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Tang Studies 25 (2007) LI BAI, HUANGSHAN, AND ALCHEMY STEPHEN R. BOKENKAMP ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY INTRODUCTION The first version of this essay was written in January 1982 in fulfillment of the requirements for a seminar taught at the University of California, Berkeley, by Professor Paul W Kroll. In its present form, it has benefited from detailed criticisms and suggestions from Professors Kroll and Edward H. Schafer and, to a lesser extent, from recent revisions by me. Since the essay has itself just celebrated its twenty-fifth birthday and since Kroll and Schafer have both been intimately involved with this journal, I thought that it might serve as a suitable celebration of their work. Several caveats are in order. I have added new material and changed the romanization of the essay to pinyin. Such changes will be easy enough to detect, if anyone cares to perform the textual archeology. But the outlines of my juvenilia are hidden more carefully still, since I have reorganized the piece. I originally wrote it as a sort of mystery, beginning with the mountain and Li Bai's descriptions of it and ending with the "revelation" that Li may have died as the result of metallic poisoning from an elixir he compounded there. That strategy will not work now, since Li Bai's involvement in alchemy is well known. The possibility of his dying as a result of such experiments even appeared for a while in the Wikipedia entry on Li Bai. In addition, I no longer harbor the positivism of my graduate days with respect to the amount of biography that can be gleaned from poetry. While it is true that Li Bai's verse, like that of his Tang contemporaries, was largely situational and can thus serve as sources for certain sorts of biographical information (dates, places, associations, etc.), Tang poets were no strangers to fiction. This is particularly true ofLi Bai, who so often resorted to hyperbole when presenting his persona. It is not that I did not know this during my graduate school days. It is just that I am even more cautious now. Thus, I will no longer claim as fact that Li Bai died of an elixir that he helped concoct during the latter years of his life or that this deadly compound was cooked up on Huangshan. This said, I still believe that the essay provides plausible evidence of motive, means, and opportunity. 29 Bokenkamp: Ii BaiJ HuangshanJ and Alchemy I. THE MOUNTAIN By one Song dynasty account, Huangshan NL1J, previously known as Yishan ~$L1J, is recorded to have received its name by royal proclamation on the seventeenth day of the sixth month, Heavenly Treasure-6 (28 July 747).1 By another, precisely the opposite occurred.2 Perhaps, lost in the welter of geographical rechristenings by which the Daoist emperor, Li Longji, hoped to transform his kingdom into the earthly paradise foretold in Daoist scripture, the rechristening of this particular mountain failed to be recorded in official Tang sources. Whether first known as Yishan or Huangshan, however, the mountain was known to the great Tang poet Li Bai *Er (701-762?) as Huangshan ("Yellow Mountain"), as it is also called today. In addition, as we will see, the poet was aware of the legend underlying this name. The version of that tale as recorded in the anonymous Song-period monograph on the mountain gives some description of terrain features we will meet in Li Bai's poems: The Yellow Thearch received a recipe for a numinous elixir from Fuqiu Gong 1¥ IT0' .3 He then desired to cross the Caliginous and Swelling Seas (Ming Bohai ~*mw)to roam Penglai ~*as a Transcendent. He therefore announced to Fuqiu Gong that he was willing to humbly serve him in refining the elixir. Fuqiu Gong replied: "Those who are elected to sagehood and study with a master must cull the essence of the mysterious and roost in a hidden and propitious place. Proceeding thus, their enterprise will easily be achieved. To refine gold and form elixirs, it is necessary to avail oneself of mountains and waters. If 1 Huangshan, as it was called by Li Bai and is still known today, is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1759-7633
Print ISSN
0737-5034
Pages
pp. 29-55
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-08
Open Access
No
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