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Frequent parallels are made to the organization of the earliest Daoist canon, and the fascinating and complex mechanisms of interaction between Taiqing and later Daoist revelations are laid bare in an intelligent and highly intelligible fashion. Part 2 focuses on the doctrinal foundations of alchemy, its ritual aspects, and its methods of compounding elixirs. Of crucial importance here is the detailed description of the ritual sequence—the ceremony of transmission, the retirement and the ritual purifications, the precepts and taboos, the talismans and seals used, the building of the laboratory, the kindling of the fire, the consecration and the ingestion of the elixir—allowing the alchemist to re-create within his crucible the state prior to the emergence of time and to the separation of yin and yang.

In part 3, the position of Taiqing alchemy among the early medieval traditions of southeastern China is examined. Within that changing religious context, Taiqing lost its prominent status, and waidan doctrines and practices started to give way to ulterior developments.

Religious Daoism

Readers of the Daoist canon have perhaps been struck by the image of Zhang Daoling, the first Celestial Master, as an alchemist. To the surprising [End Page ] creation of that image, and to the intense religious competition that formed its background, the author devotes some of his most memorable pages. Part 5, finally, assesses the importance of Great Clarity in the formation of later alchemical traditions as well as the causes of its decline. The latter pages of the book are taken up by a glossary, bibliography, and an index as well as copious notes and three appendixes, respectively devoted to the dates of texts in the waidan corpus, additional notes on Great Clarity and related texts, and additional notes on the commentary to the Scripture of the Nine Elixirs.

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To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine 36 , Rodo Pfister.

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Rudolf Pfister [Rudolf Pfister is an independent researcher, conducting studies into the history of Chinese medicine, body techniques, and sexuality, both in ancient and medieval China, in manuscript as well as in printed texts. After his doctorate on the Mawangdui bamboo manuscripts on sexual body techniques in at the University of Zurich, he studied "Psychophysical techniques in ancient and medieval China" a project series supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Contact: rodoX gmx.


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This is done in order to give due attention to the doctrinal and religious aspects of Chinese alchemy. The extant Taiqing corpus is formed of fourteen texts that are concisely described in chapter 3, and the appendixes B and C.


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  • The description highlights the composite nature of this textual material, and gives indications for dating estimations. The symbolism of red cinnabar is a pervading subject.

    Great clarity :Daoism and alchemy in early medieval China /Fabrizio Pregadio. – National Library

    The ritual sequence starts with a ceremony of transmission that includes the combined knowledge of oral and written instructions. Purification rites and talismans to protect the ritual space are detailed. A new laboratory is built according to specifications concerning its dimensions, orientation in space, etc.

    The author surveys the techniques to make, fill, lute, heat and finally open the crucible again, and presents in great detail the main features of the Taiqing elixirs, such as the Elixir of Great Clarity, the Nine Elixirs, the Golden Liquor, the Reverted Elixir in Nine Cycles, and the Flower of Langgan pp. Ge Hong had not himself performed any alchemical procedures at the time of writing, but rather included diverse fragments of doctrine and practice into his compilation, some of which would otherwise be lost.

    Instead alchemical medicines integrate and—with typical hyperbole—are said to surpass as well the healing properties of herbal cures, and may even restore life after death! The ranking and teaching of the older texts was thereby achieved by re-arrangement and supplements that lead to a permanent inclusion into the Canon, but the decline and final disappearance of the Taiqing tradition as well as textual losses left space for the inclusion of unrelated writings, now found in the Daoist Canon of