You are on page 1of 25

Notes on Chinese Alchemy ("Supplementary to Johnson's" A Study of Chinese Alchemy)

Author(s): A. Waley
Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 6, No. 1 (1930),
pp. 1-24
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and African Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/607294 .
Accessed: 10/01/2015 10:08
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Cambridge University Press and School of Oriental and African Studies are collaborating with JSTOR to
digitize, preserve and extend access to Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ULLETIN
OF THE

SCHOOLOF ORIENTALSTUDIES
LONDONINSTITUTION
PAPERS

CONTRIBUTED

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY


(Supplementaryto Johnson's A Study of Chinese Alchemy)
By A. WALEY
when it has been made the subject
ALCHEMY, on the rare occasions
of reasonable inquiry, has usually been studied as part of what
one may call the pre-history of science. But if, to use a favourite
phrase, we are to see in alchemy merely " the cradle of chemistry ",
are we not likely, whatever its initial charm, to lose patience with
an infancy protracted through some fifteen centuries ?
It is certain in any case that another aspect of alchemy-its
interest as a branch of cultural history-has hitherto been strangely
neglected. Mr. Walter Scott, for example, omits alchemistic writings
from his great edition of the Hermetica on the odd ground that they
are merely " masses of rubbish ". But if texts are to be dismissed
as rubbish because they contain beliefs that we cannot share, I see
no reason why the religious and philosophical parts of the Hermetica
(and with them many books which to-day enjoy a far wider popularity)
should- continue to claim attention. It is a curious fact that
if alchemists had been cannibals, instead of civilized town-dwellers,
no one at the present day would venture to question the interest
and importance of studying their doctrines. For it seems to have been
decided that the true anthropology, the " proper study of mankind ",
is uncivilized man. The reason for this is clear, and in general
I.
1
VOL.VI. PART

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. WALEY-

adequate. So soon as we reach in the history of the human mind


a point where it begins to establish contact with our own ways of
thought, objectivity must to some extent begin to recede. For
example, no writer has succeeded in viewing minds even so remote
from us as those of the early Christian Fathers with the scientific
detachment of an anthropologist discussing, say, the religious beliefs
of a Melanesian. Fortunately, the Chinese occupy, in this respect,
a rather unusual position. Owing to their remoteness and the absence
of traditions common with our own, we can follow their mental history
with some degree of detachment to a point far beyond what would
be possible in Europe. We can apply the methods of anthropology
to civilized man, and so at least in one portion of mankind view in
continuity processes that in the West are disjointed by our own
irony or sympathy. Moreover, in China the continuity is actually
far greater than in our own world. The great Aryan invasions that
in Europe, the Near East, and India, set a barrier between history
and pre-history did not affect China at any rate in such a way as
markedly to dissociate her from her past.1 More than any other
creators of culture, the Chinese remained in contact with Neolithic
mentality, and it is possible in China to see in their proper setting
and consequently to understand ideas and customs that elsewhere
appear arbitrary and disconnected.
Such, as I shall show,2 seems to me to be the case with alchemy.
The subject, particularly at its outset, is a very complicated one,
and I have therefore thought it better to present these notes in a
rather schematic form. Here is the first text :1. Han Shu xxv, 12 recto, line 8.
[The wizard Li] Shao-chiin said to the Emperor [Wu Ti of Han]:
'' Sacrifice to the stove [I tsao] and you will be able to summon
' things ' [i.e. spirits]. Summon spirits and you will be able to change
cinnabar powder into yellow gold. With this yellow gold you may
make vessels to eat and drink out of. You will then increase your
span of life. Having increased your span of life, you will be able to
see the hsien J4 of P'6ng-lai that is in the midst of the sea. Then
you may perform the sacrificesfing and shan, and escape death."
That the Aryans reaohed the western fringe of China is, of course, established.
Whether they penetrated into the interior and whether any of China's early enemies
were Aryans is still uncertain.
2 See
particularly p. 18.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

Comment
the
Date
(a)
Passage
of
This passage also occurs in the History of Ssu-ma Ch'ien (Treatise
on the SacrificesFang and Shan, Bk. xxvrii, Chavannes, vol. iii, pt. ii,
p. 465).1 But this treatise of Ssu-ma Ch'ien is almost certainly
a late addition to the text. We know that even by the first century
A.D. many of the original chapters had been lost. What now poses
as the Treatise on Fang and Shan, though it contains some information
on this subject, is in reality an account of religion in general. Almost
the whole of the treatise occurs practically verbatim in the account
of Worship and Sacrifice, Z j -~-, which forms chap. xxv of the
Han Shu. The bulk of the treatise is irrelevant to Ssu-ma Ch'ien's
purpose, but perfectly appropriate to an account of Worship and
Sacrifice.
It is safer, therefore, to regard this passage, the earliest reference
to alchemy in any literature,2 as belonging to the first century A.D.
rather than the first century B.c.
(b) Literary Form of the Passage
The passage is one of those rhetorical catenceof which early Chinese
writers are so fond. They have been discussed by Masson-Oursel
and Maspero. Their intention is dramatic rather than logical. Such
logical connections as exist are implied rather than expressed. The
most difficult step to follow is the statement: " Having increased
your span of life, you will be able to see ... hsien." It implies, perhaps,
a theory that hsien (Immortals) are only visible to those whose span
of life at any rate makes some 'approach to their own. The whole
process leads up to the performance of the sacrifices Feng and Shan,
through which the Emperor will obtain immortality. Alchemy,
then, is here regarded as the third in a series of performances, which
lead ultimately to an Emperor becoming immortal. Viewed in this
light alchemy does not concern people in general, but only the
Emperor. It would, however, be pedantic to interpret logically
a passage that is essentially rhetorical.
1 The
Ssu-ma Ch'ien passage is identical with the Han Shu from f. 3 verso to
f. 32 recto of chap. xxviii.
2
Leaving aside the texts published by R. Campbell Thompson in his The
Chemistry of the Ancient Assyrians, Luzac, 1925. These do not deal with the
manufacture of gold nor of an elixir of life.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. WALEY-

