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- The Emperor and His Councillor: Laozi and Han Dynasty Taoism - Persée
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Through Gu Huan fifth century and others, the school reached its height during the Tang period, represented by such thinkers as Cheng Xuanying and Li Rong in the seventh century. The Laozi has been viewed in still other ways. The diversity of interpretation is truly remarkable see Robinet for a typological analysis.
The Daodejing was given considerable imperial attention, with no fewer than eight emperors having composed or at least commissioned a commentary on the work. By the thirteenth century, students of the Daodejing were already blessed, as it were, with an embarrassment of riches, so much so that Du Daojian — could not but observe that the coming of the Dao to the world takes on a different form each time. Is the Laozi a manual of self-cultivation and government? Is it a metaphysical treatise, or does it harbor deep mystical insights? The Laozi is a difficult text. Its language is often cryptic; the sense or reference of the many symbols it employs remains unclear, and there seems to be conceptual inconsistencies.
Traditionally, however, this was never a serious option. Consider, first of all, some of the main modern approaches to the Daodejing cf. Hardy One view is that the Laozi reflects a deep mythological consciousness at its core. Chapter 25, for example, likens the Dao to an undifferentiated oneness. The myth of a great mother earth goddess may also have informed the worldview of the Laozi Erkes ; Chen , which explains its emphasis on nature and the feminine Chen A second view is that the Laozi gives voice to a profound mysticism.
According to Victor Mair , it is indebted to Indian mysticism see also Waley According to Benjamin Schwartz , the mysticism of the Daodejing is sui generis , uniquely Chinese and has nothing to do with India. Indeed, as one scholar suggests, it is unlike other mystical writings in that ecstatic vision does not play a role in the ascent of the Daoist sage Welch , It is possible to combine the mystical and mythological approaches. Broadly, one could carve out a third category of interpretations that highlights the religious significance of the Laozi , whether in general terms or aligned with the tenets of religious Daoism.
A fourth view sees the Laozi mainly as a work of philosophy, which gives a metaphysical account of reality and insight into Daoist self-cultivation and government; but fundamentally it is not a work of mysticism W. The strong practical interest of the Laozi distinguishes it from any mystical doctrine that eschews worldly involvement. Fifth, to many readers the Laozi offers essentially a philosophy of life. Remnants of an older religious thinking may have found their way into the text, but they have been transformed into a naturalistic philosophy.
Legacy of great thinkers still shapes modern culture
The emphasis on naturalness translates into a way of life characterized by simplicity, calmness, and freedom from the tyranny of desire e. Sixth, the Laozi is above all concerned with realizing peace and sociopolitical order. It is an ethical and political masterpiece intended for the ruling class, with concrete strategic suggestions aimed at remedying the moral and political turmoil engulfing late Zhou China.
Self-cultivation is important, but the ultimate goal extends beyond personal fulfillment Lau , LaFargue , Moeller The Laozi criticizes the Confucian school not only for being ineffectual in restoring order but more damagingly as a culprit in worsening the ills of society at that time. This list is far from exhaustive; there are other views of the Laozi. Different combinations are also possible. Graham, for example, emphasizes both the mystical and political elements, arguing that the Laozi was probably targeted at the ruler of a small state , The Laozi could be seen as encompassing all of the above—such categories as the metaphysical, ethical, political, mystical, and religious form a unified whole in Daoist thinking and are deemed separate and distinct only in modern Western thought.
This concerns not only the difficulty of the Laozi but also the interplay between reader and text in any act of interpretation. But, it is important to emphasize, it does not follow that context is unimportant, that parameters do not exist, or that there are no checks against particular interpretations. While hermeneutic reconstruction remains an open process, it cannot disregard the rules of evidence.
Questions of provenance, textual variants, as well as the entire tradition of commentaries and modern scholarship are important for this reason. And it is for this same reason that the present article leaves the discussion of the Laozi itself till the end. The following presents some of the main concepts and symbols in the Laozi based on the current text, focusing on the key conceptual cluster of Dao, de virtue , ziran naturalness , and wuwei nonaction. I propose that the two readings represented by the Heshanggong and Wang Bi commentaries both bring out important insight from the Laozi.
To begin with Dao, the etymology of the Chinese graph or character suggests a pathway, or heading in a certain direction along a path. This is also how most commentators in traditional China have understood it: the many normative discourses that clamor to represent the right way are seen to be fickle, partial and misleading.
The concept of dao is not unique to the Laozi. A key term in the philosophical vocabulary, it informs early Chinese philosophy as a whole. It is interpreted differently, signifying a means to a higher end in some writings and as an end in itself in others. The Laozi underscores both the ineffability and creative power of Dao. This is distinctive and if one accepts the early provenance of the text, charts a new course in the development of Chinese philosophy.
This suggests a sense of radical transcendence, which explains why the Laozi has been approached so often as a mystical text. Names serve to delimit, to set boundaries; in contrast, Dao is without limits and therefore cannot be captured fully by language. What does this mean? This is essentially the reading of the Heshanggong commentary. That which gave rise to the original qi -energy, however, is indescribable. Alternatively, one could argue that Dao signifies a conceptually necessary ontological ground; it does not refer to any indescribable original substance or energy.
As the source of being, Dao cannot be itself a being, no matter how powerful or perfect; otherwise, the problem of infinite regress cannot be overcome. For the latter, Dao is entirely conceptual, whereas the former envisages the Dao as referring to a mysterious substance or energy that brings about the cosmos and continues to sustain and regulate it. The latter may be awkward, but it serves to alert the reader that the nothingness or emptiness of Dao may not be understood referentially or reduced simply to the fullness of qi.
In light of the interest in cosmology during the Warring States period, the cosmological reading may be privileged, but the Laozi is also open to an ontological interpretation. Both are philosophically potent. At one level, the ontological reading may accommodate the qi -based yin-yang cosmology, although there is significant divergence in the interpretation of the ethics of the Laozi , as we shall see in the next section. It also suggests a direction to be followed, which brings out the ethical interest of the Laozi.
The Daodejing is concerned with both Dao and de. Like Dao, de is a general concept open to diverse interpretation. The Confucian understanding of de is by no means uniform A. Confucius may have emphasized the latter, but there is ample evidence in the Analects and other Confucian works testifying to the importance of the former as well. The different translations mentioned above aim at bringing out the perceived uniquely Daoist understanding of de. From this perspective, both Laozi and Confucius are interpreters of de -virtue.
The marriage of Dao and de effectively bridges the gap between transcendence and immanence. In this sense, the Laozi speaks of de as that which nourishes all beings e. Within these parameters, interpretations of de follow from the understanding of Dao and wu. In either case, the concept of de emerges as a Daoist response to the question of human nature, which was one of the most contested issues in early Chinese philosophy.
