- Resources for Textual Research on Premodern Taoism: The Taoist Canon and the State of the Field in the Early 21st Century
A quarter-century ago, when I began research on Taoists of the Tang period (618–906), any such researcher faced formidable hurdles. Not only had the texts of that era never been analyzed by any modern scholar (much less translated into any modern language), but there were not even many helpful research tools by which one could determine which Taoist texts might even be pertinent. There was an old Harvard-Yenching index to names and titles in the Daozang (Tao-tsang ), but it gave no indication of any text’s contents and little reliable information regarding any text’s authorship or date. In my own case, efforts to identify materials suitable for my research depended, in the first instance, on a pioneering 1949 study in Chinese by Chen Guofu, Daozang yuanliu kao. In Western languages, little was available at all, save for contributions by the Australian scholar Liu Ts’un-yan.1 Otherwise, researchers had to hunt for whatever scattered studies may have appeared, in whatever languages they could read. In the final analysis, most of the texts in the Daozang remained wholly uncharted, so all researchers had to “start from scratch,” doing their own analysis of every text. That state of affairs (along with various other factors) caused “Taoist studies” to develop slowly, and it provided some sinologists—virtually all of whom had been trained according to a Confucio-centric template that ignored or even ridiculed all Taoism subsequent to Zhuangzi—a ready excuse to pronounce serious research into the history and texts of Taoism impracticable, hence unworthy of scholarly effort.2
That state of affairs has now been radically changed. Over the last two or three decades, scholars from around the world have analyzed and translated a growing number of Taoist texts from many periods.3 Yet, truly useful new reference tools began to appear only at the turn of the millennium. One is the Daoism Handbook, edited by Livia Kohn, in which thirty scholars from around the globe methodically examine various periods and topics in premodern and modern Taoism.4 A more detailed Encyclopedia of Taoism, edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, has been in production for a decade, finally appearing in late 2007. The slowness of such projects is a natural corollary of the immensity of the tasks involved in assiduously sorting through a vast array of textual materials that were, for the most [End Page 33] part, entirely ignored by both traditional and modern Chinese scholars, as well as by nearly all Western sinologues until the late twentieth century.
In addition to such new reference works, researchers today are beginning to benefit immensely from some scholars’ productive use of the Internet. For example, Pregadio has provided a handy online “Index to the Daozang,” and no user of the present work can be without such a tool.5 Actually, anyone contemplating any research in Taoist Studies today should logically begin online.6 For example, at the Daoist Studies site managed by James Miller ( http://www.daoiststudies.org ), Livia Kohn’s “Research Guide to Daoist Studies” ( http://www.daoiststudies.org/gu.php ) provides sound and very accessible introductions titled “The Canon,” “Canonical Supplements,” “Concordances,” “Dictionaries,” “Analytical Surveys,” and “Bibliographies.” Other scholars have begun integrating more traditional research methods with the opportunities provided by the Internet. For instance, in 2002 Louis Komjathy published the helpful Title Index to Daoist Collections (Cambridge, MA: Three Pines Press, 2002), which succinctly explains the variety of such collections (those covered by the Companion, as well as other collections) and the efforts by modern scholars of both East and West to render them more fully accessible. But Komjathy’s book now also anchors an entirely different project, whereby the entire Daozang itself is being posted on the Internet, item by item. As that project’s index page explains:
By clicking on the pinyin title...