(c) Characterof the Passage in its Bearing on Alchemy


Those familiar with the literature of Chinese alchemy will admit
that this passage is curiously isolated. The idea that drinking from
vessels of alchemic gold is a way of increasing longevity is, however,
not unknown to the later literature. Pao P'u Tzu (iv, 17 recto, 1. 2)
says: "If with this alchemical gold you make dishes and bowls,
and eat and drink out of them, you shall live long." It was indeed
j P
accepted that artificial gold . #
g A " was superior to
the natural." 1 But the " increase in longevity" is in all later
literature regarded as an end in itself, attainable by ordinary people,
and not merely as a means by which the Emperor might become
immortal.
2. The Story of Ch'?ng Wei, from Huan T'an's Hsin Lun 2
There was once a courtier of the Han dynasty, named Ch'?ng Wei
f~* , who was fond of the Yellow and White Art. His wife was
the daughter of a magician. He was often obliged to follow the
Emperor's chariot, but had no seasonable clothing. This very much
vexed him. His wife said: "I will ask Lthe spirits] to send two
strips of strong silk." Whereupon the strong silk appeared in front
of him with no apparent reason. Ch'EngWei.tried to make gold &
"Vast treasure in
according to the directions of the ~
the Pillow." He was unsuccessful, and his wife, going to look at him,
found him just fanning the ashes in order to heat the retort. In
the retort was some quicksilver. She said: " Just let me see what
I can do," and from her pocket produced a drug, a small quantity
of which she threw into the retort. A very short while afterwards
she took the retort out (of the furnace), and there was solid silver all
complete ! [The husband then pesters her to teach him the secret,
but she refuses to do so and finally, worried into madness, she rushes
into the street, smears herself with mud, and shortly afterwards
expires.]
1 Pao P'u Tzu, xvi, 6 recto, 1. 1. For Pao P'u Tzu (the pseudonym of Ko Hung),
fourth century A.D., see below, p. 9. The name is often wrongly written " Pao P'o
Tzu ". The character f
is, however, only pronounced P'o when it means a
nettle-tree.
2 Save for a series of
quotations in the Ch'iln Shu Yao Chih, the book is lost.
The story is quoted by Pao P'u Tzu (xvi, 3 verso, 1. 1), who merely introduces it
with the words
" Huan Chiin-shan [i.e., Huan T'an
says "
from Huan
But on the next page a similar anecdote is specifically quoted as being -)
Tan's Hsin Ch'ilan V T
, which is evidently the sam as the Hsin Lun AJ
-.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

Commenton the Story of Ch'eng Wei


Huan T'an, from whose book this story is quoted, died c. A.D. 25,
aged about 70. Of Ch'?ng Wei himself nothing further is known;
but there seems to be no reason to doubt that such a person lived
in the first century B.c. or earlier, and was addicted to alchemic
experiments. Thus we may assume that alchemy existed under the
Han dynasty 1; but the literature of the period is surprisingly silent
on the subject. Wang Ch'ung in his Lun Heng 2 denounces a vast
number of other Taoist credulities. It is hard to believe that if
alchemy had been at all prominent he would not have singled it out
for attack.
Other Han literature (Huai Nan Tzu, for example) is equally silent.3
But I emphasize the silence of Wang Ch'ung because it was against
just such practices that his book was directed.
There seems no reason to doubt (as we shall see presently) that
in the second and third centuries alchemy was already under full way.
But the biographies of famous magicians and recluses who lived at
this period say nothing about it. For example, in the official
biographies of Hsi K'ang, V ) (A.D. 223-62, Chin Shu xlix, 8;
San Kuo Chih xxi, 4), there is no mention of alchemy, nor does Hsi
K'ang refer to it in his surviving works. Yet it is as an alchemist
that he figures in popular tradition.

3. The Ts'an T'ung Ch'i & [ i~


(a) Nature of the Work
This, the most popular of all alchemic books, consists of ninety
paragraphs (the division, like that of Lao Tzu's Tao Th Ching, was
made for convenience by a late editor) partly in prose, partly in verse
of five, or more often four, words to the line. It is, essentially, an
to the
application of the cosmic doctrines of the I Ching Y.
principles of alchemy. But the alchemical processes are alluded to
in veiled language, and a person unfamiliar with alchemic literature
might easily suppose that the book dealt with the theories of the
I Ching.
1 In pre-Han literature there are no references to alchemy.
2 Middle of the first century A.D.
Translated by Forke.
3 In his surviving works; but possibly he said something about the subject in
his lost Chung Pien which dealt with WI~(II (i.e. Taoist divinities and adepts) and
S~3 (gold and silver; i.e. the art of making gold and silver ?).

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. WALEY-

(b) The Title


Ts'an T'ung Ch'i means something like " Union of Compared
Correspondences". Concerning what these correspondences are,
there exist several theories: (a) A series of correspondences between
the principles of the I Ching and those of alchemy; (b) A series of
correspondences between the processes by which the world came into
existence, and the process by which the Elixir comes into existence;
(c) Ts'an means strictly "a comparison of three things ". These
three things, according to a work 1 of c. A.D. 1,000, are lead, mercury,
and sulphur, all of which can be reduced to the same prime substance
and are therefore essentially identical.
(c) The Author
The book is attributed to a certain Wei Po-yang Vg
W or
of
Wei
is
This
a
" Po-yang
".
clearly pseudonym.
Po-yang is the " style " of Lao Tzu, and it is clear that there has
been some confusion between the legend of Lao Tzu and that of
Wei Po-yang. Pao P'u Tzu (iii, 6 recto, 1. 9) says: 4 g
j~
"No
one
ever
ft: 0 A
got
1 I
. &A
T 9
"
.- He had a son named Tsung, who served
higher tao than Po-yang.
the Wei State and became a general."
It is clear that Pao P'u Tzu is not here talking of Lao Tzu (whom
he calls Lao, Lao Tzu, Lao Chiin, etc.), but of someone less well known.
But Lao Tzu had, according to Ssu-ma Ch'ien, " a son named Tsung."
Moreover, Pao P'u Tzu elsewhere (viii, f. 1 verso, 1. 4) mentions
Po-yang as a " keeper of archives ". Here again, although there is
obvious confusion with Lao Tzu, who was also an archivist, I do not
think that Pao P'u Tzu is speaking of Lao Tzu himself.
The author of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i, however, is generally considered
to have flourished c. A.D. 120-50. If we accept this, we must suppose
that he took as his pseudonym the name of an ancient sage, a sort
of counterpart of Lao Tzu, called Po-yang of the Wei State, in contradistinction to Lao Tzu, who was Po-yang of the Chou State. A confusion between Po-yang, the ancient sage and Po-yang, author of
the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i seems to me also to exist in Ko Hung's Shin
Hsien Chuan,2 which gives the longest extant account of Po-yang.
1 The Yan Chi Ch'i Ch'ien -P.