The two readings of the Laozi , despite their differences, agree that it is an inherent de that enables a person to conform to the way in which Dao operates. In a cosmological reading, this suggests an understanding of nature as governed by the operation of qi energies in an ideal yin-yang system characterized by harmony and fecundity. Nature in the Daoist sense, it is important to note, need not exclude the spiritual and the social. The existence of gods and spirits, which can be understood also as being constituted by qi energies, was hardly questioned in early China.
The Laozi makes clear that they, too, stem from Dao and form a part of the order of ziran e. Further, nature encompasses not only natural phenomena but also sociopolitical institutions. The king clearly occupies a central place in the realm of Dao chs. As an ethical concept, ziran thus extends beyond the personal to the sociopolitical level. Wuwei does not mean total inaction. In the Laozi , while meditation and other forms of spiritual practice may be envisaged, the concept of wuwei seems to be used more broadly as a contrast against any form of action characterized by self-serving desire e.
It is useful to recall the late Zhou context, where disorder marched on every front.
The Laozi , one assumes, is not indifferent to the forces of disintegration tearing the country asunder, although the remedy it proposes is subject to interpretation. The problems of political decline are traced to excessive desire, a violation of ziran. Naturalness encompasses basic human needs, of course, but these are to be distinguished from desire that fuels and inflates self-gratification, which knows no end. Nonaction entails at the personal level simplicity and quietude, which naturally follow from having few desires. At the political level, the Laozi condemns aggressive measures such as war ch.
If the ruler could rid himself of desire, the Laozi boldly declares, the world would be at peace of its own accord chs. In this sense, the Laozi describes the ideal sage-ruler as someone who understands and follows ziran e. In this same sense, it also opposes the Confucian program of benevolent intervention, which as the Laozi understands it, addresses at best the symptoms but not the root cause of the disease.
The Confucian project is in fact symptomatic of the decline of the rule of Dao. Conscious efforts at cultivating moral virtues only accentuate the loss of natural goodness, which in its original state would have been entirely commonplace and would not have warranted distinction or special attention chs.
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Worse, Confucian ethics assumes that learning and moral self-cultivation can bring about personal and social improvement. The concept of nonaction is exceedingly rich. It brings into play a cutting discernment that value distinctions are ideological, that human striving and competitive strife spring from the same source. Nonaction entails also a critique of language and conventional knowledge, which to the Daoist sage has become impregnated with ideological contaminants.
The use of paradoxes in the Laozi especially heightens this point. Some scholars would object that this interpretation misses the religious import of the Daodejing , while others would question whether it is too eager to defend the philosophical coherence of the classic.
Perhaps the Laozi in chapter 65 of the current text did mean to tell the ruler literally to keep the people ignorant or stupid for better control, which as a piece of political advice is not exactly extraordinary. The remarks offered here take nonaction as central to the Daoist view of life, recognizing that the concept of wuwei does not only initiate a critique of value but also points to a higher mode of knowledge, action, and being.
At the critical level, the Laozi emphasizes the relativity of knowledge and value. Things appear big or small, for example, only in relation to other things; knowledge and ignorance are meaningful only in relation to each other. Good and bad, being and nonbeing, and other opposites should be understood in the same light ch.
Distinctions as such are not necessarily problematic; for example, an object can be described as rare or difficult to find as compared with other objects. When certain things or features e. The recognition of the relativity of value does not end in a kind of moral relativism or ethical paralysis. The deconstruction of conventional beliefs and values opens the door to deeper reflection on the order of ziran.
The Laozi also does not appear to be advocating the obliteration of all distinctions, and by extension civilization as a whole, in a state of mystical oneness. For example, while there is some concern that technology may bring a false sense of progress, the antidote does not lie in a deliberate rejection of technology but rather in a life of natural simplicity and contentment that stems from having few desires ch.
In this way, the apparent conceptual inconsistency in the Laozi can be resolved. This constitutes a radical critique of a world given to the pursuit of wealth and power. Desire is a complex concept. Fundamentally, it depicts the movement of the mind as it is drawn to things it finds agreeable e. Phenomenologically, the mind is always in motion. Calmness or tranquility of mind does not mean the cessation of all cognitive or affective movement. Rather, from this perspective, it is the act of desiring that transgresses the order of nature, resulting in a plethora of desires pulling the mind in different directions, that is seen to be at the heart of the problem.
Nonaction contrasts sharply, according to the Laozi , with the way people typically act in a world in which the rule of Dao no longer prevails, with profit motives, calculated steps, expectations, longings, regrets, and other expressions of desire. As a philosophical concept, wuwei intimates a mode of being that governs existential engagement at all levels, transforming the way in which we think, feel, and experience the world.
It does not stipulate what one ought to do or ought not to do in particular cases. Terms such as quietude, emptiness, and simplicity favored by the Laozi describe a general ethical orientation rather than specific practices. Although in following wuwei there are things that a person of Dao naturally would not do e.
Again, nonaction need not exclude spiritual practice—ethics and spirituality generally form an integral whole in the Daoist frame—rather, the point is that once realized, the transformative power of nonaction would ensure not only personal fulfillment but also sociopolitical order. This seems to weigh against a strictly mystical reading of the Laozi , if mysticism is understood to entail a kind of personal union with the Dao transcending all political interests.
The ethics of wuwei rests on this insight. To elaborate, wuwei as an ethical-spiritual ideal entails that the man of Dao, the sage, would be free from the disquieting movement of desire. This would naturally find expression in a mode of being and action characterized by not doing certain things e. This is different from the argument that wuwei prescribes not doing or doing less of certain things, if such prescription requires deliberate effort. As a guide to recovering or attaining that ideal, there may be room for the ruler to impose conditions that would lead to a diminishing of desire-driven action; but this is not quite ideal wuwei.
Similarly, although it may be said that nonaction points to a state of mind in which one does everything that one does, it is on the understanding that in that ideal state certain actions simply would not occur as a matter of course, as the mind would not be aroused and move in their direction. For example, to argue that there is a qualitatively different wuwei way of stealing or gambling would not be meaningful in the world of the Laozi , because such action would not arise in the ideal realm of naturalness.
To elaborate further, consider the ideal ethical situation in the cosmological reading of the Laozi as represented by the Heshanggong commentary. The dispensation of qi gives rise to a pristine hierarchical order in which those who are blessed with a perfect qi endowment, the rare sages, would govern the majority. It can be assumed that the sages are naturally predisposed to quietude, whereas the common people are driven by desire in varying degree.
Indeed, at one point, the Laozi seems to distinguish three different grades of human beings ch. The role of the sage-ruler, then, would be to guide the people to abide by simplicity through personal charisma and example, and also by means of policies designed to cultivate an environment in which desire would not run rampant.
In the absence of a true sage-ruler, the Laozi is saying, according to this interpretation, those in power should emulate the Daoist sage, cultivate their internal qi energies, and bring about peace and harmony through naturalness and nonaction. The decisive difference is that on this account, human beings all share the same essential nature, as distinguished from their qi -constituted capacities. For example, some people may be better endowed and therefore could live to a ripe old age, while others with a poorer endowment may die prematurely; but this does not detract from the fundamental assertion that they share the same inherent de , which defines their nature.
Sages are not a different kind of being, god-like, with a radically different nature; rather, they are individuals who manage to realize their authentic de to the full. Being one with Dao does not describe any mystical union with a divine source or sacred power, but reflects a mode of being that accords with the assumed original nature marked by natural goodness and the absence of excessive desire.
Regardless of the position one takes, in this general interpretive framework a number of symbols which both delight and puzzle readers of the Laozi can be highlighted. Suggestive of its creativity and nurturance, Dao is likened to a mother e. This complements the paradigm of the feminine e. The infant e. First, it brings out the relationship between Dao and world; second, the kind of innocence and wholesome spontaneity represented by the infant exemplifies the pristine fullness of de in the ideal Daoist world. Natural symbols such as water e. The low-lying and fertile valley e.
Carefully crafted and ornately decorated objects are treasured by the world, and as such can be used as a powerful symbol for it. In contrast, the utterly simple, unaffected, and seemingly valueless pu , a plain uncarved block of wood, brings into sharp relief the integrity of Daoist virtue and of the person who embodies it e.
Finally, one may mention the notion of reversal e. With respect to the latter, it is true that in many chapters the text seems to be addressing the ruler or the ruling elite, explaining to them the ideal government of the Daoist sage. This is not surprising given the Zhou context and given that the production of written documents and the access to them were generally the preserve of the ruling class in ancient China. However, this need not restrict interpretation to politics in the narrow sense of statecraft or political strategies.
In the light of the emphasis on ziran and wuwei , there is sufficient evidence that the Laozi views politics in a larger ethical-spiritual context, in which the flourishing of sociopolitical order is rooted in self-cultivation. In the final analysis, naturalness and nonaction are seen to reflect the function of the nameless and formless Dao. As such, Daoist ethical ideals are anchored in a non-empirical, idealized view of nature. Specifically, the ethics of the Laozi rests on the understanding that de is inherent in nature, or better, the Daoist world.
The understanding of de , however, is dependent on that of Dao, which in turn hinges on the interpretation of wu as either original substance or nonbeing. Both readings are plausible and are within the semantic range of the Laozi. Whereas the former subscribes to the prevalent qi theory that underlies much of Chinese philosophy and on that basis provides an integrated view of the cosmos, self-cultivation and government, the latter focuses on the fundamental unity of being characterized by natural simplicity and quietude that ideally should define the ethical course for both the individual and society.
The Laozi should be recognized as a seminal work. It is profoundly insightful; but it is the task of the interpreter to work out the full implications of its often provocative insight. It seems reasonable to assume that while the Laozi has something new to offer, it nonetheless shares certain background ideas and assumptions with other early Chinese philosophical texts.
As such, the cosmological interpretation should be given due consideration. However, in bringing into view the nothingness of Dao and the order of ziran , the Laozi invites reflection on the very core of being beyond any cosmological assumptions. While the production of meaning is context dependent, new horizons do emerge from great works of philosophy. The two lines of interpretation outlined here have different ethical implications regarding the nature of the ideal sage, but neither can be said to have transgressed the hermeneutic boundaries of the Daodejing.
The suggestion that they both arise from the Laozi is not a matter of equivocation but an acknowledgement of its hermeneutical depth for a good set of essays incorporating the latest scholarship on the Laozi , see Liu The power of the Daodejing does not lie in a clearly laid out set of doctrines, but in its seminal insights. The concept of qi may be culture specific, and the prospects of realizing universal Daoist order may seem remote, but the recognition of the fundamental problem of desire should still give us pause.
The ills of discrimination, exploitation and intellectual hubris, so deeply embedded in language and value systems, remain as serious today as they were in early China. The healing power of nonaction still strikes a chord and commands continuing reflection and engagement. Although in working out these insights differences will no doubt arise, they unite all interpreters of the Laozi and draw new generations of readers into the mystery of Dao and its virtue.
Transliteration of Chinese terms in this article follows the hanyu pinyin romanization system, except for a few proper names and quotations. Brill, ], pp. The Laozi Story 2. Date and Authorship of the Laozi 3. Textual Traditions 4.
The Emperor and His Councillor: Laozi and Han Dynasty Taoism - Persée
Commentaries 5. Approaches to the Laozi 6. Dao and Virtue 7. Date and Authorship of the Laozi The date of composition refers to the time when the Laozi reached more or less its final form; it does not rule out later interpolations or corruptions. Textual Traditions The discovery of two Laozi silk manuscripts at Mawangdui, near Changsha, Hunan province in marks an important milestone in modern Laozi research.
Commentaries Commentaries to the Laozi offer an invaluable guide to interpretation and are important also for their own contributions to Chinese philosophy and religion. Approaches to the Laozi Is the Laozi a manual of self-cultivation and government? Dao and Virtue To begin with Dao, the etymology of the Chinese graph or character suggests a pathway, or heading in a certain direction along a path. Bibliography Allan, Sarah, Allan, Sarah, and Crispin Williams, Ames, Roger T. Hall trans. Assandri, Friederike, Baxter, William H.
Bokenkamp, Stephen, Boltz, William G. Brooks, E. Bruce, and A. Taeko Brooks, Capra, Fritjof, Chan, Alan K. Brill, 1— Chan, Wing-tsit, Chen, Ellen M. Ching, Julia, Clarke, J. Creel, Herlee G. What is Taoism? Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, and Philip J. Ivanhoe eds. Ding Sixin, Guodian Chumu zhujian sixiang yanjiu , Beijing: Dongfang chubanshe. Emerson, John, Erkes, Eduard, Fung Yu-lan, Gao Heng, . Chongding Laozi zhenggu , Taipei: Xinwenfeng; original publication date Girardot, Norman J.
Graham, A. Reprinted in A. Guodian Chu mu zhujian , Hall, David, and Roger Ames, Hansen, Chad, Han, Wei ed. Hardy, Julia, Hawkes, David trans. Henricks, Robert G. Hoff, Benjamin, Ikeda, Tomohisa, Chan and Sor-hoon Tan eds. Ivanhoe, Philip J. The Daodejing of Laozi , Indianapolis: Hackett. Jaspers, Karl, Jiang Xichang, Laozi jiaogu , Taipei: Dongsheng.
