An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Nan tianshi dao 南天師道, the Southern Way of the Celestial Masters

Jun 18, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Nan tianshi dao 南天師道, the Southern Way of the Celestial Masters, was a school of religious Daoism which flourished between the fourth and the sixth centuries in southern China. Like its counterpart in northern China, Bei tianshi dao 北天師道, it originated in the School of the Celestial Masters (Tianshi dao 天師道), which can be called the first state-protected movement of religious Daoism in China.

Lu Xiujing 陸修靜 (406-477) reformed the School of the Celestial Masters. He was a great collector of Daoist writings and was the first to classify them into the three fields of Dongzhen 洞真, Dongxuan 洞玄 and Dongshen 洞神. His own writings also numbered more than thirty. He established numerous new rituals like the system of the sanhuiri 三會日 (congregations on three fixed days) and the zhailu 宅籙 "residence registers", in which Daoist masters were acting like state officials and could expect to raise in the hierarchy of the school.

Unlike the Northern School, the Southern Celestial Masters School never occupied an important position in the state rituals, and never fully gained recognition and sponsorship by the government.

The family Du 杜, from which many patriarchs of the Celestial Masters School had hailed, was still highly venerated. Emperor Ming (劉)宋明帝 (r. 465-472) of the Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479) had a Huaixian Hall 懷仙館 erected for the worship of the old masters.

The southern tradition was much more private and integrated other religious practices that had not played a prominent role like before, like certain herbs to be consumed for diet. Lu Xiujing's rituals served to liberate the body from sickness and the mind of impure thoughts, and his books were chanted in order to repell all evil words spoken out by people. Body, words and mind were thus purified and could be united with the dao "Way". This could even be acheived in a better way by the secular control of the household of the adherents of his religious school.

During the Sui period 隋 (581-618), with the political reunification of China, the two traditions of northern and southern China were also unified. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), Zhang Ling 張陵 continued the tradition on Mt. Longhu 龍虎山 in Jiangxi. His tradition was later known as the Dragon-and-Tiger Church (Longhuzong 龍虎宗). Another branch evolved to the "School of the Orthodox Unity" (Zhengyidao 正一道).

Li Yangzheng 李養正, ed. (1993). Daojiao shouce 道教手冊 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 92-93, 94-96.
Qing Xitai 卿希泰, ed. (1994). Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 1, 84-91.