L 1, chap. 690. This series of Taoist


text is No. 1020 in Wieger's index to the Taoist Canon.
2 This book is several times quoted in P'ei
Sung-chih's
commentary
_
on the San Kuo Chih (preface dated 429 A.D.). The quotations
correspond with the
book as it now exists. With regard to its authorship, see below.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

It is clear from the position in which Ko Hung places Wei Po-yang


that he regards him as an " ancient sage ", not as a personage of the
Latter Han dynasty; for he puts him in an initial chapter, the other
subjects of which are Kuang-ch'?ng Tzu (wholly mythical; contemporary with the Yellow Emperor), Lao Tzu and P'Eng Tsu the
Chinese Methusalah, who " at the end of the Yin dynasty was already
767 years old ". Wei Po-yang, says the Shin Hsien Chuan, was a
man of Wu; and after a long anecdote which will be found in Giles's
Biographical Dictionary and does not here concern us, there follows
this information: "Po-yang made the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i and the
Wu-hsing hsiang-lei (' That the Five Elements have an [underlying]
similarity')' in three chapters. Verbally they concern the Book of
Changes, but in point of fact they use the symbols of the Book of
Changes as a cover for the discussion of alchemy, 4 ) 1-. But
ordinary Confucians, knowing nothing of alchemy, have commented
on the book as though it were a treatise on Yin and Yang (the male
and female principle), and in this way completely misunderstood it."
Despite the fact that Ko Hung (reputed author of the Shin Hsien
Chuan) certainly regards Wei Po-yang as a sage of remote and shadowy
times, he gives a very true and sensible description of the Ts'an T'ung
Ch'i which was (according to the usual hypothesis) in reality written
by the second century author who used Wei Po-yang as his pseudonym.
One of the " ordinary Confucians" who, not understanding
alchemy, mistook the work for a discussion of the Book of Changes,
seemed to have been Yii Fan, b%R (A.D. 164-233); for in the Ching
Tien Shih Win 2 (" Textual Criticism of the Classics ") by Lu T?-ming,
in the section on the Book of Changes with which the work begins,

we find: b Ni t

*- p M

J&-

y "Yii Fan

in his commentary on the Ts'an- T'ung Ch'i says, 'The character I


3
(Changes)is composed of Sun above Moon.' "
The book is therefore referred to by Yii Fan about A.D. 230, and
by Ko Hung c. A.D. 320. Henceforward it is mentioned fairly
frequently. For example, in the poems of Chiang Yen * (end of
the fifth century) :This is an alternative name for chap. iii of the book.
About A.D. 600. I owe this reference to Dr. Hu Shih.
3 This passage is capable of various interpretations. No commentary by Yii Fan
on the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i survives. We might punctuate " Yfi Fan [says] the commentary on the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i says . . ." But for our purposes the result remains
the same: the existence of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i is already referred to early in the
third century.
4
, chap. iii of 5 verso. Ssil Pu Ts'ung K'an edition.
J1
3 3
1
2

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A. WALEY-TEXT

" He proved the truth of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i;


In a golden furnace he melted the Holy Drug."
In the next (the sixth) century, there is a curious hiatus. The
book is not mentioned in the bibliography (chap. xxxiv) of the History
of the Sui Dynasty. Possibly the author meant to put it in as a treatise
on the Five Elements, but realized that this was a mistake, without
however, remembering to repair his error by entering it among Taoist
books. It duly appears, however, in the bibliography of the old
T'ang History as-

A
gl

A [J

Chapter2.

Chapter 1.
~
TL
" The Ts'an T'ung Ch'i of the Chou dynasty Book of Changes";
The
Five Elements Resembling one Another of the Chou dynasty
"
Book of Changes."
As the heading of the titles implies, the work is here accepted
as a study of the Book of Changes, and it is catalogued as a treatise
on the Five Elements. Finally, in the tenth century it was divided
into ninety sections or paragraphs and commented upon by P'Yng
Hsiao Z~-.1
(d) The Style of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i
Attempts are sometimes made to date texts of this kind by the
rhyme-system used in verse portions. This is dangerous. We know,
for example, that in the T'ang dynasty at least three rhyme systems
were used concurrently: (1) an intentionally archaic one with an
approximation to the rhymes of the Book of Odes; used in eulogies,
etc., written in four-syllable verse; (2) the rhymes of " Old Poetry "
, songs, etc.; (3) the strict rhyme-system of the T'ang dynasty.
tThe opinion of the great Chu Hsi (1130-1200) upon the Ts'an T'ung
Ch'i has often been
j
quoted": , p
.. [?

" The Ts'an T'ung Ch'i is from the literary point of view very well
written and would actually seem to be by some capable writer of the
1 Taoist Canon, Wieger No. 993.
2 Chu
Tzu Yu Lei, Bk. 125.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTESON CHINESEALCHEMY

Latter Han period. It contains frequent allusions to ancient books,


and these make it hard for a modern reader to understand."
It is very difficult to know how much value should be attached to
this judgment. Chu Hsi was not primarily a literary critic or historian
of style. Again, Liu Chan-wing I
%
,1 more of a specialist
"
~A [~
in these matters,
Pil
3 "Of
I
says":
old books only the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i has a style resembling that of
pre-Ch'in works." It is not clear whether Liu actually means to
imply that the book is a Chou Dynasty work, or merely that it is
a successful imitation of Chou style. Against these two views may
be set that of the Catalogue of Ch'ien Lung's Four Libraries, which
for very inadequate reasons places the book at the end of T'ang.
At the present point in our inquiry there seems no reason to doubt
that the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i we now possess was written under the
pseudonym Wei Po-yang, in the second century A.D.
But certain difficulties arise when we discuss the next great figure
in the history of Chinese alchemy:4. Pao P'u Tzu
(a) This is the pseudonym of Ko Hung (c. A.D. 260-340), and it is
by this name that his principal book is known. It is divided into
two parts. The " exoteric ", which deals with Confucian topics,
does not here concern us. The esoteric contains, besides scattered
references to alchemy, a whole book (chap. iv) devoted to the
Philosopher's Stone 2 yf-, and another book (part of chap. xvi)
dealing with the manufacture of gold and silver. But before discussing
the contents of Ko Hung's book we must deal with its bearing on the
problem of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i.
(b) Pao P'u Tzu and the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i
In Pao P'u Tzu the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i is never mentioned. This
a
is singular fact. As we have seen, Ko Hung knows Wei Po-yang,
the supposed author of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i, as an " ancient sage ".
In the list of Taoist works at the end of Pao P'u Tzu (recording over
eighty volumes; the earliest bibliography of this kind) Ko Hung
" Inner Book " of Wei
(xix, 4 verso) mentions a Nei Ching N
V., Nor is the latter ever
Po-yang but not the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i.
mentioned throughout the book.
1

End of thirteenth century, quoted in Taoist Canon, Wieger, No. 990, preface.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

10

A. WALEY---

This brings us back to the Shin Hsien Chuan,' which work purports
to be by the same author as Pao P'u Tzu. In the preface to the
Shjn Hsien Chuan Ko Hung says that he wrote it after composing
the esoteric chapters NJ t of Pao P'u Tzu. At the end of the
exoteric chapters (1, f. 10 verso, 1. 9) is an autobiography, the
fullest document of this kind that early China produced. Here Ko
Hung mentions as one of his works a Shen Hsien Chuanin ten chapters.
It has been pointed out as an inconsistency that in the preface to the
Shin Hsien Chuan Ko Hung should say that he wrote it later than
Pao P'u Tzu; while in Pao P'u Tzu the Shin Hsien Chuan is already
mentioned. A simple solution would be to suppose that Ko Hung
wrote first the esoteric chapters, then the Sh&n Hsien Chuan and
then the exoteric chapters.
If we accept that Ko Hung is actually author of both works,
we shall have to assume that at the time he wrote the Esoteric
chapters he was unacquainted with the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i; whereas
when he wrote the Shen Hsien Chuan he had at last become familiar
with it.
But did Ko Hung really write the Shin Hsien Chuan ? If we
confront similar passages from it and from the undoubtedly authentic
Pao P'u Tzu it becomes hard to believe that both are by the same
hand. Take the story of Ch'6ng Wei, quoted above.2 Not only is
the style strangely different, but the Shen Hsien Chuan version is
so meagre and so incompetently told that one doubts whether the
author of it is even trying to pass himself off as Ko Hung.
It seems indeed likely that the Shin Hsien Chuan, though a work
of the fourth century, was merely an anonymous series of Taoist
biographies, which some mistaken person labelled as Ko Hung's
Shin Hsien Chuan and divided into ten chapters.
But Ko Hung's ignorance of the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i still remains
inexplicable.
It would, of course, be an anachronism to expect in an ancient
Chinese author the same bibliographical completeness that we demand
in a modern scholar. But that a writer so encyclopeedicshould ignore
a work of such importance, dealing with a subject in which he was an
hereditary specialist,3 is difficult to believe. It becomes necessary,
1

Biographies of Taoist divinities and adepts.


Shin Hsien Chuan, vii. Biography No. 3.
3 For the line of succession by which Ko Hung claimed to inherit his alchemistic
knowledge, see below, p. 12.
2

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

11

therefore, to consider whether it is certain that Yii Fan, writing in the


third century, really refers to the Ts'an T'ung Ch'i as we know the
book to-day. Is it not possible that the work was originally an
exposition of the Book of Changes and that some time after Pao P'u
Tzu and before the Shin Hsien Chuan (say, in the latter part of the
fourth century) someone doctored the text so as to make it serve as a
work on alchemy ? The actual number of insertions necessary for this
purpose would have been very small. The first third of the work is
purely cosmological. References to the firing of metal in a furnace
are not necessarily concerned with alchemy; the principle that " fire
conquers metal " belongs to the speculations of the cosmologists
(_WI T
), as does the identification of the five metals with the
five planets. The only one of the 90 sections which is clearly and
indubitably concerned with the Elixir is the thirty-second :If even the herb chii-sheng JI ) can make one live longer,
Why not try putting the Elixir g f 1 into the mouth ?
Gold (,) by nature does not rot or decay;
Therefore it is of all things most precious.
When the artist 4f1??L(i.e. alchemist) includes it in his diet
The duration of his life becomes everlasting . . .2
When the golden powder enters the five entrails,
A fog is dispelled, like rain-clouds scattered by wind.
Fragrant exhalations pervade the four limbs;
The countenance beams with well-being and joy.
Hairs that were white all turn to black;
Teeth that had fallen grow in their former place.
The old dotard is again a lusty youth;
The decrepit crone is again a yoAng girl.
He whose form is changed and has escaped the perils of life,
Has for his title the name of True 3 Man.
Apart from this paragraph, the number of passages that are
incapable of interpretation except as disquisitions on alchemy is very
small.
1 The huan tan or " returned cinnabar" is the cinnabar that by the process of
alchemy has been " returned " or restored to its first nature.
2
I omit a couplet which does not occur in all versions of the text, and seems
irrelevant.
3 "
True," of course, in the sense of purified, freed from dross. Metals subjected
to the purifying processes of alchemy also become " true ".

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

12

A. WALEY-

(c) Ko Hung's Line of Transmission


Ko Hung claims to have received the secrets of alchemy from a
*
M
certain Chang Yifi
. Chang Yin learnt from Ko Hsiian 1,
Ko Hung's great-uncle. Finally, Ko Hsiian learnt from Tso Tz'u,
AI a,1I about A.D. 220. It is at this point that, mundanely speaking,
the line of transmission begins. For Tso Tz'u received his initiation,
in the early years of the third century, from a " deity " j" A. To
Ko Hung's great-uncle Tso Tz'u passed on three books: The Alchemy
j )j- @, T
Book of the Great Clear One
The Alchemy Book of the
J a .
Nine Tripods, and The Gold Juice 2 Alchemy Book
- and
(d) The distinction betweenChin Tan ,Ik tj
Huang Po
The fourth book of the esoteric chapters of Pao P'u Tzu treats of
two forms of elixir, the " Golden Cinnabar" or Philosopher's Stone,
and the Gold Juice. The first method involves a variety of ingredients
which may be procurable in times of peace ; but when war interrupts
communications, this method becomes impossible (iv, 17 verso, 1. 2).
The Gold Juice method is much simpler; but it is very expensive.
Ko Hung reckons that it costs 50,000 cash to make an Immortal in
this manner.
From these two practices Ko Hung sharply distinguishes the art
of Huang Po (yellow and white); i.e. the art of transmuting the
baser metals into gold and silver, without any ulterior notion of
attaining to better health, longevity, immortality or the like. The
two branches of alchemy, though apparently so rigidly divided by
Ko Hung, do not appear to belong to a different line of transmission.
For he tells us that his teacher Chang Yin practised Huang Po with Tso
Tz'u, and that they never had a single case of failure. By this method
not only lead but also iron was changed into silver.
All these practices (the exact nature of which, as in all literature
of this kind, is most inadequately revealed) were, of course, accompanied by preliminaryfasting, sacrifice,driving away of the profane, etc.
" Even a doctor," says Ko Hung in an interesting passage,3 " when
he is compounding a drug or ointment, will avoid being seen by fowls,
dogs, children, or women . . . lest his remedies should lose their
1 Biography in Hou Han Shu, chap. 112. No mention of alchemy.
2 This
expression
3

iv,

exactly

19 recto, 1. 3.

corresponds

to the Xpvao wLLuov of Zosimus.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

13

efficacy. Or again, a dyer of stuffs is in dread of evil eyes; for he


knows that they may ruin his pleasant colours."
(e) Pao P'u Tzu's attitude towardsAlchemy
Nowhere in Pao P'u Tzu's book do we find the hierophantic tone
that pervades most writings on alchemy both in the East and in the
West. He uses a certain number of secret terms, such as i
" metal-lord " and fj $ " river chariot ", both of which mean lead;
- " the
?
and f~J *?
virgin on the river ", which means mercury;
" the red boy ", which presumably means cinnabar; and
jE
finally & )} "the golden (? metal) man ", of uncertain meaning.1
But his attitude is always that of a solidly educated layman examining
claims which a narrow-mindedorthodoxy had dismissed with contempt.
He condemns those who are unwilling to take seriously either " books
that do not proceed from the school of the Duke of Chou or facts
that Confucius has not tested ". Sometimes, indeed, he is entirely
credulous, as when he accepts (iv, f. 2 recto, 1, 4) the story that Tso Tz'u
jft1?U
from the hands
received the text of the alchemic work
Tl
of a divinity jjii A. But on the preceding page he is pointing out,
quite in the manner of twentieth century sinology, that the Tao Chi
attributed by the Taoists to Yin Hsi (seventh century
Ching
g
Ji
B.C.) was in reality by Wang Tu, an obscure writer of the third
century A.D.
A belief in the possibility of manufacturing gold was, given the
circumstances of the time, perfectly sane and reasonable. In many
instances products of the West that on their arrival in China were at
first mistaken for natural substances, had recently turned out to be
manufactured. Thus glass, at first supposed to be a kind of crystal,
e
was now actually being made in Southern China:
fc
71 ,
" The 'crystal' bowls from abroad are really made by compounding
five sorts of ashes; and to-day this method is being commonly
practised in Chiao and Kuang " (i.e. parts of the modern provinces of
Kuangtung, Kuanghsi and the neighbouring portion of Annam).
used as a cosmetic,
Again, seeing the white " foreign powder ''
the Chinese were at first unaware that it wasi~made from lead. But to
ignorant people, says Pao P'u Tzu, the mere fact that gold exists in
nature, irrationally suggests that it cannot be artificially compounded.
1 Cf. the XpvadvOpw7Troof the Greek alchemists.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

14

A. WALEY-

5. Alchemy from the fifth to the tenth century.


T'ao Hung-ching (Giles, Biographical Dictionariy, No. 1896) who
was born in 451 or 452 and died in 536, was a prolific writer on Taoist
subjects, and was in later times regarded as an important alchemist.
But in his existing writings there are only fleeting allusions to alchemy.
There is, however, in one of his books (the Ting Chin Yin Chiieh,
Wieger, No. 418) an interesting reference to foreign astrology : 1fit i
" These exoteric methods [speaking
S - An iJ
- i 4
]
, .
a man's destiny by the date
of certain loose methods of determining
as
the
astronomical notions of the
the
same
of his birth] are all much
Hsiung-nu (Huns) and other foreign countries ". Alchemy in China
as elsewhere is closely bound up with astrology, and if the Chinese were
in the fifth century in contact with foreign astrology they were, it may
be assumed, in a position to be influenced by foreign alchemy.
For the centuries that follow (sixth to ninth, the period covered by
the Sui and T'ang dynasties) we have plenty of anecdotes, but an almost
complete lack of datable literature. It is, strangely enough, in Buddhist
literature (Takakusu Tripitaka, vol. xlvi, p. 791, col. 3, Nanjio, 1576)
that we find our most definite landmark. Hui-ssii (517-77) second
patriarch of the T'ien-t'ai Sect, prays that he may succeed in making
an elixir that will keep him alive till the coming of Maitreya. He will
thus escape the stigma of having lived only in a Buddha-less " betweentime ".
The wizard Ssu-ma Chang-chan, who died at an advanced age
c. 720, had a great reputation as an alchemist; but his surviving
works deal with other subjects. One of the few works on alchemy
which may with certainty be accepted as T'ang is the Shih Yao Erh Ya
(Wieger, No. 894), a dictionary of alchemical terms, by a certain
Mei Piao. Internal evidence, such as the mention of Ssu-ma Changchin, shows that the book is at least as late as the eighth
century. I should feel rather inclined from the general tone.
and style, to place it in the ninth. Several obviously foreign
terms are given. Thus for
(arsenic sulphide) an alternative
name is t ?i MjJ.1tThere . is also a reference to an alchemical
treatise called tf)]
" Treatise of the Hu (CentralAsian)
f1J
&King Yakat (Yaka0 or the like) ".2
1

Sanskrit, Hirika " The Yellow One ".


the foreign creeper ", is a poisonous
, also called i"
The
with
sound
of the Hu king's name evidently
identified
elegans.
gelseminum
plant,
recalled to the Chinese the sound of this plant-name.
Xl
2

li-ka

4or

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

15

The Problem of Lii Yen (Lii Tung-pin) and his Teacher Chung-li
Ch'uan
The second of these two is purely mythical. Lii Tung-pin (as he
is usually called) tends to materialize in the ninth century. But of the
numerous works attributed to him some are admittedly " spiritcommunications ", conveyed to the world by planchette long after
his death; others (such as the numerous tractates included in the
Taoist Canon)are obviously works of a much later date. It might have
been hoped that the Tun-huang finds would have furnished us with
datable texts; but so far as I know there are no alchemistic works
either in the Stein or in the Pelliot Collection.
It is in the tenth century that we are again on firm ground and
from then onwards we can follow the history of Chinese alchemy continuously. Our great landmark is P'?ng Hsiao's commentary on the
IJ lived during
Ts'an T'ung Ch'i (Wieger, No. 993). P'Fng Hsiao
the close of the ninth and the first half of the tenth century. In his
works 1 we again meet with the distinction (already made by Hui-ssii)
between exoteric alchemy, which uses as its ingredients the tangible
substances mercury, lead, cinnabar, and so on, and esoteric alchemy
These
kj ), which uses only the " souls " of these substances.
" souls ", called the " true " or "purified " mercury, etc., are
in the same relation to common metals as is the Taoist
Illuminate or t k to ordinary people. Presently a fresh step
is made. These transcendental metals are identified with various
parts of the human body, and alchemy comes to mean in
China not - an experimentation with chemicals, blow-pipes,
furnace, etc. (though these, of course, survived in the popular alchemy
of itinerant quacks), but a system of mental and physical re-education,
This process is complete in the Treatise on the Dragon and Tiger (Lead
and Mercury) of Su Tung-p'o, written c. 1100 2: " The Dragon is
mercury. He is the semen and the blood. He issues from the kidneys
and is stored in the liver. His sign is the trigram k'an _. The tiger
is lead. He is bread and bodily strength. He issues from the mind C,
and the lungs bear him. His sign is the trigram li _.
When the
mind is moved, then the breath and strength act with it. When the
kidneys are flushed then semen and blood flow with them."
1 Besides Wieger's No. 993, see also Wieger, No. 1020, vol. 691, a treatise by
P'6ng entitled MJ ~-jIt " Method of Esoteric Alchemy "
2
T'u Shu encyclopaedia, xviii, 300.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

