Alan K. L. Chan

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:

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The term “Daoism” or “Taoism” denotes one of the major religions of China. In some sources it also designates an intellectual tradition represented chiefly by the early Chinese thinkers Laozi and Zhuangzi. Daoism derives its name from the concept of Dao, usually translated into English as Way. In early Chinese literature Dao depicts a thoroughfare and by extension what is deemed the right or proper way in an ethical or political context. In this basic sense Dao entered the shared intellectual vocabulary of early China. However, in the Daodejing (Classic of the Way and virtue), the foundational work of Daoism attributed to Laozi, the concept of Dao acquires richer connotations as the ultimate source of the cosmos and all beings and the paradigm for the ideal ethical and political life. Other thinkers, notably Zhuangzi, similarly focused on the deeper significance of Dao, and during the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce), historians discerned sufficient similarities among them to speak of a Daoist current or “school” of thought. Toward the end of the Han period, Daoism as an organized religion arrived on the Chinese scene. In 142 ce a new revelation was granted to a scholar and recluse named Zhang Ling on Mount Heming in modern Sichuan Province by the “Most High Lord Lao” (i.e., Laozi), now shown to be a divine being. The Dao is a divine reality and the Daodejing a wondrous scripture of profound meaning and salvific power. As Daoist sources further relate, Zhang established a new religious community and assumed the title of Celestial Master. The Way of the Celestial Masters, as the tradition came to be called, remains one of the main branches of Daoism. The relationship between the Daoist religion and the earlier discourse on Dao is complex. Modern Chinese sources employ two distinct terms—daojia 道家 and daojiao 道教—in discussing the Daoist tradition. Whereas daojia typically denotes the teachings associated with Laozi and Zhuangzi, daojiao almost invariably refers to the Daoist religion. This usage is also common in Japanese and Korean scholarship. Some Western authors consequently define daojia as “philosophical Daoism” and daojiao as “religious Daoism.” This has, however, been largely rejected in late-20th- and early-21st-century studies. Daojiao, literally the teachings of Dao, did not figure as a term of contrast to Daoist philosophy in premodern China. Leaving the terminological debate aside, Daoism may be said to have engaged a particular hermeneutic frame in appropriating the earlier discourses on Dao, which when integrated with other doctrinal and ritual innovations gave rise to a richly complex tradition. Nevertheless, studies on Laozi and Zhuangzi will be presented in separate sections in this bibliography in view of the interest they command. Daoism is a large topic. The selections here privilege late-20th- and early-21st-century general studies on its history, scriptures, rituals, self-cultivation practices, and modern development that would guide the reader to more specialized research and earlier works of importance to the study of Daoism. Note that most studies in English before the 21st century adopt the Wade-Giles system of transliterating Chinese terms. More recent studies tend to follow the Hanyu Pinyin system standard in mainland China. “Dao,” “Laozi,” “Daodejing,” and “Zhuangzi” in Pinyin would appear as “Tao,” “Lao-tzu,” “Tao-te ching,” and “Chuang-tzu,” respectively, in Wade-Giles Romanization, to give but a few key examples.

Article.  10364 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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