- An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
About [Location: HOME > Literature > Masters and Philosophers > Daoist treatises > Baopuzi]

Chinese Literature - Baopuzi 抱朴子

The Baopuzi 抱朴子 "Master embracing simplicity", occasionally written 抱樸子, is a Daoist treatise written by the Jin period 晉 (265-420) master Ge Hong 葛洪. It consists of two parts, the Inner Chapters (neipian 內篇) and the Outer Chapters (waipian 外篇) that are commonly dealt with as two books, the Baopuzi neipian 抱朴子內篇, and the Baopuzi waipian 抱朴子外篇.
The imperial bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書 lists the Inner Chapters with a length of 21 juan "scrolls", and a single scroll called Yin 音 "Music", both among the Daoist writings, while the 30 juan long Outer Chapters are listed among the "Miscellaneous Masters". A comment says that Liang period 梁 (502-557) bibliographies speak of 50 juan. The bibliography in the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 lists 20 juan of Inner Chapters among the Daoists, and 51 juan of Outer Chapters among the Miscellaneous Masters. The Xintangshu 新唐書 bibliography shortens the Neipian to 10 juan, and the Waipian to 20 juan. In the Songshi 宋史 both parts are to be found among the Miscellaneous Masters, 20 juan of Neipian, and 50 juan of Waipian. Chao Gongwu's 晁公武 bibliography Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) knows only 10 juan of Waipian, while Chen Zhensun's 陳振孫 bibliography Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 only lists the Inner Chapters, with 20 juan, and says that the catalogue Guange shumu 館閣書目 (today lost) lists the Outer Chapters with 50 juan. The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 made use of two versions, namely Lu Shunzhi's 盧舜治 (Ming period 明, 1368-1644) copy of a Song period edition, and the version of the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏. These two basic texts can be rated as relatively complete, and it seems that of the original version, not much is missing or added. Yet the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Yan Kejun 嚴可均 has found out that the original text must have been much longer, and estimated that of the Neipian, only about 50 to 60 percent have survived.
Some statements in the Waipian are even Confucian in character, when speaking about the order of the world, but the Neipian with its stress on the search for longevity is clearly a Daoist text. The latter also makes use of the concept of "mystery" (xuan 玄) as one form of the universal Way (dao 道), while the Outer Chapters are concerned with social matters and criticize the attitude of the "pure conversations" (qingtan 清談) that was popular among intellectuals during the Jin period, and belonged to the "socially irresponsible and indifferent" School of the Mystery (xuanxue 玄學).

The philosophy of the Baopuzi

The Mystery (xuan 玄) is the general root of all ten thousand (wanwu 萬物) beings on earth, and the ancestor of nature (ziran zhi shizu 自然之始祖, wanshi zhi dazong 萬殊之大宗). From the primordial or embryonic unity (baotai yuanyi 胞胎元一) the Mystery is divided into the two statuses (liang yi 兩儀, i. e. Yin and Yang 陰陽) from which the great origin (dashi 大始) is breathing, and out of which the many creatures are cast. Yin and Yang are responsible for heat and cold and the course of the seasons. The Way (Dao) embraces the Heavenly or male (qian 乾) components of the world as well as the Terrestrial or female (kun 坤) components. The Dao is therefore inherent in all objects and living beings, and these are in unity with the Dao. Although it has no name and is not tangible (wu 無 "it is not", or "it is nothing"), it can move all things and bring them into activity. Activity is possible by energy or "breath" (qi 氣) that comes out of the Dao. Energy can be seen in the four seasons and also in the appearance of clouds and rain. Although these concepts originate in the book Daodejing 道德經 (Laozi 老子), Ge Hong did not clarify the exact relation between the four terms xuan 玄, dao 道, yi 一 and qi 氣.
The Mystery and the Dao are not deities but natural forces that move the world and contribute to the constant change of the world. The ten thousand objects on earth are not creations by a divine Heaven, like grass and trees grow on a mountain without being actively brought into live by the mountain, or like the blood under the skin that flows in this place without the skin having created it. Similarly, astronomical processes and occurrences like solar eclipses, natural disasters or omina and portents are natural phenomena, and not expressions of a divine will, as often believed. Mankind has also evolved accidentally, and not according to a divine plan. Nevertheless man is the cleverest of all living beings (mo ling yu ren 莫靈於人) and serves himself of the ten thousand beings and objects (yi yong wan wu 役用萬物), for instance, to attain longevity.
One of the most important methods to attain immortality is alchemy, or the "skill to refine cinnabar" (lian dan shu 煉丹術). The consumption of this magic pill enables the Daoist adept to become one with the Mystery and to have the powers of an immortal, to fly on clouds and to plunge deep into the waters. These methods were very different from earlier Daoist attempts to heal diseases with the help of talismans that are burnt and whose ashes are consumed as a potion (fushui 符水 "talismanic water"). The Way of longevity does not lie in sacrifices made to ghosts and spirits, nor exclusively in gymnastics (daoyin 導引) or "bowing and stretching" (qushen 屈伸), but only in the creation of "divine cinnabar" (shen dan 神丹). There are three types of objects that can render immortality. The most important is pure cinnabar (HgS, dansha 丹砂) and mineral objects, of secondary value are the "five magic mushrooms" (yuzhi 五芝, species not identifiable), and of least value for immortality are common pharmaceuticals (zhongyao 中藥 "middle-class drugs") used to cure diseases.
In his own preface Ge Hong says that the Neipian speaks of immortals and magic herbs, of ghosts, spirits and transformations, of nourishing life and the dispelling of evil. The Mystery (xuan), the Way (dao), and the great unity (yi) are three different designations for one and the same principle that lies behind all beings in the universe. The "true one-ness" or "perfect unity" (zhenyi 真一) makes sure that the Mystery and the Dao are kept to in the right way. If this is done, the practitioner can prolong his life and prevent illness and disaster. The most successful Daoist master is able to ascend mountains, to transgress water, to live hidden in the hills and swamps among snakes and tigers without being harmed by them. He feels no wind nor moisture nor heat or frost.
Ge Hong explains that there are different categories of immortals, the most important of which are heavenly immortals (tianxian 天仙) that are able to ascend to Heaven, terrestrial immortals (dixian 地仙) that live in the mountains, and such whose bodies dissolve after death (shijiexian 尸解仙). The main difference between immortals and "normal" humans is the length of life. Immortals use the influence of herbs and certain skills to prohibit the upcoming of diseases, so that body and spirit (xingshen 形神) are preserved for a longer time and the energy (qi, i.e. the Dao) remains strong. Whoever wants to become an immortal, has to rectify his will and to stabilize his sincerity (li zhi jian cheng 立志堅誠) but also to rearrange his pre-natal (xiantian 先天 "Former Heaven") conditions of the right flow of energy (qi). They have to look for a famous teacher instructing them.
In the chapters Lunxian 論仙 and Duisu 對俗 the Baopuzi neipian quotes from the biographic collections Liexianzhuan 列仙傳, Shenxianzhuan 神仙集 and Xianjing 仙經 (lost?) to demonstrate that there are indeed many immortals on earth, and that it is in fact possible to become a such. The chapters Weizhi 微旨, Jiyan 極言 and Jindan 金丹 describe in detail the method to learn about immortality, and what immortals have to avoid. Inner cultivation (neixiu 內修) and outer nourishment (waiyang 外養) are the correct methods to find the Dao. Especially the consumption of cinnabar pills will result in the ability to preserve the unity of all things on earth with the Dao (fu dan shou yi 服丹守一). Ge Hong used the parable that vegetables can rot, and be burnt to ash, and are therefore probably helpful to live longer, but not to become an immortal. Only the consumption of gold and cinnabar (jin dan 金丹), which both do not rot but become more stable with each refining process, are of great help to attain immortality. In the chapter Jindan Ge Hong quotes from older texts on alchemy, like Huangdi jiuding shendan 黃帝九鼎神丹, Taiqing shendan 太清神丹 and Jinye 金液 and mentions more than 30 recipes for the production of an immortality pill (xiao'er danfang 小餌丹方, like Minshan danfa 岷山丹法, Wuchengzi danfa 務成子丹法, or Xianmenzi danfa 羡門子丹法), also with the help of quicksilver. In the chapter Huangbai 黃白 he describes methods to refine gold (huangjin 黃金) and silver (baiyin 白銀) and the production of various metal alloys. Some examples are the Zuo dansha shui fa 作丹砂水法, Zhizuo chiyan fa 治作赤鹽法, Master Jinlou's 金樓先生 method to make gold, Master Luli's 甪里先生 method to transform gold, or the method to create realgar water (As4S4, xionghuang 雄黄水). It quotes from the older texts Shenxianjing huangbai zhi fang 神仙經黄白之方, Jinyin yejing 金銀液經, Huangbai zhongjing 黄白中經 and Tongzhujing 銅柱經. The Baopuzi describes more than twenty substances and herbs that help to gain immortality. This is more than in the book Zhouyi cantong qi 周易參同契. Ge Hong explains that with the help of quicksilver red sulphur can be transformed into black sulphur, and back into the red form again. Similarly, white lead (qianbai 鉛白) can transform into lead oxide (qiandan 鉛丹, Pb3O4) and back again. The Baopuzi neipian shows that the Daoists were important contributors to chemical knowledge in ancient China.
