The Xu Dishan Collection » Daoism and Daoism texts

Daoism and Daoism texts

Daoism is one of the main philosophical or religious systems of China. The history goes back to pre–Han times, and at ca. 100 BC the Laozi and the Zhuangzi were identified as the foundation texts. Other texts were later included into the Daoist canon, i.e., the Liezi, Baopuzi, and Huainanzi.

Daoism as a religious system is mostly known for is its metaphysical aspects. These include supernatural cosmological speculation, as expressed in portentology and the five-phase theory. Metaphysic and ethic concepts allowed for Daoist's to discuss natural spontaneity, freedom and egalitarianism as a possible way of human coexistence, adhering to a set of reflections and actions guided by higher transcendent or hyper-human perspectives, and perfection is achieved by adhering to the “the Way” ( dao).

At the time that the first systematic commentaries were written within the Daoist schools, the discussion of cosmological aspects was already a part of it. This may have facilitated the introduction of Buddhism, since similar aspects are contained in there as well. Many aspects of Chinese folk religion, alchemy, astrology, Buddhism, martial arts, medicine and qigong have been connected and intertwined with Daoism, however they were not always integrated or acknowledged. This comes to light in one of our most interesting items held within the Xu Dishan Collection, in which Daoism refutes other religions or influences.

Daoism highlights from the Xu Dishan collection

Lao jun ba shi yi hua tu shuo 老君八十一化圖說 — “Lord Lao's Eighty-one transformations”

This title is one of the most interesting items in the collection. It describes the different appearances Laozi took in “coming into the world”, with illustrations showing his supposed eighty-one interventions in human form in the life of the world. The text gained fame in the disputations between Buddhists and Taoists during the Yuan Dynasty and was banned in the 13th century from publishing and was presumably destroyed after the proscription of all Taoist books bar the Daode jing. It later re-surfaced in the early 14th century. The notoriety of the Eighty-One Transformations was due largely to its explicit claim that the Buddha was but one of the transformations of Laozi.

The preface refers to the date 1374 (7th year of the Ming Emperor Ming Hongwu), but comparison to other editions put its publication to 1891. This edition is published by Ma’nao Publishing House and is undated.

  • Works consulted:
  • 胡春涛 Hu Chuntao, “ 宗教学研究” (道教研究) (“Religious Studies” (Taoism Studies): ” 版刻本老子八十—化图的流传及相关问题 (The circulation of the eighty-one illustrations of Lao Tzu and related issues), no.2 (2013), p.35-41.