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  • The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters
  • Russell Kirkland (bio)
Stephen Eskildsen . The Teachings and Practices of the Early Quanzhen Taoist Masters. SUNY Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. vii, 274 pages. Hardcover $50.00, ISBN 0-7914-6045-2.

Until the late twentieth century, most Westerners—including historians and other scholars of Chinese studies—still believed the nineteenth-century falsehood that after the sainted Laozi and Zhuangzi, Taoism no longer really existed, at least in any reputable form. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Western scholars began joining their Japanese counterparts in examining Taoist phenomena of early and medieval times, and did fieldwork among living Taoists, mostly the Zhengyi priests of Taiwan. Meanwhile, in mainland China, Taoist traditions—though disrupted by the Cultural Revolution—have been maintained most fully and actively by practitioners of the Quanzhen ("Complete Perfection") tradition. Yet, even at the end of the 1990s, Western scholars—especially in North America—paid that living tradition hardly any attention at all, either in its living manifestation (sometimes called Longmen or "Dragon Gate" Taoism) or in its earlier historical forms. Indeed, until the 2000 publication of the Daoism Handbook, which contains a chapter on Quanzhen by Tao-chung Yao, the only substantive reading on Quanzhen in English was Yao's 1980 dissertation. The year 200. saw the publication of a special six-article section in the Journal of Chinese Religions that now stands as the most extensive treatment of Quanzhen Taoism in English. One of its contributors was Stephen Eskildsen, whose article "Visions and Other Trance Phenomena in Early Quanzhen Taoism," appears in slightly revised form in the present book.

Much of the rest of this volume is based on Eskildsen's 1989 master's thesis, a monumental four-hundred-page exploration of Quanzhen origins. One would have hoped that with the publication of a revised version of that thesis, students and teachers of Chinese studies would finally have good resources for acquainting themselves with the origins of Quanzhen Taoism. To some degree, [End Page 88] they do. Eskildsen's work is based on long-ignored primary sources from the Taoist "canon" (Daozang) and other collections, and is informed by recent Chinese scholarship as well as by a good deal of Japanese and Western scholarship. Well documented, with a good index and character glossary, Eskildsen's book is now the most accessible introduction to the origins of Quanzhen Taoism. Careful readers will also find in its opening and closing pages an enlightening overview of Quanzhen Taoism today. In addition, the endnotes are often substantive and illuminating, and warrant careful attention by any serious student of Chinese religion.

Chapter 1 consists of sections titled "Opening Comments," "Historical Summary," and "Preview of This Book's Contents."1 The last section (pp. 18-20) would really have served much better as a Preface, for it provides the very first information that is needed by any reader—an explanation of the book's purpose and methods. The "Opening Comments" (pp. 1-3) briefly characterize the teachings and practices of "the early Quanzhen masters," and situate them within the history of Taoism. The bulk of the chapter (pp. 3-18) constitutes the "Historical Summary." It introduces the lives of Quanzhen founder Wang Zhe (Wang Chongyang) (1113-1170); his primary disciples—the storied "Seven Realized Ones" (qizhen), such as Ma Yu, his wife Sun Bu'er, and the historically crucial Qiu Chuji; and others, such as Yin Zhiping, whose writings are among Eskildsen's principal sources. This "summary," however, is quite detailed indeed. Dates for all events—down to the very day—are given in both the traditional chronology and Western equivalents, leading to such daunting sentences as this: "During this period, Ma Yu's ex-wife, Sun Bu'er, became a disciple (in Ninghai on 5/5/Dading 9 [June 1, 1169]), as did young Liu Chuxuan (in Laizhou in 9/Dading 9 [September 23-October 21, 1169])" (p. 9). Even for historians, this level of detail seems excessive for a "summary," especially one located within an introduction that has not yet explained the book's main goals.

Also, it would...


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