In the chapters Duisu and Zhili 至理 the author explains the most important methods of inner cultivation, like breathing techniques (tuna 吐納), "embryonic breath" (taixi 胎息), gymnastics (daoyin 導引), the circulation of energy (xingqi 行氣), which are all old forms of what is today known as qigong 氣功. The Baopuzi neipian also provides a lot of information of other forms of nourishing life (yangsheng 養生), like medicine, herbs of immortality (xianyao 仙藥), the avoiding of grains (bigu 辟穀), the art oft he bedchamber (fangzhongshu 房中術), curses and incantations (jinzhou 禁咒), and talismanic registers (fulu 符籙).
The chapter Shizhi 釋滯 explains the methods of circulating energy or breath (xingqi), and the art of the bedchamber. The circulation of breath served to heal diseases, prevent contagion, dispels snakes and tigers and to stop haemorrhages (chuangxue 瘡血). Experts will be able to live in the water or to walk on the water. Others never get hungry or thirsty. The professional practitioner is able to "breathe like an embryo" (taixi), without nose or mouth, and so become one with the Way. The art of the bedchamber helps to cure injuries and prolongs life. The practitioner is able to use his sperm to replenish the brain (huan jing bu nao 還精補腦). Yet Ge Hong stresses that both methods are only skills to support the consumption of the cinnabar pills, and are by no means sufficient to obtain immortality. The chapter Zaying 雜應 includes some further, additional methods to harden the teeth, or to ameliorate the hearing or the eyes. It how to avoid eating grain, because grain as an earthly product makes the body heavy, how to become senseless against heat and cold, how to be able to travel thousands of miles (yuan xing bu ji 遠行不極), or how to "disappear in nature" by adopting the shape of a bird, a tree, or a different person (yinlun 隱淪). The chapter Dengzhi 登陟 explains how to be sure against poisonous snakes, wind and moisture, and to be protected against evil spirits. Similar "minor skills" are described in the chapters Zhili and Dizhen 地真.
In the chapter Weizhi is is clarified that the study of alchemy has to begin from the shallow facts and proceed to the more profound themes. Otherwise no success will be achieved. Similarly, the chapter Qinqiu 勤求 says that the strive for immortality is not an easy game but can only be successful if enough efforts in learning are made. An immortal has to continue (qin qiu bu yi 勤求不已) to nourish these conditions in order not to lose his abilities. Students are therefore as much as hair on a cow's skin, but those who achieved immortaliy as rare as a unicorn's (qilin 麒麟) horn. Living in silence and without desires (tian jing wu yu 恬靜無欲) is most important, as well as to accumulate merits by good deeds (ji shan li gong 積善立功). Ge Hong says that 1,200 good deeds have been done in order to become an immortal. Ge Hong mentions the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE) and Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) of the Han dynasty that had failed in their search of immortality because both had not been willing to cultivate themselves and only relied on others in the search of herbs that were thought to render a long life.
Daoism is, in the words of Ge Hong, the "fundament" of Confucianism, and the latter only a branch of Daoism. Whoever wants to become an immortal, has to observe the Confucian virtues of dedication (zhong 忠), filial piety (xiao 孝), social harmony (he 和), obedience (shun 順), kindheartedness (ren 仁) and trustworthiness (xin 信), and to respect the social order maintained by the Confucians, with the lord, father and husband at the top, and the minister, son and wife in the lower position. This requirement is very important because it made the life of a hermit in the mountains virtually impossible. Giving up one's family and social relations was, according to Ge Hong, not the right way to attain immortality. While nourishing life is a treasury of the inner life, Confucian propriety is the brilliance of outer life.