Kaltenmark, Max, Kim, Hongkyung, Kimura Eiichi, Kohn, Livia, Daoism Handbook , Leiden and Boston: Brill. Kohn, Livia, and Michael LaFargue eds. Kusuyama Haruki, LaFargue, Michael, Lai, Karyn, Lau, D. Legge, James, . Lin, Paul J. Liu Cunren, Liu, Xiaogan, Laozi , Taipei: Dongda; second, revised edition, Laozi gujin , 2 vols. Loewe, Michael, and Edward L. Shaughnessy eds.
The Emperor and His Councillor: Laozi and Han Dynasty Taoism
Lou, Yulie, Wang Bi ji jiaoshi , Beijing: Zhonghua shuju. Lynn, Richard John trans. Ma Chengyuan ed. Ma Xulun, Laozi jiaogu , Hong Kong: Taiping shuju. Mair, Victor, Moeller, Hans-Georg, Mukai Tetsuo, Needham, Joseph, Nivison, David S. Pelliot, Paul, Puett, Michael, It was mentioned above that the Huang-Lao Taoists not only derived the origin of their school from Laozi but also from the Yellow Thearch Huangdi. The other group is centered upon the "Four Classics of the Yellow Thearch in four chapters," precisely the text that was apparently recovered from the Mawangdui tomb. By the same token, we must consider Laozi in conjunction with Huangdi if we are to make sense of the later deification of Laozi that led to the emergence of religious Taoism.
Mentioned initially as the ancestor of the ruling family of Qi in the fourth century BC,60 the Yellow Thearch became the first emperor of humankind thanks to Zou Yan's H! This theory catapulted the Yellow Thearch into the position of being the inventor of civilization and the primordial emperor of a Golden Age. Five di oriented into the cardinal directions governed the five realms of Heaven.
Each of the feudal princes sacrificed to the di in whose cardinal direction his realm was located. Only the Zhou king was entitled to sacrifice to the Highest Di Shangdi. Just as Earth and the colour Yellow marked the temporal beginning in terms of the Five Elements theory, they also represented the center in terms of space. This is why the Yellow Thearch, more frequently than the others, is seen as identical with the Highest heavenly thearch, Shangdi. After the end of the Zhou kingdom, this sacrificial role fell to the Qin and Han emperors, who were thus legitimized as the supreme rulers on earth.
At the same time, Emperor "Wu was fascinated by the legends about the Yellow Thearch originating from the northeastern coastal provinces Qi , where it was venerated less as a celestial deity than as an idol of magicians and alchemists. To Emperor Wu, obsessed with the idea of his own bodily immortality, the Yellow Thearch's apotheosis was a more appealing model than the macrobiotic, ascetic, and contemplative efforts by which Taoist adepts otherwise prolonged their.
As conceived by the Huang-Lao Taoists, the Yellow Thearch did not carry the triumphal aura of an immortal magician and a heavenly god that he had in the minds of the fangshi. While the Zhuangzi acknowledges the Yellow Thearch as the primordial emperor of the Golden Age and the prototypical cultural hero, it also portrays him — for this very reason — as the first despoiler of humanity; for, in a Taoist perspective, the civilizing process that he had initiated was nothing but a process of corruption that led from nature to culture, from the original simplicity to the present-day "civilized" perversion of humankind and society.
Reviled by Guangchengzi for asking such a question, the Yellow Thearch abandoned his throne, fasted and purified himself for three months, and then returned and humbly asked: "What do I have to do in order to govern my own body and to attain long life? The Meaning of Huang-Lao. Historically speaking, the Huangdi-Laozi connection primarily seems to indicate the fusion of two traditions into Huang-Lao Taoism. The wisdom tradition of Taoist mysticism, which originally, with Laozi and Zhuangzi, had striven not so much for physical extension of life as for an ecstatic-mystical overcoming of death, "converted" the Yellow Thearch, who had become famous by means of the magicians.
They also adopted Legalist theories in their attempt to win the ear of the rulers and to become politically influential. Both traditions, the Magicians and Huang-Lao, had their specific ideas regarding the art of governance: in the one camp, cult ceremonies for strengthening imperial power, as recommended to the emperor by Li Shaojun and Gongsun Qing; in the other, the quietist-mystical "non-action" of the Taoist ruler. The juxtaposition of just these two mythical figures had yet another, more profound meaning: in Chinese political mythopoiesis, the ideal-typical emperor and the ideal-typical sage are a recurrent complementary pair.
In early legend, Laozi is always the master — he is never represented as the disciple of another master. The Yellow Thearch, on the other hand, is always the disciple: all Taoist texts ascribed to him are dialogues in which the Thearch asks questions that are answered by a sage. Laozi is always a public servant archivist, Grand Astrologer, minister, councillor — never accompanied by imperial attributes or emblems. The Yellow Thearch, by contrast, is the quintessential emperor, the ordering, vanquishing, acting ruler. Seeing them in a mutually complementary relationship, we perceive that, even though the councillor is, on the surface, the subject of the ruler, the latter's governing virtue stems from the former's wisdom.
The mystical force of the subject who merely advises but does not act is superior to the power of the executing, acting emperor; the sacred radiance of the sage councillor is the. The emperor, though placed above the councillor, is in reality dependent on him — he is the instrument of the sage, resembling a marionette moved by invisible hands. Their cooperation is a mythical simile of the Tao reposing within itself, complemented by its active efficacy de.
If this was what the early Han Taoists meant by Huang-Lao, it seems astonishing that there is, to my knowledge, not a single legend that directly combines the Yellow Thearch with Laozi, either as emperor and minister or as disciple and master. This gap was bridged later on by recognizing many of the Yellow Thearch's ministers and teachers as manifestations of the immortal Laozi; but there exists no pre-Han legend in which both of them appear simultaneously.
Perhaps, however, this apparent incoherence does not contradict our above theory, but rather elucidates it further: we realize that the association of Huangdi and Laozi is not an old myth, but a construction by Taoist masters of the third and second centuries BC; its underlying intention was to translate the Yellow Thearch's magical charisma, with which the magicians impressed Emperor Wu, into the charisma of the sage ruler. The Huang-Lao masters promised the ruler the Yellow Thearch's power not through magical liturgies, but by means of a conversion to the mystical statesmanship of "non-action.
Han Taoism after its Displacement from Politics. Emperor Wu of the Han was very interested in the esoteric magic of the Yellow Thearch, but only inasmuch as it could be applied to his own personal life- prolongation and apotheosis. The Huang-Lao Taoists were barely suffered at his court. At the same time, several thousands of scholars knowledgeable in Taoism and magic purportedly assembled at the court of the king of Huainan? After the death of the energetic Grand Dowager Empress Dou in BC, the emperor initiated a forceful reorganization and active expansion of the empire.
At the imperial court, access to public office now became dependent on passing the exams in the Confucian classics: the Confucian doctrine of statecraft had become the official ideology — a position it continued to occupy with brief interruptions until Recently, however, Michael Loewe has shown that, for a long time, this state Confucianism remained pure theory.
Emperor Wu's expansionist politics were much more strongly inspired in practice by the pragmatic tradition of Legalism which Loewe calls "Modernism" than by the Confucians Loewe's "Reformists". Even later on in the Han dynasty, Emperor Xuan Jtifr r. They only wax enthusiastic about the past while criticizing the present, thus confusing the people so that they can no longer differentiate between appearance and reality, and nobody knows any longer what customs one should continue to follow.
How could I invest such men with political responsibility? If even Confucianism appeared too unrealistic to the politicians under Emperor Wu and his successors, all the more impracticable did they find the Taoist political precept of an intuitively conducted government of mystical passivity in harmony with the Tao.
A Taoist "Program of Action for Government" from the time of Emperor Wu has been preserved in the text of the Huainanzi, but it evidently remained without influence on the official doctrine. Barbara Kandel goes so far as to believe that the Taoist ideas of the king of Huainan significantly contributed to his political failure:. Because the Huainanzi ignored the burning problems of organization of the vast newly formed Han state — probably because it simply did not want to accept the existence of such a state — its entire program slid off into near- irreality and became estranged from reality, unable to become a fully valid competition to the officially approved program.
During the reign of Emperor Wu, Huang-Lao Taoism thus disappeared from politics and, by the same token, vanished almost completely from the historical sources of the age. It is not until almost three centuries later that the official histories mention Taoism again — at a point when it had once again attracted the attention of the upper classes, as manifested in the form of Taoist cults at court and religiously motivated popular insurrections.
Had Taoism been but a political theory, it would hardly have survived its exclusion from politics; but survive it did, largely on the strength of its spirituality. The Taoist masters now increasingly emphasized esoteric aspects; the contemplative life of Taoist hermits and their longevity techniques continued to attract adherents. Official Confucianism did not condemn these practices, but regarded them as being outside of its sphere of competence.
Indeed, Taoist physiological practices even came to be viewed as incompatible with the labors of the Imperial office. AD But Emperor Guangwu's feelings of responsibility prevented him. Conversely, whoever practices the Tao, maintaining his vital spirits tranquil and his body vigorous, must neglect his political duties. The circles in which such esoteric practices were cultivated are virtually unknown to us. Every day, as soon as he had earned enough to buy food, he would close his stand and expound on the Laozi to a crowd of disciples.
It is noteworthy that such individuals did not merely turn to Huang-Lao wisdom after their retirement from office, but were preoccupied with it during their youth — just when one would expect that they might have studied the Confucian classics to prepare for an official career. Some may have yielded to a temptation to escape, hippie-like, from the predicaments of a strongly regimented and often dangerous political career and instead work independently like the soothsayer Yan Junping; but the biographies of the "Taoist" officials of Later Han unvaryingly mention their predilection of Huang-Lao texts87 in connection with their exemplary good-naturedness, modesty, and love of their neighbors — virtues that attracted the attention of local officials and, sooner or later, brought them official dignity, in spite of their reiterated modest refusal.
In the deepening political chaos towards the end of the Later Han dynasty, an increasing number of scholars retreated from politics, not only in order to study the Laozi, but also to work out an esoteric interpretation of the Confucian classics. Towards the end of the Han, one can no longer clearly perceive the Huang-Lao tradition in a multicolored kaleidoscope of magical, medical, hermetical, and classical teachings. But the hermit was not to be moved, and this solitary voice went unheard. The master Laozi, whom that part of the gentry that was interested in Taoism now began to venerate with cults as a god, was no longer.
The longing for the ideal state and the initiative for political change according to the Taoist scheme found new adherents in another stratum, the peasantry. Peasant rebellions brewing since the beginning of the second century AD were to adopt Taoism as their religion and ideology against the established order, anointing Laozi as their messianic deity.
The Imperial cult and the Inscription Honoring Laozi. We owe the existence of this unique text to the fact that, at this time, the cult of a celestial god Laozi had already penetrated to the imperial court; but whereas three hundred years before, the wuwei politics of Laozi the Sage had been propagated at court, now Laozi the God was venerated there with religious rites.
The text is of great interest because it reflects different concepts of Laozi current in three distinct social milieux: Laozi the wise old man of the scholars; Laozi the heavenly god of the emperor's cult; and, hardly distinguishable yet different, Laozi the cosmic redeemer-god of the common people. Henri Maspero was the first to notice the historical significance of this document; its incontrovertible and astonishingly early date allowed him to re-date Laozi's transformation into the most important figure of the early Taoist pantheon to a time at least a century earlier than had previously been assumed.
The historical background of this text is known. AD had a special devotion to Laozi. In the first years of his reign, he had a temple erected in the "natal city" of Laozi, Hu. A wall painting in the temple represented the encounter of Confucius and Laozi. In a remarkable gesture of harmony between the two ideologies, a stele commemorating Confucius was erected in front of this painting in AD by one of his descendants, who at that time was chancellor in the country of Chen, where the town was located.
In the temple courtyard, water was rushing forth from a fountain consisting of nine wells — an allusion to the nine dragons who are said to have washed the divine child Laozi at the time of his birth. It was probably at the occasion of a second sacrifice in that the eunuch Guan Ba Ifff erected the stone stele with the inscription, which had been written in September of the previous year. The inscription describes the fervor with which the emperor, who was 35 years old at the time, "concentrated his life spirits, nourished his vital forces," and meditated on the exemplary Yellow Thearch.
These efforts were eventually rewarded by a dream in which Laozi appeared to the emperor — a greatly encouraging omen, considering that dream visions in China were believed to be real encounters. P sacrifice to Heaven was followed. This extravagant ceremony was a unique event in Chinese imperial history. Not surprisingly, Emperor Huan later became the black sheep of the Confucian ritualists. As shall be argued further below, this unusual, sudden invocation of an unorthodox deity was a response to the politico-religious upheavals among the people, which were to tear the entire structure of the Han Empire asunder by the end of the second century.
I have inserted comments after each of the five parts of the text. The six noble families of Jin kindled wars and, together with Qi and Chu, arrogated the royal title to themselves. As the large [states] swallowed the small, the county seat of Xiang became depopulated and laid waste; today it is subordinate to the city of Hu. Its old walls are still standing east of the village of Lai W. M, and the river Guo :M flows by to the south. When we calculate his age, [we find that] Dan was then more than years old.
