The Book of the Three Emperors

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The author of The Book of the Three Emperors ( 三皇經 Sanhuang Jing ) is unknown. The book is also titled The Writ of the Three Emperors ( 三皇文 Sanhuang Wen ) or The Inner Writ of the Three Emperors ( 三皇內文 Sanhuang Neiwen ), the general names for The Writ of the Heavenly Emperor, The Writ of the Terrestrial Emperor, and The Writ of the Human Emperor. It is said that the version Bo He obtained in the period of The Three Kingdoms was the most ancient one. Later, Zheng Yin transmitted it to Ge Hong. This is just the so-called Writ of the Three Emperors of Small Existence ( 小有三皇文 Xiaoyou Sanhuang Wen ), which is also named Book of Small Existence ( 小有經 Xiaoyou Jing ) because people say it is kept in the jade mansion of the heaven of small existence. According to Daoism, when Bao Jing studied Dao at Mt. Song in the Western Jin dynasty, he received this writ in the Yongkang years during the reign of Emperor Huidi (300-301) and transmitted it to Ge Hong afterwards. This writ is just The Writ of the Three Emperors of Great Existence ( 大有三皇文 Dayou Sanhuang Wen ), which is also called Book of Great Existence ( 大有經 Dayou Jing ), for it is said that the secret book is kept in the palace of great existence. Later, Lu Xiujing, Sun Youyue and Tao Hongjing transmitted it in turn. Moreover, Tao supplemented other Daoist scriptures and fast rituals and compiled a book of 13 volumes, which became the basis of the books in the Pervasive Divinity Section ( 洞神部 Donshen Bu ). According to Ge Hong, The Book of the Three Emperors is mainly about controlling and summoning ghosts and spirits, talismans and charts, and methods of meditation, and thus is a talismanic book. Scriptures in the Pervasive Section grounded on The Book of the Three Emperors also have these as their main content. In the 20th year of the Zhenguan era (646), Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty ordered the abolishment of The Book of the Three Emperors. Today the ancient version of the book has been lost. The subsection of methods in the Pervasive Divinity Section of The Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era ( 正統道藏 Zhengtong Daozang ) collects the three-volume Inner Secret Writs of the Three Emperors of the Divine Chapters of the Eight Extremes from the Immortal Book of Supreme Clarity and Golden Porte and Jade Flowers ( 太清金闕玉華仙書八極神章三皇內秘文 Taiqing Jinque Yuhua Xianshu Baji Shenzhang Sanhuang Nei Miwen ) and one-volume Secret Remains of the Inner Writ of the Three Emperors ( 三皇內文遺秘 Sanhuang Neiwen Yimi ), neither of which belongs to The Book of the Three Emperors. Nevertheless, it retains some of the contents of the ancient Book of the Three Emperors, and is still of reference value for the study of the Daoist history of the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties.