The Fragments of the Daoxue Zhuan

Submitted by Miller James on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 20:40
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THE FRAGMENTS OF THE DAOXUE ZHUAN. By Stephan Peter Bumbacher. European University Studies Series XXVII, Asian and African Studies vol. 78. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000. Pp. xv + 609; appendixes; index. Paper, $79.95, ISBN 3-631-36539-X; US-ISBN 0-8204-4772-2.


A revised and corrected version of the author's Ph.D. thesis (University of Heidelberg, 1996), this is an impressive textual study, critical edition and analysis of the fragments of the Daoxue zhuan (Biographies of Students of the Dao), a late sixth-century C.E. compilation of some 252 biographical fragments. The Daoxue zhuan sheds light on the Shangqing (Highest Clarity) and Lingbao (Numinous Treasure) traditions that flourished in this period and may be distinguished from other biographic collections by its section on Daoist women and by its inclusion of Daoist figures who did not attain immortality but nonetheless were considered important religious persons. Bumbacher's analysis of the text provides important information on the hitherto neglected study of pre-Tang monastic traditions and the roles of women in Daoism. 


The book consists of an introduction, conclusion, and seven chapters: (1) Text and authorship of the Daoxue zhuan; (2) The sources of the fragments; (3) Chinese text and translation; (4) The place of the Daoxue zhuan within the literary tradition; (5) The Daoxue zhuan's scheme of composition; (6) Daoist monasticism; and (7) Female Daoists. It also contains five appendixes including versions of Ma Shu's biography, alphabetical lists of quotations of "separate biographies" (biezhuan), synopses of the Zhen'gao and Dongxian zhuan biographies, synopses of the Liexian zhuan and Da'nan yangsheng lun, and the Chinese text of the Taizhen furen zhuan. Having reviewed the complexities surrounding the authorship of the text, Bumbacher concurs with the mainstream view that the text should be attributed to Ma Shu (522-581) (ch. 1), a scholar-official from a Buddhist family who retired to Mount Mao in part to escape the political vicissitudes of his era. Having discussed the text and its author, Bumbacher then proceeds to present a critical edition (in Chinese) and an annotated English translation of the fragments (ch. 2; 99-347). The author is to be commended for his heroic efforts at presenting a critical Chinese edition that builds upon and amends the partial edition produced by Chen Guofu in his Daozang yuanliu kao (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1963).


The 252 identified fragments refer to 105 Daoists, including a chapter devoted to the lives of nine women. Bumbacher argues that the women's lives show that women were able not only to "escape being married" but also "have access to the topmost stratum of society" (523). In his literary analysis, Bumbacher places the text in the context of Chinese biographies including the Liexian zhuan (Biographies of Ranked Immortals) and the Shenxian zhuan (Biographies of Spirit Immortals), but argues that the text most closely resembles Buddhist hagiographies such as the Biqiuni zhuan (Biographies of Buddhist Nuns) (ch. 4). 


Scholars will also be interested in the tentative study of early Daoist monasticism that this work offers, comparing and contrasting early Daoist monastic centres with the chambers of tranquility (jingshi) and the parish centers (zhi) of the Celestial Masters tradition (ch. 6). Though chapters 1-5 constitute a highly technical sinological work, the book is highly recommended not only for specialists in Chinese religions, but also for those interested in comparative hagiography, monasticism and the religious lives of women.


James Miller

Queen's University, Canada

Jan 1, 2003