No one knows where his life ended. Here ends the first part of the inscription. It is obvious immediately that Bian Shao has copied from Sima Qian; as he says expressly further below, his principle is, inasmuch as possible, to let the official documents on Laozi's earthly existence speak for themselves.
Two new themes appear that are absent from the Shiji biography:. This is mentioned in order to explain why the cult of Laozi, which. The emigration of the population from areas threatened by war, by the way, was a problem often discussed by Chinese administrators. Who was this Boyang? Now this early prophetic adviser, who strove to assist the infelicitous King You whose very name means "darkness" in the gravest crisis of the Zhou dynasty, is also identified with Laozi, whose legendary life is thus extended further into antiquity.
As King You paid no heed to Boyang's admonitions, it is only logical to conclude that he left the Zhou court, and it is to this earlier hour of calamity that the hagiographers of the second century AD now dated Laozi's westward emigration. What is taking shape here is the belief in the peregrinations of the immortal Laozi through the centuries, who manifested himself again and again as teacher, prophet, and councillor:.
At the end of the Han period, this belief was widespread. Gao You MM ca. AD writes;. Lao Dan practiced 'Non-action' and worshipped the Tao and its efficacy. He was Boyang, Grand Astrologer of the Zhou. When the Three Rivers dried up, he knew that the fall of the Zhou was imminent. He was also the master whom Confucius served. Incessantly he mutates, one never gets hold of him in a constant manifestation. At the end of Han, as we shall see further below, such redeeming manifestations of the immortal councillor were awaited not merely by the populace, but also by Emperor Huan.
Shao extrapolates:] The people of the living have, since primordial beginnings, inherited. This is how one can. Great Oneness; and one day, after he had obtained the Tao, he changed into an immortal;. Hence Ban Gu debased him, following the. This is meant with the sentence [of Confucius] : 'Those whose. In this section, Bian Shao treats the two extremes among the many different opinions regarding the controversial figure of Laozi Bian himself is, as we shall see, in agreement with neither of them. He begins his account of the god venerated by the "Disciples of the Tao" with a quotation from Daode jing, according to which Laozi himself — as interpreted by Bian Shao — did not believe in the immortality of the human body.
He also regards as exaggerated the contempt of Laozi shown by the famous orthodox historian Ban Gu. In the credo of the "Disciples of the Tao," the three most important forms of being of the god Laozi are briefly circumscribed:. Situated at the beginning in terms of time and at the center in terms of space, Laozi's essence is in both cases expressed dynamically: one with the primordial pneuma and again separated from it, rising and descending between the earth and the Big Dipper.
Behind these images there is the belief in Laozi's assimilation to the primordi- ally existing Tao, which enlivens the rhythm of the universe as an unfathomable, pulsating "electrical" force. By concentrating on these nodal areas of vital force, Laozi has preserved his body from decay and attained the Tao. At the end of Han, the scope of history had been extended even further than before into distant antiquity. For Confucius, history had begun with Yao and Shun, and Sima Qian had placed the Yellow Thearch even before Yao; now, history starts even earlier with the primordial man Fu Xi, who is recognizable in iconography by his leafy garment.
After him there came Shen Nong, the "Divine Farmer," who had taught agriculture to humankind. Laozi was the teacher of all rulers from that distant antiquity onward. Here we see the final stage of the belief in the divine councillor, which had begun with Lao Dan and Boyang. These three forms of being of the god not only stand in no contradiction to one another, but they cohere in a sensible way.
The cosmic deity is the real and full essence of Laozi, completely beyond human grasp; the immortal Ideal Man is the one who has become divine, who can be recognized and even imitated — if not by every human being, at least by his initiated disciples. As to the divine councillor of the rulers, he is, on the one hand, the most visible manifestation of Laozi, accessible even to the non- initiate; on the other hand, in this manifestation, the divine aspect is least recognizable, because it is concealed behind the historical personalities of Boyang, Lao Dan, etc.
This brief passage, in which a disapproving scholar summarizes current points of view of the "Disciples of the Tao," thus turns out to be an astonishingly rich and consistent theology of Laozi. Unfortunately, we do not know who were these "Disciples of the Tao. This portion of the text describes the relationship of the imperial sponsor with Laozi. Emperor Huan is depicted as a zealous Taoist who worships the Tao. He practices Taoist longevity techniques: by means of meditation and appropriate diet, he makes his body into an agreeable place of sojourn for the gods that dwell within; for each inner organ was thought of as inhabited by a personified supernatural force, whose departure would bring about death and whose continued presence would result in immortality.
Like Emperor Wu before him, Emperor Huan focuses his longing on the Yellow Thearch's ascension to Heaven as the model for his personal immortality. His Taoist efforts are rewarded with a dream vision. Laozi appears to the emperor not, as one might expect, as a teacher of immortality, but as a political councillor; for the text states that he appeared to Emperor Huan "as he had earlier appeared to Gaozong.
In Shijiy he is reported to have averted an unfavourable prophecy predicting the loss of his dominion by means of pious meditation on the good government of the sage emperors of antiquity. He had a portrait painted according to this apparition, looked everywhere. Yue became his adviser, and the country flourished under a good government. In Bian Shao's inscription, the comparison with Gaozong thus shows that Emperor Huan was clinging to a precedent, in which the conversion of a ruler had saved an empire doomed to perdition.
Just as Gaozong had found the good councillor not among his ministers, but hidden among the lowest and most despised stratum of the populace, Emperor Huan was searching for the Hidden Laozi who, though withdrawn from the world, could manifest himself in a situation of political calamity in order to assist a penitent emperor who had converted to quietism. Of meager talent and superficial spirit, I am incapable to correctly assess the value of perfect humans and to distinguish the true from the false. I therefore base myself on books and documents according to which Laozi was born at the end of the [Western] Zhou period.
He was attracted to the mysterious and the empty, and he conserved stillness; he rejoiced in his anonymity and refrained from showing offhis virtue. He left to Confucius words of benevolence ren fz , withdrew from the world, and lived in seclusion. He changed his family name, and his only fear was to become known. Decrease and increase [each] are the origin of excess and decline; misfortune and fortune do not appear without one basing itself on the other, one of the two remaining absconded.
The sole fact that Bian Shao devotes so much space to expounding his own opinion regarding Laozi shows that it does not coincide with that of either the emperor or the populace. During the Later Han, scholars such as Bian Shao were combating new, unorthodox cults amongst the populace as well as at the imperial court.
They spoke up against the influence of the eunuchs, who often mediated the practices of popular religion to the court, thus diverting the emperor from the moral indoctrination by the scholars and from his political responsibilities. It is surely no accident that Emperor Huan's Laozi cult in Hu had been performed by two eunuchs, doubtless members of the eunuch faction that was in power during his reign.