16

A. WALEY-

In the thirteenth century alchemy (if it may still so be called)


no less than Confucianism is permeated by the teachings of the
Buddhist Meditation 1 Sect. The chief exponent of this Buddhicized
also known as Po Yii-chuan.
Taoism is Ko Ch'ang-kEng41,
I
'
In his treatise 4l
he
describes three methods of
2
j
g esoteric alchemy: (1) the body supplies
the element lead ; the heart,
the element mercury. Concentration supplies the necessary liquid;
the sparks of intelligence, the necessary fire. " By this means a
gestation usually demanding ten months may be brought to ripeness
in the twinkling of an eye."
The comparison of alchemy to a process of gestation is, of course,
common to East and West. The Chinese say that the processes
which produce a human child would, if reversed, produce the
Philosopher's Stone.3
(2) The second method is: The breath supplies the element lead;
the soul
supplies the element mercury. The cyclic sign + " horse "
f-,f
supplies fire; the cyclic sign - " rat " supplies water.
(3) The semen supplies the element lead. The blood supplies
mercury; the kidneys supply water; the mind supplies fire.
" To the above it may be objected," continues Ko Ch'ang-kang,
" that this is practically the same as the method of the Zen Buddhists.
To this I reply that under Heaven there are no two Ways, and that
the Wise are ever of the same heart."
There were indeed excellent reasons why Zen Buddhism should
have invaded Ko Ch'ang-kang'sdoctrines. His teacher, Ch'EnNi-wan
VA);L, was a pupil of Hsieh Fu-ming
Qfr, who under the
W
had
a
been
Zen
monk.
name Tao-kuang
f
formerly
The Hsi yu chi f
E
(Wieger,No. 1410) describes the journey
of Ch'ang-ch'un, a Taoist of this same transcendental school, to
Samarkand and even to a point near Kabul. The journey was
made in obedience to the summons of Chingiz Khan, who had at
that time conquered only part of northern China. This record is
from the hand of Ch'ang-ch'un'sdisciple, Li Chih-ch'ang,who was also
one of the party. The following conversation 4 between Chingiz
and the great alchemist, which took place in the summer of 1222,
1 Japanese, Zen. Sanskrit, Dhydna.

T'u Shu encyclopaedia, xviii, 300.


'
the 2 )Sf
See
E V, a treatise contained in the collection of Taoist
3
texts Fang Hu Wai Shih.
4 Chap. i, fol. 29.
2

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES

ON CHINESE

17

ALCHEMY

is the passage which chiefly concerns us: Chingiz: Have you any
elixir of immortality to bestow upon us ? The Master : " I have a
means of protecting life,' but no elixir of immortality."
The Khan, we are told, " was pleased with his frankness." 2
The interest of this purely mystical phase of Chinese alchemy
is that whereas in reading the works of Western alchemists one
constantly suspects that the quest with which they are concerned is a
purely spiritual one-that they are using the romantic phraseology
of alchemy merely to poeticize religious experience-in China there is
no disguise. Alchemy becomes there openly and avowedly what
it almost seems to be in the works of Bohme or Thomas Vaughan.
6. The antiquity of Alchemy in China.
It has been seen that literary references do not carry the history
of alchemy in China beyond the first century B.C. This does not, of
course, necessarily imply that it was unknown before that date. As a
result of the Burning of the Books and of Confucian hostility to rival
doctrines we possess only a small fragment of early Chinese literature.
But if we are to take the term alchemy in its narrower sense-the
attempt to compound gold out of baser substances-then it is certain
that no such attempt was at all probable in early China, where gold
was not until a comparatively late period 3 regarded as particularly
valuable either as a life-giving substance or as a medium of exchange.
Even in the first four centuries after Christ alchemy continues to
occupy a very obscure place.4 This has been explained on the ground
that the surviving histories of the period were written under influences
that were hostile to Taoism. There is, indeed, a tendency to generalize
from the example of later histories (such as the New T'ang History
which is frankly anti-Buddhist and anti-Taoist), and to regard the Han
histories, the histories of the Three Kingdoms, etc., as rigidly orthodox
Confucian works. But these works are, in reality, far from ignoring
Taoism and its magicians ; and there is no reason to suppose there was
any special prejudice against alchemy as opposed to magical practices
in general.
i.e. means of warding off evil influences.
~,
f"j t_
The doctrines of Ch'ang-ch'un and his sect will be discussed in the introduction
to a translation of the Hsi Yu Chi shortly to be published in the Broadway
Travellers Series; for the moment, therefore, I say no more about him.
3 To fix the date is difficult owing to the surprising fact that there is in Chinese
writing and vocabulary no word for gold. " Yellow metal," the usual periphrasis
can also mean bronze.
* See above, p. 5.
1

VOL.

VI.

PART I.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

18

A. WALEY-

So far, in this section, I have been considering alchemy in its


narrower sense. But it is more easily recognized in China (though
everywhere true) that the idea of manufacturing gold is closely
associated with a general attitude of early peoples towards life-giving 1
(and therefore commercially valuable) substances. In China, for
example, the attempt to make gold went on simultaneously with the
attempt to make artificially pearls, jade, and other "talismanic"
substances.2 The theory, stated far more definitely in China than
elsewhere, is that these substances are impure when found in nature
and need perfecting before their virtue can be assimilated, just as
some food needs cooking; it being believed about life-giving materials
in general that the most effectual way to utilize their power was to
absorb them in the body.
Anmongthe life-giving substances sought after by primitive people
one of the earliest to attract the attention of modern observers was the
red pigment so often found smeared on bones or deposited in graves.
The commonest form of pigment used for such purposes is in Europe
red ochre (peroxide of iron). " Among the prehistoric peoples of
Kansu," says Dr. Black,3 "the practice of depositing red pigment
with the dead" is widespread. Nor was it confined to prehistoric
times. Mr. C. W. Bishop, in his paper 4 on the bronzes of Hsin-chang
Jj 9, records the finding of red pigment both along with the human
remains in this interment and on the objects associated with these
remains. The Hsin-chEng bronzes are supposed to date from the
sixth century B.c.5 The nature of the pigment used in the Kansu
graves has not been investigated ; but the Hsin-chang tomb contained,
as Pelliot 6 expresses it, " des veritables boules de vermilion ", that is,
of cinnabar.7
This substance, however, was in China so valuable that it cannot
at any time have been used except in the burials of important people.
It is interesting also to consider the very common occurrence of the
1 I mean, of course, "life-giving " for purely mystical reasons and when used
according to the correct mystical procedure. The fact that cinnabar (for example)
is actually a poison, is irrelevant.
2
See, for example, Wieger, 1020, chap. 71, No. 27, and chap. 75, No. 1 seq.
a The Prehistoric Kansu Race, in Geological Survey of China Memoirs. Series
A, No. 5, Peking, 1925.
1 The Chinese Social and Political Science Review, vol. viii,
April, 1924.
5 See Wang Kuo-wei, Shinagaku, vol. iii, No. 9 (1924), p. 723.
6
T'oung Pao, 1924. p. 255.
7 An article in
Shina-gaku, iii, No. 7 (1923), p. 563, uses the term Jf rfj, which
is equally decisive.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

19

word in Chinese place-names (Tan-yang


, in Fukhien, Hupeh,
in Kiangsu).
Corea, etc.; Tan-lng i f,&in Ssechuan; Tan-t'u-R
Are these the sites of ancient cinnabar mines, some of them already
worked-out in historic times ? Or does the word merely mean red ?
These are questions which are worth investigation. In any case,
it is certain that cinnabar was one of the most important "life-giving "
substances sought for by the ancient Chinese, and I would suggest
that the formule of early Chinese alchemy are essentially receipts
for compounding cinnabar. The idea that the object of making
cinnabar was to use it as a charm for turning base metals into gold
seems to me to be an afterthought, and one which was never properly
assimilated. The chief object of alchemy remains always (till the
art becomes purely abstract and esoteric) the production of the
" spirit-cinnabar," "magic cinnabar." An " alchemy "
0i )
concerned merely with the fabrication of cinnabar no doubt goes back
to very early times. When, towards the middle of the Chou dynasty,
gold (under the influence of China's nomad neighbours to the north
and north-west) began to take its place as the most valued medium
of exchange, cinnabar could not remain the alchemist's final objective,
and appended to his formulae we find the statement: " When the
cinnabar has been made, the gold will follow without further difficulty."
Thus alchemy in China is essentially a revival of stone-age notions
(the life-giving power of red pigment, etc.) that had sunk to folk-lore
level. The craftsman's magic 1 that surrounded the working of gold
doubtless went back to a time when gold was, like cinnabar among
the Chinese, a life-giving substance valuable for its own magic
properties. It was natural that the Chinese should add gold to their
hierarchy of life-giving substances, appending it to their alchemical
processes as a sort of " super-cinnabar ".
If now we go back again to the passage quoted at the beginning
of this essay, we may analyze the various stages enumerated by the
wizard Li Shao-chiin as follows: (1) Sacrifice to the stove. (2)
Summon spirits. These are precautions common to all metallurgic
operations among primitive peoples. (3) Cinnabar changed into
gold. Gold has already usurped the place of cinnabar as the most
magical of substances. (4) Make vessels out of this gold and drink
1 Among early peoples no technical operation is carried on without such magic,
which is considered essential to success. The Chinese in learning how to work gold
could not have failed at the same time to learn the magic observances with which
among their teachers the working of gold was associated.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

20

A. WALEY-

out of them. This describes how the magic power of the gold is to be
absorbed into the system. (5) You will then increase your span of
life and see hsien {h in the island of P'Eng-lai. The hsien of P'eng-lai
are always associated with herbal magic, and we are here branching
off on to a totally different system of wizardry, familiar to us through
early Chinese literature. This herbal magic seems, indeed, to have
been the craft of the educated and ruling classes as opposed to the
mineral magic that only gradually drifted up out of the realm of
folk-lore. (6) You may then perform the sacrifices fing and shan.
Here we have branched off on to yet another line of magic-the
mystic ritual of kingship, which is here superimposed on all the rest.
7. Connectionwith Alchemy Elsewhere
It has already been suggested that the introduction of gold into
China involved not merely the importation of the substance itself
or the knowledge how to work it, but also of the magical ideas connected
with the craft. These ideas were super-imposed on the magical ideas
connected with *the native precious substances, such as jade and
cinnabar. But how far did definitely alchemistic notions from abroad
-that is, notions assuming the possibility of changing base metals
into gold-affect the history of alchemy in China ?
As is well known, the history of alchemy outside China begins
with texts written in Greek at Alexandria, none of which seem to be
older than the second century A.D. Some of these texts (though not,
I think, the earlier of them) indicate that the art was introduced into
Egypt by learned Persians, such as Ostanes, whom one may identify,
if one will, with the historical person of that name. To the ancients
of the classical world Chaldea was the home of astrology and magic;
this is a judgment which our vastly greater knowledge of Babylonian
literature enables us to confirm, and there is an antecedent probability
that alchemy, a form of magic intimately connected with astrology,
also had its origin in Babylon, or " Persia " as the ancients freely
called the whole cultural realm from Mesopotamia to Turkestan.
But until 1925 nothing had come to light in this region which could
be interpreted as throwing any light on the origins of alchemy. In
that year appeared Campbell Thompson's On the Chemistry of the
Ancient Assyrians,1 and this was immediately followed by an article
1 The same texts were published almost simultaneously by Zimmern. Dr. Eisler's
article in the ChemikerZeitung was followed by others in the Zeitschriftfiar Assyriologie
and elsewhere. The details of the ensuing controversy do not here concern us.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE ALCHEMY

21

Der Babylonische Ursprung der Alchimie, published in the Chemiker


Zeitung (Nos. 83 and 86) by Dr. R. Eisler. The texts in question
are said to date from the seventh century B.C. They are metal
worker's formulae,and as such they naturally involve the usual magic
procedures. But they are not concerned with the making of gold,
and will turn out, I think, when our knowledge of the subject is
increased, to be typical of the formulaethat were inseparable from all
primitive technicology. Whether they have at one point a special
connection with what later turned into alchemy depends on the
interpretation of the term an-kubu " divine embryo," -and of the
sentence in which it occurs. Campbell Thompson 1 translates, " Thou
shalt bring in embryos . . . thou shalt make a sacrifice before the
embryos ", and Thureau-Dangin2 explains that the kubu (embryo)
is " une sorte de demon ". But according to Dr. Eisler 3 it is the
minerals placed in the furnace that are technically referred to as
of the Greek
" embryos ", and he invokes the term dvOpwrrcndpov
alchemists, applied by them to the " issue " which proceeds from
the mystic fusion of alchemic ingredients. This view has not, so far
as I know, been supported by any Assyriologist. But the occurrence
of the term " embryo " in connection with a magico-technical process
at once recalls the widely-spread use of foetuses, embryos, childcorpses, and the like.4 I cannot help thinking that the an-kubus
were something more particular than " une sorte de demon ". It is
likely enough that they were either dried fcetuses such as were used by
Indian magicians, or carven objects used to represent these. That
alchemy was to some extent an atavistic revival of the circle of ideas
to which the Campbell Thompson texts belong is undeniable. But
I do not think that they can be regarded as belonging to the history
of alchemy itself.
GREEK ALCHEMY