Ge Hong's thought about literature reflects older statments by the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) writer Wang Chong 王充, who had vehemently criticized the superstition of Huang-Lao thought 黃老, and the writer Lu Ji 陸機. Both had been of the opinion that literature must serve a practical use, promote the good and criticize errors. Ge Hong accordingly also said that the present was more important than the often-revered antiquity. In this context he had an ambiguous stance towards the Confucian Classics like the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents" and the Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs" that had both their values, but were of a minor practical use for the present age. The change of the usefulness of texts reflected the constant change to which all things on earth were subjected. Literature itself had the task to adorn words and to decorate phrases (diao wen shi ci 雕文飾辭), and were an important part of virtuous conduct.
The chapter Jialan 遐覽 includes a list of 22 Daoist books.
The Outer Chapters are very heterogenous from their content. They had been written over many decades and are in fact a collection of various essays written by Ge Hong. More than half a dozen chapters is of a political nature and dives advice to government and administration, like the "Way of the Ruler" (Jundao 君道), the integrity of the ministers (Chenjie 臣節), the right order among officials (Guanli 官理), the estimation of worthies (Guixian 貴賢), the employment of competent persons (Renneng 任能), the use of punishment (Yongxing 用刑), or, as a teaching from history, reasons for the failure of the Han and the Wu 吳 (222-280) dynasties (Han guo 漢過, Wu shi 吳失). Other chapters deal with customs and habits and social questions. Half a dozen of chapters speaks about scholarship during the late Han period and rates the theories of writers like Guo Tai 郭泰, Ni Heng 禰衡 or Bao Jing 鮑敬. They are important because they include quotations from these persons that are otherwise not transmitted. Some chapters in the Waipian stress the importance of cultivating the self and refraining from engaging in labour activities. The Outer Chapters demonstrate that Daoism has long left the sphere of the common people and had entered the circles of intellectuals and members of the elite.
The oldest commentary to the Baopuzi was written by the Jin period master Tao Hongjing 陶弘景, but it is lost.
A Song period print from 1152 has survived that was produced in the capital Lin'an 臨安 (modern Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang). The Baopuzi is also included in the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏. Some fragments from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) have survived in the grottoes of Dunhuang 敦煌. The Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Lu Wenchao 盧文弨 revised a Ming period print of the Inner and Outer Chapters, and Sun Xingyan 孫星衍 again revised Lu's version by comparing it with the version of the Daoist Canon. His scholarly contribution provided the blueprint for the Baopuzi version included in the series Zuzi jicheng 諸子集成. Sun Xingyan's version is also included in the Pingjinguan congshu 平津館叢書, Congshu jicheng 叢書集成初編, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Zishu baijia 子書百家 (Baizi quanshu 百子全書). The Baopuzi is also included in the reprint series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書. The most important modern edition of the Inner Chapters is Wang Ming's 王明 Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi 抱樸子內篇校釋. Tao Fu 弢甫 has written the Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi yuzheng 抱朴子内篇校釋舉正, and Yang Mingzhao 楊明照 the Baopuzi neipian jiaoshi bu 抱朴子内篇校釋補. The Qing period scholar Yu Yue 俞樾 had written the studies Baopuzi pingyi bulu 抱朴子評議補錄 and Du Baopuzi 讀抱樸子, and the Republican scholar Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉 the book Baopuzi jiaoji 抱朴子校記. Yan Kejun has in the late Qing period collected fragments that are not included in the transmitted version of the book, and published as Baopuzi neipian yiwen 抱朴子内篇佚文.
There is a complete translation of the first part by James R. Ware (1966). Alchemy, Medicine, Religion in China of A.D. 320: the Nei P'ien of Ko Hung (Pao-p'u tzu). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; and of the second part by Jay Sailey (1978). The Master Who Embraces Simplicity. A Study of the Philosopher Ko Hung. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center.
The Qing scholar Yu Yue's 俞樾 short book Du Baopuzi 讀抱樸子 "Reading the Master Embracing Simplicity" is a mixure of intellectual complement and rectifying commentary. The commentary is of high quality, except a few points that Yu Yue overlooked or interpreted in a wrong way, yet compilers of the series Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書 rated it as only of mediocre quality. It is included in the reprint series Chunzaitang quanshu 春在堂全書.

Sources: Li Jinghua 李景華 (1986), "Baopuzi 抱樸子", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, p. 32.● Wang Ming 王明 (1987), "Baopuzi 抱樸子", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, p. 28. ● Ding Yizhuang 丁貽莊 (1988), "Baopuzi neipian 抱樸子內篇", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zongjiao 宗教 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 26. ● Yin Nangen 殷南根 (1992), "Baopuzi 抱朴子", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), p. 278. ● Qing Xitai 卿希泰 (ed. 1994), Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 83-86. ● Li Binghai 李炳海 (1996), "Baopuzi 抱樸子", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 349. ● Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996), Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 2307. ● He Shengdi 賀聖迪 (1997), "Baopuzi neipian 抱朴子内篇", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zongjiao 宗教, ed. by Zhou Gucheng 周谷城 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), p. 734.

內篇 Neipian Inner Chapters:
1. 暢玄 Changxuan Defining the Mysterious
2. 論仙 Lunxian About Immortals
3. 對俗 Duisu Answering Questions about Popular Conceptions
4. 金丹 Jindan Gold and Cinnabar (The Pill of Immortality)
5. 至理 Zhili The Ultimate Order
6. 微旨 Weizhi The Meaning of the Subtle
7. 塞難 Sainan Countering Objections
8. 釋滯 Shizhi Resolving Hesitations
9. 道意 Daoyi The Meaning of the Way
10. 明本 Mingben Enlightening the Origin (of difference between Confucians and Daoists)
11. 仙藥 Xianyao The Medicine of Immortality
12. 辨問 Bianwen Discerning Questions (why Confucians are not able to become immortal)
13. 極言 Jiyan Words about the Extreme (immortality)
14. 勤求 Qinqiu Diligent Search (for a teacher for immortality)
15. 雜應 Zaying Miscellaneous Answers
16. 黃白 Huangbai Gold and Silver (as medicine for immortality)
17. 登涉 Dengshe Climbing (Mountains) and Crossing (Rivers)
18. 地真 Dizhen The Terrestrial Truth
19. 遐覽 Xialan Broad Overview (over Daoist literature)
20. 袪惑 Quhuo Allaying Doubts
外篇 Waipian Outer Chapters:
1. 嘉遯 Jiadun In Praise of Eremitism
2. 逸民 Yimin The Rusticating People
3. 勖學 Xuxue Encouraging Study
4. 崇教 Chongjiao Respecting Education
5. 君道 Jundao The Way of the Ruler
6. 臣節 Chenjie The Integrity of the Ministers
7. 良規 Lianggui Good Regulations
8. 時難 Shinan Averting Difficulties at the Right Time
9. 官理 Guanli The Right Order among the Officials
10. 務正 Wuzheng The Correct Use of Instruments
11. 貴賢 Guixian Esteeming Wise People
12. 任能 Renneng Employing the Able
13. 欽士 Qinshi Respecting Well-Minded Subjects
14. 用刑 Yongxing Employing Punishments
15. 審舉 Shenju Examining Promotions
16. 交際 Jiaoji Keeping Company
17. 備闕 Beique Encountering Deficiencies
18. 擢才 Zhuocai Promoting Talents
19. 任命 Renming Employing Orders
20. 名實 Mingshi Name and Reality
21. 清鑒 Qingjian The Pure Mirror
22. 行品 Xingpin Using Official Ranks
23. 弭訟 Misong Ending Disputes
24. 酒誡 Jiujie Adminishions on Alcohol
25. 疾謬 Jimiu Pointing out Faults
26. 譏惑 Jihuo Censuring Muddleheadedness
27. 刺驕 Cijiao
28. 百里 Baili Hundred Miles
29. 接疏 Jieshu
30. 鈞世 Junshi Equalizing Generations
31. 省煩 Shengfan Decreasing Vexations
32. 尚博 Shangbo Valuing Breadth of Learning
33. 漢過 Hanguo The Faults of Han
34. 吳失 Wushi The Failings of Wu
35. 安塉 Anji
36. 安貧 Anpin
37. 仁明 Renming Benevolence and Brilliance
38. 博喻 Boyu
39. 廣譬 Guangpi
40. 辭義 Ciyi Writings and Ideas
41. 循本 Xunben
42. 應嘲 Yingchao
43. 喻蔽 Yupi Clarifying Obscurities
44. 百家 Baijia The Hundred Schools
45. 文行 Wenxing Cultivated Behaviour
46. 正郭 Zheng Guo Correcting Guo (Tai)
47. 彈禰 Tan Ni Accusing Ni (Heng)
48. 詰鮑 Jie Bao Bao (Jingyan)
49. 知止,窮達,重言 Zhizhi, Qiongda, Chongyan
50. 自敘 Zixu Autobiography and postface

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail