Daoist Novels about the Ways of the World

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Daoist novels about the ways of the world refer to works that express Daoist ideas and feelings via the theme of life in this world. In other words, they combine Daoist thinking with the artistic expression of Daoist feelings through fiction.


The major theme of Daoist novels about the ways of the world is love between human beings and immortals. There were already such works in the Wei and Jin periods. For example, in books like Investigations into the Divine ( 搜神記 Soushenji ), Dong Yong, who was of poor origin, was appreciated and helped by a fairy; Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao who entered the earthly paradise, also enjoyed a period of romantic times of tryst with fairies. These stories of mortals in the novels best correspond with Chinese people's outlook on life. In this way the literati of the Wei, Jin and the Southern and Northern dynasties who worshiped Daoism both displayed the limitations in this world and expressed people's desire for the fairyland, and were eager to let the fairies descend to the world so as to affirm this world again. But these stories of love between human beings and immortals were generally confined to records of the supernatural and did not yet become a new form of novels. In the Tang and Song dynasties, with the popularity of the form of legends, the theme of love between human beings and immortals received more extensive representation. In novels of the Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern dynasties, the heroes who married fairies usually had the idea of secularization, while in the Tang dynasties, these ordinary people who had amorous adventures "were so happy as to forget home". For example, Pei Hang in the chapter "Pei Hang" in the Legends, intellectual Cui in the chapter "Intellectual Cui" in the Unofficial History, and Zhang Zhuo in Collection of Jokes in the Year Huichang all became immortals after their romantic love with a fairy. There seemed to be no hindrance between the immortal and mortal worlds in the literature of the Tang and Song dynasties. But the stories of love between human beings and immortals did not break through the framework of legends. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, with the appearance of colloquial stories and pseudo-colloquial stories, this theme received a relatively perfect representation. Meanwhile, works describing fairies who came to the mundane world to assist kind-hearted men emerged as the time required, and so Daoist novels about the ways of the world were set in a steady form. Take The Gardener Encountered a Fairy at Night as an example. Old man Qiu was bullied and oppressed by Master Zhang Wei, the son of a high offical. Later the fairy in charge of flowers and the flower deity helped him and punished the villain. Since then old man Qiu ate flowers everyday and finally became the flower-protecting envoy of the heavenly emperor. Apparently there is no direct description of love between humans and immortals in such stories, but deep down the stories contain sincere affection resulting from good deeds. In such affection, the amour between man and woman was sublimed into the affirmation of and reward for good deeds.


Daoist novels about the ways of the world are mostly written in a refreshingly lucid style. The quality of the works does not stem from their plot, but from their moving feelings. They embody the idea of inherent human feelings and human nature initiated by the Philosophical Daoism ( 道家 Daojia ) of the pre-Qin days.