Purple Air Coming from the East

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"Purple Air Coming from the East" is a Daoist anecdote, an allusion in the Intimate Biography of Guardian Yin ( 關令尹內傳 Guanling Yin Neizhuan ). Similar records can be found in many later Daoist biographies. It is said that Laozi, founder of philosophical Daoism ( 道家 Daojia ) (addressed respectfully as the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君 Taishang Laojun ) in Daoism), in the face of the decadent manners and morals of the time, prepared to leave the land of the Zhou dynasty and become a hermit. According to the Biographies of Unfathomable Creatures ( 猶龍傳 Youlong Zhuan ), Laozi wanted to go to the desert country in the west so that he could teach foreign people. Then a stream of purple air moved from the east towards the west up to the Hangu Pass. Yin Xi, a senior official of King Zhaowang of the Zhou dynasty, who was good at observing the omens shown by stellar movements, knew that a saint was going to pass through Hangu Pass. So he resigned his office in the court, and became a guardian of Hangu Pass. He performed Fasting ( 齋戒 Zhaijie ) rituals, burnt incense on both sides of the road, swept the road clean, and did nothing but wait for the saint. Soon, Laozi rode to the pass on a black ox. Guardian Yin Xi formally became a student of Laozi and asked him to write The Book of Dao and its Virtue ( 道德經 Daode Jing ), which was handed down through the ages.


Among the people of China, purple air coming from the east is an auspicious symbol, and many literary works develop it into a plot. A good example is chapter 77, "Laozi Transformed from One Vital Breath into the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清 Sanqing )" in the book The Romance of the Gods ( 封神演義 Fengshen Yanyi ). Based on a rich tradition of Daoist literature, it develops the story of "Purple Air Coming from the East" artistically and is very appealing. In the past when people celebrated the Spring Festival, they always pasted the Spring Festival couplets containing the words "Purple Air Coming from the East", which shows that the story of Laozi passing through the Hangu Pass has always continued to be disseminated.