TRANSLATION OF THE ZHEN'GAO, PT. 1
Declarations of the Perfected
Part One: Setting Scripts and Images into Motion
by THOMAS E. SMITH
Declarations of the Perfected is the first complete, annotated translation of the Zhen’gao, Tao Hongjing’s (456-536) masterful compilation of the Shangqing or Higher Clarity revelations, setting the stage for the heyday of medieval Daoism. This volume presents its first part (fasc. 1-4), centering around the practice of achieving “spiritual union,” a spiritual analogue to sexual intercourse, with Perfected partners. The book is the first to examine in depth the full process of this practice—from preliminary courtship to the act of spiritual union itself, the gestation of the Perfected embryo in the body of the adept, and finally the adept’s rebirth.
This translation represents a remarkable piece of scholarship. The chosen format is praiseworthy, each section being followed by the translator’s lucid and illuminating comments. The footnotes are comprehensive, providing necessary details to appreciate the translation. The Zhen’gao is a key text for the understanding of the beginnings of Higher Clarity as a new religious tradition of medieval China. This work renders it fully accessible for the first time. It is a must not only for sinologists and Daoist scholars but also for students of comparative religion and Asia historians.—Stephan Peter Bumbacher, University of Tübingen
The verse writings that make up most of the first four chapters of the Zhen'gao show the Daoist divinities of the mid-fourth century BCE as outstanding poets, worthy of comparison in literary skill and variety with the famous secular poets of the contemporaneous Eastern Jin dynasty. But their poems and songs had a much deeper significance that can only be understood in their full religious context. During the past twenty years, different scholars have translated various parts of these four chapters in widely scattered publications. Thomas Smith has the distinction now of being the first to offer an integral translation. To supplement his English rendering the author has provided copious footnotes and an extensive commentary. This book and its anticipated sequels should now bring this fascinating text, which was so influential in the religious, social, and literary history of medieval China, to the attention of the widest possible audience of students and specialists. It will surely spark increased engagement on a better informed level with many of the key issues in current Sinological scholarship.—Paul W. Kroll, University of Colorado
Thomas E. Smith received his Ph. D. in Chinese from the University of Michigan in 1992. Since then he has lived in Taiwan, working as a translator and editor both for the Bureau of Foreign Trade and, as a free-lancer, for local art museums and galleries.