as that of human beings.
For Taoism, to respect life and cherish everything is the best embodi-
ment of the compassionate Tao and a precondition to its practice.
Zhang Hu of the Tang Dynasty wrote in Sulü zi 素履子: “ren 仁 (com-
passion, humanity) means appreciating life and abnegating killing, lov-
ing others and being compassionate, and helping people in danger.
For example, saving sparrows, freeing the captive turtle, curing the
wounded snake, getting rid of a thorn in the throat of the tiger, these
are all good deeds. Do not cut down trees and empty the bird’s nest in
spring. Do not burn fields and destroy crops in summer. Send aid to
people who live alone in autumn. Retire in winter. Gentlemen know
how to observe the seasons. They practice ‘ren’ and gain merit.”
26
It
was also written in the Liuzi 刘子: “when ancient kings ruled, they
observed celestial signs and nurtured everything and everyone. Even
plants and insects had their own home. They did not hunt fish or hack
trees. Even non-sentient plants or animals devoid of wisdom benefited
from their love, not to mention human beings.”
27
Compassion and universal love are part of the long and beneficent
tradition of Taoism. In the Lao-tzu we find: “there are three jew-
els that I cherish: compassion, moderation, and humility.” We find
in the Chisong zi zhongjie jing 赤松子中诫经 [Scripture of Admonitions of
Chisong Zi ]: “the human being, as the fundamental creature in the
world, should do good. . . . He who does good, will receive help from
the gods, his lifespan will be prolonged, and he will be protected from
all bad fortune.”
28
It was written in the Baopu zi neipian:
26
Daozang, vol. 21, p. 703.
27
Idem, p. 738.
28
Idem, vol. 3, p. 447.
272 li yuanguo
One should win 300 merits before becoming an immortal on Earth
and 1,200 merits for becoming a celestial immortal.”
29
In Taishang
ganyingpian jizhu [Collected Commentaries on the Most High’s Tract on Actions
and Consequences] we find: “compassion is the source of all benevolence.
He who wants to win merits, should love not only people, but also all
beings. Beings belong to a particular category, easy to neglect. That
is why the Most High warns people. It was written in the Dazang jing
大藏经: If people do not kill they will live for a long time. Children
should not be allowed to play with insects or birds to prevent them
not only from killing, but also from carrying out bad merciless actions.
Any time people see anyone in danger, they should intervene.”
30
It was written in Taishang baofa tushuo 太上宝筏图说 [Illustrated Com-
mentary on the Most High’s Precious Raft (to Salvation)]: “compassion is the
source of all benevolence. Who wants to win merits, should love not
only people, but also beings, because beings are inferior, but alive. If
people can be compassionate to inferior life, they will be more and
more benevolent and they will prolong their lives.”
31
In this way, char-
ity and benevolence can lead to immortality. The numerous examples
of immortals recorded in Taoist scriptures, despite their oddity, are as
many echoes of contemporary moral values. Immortals became role
models and humanity was developed to the full.
Honoring life led most naturally to the abnegation of killing. It was
written in the Taishang baofa tushuo: “the merit of freeing captive ani-
mals is great. The rich should be generous and the poor must cherish
beings. Abnegate killing and observe strict rules. . . . Even little things
should be paid attention to. Insects also know how pay the debt of
gratitude. Do not hack trees even though they are small. (If you do so),
one day good retribution will be revealed to you.”
32
It was written in
the Wenchang dijun yinzhi wen [Scripture on Hidden Retributions by the Imperial
Lord Wenchang]: “he who wants to win merits, should be benevolent. Do
good to people and nature. Benevolence not only corresponds to the
celestial wish but also is beneficent to the country and the people. . . .
Buy captive animals to free them. Fast and abstain from killing. When
walking, take care of insects and ants. Do not burn the forest. Light
torches to facilitate travel by night. Build boats to transport people.
29
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, p. 47.
30
Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1994, vol. 12, p. 128.
31
Idem, vol. 27, p. 627.
32
Idem, vol. 27, pp. 627 and 632.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 273
Do not catch birds while in the mountains. Do not poison fish in the
river.”
33
According to these excerpts, if people do good, they will be
under the protection of gods. That was how Taoism advised people.
It was written in chapter 3 of the Taishang lingbao chaotian xiezui dachan
太上灵宝朝天谢罪大忏 [Great Penitential Rite of the Most High Numinous
Treasure, to pay Homage to Heaven and Pardon Sins]: “killing birds and
eating animals will lead to bad karma. Some people kill numerous
animals. They kill cows, goats, donkeys, horses, pigs, dogs, roosters,
bears, foxes, tigers, panthers, rabbits, magpies, pigeons, doves, eagles,
swallows, sparrows, insects, snakes, bees, scorpions, ants, fish, turtles,
shrimp, and other creatures. People will set up traps, set the mountain
on fire, break eggs, cut off heads and legs, and peel off skin. All these
actions transgress the way of Heaven and people will pay retribution
for them. When they die, they will be conducted to Hell and suffer
punishment.”
34
Similar passages can be found in the Taishang ganying pian that
bemoan “cutting down trees,” “killing fish and serpent,” saying that
“behaviors like these will shorten life. Sins will even be transmitted to
descendants if they are not purged.”
35
Many stories recorded in Taoist scriptures told people of the dif-
ferent consequences of cherishing life and abnegating killing. For
instance, one story told of a certain compassionate man named Guo
Hui who saved millions of fish and shrimps. He lived to the age of
96 and his children all became officials.
36
Another told how a certain
Mr. Fan’s wife was dying of illness. The doctor told Fan to buy hun-
dreds of birds to make medicine. His wife said: “If hundreds of birds
should be killed to save me, I prefer to die.” Then they freed the
birds. Soon afterward his wife was cured and even bore a child. People
believed their benevolence touched Heaven.
37
On the other hand, a
certain cruel Zhang Zhifang loved to kill animals whenever he could.
Finally everyone in his family was exterminated because he killed some-
one.
38
The scriptures also contained advice such as “do not burn char-
coal,” and stories of “Meng Tan killing birds,” “Shen Wenbao freeing
33
Idem, vol. 12, pp. 409 and 417.
34
Daozang, vol. 3, p. 473.
35
Idem, vol. 27, p. 135.
36
Yinzhiwen tushuo 阴骘文图说, in Zangwai daoshu, 1994, p. 27.
37
Baihua gongjie lu 白话功戒录, in Zangwai daoshu, p. 12.
38
Ganyingpian tushuo 感应篇图说, in Zangwai daoshu, p. 27.
274 li yuanguo
captive animals,”
39
expressions such as “travel to Hell in illness,”
“consequence of killing,” “judgment for killing birds,” “judgement
for killing,” “killing birds,” “the vengeance of snakes,” “retribution
for killing,” and “the vengeance of the otter,”
40
which all pointed to
the grave consequences of killing. These moral stories and expressions
were reflections on ethics. Their aim was to advise people to protect
life and make the environment a better place.
The Taoist philosophy of abnegating killing and caring for life can
be summed up in three points:
First, life is sacred. The human being and the beast alike are the prod-
ucts of nature and manifestations of the great Tao. Conception, birth,
growth, and death of any life are sacred. As religious believers, Tao-
ists committed themselves to the protection of life with respect and
passion.
Second, life is an interdependent system. All beings, even mountains,
rivers, and the Earth are linked to each other and evolve together in
the same world. As was said in Guanyin zi: nature is like a sea made of
millions of changes. The crocodile, the fish, and the water in which
they live belong to the same life system. All beings live in the same uni-
verse which never stops evolving, so all beings have the same nature.
Having understood this, we will understand the human being can not
live in isolation.
Third, Taoism, while affirming the central role of humanity in
creation, refused an arrogant anthropocentric vision and declared all
beings equal, governed by the same laws. As said in the Wuneng zi 无
能子: when the world was created, Yin and Yang interacted. Then
the naked beings, the scaled beings, the hairy beings, the feathered
beings, and the shelled beings were born. “The Human beings, as
hairless beings, and the other beings are all the products of the inter-
action of Yin and Yang.”
41
So people should look at everything on an
equal footing and resolve all problems with compassion because the
world is like a chain of life: if one segment is broken, the others can-
not survive.
39
Wenchang dijun yinzhiwen xiangzhu, in Zangwai daoshu, p. 12.
40
Baihua gongjie lu, in Zangwai daoshu, p. 28.
41
Daozang, vol. 21, p. 708.
abnegating killing and cherishing life 275
Land Ethic and Deep Ecology
Taoist philosophy has strong links with modern ecology and its ethics.
Modern ecological ethics were founded in the 1930s and 1940s by the
Franco-German philosopher Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965)—who
received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952—and the American ecologist
Aldo Leopold (1887–1948). Deep Ecology was a branch of the ecologi-
cal philosophy initiated in the 1980s by Arne Næss and Bill Devall,
two philosophers who embodied a new modern conscience toward the
environment.
In his Civilization and Ethics, Albert Schweitzer regarded the rela-
tionship between the human being and nature as a kind of culture
and founded his philosophy and ecological ethic on reverence for life.
His main points of view were that “the new ethic is necessary to the
development of culture,” “the basis of the new ethic is the reverence
for life,” “the human being is responsible for all life around him,” and
that “real life should be dictated by the ethics based on a new reason.”
He said: “I am life, which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life,
which wills to live. Human beings should be aware of, and sympathize
with the will to live in their fellow creatures.”
42
His new ethic was
based on reverence and respect for life in all beings, which was the
principal value and code of ecological ethics and made him the first
modern western ethicist who emphasized “respect for life.”
Later, Aldo Leopold proved the necessity and urgency of ecological
ethics by founding Land Ethic. His points of view can be summed up
in the following concepts: ecological value, ecological thought, and
ecological ethic.
Concerning the first, he believed human beings belonged to the
biotic community composed of mountains, rivers, animals, and plants.
In this system, each being takes its place in a close interaction with its
predator, which gives the whole system its balance. However, thanks
to evolution, humans no longer have predators. This was beyond the
control of nature and it caused an ecological crisis. As a remedy, an
ecological civilization should be looked upon as an alternative and
people should realize that many historical events were caused by the
interaction between human beings and nature and recognize the equal
42
Albert Schweitzer, Jingwei shengmin 敬畏生命, translated by Chen Yihuan. Shang-
hai: Shanghai shehui kexue chubanshe, 1992, p. 89.
276 li yuanguo
value of all beings. According to the Land Ethic, people, as inhabitants
of the land, must observe ecological rules when committing themselves
to economical production.
In regard to the second, he believed the balance of the ecological
system should be preserved and regarded as the basis of economi-
cal production and social value. For him, the error of the traditional
relationship between human beings and nature lay in the anthropo-
centrism that limited human comprehension of nature and led to
the instrumentalization of nature, to total disregard for nature, and
to grievous harm to the ecological integrity of life. So human beings
must change their traditional ways of thinking into “thinking like a
mountain,” meaning that each part of the mountain is necessary to
the mountain as a whole. In fact, Land Ethic should perceive human
beings and nature as being on an equal footing: “The role of human
beings should change from that the conquerors of the world and soci-
ety to that of an ordinary member. That means human beings must
respect other beings and the world they live in.”
Concerning the third point, he believed human beings should
establish a new Land Ethic, summed up thus: “Something is right
when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and the beauty of the
biotic community. It is wrong when it aims otherwise.” However, the
immoderate exploitation of nature by human beings destroyed not
only the ecological foundation and natural resources, but also pilfered
the rich ecological potential of the Earth and hampered the growth of
all beings. Humans are responsible for those crimes.
Land Ethic revealed Aldo Leopold as the first Westerner to have
developed a systematic ethical theory concerning the nature of non-
human beings. Aldo Leopold also said that the development of the
Land Ethic represented the development of human intelligence and
feelings. Without reverence and respect for the Earth, there would
be no relationship between ethics and nature. The the long-lasting
coexistence of human beings and nature proved the harmonious rela-
tionship between them. The destruction of nature by human economic
practices, especially industrialization, made us understand the value of
nature. In other words, the reflection on and criticism of human errors
broadened man’s values and reinforced his moral consciousness.
The ecological ethics founded by Albert Schweitzer and Aldo Leo-
pold have been shared by many modern philosophers. For example,
Arne Næss founded Deep Ecology, advocating the study and practice
of ecosophy He was opposed to modern consumerism and materialism
abnegating killing and cherishing life 277
and aspired to a simple and meaningful life. Deep Ecology: Living as if
in Nature, published in 1985 by Bill Devall and George Sessions, and
Simple in Means and Rich in Ends: Practicing Deep Ecology, published in
1988 by Bill Devall, further developed the theory of Deep Ecology.
Bill Devall and George Sessions summed up Deep Ecology as the fol-
lowing: non-human beings had the same value as human beings; the
diversity in the forms of life, including human beings, was the very
essence of nature, and the representation of certain values; human
beings had no right to reduce the diversity of life forms except to meet
life necessities; human’s overpowering intervention in nature was the
main cause of ecological damage. So we must change our philosophy,
modes of production, lifestyle, and consumption patterns; those who
shared these opinions should commit themselves to practical change.
Deep Ecology established the public recognition of nature and the
value of an ecological system, and contributed to the ongoing reflec-
tion on the relationship between nature and human beings and the
reconstruction of reality.
With a comparable impact, British scientist James Lovelock pro-
posed the Gaia hypothesis. Inspired by the Greek goddess Gaia, he
believed it was not enough to explain the self-regulation and the equi-
librium of the living system of the Earth only by geological chemistry.
