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Reviewed by:
  • Historical Dictionary of Taoism
  • Judith Magee Boltz (bio)
Julian F. Pas, in cooperation with Man Kam Leung. Historical Dictionary of Taoism. Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements, no. 18. Lanham and London: Scarecrow Press, 1998. xliii, 415 pp. Hardcover $64.00, ISBN 0-8108-3369-7.

Professor Emeritus Julian F. Pas dedicates this volume to "the many generations of my students of Taoism at the University of Saskatchewan and other friends in the Tao who helped me in my search for the Way" (p. v). Recently retired as professor of religious studies, Pas holds degrees in theology from the University of Louvain, Belgium, as well as a Ph.D. in religion from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He acknowledges the help of his colleague Man Kam Leung in the history department of the University of Saskatchewan for "drafting about two dozen entries (mostly historical) and advising me about many other aspects of this book" (p. xiii). The Preface also states that this collaborative undertaking is intended "especially for nonspecialist, educated readers to use as a reference work" (p. xii). [End Page 514]

Pas devised this dictionary almost entirely on the basis of secondary, Western language sources. His command of the field of Taoist studies is also restricted by his idiosyncratic view of the subject, as revealed by the following admission: "What attracts me the most to Taoism is its philosophy. Taoism as a religion is also colorful, sometimes mysterious, sometimes weird, sometimes senseless. As a religion, it is fascinating to study, but I would not incorporate it into my own life" (p. xi). Readers are also alerted by the series editor Jon Woronoff to the compiler's "light and whimsical touch" (p. x). Former students of the compiler will no doubt find themselves on familiar ground, for large portions of the dictionary appear to have been distilled from lectures on various aspects of the religious heritage of China, featuring numerous comparisons with Christianity.

The Preface is followed by a "Note on Spelling" (pp. xv-xvi), explaining the compiler's preference for the Wade-Giles system of transliteration, with three sample headings illustrating corresponding pinyin readings as well. The decision generally to omit umlauts according to the Wade-Giles system leads to occasional mistranscriptions in pinyin, beginning with the third example recorded here:T'ai-chi ch'uan/Taijichuan should read T'ai-chi ch'üan/Taijiquan. Under the subsequent unit, titled "Abbreviations" (pp. xvii-xx), are three lists pertaining to the introduction and dictionary, bibliography, and to Chinese reference works, respectively. Among sources registered in the latter list but not actually cited in the text itself is the Tao-chiao ta tz'u-tien (Daojiao da cidian), with the name of one of the compilers, Min Chih-t'ing (Min Zhiting), misread as Kuan Chih-t'ing. The next unit, labeled "Table of Chinese Dynasties" (p. xxi), is alternatively designated in the Introduction as "Chart of Chinese Dynasties" (p. 28). The opening matter closes with a "Chronology of Taoist History" (pp. xxiii-xliii), remarkably lacking in coordination with the dictionary itself. It features numerous entries that simply concern an otherwise unidentified figure who "received title." Many such chronologies have been published, but the compiler fails to mention any source of reference, either primary or secondary. This chronology is further marred by unfortunate inaccuracies such as the untenable claim for the year 288 (C.E.): "Yellow Court Scripture is published" (p. xxvi).

The Introduction (pp. 1-50) bears the following headings: "Starting on the Way," "The Nature of Taoism," "Antecedents and Parallel Developments," "The Philosophical Texts: A Taoist Humanism," "Taoist Religious Movements: From Han to Six Dynasties (206 B.C.E.-581 C.E.)," "Later Taoist Growth," "Taoism in Modern Times," "Taoism and Chinese Culture," "Unity versus Multiplicity," and "Once Again: The Nature of Taoism." Bold-type references appearing throughout do not always find their intended match in the dictionary proper. Pas concludes his introductory account by arguing for a distinction between a naturalist or humanist "Way" or "school of thought" and a theistic or "full-fledged religious system." The overall tenor of the dictionary is reflected in his closing remarks: "If [End Page 515] a Westerner, a...


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