Daoist Novels about the Occult

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Daoist Novels about the Occult are works recording deities' unusual deeds and their influence on the basis of Daoist ideas. They belong to a genre of Chinese traditional novels about the occult and are a genre of Daoist novels.


The word "occult" first appeared in the chapter "Unfettered Excursion ( 逍遙遊 Xiaoyaoyou ) " in The Book of Master Zhuang ( 莊子 Zhuangzi ), which says, "The fables of Qi are records of the occult". Later "the occult" became a general term for works that record supernatural tales about deities, immortals, demons and goblins. Historically, myths, immortal legends and geographical stories constitute the three origins of novels of the occult. Besides this, primitive Shamanism and the theory of Yin, Yang and the Five Agents ( 五行 Wuxing ) are ideological sources. For these reasons, there are countless ties between novels of the occult and Daoism of later ages. Daoist novels of the occult gradually took shape in the works of ancient times, such as The Book of Master Zhuang, The Book of Mountains and Seas ( 山海經 Shanhai Jing ), and the Fragmented Records Found in the Tomb of Ji. In the Han dynasty, stories of Esoteric Speculations ( 讖緯 Chenwei ) became popular and Shamanism began to prevail. Society was in an atmosphere of immortality seeking, which then turned to be the theme of novel creation. All kinds of occult tales of this theme came out one after another. The exotic countries and people and strange scenery depicted in The Map of the Whole Region ( 括地圖 Kuodi Tu ), The Book of Divine Miracles ( 神異經 Shenyi Jing ), The Tale of Entering the Netherworld ( 洞冥記 Dongming Ji ), the Record of the Ten Continents ( 十洲記 Shizhou Ji ), etc. provide source materials for the subsequent depictions of the immortal world in Daoist novels of the occult. For example, they are the chief source of the extraordinary sight of Grotto Heavens and Blissful Realms in the novels. The Chinese literature of the Wei and Jin periods had a strong mystical flavor. The Daoist spirit, which contains Laozi's and Zhuangzi's philosophy and metaphysics, became the spiritual prop of generations of literati in the Wei and Jin dynasties. They took great pains to display their ideal of seeking immortality in their works. Chapters in Zhang Hua's Jottings of Rarities and Miscellaneous Stories ( 博物志 Bowu Zhi ), Guo Pu's Records of Mystery, Cao Pi's Biographies of the Marvellous ( 列異傳 Lieyi Zhuan ), and Gan Bao's Investigations into the Divine ( 搜神記 Soushen Ji ) formed the style and features of the splendid array of Daoist novels of the occult of the Wei and Jin dynasties. Due to the authors' admiration for immortals, tales of mystical spirits, exotic countries and people, Magical Arts ( 法術 Fashu ) and Divination ( 占卜 Zhanbu ) concerning immortals usually became the main content of the stories.


Lu Xun's Brief History of Chinese Novels examines the novels of this period from the angles of historical background, author, creation motive, and characteristics of the works. Lu Xun believes that "China originally believed in Shamanism. In the Qin and Han dynasties, the theory of immortality was in the vogue. In late Han period, Shamanism was highly advocated, and the tradition of demons was also flourishing. At that time Hinayana Buddhism was introduced to China and started to spread. These traditions all promoted belief in demons and deities, spirits and the supernatural. Consequently, from the Jin dynasty to the Sui dynasty, there came out a great number of books about the occult. Some of them were written by literati, and some by believers. Literati differed from Buddhists or Daoists, who aimed at making their own religion more sacred through their works, but their intention was not to compose fiction. This is because it was believed at that time that both the living and the dead really existed, though in different ways, and consequently relations of supernatural affairs were as authentic as records of mundane affairs. This is a penetrating judgment. Whether considering the number or the importance of novels, Magicians ( 方士 Fangshi ) (who became Daoists afterwards) were the major authors in this period. Take novels recorded in the chapter "Biographical Records" in The History of the Han Dynasty as example. Over two thirds of them were written by Magicians. Many writers of the day had the double status of scholar and of Daoist believer. Their major aim in writing was to propagate Daoism. Guo Xian said in the preface of the Record of Communication with the Netherworld that the book is "concentrated on Daoist teachings and intended to reveal the mystery of the netherworld." Gan Bao's preface to the Investigations into the Divine says that the book is aimed at "making it clear that the occult is not false". Wang Jia's Supplementary Amplifications of Tales ( 拾遺記 Shiyi Ji ) "mainly concerns the auspicious and widely draws on immortal tales". Obviously, then, the novels about the occult of the Han, Wei, and Jin periods are rich in Daoist ideas. After the Wei and Jin dynasties, although the main form of novels was legend, novels of the occult did not disappear. Works recording supernatural Daoist affairs flourished and formed a gallery of Daoist novels about the occult.


The basic characteristic of Daoist novels about the occult lies in that it expresses the ancients' profound consciousness of life by means of mystical writings. Daoism has always paid attention to life and regarded longevity as a heavenly "treasure". As a result, the wish for revival and the depiction of the existence of life's unusual energy and spirit out of the world become the important content of Daoist novels about the occult. Different from the Buddhist description of hell, these novels tend to display a lovable fairyland. Literati believing in Daoism or Daoist writers attempt to remove the boundary between life and death and transform life from one form into a more perfect form with "realistic writing". Thus, the images of immortals and Daoists became the artistic carrier of the collective subconscious of the ancient people's concern about life.