The role of the system of beings, especially human beings, must be
taken into consideration. A complex entity involved the biosphere, the
atmosphere, the oceans, and the earth. The totality constituted a feed-
back or cybernetic system that seeks an optimal physical and chemical
environment for life on this planet. Human beings were only a part of
this entity, not superior to any other part. He wrote: “the most essen-
tial point at stake is the state of the Earth rather than the interest of a
sole living element. This hypothesis is different from anthropocentrism
and the existent sciences. According to Gaia, the human being is one
component instead of the owner and ruler of the Earth. The future of
human beings depends on the relationship between the Earth and this
component instead of the endless satisfaction of its desire.”
43
The 1979
publication of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth produced an immedi-
ate reaction from the ecological movement. The idea that the human
43
Xun Qingzhi, Lüse wutuobang—shengtai zhuyi de shehui zhexue 绿色乌托邦—生态主
义的绿色哲学. Jinan: Taishan chubanshe, 1998, p. 100.
278 li yuanguo
being was part of nature became an all-important philosophical basis
for ecological theory.
Holmes Rolston III, professor at Colorado State University and
president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics, pub-
lished Philosophy Gone Wild in 1986 and Environmental Ethics in 1989.
Inheriting the concept of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, he suggested
that traditional ethics should be extended to the ecological system and
nature. He believed that only in this way could the protection of and
respect for nature and its intrinsic value be recognized. Holmes Rol-
ston III became the symbol of Western ecocentrism in the 1980s. He
explained the difference between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism
with a change of the sign posts in certain parks. Before, the signs read
“Please leave flowers for other people’s contemplation,” now the signs
read “Please keep away from blooming flowers.”
This change in the signs means that human beings are returning
to nature and are at one with Heaven. Ecological ethics are closely
related to the philosophy of caring for life as supported by Lao-tzu
and Chuang-tzu. Today, with the development of the environmental
movement all over the world, people are becoming aware of ecological
ethics. Chinese Taoism, with its foresight of such issues, should con-
tribute to a new civilization and a new ethics in the times to come.
TAOIST PHILOSOPHY ON
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Yin Zhihua
Since the Industrial Revolution, the man’s conquest of nature has
increasingly destroyed earth’s natural resources. From the second
half of the twentieth century, severe ecological crises have threatened
human life and development. Facing this degradation of the environ-
ment on a global scale, more and more people realize the importance
of the harmony between human development and environmental pro-
tection. Scholars are studying the relationship between humans and
nature in order to reinforce people’s awareness of ecology, environ-
mental protection, and the need for sustainable development. Chi-
nese culture, which upholds the all-important idea of the “Unity of
Man and Heaven,” is attracting the attention of scholars from all over
the world.
As an important part of traditional Chinese culture, Taoism has
been renowned for its ecological philosophy. This chapter provides a
preliminary discussion of the concept of environmental protection in
Taoism.
Ecological Ethics in the Taoist Concepts “The Unity of Heaven and Man”
and “The Communion of All Things”
According to Taoism, humans share the same origin with all things.
In chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching it says: “the Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three gives birth
to everything.” The Taoist master of inner alchemy Zhang Boduan
interpreted this sentence as follows: “activated by the Tao, Non-exis-
tence gives birth to the Unique Qi. The Unique Qi gives birth to Yin
and Yang. The union of Yin and Yang, Yin, and Yang forms a trin-
ity. This trinity gives birth to all things.”
1
All things are the product
1
Daozang. Shanghai shudian, Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House, Cultural
Relics Press, 1988, vol. 2, p. 944.
280 yin zhihua
of the evolution of the Tao. In Yuanqi lun 元气论 [Treatise on Original
Qi ] we find: “the human being and all things are born from the same
Original Qi.”
2
So human beings share the same nature with all things,
as the famous Taoist of the Southern Song Dynasty, Bo Yuchan, said:
“Heaven, Earth, and I share the same root and all things in this world
share the same body with me.”
3
According to Taoism, the human being and the world share not
only the same origin and the same nature, but also the same structure
and law, as shown in the following quotation: “the human body is a
tiny universe, while the universe is a big human body.” In the Taiping
jing it says, “the human being takes Heaven as a model and Heaven
takes the human being as a model.”
4
The Taoist scholar Yu Yan said,
in Zhouyi cantongqi fahui 周易参同契发挥 [Commentary on the Zhouyi Can-
tongqi]: “the human body is created according to the model of Heaven
and Earth. They share the same structure and evolve at the same
rhythm.”
5
So, Taoists advocated that man’s activities should follow the
law of the universe and then “Heaven and man will act in harmony
and transform themselves in the same way.”
6
In this way, harmony
between human beings and the environment will be attained.
Since the human body is a tiny universe, human jing, qi, and shen
(essence, energy and spirit) communicate with the universe. That is
indeed the Taoist concept of the “Unity of Heaven and Man.” Accord-
ing to this concept, human activities have an impact on the environ-
ment and vice versa. If people do not take this into account, nature
will punish them.
From this concept, Taoism focused on man’s close dependence on
the environment. To maintain harmony and peace in nature is the
prerequisite for man’s life and evolution. In the Taiping jing it says:
“human life depends on Heaven and Earth and living peace depends
on the peace in Heaven and on Earth.”
7
To reach peace in Heaven
and on Earth, people should understand the laws of nature and con-
sider them as the starting point of all actions, as is written at the begin-
ning of the Yinfu jing: “Observe the Tao of Heaven and understand its
2
Idem, vol. 22, p. 383.
3
Idem, vol. 33, p. 129.
4
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1960, p. 673.
5
Daozang, vol. 20, p. 223.
6
Idem, vol. 1, p. 821.
7
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao p. 124.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 281
laws. That is all that should be done.”
8
If we do not understand the
laws of nature and act blindly, if we exhibit the “ignorance of the laws
of nature” (as expressed in chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching), the result
will certainly be inauspicious. That is why the Yinfu jing tells us: “the
laws of nature cannot be transgressed.”
9
“All Physical Things Contain the Tao”: Taoism
and the Respect of Nature
The Tao is not only the origin but also the noumenon of everything.
That means the Tao not only gives birth to but also exists in all
things. So the Tao is the origin of all values. All things in the uni-
verse are “generated by the Tao and raised by Virtue.” They have
their own intrinsic value, created in the Tao. Wang Xuanlan, of the
Tang Dynasty, wrote in Xuanzhu lu 玄珠录 [Record of Mysterious Pearl]:
“The Tao exists in everything, so everything is the Tao.”
10
Accord-
ing to the Daomeng jingfa xiangcheng cixu 道门经法相承次序 [Order of the
Transmission of Taoist Scriptures and Rites], the Taoist Pan Shizheng said
to the emperor Gao of the Tang Dynasty “everything contains the
nature of the Tao.”
11
The Tang Dynasty Taoist Meng Anpai wrote
in the Daojiao yishu 道教义枢 [Taoist Philosophy]: “everything, including
beasts, fruits, trees, and stones has the nature of the Tao.”
12
From this
point of view, Taoism claims that all things are equal, refusing man’s
superiority over other things. In the chapter “Qiushui 秋水” of the
Chuang-tzu, the god of the Northern Sea said “for the Tao, all things
are equal.” The Tang Dynasty Taoist Cheng Xuanying wrote in his
commentary on the Chuang-tzu: “the Tao is natural. All things are born
equal.”
13
Moreover, the author of the Xisheng jing 西升经 [Scripture of
Western Ascension] declared “the Tao exists not only in me but also in
everything.”
14
Thus, man should not be self-important and should not
consider himself the center of the world and should not try to conquer
and rule nature.
8
Daozang, vol. 1, p. 821.
9
Idem.
10
Idem, vol. 23, p. 620.
11
Idem, vol. 24, p. 786.
12
Idem, vol. 24, p. 832.
13
Idem, vol. 16, p. 371.
14
Idem, vol. 16, p. 371.
282 yin zhihua
In this way, Taoist philosophy breaks down the barrier between
man and nature. In Wuneng zi 无能子, a Taoist essay dating from the
end of the Tang Dynasty, it says: “man as an animal without fur is
born like other animals with fur, scales, feather, and carapace. They
share the same qi and there is no difference between them. There
are those who think man is different from other living beings because
they believe he is capable of thinking and speaking. In fact, all ani-
mals cherish their life, build their nests, feed themselves, raise and
protect their offspring, just like man. So how can we say they cannot
think? All animals can produce sounds. How can we say they have
no language? People do not understand animal languages, therefore
they think that animals are not capable of speaking. Maybe animals
do not understand human language and also believe man is deprived
of speech. Animals can think and speak just like him. The only dif-
ference between them is in their appearances.”
15
Going even further,
the Five Dynasties Taoist Tan Qiao believed that animals and human
beings all have a moral sense. “What is the difference between animals
and man? They have their own moral sense just like human beings.
What is the difference between human beings and animals? Animals
have their own lairs or nests, mate, express love between father and
son, love life, and are afraid of death. Birds nurture their offspring,
that is what we call ren 仁. Falcons cherish their embryo, we call it
yi 义. Bees have their queen, we call it li 礼. Sheep kneel to suckle,
we call it zhi 智. Pheasants do not look for a second mate, we call it
xin 信. So who understands the Tao better? In fact, all animals have
a moral sense just like the human being.”
16
The founder of the Quan-
zhen School, Wang Chongyang, believed “animals are like human
beings” and “only their forms are different.” So people should “con-
sider animals like themselves.”
17
According to Taoism, all animals and
plants are able to transform themselves into human beings through
self-cultivation. The significance of the Taoist concept “all physical
things contain the Tao” lies in the possibility for all beings to develop
and rely on their own nature, drawn from the Tao; to evolve, follow-
ing their nature received from the Tao, to the highest level: unity with
the Tao. For that reason, all beings have the right to do so and human
beings must not intervene.
15
Idem, vol. 21, p. 708.
16
Idem, vol. 21, p. 598.
17
Idem, vol. 26, p. 693.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 283
This Taoist concept coincides with that of “nature has intrinsic
values,”
18
which is found in modern ecological ethics and which can
help bring further cultural resources to the construction of contem-
porary environmental ethics. According to Western values, nature is
considered only as a tool for human beings and is denied an intrinsic
value. Following this logic, there is no ethical relationship between the
human being and nature. Today, facing the environmental crisis, many
scholars realize ethics should be extended to the relationship between
humans and nature to prevent increasing environmental destruction.
On the other hand, the Taoist concept of “all physical things con-
tain the Tao” confirms the intrinsic value of all things bestowed by
the Tao. Therefore, it is logical that an ethical relationship should be
established between man and nature.
Nature and Non-action and Acting in Accordance
with Objective Laws
The respect of nature is a central feature of Taoism. The Taoist term
“natural” means a spontaneous, natural, and non-artificial state. The
state of “nature” is the true state of things. People should follow the
natural evolution of things without intervening, as it was explained in
chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching: “help the natural state of all things and
remain in non-action.” People’s wills often do not follow objective laws.
Their blind actions often bring on catastrophic results, such as envi-
ronmental destruction. So, how are they to follow the laws of nature?
Taoism proposes “Non-action” as a solution, which does not mean
passive inaction, but acting in accordance with the laws of nature and
the nature of things. The British scientist Joseph Needham indicated
that “Non-action” meant refraining from intervening in Nature and
forcing things to assume an inappropriate function.
19
This interpreta-
tion gives its real significance to the term “Non-action” in Taoism.
According to the Taiping jing: “all things have their own nature.
Let things take their course and never intervene forcibly.”
20
Cheng
Xuanying, in his Nanhua zhenjing zhushu, said: “act according to the
18
Holmes Rolston, Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World, trans-
lated by Yang Tongjing. Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 2000.
19
Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, translated by He Zhaowu.
Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1990, vol. 2, p. 76.
20
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao, p. 203.
284 yin zhihua
nature of things and do not try to intervene with personal skills. Let
things take their course and then human beings and things will be
perfect.”
21
“All things have their own nature. If people want to change
them, they will transgress the laws of nature.”
22
People should abide by
these principles: “the Tao is Non-action, let things take their course”
23

“Be modest and let things take their course. Everything will be in its
place.”
24
“Just ease your mind and do not act, then things will trans-
form themselves.”
25
The sage who understands the “wonderful laws of
nature” lives a simple life, remains in Non-action, and lets things take
their course.
26
Then “everything is prosperous.”
27
Taoism proposes dealing with things through the “Tao” and not the
“human self,” in order to apply “Nature and Non-action” correctly to
every human action. “Dealing with things through the ‘Tao’” means
observing all things throughout the universe in order to understand
the role of everything in the ecological system. Then people will act in
favor of the values of nature, the conservation and evolution of diver-
sity, and the integrity of the ecological system. Conversely, “dealing
with things through the ‘human self ’ ” leads to intervention in nature
only for the benefit of human beings.
Modern science has proved that nature works following its own
course. Natural balance is realized through self-regulation. Since
nature is whole, human intervention will inevitably unbalance it and
cause problems. For example, in order to protect their sheep, herdsmen
recruit hunters to kill all the wolves. In the absence of wolves, rabbits
and other animals multiply rapidly and threaten grassland. This tells
us that human intervention in nature often produces a chain reaction,
which destroys the environmental balance in unexpected ways. Tao-
ism advocates “Non-action” and promotes minimum interference in
nature. According to this concept, things work in their own way. This
concept is far-reaching.
