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Quanzhen Daoists in Chinese Society and Culture

Quanzhen Daoists in Chinese Society and Culture

Thomas Jansen12 Nov 2014Leave a comment

Written by Volker Olles.

XUN LIU and VINCENT GOOSSAERT, eds., Quanzhen Daoists in Chinese Society and Culture, 1500–2010. China Research Monograph 70. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, 2013. xiii, 382 pages. US$30.00 (pb). ISBN-13: 978-1-55729-107-3

Quanzhen 全真 or “Complete Perfection” denotes a main branch of the Daoist religion which emerged in the 12th century and, with its Buddhist-inspired monasticism, has continued to shape the visible and official face of mainland-Chinese Daoism into present times. Quanzhen Daoists were (and still are) generally perceived as cloistered and world-renouncing ascetics with few profane entanglements. Yet in reality, lifestyles of Quanzhen Daoists and Quanzhen affiliations are extremely diverse and multifaceted, as is convincingly demonstrated in the present book. Focusing on late imperial and modern periods, the ten chapters of this volume, most of which are based on the rigorous analysis of primary sources, are exclusively devoted to various aspects of the Quanzhen tradition. Thus, they contribute to a more balanced scholarly vision of Daoism, the study of which has long been dominated by a special focus on the Zhengyi 正一 (Orthodox Unity) branch and its liturgy. At the same time, the traditional dichotomy between Quanzhen and Zhengyi is challenged, and readers learn that Quanzhen cannot be reduced to the spheres of monastic ascetism and the cloistered life of celibate clerics who meditate and observe a vegetarian diet.

The foundation of this book consists of papers at the conference “Quanzhen Daoism in Chinese Culture and Society” held at the University of California Berkeley in 2007. Eight chapters were selected from the conference papers, while two (by VAN ENCKEVORT and JONES) were added at a later stage. The volume is dedicated to the memory of MONICA ESPOSITO (1962–2011), a leading scholar of Quanzhen Daoism who was deeply involved with both the conference and the evolution of the book before her untimely passing.

In their “Introduction” the editors, XUN LIU and VINCENT GOOSSAERT, outline the history and basic characteristics of Quanzhen Daoism as well as the new academic field of Quanzhen studies. The main foci of discussion in the present volume include: first, modern (post-1500) and contemporary Quanzhen’s “claim of continuity” (p. 5) with the early tradition (12th–14th century); second, texts authored or compiled by seventeenth- to twentieth-century Quanzhen Daoists; and, third, the adoption of Quanzhen identities by a variety of religious specialists (e.g., local ritualists). The following ten chapters are organized into three parts: (1) “Making Quanzhen Identities” (chapters 1–4), (2) “Quanzhen Textual and Ritual Productions” (chapters 5–7), and (3) “Quanzhen Daoists and Local Society” (chapters 8–10).

In chapter 1 (“Quanzhen, What Quanzhen?”) VINCENT GOOSSAERT discusses the identities of late imperial Quanzhen Daoists as they were perceived by lay people like officials, literati, or the Daoists’ patrons and clients. While images of Quanzhen clerics as celibate ascetics or itinerant thaumaturges persisted in official and fictional writings, respectively, only a small minority of them actually lived as “monastic elites” in large establishments. Most Quanzhen clerics were temple managers or served their local societies as ritual experts, and many were married and ate meat. While “Quanzhen” as internal affiliation was a vital component of the clerics’ religious identity, it was irrelevant (and rarely known) to their lay clients. Only the adoption of the Western-derived category of “religion” (zongjiao 宗教) in 20th century China brought doctrinal distinctions to the fore, thus “reinventing Daoism along sectarian lines” (p. 43) and informing the present image and academic vision of Daoism.

