Xu Mi’s Network: A Different Perspective on Early Higher Clarity Daoism
Abstract

Abstract:

This paper explores the official and social connections of Xu Mi 許謐 (303-376), one of the founders of the Shangqing 上清 or Higher Clarity movement in Daoism, with the aim of developing a clearer narrative for what was occurring in his social network in the 360s, around the time that his spirit-medium Yang Xi 楊羲 (330-386) was having his visions. Although certain aspects of these connections have been explored by scholars such as Yoshikawa Tadao (1998) and Kamitsuka Yoshiko (1999), among others, these do not fully explain how a relatively minor official like Xu Mi, together with Yang Xi, could attract a steady stream of highranking official visitors seeking advice, medicines, and scriptures, as described in the eighth fascicle of Zhen’gao.

This paper examines the life and extensive connections of Xi Mi’s older brother Xu Mai 許邁 (b. 301), as well as both Xu Mai and Yang Xi’s connections with Sima Yu 司馬昱 (320-372) when the latter was still Prince of Kuaiji 會稽 before becoming Emperor Jianwen of Jin 晉簡文帝 (r. 372). It also examines a hitherto overlooked historical record of Xu Mi’s participation in a court debate, which illustrates one way in which Xu Mi was attempting to give support to the Sima family. With this background, the paper then analyzes the list of Xu Mi’s visitors. A recent archaeological discovery also sheds new light on a connection between two of these visitors. This paper concludes that Xu Mi’s visitors were drawn to his home after Yang Xi, during his brief service under Sima Yu, had convinced them of his abilities through a very public demonstration of his spiritual powers. Furthermore, several of these visitors were already putting the new Higher Clarity teachings into practice when they asked for assistance.