Daoist Prose

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Daoist Literature
Daoist Poetry and Ci Poetry
Daoist Poetry
Daoist Ci Poetry
Daoist Prose
Daoist Fiction
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Pillar Couplets
Daoist literary Anecdotes
Daoist Nursery Rhymes

Daoist prose is a big category of Daoist literature. Its origin can be traced back to Laozi and Zhuangzi's philosophical prose. Since most founders of early Daoist sects were widely read in literature, it was inevitable for them to create Daoist classics in the style of prose for disciples to learn. After more than 2000 years of development, there is a splendid array of Daoist prose. Such works hold a considerable proportion in collections of Daoist books.


According to the form, Daoist prose is mainly classified into three categories, namely argumentative prose, narrative prose and poetic prose.

Daoist argumentative prose

Daoist argumentative prose is a literary genre that expounds Daoist teachings. In early periods, it was mainly in the form of quotations. In this kind of prose, questions and answers from immortals, such as "Celestial Masters" ( 天師 Tianshi ) and "Perfect Men" ( 真人 Zhenren ) are used to express Daoist views of the nature, society and human life. For example, Black Scarf Book of Supreme Peace ( 太平清領書 Taiping Qingling Shu ) (i.e. '' Book of Supreme Peace '' ( 太平經 Taiping Jing )) is a piece of prose of this kind on the whole. The conversations in it are different from those between characters in fiction. The author of quotation-styled prose does not aim at displaying the personalities of the characters, but at illustrating the doctrines via immortal figures. Consequently, usually the questions are short while the replies are long for their sole purpose was to sermon.

In order to make the sermon more logical and systematic, many writers of Daoism pay attention to the improvement of the artistic level of argumentative prose. Based on quotation-styled prose, they created "Dao-preaching-styled" prose, a kind of prose that combines logical reasoning and illustration by examples. It was initiated by renowned Daoist Ge Hong of the Eastern Jin dynasty, and became flourishing in the Tang and Song dynasties. Though emerging from quotation-styled prose, "Dao-preaching-styled" prose underwent a great evolution. As the name implies, this kind of prose is aimed at illustrating the profound philosophies of Daoism. But since the philosophies are profound, "vivid" materials are needed to make them accepted by Daoist devotees. Hence Dao-preaching-styled prose is not to confuse people by pure reasoning, but to embody the ideas in "images" and expound ideas by clarifying the "images". For example, chapter "illustrating the mystery" in The Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱樸子內篇 Baopuzi Neipian ) first defines the properties of the "mystery", and then reveals the functions and forms of the "mystery" in different aspects, embodying the "imageless" "mystery" in the substantial existence in time and space "with image".

Daoist narrative prose

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Daoist argumentative prose is Daoist narrative prose. This kind has description as its basic feature. When visiting famous mountains, Daoists always narrate what they see and hear in combination with their own impressions of cultivating the Dao. For example, Journey to the Immortality Cliff ( 遊仙岩記 You Xianyan Ji ) by Daoist Bai Yuchan of the Southern Song dynasty begins with an account of how he, with matted hair covering his tanned face and bare footed, comes to visit Wuyi from Qiongzhou, and then it goes on to relate the plots of his visit to Gentleman Yungu and their writing poems to the hearts' content. A description of scenery is inserted. The picture of the night view of Mt. Wuyi is outlined in just a few mild words. The prose reads zestfully. There are a number of such works in collections of Daoist books. They are valuable as historical materials to the understanding of the evolutionary history of Daoist Grotto Heavens ( 洞天 Dongtian ) and Blissful Realms ( 福地 Fudi ). Moreover, they are charming and have appreciation values.

Poetic Prose

In addition to argumentative and narrative prose, poetic prose also holds a standing in Daoist literature. As everyone knows, "rhyme prose" was only a literary means in the era of the emergence of The Book of Odes ( 詩經 Shijing ). In the Warring States Period, it became a literary genre, but before that it was not prose, but poetry. In the Han dynasty, it was transformed into prose. Men of letters wrote poetic prose in a flowery style one after another. Being different from argumentative and narrative prose, Daoist poetic prose is rather parallel and rhythmic in choice of words due to its close relation with poetry. For example, Ode to Cyclic Elixirs in the Form of Golden Liquids (金液還丹賦 Jinye Huandan Fu ) by Xiao Tingzhi is of better artistic inspiration for its' means of parallel prose. Many pieces of poetic prose created by other Daoists generally have this distinguishing feature, as well.