21
Daozang, vol. 16, p. 384.
22
Idem, p. 417.
23
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985, p. 136.
24
Daozang, vol. 16, p. 418.
25
Idem.
26
Idem, p. 384.
27
Idem, p. 416.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 285
“Decreasing Ego and Lessening Desires”—Advocating
Moderate Consumption
In the Tao Te Ching Lao-tzu explained the necessity of moderation and
frugality, linking them to self-cultivation regimen and longevity. In
chapter 12, he wrote: “Five colors blind the eye. Five notes deafen the
ear. Five flavors dull the palate. Too much activity deranges the mind.”
According to Lao-tzu, intemperance harms health. Some people could
live longer, but die prematurely because they “so appreciated life”
28

that they let their desires take their course. Therefore, Lao-tzu pro-
moted “embracing simplicity, putting others first, and desiring little.”
29

Religious Taoism inherited and developed this concept of philosophi-
cal Taoism. The founder of religious Taoism, the Heavenly Master
Zhang Daoling, wrote in Laozi xiang’er zhu that people who followed
the Tao “should wear worn clothes and shoes and not have any desires
for this world.”
30
The illustrious Taoist of the Eastern Jin Dynasty Ge
Hong said in his Baopu zi that people who followed the Tao “should
live a simple life and let go of their desires.”
31
It was written in the
Taoist scripture Qingjing jing 清净经 [Scripture of Simplicity and Purity] that
only he who was able to get rid of his desires and ease his mind could
attain the Tao. The Quanzhen School, founded under the Jin and
Yuan dynasties, demanded that its followers practice asceticism and
restrain their desires to a minimum level. The famous Taoist of the
Quanzhen School Ma Yu wrote: “The Taoist does not hate poverty,
which is the basis of his regimen. He takes a bowl of rice porridge
when he is hungry. He sleeps on the grass when he is tired. Wearing
worn clothes, that is the life of a Taoist.”
32
Qiu Chuji said: “A Taoist
wears old clothes and eats badly and does not save money because
he is afraid that his health would be harmed and his merit would be
lost.”
33
Indeed, laymen were asked not to practice asceticism, but to
lead a simple life. Qiu Chuji wrote: “for the lay Taoist, food, dwelling,
and money should be appropriate and not excessive.”
34
Even for a rich
28
Tao Te Ching, chapter 50.
29
Idem, p. 416.
30
Rao Zongyi, Laozi xiang’erzhu jiaozheng. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1991,
p. 10.
31
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, p. 136.
32
Daozang, vol. 23, p. 704.
33
Idem, vol. 3, p. 390.
34
Idem.
286 yin zhihua
family, life should not be too luxurious. Ma Yu often declaimed two
lines: “even when earning ten thousands liang of gold each day, the
worn clothes and simple food would be enough.”
35
This attitude to life
aimed at decreasing desires and living a simple life. It would be hard
for most people to live the way the Taoist masters of the Quanzhen
School did. Nevertheless, we are capable of undermining the role of
the ego, of lessening our desires, and being moderate consumers.
If humans cannot control their desires, the environment will never
improve radically. People fell trees and hunt rare animals to earn
money. Company owners are bent upon making a profit while neglect-
ing the environmental damage caused by their activity. For people
who understand the current environmental crisis on a global scale, this
unilateral thinking, is the source of environmental damage. Natural
resources are limited, whereas human desires are limitless. If people
want to find radical solutions to these problems, they must change
their lifestyle, appreciate thrift, and avoid luxury.
Man’s manner of consumption demonstrates his regard for life. In
a society where a person’s status, reputation, and worth depend on his
wealth, some people consume not simply to meet their real needs, but
to display their ability to consume. So we need to establish a correct
idea of value before establishing a correct idea of consumption. Tao-
ism advocates following the Tao and saving people. According to those
ideas, the value of life consists in improving the state of existence, but
not in meeting all needs. The significance of life lies in devotion, and
not in demand. There should be more spiritual pursuits, fewer mate-
rial demands. Do more good actions, fewer bad ones. The life that
Taoism promotes is a life in pursuit of enlightenment, of unity with
the Tao and Heaven, saving people, and refusing selfishness, desires,
luxury, and waste.
Cherishing Life and Abnegating Killing and Concrete Rules
for the Protection of the Environment
The ultimate goal of Taoism is to achieve longevity and become
immortal. Hence its focus on cherishing life. In the Taiping jing it says:
“the Way of Heaven cherishes life and abnegates killing. All animals
35
Idem, vol. 23, p. 702.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 287
are conscious. Do not harm them.”
36
Taoism asks people to extend
their love to all things in the world. In the Taishang xuhuang tianzun
sishijiu zhangjing 太上虚皇天尊四十九章经 [Scripture of Forty-nine Chap-
ters from the Emperor of Vacuity and Celestial Worthy of Most High] it says: “If
you want to follow my Tao, abnegate killing. All beings cherish their
life and are afraid of death. Your life is the same as the life of others.
So do not despise them. Only kill for food. Think of their fear, then
you will not have the heart to eat them. We call it compassion.”
37
In
the Dongzhen taishang basu zhenjing sanwu xinghua miaojue 洞真太上八素
真经三五行化妙诀 [Wonderful Formula of Transformation of Three and Five
and True Scripture of Eight Simplicity of Most High of the Cavern of Perfection]
it says: “[l]ove everything as you love yourself. Do not harm things
and things will not harm you. Consider all things, even grass and soil,
like yourself. Do not despise them. Do not hurt them. Always think
of them. For those who have consciousness, hope they will attain the
Tao. For those who do not, hope they know their life.”
38
According to
Taoism, this kind of compassion corresponds to celestial virtue and is
first and foremost. “By practicing this, one could shine with the light
of the sun and the moon.”
39
According to Taoism, all the other beings do not impede human life
and man should live in harmony with them. Taoist scriptures say that
“[n]o birds and beasts, fish, crabs, turtles, and shrimps compete with
the human being for food, drink, or dwelling. They are created by
heaven and earth and live according to the four seasons. . . . If people
capture them or kill them, they are accruing a demerit. They will be
punished in the future. Remember that, remember that.”
40
For that
reason, Taoism tries to dissuade people from killing with the notion
of karma. According to Taoism, if people are kind to everything, they
will have good karma, and bad karma, if they are not. Ge Hong, in the
chapter “Weizhi 微旨” of his Baopu zi said: “Be kind to things, even
insects. Do not kill. Then you will be virtuous and blessed by Heaven.
All you wish will come true and you will become immortal.”
41
In the
Dongzhen taishang basu zhenjing sanwu xinghua miaojue it says: “a humane
36
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao, p. 203.
37
Daozang, vol. 23, p. 704.
38
Idem, vol. 33, p. 474.
39
Idem, vol. 33, p. 474.
40
Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu. Bashu shushe, 1994, vol. 28, p. 91.
41
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, p. 126.
288 yin zhihua
person cherishes life and hates killing, saves the weak and protects
the winner, prohibits killing, and keeps from envy. He can unify Yin
and Yang and protect the quick and release the dead. He always has
compassion in mind. His humanity will give him longevity until he
becomes immortal.”
42
In the Jingshi gongguoge 警世功过格 [Ledger of
Merits and Demerits to Admonish Humanity] it says: “When someone saves
the life of an animal that works for a human being (like a cow, a horse,
or a dog), he wins from five to fifty merits. . . . When he saves the life of
an animal that does not work for human being (such as a pig or sheep),
he wins three merits.”
43
The Liu dusheng jie 六度生戒 [Six Rules for
Releasing Life] insisted on the benefit of being kind to animals. Accord-
ing to the third rule, “if someone can save a helpless animal, he will be
healthy and never meet with calamity.” According to the fourth rule,
“if someone helps animals and shares food with them, he will be rich
and win good fortune.” According to the fifth rule, “if someone frees
animals and looks after them, he will be prosperous and never meet
with calamity.” According to the sixth rule, “if someone is kind to all
beings and saves life, his merits will be great. He will always be safe,
healthy, and rich. His wishes will come true.”
44
Conversely, if someone
“kills birds, breaks eggs, and hunts in spring or summer . . . each of his
acts will cost him a demerit and the God of Destiny will reduce his
lifespan.”
45
In the Jingshi gongguoge it says: “if someone teaches others
to hunt, he is given thirty demerits . . . If someone poisons fish, he is
given thirty demerits . . . If someone kills a domestic animal, he wins
five demerits . . . If someone kills a bird, a fish, or an insect, he wins a
demerit . . . If someone ensnares an animal, he receives three demerits
(if the animal dies in the process, the demerit will be multiplied).”
46
In the Shijie gongguoge 十戒功过格 [Ledger of Merits and Demerits of the
Ten Precepts] it says: “if someone kills animals to eat or sells their fur
or bones, he will be considered as blood-thirsty (for instance, killing
shrimps for food, killing oysters to make medicine, and killing mussels
to make jewelry). One occurrence costs two demerits and two extra
demerits if the number of animals exceeds a hundred. One who kills
a thousand animals will receive twenty demerits. . . . Ensnaring animals
42
Daozang, vol. 33, p. 475.
43
Zangwai daoshu, vol. 12, p. 76.
44
Daozang, vol. 6, p. 948.
45
Wang Ming, Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi, p. 126.
46
Zangwai daoshu, vol. 12, pp. 82–83.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 289
for game is called killing for game (like cricket fighting). One demerit
is noted for each animal killed. Even if one does not kill, but ensnares
an animal, he will be given a demerit. One who sees others ensnare
animals but does not prevent them from doing so will receive also
one demerit.”
47
The demerit for killing was even more serious in the Wushang neimi
zhenzang jing 无上内秘真藏经 [Scripture of Secret Real Pitaka of Most
High]: “he who loves killing will be sent to the Hell of Avici when he
dies. He who kills for offering in a heterodox rite will be sent to the
Hell of Feishan when he dies. He who burns fields and forests to hunt
will be sent to the Hell of Fenxing when he dies.”
48
Qiu Chuji wrote
the poem “Jing shasheng 警杀生” (Exhorting People not to Kill Ani-
mals): “He who kills animals as a game never thinks of Hell. But his
demerits are secretly noted.”
49
These texts clearly show that Taoism
advocated the cherishing of life in all its forms and the protection of
the environment.
Moreover, Taoism created many rules for environmental protec-
tion. The rule of “prohibiting killing” always comes first and foremost
among numerous and complex lists of rules regarding the environ-
ment. In the Dongxuan lingbao liuzhai shizhi 洞玄灵宝六十直 [Six
Annuals Months of Fast and Ten Monthly Days of Fast of the Numinous Treasure
from the Cavern Mystery] it says: “among the five Taoist rules, the first is
‘prohibiting killing’.”
50
According to Lu Xiujing’s Shouchi bajie zhaiwen
受持八戒文 [Text of the Ritual of Receiving the Eight Rules], “the first
rule is the prohibition of killing.”
51
The first rule of the Siwei dingzhi
jing shijie 思微定志经十戒 [The Rules of the Scripture of Concentration and
Reinforcing Mind ] was also “do not kill and be kind to all beings.”
52
The
second rule of the Chuzhen shijie 初真十戒 [Ten Rules for Novices] was
“killing animals to eat is prohibited.”
53
This rule can also be found
in the Miaolinjing ershiqi jie 妙林经二十七戒 [Twenty-seven Rules of the
Scripture of Miaolin], the Laojun shuo yibaibashi jie 老君说一百八十戒
[One Hundred and Eighty Rules Spoken by the Old Lord], and the Sanbai
47
Idem, p. 43.
48
Daozang, vol. 1, p. 476.
49
Idem, vol. 25, p. 841.
50
Idem, vol. 22, p. 258.
51
Idem, p. 281.
52
Idem, p. 267.
53
Idem, p. 278.
290 yin zhihua
dajie 三百大戒 [Three Hundred Primordial Rules]. Clearly, this rule is all-
important in Taoism.
Taoism not only prohibits killing, but also enects specific rules to
enforce this commandment. The 95th rule of the Laojun shuo yibaibashi
jie was “do not disturb hibernating animals.” The 97th was “do not
climb trees to steal eggs.” The 98th was “do not encage animals.”
54

The 112th rule of the Zhongji jie 中极戒 [Rules of Middle Ultimate] was
“do not pour boiling water on fields and do not hurt ants.”
55
All these
rules showed the Taoist consideration for animals.
Taoists also opposed the ill-treatment of animals. The 132nd rule
of the Laojun shuo yibaibashi jie was “it is prohibited to terrify animals.”
56

And in the Sanbai dajie: “it is prohibited to terrify and corner animals.”
57

The 49th rule of the Laojun shuo yibaibashi jie was “it is prohibited to kick
animals.” The 129th was “it is prohibited to beat domestic animals
without reason.”
58
According to modern ecological ethics, humans should establish a
partnership with nature in order to replace the traditional relationship
based on the conquest of nature and man’s overwhelming domina-
tion. Nature is the ultimate creator of all things and the mother of all
beings. Everything in this world has its own value and right to exis-
tence. As fellow creatures, they deserve to be respected. This respect
can be found in Taoism, which prohibits the killing and ill-treatment
of animals.
There is a further point that needs to be illustrated. Taoist pre-
cepts prohibit all killing, but they are meant for Taoists. For laymen,
Taoism opposes only indiscriminate slaughter. In the Xuhuang tianzun
chuzhen shijie wen 虚皇天尊初真十戒文 [Text of Ten Rules for Novice from
the Emperor of Vacuity and Celestial Worthy] we can read, “the reason for
prohibiting killing is to keep man’s humanity whole . . . For anyone,
however humane, it is inconvenient to follow the rules because he lives
with profane people.” When someone has to kill, he should act like
Emperor Tang of the Shang Dynasty, who gave the animals an oppor-
tunity to flee in order to show the celestial virtue, or like Confucius,
who “fished with a fishing pole but no net and did not kill sleeping
54
Idem, p. 272.
55
Daozang jiyao. Changchun: Jilin renmin chubanshe, 1995, vol. 10, p. 152.
56
Daozang, vol. 1, p. 476.
57
Idem, vol. 6, p. 948.
58
Idem, vol. 22, pp. 271–72.
taoist philosophy on environmental protection 291
animals” in order to show his moderation. He should “not kill in the
Jingzhe 惊蛰 season or break saplings” to respect the laws of nature.
In the same scripture it says: “sages do not have to eat animals.” It is
enough to “keep compassion and eat what we have.” Then “killing is
not inevitable.”
59
Some Taoist rules concern plants. In the Taiping jing it says: “do not
burn anything on the mountain or break stones, hurt grass or trees, sell
them at the market, or eradicate them. . . . To meet your needs, all you
have to do is to gather sticks. That is following the laws.”
60
The 14th
rule of the Laojun shuo yibaibashi jie was “it is prohibited to burn fields
and forests.” The 18th was “it is prohibited to fell trees without rea-
son.” The 19th was “it is prohibited to pick flowers without reason.”
61

In the Miaolinjing ershiqi jie it sa ys:“do not burn fields or forests.”
62

These rules can be also found in the Sanbai dajie.
63
It would be hard to
extend compassion to the grass and trees without the will to embrace
all living things as fellow creatures.
Some Taoist rules are dedicated to the protection of the soil and the
water. The 36th rule of the Laojun shuo yibaibashi jie was “it is prohibited
to put poison in rivers, ponds, or seas.” The 48th was “it is prohibited
to dig and destroy mountains or rivers.” The 53rd was “it is prohib-
ited to dry up rivers.” The 100th was “it is prohibited to throw trash
in wells.” The 134th was “it is prohibited to divert water from ponds
or lakes.”
64
These rules, which are all against environmental pollution
and in favor of agriculture, can also be found in the Sanbai dajie.
65
Conclusion
According to Taoism, the human being is created by the peaceful
qi of the Tao and then is the most intelligent among all beings. For
that reason, Taoism considers the human being as “the master of all
beings,”
66
who “should rule all beings.”
67
According to the Taiping jing,
59
Idem, vol. 3, p. 404.
60
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao, p. 203.
61
Daozang, vol. 6, p. 270.
62
Idem, vol. 22, p. 269.
63
Idem, vol. 6, p. 947.
64
Idem, vol. 22, pp. 271–73.
65
Idem, vol. 6, p. 948.
66
Wang Ming, Taiping jing hejiao, p. 205.
67
Idem, p. 88.
292 yin zhihua
the human being should “help Heaven to elevate other beings,” “help
the Earth to reinforce the body,”
68
and make the world better. The
criterion for evaluating the wealth of a society is its natural resources.
Wealth means no shortage of anything. If all beings develop fully and
the world lacks nothing, it lives in abundance. In Upper Antiquity,
all species were still extant. It had been a time of bounty. In Middle
Antiquity, the numbers of species were reduced. It was a poorer time.
Today, many more species are dying out. This is a time of dearth.
69

This philosophy of the Taiping jing in favor of the protection of species
opens up broad perspectives.
68
Idem, p. 36.
69
Idem, p. 30.
STUDY OF THE MEDICAL ELEMENTS IN
TAOIST HEALING: THE USE OF TALISMANS
AND INCANTATIONS
1
Gai Jianmin
Taoist medicine is considered a religious medicine. As the product of
the interaction between religion and science, it is not solely a specific
medical system created by Taoists. They not only sought to inter-
mingle their beliefs, doctrines, and ideology with traditional Chinese
medicine, but also to establish a traditional Chinese medical school
within Taoism.
2
As a component of traditional Chinese medicine,
Taoist medicine includes both science and mysticism, rational and
superstitious practices.
The System of Taoist Medical Talismans and Incantations
The use of talismans and incantations is one of the most important
Taoist ritual techniques. Taoist ritual techniques, also referred to as
“techniques of the Tao,” ritual “techniques of the immortal,” and
magic, are manifestations of Taoist religious practices. All of these
practices, which aim to increase longevity, are at the core of Taoist
ritual techniques. According to Taoism:
The Tao is the ultimate perfection of vacuity and non-existence. Ritual
techniques are a mysterious art of transformation. The Tao is formless.
It helps people through the use of techniques. Human beings are natu-
rally intelligent. They attain the Tao through practice. People learn the
Tao, then can transform themselves at will. The essence of the Tao is
concise and easy to understand. The mystery or secret of the techniques
lies in the talismans, qi, and medicine.
3
1
Published originally in Shijie zongjiao yanjiu, no. 4, 1992.
2
Gai Jianmin, Daojiao yixue 道教医学. Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 2001,
pp. 4–5.
3
Yunji qiqian, chapter 45: “Miyao juefa xushi diyi 秘要诀法·序事第一,” in the
Taoist Canon. Shanghai shudian: Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House, 1996,
vol. 22, p. 317.
294 gai jianmin
The Tao and techniques are inseparable, as noted in the phrase “the
Tao cannot be applied without the techniques.” Ritual techniques are
one of the most important means used in the practice of the Tao.
Taoist ritual techniques are numerous. Among the most important are
talismans, qi, and medicine, which are called the three essential fac-
tors: “The talisman is the spiritual writing of the Three Lights and the
message of celestial perfection. Qi is the great union of Yin and Yang
and the spirit of everything. Drugs are the gem of the five agents and
the essence of Heaven and Earth. It will be enough to be expert in one
of these three domains to realize what one wills.”
4
People commonly
believe that a talisman consists of a certain type of graphic writing
and a line drawn in red or black, or made of curved strokes. It is at
the same time a character and a picture. As for incantations, they are
formulas chanted to a certain rhythm. Talismans and incantations can
be used together or separately. Generally speaking, however, the use
of Taoist talismans is linked to incantations. There are great numbers
of Taoist talismans,
5
which can be classified according to different cri-
teria. Among Taoist talismans, there is a large proportion dedicated to
medical treatment. We will briefly present them here.
Among Taoist talismans, those originating from shamanistic talis-
mans and used for curing people, are among the most ancient and
have developed into the most systematic and coherent use. Ancient
Taoist talismans were principally used in exorcism. In the Scripture of
Great Peace there are many talismans made of “superimposed char-
acters 复文”: “There are four parts, 95 chapters, and 2,128 char-
acters in total. They are all the original text of the Scripture of Great
Peace. The 362 chapters (of the current version of the Taipingjing) were
4
Idem.
5
The title and category are recorded in Sandong shenfu ji 三洞神符记, which con-
tains several Taoist scriptures. In it we find “the method of three origins, eight unions,
and six writings,” “the cloud seal characters” “the six writings and six characters of the
body,” “the character of the talisman,” “the eight manifestations,” “the formula of the
jade character,” “the character of the emperor and writing of the king,” “the celes-
tial writing,” “the character of the dragon,” “the writing of the phoenix,” “the jade
document and the golden book,” “the stone character,” “the white title,” “the jade
writing,” “the east character,” “the jade document,” “the jade dispatch,” “the writ-
ing of connecting fortune,” “the gem mussel and jade book,” “the silver document,”
“the red writing,” “the real character refined by fire,” “the character of the golden
pot and ink,” “the jade document,” “the purple character,” “the natural character,”
“the character of the four unions,” and “the gem document and the stamen book.”
See the Taoist Canon, vol. 2, p. 142; see also Yunji qiqian, chapter 7: “Erdong jingjiao
bu benwen 二洞经校部·本文.”
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 295
developped by Mister Gan (Gan Ji) from the original text and circu-
lated henceforth.”
6
The urge to invent those “superimposed charac-
ters,” to treat disease and drive away demons, was presented in detail
in “Taipingjing fuwen xu 太平经复文·序” [Preface to the Superimposed
Characters of the Scripture of Great Peace]. With links established over the
centuries between Taoism and medicine, Taoists emphasized medical
treatment through the use of talismans and considered such treatment
a means to benefit people and save the world. Driven by this religious
purpose, the variety and the function of Taoist medical talismans was
enriched, expanded, and perfected until a complete system of medical
talismans was formed.
Early Taoist medical talismans were primitive, coarse, unsophisti-
cated, and they were used in a general way: no specific talisman was
dedicated to a specific disease. One talisman would be used to cure
hundreds of different diseases. Its structure was simple and easy to
decipher. With the development of Taoist medicine, in the Southern
and Northern dynasties, the Sui, and the Tang, the number of Taoist
medical talismans multiplied. Many different specific clinical talismans
appeared and were classified into categories. For instance, in the first
and second chapters of the Taishang dongxuan lingbao suling zhenfu 太上
洞玄灵宝素灵真符 [True Talismans of the White Numen from the Supreme
Mysterious Cavern of the Lingbao (Canon)], which were signed “revealed to
Mister Lu (Lu Xiujing),” not only were the talismans for hundreds of
diseases recorded, but also those for specific diseases, such as 88 kinds
for epidemics, 8 for typhoid, 12 for chills and fever, and 13 for head-
aches.
7
In the third chapter of the same book, 15 kinds of talismans for
thoracalgia, 45 for diarrhea, 4 for cholera, 17 for constipation, 5 for
gonorrhea, and 55 for malaria were recorded.
8
This showed the great
variety of Taoist medical talismans.
It is also worth noting that Taoists were capable of applying talis-
mans not only according to different types of diseases but also accord-
ing to the evolution of the disease. Hence the use of different talismans
through the different stages of treatment and different objectives. For
example, for the talisman against epidemics, there was one “swallowed
6
Taipingjing fuwen xu, see Wang Ming, Taipingjing hejiao. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju,
1960, p. 745.
7
Taishang dongxuan lingbao suling zhenfu, first chapter, see the Taoist Canon., vol. 6,
pp. 343–48.
8
Idem, pp. 355–61.
296 gai jianmin
before entering into a patient’s house,” one “swallowed with water
in case of seasonal plague,” one “swallowed to smother the sensa-
tion caused by the epidemic,” one swallowed to cure the inflammation
caused by the epidemic,” and one used from the first until the twelfth
day of the epidemic. Of the talismans for diarrhea there were one for
non-contaminating diarrhea, one for red and white diarrhea, and one
for children, among others.
In addition, during treatment, the use of talismans changed accord-
ing to the type of patients. The most common way of taking them was
orally. For instance, “if the patient feels sudden pain, tingling, and
feels like dying, he should first swallow the upper talisman. If he is not
better, he should swallow the lower talisman. If he is in shock but his
chest is still warm, he will be cured immediately after swallowing it.
The talisman should be written with ink and swallowed. If the patient
cannot open his mouth, knock one of his teeth out, fold the talisman,
and put it in his mouth. Let it be swallowed with water. It will have an
immediate effect.”
9
Swallowing a talisman or the ash from a paper tal-
isman mixed with water was the most common means of administer-
ing Taoist talismans. In addition, some talismans for external use were
worn or hung on doors, windows, beds, and walls, or pasted on sores.
For example, for epidemics, there was a certain “Talisman of Yel-
low Middle for Hundred Epidemics.” If the patient wore it, his illness
would be cured instantly. There were also the “Old Lord’s Talisman
for Preventing Epidemic,” which was written with cinnabar on doors;
the “Talisman for Preventing Epidemic,” which was written on the
collar, back, and arms; several kinds of talismans for fever and fantods,
which were written on the feet, chest, palms, and back; the talisman
for constipation in children, which was written under the navel; and
the talisman for staunching bleeding and relieving pain.
During the Song and Ming dynasties, Taoist medical talismans
were so numerous that they were classified with greater accuracy. The
writing and uses of talismans were also diverse. A relatively complete
medical system of talismans was constituted.
Among Taoist medical talismans, there was a specific talisman
for summoning the celestial doctor (Tianyi 天医). According to a
related theory, the mysterious function of Taoist talismans consisted
in enabling the communication between human beings and gods. So
9
Idem, p. 351.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 297
Taoists believed the process of talismans was to “mix my essence with
that of all things and mix my spirit with that of all things. Essences
attach themselves one with another and spirits depend on one another.
So, even with a small piece of paper to summon gods and ghosts,
they have to answer.”
10
Taoists believed incantations had a similar
function:
In Heaven, a deity, who has some important messages and wants to
transmit them to people, sends celestial officers who fly, using qi to reach
their destination. People get these messages and consider them as divine
incantation. . . . The incantation is the rendering and explanation of the
celestial text. Incantations can be used as a divine object to treat illness.
All incantations are collected to treat various diseases.
11
Taoists believed that there was an “Office of the Celestial Doctor” in
Heaven just as there was an official medical administration on Earth.
In chapter 57, “Principles of the Fast-Office of the Celestial Doctor
法宗旨门·天医院” of the Shangqing lingbao dafa [Great Rites of the
Numinous Treasure of Highest Clarity] it says: “after the completion of the
soul, the supervision of birth, and the decomposition of the placenta,
the celestial doctor and the divine officer should be invited to release
them. When someone has died of disease and his soul is ill. . . . The
celestial doctor should also be invited to save this person.” The invited
celestial doctor must “burn the talisman from the celestial doctor, then
recite the summoning incantation.”
12
Indeed, there is a kind of talis-
man for inviting the celestial doctor to come down from Heaven to
drive away demons and diseases and “treat all internal and external
diseases of men, women, and children in this world.”
13
Taoist medical talismans can be classified into characters, graph-
ics, and graphic compositions of different characters, three categories
according to their form, not all of which will be presented here for
want of space.
14
Taoist medical talismans and incantations are used together in a
specific ritual. Since talismans and incantations are Taoist ritual tech-
niques, their application follows the general rules of Taoist rituals, such
10
Idem, p. 346.
11
Daofa huiyuan, chapter 1, see the Taoist Canon., vol. 28, p. 674.
12
Shangqing lingbao dafa, chapter 58, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 31, p. 244.
13
Idem, p. 245.
14
Zhuyouke zhufu mijuan 祝由科诸符秘卷. Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe,
1994, p. 12.
298 gai jianmin
as purification, the installation of the altar, offerings, and the burning
of incense and prayers. There are also some specific procedures linked
to medical talismans and incantations.
Before treating a patient with Taoist talismans it must be ascer-
tained whether such treatment is consistent with the “Rules of the
Most High,” consisting of five rules: “do not treat someone who is
insincere and misbehaves, do not treat someone who defames the
celestial doctor, do not treat someone who hesitates and disbelieves,
do not treat someone who prefers wealth to health, do not treat some-
one whose talisman and incantation are incomplete and incoherent.”
15

The second step is to recite the “formula for incanting water.” The
third step is to use the “formula for incanting ink.” The fourth is to
use the “formula for incanting paper.” The fifth is the “formula for
incanting the brush.” The sixth is the “formula for incanting the text,”
which consists in telling the real cause of the disease to the incanting
Taoist priest. The seventh is the “formula for writing talismans and
incantations.” The last is the ritual of sending the text.
16
It is evident
that these rituals are pervaded with religious mysticism and therefore
need to be analyzed scientifically.
Medical Elements in Treatment Using Taoist Talismans
According to Taoist documents and present-day cases, treatment with
Taoist talismans and incantations produces some clinical results. But
Taoists somewhat exaggerate their effects. In fact, medicine, hygiene,
and quarantine are implicit factors in the treatment with Taoist talis-
mans and incantations.
As mentioned above, before the Taoist master treats an illness with
talismans and incantations, he must install the altar and the offerings,
purify himself, burn incense and send a memorial in order to inform
the deities of the cause of illness. The stage of purification and send-
ing the memorial
17
actually concerns hygiene. In chapter 25, “Ritual
of Sending the Memorial—Sending Memorial and Purification” of the
Shangqing lingbao dafa we find: “Before sending a memorial, the Taoist
15
Gai Jianmin, Daojiao yixue 道教医学, p. 292.
16
Zhuyou yixue shisanke 祝由医学十三科, see Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu: Bashu shushe,
1994, vol. 26, p. 337.
17
Gai Jianmin, Daojiao yixue 道教医学, pp. 292–95.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 299
master must purify the body by taking a bath and changing clothes.
Take a bath with fragrant water, then wear new clothes before enter-
ing the meditation chamber. If the body is not clean, the god will not
lodge in it and the technique will not be efficient. In that case, the
Taoist master cannot be in touch with Heaven.”
18
Taoists are very
particular about bathing and put all kinds of perfumes and medici-
nal herbs in the bath water. At the end of the section on “Sending a
Memorial and Purification” mentioned above, we find a “prescription
for boiling medicine”: “half a jin of Peach Skin, half a jin of Citronella,
half a liang of Agastache, half a liang of perfumed Angelica, and half a
liang of Holy Basil.”
19
In this “prescription of boiling medicine,” agas-
tache, as a kind of herbal medicine, is associated with the character
for spleen, stomach, and lungs. According to chapter 14, “Herbs,” in
the Bencao gangmu 本草纲目 [Compendium of Materia Medica], agastache
is used for relieving “the swelling and the toxicity caused by wind and
water, getting rid of evil qi, preventing cholera and relieving heart and
belly pain. It is the essential medicine for the reflux of gastric acid. It
is used also for reinforcing the stomach qi, stimulating the appetite,
warming the heart, hastening the qi, cold lungs, the heat of the Upper
Warmer, halitosis after drinking alcohol, and gargling.”
20
The modern
study of medicine shows the inhibiting effect of agastache in cases of
pathogenic dermatophyte.
Angelica is a perennial plant with a strong perfume, hence its other
name, perfumed angelica. It is used for relieving fever, preventing
rheumatism, relieving swelling, eliminating toxicity, relieving pain, and
clearing nasal passages. In the Shennong bencao jing 神农本草经 [Materia
Medica of Shennong] it notes: “Angelica is used against leukorrhea, the
swelling of private parts caused by clots of blood, the heat caused by
18
Before sending a memorial, the Taoist master must prepare the pledge (xin 信).
Instructions are found in chapter 1, “Memorial and Symbol,” in the Daomen dingzhi
道门定制: “36 chi of yellow rope . . . 1 liang of cinnabar, a silver knife, 3 guan, and
600 wen of ‘life money,’ 12 sheng of ‘lucky rice,’ 120 pieces of yellow paper, a pair of
good quality brushes, a piece of high quality ink stick, and a liang of frankincense.”
(The Taoist canon, vol. 31, p. 662). Among them, the cinnabar, related to the heart
character, was used for calming the nerves and clearing away heat and toxic mate-
rial. Frankincense, related to the heart, the liver, and the spleen character, was used
for stimulating blood circulation, stopping pain, relieving swelling, and regenerating
tissue. The ink could be used as medicine. A silver knife could be used for sterilizing
and identifying poison.
19
Shangqing lingbao dafa, chapter 25, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 31, p. 500.
20
Idem.
300 gai jianmin
fever, the excessive tears caused by the syndrome of the wind in the
head.” According to the Rihuazi bencao 日华子本草 [Materia Medica of
Rihuazi], angelica is used against chest pain, carbuncles on the back,
dermatitis, hemorrhoids, apocenosis, sores, dermatomycosis, odynoly-
sis, regenerating tissues, and scars on the face. Holy basil is also called
xuncao 薰草 or huicao 蕙草. According to chapter 14, “Herbs,” in the
Bencao gangmu, basil is used to “improve eyesight, stop tears, and cure
premature ejaculation, deodorization, migraine, and lumbago.”
21
Cit-
ronella is also called maoxiang 茅香 or xiangma 香麻. The citronella
flower is used in cases of “heart disease, heating and settling the stom-
ach, treating the pain in the heart and the belly caused by cold.”
22
The
leaf of the citronella bud is used for “preparing bath water, driving
away demoniac influence and perfuming the body.”
23
Peach skin is in common use in Taoist talismans and incantations.
Taoists have always considered the peach as protecting people from
demons and many ritual instruments are made from peach tree wood.
The presence of the peach in Taoism is influenced by the yasheng 厌胜
in shamanistic medicine. Yasheng means one thing can always be sup-
pressed by another, as noted in the proverb “when a Taoist increases
his power, demons also increase their power, even more so.” A Sha-
man believes that the wearing or the laying of amulets protects people
from demons. Taoists’ preference for peaches also rests on their medi-
cal properties. Peach skin or the white skin of a peach stem, also called
taoshu pi 桃树皮 or tao baipi 桃白皮, is used against edema, epigastral-
gia, the mass in the right hypochondrium, bellyache, and pharyngi-
tis. Peach skin contains naringenin, aromadendrin, persicogenin, and
other organic elements. One can gargle with soup made with it to
treat toothache. In addition, peach pits, peach leaves, peach blossoms,
and peach root can be all used as medicine. The peach pit is used for
invigorating blood circulation, allaying tiredness, easing constipation,
and inflammation. The peach leaf is used for detoxification, dispers-
ing pathogenic wind, disinfection, and treating furunculous, eczema,
urticaria, hemorrhoids, and malaria. A decoction of peach leaf can
be used for killing several viruses such as Shigeila flexneri and killing
mosquitoes and flies because it contains several fungicidal components,
21
Bencao gangmu. Beijing: Renmin weisheng chubanshe, 1977, vol. 2, p. 900.
22
Idem, p. 902.
23
Idem, p. 897.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 301
like laetrile, quinine acid, and ursolic acid. Bath water perfumed with
peach blossoms used for purification is mentioned in chapter 9, “Taboo
of Fast—Purification,” in the Shangqing lingbao dafa:
In the Taishang jiubian shihua yixin jing 太上九变十化易新经 [Most High
Scripture for Easy Renewal Through Nine Transformations and Ten Transmuta-
tions] we find the following: if one steps on dirt or goes through dirty
places, he should take a bath to purify himself. Follow the instructions,
put 10 liang of bamboo leaves and 4 liang of peach branches in 12 dou
of water and boil it. Adjust the temperature and then take a bath with
it. Not only will all inauspicious things go away, but also eczema and
hemorrhoids can be prevented, because bamboo leaves and peach
branches purify.
24
Taoists strongly believed in the virtues of bathing and thought “they
must purify themselves with perfumed water.”
25
There are many ver-
sions of the components of the five-perfume water. The most com-
mon one is composed of Caryopteris incana, Holy Basil, Radix aristolochiae,
and Sandalwood. But it can also composed of medical herbs such as
mastiche, tambac, angelica, cypress leaves, and peach skin. Taoists
explain that purification with perfumed water has a religious impli-
cation, maintaining that “if the Taoist master does not purify him-
self with perfumed water, his soul will be lost and captured by other
ghosts,”
26
“cypress leaves enable him to invite true immortals,”
27
and
“holy basil enables him to assemble deities.”
28
If they do not purify
themselves, the talismans and incantations will be polluted and there-
fore lose their strength. Although this is only Taoist ideology, taking
regular baths with special medicinal herbs used against inflammation,
infection, eczema, and eliminating damp can really prevent people
from catching diseases. Having a haircut and changing clothes can
also be preventive.
Taoists put great emphasis on hygiene at the ritual site. They clean
the site beforehand and purify it once more with vinegar on the day of
the ritual. “Prepare a calm chamber and prevent anyone from entering
it. Clean it beforehand and fumigate it with vinegar and the purifica-
tion talisman.”
29
“Fumigation with vinegar” is an efficient and simple
24
Shangqing lingbao dafa, chapter 9, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 31, p. 396.
25
Yunji qiqian, chapter 41, “Bath,” see the Taoist Canon, vol. 22, p. 282.
26
Idem.
27
Idem, p. 283.
28
Idem.
29
Shangqing lingbao dafa, chapter 23, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 37, p. 489.
302 gai jianmin
method for purifying the chamber and eliminating viruses. Even today
it is used for protecting people from respiratory viruses.
The medical elements of Taoist talismans and incantations can be
found in the making of the talismans using choice substances.
Taoists make talismans with peach, which are called peach talismans
and consider them able to drive away demons because of their medical
properties. We have already given details on the pit, branch, leaf, and
blossom, which all contain some disinfecting medicinal components.
Even the use of the ash of a burnt peach talisman and the water mixed
with it are to some extent also effective. Besides the peach, Taoist tal-
ismans can be also made of paper, silk, bamboo, metal, even rice or
fruit. Cinnabar is often chosen for writing talismans with.
Cinnabar is used for writing secret words. Grind it and write with it on
yellow paper. In urgent cases, write words in some soil with your right
hand in the form of a sword seal, then swallow the soil. The sincerity
of the moment should suffice. Secret words can be written on bamboo,
wood, and stone boiled in water. Secret words can be written on cake
or fruit. These can be eaten to cure a disease.
30
Cinnabar is also called chensha 辰砂 or dansha 丹砂. Its chemical prop-
erties are very special. Its red color represents what Taoists seek—the
essence of the universe and life. Taoists use cinnabar not only as a
material in Taoist alchemy but also for writing talismans. Taoist talis-
mans written with cinnabar on yellow paper, cake, or fruit prove their
therapeutic effect through their mysterious characteristics.
Cinnabar, whose character is “sweet” and “cold,” is associated with
the heart. It is used for relieving uneasiness in body and mind, clear-
ing away heat and toxins, treating insomnia, carbuncles, malaria, and
sores caused by inner heat. Moreover, yellow paper used for writing
talisman is dyed with turmeric, which is also called huangjiang 黄姜,
maojianghuang 毛姜黄, and baodingxiang 宝鼎香, and whose character is
spicy, bitter, and warm. It is associated with the heart, the spleen, and
the liver. It is used for treating scabies, stagnation of the circulation
of vital energy, chest and belly pain, tingling in the side, wandering
arthritis, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, injuries from falls, and inflam-
mation. The curcumin contained in turmeric can contain staphylo-
coccus. Turmeric soup can increase appetite, relieve pain, and boost
30
Zhuyou yixue shisanke, see Zangwai daoshu, vol. 26, pp. 345–46.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 303
immunity against dermatophyte. Hence the effect of the paper talis-
man on the staunching and relief of pain.
Bread has the effect of invigorating the spleen and strengthening the
stomach; that is why Taoist write talismans on bread and use it for
treating stomach and intestinal diseases.
Taoists pay particular attention to the making of medical talismans.
They often add tiger bone, pearl, and musk to the ink or cinnabar to
write the talisman:
31
Purification should be observed before writing a talisman. . . . If it is for
treating demoniac disease, mix tiger bone and cinnabar, then write the
talisman with them. As it says in the footnotes, tiger bone should be
ground into powder. Filter it with silk and mix it with cinnabar in a 60
to 40 percent proportion. Mix it then with gum. A talisman written with
it can be used for driving away demons.
32
Tiger bone, pearl, and musk are all precious remedies and each has
its own medicinal property. Mix them with cinnabar and ink to write
the talisman. In this way, the talisman containing several remedies will
be most certainly efficient against certain diseases.
Taoists determine the diagnosis before using talismans. Depending
on different symptoms, they can make the appropriate talismanic soup
and ask the patient to drink it.
Taoist talismans are not illegible, senseless writings as some people
might think. Taoists use talismans after having analyzed the origin
of disease as Yang or Yin: “if a patient comes to ask for a talisman,
diagnose at first and apply yourself with great compassion to his salva-
tion. The merit of writing talismans with cinnabar for saving people
31
A talisman written with ink has also its medicinal effects. According to the Yilin
zuanyao 医林纂要, “previously ink was made from turpentine soot whose character-
istic is warmth. Today’s ink is made from tung oil whose characteristic is coldness.
However its odor is lighter and its character is flat. The better ink is mixed with pearl,
gold, and ice and kept for a long time.” Paper can be used as medicine. According to
the Bencao gangmu, “fruit paper is sweet, flat, and non toxic. The ash from red paper
is used for treating hematemesis, hemorrhinia, bleeding, and open wounds. Bamboo
paper is used for preventing paludism. The ash from rattan paper is used for treating
wounds, interior heat, and hemorrhinia. Mix the ash of rattan paper with wine and
drink it. Twirl herb paper and apply it on gangrene and pus. The ash of hemp paper
can be used for staunching. Paper money can be used for gangrene and its ash can
be used for staunching.” See Bencao gangmu. Beijing: Renmin weisheng chubanshe,
1977, vol. 3, p. 94.
32
Dengzhen yinjue, chapter 2, “Memorial and Talisman,” see the Taoist Canon, vol. 6,
p. 621.
304 gai jianmin
is great.”
33
Before preparing a talisman, a Taoist doctor diagnoses the
symptoms. Then he makes a specific talisman and applies it:
If the origin of the disease originates in Yang, use high-quality vinegar
or spring water; use ginger juice, alcohol, or water if it originates in
Yin. Disease caused by wind should be treated with ginger juice filtered
through bamboo. In case of an external disease, mix the ash of the talis-
man and water or mix vinegar and ink and apply it on the lesion. In the
case of a wound, apply it on its outer lip and sprinkle a little ink on it. If
the juice is dried, moisten with pig’s bile. Before treatment, determine if
the origin of the disease is Yin or Yang. For poor patients, give medicine
free of charge. Before writing the talisman, reflect on the sincerity of the
demander. Purify body, hand, and heart, burn incense, and calm the
spirit before taking up the writing brush.
34
The principals of diagnosis mentioned above include some scientific
theory of medicine. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the
Yin or Yang diagnosis of the origin of the disease is a precondition of
the treatment. In the chapter “Yin or Yang Symptoms” in the Suwen
it says: “A good doctor knows how to observe the complexion, analyze
the pulse manifestations, and distinguish the Yin or Yang origin of the
disease.”
35
The reputed doctor of the Ming Dynasty Zhang Jingyue
wrote: “before treatment, a doctor must diagnose the Yin or Yang ori-
gin of the disease. This is foremost. How can the doctor treat without
distinguishing the Yin or Yang origin of disease? Medicine is com-
plex. However, its root is in Yin and Yang. So the origin of disease,
the manifestations of the pulse, and the medicine given are analyzed
through Yin and Yang. . . . He who understands Yin and Yang under-
stands half of the art of medicine in spite of its complexity.”
36
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the radical cause of dis-
ease is the disequilibrium between Yin and Yang. So balancing Yin
and Yang is the primary aim of the treatment. During treatment, Tao-
ist doctors use talismans according to the Yin or Yang origin of the
disease, following strict rules. We will analyze these rules from the
33
Zhuyou yixue shisanke, see Zangwai daoshu, vol. 26, pp. 345–46.
34
Idem. There is also a similar passage: “If the origin of disease is Yang, use vin-
egar of good quality; ginger juice if it is Yin. Apply golden ink on sores and write a
talisman in the margin” See chapter 1 of the Taishang zhuyou ke 太上祝由科, p. 12.
35
Huangdi neijing suwen jiaoshi 黄帝内经素问校释. Beijing: Renmin weisheng chu-
banshe, 1982, vol. 1, p. 92.
36
Jingyue quanshu 景岳全书, chapter 1 “Essay on Loyalty,” see Yingyin wenyuange siku
quanshu, vol. 777, pp. 4–5.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 305
Zhuyou yixue shisanke [Thirteen Sections of zhuyou (Conjuring the Causes of Ill-
nesses) Medicine]:
Drink Perilla soup with the talisman for treating chills. Perilla, spicy
and warm is associated with the lung and the spleen. It is used for
expelling wind, clearing away colds, and treating fever, headache, and
rhinostegnosis.
Drink oriental wormwood decoction with talisman for treating inter-
nal moisture. Herba Artemisiae Capillaris, which is bitter and a little cold is
associated with the spleen, stomach, liver, and bile. It is used for elimi-
nating dampness and heat and treating jaundice.
According to Zhang Shanlei’s Bencao zhengyi 本草正义 [True Meaning of
Materia Medica]: “Herba Artemisiae Capillaris, whose taste is light, is used
for alleviating water retention and treating dampness and the heat of
spleen and stomach.” Drink Amomum villosum soup with the talisman for
preventing miscarriage. Amomum villosum, which is spicy and warm, is
linked to the spleen and the stomach. It is used for eliminating damp-
ness, facilitating the circulation of energy, and preventing miscarriage.
Other principles will not be presented here in further detail for want
of space. These include drinking Tuckahoe soup with the talisman to
treat malnutrition in children, drinking ginger soup with the talisman
to settle the stomach, drinking Radix aucklandiae soup with the talisman
to treat diarrhea and dysentery, drinking Pericarpium citri reticulatae soup
with the talisman to treat borborygmus, drinking angelica soup with
the talisman to treat hematemesis, drinking Asiatic plantain seed soup
with the talisman to treat urinary obstructions, and drinking bupleu-
rum and peppermint soup with the talisman to treat internal heat.
The medical effectiveness of Taoist talismans and incantations is
due not only to actual medicinal elements present in soups or herbs
but also to psychological effects applied during treatment.
First, Taoist asks the patient to be sincere and to have faith in the
Taoist talisman and incantation during treatment. As mentioned above,
this principle is stated at the beginning of the Zhuyou yixue shisanke. In
the chapter “Zhuyou Ritual of the Most High,” in the Zhufanke zhufu
mijuan 祝凡科诸符秘卷 [Secret Text of Talismans of the Zhufan Ritual],
similar ideas were noted under the title “Rules of the Most High,”
which emphasize that “zhuyou means to cast a spell on the origin of the
disease and treat it with a ritual. This ritual is based on sincerity and
faith.”
37
Taoists believe the patient’s trust helps with the treatment.
37
Zhuyou zhufu mijuan, p. 3.
306 gai jianmin
Modern psychological studies show that the patient’s trust in the doc-
tor and his prescriptions has a direct impact on clinical effects. During
treatment with talismans, Taoists often declare that the talisman and
incantation are revealed and are endowed with divine power. If the
patient wears, eats, or recites the talisman, the treatment will have
positive effects. Although Taoist propaganda overstates the efficiency
of all those practices, Taoist worship of talismans helps to increase
trust, improve the psychological impact, and set at rest the minds of
incurable patients who have lost all hope. According to modern medi-
cal studies, clinical effects not only depend on the appropriate medi-
cine but also on the patient’s frame of mind. For the same patient, the
medicine given by a doctor he trusts may be more effective than that
given by a doctor he does not trust.
The ash of a talisman or talisman soup, besides their medicinal ele-
ments in the case of some diseases, is also used as a placebo. Placebo
therapy is common in modern clinical treatment. According to this
therapy, the full treatment, or just a part of it, is effective for some dis-
eases even though it is not exclusively meant for these diseases. Mod-
ern placebo therapy includes oral placebos,
38
symbolical operations
like skin cutting, and injections without medicine. Because the patient
believes he is being treated, placebo therapy can have a healing effect.
So it is easy to understand the curative effect of writing a talisman
and reciting an incantation in which the Taoist master paces the Big
Dipper, holds the sword with disheveled hair, mutters, and writes a
talisman on a cup of water. Taoist talismans and incantations are espe-
cially effective as placebos in cases of physiological dysfunction and
psychogenic disorder caused by psychological problems. In antiquity,
when medicine was still underdeveloped, treatment with talismans and
incantations could supplement treatment with medicine.
During treatment with talismans and incantations, the Taoist doc-
tor asks the patient to enter a peaceful chamber to meditate. “Purify
the heart and clean the anxiety, that is what we call a bath.”
39
It
is a psychological “bath,” which facilitates the circulation of energy
in the internal organs; eliminates the patient’s delusion, depression,
and tension; and relieves the negative effects of these emotions on the
38
Modern oral placebos are classified in two categories: one is a pure placebo with-
out medicine like candy, a starch tablet, or saline, the other contains a little medicine
like vitamins or calcium tablets, which are not used for curing specific diseases.
39
The chapter “Pointing out Mystery” in the Xiuzhen shishu 修真十书, see the Tao-
ist Canon, vol. 4, p. 606.
study of the medical elements in taoist healing 307
body. According to Chinese traditional medicine, psychological treat-
ment is an important part of Taoist treatment. Eliminating negative
emotions helps treatment, together with medicine or surgery. As for
diseases caused by excessive affections like depression, palpitations due
to fright, and mania, the Taoist doctor deals with them following the
theory according to which “psychological disease should be treated
with psychological medicine,” a point of view supported by the text in
the chapter “Inner View” in the Dongyi baojian 东医宝鉴 [Precious Refer-
ence of Eastern Medicine]: “Perfect Great White wrote: Before treating a
disease, treat the mind of the patient. Taoists must resort to the Tao
to help calm the mind of the patient. Eliminate all doubt, all delusion,
all anger, and all envy . . . then the patient will be at peace and will be
cured. In this way, disease is treated before taking medicine.”
40
During
treatment, the Taoist doctor often asks the patient to pray to the world
of spirits and explain the cause of his disease to them. In this way, the
Taoist doctor helps the patient to express his emotions. This ancient
treatment is in fact a form of psychological therapy.
In addition, there are treatments to prevent disease that involve
taking talisman in different stages. For example, according to the True
Talismans of the White Numen from the Supreme Mysterious Cavern of the Ling-
bao (Canon), 12 pieces of the “Talisman of Warm Disease” should be
swallowed one at a time for twelve days.
41
Taoists also emphasize the
prevention of diseases. There are talismans for warding off the spread
of epidemics “which should be swallowed before entering the house of
the patient.” They also advise early treatment: “once the symptoms of
an epidemic are identified, make peach soup, make the patient swal-
low talismans with it and make him sweat. After a while make the
patient swallow the second talisman. If he does not sweat until the
third talisman, make him swallow seven or nine talismans, then he will
sweat and be a little cured. If this is not the case, make him swallow
a piece of talisman a day, he will most certainly be cured.”
42
As indi-
cated in this passage, talismans should be swallowed regularly and the
course of treatment will follow the evolution of the illness. The physical
effects of paper talismans and soup talismans are condensation and
40
Dongyi baojian. Beijing: Zhongguo zhongyiyao chubanshe, 1995, collated version,
chapter 1.
41
Taishang dongxuan lingbao suling zhenfu, chapter 1, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 6,
p. 345.
42
Idem.
308 gai jianmin
stimulation of the circulation, which facilitates staunching, the relief of
pain, and the elimination of all obstacles to recovery.
Conclusion
In conclusion, the therapeutic effect of Taoist treatment using talismans
is due to its medicinal and psychological elements, but not its divine
power as declared in Taoist scriptures. As a religious medicine, Taoist
medicine does not exclude secular medicine. On the contrary, it values
and takes advantage of Chinese traditional medicine, acupuncture, and
moxibustion to supplement Taoist medical and psychological treat-
ment. In history, many Taoists like Ge Hong, Tao Hongjing, Wang
Bing, Ma Zhi, and Liu Wansu were also famous doctors. Although
Taoists often employ certain shamanistic talismans, incantations, and
psychological therapies, they employ them along with medicine and
underline the role of the latter in the treatment. In fact, Taoist talis-
mans and incantations are supplementary measures applied to a disease
that cannot be treated with conventional medicine, as demonstrated
by the phrases “saving the chronically ill and treating the incurable”
43

or “if a patient cannot be treated with medicine or acupuncture and
moxibustion, ask him to drink talisman soup and confess all his sins.
Then his sins will be forgiven and chronic illness will be cured.”
44
It
must be said that Taoist inner alchemy, which aimed at immortality
and longevity, does not exclude traditional medicine either. In spite
of the differences between the different Taoist Schools and methods,
each school emphasizes the stage of “building of foundations,” during
which Taoists treat illness and reinforce energy by taking medicine
before passing to the stage of self-cultivation.
Taoist treatment through talismans and incantations is developed
from shamanistic medicine and is still influenced by it. Shamanistic
medicine rested on the general underdevelopment of medical knowl-
edge in antiquity. With the development of medicine, Taoist medi-
cine has finally broken away from shamanism and has adapted to
science. Although shamanism contributed to scientific medical knowl-
edge, there remain essential differences between them that cannot be
neglected.
43
Santian neijie jing, chapter 1, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 28, p. 414.
44
Lu xiansheng daomen kelüe, see the Taoist Canon, vol. 24, pp. 779–80.
A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE RITUAL OF
THE “THREE GREAT PURITIES”, THE “TAIYI RITUAL
OF SUBLIMATION”, AND THE “DOUMU RITUAL
OF SUBLIMATION”
—SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE
TAOIST RITUALS OF THE CANTONESE REGION AND
OF THE JIANGNAN REGION
Chen Yaoting
There is a Taoist proverb from the Jiangnan region: “Taoism is dif-
ferent every ten miles.” This means that despite their similarities in
belief and name, ritual procedures vary according to local custom. The
reasons for this are multiple. The local agricultural society is bounded
by its self-sufficient economy, with no real communication with the
outside, and the same applies to communication between the different
Taoist Schools. In terms of transmission, the lineage from master to
disciple is a closed system. In terms of language, spoken Chinese has
many regional variations. Even in the same region, distinct spoken
languages made it difficult for people to understand one another.
The ritual of the “Three Great Purities” that we will study is called
the “Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating
Souls.” As one of the Quanzhen Taoist rituals of sublimation and
release of souls, it is found throughout the Guangdong, Hong Kong,
and Macao regions. It will be compared with the ritual of the Ortho-
dox Unity School “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation,” also called “the Taiji
Numinous Treasure Ritual for Saving and Sublimating Souls,” which
circulated around Suzhou. The liturgy for this ritual was published by
Lou Jinyuan in the 32nd year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1767). The
“Doumu Ritual of Sublimation” is also called “the Anterior Heaven
Golden Ritual of Doumu for Saving and Sublimating Souls.” As one
of the rituals of the Orthodox Unity School, it was present in Shanghai
and its scripture is said to have been edited by the prime minister Yan
Song in the Ming Dynasty. These two rituals have been practiced and
adapted for a long time and circulated more particularly in Jiangnan.
This comparative study between the ritual of the “Three Great
Purities,” the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation,” and the “Doumu Ritual
of Sublimation” aims to shed light on the similarities and differences
310 chen yaoting
between the Taoist rituals in different regions and understand the his-
torical characteristics of Taoism in the Cantonese region in order to
understand its development.
A Common Objective: Sublimation and the Release of Souls
The “Three Great Purities,” ritual, the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation,”
and the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation” are all rituals of sublimation
and release of souls. Sublimation is achieved through the alchemical
interaction of True water and True fire, the release of souls means
releasing the souls of the dead and helping them to ascend to Heaven.
So the objective of these three rituals is the same.
The objective of sublimation and release is presented in chapter
38, “Category of Sublimation and Regeneration,” in the Lingbao yujian
灵宝玉鉴 [ Jade Reference of Numinous Treasure Liturgy]: “there is the
method of sublimation and regeneration in the great ritual of Numi-
nous Treasure. The water and fire are brought outside, while the kan
坎 and the li 离 (hexagrams) are mixed inside. The nine qi (energies)
are used to engender the shen (spirit), while the five sprouts are used to
shelter the qi. The three lights are unified to illuminate the inner land-
scape (within the body). Ten cycles (of refinement) are effectuated to
recover the spirit. Each step follows its own procedure. The wonder-
ful vacant qi of real Yang is necessary to make the formless substance
and the perfection of perfection. Once the sacred fetus is realized, it is
transformed into a deity and goes out of the Two Polarities and Five
Agents. Eternity ensues from the transcendence of one’s own body. If
it is attained, one will become perfect. Then the means can be for-
gotten if the objective is attained. The Tao commands the spirit, the
spirit commands the the qi, and the qi commands the form. So the
form needs to be refined into the qi, the qi needs to be refined to adapt
itself to the spirit, and the spirit needs to be refined to adapt itself to
vacuity. Only the Tao is wonderful, a synonym of ‘Great Vacuity.’
The golden liquid is used to refine the form, while the Jade talisman is
used to protect the spirit. When the form and the spirit are all perfect,
the union with the Tao can be realized. The Way of sublimation and
regeneration is certain without any doubt.”
1
This passage means that a pool of water and a fire-pit must be
installed on the ritual arena. That is the visible part of the ritual.
1
Hu Daojing et al., Daojiao yaoji xuankan. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1989,
vol. 8, p. 808.
a comparative study of three rituals 311
There is also an invisible part, where the soul will be summoned.
Through sublimation by water and fire, the uncleanliness and harm the
deceased caused in his/her life will be purified and healed. Then the
soul will be cleansed inwardly and outwardly and be filled with won-
drous light. Finally, it will be transformed into a sacred fetus. The most
important step of the ritual is when the Taoist priest makes use of his
inner power to mix the kan and the li. Zheng Suonan, of the Song
Dynasty, said in his Taiji jilian neifa 太极祭炼内法 [Taiji Inner Method of
Sublimation]: “the sublimation is at first the sublimation of the self and
then only the release of wandering souls. He who could not sublimate
his spirit, how could he possibly release the soul of others? The whole
ceremony depends on this inner practice. The talisman and the incan-
tation are just vectors of power.”
2
This passage shows that the key of
the ritual was the inner practice of the Taoist master when he carried
out the ritual. The union with the Tao is realized through the subli-
mation of the form and the union with the qi, the sublimation of the
qi and the union with the spirit, and the sublimation of the spirit and
the union with vacuity. The priest uses his qi of real Yang to release
the soul and make it formless substance. The soul becomes perfect and
is transformed into a sacred fetus and a deity. So the objective of the
ritual of sublimation and release of souls is summed up as “the quick
releases the dead and the self releases others.”
The “Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving and Subliming
Souls” refers to itself saying: “We respectfully obey the edicts of the
Tao, observe the mysterious liturgy, and conduct a Numinous Trea-
sure Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Subliming Souls.” This shows
that this famous Taoist ritual from the Cantonese region draws on
three major sources, of which the Numinous Treasure Ritual for Sub-
limating Souls is an important one.
We read in the scripture of “the Taiji Ritual”: “Heaven engenders
water, the Earth engenders fire. The interaction of water and fire is
used for sublimating souls. Heaven engenders the water, the Earth
engenders the fire. The interaction of water and fire is used to sublimate
substances. Heaven engenders water, the Earth engenders fire. The
interaction of water and fire leads to perfection.”
3
In the scripture of “the Anterior Heaven Golden Ritual of Doumu
for Saving and Sublimating Souls,” Doumu “[s]tops her step. She
2
The Taoist Canon. Shanghai shudian: Tianjin Ancient Books Publishing House,
1988, Cultural Relics Press, vol. 10, p. 449.
3
Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1994, vol. 17, p. 664.
312 chen yaoting
bestows beneficial light to greet all wandering souls. She nourishes
them profusely with consecrated offerings. Every spirit and soul eats
its full. The five souls are polished and the substance is recovered. The
nine qi are absorbed to form the body. Water and fire sublimate the
form and the Heavenly Doctor protects the body. Talismans and reg-
isters are bestowed. The rules are observed and perfection is attained.
Go up to Heaven and enjoy a free life. There is no reincarnation, and
life is as long as Heaven.”
4
From a comparison of the three rituals we find that their aim is
identical. They all include the interaction of water and fire, the sub-
limation of souls, and the idea that “the quick releases the dead and
the self releases others.”
Similar Procedures of Sublimation
Taoist ritual consists of enacting a number of rites. Each ritual has a
certain significance and follows a set procedure. Certain rites, articu-
lated in a certain order, may highlight the particular significance and
content of the ritual. “The Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Sav-
ing, and Sublimating Souls,” “the Taiji Numinous Treasure Ritual for
Saving and Sublimating Souls,” and “the Anterior Heaven Golden
Ritual of Doumu for Saving and Sublimating Souls” all follow this rule.
Table 1: A Comparison of ritual procedures in the order
of the actions performed
Content “The Anterior
Heaven Ritual
for Feeding,
Saving and
Sublimating
Souls”
“The Taiji
Numinous
Treasure Ritual
for Saving and
Sublimating
Souls”
“The Anterior
Heaven Golden
Ritual of Doumu
for Saving and
Sublimating Souls”
1. Open the
scripture and
express the
objective
Yes No Yes
2. Greet with
incense
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
Yes
4
Idem, vol. 30, p. 352.
a comparative study of three rituals 313
3. Purification Yes Yes (with one
difference). There
are also the Pacing
of the Dipper and
the pool of water
and the fire-pit are
installed
Yes
4. Meditation Yes Yes (same) Yes (but after the
dispatch of report)
5. Dispatch of
report
Yes Yes (same) Yes (but before the
meditation)
6. Five offerings Yes No Yes
7. Break into
Hell
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
Yes
8. Three
summons
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
No
9. Summon Yes Yes (with one
difference)
followed by the
feeding of souls
Yes
10. Tame and
control
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
Yes
11. Eulogy for
Taoist ritual
Yes No No
12. Greeting to
ten directions
Yes No Yes (with one
difference).
Greeting to five
directions
13. Placate
hatreds
Yes Yes (same) Yes
14. Scripture
of five kitchens
Yes Yes (same) Yes
15. Feeding the
souls
Yes Yes (brought
forward)
Yes
Table 1 (cont.)
Content “The Anterior
Heaven Ritual
for Feeding,
Saving and
Sublimating
Souls”
“The Taiji
Numinous
Treasure Ritual
for Saving and
Sublimating
Souls”
“The Anterior
Heaven Golden
Ritual of Doumu
for Saving and
Sublimating Souls”
314 chen yaoting
16. Sublimation
with water and
fire
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
Yes
17. Three
refuges
Yes Yes (with one
difference)
Yes
18. Nine
commandments
Yes Yes (different) Yes
19. Hymn to
send off the
souls
Yes Yes (same) Yes (with one
difference) preceded
by the hymn to
send off the gods
20. Eulogy
for the god
Qinghua
No Yes No
According to this table, there are discrepancies in certain sentences in
every rite enacted in the three rituals, especially rites in the Doumu
Ritual of Sublimation that differ from the other two rituals. Their
structures are similar, however. This shared structure shows the com-
mon origin of these rituals, as well as their common ideology and
purpose.
Variations in the Liturgical Texts
In our comparison of the Taoist rituals of sublimation we find that
the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation” is the closest to the “Great Three
Great Purities” practiced in Hong Kong. Except for the addition of
the “Four Eulogies of the for Taoist Funeral Ritual” in “the Anterior
Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating Souls” and its
separate recitation of the “Invitation (of all suffering souls) with Sincere
Heart,” and the “Organization of the Banquet (for the souls)” in the
same ritual, the contents of the three rituals are almost similar. We
Table 1 (cont.)
Content “The Anterior
Heaven Ritual
for Feeding,
Saving and
Sublimating
Souls”
“The Taiji
Numinous
Treasure Ritual
for Saving and
Sublimating Souls”
“The Anterior
Heaven Golden
Ritual of Doumu
for Saving and
Sublimating Souls”
a comparative study of three rituals 315
will now compare the similar content of the scene “Break into Hell.”
In “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating
Souls” it says:
The Jade Sovereign and Celestial Worthy who Forgives Sins, whose
appearance is the most majestic. Osier in hand, he sits on the precious
lotus. The Jade Maiden carries a streamer beside his imperial chariot,
while the Golden Lad descends from Heaven with a tally. Reciting the
white document, the Sovereign opens the sky and the world is full of
propitious clouds. The Sovereign of innumerable virtues and ultimate
perfection ascends the precious throne. His power spreads to the dou
and niu constellations.
The eternal night surrounds prisoners with a metal barrier and stone
walls. In dark Hell is the prison of metal and sand. This zone can be
touched neither by the rain nor by the sun. The blade of swords is fro-
zen by frost, while the flame of the fire chariot is stirred up by lightning.
Horrible cries under mill and mortar shake the earth, while the heat
of the pan and tripod burns the sky. In hailstorms, wind, thunder, and
lightning, it is impossible to say how great the pain is. This prison cannot
be reopened unless the compassionate light of the Great High dawns.
The secret incantation should be uttered to open the doors of Hell.
In deep Hell, there are numerous mountains. The inconceivable light
of the Numinous Treasure penetrates the pool of fire. The sinful souls
in Hell follow the banner of fragrant clouds. On the lotus flower of wis-
dom, they will be reborn and forever in peace. The golden light of merit
illuminates the darkness. The true fragrance flows in the flower pool.
The canopy of lotus floats on the clouds. All the gods live harmoniously
in the twelve pavilions. Quickly announce the decree of the Numinous
Treasure! Then souls may enjoy life in Heaven. Life in Hell is miser-
able. Quickly welcome the Original Emperor with heart. The talisman
of Nüqing 女青 and the Numinous Treasure and the book of the real
emperor of Zhongshan allow souls to ascend to Great Clarity at the first
recitation and return to Great Non-existence at the second recitation.
The merit reaching deep Hell enables souls to be reborn gradually in
the Purple Star.
5
We find the following text in the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation”:
The Celestial Worthy of the light of wisdom illuminates universally, his
three lights casting orthodox wisdom, joined by the inner light. This
light gives blessing to the world and shows its power. The pain of fire
poison is cured and the ice pool is lit up. The barrier around Hell and
its dark door are illuminated. Great compassion reaches down to help
5
Ōfuchi Ninji, Zhongguoren de zongjiao liyi 中國人の宗教禮儀 (in Japanese). Tokyo:
Fuwu shudian, 1983 p. 887.
316 chen yaoting
souls; the saints show their compassion. Souls in Hell are released and
ascend to Heaven.
The eternal night surrounds prisoners with a metal barrier and stone
walls. In dark Hell, is the prison of metal and sand. This zone can be
attained neither by the rain nor by the sun. The blade of swords is fro-
zen by frost while the flame of the fire chariot is stirred up by lightning.
Horrible cries from under mill and mortar shake the earth while the heat
of pan and tripod burns the sky. With Hailstorms, wind, thunder, and
lightning, it is impossible to ascertain how great the pain is. This prison
cannot be reopened unless dawns the compassionate light of the Great
High. The secret incantation should be uttered to open Hell’s gate.
The Celestial Worthy illuminates the night. In Deep Hell, there are
numerous mountains. The inconceivable light of the Numinous Trea-
sure penetrates the pool of fire. The sinful souls in Hell follow the banner
of fragrant clouds. With the lotus of wisdom and meditation, they will
transmigrate peacefully. The golden light of merit opens the dark bar-
rier. The true fragrance flows in the flower pool. The canopy of lotus
floats on clouds. All the gods live harmoniously in the twelve pavilions.
Quickly announce the decree of the Numinous Treasure! Then souls
may enjoy life in Heaven. Life in Hell is miserable. Quickly salute the
Original Emperor with heart. The talisman of Nuqing and the Numi-
nous Treasure and the book of the real emperor of Zhongshan allow
souls to reach Great Clarity at the first recitation and return to the Great
Non existence at the second recitation. The merit reaching deep Hell
allows souls to be reborn gradually in the Purple Star.
6
As to the scene of “placating hatreds,” the content is identical.
Human beings are always possessed by hatred. Deprived of intelligence
and lost [“numerous” according to the “tai” version], how can they
cooperate and live an harmonious life? They still feel hatred even after
transmigration. The animosity of several generations cannot be placated
even after centuries. Harsh temper is at work and competitive minds are
ruling. With the body, they can do what they will. Without the body
they can also do so. [“what can they do?” according to the “tai” version]
They should understand that dreams and flowers are not real, dew and
lightning do not exist. He who can perceive this and renew himself, may
become immortal and attain the Tao. Placate hatred with a talisman.
The followers of the law are compassionate. Utter the saint’s name. [The
last two phrases are missing in the “tai” version]
The Celestial Worthy who placates hatred.
We inherit body and the skin from our parents. How could we dare
to let them be injured? He who fights dies by the sword, because he has
6
Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1994, vol. 17, p. 628.
a comparative study of three rituals 317
forgotten how to be safe. How could one eradicate [“protect oneself
from” according to the “tai” version] the cause of trouble? Obsessive
hatred engenders hatred. Now I request gods to bestow the talisman to
placate hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suffering and attain enlight-
enment in this world. The followers of the law are compassionate.
Announce it with a sincere heart.
In this miserable situation, even the saint is belittled. Premature death
is one of the six misfortunes mentioned [“considered” according to the
“tai” version] in the Classic of History 书经. He who is overwhelmed by
anger caused by a word [“an idea” according to the “tai” version] might
die regretting his anger. Obsessive hatred engenders hatred. Now I
request gods to bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave
aside the suffering and attain enlightenment in this world. The followers
of the law are compassionate. Announce this with a sincere heart.
A boat may capsize in the river. A traveler may be attacked by a
mob on the road. One is close to danger; sadly one is led to the abyss.
Obsessive hatred engenders hatred. Now I request gods to bestow the
talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suffering and
attain [“follow” according to the “tai” version] enlightenment in this
world. The followers of the law are compassionate. Announce it with a
sincere heart.
Five kinds of metal and eight kinds of stones were originally used as
medicine. One falls in the hand of a quack, who tries to find the cause
of illness by examining the pulses. Or one suffers from food poisoning.
All these occur because of hatred. Obsessive hatred engenders hatred.
Now I request gods to bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry.
Leave aside the suffering and attain [“follow” according to “tai” version]
enlightenment in this world. The followers of the law are compassionate.
Announce with a sincere heart.
The union of Yin and Yang gives birth to the body in the catalysis of
vital energy. Pursued by hatred, one may meet one’s death in [“then”
according to the “tai” version] its very delivery. The pleasure of the
flesh turns into a dream. The blood lake is frightening. Son and mother
pursue one another with their permanent hatred. Now I request gods to
bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suf-
fering and attain enlightenment in this world. The followers of the law
are compassionate. Announce with sincere heart.
The descendant of a well-to-do family can benefit from virtue, never
be struck by an epidemic. The sin of ancestors will be doubled by their
descendants’ evildoing. Then the family will be struck by epidemic fulian.
In Hell, ancestors are tormented by lawsuits. In this world their descen-
dants are threatened by death. The influence of ghosts persists, while
the corruption of flying cadavers hovers. Obsessive hatred engenders
hatred [there is no such phrase according to the “tai” version]. Now I
request gods to bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave
together the suffering and attain [“follow” according to the “tai” version]
318 chen yaoting
enlightenment in the world of life. The followers of the law are compas-
sionate. Announce it with a sincere heart.
One builds a tomb following the results of divination. But he offends
Feng shui. One cuts down trees and exploits mountains. He transgresses
the forbidden area of his ancestors (gravesite). Sued in Hell, people of this
world often meet with premature death. Now I request gods to bestow
the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suffering and
attain [“follow” according to the “tai” version] enlightenment in the liv-
ing world. The followers of the law are compassionate. Announce with
a sincere heart.
Although innocent, he who is imprisoned can only swallow his anger.
Bribed officials condemn him with fabricated charges. He wants to tell
the truth but does not know how. Finally he is assassinated and said
to have committed suicide. Obsessive hatred engenders hatred. Now I
request gods to bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave
aside the suffering and attain [“follow” according to the “tai” version]
enlightenment in the living world. The followers of the law are compas-
sionate. Announce with a sincere heart.
He who is converted to the Tao through his nature and inclination
[“but his spirit is ignorant” according to the “tai” version], is then attacked
by demons. He whose heart is full of vanity and illusions is tormented by
spirits. He dies prematurely and is led to the world of ghosts. His hatred
is endless and he cannot turn to the true way [“return” according to the
“tai” version]. Obsessive hatred engenders hatred. Now I request gods to
bestow the talisman to placate hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suffer-
ing and attain [“follow” according to the “tai” version] enlightenment in
the living world. The followers of the law are compassionate. Announce
with a sincere heart.
Accumulated anger becomes hatred that cannot be placated. Prom-
ises broken and virtue violated cannot be forgotten. If one has escaped
condemnation in this world, he will be accused in Hell. Obsessive hatred
engenders hatred. Now I request gods to bestow the talisman to placate
hatred and rivalry. Leave aside the suffering and attain [“follow” accord-
ing to the “tai” version] enlightenment in the world of life. The followers
of the law are compassionate. Announce it with a sincere heart.
The talisman and decree of the Original Commencement will placate
hatred. All hatred and wrong condemnations will disappear with the
use of talisman. The fire pool will become a lotus [“cool” according to
the “tai” version]. Grief will become peaceful, the chain of hatred will
be broken. All souls are delivered and ascend [“reborn” according to the
“tai” version] to Heaven with talismans written in red words.
The Celestial Worthy who placates hatred.
Hatred placated and bad karma dispelled; like ice melting; hunger
appeased, like fire burning in an empty stomach. Take the breath of
Great Harmony and drink the elixir of cool dew. Each grain of sand
is attached to a wandering soul. Each spoon of water is transformed
into a sea to give life to dead trees. The benediction is universal and all
a comparative study of three rituals 319
beings are satisfied. The ritual food is consecrated and we will announce
it together.
7
There are more differences between the scripture of “the Anterior
Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating Souls” and that
of “the Anterior Heaven Golden Ritual of Doumu for Saving and
Sublimating Souls.”
8
Through the comparison above, we have shown that the scripture
of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimat-
ing Souls” had absorbed many elements from the “Taiyi Ritual of
Sublimation.”
Different Ritual Arenas
The ritual arena of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving,
and Sublimating Souls” and that of the “Doumu Ritual of Sublima-
tion” are identical. The ritual arena of one Taoist master consists of
one rectangular table, whereas that of the three masters is composed
of three rectangular tables. The Taoist master sits on one end and the
sticks of incense and other ornaments are laid out on the other end.
The Taoist acolytes stand along both sides of the table. On the table
for “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating
Souls” stand the statues of the Three Purities, whereas the statue of
Doumu stands on the table in the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation.”
The ritual arena of the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation” is differ-
ent from that of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving,
and Sublimating Souls” and of the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation.”
According to what I saw, on the side table stood the statue and shrine
of the Celestial Worthy of Salvation and Taiyi 太乙救苦天尊. The
Taoist master sat facing the wall. One or two Taoists sat on two sides
of the table. The size of the ritual arena was smaller and the table
decoration was simpler than for the other two rituals.
On the tables of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving,
and Sublimating Souls” and the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation” there
are also offerings like “incense, flowers, a lamp, water, and fruits,” all
7
The quoted text is from the scripture of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding,
Saving, and Sublimating Souls.” The use of tai in italics refers to “the Taiji Numinous
Treasure Ritual for Saving and Sublimating Souls.”
8
Zangwai daoshu. Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1994, vol. 30, p. 343.
320 chen yaoting
on exquisite gilded plates. In contrast, those of the “Taiyi Ritual of
Sublimation” are plainer.
The sitting posture of the Taoist master and the three masters of
“the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating
Souls” is different from those of the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation”
and the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation.” The Taoist master sits cross-
legged from the beginning to the end, that is for almost three hours.
Clearly, this is a very tiring posture. On the other hand, the masters of
the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation” and the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublima-
tion” sit in an ordinary posture.
However, the most obvious difference is the round backrest. The
rim of this backrest, which is decorated with colored miniature light
bulbs, is not meant to support the master’s back. When the priest sits
on his chair, the backrest lights up to show the power of the Taoist
master who preaches in the deity’s place. At the same time, it deco-
rates the ritual arena of “the Anterior Heaven Ritual for Feeding, Sav-
ing, and Sublimating Souls.” This kind of ritual arena, with its added
lighting, can be found in neither the “Taiyi Ritual of Sublimation” nor
the “Doumu Ritual of Sublimation,” nor even in other Taoist rituals
in Mainland China.
Features of the Taoist Ritual in the Cantonese Region
1. Taoism from the Cantonese Region Crossed the Lines Drawn between Schools
and Assimilated Their Characteristics
The Cantonese region is far from the central plains of China. The level
of its culture is not as high as in the central plains or in the Jiangnan
region. Therefore, it is less conservative and it has always welcomed
the more advanced culture of other regions. In addition, the Canton-
ese region engaged in maritime and land trade early in its history,
which helped this area to open up its culture to other, more advanced
cultures. In fact, Taoism in the Cantonese region was imported from
the central plains of China. Once rooted in the region, it continued to
absorb Taoist ideology and rituals from other regions. In this cultural
context, the Quanzhen School of the Cantonese region, based on the
Quanzhen “Iron Bottle Ritual of Sublimation,” absorbed the “Taiyi
Ritual of Sublimation” of the Jiangnan region and the ritual of sublima-
tion of other Taoist Schools to create its “Anterior Heaven Ritual for
Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating Souls.” On the other hand, Taoism
a comparative study of three rituals 321
in the Jiangnan region emphasized the difference between schools
more and challenged its own tradition less. It seldom absorbed rituals
from other schools.
2. Taoism from the Cantonese Region Absorbed all Kinds of Elements
and so Developed Innovatively
Given the special geography and history of their region, the Cantonese
people kept the tradition of absorbing new ideas. They absorbed new
ideas from the central plains of China and renewed them. Taoists in
the Cantonese region did the same. “The Anterior Heaven Ritual for
Feeding, Saving, and Sublimating Souls” is the creative and innova-
tive by-product of the ritual of sublimation of the Quanzhen School.
Another outstanding example is the “Ritual of Scattering Flowers and
Communicating with Spirits through Lanterns,” created at the end
of the Qing Dynasty. Taoism in the Jiangnan region has also shown
some innovation, but its scope cannot be compared with that of Taoist
rituals in the Cantonese region and the creation of ritual is still rare.
3. Taoism in the Cantonese Region Aims at Splendor and Perfection in Its Use
of Ornaments and Music in the Rituals
Given the special features of its geography, language, and music, the
culture of the Cantonese region is marked by great diversity. Its music
is varied; its art is full of dense colors, and its literature is flowery. In
addition, it has had close links with other regions for over a hundred
years. With its economical support and the diversity of its culture, the
Cantonese region has helped other Chinese cultures to grow. In this
context, its Taoism emphasizes the splendor of the ritual arena and
the melody of ritual music. It even integrates a new type of lighting
and sound effects into the tradition. This is rare in the Taoism of
the Jiangnan region and of the central plains of China because these
limited their use to simpler, slower music without any added modern
lighting effects.
4. Taoism in the Cantonese Region Emphasizes the Pragmatic Function of
Rituals, Which Is to Release Souls
Given the unfavorable natural conditions and external trade, people of
this region emphasize pragmatism and do not set great store by splen-
dor. Confucianism emphasizes