History of Chinese Daoism

Submitted by Baldrian Farzeen on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 12:47
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HISTORY OF CHINESE DAOISM Volume I. Translated by David C. Yu. Lanham (MD): University Press of America, 2000. Pp. xxii + 611; glossary, appendixes, bibliography. Cloth, $62.00, ISBN 0-7618-1868-5.

This book is an English translation of volume one of the Zhongguo daojiao shi (History of Chinese Daoism), a monumental work in four volumes, compiled by Qing Xitai et al. This first volume traces the history of Daoism from its archaic beginnings in the pre-imperial period to the end of the Sui dynasty (618 C.E.). The book consists of four chapters with a variety of sections. Chapter one, "Historical Conditions and Ancient Ideas which Gave Rise to Daoism," discusses the historical conditions and religious beliefs prior to the formation of religious Daoism. This chapter takes an in-depth look at different kinds of worship of ghosts, spirits and ancestors and the role of shamans as intermediaries between the seen and the unseen. Other important topics of this chapter include the search for physical immortality during the reign of the First Emperor (Qin Shi huangdi, r. 246-210 B.C.E) and by Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 B.C.E) of the Han dynasty, alchemical practices of the magician-technicians (fangshi), the divinisation of Laozi, and the Huang-Lao cult in honour of Laozi and the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi). Chapter two, "Early Daoist Texts and the Rise of Popular Daoist Sects," examines the development of religious Daoism. Here Qing Xitai and his collaborators provide helpful information on the dissemination of early Daoist texts such as the Taiping jing (Scripture of Great Peace) and the Zhouyi cantong qi (Commentary on the Concordance of the Three in the Book of Changes of the Zhou Dynasty). Next, there follows a discussion of the spread of the Tianshi (Celestial Masters) movement, also known as the Five-Bushels of Rice sect (wudou mi dao), and the rise of the Great Peace (taiping) sect which culminated in the so-called Yellow Turban rebellion. Chapter three, "The Dissension and Expansion of Daoism in the Wei (220-265) and Jin Dynasty (265-420)," focuses on the social upheaval and changes occurring during these periods of Chinese history. The spread of the Celestial Masters in the north and the Li Lineage (Lijia) sect in the south and the origin of numerous important rebellions are discussed herein. The rise in esteem of Daoism in political and aristocratic circles is one of the hallmarks of this period. There were also several new developments in alchemy and self-cultivation techniques, as seen in Ge Hong's (283-343) Baopuzi (Master Who Embraces Simplicity) and two scriptures linked to the Shangqing (Highest Purity) movement: the Dadong zhenjing (Great Grotto Scripture) and the Huangting jing (Yellow Court Scripture). A whole new corpus of texts belonging to the Lingbao (Numinous Treasure) tradition also appeared at this time. Finally, in chapter four, "Reform and Strengthening of Daoism in the Period of Political Disunion (386-581)," covers Daoist reforms during the period of Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-581). The most important movement was Kou Qianzhi's reform of the Daoist church at the Northern Wei (386-534) court and anti-Buddhist polemics. A reorganisation of Daoist books, a precursor of the Daoist Canon as we know it today, also occurred: a catalogue of the Numinous Treasure scriptures was compiled by Lu Xiujing (406-477) and the scriptures of the Highest Purity movement were collected and annotated by Tao Hongjing (456-536). The construction of Daoist hermitages, temples, and sanctuaries was also undertaken, which included a corresponding codification of rules, restrictions and interdictions regulating the adept's life therein. The History of Daoism covers a wide range of subjects of differing complexity, and David C. Yu's translation is a laudable attempt to put this information at the disposal of students and Western readers. However, there are also a number of deficiencies that weaken the overall contribution of Yu's translation. In view of a possible reedition and the translation of the remaining three volumes, some errors should be avoided. Spelling and grammatical mistakes show the absence of proper proof-reading (surely affordable for the University Press of America). How else can one explain sentences such as the following: "When man and woman penetrate with each other in cooperation, they will beget a child. When these three persons penetrate with one another in cooperation, they found a home. When the king, ministers, and subjects penetrate with one another, they found a country" (83)? Similarly, there is a lack of consistency in the employment of pinyin romanisation; examples include T'aip'ing, T'ian, K'ou, yilupa, C'ao and Liehzi instead of Taiping, Tian, Kou, yiliuba, Cao, and Liezi. There are also too many mistakes in the pronunciation of Chinese names: Zhao Yuanlong for Zhao Xuanlang (xvi), Wei Baiyang for Wei Boyang (105), Zhang Baiduan for Zhang Boduan (xvii), hou-hu for huohou (115), etc. Finally, for the bibliography, index and glossary, the translator should have followed the original. For non-specialist readers, the book will aid in increasing their understanding of the Daoist tradition with regards to its historical complexity and development as well as its place in Chinese culture. Research libraries with East Asian collections may also want to acquire this book. However, because of the above-mentioned problems, readers with proficiency in Chinese language are well-advised to consult the Chinese text whenever possible.

Farzeen Baldrian (Baldrian-Hussein) Independent Scholar Korntal, Germany May 21, 2003