For political considerations, therefore, Bian Shao had to tone down his own opinion about Laozi. The alternating rhythm of day and night, new moon and full moon, happiness and unhappiness, and the thought, which also goes back to the Book of Changes, that concealment, modesty, poverty, and self-debasement will infallibly change into their opposites, permitted him to explain the contemporary elevation and glory of Laozi from his former lowliness.
Had not Laozi himself, in the Daode jing, presented as his ideal the act of "diminishing himself over and over again"? In this way, Bian Shao could accede to the worship of Laozi without overexerting his own principles, at the same time still dispensing a schoolmasterly lesson on the fruits of modesty. All the preceding was merely introduction and explanation for this final section, in which Laozi's prophecies at the court of the "Dark King" are mentioned once again, and it becomes clear that, in Bian Shao's view, it was after these prophecies — i.
The concluding hymn of praise on Laozi is again a description of the Taoist sage according to the Daodejing: declining the norms and honors of society, he has obeyed the great Taoist principles, i. By doing so he could wander across the centuries, an old man with white hair, yet with the vitality of a newly-born. As he considers worldly wisdom as foolery, his genius is not classifiable according to the ranking order of Ban Gu, who ranks humans according to their visible merits.
In concluding his document, Bian Shao must again emphasize the heavenly god venerated by Emperor Huan — the deity who so closely corresponds to the Laozi of the "Disciples of the Tao. This could still be thought of as poetical hyperbole, but the regions of the Heavens mentioned next, named esoterically, derive from Taoist cosmology. It would lead too far to fully explain here what is meant by Laozi's enjoying free circulation in the Cinnabar Hut danlu fJM and the Yellow Court huangtingMM - The "hut" probably means the nose, that is, the point of entry and exit of breath.
That Laozi goes in and out of it signifies that he has been assimilated to the primordial pneuma, the force that circulates in the universe in the guise of wind and breath. The Yellow Court is the innermost room in the three centres of the body, the "Cinnabar Fields" in head, breast, and belly. But what is the significance of these technical terms of Taoist Yoga in this context?
The answer is that the body of the Taoist is an image of the cosmos, and the divine points of reference in the body are, first and foremost, coterminous with heavenly regions. Now we can realize the implications of Bian Shao's formulation: without having obtained the title of di, Laozi, the personified Taoist sagehood, has here been elevated to the throne of the emperor of the center of the heavens. In connection with the color symbolism of yellow, it is instructive to examine how the cult of Emperor Huan is treated in the official histories.
Another question is what Huang-Lao might have meant in the connection of Emperor Huan's cult. The Emperor Huan did meditate on the life and apotheosis of the Yellow Thearch, but, to judge from the text of the inscription, his sacrifice appears to have been only addressed to Laozi enthroned in the Yellow Court — a yellow huang m Laozi. Thus, the name Huang-Lao here no longer denotes, as it had years earlier, the teachings of the two patriarchs of a Taoist philosophy. On the surface, the question of what occasioned the breakthrough of Taoist piety into the imperial court under Emperor Huan can be answered by referring to developments at court.
There was, in the first place, the influence of the eunuchs, who, for thirty years already, had had the upper hand over their rivals, the great land-owning families from whom the state officials were recruited. Another possible element may have been the influence of a woman from the Taoist Dou f family, who became empress precisely in Emperor Wen's X?
W empress, so enthusiastic an adept of Huang-Lao, had been a Dou as well ; the emperor, however, apparently did not care for her much. A further bloodbath among the concubines could be averted by intercession on the part of the eunuchs, one of whom was Guan Ba, the celebrant of the imperial cult of Laozi at Hu. A further catalyst for the renewed imperial sponsorship of Taoism was certainly the fact that Emperor Huan by AD still had no male progeny; he was to die childless only one year afterward. AD , after whom two successive shadow emperors had ascended the throne, children aged two and eight who were merely the pawns of the empresses and their powerful families.
To Emperor Huan, the lack of a grown heir apparent at the time of his death must have been not merely an oppressive political worry, but also a proof of Heaven's disgrace, for childlessness was thought to be a punishment from Heaven. Although such a concern is not mentioned in the "Inscription Honoring Laozi," it may not be irrelevant to remember that the Taoists were said at the time to possess recipes for producing an abundance of offspring.
These are recommended in Xiang Jie's admonishing memorial:. The only consort of Emperor Wen [i. Empress Dou] bore him six sons, but of the one thousand or more women now in the harem one never hears the joyous news of a parturition. One should practice virtues and limit punishments in order to be blessed with children as numerous as locusts Anciently Gong Chong HT brought to court a divinely [revealed] scripture In it there was talk about the art of fostering the state and of multiplying offspring.
The divinely revealed scripture was the Taoist Taiping Qinglingshu li "Book of the Pure Outlines for the Great Peace" , which, according to Xiang Jie, had been circulating among the populace as early as the thirties of the second century AD. Emperor Huan may have desired to compensate for the omissions of his predecessor, and as it probably appeared easier to him to stage expensive cults than to "practice virtue and limit punishments," he decided to worship Laozi. The memory of the "Book of the Great Peace" may have inculcated into the emperor a special anxiety and urgency, for this popular work was by no means "in complete accordance with the Classics.
The populace had evidently turned away from the Han emperors and begun to look for alternatives. Local insurrections everywhere in the empire had disturbed the reign of Emperor Huan from its very beginnings. Rebel leaders had assumed the imperial title and. The deeper reason why Emperor Huan turned to Laozi was his search for a divine councillor in this hour of danger.
He hoped that the god in whose name the populace rebelled against him would help him to renew his own dynasty. The sources that have been adduced to help us comprehend the process of deification of Laozi merely render a filtered echo of ancient China's popular religion, a belief system difficult to grasp in its initial stages.
Our analysis has clearly brought out, however, that it would be quite wrong to imagine Han society in terms of a dichotomy between the illiterate-cum-religious populace versus the history-writing, "agnostic" upper class. For understanding Chinese religion, the relevant line of distinction cuts across all social strata.
Rather than separating educated officials from superstitious peasants, or agnosticism from the belief in gods, it set state orthodoxy apart from heresy against it. The dominant ideology with its official hierarchy which extended all the way into the heavenly realm had to be distinguished from the unsanctioned cults not under the control of the authorities.
As a consequence of the political turnaround under Emperor Wu, Taoism had become unorthodox. It continued to develop, however, and it became a philosophical consolation to failed would-be officials, an object of fascination to learned hermits, an ideology to adepts at immortality, and increasingly, as the orthodox hierarchy of the Later Han dynasty lost the confidence of the populace, a religious and messianic alternative to the official order.
