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Reviewed by:
  • History of Chinese Daoism, Volume 1
  • James D. Sellmann (bio)
David C. Yu , translator. History of Chinese Daoism, Volume 1. Lanham, MD; New York; Oxford: University Press of America, Inc., 2000. xxii, 611 pp. Hardcover $62.00, ISBN 0-7618-1868-5.

Until recently there were only a few book chapters and journal articles in English that even breached the subject of the history of Chinese Daoism. Two previous works that attempted to fill the void concerning the history of Daoism were Stephen R. Bokenkamp, Early Daoist Scriptures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) and Isabelle Robinet, Taoism: Growth of a Religion (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997). David Yu's translation of volume 1 of this four-volume work on the history of Daoism is very much welcomed. History of Chinese Daoism contains a table of Chinese dynasties, a preface, an introduction, and four long multisectioned chapters covering the early formative period of Daoism from the Warring States (403-22. B.C.E.) up to the reunification of the empire and founding of the Sui dynasty (581-618). The text also contains a "Glossary of Chinese Characters," 40 pages of notes, 51 pages of bibliography, and 10 pages of index.

Oddly enough the translator did not cite the Chinese title of the original work. He tells us that the History of Chinese Daoism, a four-volume work, is a joint project of faculty members at the Institute of Religious Studies at Sichuan University. The principal author and editor of the Chinese work is Qing Xitai. Other co-authors include Ding Peiren, Ding Yichuang, Zeng Zhaona, Zhan Shichuang, and Zhao Zongcheng.

In the introduction, the authors take on three topics, namely, four stages in the historical development of Daoism, the significance of studying the history of Daoism, and their method. They divide the history of Daoism into four stages, which set the topics of the four volumes of the whole work. The first stage marks the period of inception and reform, which is covered in the text of volume I, beginning with Zhang Daoling in the Eastern Han (25-220 C.E.), going through the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420 C.E.), and ending with the period of political disunion (386-581), commonly referred to as the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties. The second stage is the period of growth and expansion, during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907). The rise of Daoist sects and continued development marks the third stage, covering the Song, Yuan, and early Ming dynasties. The gradual decline of Daoism, the final stage, occurs during the late Ming and the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The authors discern four dominant reasons for studying the history of Daoism. First, Daoism impacts and interacts with the political history of China. Second, Daoism borrows from and in turn influences Confucianism and Buddhism. Third, the arts and literature of China are greatly influenced by Daoism. Finally, Chinese science and technology are [End Page 322] influenced by Daoist self-cultivation, longevity, and immortality techniques, especially alchemy, herbal medicines, and acupuncture. The last three pages of the introduction briefly outline the method of dialectical materialism employed by the authors.

Chapter I, titled "Historical Conditions and Ancient Ideas Which Gave Rise to Daoism," is subdivided into four sections. In the first section, the authors introduce three topics: the religious background of Qin and Han society, Dong Zhongshu's "theology of Heaven," and some of the key ideas from the Apocryphal texts, which influenced religious beliefs. In the second section, they discuss popular and philosophical concerns about spirits and ghosts, focusing on the Mozi essays on the "Will of Heaven" and "On Ghosts." They show how Zou Yan's (305-240 B.C.E) Five Phases (wuxing) philosophy was integrated with ancestor veneration and worship at local shrines. The section concludes with a brief analysis of shrines and practices initiated by Han emperors. In the third section, the authors hone in on the beliefs associated with immortals, and early immortality practices. They begin with pre-Qin textual evidence of early belief in immortals and immortality practices. They review the influence of the thaumaturges (fangshi) in the Qin and early...


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