I have already referred to the rise of alchemy in Alexandria somewhere about the second century A.D. There is some reason for
supposing that it had not been established in Egypt for any
considerable time before the appearance of the earliest texts. Ancient
Egyptian literature knows nothing of it, and it is wholly lacking in
1 Op. cit., p. 57,
2Revue d'Assyriologie, 1922 (xix), p. 81.
S Revue de Synthase Historique, xli (1926), and elsewhere.
4 Particularly common in India. See Meyer's translation of the
Arthah.istra,
p. 378, p. 649, etc.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

22

A. WALEY-

the huge collection of magical texts published by Lexa in 1925.1


Many of the so-called alchemistic texts are mere craftsman's formulve,
accompanied by the usual element of magic. The making of gold
out of common metals or the giving of a golden appearance to such
metals is only one of the topics discussed. The aim of Greek alchemy
remains wholly objective. It is the metals, not the practitioner, whose
constitution is to be ameliorated. The 8OEovv"8wp,so far from conferring immortality or even better health, " slays all living things,"
a 4civ-ra VEKPO&. Where, outside China, do we first meet with
the idea of eating the product of alchemic fusion, of using it not merely
as a healer of metals but also as a medicine for man ? So far as I
know this theory makes its first appearance in the Rasaratnakara
of Ndgarjuna-the pseudo-Ndgdrjuna, as one might say; for the
author of the work used the name of the great Buddhist patriarch
and reputed wonder-worker, just as Western alchemists used the
names of Moses, Aristotle, Roger Bacon, and Thomas Aquinas.
Alberuni, writing in 1031, places the alchemist " Nigarjuna " about a
hundred years before his own time. It has hitherto been assumed that
alchemistic ideas can at an early period only have reached India from
the West. Thus in his recent History of Sanskrit Literature (p. 460),
Dr. Berriedale Keith argues that the Arthaidstra must be as late as
the period of Greek influence because of its references to alchemy.
It is hard, however, to see what connection there is between the very
ill-defined suvarna-pdka (gold-making) of the Arthaidstra and the
complicated network of theories that constitute Greek alchemy. The
mere idea that gold might be manufactured was surely not confined
to the Greeks. We have already seen that it existed in China in the
first century B.C. I do not mean to imply that a Chinese influence
on India existed at this early period. When, however, we find
Nagarjuna at a period corresponding to the Sung dynasty regarding
quicksilver as an important element in alchemy and believing in the
power of the "philosopher's stone " to protect and prolong life, we
may reasonably ask whether at this period a direct influence 2 from
China may not be possible.
In 648 the Chinese envoy Wang Hsiian-ts'?, who between 643
and 665 fulfilled four missions to India, brought back with him to
China a Brahmin named Ndrayanasvamin, who won the confidence
of the Emperor T'ai Tsung. The Brahmin was a specialist in

x La Magie ddns l'Egypte Antique, 2 vols. text, 1 vol. plates. Goes down to
the Coptic period.
2 Dating, no doubt, from the
preceding T'ang dynasty.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

NOTES ON CHINESE AItCHEMY

23

" Prolonging Life ". We do not know what his means were, whether
herbal or mineral. Some time before 657 he returned to India. But
in 657 we find his patron Wang Hsiian-ts'E petitioning the new
Emperor (T'ai Tsung died in 649) not to let Narayanasvamin go back
to India till his elixir had been given a fair trial. Evidently, then,
the magician had visited China for a second time. According to the
New T'ang History and the Yu Yang Tsa Tsu, Ndrayanasvamin
died in Ch'ang-an. But a much earlier authority (the Fang Shih Lun
of Li T-yuii 1) says that the Emperor Kao Tsung sent him back to
India, and this is supported by the Old T'ang History.
In 664-5 the Buddhist monk Hsiian-chao 2 was ordered by Kao
Tsung to fetch from Kashmir another Indian magician, named
Lokdditya (Lu-chia-i-to), who was supposed to possess the drug 0
This Hindu was at the Chinese Court in 668; we
of Longevity.
do not know whether he stayed in China or returned to India.
Nardyanasvamin, if not Lokdditya, certainly returned at least
once to India, and it is certain that while at Ch'ang-an he must have
picked up from his Chinese confreres some notions of Chinese alchemy.
But the influence was not all in one direction; for we have seen 3
a Chinese writer, probably of two centuries later, giving a Sanskrit
name to the chemical, arsenic sulphide. That reactions of this kinda definite give and take, went on between China and India during
the T'ang dynasty is, I think, beyond doubt. A much more difficult
question is the extent to which Chinese alchemy was influenced by
that of other countries in the early centuries of the era; and this
question is obviously complicated by the fact that we are far from
certain whether in Central Asia, the most likely source of influence,
alchemy at this time existed at all. We know that An Shih-kao,
the famous Parthian translator of Buddhist scriptures, who worked
in China in the second century, was also skilled in the magic and
astrology of his own country. But whether he may have acted as
a "' carrier " of Iranian alchemy to China we do not know, for the
simple reason that we are still uncertain whether such a thing as
Iranian alchemy ever existed. The Central Asian king Yakat (Yakar
or the like) to whose treatise I have already referred 3 remains an
enigma. It is probable, but not quite certain, that he proves the
1 Quoted in the T'u Shu encycloppedia, xviii, 289, i, 16.
2 See
Chavannes, Voyages des Pdlerins Bouddhistes, p. 21, and the new Tripitaka
(Takakusu's edition), vol. li, p. 2, col. 1 (No. 2066).
3 p. 14.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

24

NOTES

ON CHINESE

ALCHEMY

existence of a pre-Muhammedanalchemy in Central Asia. As to his


nationality the name does not, to my knowledge, give us any clue.
He may have been Eastern Iranian (Sogdian) or Turk. But after
the Arabic Conquest the influence was, I believe, all from East to West.
Further examination of Arabi@alchemy will show, I am convinced,
that it contains a vast element which it owes to China rather than to
the Greek world. In particular the idea of the " philosopher's stone "
as an elixir of life is a contribution of the Chinese. The second period
of their influence was the time of the Mongol conquest. We have
seen how the Chinese alchemist Ch'ang-ch'un visited Samarkand in
1221-2. Here he came in contact with the leaders of the
Muhammedan community, and we cannot doubt that the teachings
of a holy man, summoned from so great a distance by the Khan
himself, made a considerable impression on the mysticism of Eastern
Persia, just as the artists summoned to Persia by the Mongol Khans
had a lasting influence on the pictorial art of the country. How
soon this influence is reflected in Arabic literature I do not know.
But it is manifest (travelling, no doubt, via the Arabs) in much of the
mystic literature of our own Renaissance, in which the quest of the
alchemist seems to have become purely subjective and internal.

This content downloaded from 203.15.226.132 on Sat, 10 Jan 2015 10:08:14 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions