- Daoism in History: Essays in Honor of Liu Ts’un-yan
Compiled by an array of worthies from around the world, this volume of nine highly specialized essays makes for heavy going and is aimed at those with a deep background in the subject already. The title is a little misleading, since it implies that the essays address the role of Daoism in influencing China’s historical development; if anything, most of the material treats the origins of Daoist practices in pre-Han times. Other major themes include Daoist borrowings from Buddhism and popular indigenous religions, its development of alchemy and symbolism, and its demonology.
Benjamin Penny is a research fellow at the Australian National University who writes mainly on Chinese religion. The first essay of the book, a tribute to Liu Ts’un-yan’s contributions to religious Daoism studies, is his. It cites Edouard Chavannes’ translation of the Taishang lingbao yugui mingzhen dazhai yangong yi, “Le jet des dragons” (1919), as the beginning of the study of Daoism at a level of dignity comparable with that of other religions. Chavannes’s work appeared two years after Liu was born in Beijing, the son of a customs officer, and “[t]he trajectory that Daoist studies has followed since Chavannes’ time finds a parallel in Liu’s life and scholarly career.” This observation is followed by a paean to Liu’s “monument to triumphant sinology” through his application of rigorous philology and broad understanding to religious Daoist texts; Penny’s criticism of Liu’s migration to Australia, a country that “looked to Europe and America for its exemplars despite its location on the southern edge of Asia,” is inadvertently ironic—as though Australia weren’t founded by Europeans and he could have carried on his work in his native land. More convincingly, Penny argues that, like many other Chinese scholars of that time, Liu’s interest in Daoism resulted from his investigations in another field, in his case Chinese fiction. His doctoral dissertation at the University of London analyzed Buddhist and Daoist elements in Chinese novels, thus providing a gateway through which religious Daoism’s interrelations with broader issues in Chinese history and culture could be explored. Liu’s subsequent work was devoted to illuminating religious Daoism’s character and general relevance to uninitiated Western scholars. The present collection of essays is a direct descendant of his methods.
The second essay in the collection, “‘Let Living and Dead Take Separate Paths’: Bureaucratisation and Textualisation in Early Chinese Mortuary Ritual,” follows Anna Seidel’s study of “proto-Taoism,” the “highly bureaucratised religion of grave-securing writs” that antedated religious Daoism and was itself the institutionalization [End Page 190] of ancient shamanic practices. The author, Peter Nickerson, is a specialist in this area at Duke. He goes further than Seidel in trying to demonstrate that what has been called the “religious revolution” of Daoism’s establishment in the second century c.e. was not revolutionary out of necessity by comparing grave-securing religious practices with those of the older mortuary rituals. The former were largely a formalization of the latter, he argues, and religious Daoism merely incorporated both into its own belief system. Nickerson then follows the Austrian sinologist Lothar von Falkenhausen’s work on changes in mortuary practice in the Zhou dynasty and Warring States. For various reasons, treatment of the dead changed in emphasis “from temple to tomb”—that is, from communion with souls of the departed to their confinement away from the living by exorcism. Nickerson goes on to demonstrate that the “bureaucratisation of exorcism” illustrated in pre-Daoist grave-securing writs “are essential sources for understanding the emergence of the Daoist religion out of pre-existing local traditions.”
The third essay is by T. H. Barrett, a specialist in oriental religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Titled “Preliminary Considerations in the Search for a Daoist Dhammapada,” it analyzes Chinese translations and adaptions of this Buddhist verse anthology, much of which...