The imperial Taoist cult under Emperor Huan can be viewed as an attempt to canalize this explosive popular creed in a way favorable to the orthodox ideology. Those elaborate ceremonies must be considered in conjunction with the order, given two months afterward, to destroy all minor local i. AD , whose usurpation of the imperial throne had temporarily interrupted the reign of the Han dynasty.
In this connection we can try to answer the question why it was Laozi who was honored with the position of the supreme god of the Taoist religion when, after all, there were more than enough legendary immortals to choose from. The reason was. The Emperor and His Councillor 1 A universal delight in interpreting and tampering with Laozi's book affected intellectuals of all manner of persuasions, including, for instance, some mystically interested members of the orthodoxy as well as civil servants such as Bian Shao. Written by a quietist for a ruler, the contents of this book combined the art of living the good life with political wisdom, thus being better suited than any other to appease as well as appeal to the orthodoxy.
This book also furnished the mode of its author's deification. Laozi probably became a god only during the Later Han dynasty AD In connection with the popular uprisings at the end of the Former Han period, there is as yet no mention of Laozi or the Yellow Thearch. Confucius had become the orthodox teacher of the emperor governing the earth; but in the eyes of the populace, the transcendent eternal Tao, in revealing itself to the rulers of the Great Peace, had chosen the figure of the divine councillor Laozi.
In view of the intended non-specialist audience, notes have been kept as brief as possible ; interested readers may want to consult my more specialized study of the same subject, which contains much more extensive references Anna Seidel, La Divinisation de Lao tseu dans le. Only for some new considerations that have emerged from my research since the time of publication of that work do I furnish some more detailed notes that may be of service to the sinologist.
The same thing is also true vice versa : natural catastrophes are the expression of ills in society. This way of thinking is still alive today, more than two thousand years later. The recent earthquakes in northern China were taken by many Chinese as a reaction to political unrest and an evil omen for the fete of China.
As to the the universalist Chinese world view, see, e. Locus classicus : Zhuangzi iff? The state of research on the historical Laozi is presented in Seidel, La divinisation de. For these and other references, see Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, Waley, The way and its power, ; Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, Translator's note : The full connotation of the rendering of Huangdi as "Gelb kaiser" is difficult to replicate in English. I have here adopted the rendering of "Yellow Thearch," championed by the author's close friend and colleague, the late Professor Edward H.
The Tao Te Ching by Laozi: ancient wisdom for modern times
Shiji sfcie See also Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, Shiji This advice is quoted almost verbatim from Daodejing 57 Laozi 2. For further examples of quietist administration, see Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, The Taoist passivity of the first Han governments was a tactic to bring about a period of recuperation to the populace, as well as revitalizing the economy, which had been ruined by the preceding wars.
At the same time, Legalist practices were continued in other areas of the administration. By the time of Emperor Wu, this time of transition, so propitious to Taoism, was over ; the country was now ripe for new political initiatives. Tang Lan's thesis ibid.
Note that the "Bibliographic Treatise" of the Official History of the Han mentions the Huangdi sijing in one breath with the book of Laozi as the classics of the Taoist school ; cf. Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 23, et infra. These titles were assigned to the texts after excavation. Hatano refrains from giving his judgment regarding the identification of the four texts. For further essays on the Taoist text finds see Wenwu Shiji Zhonghua edition, See Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, Shiji 63 Zhonghua edition, Joseph Needham, Science and civilisation in China, v.
As given in Kongzijiayu, the characterization refers to Laozi, but it may have been formulated originally with respect to Laolaizi ; see Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 13, note 3. This was shown by Homer H. Dubs, "The date and circumstance of the philosopher Lao-dz," Journal of the American Oriental Society 61 , ; discussion with Derk Bodde idem 62 , and , and 64 , Kongzijiayu 3 Guoxuejiben Congshu edition, 25 ; cf. Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 6. Lunyu The discrepancy between " years after the death of Confucius" BC and the trip of the Grand Astrologer Dan in BC is due to an incoherency between Shiji chapters 4 and 63 ; cf.
Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, 14, n. Later Taoists interpreted the Zhuangzi report of the death of Laozi as an allegory. Sima Qian begins his account of universal history from the Yellow Thearch, cf. On the Five Elements theory, which came into being during the fourth century BC, see Needham, Science and civilisation, v. In later religious Taoism, Taiyi became an important astral deity. Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, This is one of the earliest occurrences of alchemy in world history. Needham, Science and civilisation, vols.
Needham, Science and civilisation, v. See also infra, n. The first extensive and important study on the origin and history of xht fangshi during the Han period is Ngo Van Xuyet, Divination, magie et politique dans la Chine ancienne Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, Of course it is somewhat questionable to what extent an orthodox Confucian bibliographer would correctly render the different Taoist and esoteric groupings of his time ; but the political turning point during Emperor Wu's reign appears to be the logical time for the fusion of the unofficial esoteric techniques with Huang-Lao Taoism, which had become itself unofficial following the death of Grand-Dowager Empress Dou in BC.
How different the concept of the Yellow Thearch was in the two traditions before BC is shown further below. Zhuangzi 11, 14, 16, 29 Harvard- Yenching index edition, 26, 39, 41, 81 ; Watson, Chuang Tzu, , , , The Yellow Thearch is here called Xuanyuan ff fS. His paradisiacal reign is here described in similar terms as in Daodejing, chapter 80 Laozi 2.
Both traditions have their own specific concept of immortality : Huangdi becomes immortal by way of magical practices — he casts bronze vessels, which cause his apotheosis and ascension to Heaven. Laozi's immortality is that of a wise old man, which does not lead to a one-time glorious ascension, but to a peregrination of the centuries, right here on earth. For a more extensive treatment, see Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, Han shu buzhu, 9. Lunheng "Daoxupian" Zhuzi jicheng edition, 7. The term zhenren, which in Zhuangzi means "perfected man," underwent a change of meaning in Han Taoism.
Han shu buzhu, Hou Han shu 19 Guoxue Jiben Congshu edition, v. To judge from quotations, they were exclusively concerned with the Daodejing. Some of them distributed their wealth to the poor members of their own clans and supported widows and orphans.
This tradition of good works influence of Mozi? Hou Han shu Guoxue Jiben Congshu edition, v. The Daode jing receives this interpretation in the Heshanggong commentary, which in my opinion transmits the Han understanding of the text Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu, ; Eduard Erkes in Ho-shang-kung's commentary on Lao-tse [Ascona : Artibus Asiae ] also dates this commentary to the end of Han, seeing it not as a philosophical interpretation but a manual to a Taoist conduct of life and meditation.
Hou Han shu 1 Guoxuejiben Congshu edition, v. For more extensive textual criticism, see my French translation of the inscription in Seidel, La divinisation de Lao tseu,