“The Invention of a Quanzhen Canon” (chapter 2) by MONICA ESPOSITO traces the compilation history of the Daozang jiyao 道藏輯要, the most important Qing dynasty collection of Daoist writings, back to the activities of a lay spirit-writing group whose members belonged to the Confucian elite. Under the name of Tianxian pai 天仙派 (Celestial Immortals lineage), the group claimed to be recipients of a “separate transmission [of the Dao] outside [mainline] teachings” (jiaowai biechuan 教外別傳) from their patron saint Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓. ESPOSITO argues that the Daozang jiyao constituted the foundation for the monastic liturgy and ordination system of Quanzhen institutions in late Qing times. Quanzhen Daoism, especially in the form of its “Dragon Gate orthodox lineage” (Longmen zhengzong 龍門正宗), was thus reinvented by fusing diverse local traditions into new orders that claimed continuity with the early Quanzhen teachings.

In “A Late Qing Blossoming of the Seven Lotus” (chapter 3) VINCENT DURAND-DASTÈS analyzes five Qing dynasty vernacular novels about the Qizhen 七真 (Seven Perfected), eminent disciples of Quanzhen founder Wang Chongyang 王重陽 (1113–1170). DURAND-DASTÈS shows how this genre was used as a new form of hagiography to spread religious values and Daoist teachings.

“Globalizing Daoism at Huashan” (chapter 4) by DAVID A. PALMER is a refreshing piece based on ethnographic fieldwork describing the interaction of American spiritual tourists with the Daoists of Huashan 華山, one of the most famous Daoist sacred mountains. PALMER’S contribution also offers very interesting insights into the inner workings of Daoist monasteries in communist China.

“Quanzhen and Longmen Identities in the Works of Wu Shouyang” (chapter 5) by PAUL G. G. VAN ENCKEVORT discusses how the well-known practitioner and writer Wu Shouyang 伍守陽 (1574–1644?), who was not a member of any formal Quanzhen institution, in his writings nevertheless identified himself as lineage holder of the Longmen branch and claimed ancestry to the early patriarchs of Quanzhen Daoism.

“Being Local through Ritual” (chapter 6) by MORI YURIA 森由利亞 is an outstanding study of three collections of ritual documents that were designed as supplements to the new edition (chongkan 重刊) of the Daozang jiyao, which was published by the Quanzhen monastery Erxian an 二仙菴 in Chengdu (Sichuan province) in the early 20th century. The three ritual manuals were compiled by Quanzhen monks who lived in monasteries in the environs of Chengdu during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Partly drawing on earlier (Ming dynasty) sources, these manuals and related collections testify to a regional transmission of Zhengyi or, to be more specific, Lingbao 靈寶 (Numinous Treasure) ritual that had become an integral part of the tradition and identity of Quanzhen Daoists in Sichuan.

In “Quanzhen Daoism and Ritual Medicine” (chapter 7) FANG LING 方玲 analyzes a manual on ritual medicine (zhuyou 祝由) and explains how this tradition of healing through the use of talismans, incantations, etc. was influenced by Song dynasty ritual. Readers also learn that zhuyou was often practiced by Quanzhen Daoists who were initiated into Zhengyi liturgy.

Richard G. Wang’s article “A Local Longmen Lineage in Late Ming–Early Qing Yunnan” (chapter 8) presents an example from the wide variety of regional Longmen movements in late imperial China based on the author’s study of eight stele inscriptions.

XUN LIU’S 劉迅 contribution “Quanzhen Daoism Proliferates Learning” (chapter 9) unfolds the story of the monastery Xuanmiao guan 玄妙觀 in Nanyang (Henan province), which came to play a leading role in reform movements such as the establishment of modern schools and the development of agriculture and medical care in late Qing and Republican times. His study convincingly demonstrates that Quanzhen Daoist institutions were not, as is commonly assumed, victims of modernization, but were able to actively participate in it.

Finally, “Temple and Household Daoists” (chapter 10) by STEPHEN JONES offers a rare glimpse into the milieu of Daoist ritual experts in the understudied area of North China, in the past and the present. Jones demonstrates that in this sphere of temple Daoists, householder priests, and lay associations distinctive terms like Quanzhen and Zhengyi have become interchangeable.

The layout of the book, featuring convenient footnotes and Chinese characters as well as the original texts of key passages, deserves unreserved praise. Quanzhen Daoists in Chinese Society and Culture is a profound contribution to the field of Daoist studies and should be consulted by anyone seriously interested in the history and present state of Chinese religions.


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